Being Humane

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© Ian Berry / Magnum Photos       Jonathan Miller and small person, 1967

Jonathan Miller died today.

The cascade of avalanching tributes seems just response to a well-lived life garlanded by accolades yet shaken off as petals.

He gave a talk at Birkbeck entitled ‘Here’s looking at you, kid’ whose poster was that image of Bogart & Bergman from Casablanca.

By some very puzzling co-incidence, after he’d finished, he came and sat next to me in the audience while the College Master thanked him for the exposition.

Up until that moment, he’d always appeared an effusion of complex ideas simply explained, seeming to possess the molten self-assurance of one whose ‘incontinent wit’ could resuscitate the joy in any audience.

I have a Swedish nose which was also on the poster advertising the event. Maybe that’s why he wandered into the empty chair beside me? But he then asked with a sincere question in eye and cheek: “Was that alright?”

© Warner Bros

The vaulting architecture of his mind might have been grasped by Brunelleschi but as ignorant, grubby under-graduate, I decided the appropriate response was to play to my strength rather than his. So I smiled at him the kind of smile that hoped to convey all was well in the world. His tense shoulders relaxed and a grin spread across the India rubber of his face.

So, not merely the polymath’s polymath as a clever soul commented today, but a Being as humane as his body that questioned. Lucky for us he lived in our life-time.

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