Monday 23 February 2009

Sir John Mortimer, Tony Hart, Edward Upward

Sir John Mortimer passed away on 16 January.  He was born on Saturday 21 April 1923 in Hampstead to Clifford Mortimer and Kathleen May (née Smith).  At 17, Mortimer went up to Brasenose College, Oxford to study law.  Brasenose College was then temporarily based at Christ Church - The Brasenose buildings having been requisitioned for the war effort.  He married Penelope Ruth Fletcher in 1949 from whom he had a son (Jeremy Mortimer) and Sally Silverman.  They divorced in 1971.  He married Penelope Gollop in 1972 who bore him 2 daughters: Emily (born 1 December 1972) and Rosie (born 1984).  In November 1961 John Mortimer had a son with the actress Wendy Craig.  He did not find out about this until August 2004 and both were very happily reunited, his name is Ross Bentley.  Mortimer was awarded the CBE in 1986 and knighted in 1998.  he wrote numerous books and presented TV programs among which some of the best remembered will be the autobiographical A Voyage Round My Father, (1963), the TV dramatisation of Evelyn Waugh's masterpiece Brideshead Revisited, (1981) and his own magnum opus Rumpole of the Bailey.  He also skilfully defended the 1960 trial against D. H. Lawrence's novel Lady Chatterly's Lover, the trial was also attended by Sylvia Plath at the time on the second day of the proceedings and she wrote about it in her journal.

The funeral was held on 22 at St Mary's Church, Turville (next to the house where Mortimer had lived with his first wife) near Henley-on-Thames.  His parents are buried here too.  Jeremy Paxman, Melvyn Bragg, Lord Kinnock and his wife Gladys were among the attendees.  Ross Bentley was seated in the front row with his mother.  The vicar said in her sermon:
Sir John called himself an atheist for Christ - He always came to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.  But he emphatically did not believe in life after death.  My hope is that he has had a wonderful surprise.  
                 Valerie Grove.  'Church Funeral of atheist John Mortimer, creator of Rumpole', The Times, 23 January 2009.
Mortimer's wife Penelope read from Shakespeare's Richard III after which a recording of him reading from Wordworth's 'Tintern Abbey' was played.  Emily and Rosie recited Byron's 'So we'll go go more a roving' which I think must have been an absolutely inspired choice.  His daughter Sally along with 6 of his grandchildren read from 'Ecclesiastes'.  Blake's 'Jerusalem' was played as the crowd walked out into the obliging sunshine.


The artist Tony Hart passed away on 18 January.  He was born on 15 October 1925.  He was introduced to a TV producer at a party in 1952, who whilst looking for a paper found that Hart had drawn a fish on a napkin, as they say the rest is history.  A relative gifted me one of his books in 1991 which I cherished.  His first TV series was Playbox, (1954 - 1959), followed by Vision On and Titch & Quackers, (1967 - 1977), Take Hart, (1978 - 1984), Hartbeart, (1984 - 1993) which was probably his most famous show and which I recall watching, Art Box Bunch, (1995 - 1996) and Smart Hart, (1999 - 2000).  He was awarded a BAFTA in 1978 for his beloved Plasticine characters and a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998.  Hart also designed the iconic Blue Peter logo.  He retired in 2001.  His wife Jean Shingle who he married in 1953 passed away in 2003.  Hart's funeral was held at Christ Church, Shamley Green in Surrey.  His daughter Carolyn (who has 2 children of her own) recalled "I remember being evry small and having a bad dream late one night.  To comfort me you lifted me out of bed and took me downstairs where you fed me with Heinz tomato soup and read to me from Winnie the Pooh.  I remember begging you to collect me from school, so that the other children could see that you really were my dad, and you did".

Hart had served as an officer in the First Gurkha Rifles before his career took off in television and a lone Gurkha Soldier played bagpipes at the funeral.  The attendees were all invited to contribute a brush stroke to a canvas prepared in his memory.


Edward Upward, an early friend of W. H. Auden passed away on 13.  He took part in a recent (very rare) TV documentary on Auden's life.  He was the longest living British writer.  Born on 9 September 1903 in Romford he attended Repton School where he befriended Isherwood.  Isherwood introduced him to Auden in a restaurant in Soho in 1927 although they had corresponded before and Auden had sent him a number of his poems the previous year when Upward had been teaching in Cornwall.  Around this time they also visited France when Auden went off with a boy he bumped into on the train.  He bought the boy home who had a revolver with him and threatened to kill himself.  Auden had to give him 'a badly-neeeded shaking up'.[1]

Once Auden put on a false beard when he came to Scarborough to meet Upward in 1931.  For some reason his cab to the station was late and Auden had to go to the toilet to take off his beard.  Another time Upward was walking along the drive to meet Auden when he heard a deep sound coming out of the air saying "Mr Upward, Mr Upward".  It was Auden up in a tree sounding like "an accusing Jehovah".[2]

Upward graduated from Corpus Christi College, Cambridge in the '20s and joined the Communist Party in the '30s which he left in 1948 along with his wife Hilda Percival (believing its policies were no longer revolutionary) though he remained committed to Socialist causes throughout his long life.  Upward married in 1936 and had one son and a daughter (who pre-deceased him in 1995).  Upward was a novelist and short story writer and was awarded the Benson Medal in 2005 by the Royal Society of Literature.  Some of his early prose had been an influence on Auden's poetry of that period.

Although they had not met since the 1930s, Upward was of the mindset that:
He seemed to have deliberately chosen not to become the truly great poet that I was sure he would have become.  I had never doubted that he would have a permanent place among the English poets, but I had come to think - and I still think - that it will not be as high a place as it could have been. 
           Edward Upward.  'Remembering the earlier Auden', Adam International Review, 1973 - 1974.  22.
It seems that Auden and Upward parted ways after Auden was angered at his repudiating Isherwood for turning to religion.  Nevertheless, Edward Mendelson in Later Auden surmises that Auden had spotted a theological point in Upward's appraisal of Forster's literary technique.  Upward said that Forster's technique was "based on the tea-table: instead of trying to screw all his scenes up to the highest possible pitch, he tones them down until they sound like mother's-meeting gossip."[3]

Auden explained in his essay on Joyce:
The Pagan thought that the Good Life was relatively easy for the nobly-born and impossible to the low-born; the Christian, on the other hand, thought that, to human vision at least, the Good Life was pretty difficult for all, but impossible to none.  The effect of this on the subject matter of art was enormous, instead of the artist being confined to the over-life-size, the melodramatic character and situation, any character or situation was interesting that could show spiritual growth or decay; what mattered was the intensity of effort with relation to the capacity of a given character to make it: Christianity introduced the tea-table to literature.[4]
[1] Isherwood, Christopher.  Lions & Shadows.  (1935).
[2] Upward, Edward.  'Remembering the early Auden', Adam International Review, 1973 - 1974.  19.
[3] Isherwood. Ibid.
[4] Auden, W. H.  'James Joyce & Richard Wagner', Common Sense, March 1941.  The Complete Works of W. H.                          Auden: Prose 1939 - 1948.  Edited by Edward Mendelson.  117.