Am I alone in suffering from literary synaesthesia? When I think of Bevis Hillier, which is not often, I have an image of the cartoon Beavis with his savage underbite and low snicker, rather than a smock-clad pauper. D J Enright I always pictured spinning discs alongside Tony Blackburn. The name A N Wilson conjures up… not Butthead, or Leavis, but Beverley Nichols – though not Nichols himself but the evocation of him by Graham Greene when he wrote, ‘For all I know Beverley Nichols may be a middle aged and maiden lady … connected in some way with the Church: I would hazard a guess that she housekeeps for her brother who may be a canon or perhaps a rural dean.’ Wallace Arnold may be to blame for this. Writing in these pages many years ago, he identified A N Wilson as Ann Wilson, a charlady who later metamorphosed into a lesbian writer of the old school. I had no reason to disbelieve Mr Arnold; I thought he himself was real. Only much later, seeing A N Wilson’s photograph alongside his column in the London Evening Standard, did I realise I had been had. Although he sported the jacket-and-tie look favoured by Radclyffe Hall, A N Wilson was clearly a man.
How was Wilson taken in by his rival biographer Bevis Hillier’s hoax letter, which purported to be from John Betjeman to a lover? It arrived out of the blue, was typed rather than holograph, contained an acrostic of Wilson’s name followed by what the New York Times daintily termed ‘a