Where did Private Eye nick half of its style from? Who made the Telegraph genuinely subversive? Which is the finest autobiography of any recent British writer? Michael Wharton, who died four years ago, aged 92 was that man. His Peter Simple column was a long-lived continuation of the tradition of absurdist satire following on from Beachcomber, and the anthologies of the column are well worth reading. His masterpiece though was his two-pronged memoir The Missing Will followed by A Dubious Codicil. Currently out of print, it’s usually not cheap on the internet, with eBay prices being sky high.
He still has many fans in the press, but the column was rapidly abandoned, the unique nature of it was impossible to reproduce satisfactorily. It’s not just the humour and general destruction of sacred cows. Wharton had a lifelong affinity for what he called “the numinous”, with a mystic’s insight. He also lead a chaotic personal life, honestly outlined in his books, and he was rhapsodic about the English countryside. His alluring descriptions of Appleby in Westmoreland and wistful evocations of a rural idyll between the wars are as great a testament to a disappearing strain of national life as anything by Betjeman. As a proud Luddite, he would have viewed blogging with disdain, but would be amused by the inexorable realisation of his most outrageous fantasies. It can only be a matter of time before Haringey Council opens its Aztec outreach programme.