One of the English language’s most talented writers of the 20th Century was Sir Kingsley Amis, born on April 16th, 1922. Out of his 20 novels and 6 poetry books, he was most famous for his 1954 first novel, “Lucky Jim.” It was a best seller in the UK and US, perhaps because it captured the postwar mood. It earned Amis a place among the “angry young men” who railed at the inadequacies and injustices of life in Britain.
Amis was a Communist at Oxford, but gradually swung right, as did so many of the writers and artists of his generation. He wrote the essay, “Lucky Jim Turns Right” in 1967, citing the Soviet 1956 invasion of Hungary as the final nail in the coffin.
He spoke at an ASI lunchtime conference, and published an essay with us, republished in the Daily Telegraph, opposing public funding for the arts. His basic case was that public funding, administered by civil servants and quangocrats, corrupts the arts. Instead of producing what they are impelled to produce, or what they think will sell, artists and writers direct their output to what will tick the bureaucrats’ boxes and attract grants from public funds. This was not what art should be about, he said. Nor was it the job of public servants to promote their version of what art should be, and foist it on the public at taxpayers’ expense.
Amis was a real character. He drank and smoked heavily. At the ASI luncheon, when offered red or white wine, his face fell and he said, “Oh, isn’t there any real drink.” A triple neat Glenlivet mollified him, and he had two more of those before lunch. He once wrote, “The words I most dread to hear are ‘Shall we go straight to the table?’”
He had a strict self-disciplined schedule that separated his writing from his drinking. He wrote in the mornings, with a target of 500 words minimum every day. Only at lunch did his drinking day begin.
He wrote light-hearted books bout booze, and famously declared, “No pleasure is worth giving for the sake of another two years in a geriatric home in Weston-Super-Mare.” He was spared that fate when he died following complications from a fall and a stroke at the age of 73. His reputation has lasted well.