Arty Types

Danny Lestrange: Eternal Columnist

From the immaturity of young adulthood to the immaturity of old age

This article is taken from the November 2022 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

Industry veterans are sometimes shocked to discover that Danny has been pursuing his trade for nearly four-and-a-half decades, but there it is. James Callaghan was still in Downing Street when, as a callow 25-year-old, he was taken on by the New Statesman with a brief to import “a bit of youth and exuberance” to a publication which was thought to have grown somewhat staid. 

Danny duly obliged. The column was called “The Other Side of Life” and brought despatches from the Putney bedsit where he lodged alongside three trainee lawyers and a junior account executive from Saatchi & Saatchi, and tales of his misadventures with girls. 

The tone was wry, rueful and self-deprecating, not least when Danny was called upon to execute a bit of DIY or forced to explain why he had turned up late to meet Julia (or Paula, or Denise) at the wine bar.

Unexpectedly, the column was a success, so much so that it was soon moved up the paper from a thronged niche between the book reviews and the weekend competition to a more prominent slot amid the op-ed pieces. On the strength of it, two years later, Danny was offered a much more lucrative billet at the Daily Express. 

All through the 1980s and the early 1990s, the enterprise marched on, sometimes towards the front-end of the showbiz pages, at others listing dangerously towards sport. Danny was married now, to a woman named Claire, and had removed himself from the “Putney pad”, to a maisonette in Camberwell. All this, naturally, had an effect on the things he wrote about.

Gone were the gargantuan hangovers and the hunt for the last condom

Gradually, the paraphernalia of “The Other Side of Life” began to change. Gone were the gargantuan hangovers and the hunt for the last condom; in their place came the all-round severity of “Mrs L” (Claire’s nom de guerre), the exploits of the “Primo Bambino” (Sebastian, their first child) and the difficulties of screwing a baby seat to the kitchen table. 

Four consecutive columns were devoted to the family trip to Legoland, which supposedly ended with Mrs L throwing an ice-cream cone at her hapless husband and five-year-old Seb demanding from the back seat of the Fiat what the words “cack-handed incompetent” meant.

All this took place nearly a quarter of a century ago. Sebastian, since reinvented as “Mr Music Man”, currently DJs on a tourist liner; “Mrs L” has just reached pensionable age (the subject of a memorable assault on bureaucratic obfuscation); but still “The Other Side of Life” endures. 

The Daily Express eventually gave way to the Independent on Sunday. When that went, Danny was taken on by the Oldie.   His wryness, ruefulness and self-deprecation are still as much a part of him as his annually memorialised Crystal Palace season ticket. The 2,000 or so carefully snipped-out articles are kept in a cardboard box in his study: “a life’s work”, as he proudly explains to visitors.

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