Never engage in a battle of wits with an unarmed man. That’s the advice, right? But sometimes it’s just too much fun. Check out this classic transcript of Will Self obliterating Richard Littlejohn on the radio. Amazingly, it was over nine years ago! I’ve never found a recording of this on the web. If anyone has one, please email me with it. Thanks to the BBC website for writing this out in the first place. Every so often, particularly after one of Littlejohn’s columns, it needs to be seen again.
THE SCENE: Nicky Campbell’s show on BBC Radio Five Live.
THE PLAYERS: Will Self, outspoken novelist and occasional journalist; Richard Littlejohn, outspoken journalist and occasional novelist.
THE PLOT: Both men have recently published books. But that is about all they have in common.
THE EDITED TRANSCRIPT:
NICKY CAMPBELL: Your book is called How the Dead Live, Will, and basically it’s a horror story – somebody dies and then stops being dead. Well, you tell us. You wrote it, anyway.
WILL SELF: I did write it, and you manifestly haven’t read it.
CAMPBELL: Well, you know, there’s a lot to do on this programme.
SELF: I know, I appreciate that. It is not a snide dig. It is quite a difficult book, it takes about 13 or 14 hours to read. So it is a fair claim on people’s attention spans. It is really about what happens to a pretty standard, kind of materialistic, atheistic person who, when they die discovers that really what the Tibetan Buddhists have to say about cosmology and about the afterlife turns out to be true. So to say that it is a kind of portrait of what everybody’s death is like is not quite right. It is a portrait of one particular person’s death and their experience about it. I suppose it has horrific elements and it is after all told from the point of view of somebody who is dead. So that that gives them a slightly kind of “Sunset Boulevard” feel, but it is not strictly speaking a horror story.
CAMPBELL: That’s not to say I won’t read it, you’ve made me feel quite guilty now.
SELF: No – that was just a low crack.
CAMPBELL: It’s just that you have a lot to do in three hours and you get books at 6 o’clock on a Tuesday night – you have got to bath the kids – you know all about that.
SELF: I do. I have many children. Many, many children.
CAMPBELL: Neither did I get a chance to read yours, Richard, but that’s not to say that I won’t. But what do you make of what David Aaronovitch has said? It is front page in the Independent. He says Richard Littlejohn’s novel is a 400-page recruiting pamphlet for the BNP.
LITTLEJOHN: What else do you expect from an overgrown student union leader who used to be a member of the Communist Party? I think it is a badge of honour to be attacked by people like David Aaronovitch, to be perfectly honest. I might put it on the cover.
SELF: Well, he is right.
LITTLEJOHN: Is he?
SELF: It is a 400 page… I’ve read 200 pages of it and that is a 200 page recruiting leaflet for the BNP.
LITTLEJOHN: Well, you can’t comment until you have read the other 200.
SELF: Why? Does it suddenly turn into Tolstoy?
LITTLEJOHN: You’ll have to read it and find out, won’t you?
SELF: Well, it won’t take me long.
LITTLEJOHN: This is typical of the self-regarding, self-appointed metropolitan elite. If you don’t agree with them they don’t engage you in argument, they throw slogans at you. If you disagree with them on immigration or asylum, you are a Nazi. If you disagree with them on Europe, you are a racist or a xenophobe or a little Englander. That is all they have got – they have only got slogans – they haven’t got arguments.
SELF: I don’t have slogans, I have reasoned opinions and I am sitting no more than 2ft 6ins away from you, Richard.
LITTLEJOHN: Well give me a reasoned opinion then. Tell me why it is a recruiting thing for the BNP?
SELF: Because it is the kind of book… I don’t actually think it is a very important or serious book and I don’t think you really inflame the issue very much and I am grateful for that. I don’t think it has got a lot of reach. It is actually a fairly light romp, funnily enough, for a book that is based on really a procession of stereotypes of situations – exaggerations and stereotypes cobbled together into a totally implausible and bizarre kind of moral fable or anti-moral fable. So I am not too worried about your book, Richard, but I do think that it represents a kind of gross distortion of reality. In a sense, I suppose if you could say it is just a light comic novel, then it is allowed to be a gross distortion of reality. It is like a kind of Tom Sharpe for the far right really. Is that fair?
