It seems that another essay has to be written covering the summer of 1929, exploring the love triangle consisting of Evelyn Waugh, his wife and John Heygate. But let me recap (for myself at least) what is becoming quite a dense section of Waugh's story. FIrst, his photo of the living room at Canonbury Square came to my attention (and hasn't left it). Then Eleanor Watts role in the events became apparent (and needed to be set down). Then the importance of certain soirées had to be spelt out (in words and pics). And now the valuable perspective granted to us by Tom Driberg has to be presented.
Who was Tom Driberg? Evelyn knew him at school, though Waugh was nearly two years older, probably because Tom became a member of the Dilettanti Society that Evelyn set up at Lancing College. On just about his last day at school, Waugh wrote in his diary that he had been in 'rather good form' in the House Room, talking to 'Harrison, Driberg, Longe, Molson, Carew and later my colleagues who had been smoking on the field.'
Tom Driberg was very religious and enjoyed the high church aspect of Lancing with its enormous chapel. He also enjoyed being among boys and had intimate relationships with friends while in the last year at school. By the time he went up to Oxford, Tom was sexually promiscuous, a tendency he was notorious for throughout his adult life. After Oxford, he was given a trial by the Daily Express, and, unlike Evelyn's of a year or so before, Tom's was successful. He was extremely well-connected, which was helpful when it came to co-writing the prominent society column which appeared at the top of the second back page in the newspaper, six days a week. His co-writer was Colonel Percy Sewell who would write about dances and race meetings in an entirely straight way. In contrast, Tom Driberg had, in common with his bright young friend from Lancing, a highly developed sense of the absurd.
Here is how the top of page 19 of the Daily Express looked on the day that Decline and Fall came out in the same September that The Talk of London column was initiated. In a fairly dry paper, this was indeed a lush place:
Luckily, the Daily Express has been digitally archived, so, for a price, all a researcher has to do is to put into a search box the words one is interested in, such as 'Evelyn Waugh', and put a constraint on the date, so as not to be snowed under with data. A miniature of all the relevant pages then crops up. The researcher then creates a pdf file and scours the page until coming across the words that are being so eagerly sought after. The jewel in the above Talk of London (found in column five) is this:
I wonder what Tom Driberg was alluding to in the final clause of the last sentence. Because he would have been alluding to something. I'm now familiar enough with The Dragoman's sly ways to know that. It's also true to say that Driberg liked to focus on objects in his writing. In this case, a book's dustwrapper. I bet Tom liked the idea of dressing up as a shabby undergraduate, a society bridegroom, a convict and a clergyman in order to facilitate a more engrossing sex life. Francis Wheen, in his biography of Driberg, tells us in an early chapter that 'throughout his life he believed that sex was enjoyable only with someone he had never met before and would never meet again.'
Did Driberg actually like Decline and Fall? Christopher Sykes reports how when he was in a nursing home that September, the Daily Express man paid a visit bringing a copy of the new novel with him. Tom read out some favourite passages but was unable to get to the end of these because he and Christopher would be so overcome with laughter.
A couple of months later, in November 1928, The Dragoman mentioned Waugh's first novel again. Here's an overview of the page, completely dominated by The Talk of London column. In fact the rest of it consists entirely of advertisements. In other words, if you lived in Barnsley, Huddersfield, Wolverhampton or BIrmingham, and if you didn't fancy the Talk of London (or hadn't worked out that half of it was written by a bore and the other half by a dandy), all you got to read was ads for indigestion powder, hankies, pianos and fags (that kept you thin). Give me The Talk of London every time.
Tucked away right at the end. Or, rather, given prominence because it's the conclusion to the piece, Tom Driberg gives us this about his old school chum's novel:
Driberg here is having a laugh. As Martin Stannard tells us about Decline and Fall's reception: 'Good taste drew the line at using a near-identical version of someone's name when the character was patently homosexual. Clearly the Martin Gaythorn-Brodie and Kevin Saunderson of the first impression were Eddie Gaythorn-Hardy and Gavin Henderson. For the third impression the last two names were changed to Hon. MIles Malpractice and Lord Parakeet.'
