Lord Reith, founder of the BBC, legendarily fired off an angry memo to his staff after a broadcast in which someone or other was described as “the famous lawyer”. The memo went like this: ‘The word FAMOUS. If a person is famous it is superfluous to point out the fact, if they are not then it is a lie. The word is not to be used within the BBC.’ Way to tell them, Scottish guy.
Of course those for whom money is important will tell me that Dan Doodah is ‘laughing all the way to the bank’ and that his sales are all the approbation he needs. Well those who think money is any more reliable than fame as an index of worth are already beyond help. Eat shit, a trillion flies can’t be wrong. Or as someone once said, (Dorothy Parker if you believe the online quotation pages, which I don’t – I mean do they ever show sources or give chapter and verse?) : ‘If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the kind of people he gives it to.’ Of course Dan Whosit is a success, of course he’s reasonably famous at the moment. I don’t begrudge him a cent of his money or a breath of his ‘renown’. The awfulness of his book is only of interest because it is so successful, precisely because it has become so ‘renowned’. There are hundreds of thousands of books a year published that are bad, it says nothing about the authors. The success of Leonard’s Code is all about and only about the mass of people who bought it and thought it had a vestige of quality or authenticity and so caused the spread of its pheme. This is true of all fame: it’s not about the famous, it’s about those who make them famous and why. ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in our selves…’ Cassius’s observation works with the modern meaning of ‘star’ too.
Fame has this in its favour: you can’t fake it and it’s absolutely no good arguing over its existence, it’s as provable as anything can be. We could wrangle over whether or not Dan Howdoyoudo can write, but we can’t argue about whether or not he’s famous. Mind you, he can’t be that famous if I can’t recall his surname … Brown! Damn, I suddenly remembered. I wasn’t going to look it up but had planned to rely on it either springing into my head or not and, annoyingly, it just has (or “it just did”, as Americans would say). He is, or rather the phenomenon of his dreadful book is, certainly famous. Whether or not I have the right to append the adjective “dreadful” to his work is however a matter for debate, ultimately a question of taste (ie, if you have taste you agree with me, if you haven’t you don’t – no but shush). Dan Brown is famous, but not significant. Tim Berners-Lee is significant, but not famous.
Mind you, interesting how cold Dan Brown has become recently. The ‘phenomenon’ has dried up and already feels as embarrassingly dated as Bri Nylon shirts or backwards baseball caps, but without the kitsch retro appeal.
My Fame Alright, I’ve hedged enough. What does fame really mean to the famous? I am pretty well-known in my own country, I can’t deny that. It would be a false modesty weird enough to count as vanity to pretend otherwise. I get stopped on the street, I get (occasionally) hounded by photographers, I get letters from strangers asking for money, sex, advice, approval, time and so on. Journalists with nothing better to do write descriptions of my personality or offer glancing mentions of me. People who have never met me know that they loathe me, or that they like me. I am asked to be patron of this charity and to be on the board of that good cause and so on. I can get a table at the Ivy restaurant and tickets for premieres and parties. A medium ranking sleb. Not A list, but not Z either. I’ve been in this position for the best part of a quarter of a century.