Graham Lord: curmudgeonly, rude, great fun

Trevor Dolby
Opinion - Books 16 June 2015

Trevor Dolby recalls his sometime author Graham Lord (left), who has died at the age of 72.

What a deliciously cantankerous, irascible and rude man Graham Lord was. Giles Gordon introduced me to him in the very late 1990s when they - Giles was his agent - were shopping a book about Arthur Lowe. It became one of two of Graham's biographies I published at Orion, the other being Niv, a biography of David Niven. The first thing Graham said to me was that "on the whole pretty much all publishers are incompetent shits and wouldn't know a good book if it slapped them round the face like a wet fish". Giles thought this hilarious, and announced that Graham and I should get on famously.

Quite why he thought that, I've never fathomed. But as it happened Graham and I did get on famously, in among many, many rows, usually revolving around Graham's belief that it was not just publishers who were incompetent but just about every human being that ever walked the earth - with the sparkling exception of the love of his life, Juliet. To see Graham with Juliet was to watch the lion purr.

I became very fond of the old curmudgeon as we worked together. His manner was brusque, but his heart was always in the right place. We dined with him and Juliet often at the Chelsea Arts Club, and even stayed with him in the South of France one year. They rented a place each summer near Nice just down from St-Paul-de-Vence. Juliet would paint and Graham would write novels, latterly embracing self-publishing with the vigour of the proselytised.

We dined on the terrace overlooking the pool, and Graham told hilarious and usually very blue stories of the literary great and good (he was for many years Literary Editor of the Daily Express). I recall it was so hot that I threatened to jump into the pool to cool off. He was mortified, utterly mortified. "Do you know how dangerous that would be? Good grief man, you could kill yourself." I thought he was joking, but he strode over, grabbed my arm, guided me back to my seat, and poured me another glass of rosé.

Graham would call me now and again and we would meet for lunch. He would shout at the colour of the sky and the nerve of the leaves to be so green and we would laugh about the absurdities of almost everything in life.

He once invited me to a very select lunch at the Chelsea Arts Club. It was a reincarnation of a literary lunch that the great and good of Fleet Street held for many years but that, after retirement overcame most members, dissolved. This was a rare reunion - Brian MacArthur was one attendee, I seem to remember. And what rip-roaring fun it was. I felt like I was in an annex of Scoop.

I remember how completely content Graham had been when his and Juliet's house in Nevis was finished. He loved the fact that the locals thought he was an actual lord, which he confessed to playing up to when out and about.

And then there is Juliet. How Graham adored Juliet. And how Juliet adored him. As Graham ranted at the cosmos, Juliet would be at his side enjoying every minute, seasoning with just a light scolding for the benefit of on-lookers.

A couple of years ago I got a note from him reminding me of the publication of his latest book. I replied:

"I've just read the Prologue… God help me it's rather good. I have now paid hard-earned scrilla to download it to my hitherto unused Kindle.
Yours in penury. Dolby"

His reply was typical: "Cheeky young bugger. Of course it's 'rather good': I bloody wrote it."

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