And didn't Tom Driberg aka The Dragoman just love it!
Clearly, Waugh would have benefitted through this publicity. Good idea to invite Tom to the Waughs' party then. For which the Dragoman awarded Evelyn another paragraph on the 20th of November, 1928:
So that's Tom rubbing shoulders with the MItfords, the Guinnesses, literary reviewers, authors, publishers, and so on. Not that he wasn't doing that already.
Evelyn: "Ah, Tom, so you found your way here all right."
Tom: "The king's footman drew me out a handy little map going all the way from his place to yours."
Evelyn: "I'm expecting the king at any moment. He's an ardent admirer of Decline and Fall. Indeed, I'm told the book is being passed from one member of the royal family to another with the utmost respect."
Tom: "That's right, Evelyn. And it's the king's handsome footman that's in possession of the book at the moment. It took all my charms to drag his eyes from 'The Agony of captain Grimes'."
Let's move to 1929 when the plot, needless to say, Heygates. Enter Nancy MItford.
Or as she put it in a letter to her brother in May 1929:
'I'm probably going to stay with Evelyn Waugh in Islington while the other Evelyn goes away to write a book which would be great fun.'
Funny that He-Evelyn was so relatively unknown in these days that Nancy could say: 'Evelyn Waugh', to someone in her circle and be understood to be meaning She-Evelyn. Her letter then goes on to say:
'Tom Driberg sends his love, he is in the same condition as us, pecuniarily I mean. It is such a satisfaction to think that others are isn't it? His camera is in pawn so he's going half shares with mine for the Tatler.'
OK, so Tom Driberg knew Nancy Mitford as well as He-Evelyn, who was briefing Tom about the progress of his new book. Yes, why not advertise Vile Bodies to the book-buying public even though the book was only as yet half-written? Here is what The Dragoman came up with in his column in June 1929:
I'll interrupt Tom at this point, just to flag up that this is a very useful piece of information. It confirms to me that Waugh hadn't begun his novel while onboard the Stella Polaris. It also means that he wrote extremely quickly as soon as he arrived at the Abingdon Arms in Beckley.
OK, back to The Dragoman:
Something of of an update on the whole Mitford family there. Well, no, Driberg doesn't mention Diana. Don't worry though, the Dragoman will be putting that right soon enough.
As we already know, Tuesday, June 26, was the evening of the Embarkation for Cythera party on the Friendship. Who was there? Tom Driberg, of course. Here is how The Talk of London began the next day:
He mentions a few other parties that were on that evening, but not the 1860 party where She-Evelyn, Nancy MItford and John Heygate began their revelries. However, he does mention a couple of the aforementioned individuals in connection with the Departure for Cythera. They crop up towards the end of the following para:
No mention of He-Evelyn, because, as we know, he wasn't there. No mention of John Heygate because it might have rocked the boat if The Dragoman was to tell his readership that he saw Mrs Evelyn Waugh lying on deck in a huddle with Mr John Heygate. As I established in the last essay, that's John Heygate and She-Evelyn in the background of the photo below.
She-Evelyn's letter to He-Evelyn, admitting her love for John, was written on July 9th. Perhaps Evelyn received it on July 10th. In which case he may have had the pleasure of reading something written by his wife and his wife's lover on the same day. I say this because the Daily Express printed the following piece by John Heygate on page 8 of the July 10th edition. I'll summarise its content after you've glanced at it yourself.
Heygate concludes his piece by envisaging someone in the bath, first reading a newspaper thanks to an invalid's bookrest stretching across the bath, then enjoying a cigarette courtesy of a waterproof cigarette-box and a mechanical lighter. The author tells us that in the perfect bathroom a telephone extension would be fitted, ideally on a telescopic bracket attached top the wall. 'The only drawback to bathroom telephoning is that the introduction of television may prove somewhat embarrassing to "mixed" conversations: However this is a detail I shall leave you to get over as you think best.'
