Reading Quartet’s upcoming publication of Teresa Waugh’s latest novel – A Long Hot Unholy Summer – with its dedication to her late husband, has reminded me just what an irreverent, contrary yet always loveable character Bron happened to be.
His private persona was totally at odds with his public one. He was extremely loyal to his friends and a real devil to his enemies. His dislike of some people was legendary but his funny side made him contagiously irresistible.
In 1992 I owned a company which managed eight bookshops across London and the newest, the Highgate Bookshop, was opened in January that year by Bron, at my request. His newly published memoir was a certain incentive, and he had also just asserted me of deserving a Sainthood in a feature he had been part of in that month’s Women’s Journal. He was quoted as nominating me for this supreme honour for ‘my love of employing people’. He went on to expound on this statement, saying, ‘His face shines with happiness in the company of those in his employment.’ This was deeply gratifying.
The local newspaper, the Ham & High, covering the shop’s opening, described Bron as a class warrior, author, literary editor and Croatian champion (having been president of the British Croatian Society since 1973). He pronounced the shop open with a grand flourish:
‘It’s a wonderful thing to open a shop. I’ve never done it before, and I hope you have a wonderful time here. Now, about my book…’ began Mr Waugh, skilfully inserting a plug for his newly published memoirs into his official duties.
Writing an autobiography was, in Bron’s view, rather like opening up your house to the paying public. ‘You can’t really complain if they shit on the carpet because you have invited them in and they have paid for it.’
The paper continued:
His own life has not been without strangers shitting on the carpet, or, rather, gobbing over the parapet. Mr Waugh shared a childhood memory of when forty-five evacuees from the slums of London came to stay in his family’s house in Somerset. He recalled the ‘phlitt, sput and flop’ as they spat on him from the top part of the house where they were housed, occasionally scoring a silent, but deadly, direct hit.
Revenge came within Bron’s grasp when the local ratcatcher called to lay down poisoned bread as bait. He went straight to his grandmother to tell her how the evacuees had started scoffing the poisoned bread.
It was, he recalled: ‘My first taste of power in the great class war. I was able to pick out as many as I chose and the poor little things were then taken away and stomach-pumped. It was my one great happy moment in childhood.’
I miss him still for he was and will always be my great hero.