Tinkerty-Tonk! by Patrick French

Patrick French

Tinkerty-Tonk!

 

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

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

East of the Wardrobe

Follow Literary Review on Twitter