I don't think I understand that. Does it mean that if you have a TV in the bathroom and a character says something racy, then the person on the other end of the phone might get the wrong end of the stick? But wouldn't that happen just as easily with a telephone conversation in the living room? Ah, clarity, it's what good writing calls for. It's one of the reasons that Evelyn Waugh is still thought of as a good writer.
Incidentally, in Vile Bodies, I don't think there is ever the suggestion that NIna took any calls from Adam in the bathroom. Though the first time they speak she does comment that she is about to have a bath.
A reason that I think He-Evelyn might have read this piece is that when he came to write A Handful of Dust, he made the mother of John Beaver (Beaver being a fictional Heygate) have an interior design business in London, interior design being the subject of at least one more article published by Heygate in the Daily Express in the summer of 1929.
Obviously, Waugh was an ardent reader of The Dragoman. If The Abingdon Arms didn't have a subscription to the nation's most popular newspaper, he would have taken one out himself. No way would Evelyn have missed a single day's paper. How else was he to keep up with what his friends were up to in London?
The next Talk of London column that is of immediate interest is the one dated July 17. Though the front page mentions the 'tropical' party of the previous evening on the Friendship, focussing on the Zulu that wasn't allowed onboard, Dragoman doesn't mention it directly. Instead, he tells us why Nancy Mitford wasn't at Charing Cross that night. He does so in a roundabout way, by telling us that Bryan and Diana Guinness were at the opera in Covent Garden having brought a portable radio along so that, during the intervals, they could listen to Nancy - Diana's sister - who was taking part in a play that was being broadcast.
The Evelyns went to several parties together during their fortnight of attempted reconciliation. One of them was the Bruno Hat opening on July 23 at Bryan and Diana Guinness's house on Buckingham Place. The next day it got a long write up in The Talk of London, though the Evelyns are not mentioned.
It was a few days after that when He-Evelyn travelled to Cheshire with Eleanor Watts, ending the unsuccessful attempt at a reconciliation between the Evelyns. She-Evelyn had sworn she would avoid John Heygate but a photo appeared in a paper (as yet untraced) much to She-Evelyn's horror. Nancy advised her to say to He-Evelyn that it was an accident and that she loved no-one but him, her husband. At which point She-Evelyn told Nancy that she had never loved Evelyn.
This information comes from He-Evelyn's first biographer, Christopher Sykes, who met Nancy in order to ask her about the events of that summer (he didn't interview She-Evelyn, but Martin Stannard did). Nancy told Christopher that until this conversation she'd had no inkling that there was anything wrong between the Evelyns and that she was horrified by her friend's admission. I like to think that the conversation between She-Evelyn and Nancy would have taken place in the living room at Canonbury Square.
She-Ev: "What shall I do?"
Nancy: "Tell Evelyn it wasn't your fault and that you love him."
She-Ev: "But I don't love Evelyn. I only married him to get away from home."
Nancy: "Oh, Lord. Couldn't you have done what I did and taken a room in a friend's house?"
The telephone rings beside Nancy.
"I expect that will be John," says She-Evelyn. "I'll take it in the bathroom if you don't mind."
As I say, I have not yet been able to trace the photo that triggered the conversation between She-Evelyn and Nancy. In writing up Nancy Mitford's testimony, Sykes uses the term 'popular newspaper', of which there were many at the time. I've checked out The Daily Sketch and The Daily Herald as well as the Express, but haven't found the image in question. It could be the Daily Mirror, the Daily Mail or the Daily Chronicle. Or perhaps an evening paper, or a Sunday. I reckon it must have been in a paper published between Friday July 26 and Wednesday July 31, so there is only one Sunday in question. Ah well, the image will turn up sooner or later as the digitalisation of these titles proceeds.
