Fear & loathing in Fitzrovia

While Julian MacLaren-Ross could turn a reasonable sentence, I’ve always felt the cult that exists around this writer is based more on his  sad bohemian life than his books.  Therefore it has taken me a few years to get around to reading Paul Willetts 2005 biography of this bourgeois clown. Fear & Loathing In Fitzrovia is a fantastically well researched book, and for fans of MacLaren-Ross I’m sure it provides them with everything they want. For the rest of us there is a certain amusement to be gained from the repetitious nature of the MacLaren-Ross spendthrift life-style, which resulted in endless moonlight flits, but it only serves to confirm what most readers already know, he was ultimately a bore.
Since I’m not a MacLaren-Ross enthusiast, I found his biography rather more interesting for the way it mapped Bohemian London in the 1940s and 1950s than how it dealt with his life, and as such it might be cross-referenced with other works about that period such as Nigel Richardson’s Dog Days In Soho: One Man’s Adventures in 1950s Bohemia. I found it curious that Willetts makes no mention of Colin MacInnes, a writer who like MacLaren-Ross frequented the French pub and various Soho drinking clubs; both of them also did a huge amount of work for the BBC. MacLaren-Ross was born in 1912, MacInnes two years later, and both left London as children to return to England more or less as adults. Both were considered difficult by their cultural industry peers, and both ‘enjoyed’ a rather nomadic life-style. However, while MacLaren-Ross was straight and suffered from some unbelievably sad sexual fixations (the most notorious instance of this being his pursuit of Sonia Orwell), MacInnes was gay. Given the latter writer’s taste for rough trade, it perhaps isn’t surprising that MacInnes embraced the working class youth culture of the 1950s and celebrated it in his novels, whereas MacLaren-Ross appears to have resented it.
Willetts has written as good a biography as one could hope for about MacLaren-Ross, but a compare and contrast exercise with MacInnes would have proved much more interesting. There are so many similarities between them that seeing where and how differences emerge is illuminating. That said, Fear & Loathing In Fitzrovia does at least demonstrate yet again that a posh education and at least the appearance of coming from an over-privileged background count for more within the British literary establishment than actual talent. So while class issues are never far from the surface in the Willetts tome, a more overt exposition of such matters would have been very welcome. For all their bohemian gloss, at the end of the day both MacInnes and MacLaren-Ross are bourgeois and square. Real life lies elsewhere. Nonetheless, Willetts is to be congratulated on his research, a very thorough job; and obviously he’s not to blame for the fact that bourgeois social relations conspire to make biography such a dominant genre within the book trade.
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!


Comment by Seamus Heaney on 2009-04-09 14:49:25 +0000

And what about that there Patrick Hamilton? Where do you stand on that fella?

Comment by Bruce Wayne on 2009-04-09 15:02:44 +0000

Holy class war! What’s your problem with a few of us being stinking rich? Especially someone like me who is also a philanthropist. Haven’t read either of these writers but my guess is the MacInnes fellow is more up my and Robin’s bat street.

Comment by McKenzie Wark on 2009-04-09 17:53:18 +0000

A bit unkind to MacInnes, who did at least dig some interesting material out of 50s London. Its hard to pass and square and bourgeois when you are homosexual and grew up in Australia.

Comment by mistertrippy on 2009-04-09 19:28:59 +0000

MacInnes made more interesting connections than Julian MacLaren-Ross, after all he based Absolute Beginners and Mir Love & Justice on real life hipster Terry Taylor, but he does strike me as ultimately a bore, if less of one than MacLaren Ross. But then it is probably difficult to be hip if you are related to Rudyard Kipling. Also it is unfortunate to have Billy Bragg who also obsesses over George Orwell as a fan….

Comment by Howling Wizard Shrieking Toad on 2009-04-10 11:17:23 +0000

“That said, Fear & Loathing In Fitzrovia does at least demonstrate yet again that a posh education and at least the appearance of coming from an over-privileged background count for more within the British literary establishment than actual talent.”
True — look at Martin Amis and Will Self.

Comment by Terry Thomas on 2009-04-10 11:31:48 +0000

You’re an absolute shower!

Comment by Billy Howard on 2009-04-10 17:53:01 +0000

Oh those guys didn’t know the real Soho, you need to come to a Soho don for that.

Comment by K Mail on 2009-04-10 18:24:30 +0000

I just saw Julian MacLaren-Ross arguing with each other in the Old Street Kwik Save, I must have fallen thru a wormhole.

Comment by The Real Tessie on 2009-04-10 19:07:28 +0000

Well at least Colin MacInnes had his book “Absolute Beginners” filmed; when is someone goona make a movie of one of your books and make you enough money to keep me in the manner to which I am no longer accustomed?

Comment by Peter The Pleater on 2009-04-10 19:40:57 +0000

Oh these boho boys feel safe enough in Soho but in the sixties they’d have never come down to Old Street, shame they are happy to do that now!

Comment by Lisa Prescott on 2009-04-10 20:46:38 +0000

Oh that MacLaren-Ross expressed some interest in me just before he died, but he didn’t have the £100 fee I commanded back then, unlike the gentlemen I met at Churchill’s and Winston’s club, much better than those dingy Soho pubs….

Comment by Ruth Ellis on 2009-04-11 00:27:17 +0000

It wasn’t the likes of MacLaren-Ross and MacInnes who got London swinging, it was women like me who worked in hostess clubs.

Comment by A Billy Bragg Clone Pretending To Be Howard Wall on 2009-04-11 01:15:24 +0000

When I read Colin MacInnes I’m on heat, no one else can compete, except for George Orwell, and I’m every bit as obsessed by him and his missus AKA Sonia Orwell as Julian MacLaren-Ross.

Comment by K Mail on 2009-04-11 01:16:36 +0000

You what? You what? You what? You what? You what?

Comment by The White Colours on 2009-04-11 03:58:11 +0000

The White Colours was a concept created by Avant garde author and psychogeographer Stewart Home who formed “a band” which was in fact, a collective of hundreds of musicians and non musicians. It is unknown how many members formed the White Colours, since scores of people lay claim to having been part of it, and manifestos written by Home turn up all over the world, most dating from the late 70’s to early 80’s.
Some claim that The White Colours still exist — There are rumours that an iminent reform has been planned, though it is unclear how many would be involved since the original White Colours had so many members, some of whom played, whilst some did nothing at all and never intended to.

Comment by Michael Roth on 2009-04-12 01:56:55 +0000

I think the White Colours played at my High School Graduation!

Published At