Goebbels and Gladys : A NOVEL OF FLEET STREET by Keith Colquhoun (Academy Chicago Publishers: $13.95; 188 pp.)

"Goebbels and Gladys" follows in the tradition of satiric British novels of batty, hard-drinking journalists who never let the facts stand in the way of a good story. In this case, the hero, named Hedley Verity, has no facts to begin with, but that doesn't stop him from concocting a sensational series on the love life of Hitler's spellbinding propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels in a desperate move to beat the competition.

Keith Colquhoun has Verity decide that Goebbels' published diaries are far too dull and that the Nazi chieftain, a reputed womanizer, must have kept another, secret diary that details his love affairs.

From this, Verity fashions his extravaganza in "instinctive journalism." The effort sparks another competitive scramble that prompts, among other things, reports that Goebbels is alive and living in an Arab tent in the Tunisian desert. The reports are enhanced by an official Tunisian denial as the Goebbels story begins to feed on itself.

The Gladys of the title is not one of Goebbels' conquests. She is Verity's black mistress with whom he exchanges such endearments as "black bitch" and "white trash." She wants Verity to give up his madcap career and retire with her to a cottage in the country.

The light-hearted nonsense of the early chapters gives way to a somber, bitter mood in the final ones. With heavy sarcasm, Colquhoun, an editor of the respected weekly Economist, pillories British journalism for what he sees as its outrageous assaults on truth to boost circulation and for the corrosive effect he feels its deceptions have on reporters and editors.

"Goebbels and Gladys" does not measure up to such classics as Evelyn Waugh's "Scoop," but it does, in a somewhat heavy-handed manner, nail the follies of journalistic overzealousness and virulent competition.

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