Words by: Theodora Sutcliffe
So who was Jeffrey Bernard?
A professional lush. Starting out with stints as a model, a boxer, and a racing columnist, he wrote, for many years, a column in The Spectator called 'Low Life', which chronicled his booze-befuddled life and times and contrasted it with the 'High Life' column, which was written by a prominent Greek-born playboy. Low Life, in turn, became Keith Waterhouse's play, "Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell", a reference to the frequently appearing apology that appeared in the magazine when Jeffrey was clearly to drunk or hungover to write.
A planned autobiography never appeared, despite Bernard's heartfelt appeal in a magazine to "any of your readers who can tell me what I was doing between 1960 and 1974". (He received at least one unflattering reply.)
Where did he drink?
Most famously, in Soho's Coach and Horses pub, on Greek Street, during the era of legendary landlord Norman Balon. He was also a regular on the rest of the old school Dean Street/Old Compton Street circuit - the French House, the Colony Rooms and, in later life, the Groucho Club - and did his fair share of boozing at race courses and country pubs.
What did he drink?
On his first excursions into the Soho underworld, aged fourteen, and his early days as a racing journalist, Bernard stuck largely to halves of bitter - or champagne when others were buying. Whisky became his preferred drink after that, then, in an attempt to cut down, after two years off the booze, he switched to vodka, lime and soda. Bernard soon dropped the lime on the grounds that it was bad for his diabetes, and scaled up to one-and-a-half to two bottles a day, washed down with 50-odd Senior Service cigarettes.
Any famous drinking buddies?
Hell yeah! Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud; Dylan Thomas and Elizabeth Smart; Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and Tony Hancock; Ian Fleming and Graham Greene; John Hurt, Peter O' Toole and, on one occasion, Marlene Dietrich; jockeys, including Lester Piggott; Private Eye founder Richard Ingram; four different wives...
How did drink change his life?
Drink was Bernard's driving force - in later years, it fuelled both his income and his celebrity. While it may have made him immortal, at least on stage, and supplied all his material, it also killed him. By the end of his life he was suffering pancreatitis, diabetes and kidney failure, and had had a leg amputated.
Any drinking stories?
Bernard was not the most charming drunk. He once borrowed a mobile in the Coach & Horses to ring the bar and yell "Any chance of getting a fucking drink?" and emptied a soda fountain on a barmaid who unwisely suggested he add his own ice to his drink. He famously appeared at the window of a first floor cocktail party on a ladder to call the host "a fucking cunt", and would ring his long-suffering editor at The Spectator at 3am to abuse him in similar language. Perhaps his most famous episode of drink-related bad behaviour, though, was the time he vomited at the Queen Mother's feet at Ascot.