Villiers is a playwright. He does lots of other things apart from being a playwright. Such as? Well, he goes rowing in the Atlantic Ocean; he visits places like Trinity College Dublin or Cezanne’s Aix-en-Provence or York Minster; he’s an active member of the Joseph Conrad society; and, what’s more, he reflects on the sociology of the United Kingdom. Villiers is ‘Old School’; he’s frank and forthright; he hates political correctness; he’s a tall and handsome man.
The other day Villiers found himself twiddling his thumbs: he was waiting for the hour at which he would join his fellow oarsmen before the ensemble would set off to engage with the waves of the grey and stormy sea. Villiers reached for his phone and dialled my number:
Villiers explained that he had ‘an hour or so to fill’ and that he had decided to bring me up to date with his ‘comings and goings’ – as well as his observations on the state of the nation.
‘You know’ said Villers, ‘we’re bathed in mediocrity. England’s in decline. The UK is in decline. People don’t read, People don’t engage with the great writers. People don’t even know how to use the language properly.’
To underline his point Villiers told me about Wimbledon and the men’s singles’ final between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer: ‘In the post-match interviews they showed that they had a much better command of the language than most native English speakers. It’s shameful.’
By now Villiers was feeling totally cheesed-off. He told me how Joseph Conrad had achieved a better grasp of the English language (and its uses) than his English wife. He told me how George Orwell wrote with admirable and pristine clarity, how Thomas Hardy’s prose brought time, place and character ‘alive’…
‘I’ve almost given up hope for the future,’ announced a despondent Villiers. Then he mused: ‘I wonder if our next King will make a difference. He, Prince William, was watching the match between Djokovic and Federer. He’ll be King William. Yes, I wonder …’
I started to imagine this – but I sensed that something was wrong. I thought for a moment – and then I said:
‘But isn’t Prince Charles going to be the next king?’
Villiers paused. He seemed to be thinking …
And then, as if a great lacuna had crept into the labyrinths of his mind, he replied:
‘Oh, I’d forgotten all about him.’