The Wit of the Spectator by Christopher Howse (ed) - review by Henry Root

Henry Root

Let Down By His Legs

The Wit of the Spectator


Century 224pp £12.95 order from our bookshop

Dear Howse,

Lest they be alarmed by the word ‘Wit’ included in the title as above, you’ll not mind my advising punters to read, in the first place, the back-flap profile of yourself rather than the book. This goes:

‘Christopher Howse has been called the funniest man in Soho. But he can’t remember who said it. He sank into journalism from Oxford and a promising academic career. After several years putting mistakes into The Spectator he ended up sharing an office with the cartoonist Michael Heath (hobbies ironing and entertaining the VAT men). His forthcoming books include an anecdotal history of AU Souls college and a novel, Hurlothrumbo’.

Delightful, isn’t it? The Spectator tone precisely – nonchalant, conversational, nothing hot and bothered here. The flattering reference vis à vis yourself (‘the funniest man in Soho’) followed by the languorous disclaimer (‘can’t remember who said it’ – not taking yourself too seriously, I’m glad to say). The exhausted ‘sank into journalism’ contrasted with ‘a promising academic career’ rejected (first class brain, of course, but too much of the gentleman/amateur for an ivory tower existence.) The public school prankish – but not to be taken too seriously – disdain for your employment (‘putting mistakes into The Spectator’) followed by the reference to Michael Heath and his comic hobbies (the latter being likewise too much of a gent to bother with funny little VAT men and the common nuts and bolts of books and figures.) Then the triumphant final sentence, the coupling of an anecdotal history of All Souls (nothing ultra-earnest here) with the puff for a novel pending with a silly name.

If the style of this and attitude – relaxed, superior, half-witted – are up a punter’s street, he’ll find them reflected in abundance in the collected essays heretofore. Why, then, in the title the misleading reference to wit? Wit is for actresses, choreographers and hairstylists to the haute bohème, isn’t

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