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A number of recent news items popped up over the past week covering a variety of interesting topics.

Food

Food is always a favourite topic, and those who read the British papers last week will not have been disappointed.

Egg substitutes

In my post from Friday, November 18, I suggested eating more eggs, the world’s most complete food.

On Wednesday, November 16, The Times helpfully brought to light several egg substitutes, relevant as the UK is apparently undergoing an egg shortage. I haven’t noticed it, so it could be another short chapter in the everlasting narrative, Project Fear.

The paper tells us that Delia Smith, the doyenne of British home cooks, uses condensed milk:

in her egg-free prune and date cake from Delia’s Cakes, which she says makes it “dark, sticky and moist”.

By now, most of us have heard of aquafaba, which literally means chickpea water. In an episode of the UK version of MasterChef : The Professionals last year or the year before, top chef Monica Galetti whipped it to make a meringue-like substance. It came as news to me.

The Times says that aquafaba is a versatile ingredient (emphases mine):

Cooks only realised its potential in 2014, when a French vegan started experimenting in his kitchen and published his innovative recipes for chocolate mousse, floating islands and meringues online. Now TikTok abounds with home chefs sharing their trials and errors with the egg substitute.

As a general rule, 30ml of aquafaba is equivalent to one medium egg white, and 45ml to a whole egg.

As well as meringues, aquafaba can be used to make macarons, ice cream, fudge and marshmallows, and even the foamy top on a whisky sour.

“It’s amazing for adding a fluffy texture to mousses and cakes once whipped,” says the plant-based chef Niki Webster, founder of RebelRecipes (rebelrecipes.com). “It’s also brilliant for making vegan mayonnaise as an emulsifier. Be patient. It works and tastes delicious.”

The best, and cheapest, way to get it is by simply draining the liquid from a can of chickpeas via a sieve and whisking it using a balloon or electric whisk. You can also use the water from white beans, kidney beans, black beans, lentils or peas, although the consistency may vary — so chickpeas are your best bet.

You can now also buy it alone, without the chickpeas: London-based OGGS sells 200ml and 1 litre cartons of aquafaba from £1 in Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Asda and the Co-op.

Interestingly, powdered ‘egg’, which harks back to rationing from the Second World War, has also made a comeback:

Longer-lasting than a box of eggs and made from a variety of veggie ingredients (such as potato flour, bean flour, pea fibre and tapioca), all you have to do is add water.

Whisk according to your recipe.

Be careful to check whether the powder mimics whole eggs or just egg whites.

Food additives

Every so often, we get another Project Fear article about food additives.

Those who make their meals and desserts from scratch don’t really have to worry about them. People who buy everything ready made off the supermarket shelf, however, probably do need to pay more attention.

On November 15, The Telegraph covered all the different types of food additives, from colourings to emulsifiers. Each one plays its own role in making food more appealing to the eye or better on the tongue.

Whilst not panicking over additives, I do wonder whether they are partly responsible for a rise in cancer rates over the past 50 years. The article does mention nitrates and nitrites in this regard, but that is old news.

The bigger issue is obesity, likely to be fuelled by ultra-processing. The gut has less to do and, consequently, we feel less full, therefore, we want more processed food.

The article concludes:

What should consumers do to avoid scary additives? These scientists were unanimous: avoid ultra-processed foods.

That means cooking from scratch, which brings me neatly on to the next article.

‘Soaring’ food prices

Food prices are always going up, and not just in the UK.

I remember going back to the US many years ago and was astounded to see that my favourite whole grain breakfast cereal had soared to $4.50 and was in a considerably smaller box.

In the UK today, Heinz tomato ketchup has gone up the most. In fact, my British readers will know that one of our supermarket chains temporarily took several Heinz products off its shelves in June. They are back now, but the supermarket wanted to send a message to Heinz that they were price gouging.

The Times reviewed a list of foods that have increased in price the most in 2022, according to consumer watchdog Which?’s analysis.