In August, John Heygate - now living with She-Evelyn - had three pieces published in the Daily Express. The first was on August 14 and is titled 'Arrange Your Rooms Before Your Parties'. Had John Heygate and She-Evelyn yet moved from his bachelor accommodation in Kensington to the flat in Canonbury Square that He-Evelyn walked out of - never to return - on August the second? Well, I'll read John's piece and report below it, shall I?
Before a party, John writes. 'There must be careful planning and careful composition. Like a good picture, the furniture of a room must "hang" together. You must avoid the faults, on the one hand, of crowding all your furniture in particular corners, or at one end of the room, and on the other of scattering it at random without any meaning.'
The piece goes on:
'Imagine a plain rectangular room in which you are going to hold a tea party or a cocktail gathering. The windows are at one short end, and in the middle of one long side is the fireplace. The first thing to do in arranging the furniture of such a room is to "break down" the sharp corners of the rectangle and create "groups" in them.'
I'm reminded that John Beaver's mother was given to views on just such matters in A Handful of Dust. But let John continue:
'Have you ever noticed how disconcerting a square or rectangular table can be in a drawing room which is filled with guests. It seems to prevent circulation and at once creates a stiff formal atmosphere. There is nothing like the small round table which used to be so popular on the French stage to fill a space and carry the eye, and hence the movement of guests, from group to group. Its mere roundness seems to invite circulation. Not that the object of every party should be to keep one's guests continually on the move!'
Taking all that into account, perhaps John Heygate has something like this in mind:
'And so the carefully planned disposition of your furniture will have prepared the way for a most successful party but how many people will have realised the secret of your success?'
John Heygate and She-Evelyn in residence at Canonbury Square. Who would have believed it?
He-Evelyn went to stay with friends out of London in order to regroup. By the middle of August he was in Belfast for a motor race. After which he went to stay with the Guinnesses at their grand house near Dublin.
We know he was back in London on the 6th of September because of what The Dragoman tells us in his column of September the seventh:
Toad of Toad Hall comes to mind, pockets full of cigars knocked off from Knockmaroon.
But actually, this report is significant. Waugh didn't stay in London long. He was soon ensconced in a pub in Appledore, Devon. One of the first things he did on resuming Vile Bodies was to make Adam take over Lord Balcairn's position as the writer of a gossip column in The Daily Excess, the previous incumbent having gassed himself.
'Then Adam became Mr Chatterbox,' are the first words of energetic chapter seven. One of Adam's jokes in the Chatterbox column is to claim that green bowler hats are all the rage among the smart set in London. It's reminiscent of a paragraph that Driberg wrote in The Talk of London on 30th July. 'Captain Denison is a "character" whom nobody could possibly dislike. He was one of the pioneer wearers in this country of white duck trousers, and almost the only straw "boater" to be seen at Cowes this year adorned his head.'
But given how directly Evelyn's experience of the races in Belfast fed into chapter ten, one can't help wondering how important the actual meeting with Tom Driberg in early September may have been for the beginning of the second half of the book. The thick billiard-table-green tweed suit may have been real. It may have been Evelyn Waugh's invention. It may have been Tom Driberg's invention. But the meeting clearly got Waugh thinking. And if not just the meeting itself then reading about the meeting in the next day's paper. At the end of chapter eight, Lord Monomark (clearly based on Lord Beaverbrook) tells Adam that he simply didn't believe in the green bowler and that it was not to be mentioned again. Boo, Monomark; Boo, Beaverbrook.
I'm trying to visualise that encounter between Waugh and Driberg more fully. Where had Tom been before meeting Evelyn in Bond Street? What are the implications of Evelyn having been with Bryan and Diana at Knockmaroon following his days at the Belfast TT with Richard Plunket Greene and Alastair Graham? Oh, let's just go with the flow:
"That tweed suit you mention, Evelyn. Isn't it a bit Irish?"
