The slightly scary thing about this hefty compendium of Craig Brown's journalism, drawn from The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Independent, The Spectator, Literary Review and Private Eye, among other publications, is how many people his existence makes redundant. Not just other humourists and satirists, for there are few in either field who can match Brown for quantity and quality, but also the novelists and columnists he mocks. In his regular "as told to Craig Brown" diaries in Private Eye, several of which are reproduced here, Brown often manages to read more like the subjects of his parodies than the subjects ever do themselves. He is simply the most articulate heckler our culture has attracted.
In "Gore Vidal's September 11 diary", Brown's imitation of Vidal's conspiratorial flounce is perfect: "The so-called Twin Towers was, of course, the Triple Towers, the existence of the Third Tower being kept from the Great American Public by their government for what are euphemistically known in those high-falutin' circles as security reasonsI" Brown as Martin Amis is just as agonisingly acute: "I must have been five or six at the time. Five years old. Or six. Years old ." Others whose pretensions are punctuated by Brown's wide-ranging and witheringly accurate sniping include Anthea Turner, Clive James and the Queen ("This evening, my son Andrew turns up... Have you been waiting long? I say, setting him at his ease.") When not impersonating other writers, Brown demonstrates an equal facility for inventing them. His two celebrated creations, the quorn-chewing Guardianista Bel Littlejohn and the pipe-sucking Garrick habitué Wallace Arnold, are well represented in This is Craig Brown. In the introduction, Brown notes that the pair often received letters from readers who took their preposterous witterings at face value, which says at least as much about the quality of Littlejohn and Arnold's all-too-real peers as it does about Brown's abilities as a satirist. While Brown acknowledges that the editors of Who's Who were clearly in on the joke when they allotted Arnold and Littlejohn their own entries - this in itself sounds like a typically mischievous Brown confection - their inclusion, as he writes, calls into question the existence of many other, hardly less incredible, media entities: "Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare? True or False?"
Bracing though Brown's scorn can be, it is always in essence gentle. Even when taking down his targets, Brown disdains outright abuse, believing that a hundred nudges in the ribs can hurt more than one smack in the face. The strongest piece in a formidable field is an account of a day with ageing DJ Tony Blackburn. If Brown had merely deployed his considerable comic gifts ridiculing the man's vanity and foolishness, and marvelling at the unfathomable gulf between Blackburn's fame and Blackburn's accomplishments, it would still have been an extremely funny piece. Brown, however, makes a valiant effort to see the world from inside Blackburn's awesomely empty head, and the result is a heartbreaking study of the loneliness and futility of life on the D-list, coloured with some glorious descriptive prose ("I sensed Tony Blackburn was in the process of winding down after his breakfast show. It reminded me of watching the air go out of a balloon.") Whether Brown enjoys doing this sort of profile or not - as Blackburn blithers mercilessly on, Brown's sighs are almost audible - he should be made to write at least one a month.
Andrew Mueller is a freelance journalist.
This is Craig Brown
Author - Craig Brown
ISBN - 0 09188 807 7
Publisher - Ebury
Price - £12.00
Pages - 467