Simon Hoggart at Cheltenham Literature Festival

Article published on October 9, 2013.Reviewed by Mike Stafford

According to his agent’s website, it’s between £1k and £3k to obtain Simon Hoggart’s services as an after dinner speaker. Having seen him in action at Cheltenham Literature Festival, I can confirm that’s a snip. Drawing on a vast arsenal of anecdotes from a career spanning six decades, the acerbic political sketch writer offered the audience a dose of his own brand of insightful hilarity.

Of Lib Dem MPs new to the business of government, he observed “they’re like a vicar who’s discovered the joys of crack cocaine.” Of Alex Salmond, “I’m not saying he’s a liar, but he bothers less with… the strictest of verisimilitude.” Nigel Farage’s persona as a man who loves a pint and a fight is “an act,” and on Ted Heath’s twenty years of hating Margaret Thatcher, he lightly observed “we all have a hobby.”

There was insider wisdom aplenty on political figures both old and new. Boris Johnson, he noted, has started being very polite about Cameron and Osborne, despite the fact he detests the latter. The reason? “He’s desperate to be Prime Minister,” and the lesson is clear from Michael Heseltine, “the regicide never becomes king.” Ed Miliband, though he “looks like Wallace… living in claymation,” is actually “quite sharp.” His relationship with father Ralph, he contended, is significant. “There is a filial loyalty in Ed which wasn’t present so much in David.” “Broon,” despite his public persona, “could be quite a nice bloke,” and had a “bullish confidence.” Talking about his beloved Raith Rovers following a defeat, Brown told Hoggart, “I only go when they win.” Having been asked the obvious question, he replied – “because when I go, they win!”

But Hoggart was at his finest when discussing the politics of old, the days of grand, jowly old buffers discussing affairs of state in the commons bar. Upon hearing an exasperated Guardian hack complain of the Commons, “the trouble with this place is that it’s full of c***s,” indolent Labour MP Bill Stones retorted, “there’s plenty of c***s in [the] country. And they need some representation!” When asked if, on Margaret Thatcher’s resignation, he actually said “rejoice, rejoice,” Edward Heath later gave the truth to Hoggart. “I was misquoted,” he grouched, “I actually said ‘rejoice, rejoice… rejoice!'” And of the Iron Lady herself, he told of a highly revealing remark she made at, of all places, a children’s party. “I don’t like blancmange,” wailed a young child to Mrs T. “That’s what parties are all about,” she explained to the lad, “eating food you don’t like.”

All told, a convivial hour in the presence of a man for whom the phrase “rapier wit” might have been forged.

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