The combination of the current issue of the quarterly – Issue 66 – and The Empress of Ireland by Christopher Robbins makes an ideal introduction to the world of Slightly Foxed and a perfect present.
In this issue: Pauline Melville decides she’d rather not • Mick Herron sees life on Cannery Row • Clive Unger-Hamilton develops a taste for Paris • Sarah Crowden follows two middle-aged ladies to Andalusia • Margaret Drabble swims with the Water Babies • Annabel Walker changes her mind about Cornwall, and much more besides . . .
The subtitle to this delicious book is ‘A Chronicle of an Unusual Friendship’, and it would indeed be difficult to imagine two more unlikely companions than its author and his subject, the 80-year-old gay Irish film-maker Brian Desmond Hurst.
The straight and very English Robbins was young, green and broke when he was first introduced to Hurst by a bogus Count he’d met in Spain, as a possible scriptwriter for a forthcoming film. It was an unusual interview, conducted at a drunken lunch party in Hurst’s grand but shabby Belgravia drawing-room. To his astonishment, with no questions asked and no scriptwriting experience, Robbins was offered the job. The film, he learned, was to be a great religious epic covering ‘the events leading up to the birth of Christ’.
Haughty, outrageous, infuriating, manipulative, Hurst was all those things, yet he was also witty, spirited, clear-eyed, often generous and always entertaining. The great religious epic was never made of course, Robbins was never paid and the script was never finished. But in The Empress of Ireland he produced a comic masterpiece, a picture of a particular kind of gay life in the 1970s, and of a wickedly unapologetic old rogue it’s impossible not to like.
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