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book cover of 

Count Omega

Count Omega

(1941)
A novel by

 
"Count Omega's" working title was "The Last Trump, the Tale of a Symphony and its Composer". Berners's hero, Emanuel Smith is no self-portrait - he is twenty-three, fair-haired and slender and has a profound contempt for opera and ballet. Amory takes up the story: "[Emanuel] is searching for a sensational climax to his symphony when at a party he hears an enormous trombonist called Gloria who can hold a note without apparent effort while it swells to a volume that is almost physically painful before diminishing to silence. He pursues her, breaks a tepid engagement for his new passion but then discovers she is false, a trick, she was merely miming to hidden players. Nevertheless, the symphony is played and when Gloria puts down her instrument and the note continues, chaos erupts. Emanuel goes to live quietly in the country and marries his old fiancee The book is more skilful than any fiction Berners had written before and touches on things that were important to him, and it is readable and original". Before publication Berners wrote, wickedly, to his erstwhile good friend William Walton: "I am reserving you for a forthcoming novel 'Count Omega', which I will send you as soon as it appears. I thought it only fair that the funniest composer should be immortalised by my pen. I must inform you that, should you, in Sitwellian fashion, propose to take action for libel, the book has been gone through by a lawyer and that I have insured myself against possible damages for libel". Walton's humour failed him, he consulted his solicitor and demanded a pre-publication text. Berners compounded his derring-do by writing direct to Walton's solicitor: "I am shortly bringing out a book called 'Ridiculous Composers I have known'. If your client Mr. William Walton should consider it necessary to see a copy before publication, will you kindly tell him to apply". The situation was defused and Walton thereafter would suffer convenient amnesia whenever the topic was raised. Berners, in recounting the episode to Osbert Sitwell, wrote: "There may be something in what dear old Mrs. Hunter used to say about it being a mistake to be playful with someone who is not quite a gentleman".

 
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