In his famous publisher’s statement in the first issue of National Review, William F. Buckley Jr. declared that his magazine “stands athwart history, yelling ‘Stop.’” I’m not sure he meant it even then, and certainly he’s availed himself of many innovations of the modern age in the years since, including television and computers.
By contrast, Michael Wharton did mean it. He had no use for television, and never watched it unless he happened to be in a room in which the “receiving apparatus” was present. His conservatism was founded on the proposition, “All change is for the worse,” and thus history should have stopped round about the year he was born, 1913. For a British writer truly standing athwart the march of time yelling “Stop,” there are two ways to go: you can create an idealized Edwardian England, as P. G. Wodehouse did (though he preferred to live on Long Island), or you revel in your latter-day dystopia, creating a range of fantastical characters emblematic of England’s decline. That’s the path Wharton chose, under the pseudonym “Peter Simple” in the country’s best- selling broadsheet, The Daily Telegraph.
For forty-nine years—from New Year’s Day 1957 to the column filed four days before his death on January 23—Wharton chronicled British life as a satirical fantasia through the eyes of Dr. Spacely-Trellis, “the go-ahead Bishop of Bevindon” and author of God The Humanist; the environmental consultant Keith Effluvium; Dr. Heinz Kiosk, psychiatric adviser to the Ministry of Agriculture and many other eminent bodies, with his great cry of “We are all guilty!”; Mrs. Dutt-Pauker, “the Hampstead thinker” and prototype of what Americans would call “limousine liberals,” who champions the world’s most deserving causes from her north London mansion Marxmount; the hard-hitting Fleet Street columnist Jack Moron, “The Man Who Knows It All,” with his mostly unheeded clarion call, “Wake up, Britain!”; Sir Herbert Trance, of the British Boring Board of Control, whose deliberations, reported by Wharton’s correspondent “Narcolept,” determined which modish transgressive cause was now sufficiently tedious to be admitted to the torpor of its hallowed if drowsy precincts. For the country’s burgeoning “race relations industry,” Wharton invented the “prejudometer,” which simply by being pointed at any person could calculate degrees of racism to the nearest prejudon, “the internationally recognized scientific unit of racial prejudice.”