Performance Art

John Bayley writes about Kingsley Amis

In 1948 I was sitting in my college room trying to work when Kingsley Amis opened the door and looked in apologetically. We must have been conscripted at the same point in the war, but being older he had already been up at Oxford: now he was a graduate, starting a BLitt. Since he was already quite famous in university circles I knew who he was although we had never met. I remember being impressed by his clothes. In those days after the war clothes were drab; grey flannels as common as jeans today. Those who wore smart jobs, like Ken Tynan in the purple-dyed battledress he had cadged off some ex-army student, did so very consciously. But Amis wore his brown tweed jacket and cherry-red polo sweater without giving the impression of having taken any thought about them. He was seeking contributions for Oxford Poetry. As editor he printed long pieces of his own, strangely dithyrambic, almost Swinburnian, and about some never-never land of Audenish fantasy. A far cry from the crisp and sexy stuff he was learning to write with Larkin, then a junior librarian at Leicester.

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[*] Flamingo, 282pp., £9.99, 4 September, 0 00 225 330 5.

[†] Kingsley Amis: A Biography, by Eric Jacobs. Hodder, 382 pp., £17.99, 15 June, 0 340 59072 6.