That is small world on a grand scale — by “grand” I mean the luscious Miles as well as the immortal Tchaikovsky — but Brown also gives it to us on a silly scale, as in: Princess Margaret and Kenneth Tynan, Kenneth Tynan and Truman Capote, Truman Capote and Peggy Lee, Peggy Lee and Richard Nixon, and (of course!) Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley. This last is just about the only one of the 101 that failed to surprise me, but Brown tells this much-told tale so winningly that it seems new. For one thing, he pops a real surprise — Elvis is met in Los Angeles “by his new driver, an Englishman called Gerald Peters,” who, a footnote informs us, “was once chauffeur to Winston Churchill” — and for another he gives us an exchange that I do not recall from previous accounts. When Nixon, desperate for something to talk about, says, “You dress kind of strange, don’t you?” Elvis replies, “You have your show and I have mine.”
There’s a touching entry about Helen Keller, but even here Brown’s impish side reveals itself, again in a footnote: “She is, in a way, the Nelson Mandela of her age: however great you are, you can’t feel really good about yourself until you have shaken hands with Helen Keller. Albert Einstein declares himself ‘a great admirer’; Alexander Graham Bell feels that ‘in this child I have seen more of the Divine than has been manifest in anyone I ever met before’; Winston Churchill calls her ‘the greatest woman of our age’; and to H.G. Wells she is ‘the most wonderful being in America.’ ”
Indeed, sly asides seem to be a Brown specialty. When Jacqueline Kennedy “confides to Gore Vidal,” Brown inserts the proper aside (“Always an unwise move”); Tynan’s parties “are formed from a combustible mix of pornography, snobbery and revolution”; and: “Authors with money crave esteem. Authors with esteem crave money. Authors with neither crave both. Authors with both crave immortality. For these reasons, meetings between authors can be edgy.”
That last comment is to be found at the beginning of an encounter between Kingsley Amis and Roald Dahl in which Dahl, “the most successful children’s author in Britain,” attempts to persuade Amis to write a book for children because “that’s where the money is today, believe me.” When Amis protests that “I’ve got no feeling for that kind of thing,” Dahl replies: “Never mind. The little bastards’d swallow it.” So much for the readers of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “James and the Giant Peach,” et al.
As much of the above indicates, there is a decidedly British bias to “Hello Goodbye Hello,” but that is excusable and understandable, and in any case Brown provides a “Note to the U.S. Edition” that explains the likes of Tom Driberg, Simon Dee and Michael Ramsey. It is a pleasure to make the acquaintance of each, though for entirely different reasons. All in all, “Hello Goodbye Hello” is splendid company, not to mention perfect for the beach, the lake or the pool.