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Jeffrey Bernard And Soho Remembered

With the death of George Melly, Soho has lost another great character. It is becoming a very bland place. It was becoming a corporate entity when Jeffery Bernard died in September 1997. I miss Soho as it was and I miss Jeffery Bernard himself.
Although I often saw him out and about I had never talked to him - and in fact never wished to - but for a period during the 80s and first part of the 90s I felt that I knew the minutiae of his entire life. He was the legendary Soho journalist and boozer who spent over 40 years popping into the pub for 'just the one'. His column in The Spectator was described by the writer Jonathan Meades in The Tatler as 'a suicide note in weekly instalments' but it was much more than this. And Bernard was much more than that. Yes he was a bottle-of-vodka and 60 cigs a day man but he was also a young gigolo, professional boxer, miner, actor and stagehand as well as being a magnificent writer. He was married 4 times and divorced 3 times. It would have been 4 but his 1st wife committed suicide and he claimed he'd had 500 lovers including the actresses Fenella Fielding and Wendy Richard (yes THE Wendy Richard). His life has been immortalised in the play 'Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell' starring Peter O'Toole and since his death no other columnist has come close (or would never dare) to replicating his style.
Bernard was born in Hampstead, North London, in 1932 the son of a successful architect that nonetheless found bankruptcy easy to come by and a snobbish working-class opera singer who liked to be known by her stage name of Fedora. He was sent to the naval public school at Pangbourne, which he hated and it's ghosts would blight him for the remainder of his life. It was only when he was in his early teens that he discovered booze, betting, birds and his spiritual home - Soho - that his life was truly to begin. What came first we are not to know. But Bernard and his two brothers embraced the Soho of the late 40s and 50s. This was the Soho of the painters Lucien Freud and Francis Bacon. The tarts and the queers. The Coach & Horses and the York Minster pubs. And the clubs such as the Caves and the Colony Room. Inhabited by characters such as Muriel Belcher who owned The Colony and Gaston Berlemont who owned the York Minister and because of his ancestry lent the pub the name of 'The French House' that it is officially known as today. Jazz clubs where George Melly and Johnny Dankworth played jostled next to Jamaican Shebeen's and the young Bernard loved every minute of it.
With no discernible income Bernard took any number of jobs from navvying to acting to pay the way. Due to his good looks he was never afraid to "ponce off" rich older...

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