The Young Fogey: an elegy
Harry Mount mourns the extinction
of young men who wore four-piece tweed suits, including ‘westkits’,
and loved the old Prayer Book
They’re playing rap music in the jewellery
department at Christie’s South Kensington. In T.M. Lewin, the Jermyn
Street shirtmakers, you can dip into a fridge by the cufflinks counter
and have a frozen mini-Mars while you are leafing through the chocolate
But who is left to mourn these things? In
the old days, the Young Fogey, the character invented by Alan Watkins
on these pages in 1984, would have been in the vanguard of the protesters,
shrieking and whinnying away about the desecration of his haunts.
He is silent ...because he is no more.
Twenty years after his creation, the Young Fogey has pedalled off
into the sunset on his sit-up-and-beg butcher’s bike, broad-brim fedora
firmly on head, wicker basket strapped to the handlebars by leather
and brass ties.
He hasn’t actually died. The two archetypes of the Young Fogey mentioned
by Mr Watkins — the journalist and novelist A.N. Wilson, and Dr John
Casey, Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge — were only
in their thirties at the time, and so are now in their fifties and
in rude health. But there is no one following in their footsteps and
they have abandoned the whimsical attitudes that once defined them.
The grown-up Young Fogey — now, typically, in a position of power,
as are Mr Wilson and Dr Casey — will live in some style, but he’ll
no longer be interested in style. You might not even notice him in
a crowd. Goodbye, braces with old-fashioned fasteners and trouser
waistbands strapped perilously close to the nipple line. Farewell,
frockcoats cut for long-dead Victorians. No more the endless pairs
of black brogues. Hello, suit of modern cut. Hello, moccasins. Hello,
The term ‘fogey’ dates from the 18th century, and is related to the
slang word ‘fogram’, of unknown origin, according to the Oxford English
Dictionary. ‘Old fogey’ was used of old-fashioned people for several
hundred years before the Young Fogey came along. Alan Watkins acknowledges
that ‘the phrase had first been used by Dornford Yates in 1928’. He
also specifically acknowledges that he borrowed the phrase from the
literary journalist and Proust translator Terence Kilmartin, ‘who
had used it of John Casey’.
But it is Mr Watkins who put flesh — and tweed — on the skeleton.
As he wrote in his Spectator piece, the Young Fogey ‘is libertarian
but not liberal. He is conservative but has no time for Mrs Margaret
Thatcher and considers Mr Neil Kinnock the most personally attractive
of the present party leaders. He is a scholar of Evelyn Waugh. He
tends to be coolly religious, either RC or C of E. He dislikes modern
architecture. He makes a great fuss about the old Prayer Book, grammar,
syntax and punctuation. He laments the difficulty of purchasing good
bread, Cheddar cheese, kippers and sausages.... He enjoys walking
and travelling by train. He thinks the Times is not what it was and
prefers the Daily Telegraph.’
There was a significant sartorial element to the Young Fogey. Dr Casey
remembers the architectural historian Gavin Stamp matriculating at
Cambridge in 1968, at the height of the Paris Revolution, wearing
‘tall collars, very wide lapels and double-breasted waistcoats’. And
that fed in turn into Dr Stamp’s architectural interests and the emphasis
on High Victoriana — the books on Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson, George
Gilbert Scott junior and the late Gothic Revival.
But it wasn’t just clothes that defined the movement. ‘Roger Scruton
had a strong architectural Young Fogey reaction,’ says Dr Casey, ‘but
he never followed the sartorial line.’
The Young Fogeys were also concerned with gentle and gentlemanly attitudes.
‘I thought that was more striking than their way of dressing — a genuine
idea of gentlemanliness,’ Dr Casey continues. ‘Oliver Letwin wasn’t
a Young Fogey when it came to clothes. But at Cambridge he had that
gentlemanly air that he still has; that I think goes down very well.’
For a while, the Young Fogey ruled. ‘Everyone went mad,’ recalls Alan
Watkins. ‘The fierce Veronica Wadley [now the editor of the London
Evening Standard], even then a power in middle-market journalism,
declared that for the moment she was interested only in articles about
Young Fogeys. I was asked to write a book about them, to be called
The Official Young Fogey Handbook.’
Mr Watkins declined, but the Telegraph journalist Suzanne Lowry did
end up writing a book on the subject. And for a while after, the Young
Fogey had his time in the sun (always the English sun; foreign holidays
were not for him). There were buttressing forces at work. The 1981
television adaptation of Brideshead Revisited reverberated in slowly
declining waves for more than a decade. When I was at Oxford in the
early Nineties, it was still working its effects through a regular
crop of about 30 undergraduates a year, who had been 10-year-olds
when it was first shown and had been knocked sideways by it, much
as other 10-year-olds were overwhelmed by catching the Sex Pistols
in 1977 or would be overwhelmed by Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which
came out the year after Brideshead.
