Last Post has a double life; it both sounds for the gallant fallen and recalls what spurred freelance journalists, in all those yesterdays before e-mail, to get their copy in the pillar-box by deadline time. Frederic Raphael's compendium, written in the lively equivalent of the French epistolary second person singular, is a rare mixture of loud salutes, occasional raspberries and affectionate farewells.
Its intimacy delivers frankness that formal biography, however plumped with proper sources, seldom achieves. To John Schlesinger, '“Fuck 'em all dear,” you used to say. And God knows, you did your best.'; Ludwig Wittgenstein saying 'What do you know about philosophy, Russell, what have you ever known?'; Cyril Connolly to William Somerset Maugham who was complaining about his lack of true lovers, '...then although the room was chilly, no one cared to poke poor Willie'; 'You bloody fool,' the first words said by a venerable professor to George Steiner.
As the parade goes by, Last Post becomes what classicists call a 'prosopography'. Raphael's own versatility shows up in the varieties of tone and vocabulary in long letters of tribute to the two Stanleys Kubrick and Donen, Ken Tynan, Leslie Bricusse, Tom Maschler, Dorothy Nimmo the known and the less known but no less valued; finally, above all, in farewell to his beloved daughter Sarah.