LITTLEJOHN: I wouldn’t take the far right because you haven’t read the book, clearly. You have read parts of it. The fact of the matter is I wouldn’t expect anything else from you. You people, you conduct –
SELF: You haven’t read my book, have you?
LITTLEJOHN: I know I haven’t. I’ll just take it with me to the land of the free and read it by the swimming pool. It has had some fantastic reviews.
SELF: At least I have had the decency, despite I’m only appearing on a radio show with you, to actually bother to engage –
LITTLEJOHN: Well, I didn’t even know I was appearing on a radio show with you until 9 o’clock this morning, otherwise I might have made an effort and at least tried to read some of it.
SELF: I knew I was appearing on this show with you last week.
LITTLEJOHN: Well, nobody told me that, but that is neither here nor there.
CAMPBELL: It wasn’t deliberate, it wasn’t deliberate.
LITTLEJOHN: But you people do tend to conduct a debate amongst yourselves.
SELF: I am engaging in a debate with you and I have done my preparation.
LITTLEJOHN: It is interesting, Nicky, though, that you immediately pick up on what David Aaronovitch and Will Self have to say about my book and not about what Andrew Roberts –
CAMPBELL: Andrew Roberts – I was coming to that. He said that the way it was written was pacy and racy enough to be a Hollywood film. I mean, that must be very pleasing for you when you get reviews from somebody like Andrew Roberts.
LITTLEJOHN: Well they are, because Andrew Roberts is not only a great author himself, he is a respected historian.
CAMPBELL: Freddy Forsythe said it was a genuine and a fable of modern Britain, and there were some interesting things that you are saying.
LITTLEJOHN: That’s right. It is an entertainment and it is an attempt to open up a debate through –
SELF: You should be pleased that the critics are debating it.
LITTLEJOHN: I am absolutely delighted. If I get the Guardian to call it racist, sexist, homophobic and goodness knows what else, we will put that on the cover too.
SELF: It is homophobic isn’t it?
SELF: The baddies are typed up as being gay.
LITTLEJOHN: Not necessarily.
SELF: Well, they are.
LITTLEJOHN: Again you don’t read it.
SELF: I have read the book. I have read 200 pages of it – more than you have read of mine.
CAMPBELL: It is interesting that you two – it comes on to what I want to talk about as well – because we can talk about the merits of each other’s books or whatever –
SELF: Well he can’t…
CAMPBELL: – or the merits of your writing, but I do read your TV reviews and I enjoy those a lot. What I want to talk about is John Paul Getty, the philanthropist, who has given £5m to the Conservative Party because he wants to defend the British way of life. It’s an interesting question – what is the British way of life? Because clearly you both have two very different interpretations on what it is and should be. I’m glad to say because we’ve obviously got a bit of a literary ding-dong going on here –
SELF: Well I don’t really regard him as a literary writer –
LITTLEJOHN: And I don’t regard him as a journalist –
[There then followed some debate about the nature of British identity…]
LITTLEJOHN: The British people are tolerant and they are understanding.
CAMPBELL: Well that is the kind of Aaronovitch/Self criticism of what you have done in your book – that all the villains seems to be swarthy, Kosovan asylum seekers.
LITTLEJOHN: Not true at all.
CAMPBELL: With a next-door family of Somalians –
LITTLEJOHN: That is wrong – if you have 110,000 words, you can pick what you like. That is rather what I expected, and what I hoped the Guardian and Independent would do.
CAMPBELL: You are rather pleased about it?
LITTLEJOHN: I am absolutely delighted. The main villains of the piece actually are two white middle-class lawyers and policemen.
