Straight Talk

Mary Beard

  • Marginal Comment by Kenneth Dover
    Duckworth, 271 pp, £20.00, November 1994, ISBN 0 7156 2630 2

‘All you need to do, if you want the nation’s press camped on your doorstep, is to say that you once had a wank in 1947.’ Alan Bennett’s remark is quoted with obvious feeling by Kenneth Dover in a late-inserted footnote to his autobiography, Marginal Comment. Someone, he explains, had leaked part of the typescript of his book to the Evening Standard, who, on the scent of celebrity masturbation, had splashed (under the headline ‘Oxford Don Takes Memoirs In Hand’) his account of a ‘strange occasion’ in 1944 in the Italian hills. The beauty of the day, the blue sky and the snow ‘struck directly at my penis, so I sat down on a log and masturbated; it seemed the appropriate response.’

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