Literary London is enjoying a belly-laugh at the expense of one A.N.Wilson, a writer of many books and even more newspaper columns. He has just published a biography of John Betjeman, in his day the Poet Laureate and one of the most popular of poets in any age. In this biography is a letter purportedly from Betjeman to the Irish and long dead writer Honor Tracy, and Wilson uses this to improvise about their affair, conjuring up alcohol-fuelled lunches and afternoons in a rented room.
Honor Tracy was a lesbian – but let that pass. The letter is a quite brilliant pastiche of Betjeman, slang and all, and it contains an implanted acrostic – the first letters of its sentences read, “A.N. Wilson is a shit.” A well-wisher by the name of Eve de Harben had sent Wilson the letter about Honor Tracy, and he had failed to spot either that this name was an anagram of “ever been had” or the lethal acrostic.
The author of the hoax stands revealed as Bevis Hillier, a learned and clever fellow, author of a previous biography of Betjeman in three immense volumes. Wilson had steadily disparaged and ignored this work, creating bad blood. Detecting grudge and envy, Hillier got his own back with this exposé of Wilson’s carelessness.
As a matter of fact, Wilson is prone to pratfalls. He cultivates a side-line in pro-fascist, anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli propaganda. In that spirit he trumpeted the Palestinian lie that an operation in 2002 killing some fifty terrorists in the West Bank town of Jenin was “a massacre, and cover-up for genocide.” He talks about the “Zionist SS” and how Israel poisons the wells, and indeed has no right to exist. His master-stroke was to publish a tirade against Israel that had apparently been written by an Israeli overcome with horror at what his country was doing. In fact, this too was a hoax, penned by a notorious neo-Nazi by the name of Michael Hoffman. The London newspaper that had run Wilson’s bloop published a grovelling apology.
Eve de Harben may be a comic turn, but it proves the point all right.