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Toby Young
Sunday 30th July 2006

How We Met: Toby Young and Lloyd Evans


(What follows is an edited transcript of a conversation that Toby and Lloyd had with Nick Duerden. They were interviewed separately and weren't aware of what each had said about the other.)

Co-founder of the Modern Review in 1991, Toby Young, 42, has since been sacked from Vanity Fair magazine, written a book (How To Lose Friends And Alienate People) and is now The Spectator's theatre critic. A Right Royal Farce is his second play co-written with Lloyd Evans. He lives in London with his wife and two children.

It's terrifying for a theatre critic to put on a play that theatre critics will come to watch--and, of course, to criticise. And, for that reason, both Lloyd and myself have very low expectations for A Right Royal Farce. We've collaborated on a play before, Who's The Daddy, in 2005, and that was pretty well received, but then it was our debut and perhaps people were being kind. They may not be so kind this time.

Lloyd is the perfect person to collaborate with because we have different strengths. I'm quite good at devising plots, while he is better at writing scenes. When we start out on a play, it's 70 per cent me, 30 per cent him. But, by the time we've finished, that statistic is reversed. I have difficulty on any given day getting past a blank screen on a computer. Immediately, I will feel blocked. It's incredibly hard for me to dredge up that first draft. But Lloyd works his arse off. And his work-rate actually inspires mine, if only because I'm so desperate to keep up with him.

Naturally, he is riding on my coat-tails--I am far better known, let's face it--but I'm the fortunate one in this partnership. I'm the opportunist, the hustler--I know how to get things produced. But Lloyd has that spark of genius I simply don't have. He can come up with bits and gags that would never occur to me in a million years. I'm fortunate to have him around.

We've known each other 23 years now. We met back at Oxford, on the student newspaper alongside Boris Johnson. I've always admired him from afar, considering him one of the few people from my generation at Oxford who actually had genuine literary talent. But we've only become friends--or more colleagues, actually--these past few years.

I was reviewing plays for The Spectator three nights a week at least, which was seriously threatening the future happiness of my marriage. And so I told Boris [Johnson] that I wanted to quit. Instead, he said I could share the job with someone else, and so I picked Lloyd. I've had rivalries with many journalists, but never with Lloyd, perhaps because, like me, he wanted to write plays. That was our mutual goal.

Ours is very much a working relationship, and we don't see one another for reasons other than work. Why? Well, we've both got wives and children and mortgages to pay, which takes up a lot of our time. I have rented a house in Cornwall for two weeks this summer and I did invite him and his family to join us, but he said no. So there you go: I extended the hand of friendship, and he firmly slapped it away. That was probably quite sensible of him, actually.

---------------------------------

An Oxford graduate, Lloyd Evans describes himself as a 'jobbing hack' and has written plays for Radio 4 and BBC Three. He shares the job of theatre critic at The Spectator with playwriting partner Toby Young. He is 43 and lives in London's Hackney with his wife and baby.

I was very struck by Toby when I first met him. This was back at Oxford. It was like he didn't belong to our world--the student world--but to the world of journalism already. He was very confident, and his talk was all about London, celebrities and glamour, stuff like that. He was basically an adult, while the rest of us were just pretending to be grown-up.

When he started the Modern Review with Julie Burchill I was a subscriber, yes, but I never wrote for the magazine. He never asked me to. I had heard that they didn't pay their writers, so I couldn't see the incentive of bothering to ask for a job, to be honest. Of course, that was a great mistake: if I had written for them, my career would be massive now...

It was fascinating watching his career unfold. Nobody really knew him until the Modern Review went up in flames. Auberon Waugh said he should re-train as a dentist and suddenly everybody was talking about him. It's funny--he only started to become a success after he'd messed everything up.

I think we work well together because we have complementary skills. We'll sit in cafes together staring at our shoes for hours on end trying to come up with plots and scenes, and then we'll go back to our respective computers and bash away at the keyboard and email our results to one another, back and forth endlessly. I've had four other writing partners in the past, but none of them have worked as well as Toby. Am I surprised? God yes, but then he is much nicer in private than his public persona would suggest. Toby has a liking for self-flagellation. He enjoys it when people hate him, which on one level is curious, but, on another, is shrewd of him. That's why he is so notorious. It's Toby branding himself for public consumption, and it works very well. But in real life he is such a generous chap. He does a lot of work for charities and people like him.

I'm hoping we'll continue collaborating, because we already have people interested in putting on whatever we come up with next. I'm trying to convince him that we should write a play set in Neverland with Wacko Jacko, Bubbles the chimp, Uri Geller and Elizabeth Taylor. For some reason, he is resistant, but I think it would be rather fun.

And, yes, Toby did invite my family to Cornwall for the summer and I turned him down flat. Not because I can't bear the thought of an extended amount of time in his company, but simply because I don't like going on holiday. I hate holidays.

'A Right Royal Farce' is at The King's Head Theatre, 115 Upper Street, London N1, until 28 August (tel: 020 7226 1916)

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