Hot Air

Nicholas Penny

  • Things I Didn’t Know: A Memoir by Robert Hughes
    Harvill, 395 pp, £25.00, September 2006, ISBN 1 84655 014 9

Robert Hughes begins his autobiography, as he began his recent book on Goya, by describing the road accident in Western Australia that nearly killed him in 1999, and his subsequent ordeals in hospital and in court. In this new book he expands on the treatment he received from Australian journalists and in particular on the allegation made by a local reporter that he had referred to a prosecution lawyer descended from Indian migrants as a ‘curry muncher’, which was then repeated by a succession of other journalists. Hughes denies using this expression but no doubt the reporters, taken aback by this expatriate’s robust contempt for their intrusions, felt that he looked down on his countrymen, and repeated the story because they found it easy to believe or hard to resist. Later in this book, Hughes cannot resist relating how Frank Packer (‘the gross and meat-fisted capitalist who owned Australian Consolidated Press’) calmed the anxieties of a new secretary he’d seduced by offering her a black aniseed jelly bean as an oral contraceptive, even though he admits that ‘of course nobody had any means of verifying’ the story. Hughes believes he was being punished by the press for being ‘a fucking elitist cunt’.

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