Readers of the Guardian, and other sniggering hoity-toities have been having a good old chortle at this. And I confess I also felt a wave of liberal self-righteousness as I read through Giles Coren’s latest rant. It is richly entertaining to see private correspondence splashed about warts and all – the kind of joyous horror that surges up when you realise an idiot has hit “reply” instead of “forward”. But in this instance I must offer a partial defence, in spite of such breath-taking grandiosity from a man who, let’s face it, is hardly William Shakespeare.
I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for the crazy, pompous arse. I used to clock him barrelling out of my favourite London eatery - the Anchor & Hope in Southwark – replete on Beef Wellington and red wine and no doubt mentally concocting his latest wry review.
And I enjoyed his flamboyant facial hair styling and penchant for late night port-fuelled webcam chats on the Supersize history programmes with Sue Perkins. He always seemed to slide effortlessly into the relevant period attire – alarmingly at home in mutton chop sideboards and frilly cuffs as he scoffed his way through pig’s heads, pigeon pie and, well, mutton chops usually.
He has the look of a Regency dandy and the appetite of a gluttonous horse, and frankly I’m a bit of a fan.
More poignantly, I read his first Times column after his dad died and almost wept at the stoical humour – the heartfelt, self-deprecating reverence of a man who was clearly his hero, and presumably the reason he picked up his pen in the first place. So it is a little dispiriting to discover he is something of a bullying little turd with a grossly inflated sense of his artistic genius.
I confess, at this juncture, a personal interest.
My own father once made a guest appearance on Alan Coren’s Call My Bluff team. The two of them bantered away in that terribly witty, cerebral way, making mincemeat of comparative thickos Sandi Toksvig and Matthew Pinsent, and I felt a nagging combination of pride and inferiority as the these wonderfully erudite gents shot the anecdotal breeze like a latter-day Menken and Russell (as far as that’s possible on a daytime TV quiz show hosted by Bob Holness).
Dad was also a broadcaster of some repute and he died a year before Alan – ripped away in the prime of his professional life by a particularly virulent and ugly cancer.
I never really talked about it before - much less wrote anything down – which is possibly why I was genuinely choked up to read of Giles’ eloquent grief. Here was the son of a media colossus, who, like I did, must have suffered that patronising hair-tousling after expressing an interest in journalism.
"Fancy a nosh, love?"
The difference, I guess, is that he clearly went on with it to become a name in his own right - helped, unquestionably, by the famous moniker, which no doubt opened the door of the Times a fraction and – who knows? – maybe nudged him through.
Stubbornly, I refused the nepotistic potential offered by my own father, hoping, at first, to carve a puckish niche in the writing world, before slipping into the anonymous abyss of proper work. I think he respected me for that, though it may have been privately frustrating to see his eldest son meander through those early years, directionless and dismally lacking in ambition.
Still he encouraged wildly, eagerly sub-editing my shockingly ill-conceived attempt at a comic novel, and critiquing the early incarnations of this very website: “Liked the Atherton piece, son – but what the hell have you got against Sue Barker?”
Bluffing with Bob - Coren Senior
Anyway, the Coren obit piece made me wonder. I’ve not really had the inclination to eulogise about my own father on these pages. Frankly, the thought of editorialising through a fog of sadness, anger and fond memories seems pointless. I doubt there would be any sense of cathartic satisfaction - even if I had a national newspaper audience and not just a small, loyal band of regular readers (thanks mum) and gay cartoon fetishists (er…).
But if I did have to do it, I’d want to do it like that: with a wry smile and a poignant story about a misfiring lawnmower.
I wonder what Alan would have made of his boy’s latest faux pas? No doubt a playful punch on the shoulder and some bluster about not letting the bastards get you down. I’m guessing the subs at the Times have two generations worth of experience when it comes to a Coren tongue-lashing after an unstressed syllable or a lost gag about blowjobs.
In a funny sort of way I am grateful for this fascinating snippet of life as a professional writer. It reinforces the stereotype of a strange, obsessive loner kept awake at night with brain-whirring angst. Being an insufferable twat seems to be another prerequisite. Maybe I’m better off with the proper job and the amateur status and I’ll leave the sub-bashing to the grizzled pros.