Note that most of them are ready made products:

The research found that Heinz tomato ketchup had the biggest average increase in price, going up by 53 per cent (91p) on average. The second biggest increase was for Dolmio lasagne sauce, which went up by 47 per cent (61p) on average. Batchelors Super Noodles, the student staple, went up by an average of 43 per cent to 82p.

Prices also went up on branded bread: a loaf of Hovis granary wholemeal increased by an average of 43 per cent to £1.97.

The increases compare with average food inflation of 14.6 per cent since this time last year, and 0.8 per cent during the preceding 12 months, suggesting that some manufacturers may have been taking the opportunity to increase profit margins. In June Tesco stopped stocking products from Heinz during a row about price rises that the US food maker was trying to impose.

The research found that branded butter had some of the biggest price increases in absolute terms. A 500g tub of Anchor Spreadable, for example, has gone up by £1.31 on average. The single biggest price rise was on a box of 100 Everyday tea bags by Twinings, which jumped by £2.33 at one supermarket.

Who buys Twinings for regular tea? I have it in my cupboard, but only when I fancy a cuppa, which isn’t that often. For everyday tea breaks, PG Tips and Yorkshire Tea are perfectly good and cost a lot less.

Heinz Classic Cream Of Chicken Soup is another items which has gone up considerably.

The message here is to start making your own tomato sauces and soups as well as preparing dried noodles from scratch. A tin of supermarket own brand tomatoes costs 50p. Dried noodles are pretty cheap, as are the vegetables to add to them. Chicken is still cheap. YouTube must be full of videos with instructions on how to make cream of chicken soup.

Making one’s own bread also saves a fortune. My brand of flour has not increased noticeably this year, so I would highly recommend tuning in to YouTube for tutorials.

Honestly, once you make your own meals, you’ll never buy another ready made product again.

British cheese popular in France

It’s been 30 years in the making, but British artisan cheese has finally found its place in France.

On November 15, The Telegraph reported:

Find yourself in a Parisian restaurant these days and chances are that alongside roquefort and comté you will see cheddar or stilton on the cheese board. In fact, having shaken off its reputation for wax-wrapped, mass-produced, tasteless blocks, British cheese is the hot new thing

Over the past decade, overall exports of British cheese have been growing. Wyke Farms, the large Somerset producer, now sends 6,000 tonnes of cheese per year to over 160 countries. According to the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, in the second quarter of 2022, exports to Europe were up 22 per cent on the same period the year before (although 2021 was hampered by Brexit uncertainties). 

Our neighbour across the Channel is emerging as a key market. In 2014, the artisan cheesemonger Neal’s Yard Dairy exported €500,000 of British cheese to France; by 2021, the figure had jumped to €1 million, with France becoming the second-largest market after the United States

British cheese is en vogue. Artisan fromagerie Taka & Vermo, near the Gare du Nord in Paris, stocks cheddar and stilton. At restaurants like Frenchie and L’Entente, diners can end a meal with a British board featuring classics including stilton and cheddar and less well-known cheeses. Oliver Woodhead, the British owner of L’Entente, has even been on French TV to espouse British fromage. British cheese is no longer a joke. 

It comes as no surprise. There are around 150,000 French people in Britain, and many more in France who have lived here at some point and developed a taste for British food. As adventurous as anyone else, young French people are searching for new exciting foods to try. Most importantly, British cheese has improved dramatically over the past 40 years. Once the poor man of Europe, it’s now up there with the best

Neal’s Yard Dairy sales director Jason Hinds has done more than most to promote British cheese in France. When he started working for the London-based cheesemonger and wholesaler in the early 1990s, its exports to France totalled a big fat zero. “My goal was always to export the best British cheese to France,” Hinds explains. “The perception of British food generally in the early 1990s was that, in culinary terms, we were savages. But while it seemed like a fanciful idea to some at the time, the cheese was good so I knew it could be done.” 

Well done, everyone!

British cheese is every bit as good as French cheese, of which I eat a lot.

Champagne scion dies

While we’re on the subject of France, I have two more stories to cover which concern that lovely country and our own sceptred isle.

The first is about Christian de Billy, who oversaw the Pol Roger Champagne house for decades. He died at the age of 93 on August 26, 2022. The Telegraph brought his demise to our attention on November 18.

