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A Dubious Codicil

Michael Wharton
Date Published
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Michael Wharton, of course, was Peter Simple of the Daily Telegraph. A Dubious Codicil is the second and more rare volume of his autobiography. It takes up his story in 1957 when the author first started working for the Daily Telegraph where he remained for thirty-three years writing the Way of the World column. He soon established a name as the funniest and most mordant columnist in Britain, combining splendid comic characters, for example, Mrs Dutt-Pauker the Hampstead thinker and Julian Birdbath the depressed man of letters, with philippics on the evils of the age, from television and mass tourism to flights to the moon and almost any activity involving scientists and men in white coats.

And yet, by a pleasing paradox, his dislike of the permissive society did not prevent him from leading an unconventional life which, as he gleefully points out, might have shocked more hidebound journalists, dutifully making their way to suburban homes while the arch-eccentrics of the Telegraph gathered in Fleet Street’s Kings and Keys. Their world and their highly unorthodox behaviour are vividly brought to life. But this bohemian existence was troubled, in Michael Wharton’s case, by a growing sense of futility and time passing. Temporary salvation, at least, lay to hand in his beloved Westmorland where, with congenial local companions, he helped to save the Eden Valley from the onslaught of developers.

A Missing Will, the first volume of his autobiography, is also available in Faber Finds.

‘. . . .Yet the book is quite fascinating to read . . . It is partly the fascination of following a well-known and well-loved character through this vales of tears – however much he may suppose he has hidden himself behind the personality of Peter Simple, however unknown and unloved he may imagine himself to be, there can be few readers of Peter Simple who will not ”identify” with him. It is also partly the high interest of watching a giant among familiar contemporary scenes, as if Shakespeare had emerged in the garb of Mr Pooter.’ Auberon Waugh, Sunday Telegraph