"Perfect for wearing in an Irish bog."
"Are you much frequenting Irish bogs these days?"
"I'd walk through worse in order to be close to Diana."
"How close exactly? Did you knock her up in Knockmaroon?"
"I swear I will next time."
"Because you'll be wearing a green bowler hat?"
"I'll be knocking off Diana in Knockmaroon wearing my suit of Irish-bog-green. But perhaps you can join us and knock off Bryan."
"Would I stand a chance of knocking off Bryan in Knockmaroon?"
"You would if you were wearing a green bowler and I was knocking off Diana. Of course, if Diana and Bryan were at their Buckingham Street palace or in their Pool Place or in the Guinness pad in Paris there would be no knocking off either of them at Knockmaroon."
"We must keep a close track of their movements."
"I'll do that and you can write it up in your column."
"Then you'll know when the time is ripe for a trip to Knockmaroon."
"We'll know when to don green bowlers and head for the ferry."
No doubt there is a gratuitous element in the above exchange. But bear in mind that Diana Mosley (aka Mitford aka Guinness) wrote in a 1986 essay that in 1929/30, when she and Evelyn were very close, another great friend of Evelyn's was Tom Driberg. 'Evelyn and he laughed together,' she tells us, adding: 'A journalist who wrote a gossip column in the Daily Express, he was a wonderfully funny man, though one might not have guessed it from his lugubrious aspect, nor from his journalism; his column contained few jokes. He was also a madly rash homosexual, at a time when the activities he indulged in could easily lead to prison.'
So let's go back to Tom Driberg's column on September 7, 1929:
So when Waugh met Driberg that September day, did he just trot out a few facts about the early parts of Vile Bodies? Or did he tell his old friend the truth? That She-Evelyn had left him. That his spirit was broken. That his book was stalled and might never be restarted.
"Oh, I'm sure you'll come round, Evelyn. Why don't you give your main character my job?"
"One of these days we should swop, Tom. I'll write your column and you can write my bloody novels."
"Well, nothing could be easier than writing my stuff. You just meet people and listen to the odd word they say and Bob's your uncle."
"You haven't come across a chap called Heygate in your travels?"
"Wears a boater and white duck trousers?"
"I dare say."
"Yes, I think I know the man."
"Would you mind knocking him off for me?"
"You don't mean knocking him off in the Bryan or Diana sense, do you?"
"I mean doing for the bastard."
"Bumping him off! Where will I find him?"
"You'll find the basement boy in a first floor flat. 17a Canonbury Square."
"Ah, I see."
"Cave his skull in with a candlestick, will you. Indeed, I now realise I left two on the mantelpiece for that precise purpose."
"And if he's in the bathroom?"
"Do I have to draw you a diagram? Take the candlestick into the bathroom and cave his Eton skull in."
"What if he's wearing a green bowler?"
"It's all the rage to wear a green bowler in the bath while talking to your lover on the phone is it? Well, let me just plant another image in your mind. Me dressed in a tweed suit of billiard-table-green giving what-Bryan-can't-give-to-Diana, to Diana, in Knockmaroon."
"I begin to see what Diana and Nancy see in you, Evelyn. Er... is this all going in the book?"
"It can hardly go in your column of tosh."
"My column of tosh! Do you mind if I use that phrase during an assignation I have in mind for later on today?"
Dealing with Tom's column of tosh took it out of him. Here is how Driberg looked just a few years after the image of him that appears at the top of this page.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. On September 6, Tom Driberg and Evelyn Waugh met on Bond Street, Piccadilly. Evelyn told his great friend that he'd been to Knockmaroon near Dublin. But what he appears not to have said is that first he'd been to see the TT Road Race outside Belfast with a couple of chums. And that weekend had huge implications for Vile Bodies. As you can read for yourself by jumping to the next essay.