The Pol Roger family have been involved in civic life for over a century as well as producing one of the world’s finest Champagnes, which is one of my favourites:

Christian de Billy, who has died aged 93, was the great-grandson of Pol Roger, founder of the Champagne house which remains in independent family ownership to this day. Among the smaller of the great Champagne houses, Pol Roger is known for its wines of unimpeachable finesse, which have long attracted a following on this side of the Channel, where de Billy was a regular visitor and ebullient ambassador.

Christian de Billy devoted more than 70 years to the family business, joining in the company’s centenary year (1949) under the watch of his redoubtable grandfather Maurice Pol-Roger, who had been Mayor of Epernay in the First World War, narrowly escaping execution under the German occupation and renowned for fighting one of the last recorded duels in France with the Préfet de la Marne, whom he had accused of deserting his post.

From an early apprenticeship in the cellars and offices on the Avenue de Champagne (whose No 44 was to be described by Pol Roger’s most famous customer, Sir Winston Churchill, as “the world’s most drinkable address”) Christian de Billy rose to become Export Director in 1953 and President Directeur General in 1977, later forming a supervisory Conseil de Surveillance of which he remained President until his retirement in 2019, when he passed the reins to his daughter Véronique

Today, his daughters Laurence, Evelyne and Véronique, together with his son Hubert and grandson Bastien, are all closely involved in the direction of the company.

The article has more about the family’s friendship with Sir Winston Churchill and his descendants:

it was Christian de Billy who took on the legacy of his glamorous aunt Odette Pol-Roger, who had so captivated Sir Winston Churchill at their first meeting at the British Embassy in Paris in the closing days of the Second World War, both maintaining and strengthening the friendship with successive generations of the Churchill family

Together with Christian Pol-Roger, he created, and received the family’s blessing for, the Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill, which was launched at Blenheim Palace in 1984 and is now in its 20th edition

It was also de Billy who oversaw the creation in 1990 of the British subsidiary, Pol Roger Ltd, which has become a successful presence on the company’s leading export market.

Come to think of it, the first time I tried Pol Roger was in the UK in the early 1990s.

The article includes this video of the history of Pol Roger:

Christian de Billy had a wide variety of outside interests:

Appointed to the Légion d’honneur, he was as comfortable in the company of presidents (including General de Gaulle) and prime ministers (including Jacques Chirac) as he was with the remueurs in the Pol Roger cellars. His smallness of stature belied the generosity of spirit within, combining an innate warmth with a mischievous sense of humour. A bon vivant, Christian was a keen follower of the pleasures of the table and a long-standing member of the Académie des Gastronomes.

De Billy, like his grandfather, was a keen sportsman, presiding over extensive shoots in the forests of Boursault and Milan, near Reims. His large collection of wild boar models, pictures and other memorabilia testified to his love of the sport: at his funeral, his coffin was driven off to a lively serenade of hunting horns. A skilled fly-fisherman, he had a cherished beat on the Andelle, one of Normandy’s finest chalk streams.

A life well lived. I’m delighted the family have maintained their business in Britain.

British veteran reunites with Frenchwoman

One week after Remembrance Day, The Telegraph related a moving Second World War story involving a young British Royal Engineer who shared his Army ration with a starving French girl.

By way of thanks, she wrote a note on the back of her First Communion photo and left it for him.

The two were reunited in 2022, 78 years later. Reg Pye is now 99 and Huguette is 92. They certainly don’t look that old.

The Telegraph reported the story, complete with photos, including the one from Huguette’s First Communion:

Reg Pye, from Burry Port, South Wales, served with the 224 Field Company, Royal Engineers, as a driver carrying sappers, mines and ammunitions, during the Battle of Normandy.

While moving through Normandy in June 1944, 14 days after D-Day, Mr Pye spotted a 14-year-old girl staring at him as he ate his evening meal – a slice of bread with jam and a tin of pilchards.

The then 21-year-old immediately gave the girl his bread with jam and she ran away to eat it.

