Jeffrey Bernard (27 May 1932 – 4 September 1997) was a British journalist, best known for his weekly column "Low Life" in The Spectator magazine, and also notorious for a feckless and chaotic career and life of alcohol abuse. He became associated with the louche and bohemian atmosphere that existed in London's Soho district. He was later immortalised in the comical play Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell by Keith Waterhouse.
Born in London, the son of Oliver Percy Bernard and Dora Hodges (1896–1950), an opera singer, he was the brother of Oliver Bernard, a poet, and Bruce Bernard, an art critic, picture editor and photographer. Though named Jerry by his parents, at an early age he adopted Jeffrey. He attended Pangbourne College for two years before his parents responded to the college's protest that he was "psychologically unsuitable for public school life". Bernard afterwards said "a bad education sticks to you like marmalade on a carpet".
Even while at school, Bernard had begun to explore Soho and Fitzrovia with his brother Bruce. Seduced by the area's lurid glamour, he moved there at 16, supporting himself in a variety of jobs that were at odds with his middle-class background, including boxer, building labourer, kitchen assistant & coal miner, but still managed to build a circle that embraced Dylan Thomas, Francis Bacon, John Minton, Nina Hamnett, Daniel Farson and the lowlife of bohemian London. In his youth Bernard was considered extremely good looking and supplemented his earnings with gifts and loans from wealthy older women. Some acquaintances suggested he did the same with older men but Bernard always vehemently denied this. [Elizabeth Smart (author)|Elizabeth Smart]] suggested that he try journalism and he started to write about his interest in horse racing in Queen magazine. Bernard became enormously popular, which he put down to his writing about loss rather than success. He once said that he would always be able to halt a run-away horse-he'd just bet on it.
Bernard wrote a weekly column for the Sporting Life but was sacked in October 1971. This precipitated a disastrous period in his life. His 3rd wife left with their 2 year old daughter & he was hospitalised in a detox clinic where he was forced to attend AA sessions. He afterwards always wrote scathingly about AA. After being told by a Doctor that he would die very shortly if he didn't stop drinking, he stopped and was "dry" for almost 2 years. During this period he worked as a barman. He was afterwards to describe this as the worst period of his life and resumed drinking on the grounds that life, if it required sobriety, wasn't worth having. He switched, however, from Whisky to Vodka to lessen the effects of hangovers. Bernard continued to submit writing to various papers. He became Racing Correspondent for satirical magazine Private Eye & even had work accepted by ex-employer, Sporting Life. He was given a column with [The Spectator]] in 1975. His column, entitled "Low Life" was contrasted with the "High Life' column by immensely wealthy socialite 'Taki' and Bernard benefitted from the comparison which emphasised his insight and awareness. Whilst Taki's column described a life of yachts, casinos and grand hotels, Bernard's was described by Jonathan Meades as a "suicide note in weekly instalments" and principally chronicled his daily round of intoxication and dissipation in the Coach and Horses public house and its fateful consequences. This was mixed with anecdotes, many of which were repeated in the play "Jeffrey Bernard is unwell", and ponderings on life.  His lifestyle had an inevitable effect on his health and reliability, and the magazine often had to post the notice "Jeffrey Bernard is unwell" in place of his column. This became the title of a play by Keith Waterhouse based on his life.
Though married four times (Anna Grice (m. 1952), Jackie Heard, Jill Wilsworth and Sue Gluck), he often remarked, only half in jest, that alcohol was the other woman. Over time his drinking affected his health more seriously; he was hospitalised for detoxification, he suffered from pancreatitis and then diabetes. Ultimately his right leg was amputated, three years before his death. He died at his home in Soho at age 65 of renal failure after voluntarily refusing further treatment by dialysis. Growing weary of his illnesses he had discussed 'taking himself out' over a period and in his final farewell Spectator column he discussed how he had discovered how to do that by ingesting bananas, whose potassium content was toxic in his condition.
- Adrian Searle Obituary: Bruce Bernard, 31 March 2000
- Waterhouse (2004)
- "Last orders for Jeffrey Bernard". The Daily Telegraph. 13 September 1997.
- Howse, Christopher (6 September 1997). "Obituary: Jeffrey Bernard". The Independent. Retrieved 9 August 2013.
- Bernard (1996) is a collection of his Low Life pieces from the Spectator.
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Jeffrey Bernard|
- Bernard, J., with an introduction by Peter O'Toole (1996). Reach for the Ground: The Downhill Struggle of Jeffrey Bernard. London: Duckworth. ISBN 0-7156-3150-0.
- Bernard, O. (1992). Getting Over It: Recollections. London: Peter Owen. ISBN 0-7206-0865-1.
- Lord, G. (1993). Just the One: The Wives and Times of Jeffrey Bernard 1932-1997 (New Ed. ed.). London: Headline Book Publishing. ISBN 0-7472-6004-4.
- Waterhouse, K. (2004) "Bernard, Jeffrey Joseph (1932–1997)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, accessed 22 August 2007 (subscription or UK public library membership required)