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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William, William …… wherefore art thou?

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It seems perfectly apposite that in the month captured within “the lovely April of her Prime”, [Sonnet III c. 1609] the site of Shakespeare’s London residence has been identified.

After ten years research, dedicated theatre historian, Geoffrey Marsh has truffled out the precise location as      35 Great St Helen’s, EC3 at which was written, inter alia, Romeo and Juliet. Sends a positive thrill down the spine to discover the place whence sprang lines transplanting us to the Verona of 1597/98.

Appropriate, then, to view its location at a distance.

Our shot shows the Manhattanizing of the City. The gap between Tower 42 (NatWest Tower as was) on the right is separated from the thicket on the left by Bishopsgate. It is exactly at that point where St Helen’s church is sited. The graveyard over which his rooms looked is gone, the house too. But ground beneath our feet is the ground that once was beneath his. Ain’t that utterly scintillating?

St Helen’s encircled [with Spital Fields top right]                                                 Image courtesy of Geoffrey Marsh/Jack Delaney

Mr Marsh – director of the V&A’s Theatre and Performing Arts department – has delivered up to us a veritable time machine by virtue of Research. It is as compelling an ignition to the imagination as anything could be: like directly plugging into the socket of history. 

Shakespeare was a tenant of the Worshipful Company of Leathersellers, miraculously still located in St Helen’s. 

Alas Romeo would now be hard pressed to wonder          “… what light through yonder window breaks?” given that over St Helen’s there loom not gothic glories to God but millennial mountains to mammon.

Purple reign

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Who's Queenie?

Who’s Queenie?

We’re awash with anniversaries and this year, an annus horribilis for the dazzling array of stars who’ve fallen from the firmament [Prince being the latest], entwines co-incidences. This day is the Ninetieth birthday of Elizabeth II and this year, the 400th anniversary of the demise of a poet who delighted Elizabeth I: there seems something astoundingly connected, neatly folded, meshed even.

When Republicans chant that a Monarchy is a constitutional anachronism which ought to be abolished, the alternatives posited seem somehow deficient in pomp, solemnity, awe-striking ability. Let’s face it: countries require a figure-head and foisting that crushing responsibility onto a normal human being, ill-prepared for devoting themselves to a life of duty, has been proven over and over as an omni-shambles.

However one feels about who is or isn’t Queenie, it is possible to ponder on the steadiness her course has charted. It links with all who came before. This anchoring provides stability. Taking for granted that seam through history tears at the fabric of who we are. And as Lear says to Gloucester “through tattered clothes great vices do appear”.