When he woke the next morning, he found that she had half-filled his mess tin with milk and left a picture of herself with a written message on the back, which he kept in his wallet.

In November this year, the girl was identified as Huguette, now 92, and was reunited with Mr Pye in France where he showed her the picture he had held for 78 years, and gave her another jam sandwich.

When meeting Huguette, Mr Pye said: “Nice to see you again after such a long time. We got older but we’re still the same.”

One wonders if they drank Pol Roger:

They drank champagne with their extended families and a translator.

Incredibly, Reg Pye spent years trying to find Huguette:

Mr Pye said: “The memory of my very brief encounter with this young girl will stay with me forever.

“In the bleakest of times, this bit of human interaction made a huge mark on my life. I have carried her picture in my wallet for 78 years always hoping we might meet again.

Mr Pye went back to Normandy 20 years ago to try to find Huguette but was unsuccessful.

Taxi drivers helped the veteran find his erstwhile friend:

After hearing the story, volunteer Paul Cook, from the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans, an organisation run by London black taxi drivers which arranges free trips for veterans to the Netherlands, Belgium and France, started a social media campaign which eventually reunited the pair.

Mr Pye added: “I cannot believe that she has finally been found and I wish to thank everyone, including our friend Emma, our cab driver Paul and the Taxi Charity’s French adviser Nathalie Varniere, who have helped to make my dream come true.”

Mr Cook said: “There are no words to describe how elated I am that Reg has found Huguette, this is like a Hollywood blockbuster and I wouldn’t be surprised if this beautiful story was made into a film.”

I hope it is made into a film. It’s a beautiful story.

Perseverance is always rewarded. Never give up on a dream.

Good taste ‘nothing to do with money or class’

On November 15, The Telegraph‘s Melissa Twigg interviewed socialite India Hicks, who has featured in Tatler over the decades.

I was surprised to find that she is now 55. She still looks like a twenty-something.

Hicks has a proper pedigree. Some might have seen her mother, Lady Pamela Hicks, in television documentaries about the Royal Family.

Twigg tells us that India is:

the third child of Lady Pamela Hicks (whose parents were the Earl and Countess Mountbatten of Burma) and the late interior designer David Hicks. She is also the second cousin and goddaughter of King Charles – like him, she spent her teenage years in the no-nonsense Scottish boarding school of Gordonstoun. Her glamorous life is put somewhat in perspective when you realise that, aged 11, she was on holiday with her family in Ireland when her grandfather’s fishing boat was blown up by the IRA. He died, as did her 14-year-old cousin, Nicholas, and this frightening period of British history was memorably dramatised in the fourth series of The Crown, with Mountbatten played by Charles Dance. I ask if she has seen it and she quickly says no. “We don’t really get Netflix out here.” 

I have no doubt that Hicks could watch the show if she wanted to – but I also understand why she doesn’t want to discuss it. She has built a successful career in Britain and America from being stylish, beautiful and royal-adjacent; distant enough from the family to freely write books and launch clothing and interiors collections, but close enough to attend the funeral of Elizabeth II and be a patron of the Prince’s Trust

“It was extraordinary being there for [Elizabeth II’s] funeral,” she says. “I was very relieved to find myself in England with my mother during that period. The Queen’s death was a chapter closing for all of us, but for my mother [who was a bridesmaid and lady-in-waiting to the Queen] it was grief on a more personal level. I often wondered how she was and she kept using the word ‘acceptance’.” 

Here’s the high point — on good taste:

… when I ask if her aristocratic roots have influenced her taste, she pauses. “I definitely shy away from the word ‘class’,” she says. Good taste is everything, but in the end it has nothing to do with class. My father came from an ordinary background but he was anything but ordinary. He was a difficult father but a brilliant designer and made me realise good taste and design are by no means dependent on money.” 

True!

Furthermore, this is my own observation: good taste offends no one and pleases nearly everyone.

I have a few more news stories to share on Thursday. I think you will like them.

Advertisement

At least one Collins book can be found in nearly every English-speaking household in the UK.