SELF: Wait a minute, the solicitor is dubbed as being part of an entry-ist plan by left-wing Islingtonians who kind of submerge themselves – one of them becomes a policeman who incidentally is graphically depicted masturbating with a truncheon – and the other one is a gay lawyer who runs a left-wing – a kind of firm that actually is vaguely impossible – that operates out of the Gray’s Inn Road. I have read your book, Richard, I do wish you would stop saying that I haven’t. I have read 200 pages, I read them quite closely.
LITTLEJOHN: But you haven’t read the book in its totality and you have to read the book in its totality.
LITTLEJOHN: In order to understand it.
SELF: Does it turn into Tolstoy at page 205?
LITTLEJOHN: No it doesn’t turn into Tolstoy. I don’t set out to be Tolstoy. It is a much more complex book than that.
SELF: Than Tolstoy?
LITTLEJOHN: But the conscience of the book is actually a West Indian. To say that I am stereotyping – the fact of the matter is one of the main players, his wife is a Greek Cypriot and we look at asylum from her point of view.
CAMPBELL: You’re both true – you are British by definition.
SELF: I don’t regard myself as British, I dissent from that.
LITTLEJOHN: Well, I do.
SELF: What does it say on the passport – the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland – that is actual latest constitutional formulation of what Britain is. I regard myself as a citizen of an archipelago that happens to be called Britain.
LITTLEJOHN: You are not still on heroin are you?
SELF: No and listen, I would thank you kindly not to insult me in that fashion.
LITTLEJOHN: Well you have accused me of being the recruiting sergeant of the BNP!
[There then followed travel, weather, and news and sport reports]
LITTLEJOHN: The British are a race of Scandanavians, of Celts, of Britons, of Irish, of Scots, we are a multi-cultural mongrel race, that’s right, that’s not an offensive term, it’s a scientific term.
SELF: And presumably you include West Indians –
LITTLEJOHN: And West Indians, and Bengalis and Pakistanis, and all sorts, and that’s what we are, and I think we are much the richer for it.
SELF: So what is your problem exactly with people who are loosely grouped as “asylum seekers”? Why have you written this book?
LITTLEJOHN: I’ve written this book largely as an entertainment.
SELF: As an entertainment? Who’s it intended to entertain?
LITTLEJOHN: Well the people who buy it, certainly not intended to entertain the likes of you –
SELF: What is entertaining about it exactly? The sort of rip-the-gusset-aside sex scenes, the tales of car crime, the idea of the good honest ex-cop, although he’s not actually that honest. What’s meant to be entertaining?
LITTLEJOHN: Well, you’ll have to read it and find out. I mean, if it infuriates the likes of people like you, then it’s worked.
SELF: It doesn’t infuriate me, you’ve not listened to me. I don’t think it’s that significant, I don’t think it’s going to influence people.
LITTLEJOHN: It’s not meant to be significant…
[There followed a discussion of liberal values]
CAMPBELL: Is what you wrote about the man who called ‘Two Jags’, that’s a name you coined: “He’s a chimp, a pustulating boil of resentment and class hatred; a chippy, thin-skinned puffed up laughing stock, an ocean-going tub of lard, groaning with arrogance, ego, hypocrisy, and inferiority; he’s an inadequate, inarticulate embarrassment, a disgrace to Britain at home and abroad.”… Do you sometimes think that this is a human being you’re talking about?
SELF: Well, he doesn’t say he’s a human being, does he? He uses the classic form of demonisation, which is to say he’s a chimp – in other words, he’s bestial. So he’s actually dehumanised the subject of his abuse before he even moves on to piling on the pejoratives, and I think that’s very psychologically interesting. Of course, we’re all familiar with the kind of people who demonise other human beings by turning them into bestiary…we all know who does that.
LITTLEJOHN: In the Psychiatrist’s Chair with Nicky Campbell
CAMPBELL: Caroline Feraday has the travel.