But while Letts is on the ground being kicked I would like to take the opportunity to stamp on his specs. I'd like to question the pathetic humourless humour that he and other sketch writers generate. The smugness of tone is one thing. The Sarah Kennedyness of what goes on in his brain, all 'our coloured brethren' and 'his nibs', is another.
The smug-yet-wise sketch writer tone is actually an anachronism. The deployment of an arch comment after a quote from a politician, or a set of quotation marks used to suggest raised eyebrows is not necessary today. They belong to an age of deference. These days you can rip into the substance and style of any politician directly. You're not going to get beheaded. You're limited only by your slimy aspirations to not miss out on an invite to drinks. But if you're not even 'speaking truth unto power', just slagging someone off for the sake of it, this way of writing is pointless.
But apart from the misanthropy, smugness and sniveling solipsism, the thing that gets me is sloppiness. It's not the victimization of perfectly normal people, it's the lack of time he takes to do it, the slovenly approach to his chosen profession. Here's a selection of the column dissected by Adrian Short. Where he critiqued the smug content, I just want to pick out the jokes.
"A Whitehall official has been Tweeting about her drunkenness, boasting about how pointless she thinks some of her work is and how much she dislikes the Government’s deficit reduction."
(NO JOKES YET)
"When I rang her department yesterday to tell them, there was a cold pause before someone promised
to ‘get back’ to me. He never did."
(INVERTED COMMAS - DENOTING JOKE ABOUT THE FACT THAT SOMEONE SAID THEY'D GET BACK TO
"Civil servants used to try to be impartial and discreet. Not so Sarah Baskerville, ‘Team Leader in Corporate Finance Systems and Reporting Solutions’ (what a title!) at the Department of Transport.
Ms Baskerville, aka ‘Baskers’, is an incorrigible contributor to the internet. She belongs to numerous networking sites."
(TWO JOKES -BRACKETS AND INVERTED COMMAS BOTH USED TO TURN CONTENT INTO COMMENT ABOUT THE DETERIORATING STANDARDS OF THE WORLD WE LIVE IN)
"In the middle of a management course — paid for by us taxpayers to help her do her job better — she posted a Tweet promoting a Labour MP’s attack on Downing Street ‘spin’. She later described the person who was taking the course as ‘mental’.Charming."
1. HYPHENATED CLAUSE MAKES JOKE ABOUT TAXPAYERS MONEY BEING WASTED IN IRONIC FASHION ON TRAINING. ALTHOUGH ON EXAMINATION NO MONEY APPEARS TO HAVE BEEN WASTED UNLESS THE WOMAN CONCERNED WAS
ALREADY PERFECT. WHICH WOULD UNDERMINE HIS OVERALL THESIS.
2 and 3: INVERTED COMMAS USED TO TURN CONTENT INTO COMMENT ABOUT THE DETERIORATING STANDARDS OF THE WORLD WE LIVE IN
4. JOKE. THE HUMOROUS REACTION - ' CHARMING' - AFTER SUBJECT CALLED PERSON MENTAL.)
Just on that last joke. While we should be grateful that he actually moves beyond snide punctuation to deliver his humorist punchlines, saying 'Charming' after someone's opinion is not very funny. Not really. Not for a humorist. Imagine saying 'Excuse me' to James Thurber and being asked 'Why what have you done?' Even if he had said it, he wouldn't write it up. Not as a humorous anecdote. Not to millions of people.
Who cares? Letts admits to being a hack. And he has an excuse. He writes four columns a day, political sketches and theatre reviews. He writes so much because he wants the money, has a family, needs to keep the wolf from the door. All fine, if he wasn't moaning through his sloppy, regurgitated style, the decline in standards.
Quentin, see, believes in elites. "If people have no sense of what is best, how can they improve themselves?" he writes, in the introduction to one of his quickly expectorated works of non-fiction. His latest book is actually called Bog Standard Britain. How Mediocrity ruined this great nation.
He says 'I'm shouting out for elitism and public duty' and 'Traditional ideas of honour have been dumped'.
If he wrote brilliantly on any subject, he'd have my vote. I read the Spectator for many years, even though I frequently found its politics nauseating, simply because many of the contributors really could write. The doctor (Theodore Dalrymple?)who used a column to slag off his poor, feckless patients? Despicable, but nicely done. (I stopped reading The Spectator when Boris Johnson took over as editor and it became overtly braying.)
Quentin Letts, unlike Theodore Dalrymple, let alone James Thurber, often restricts his satire to mocking someone's appearance to save time researching matters. Like the left-leaning, ordinary-shaped woman that he mocked for wearing a silly hat, not realizing she was suffering from cancer and her hair had fallen out. (She died a few days later.) Surely he would agree that these are not great British standards to uphold.
Lazy, pointless, sloppy, ingratiating, nasty. It seems Letts is everything he himself hates.