Speaking personally, we have a Collins Bible, Book of Common Prayer and several dictionaries, including the incomparable Collins Robert French Dictionary. In the past, I also bought annual Collins calendar diaries.

What I did not know until reading the recent obituary of Jan Collins, one of the publishing house’s heirs, was that it was started by a Scottish Evangelical.

The Times published Jan Collins’s obituary on February 14, 2022. Jan, who died at the age of 92 on January 29, will be remembered as much for his tennis prowess as his publishing career.

Of Billy Collins, the publishing house’s founder, the obituary states (emphases mine):

Founded in 1819 by Jan Collins’s great-grandfather William Collins, an evangelical Christian, it was known primarily for its printing of Bibles, dictionaries and diaries. In the early Thirties, more than 600,000 Bibles were published annually. One sales jingle declared: “Satan trembles when he sees/Bibles sold as cheap as these.”

Jan Collins joined his family’s business, then called William Collins, after he graduated from Oxford in 1952. He was assigned to the Bible department, located in Glasgow:

At the time it was still the leading publishing house in Scotland, with some 2,500 people employed in its Glasgow printing presses in Cathedral Street, which could produce up to 15,000 books an hour.

The company’s fiction and non-fiction books were published in London:

The general fiction and non-fiction titles division was based in St James’s Place, London, meanwhile, and was being considerably expanded by Collins’s father, Billy Collins, with the addition of bestselling authors such as Agatha Christie, Enid Blyton, Alistair MacLean and Patrick O’Brian. In 1956 the firm’s last substantial British acquisition was Hatchards bookshop in Piccadilly. In 1960, Collins published 576 new editions, the most in the UK.

Jan Collins was responsible for bringing us The Good News Bible. Love it or loathe it, I know several Americans who told me it was the only version of the Bible they could actually read and understand:

After a decade working in the Bible department he hit upon the money-spinning idea of teaming up with the American Bible Society to publish the New Testament in contemporary English, an edition known as Good News for Modern Man. A decade after that, the Old Testament was included and it was known under the title of the Good News Bible, which is still the most popular Bible currently published. More than a million copies were sold in the first year and subsequently nearly a billion copies have been printed throughout the world.

He then turned his attention to dictionaries and the printing presses in Scotland:

Jan Collins also rebuilt the Collins Dictionary business and spearheaded the modern bilingual dictionaries, forging partnerships with Robert in Paris and Mondadori in Italy. In 1971 he was appointed vice-chairman and by the mid-Seventies was in charge of the manufacturing side of the business. He was responsible for moving the entire printing department from Cathedral Street to a new site on the outskirts in Bishopbriggs, which employed 2,000 people.

When his father Billy Collins died in 1976, the atmosphere in the company became turbulent:

Collins was appointed executive chairman of the entire group but within a few years, boardroom tensions developed between the London and Glasgow-based divisions of the company, particularly because of the persistent losses in the print division and differing opinions about possible solutions. There were also questions raised regarding the management style of Jan Collins and, as a consequence, he stepped down in 1979 but remained as non-executive chairman until 1981. At this point, he and his mother sold their shares to Rupert Murdoch and he stepped down as non-executive chairman as well.

Rupert Murdoch ended up buying the company, which is now known as HarperCollins:

Murdoch held 41.7 per cent of the shares. He made a bid to take a controlling interest in William Collins, but was opposed by the new chairman Ian Chapman (obituary, November 30, 2019) and the rest of the board, which included a number of other Collins family members.

Murdoch finally succeeded in taking over the company in 1989, when he merged it with his other publishing holdings in the US and Australia to become HarperCollins, now one of the three biggest English-language book publishers in the world.

Jan Collins had a rareified upbringing in Scotland and England:

William Janson Collins was born in Great Western Terrace, Glasgow, in 1929, son of Sir William “Billy” Collins, who was head of William Collins and the grandson of the founder of the publishing house, and Priscilla Marian Lloyd. Billy Collins was considered one of the last of the benevolent despots in publishing, who scrutinised every aspect of the business. According to one employee, he combined “the necessary elements of the hustler and the showman with the more discreet and urbane attitudes of the worldly gentleman publisher”.