Seersucker jackets, plovers’ eggs, wind-up gramophones on purple velvet
cushions in punts — these were the toys of some of my contemporaries
as late as 1993.
‘I had a four-piece light-green tweed suit — without trousers — made
when I was at Oxford,’ says Richard De Moravia, 34, now a media lawyer.
‘With a flat cap, jacket, waistcoat and a cloak lined in bright gold.
The tailor wanted to make it a five-piece by making me some tweed
spats. I thought that was too much.’
Daniel Hannan, at Oxford at the same time and now MEP for South-East
England, marvels at some of the lengths the Young Fogeys went to.
‘One particularly recherché affectation was to use old constituency
names; so instead of saying Mid-Staffs or South-East Staffs, they’d
say “Lichfield, Rugely and Stone” or “Tamworth”. A similar thing today,
which I admit I’m rather in favour of, is consciously to convert all
prices into the pre-euro currencies when travelling in Europe. But
I think it’s all in decline now. Fish need water to swim in. To sustain
a few people with silver-topped canes and monocles, you need a critical
mass in cords and shiny brogues.’
There’s hardly a teddy bear or a bottle of Madeira between the undergraduates
at Oxford now. When I returned there at the end of last term, on a
boiling hot summer’s day, there wasn’t a single boater to be seen.
Look in vain round St James’s these days for the etiolated 30-year-old
making his way from London Library to Georgian terrace home in Islington,
sniffing the evening air for incense seeping under the doorway of
All Saints, Margaret Street: ‘Decidedly north German in effect — strong
whiff of the Marienkirche at Lübeck, don’t you think? Or maybe Freiburg
He’s gone for good.
John Casey, the original target of Mr Watkins and Mr Kilmartin (‘I
didn’t mind. I thought it was amusing’), agrees. ‘There are a few
undergraduate Young Fogeys left at Cambridge, but any organised body
of sentiment attached to the ceremony of life has gone.’
The Young Fogey had looked as though he’d last much longer than a
decade. He was certainly robustly built to withstand the buffeting
of the years, with his thick, thornproof tweed jacket, matched with
a waistcoat — pronounced ‘westkit’ — the bushy mutton-chop whiskers
lovingly cropped at Trumper’s, doused in pomade and bordered by baby-pink
skin shaved with badger-hair brushes, shaving soap and cut-throat
Why has he gone? It’s not that Britain is no longer fogeyish or that
the institutions the YF took to — the National Trust, Latin Masses,
the Georgian Society — have disappeared; they’re flourishing. Gentlemen’s
clubs are as difficult to get into as they have ever been. ‘The waiting
list for the Garrick is eight years’ long,’ says a spokesman for the
club. If you walk down Pall Mall, you’ll see a huge glossy poster
that spans the full façade of the RAC Club showing its Turkish baths
in all their newly refurbished beauty. Croquet is as popular as it
has ever been since its heyday just before the first world war. The
Daily Telegraph does a brisk trade in boxed DVD sets of Brideshead
Revisited and The Forsyte Saga. And more children now attend public
school than ever before.
That very success killed off the Young Fogey. Like the SDP wilting
after its great triumph — forcing the modernisation of the Labour
party — there’s nothing left for the Young Fogey to fight for. ‘It
was a rebel movement,’ says Dr Casey, one that developed in reaction
to the naked materialism, the blurring of class boundaries and the
boxy, square-shouldered, belted suit of the early Eighties.
‘It was a reaction to bohemianism, too,’ says Craig Brown, the satirist.
‘People are much more work-based now. Then there were many more people
being bohemians, and the Young Fogeys took against them. I noticed
the other day when I was dropping my daughter off at Marlborough,
the children all seemed conventional. They all looked the same and
were thinking about what jobs they were going to do.’
The in-yer-face, ‘I love 1830’ Young Fogey spirit — as vigorous in
its way as the Club 18-30 spirits of the Faliraki partygoers — had
to disappear once everybody came round to its way of thinking: to
buying Regency rectories, coating them with National Trust paint combinations
and taking holidays in Landmark Trust follies.
‘I joined the Travellers’ Club at a very young age as a sort of rebellious
gesture,’ says Craig Brown. ‘And I suddenly got worried that I’d got
to the stage where I had become the real thing, so I gave up my membership.
It was the same sort of thing with A.N. Wilson — no one could ever
call him conventional.’
The Young Fogey was as cut off and contrary as the Millwall fan. The
hooligan’s cry — ‘Nobody likes us, we don’t care’ — might just as
well have applied to the Edwardian-suited architectural historian
of 1984. When the public started to love him — and even imitate him
— he had to shuffle out of his Huntsman suit and head for Armani,
perhaps mournfully fishing a frozen mini-Mars out of the T.M. Lewin
fridge on his way over.
© 2003 The Spectator.co.uk