Shortly after Jan’s birth, the Collins family moved to a William Adam mansion on the outskirts of Troon, the favoured Ayrshire seaside resort of Glaswegian millionaires, thanks to its golf courses. The extended Collins family were all passionate sportsmen, which rubbed off on Jan, who apart from golf, took up shooting and tennis. His parents were both talented players and his uncle Ian Collins played at Wimbledon 12 times, making it to the final of the doubles and mixed doubles in the early Thirties. His father was on the All-England Club committee until late in life, while in the late Forties Jan came only one round short of making the championships at Wimbledon.

He was sent to prep school at Ludgrove, and then Eton, where he was All England Racquets champion at 14, in the first XI cricket team and president of Pop, the elite club of Eton prefects. When Collins was 15, he met his wife, Lady Sally Hely-Hutchinson, at the Eton and Harrow cricket match at Lord’s.

Being president of Pop is a huge deal. Allow me to digress for a while with an article by an Old Etonian, Bill Coles, who wrote about the exclusive club for The Express in 2011, the year of its bicentenary. Coles somewhat regretted that he was never elected to be a member:

The Eton Societyor Pop as it’s known – this year celebrates its 200th anniversary and though Prince William and his uncle Earl Spencer will both have been invited to the £250-a-head party in its honour, I will sadly not be among their number.

At first glance Pop looks like nothing more than a very posh sixth form club. But Eton (with fees of £30,000 a year) is still regarded by many as the top elite school in the country – one that has provided 19 prime ministers (not least our current one) as well as old boys ranging from George Orwell and James Bond author Ian Fleming to Boris Johnson and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. And if Eton is an educational elite then Pop is an even smaller elite within it – one that elects its own members, who form not just an exclusive network but one that doesn’t always admit the members you might expect.

well they looked like peacocks strutting among a horde of black crows and to a stripling teenager it all seemed rather exotic. Here, in full, was the uniform of an Eton Popper: a black tailcoat with braid piping; spongebag trousers in a houndstooth check; and a starched wing collar with a white (hand-tied) bow tie.

The uniform would usually be capped off with a thick cow-lick of hair, spit-polished black lace-ups pickers), plus a gardenia or a rose in the button-hole. While the rest of us schoolboys had been shoe-horned into grubby black waistcoats the Poppers were allowed to wear any waistcoat they pleased, at least a dozen and you can only imagine the glorious oneupmanship that was involved.

I remember waistcoats of green leather, waistcoats spangled with Pearly King buttons, and even a hideous fur electric pink number. Prince William, when he was a Popper, tended towards the staid and I believe his most daring outfit was a patriotic Union Jack. To all intents and purposes the Poppers don exactly the same sort of clothes that the gentlemen will be wearing at next month’s royal wedding

When this article appeared, David Cameron was Prime Minister and Boris Johnson was Mayor of London:

Once you realise the sheer showiness of the Pop uniform it is all too easy to understand how David Cameron came to be quite so enamoured with the Bullingdon Club at Oxford. For, if he had been elected into Pop he might never had quite such an urge to dress like a foppish Bullingdon blue-blood (though London Mayor Boris Johnson was in both Pop and the Bullingdon Club). Within Eton, Pop was a self-electing club for the sports stars, which certainly did not include me, and the hearty good guys. There were about 25 of them and they were charged with keeping the 1,300 other boys for such misdemeanours as not being properly dressed, or even “socking” (eating) in the street.

I still recall how, when I was 13, an enormous Popper accosted me in the street for not wearing any cuff links. “Have a pound in my room by lock‑up,” he told me. Ostensibly all this loot went to charity, though doubtless the Poppers were just using it for extra beer money at the school pub, Tap. Speaking to contemporaries who were members, one is struck by the fact that while Pop is exclusive it does not necessarily bother itself with the most opulent surroundings.

It was a bit like a St James’s club in that boys were put up for election but if there was a single blackball against them then they weren’t in. Things have changed more recently and now the Eton masters have a right of veto. You probably don’t get quite so many bad eggs …

One can see how Jan Collins’s sporting prowess appealed to Pop members:

Pop was predominantly filled with sports buffs and swells and that’s still pretty accurate to this day. It appeals to people who like to dress up as a peacock.” Pop was founded in 1811 and it was originally a debating society and had the name “Popina”, from the Latin for “Tea-Shop” which is where the boys used to meet. In its heyday Pop was the ultimate networking tool and could open the most incredible doors. One can even see Pop’s shadow hanging over Prime Minister Harold Macmillan when he culled half his cabinet during “The Night of the Long Knives” in the late Fifties.

It’s said that Macmillan sacked half his friends from Pop – only to replace them with the other half. Fagging at Eton is now a distant memory but in my time in the Eighties a Popper could fag off any boy on the street, sending him off to do any chore he pleased. I still remember my outrage when a Popper took offence at my smirking face and sent me to Windsor to buy him a postcard for his mother. Another extraordinary aspect of the society was that 50 years ago Poppers were empowered to deliver a “Pop tan” – where reprobate boys would be flogged by every member of Pop

One Old Etonian told Bill Coles:

One of the strange things about Pop is that it never goes away. You find it cropping up in a lot of Etonians’ obituaries. These are people who may well have won VCs or who are captains of industry – and yet for some reason the fact that they were a member of Pop is seen to be on a par with anything else that they’ve done.

And, lo, we discover that Jan Collins was not only in Pop but also one of its presidents.

Now, back to the rest of the publisher’s life.

He did his National Service as a young officer in the Coldstream Guards. The obituary has a stunning photograph of him in dress uniform.

Jan Collins married Lady Sally Hely-Hutchinson while he was reading English at Magdalen College, Oxford:

while his sporting prowess continued, winning blues in tennis, squash, cricket and fives. Later in life, he said that his family were “all frightful sporting bores”.

In 1952, they moved to Scotland:

The newly married couple moved to Troon in 1952, and he remained in Ayrshire for the rest of his life.

Lady Sally had a career as a novelist:

Under the pen name of Harriet Martyn, Lady Sally wrote three girls’ boarding school works of fiction — the Balcombe Hall stories — which were inspired by the escapades of her daughter Jane at St Mary’s, Wantage; and as Sara Healy, three historical novels including a Second World War evacuee story inspired by her own experiences. She died in 2013. He is survived by their four children, Noel, an entrepreneur, Jane who runs her own publishing company in Ireland, Tiffany, a company director, and Bryony who is in technology.

Meanwhile, apart from owning and operating three restaurants that closed in relatively short order, Jan devoted the rest of his life to tennis:

After retiring, he became a fully qualified tennis coach. He was appointed MBE for services to tennis in 2004, after raising nearly £2 million to create the largest junior tennis programme in Scotland. He was the oldest surviving member of the All England Lawn Tennis Club, having first joined 70 years ago, in 1952. In fact, he had attended every Wimbledon tennis tournament since then, including last year. He was especially proud of winning the over-85 category of the British veterans’ grass court championship at Wimbledon in 2014.

During lockdown in 2021, Jan Collins raised money for charity:

In the summer of 2021, when lockdown regulations meant no golf clubs were open throughout the UK, a private five-hole course was suddenly created in the rear garden of a 90-year-old golfer in Troon. Inspired by the story of Captain Sir Tom Moore, Jan Collins raised £8,000 by playing 1,000 holes of golf in his back garden.

But his was not a totally serious life of work and tennis. Privately, he was known for his wit and harmless pranks.

There was no mention of any religious aspect to his life, but Jan Collins lived quite the life. May he rest in peace.

On Monday, November 15, 2021, Winston Churchill’s niece, Clarissa Eden, the Countess of Avon, died at the age of 101.

The Times published an obituary. What a fascinating life she led.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

A life well lived

Anne Clarissa Spencer-Churchill was born in London on June 28, 1920. She was the daughter of Jack Spencer-Churchill, Winston Churchill’s younger brother, and grand-daughter of former Chancellor of the Exchequer Randolph Churchill. Her mother was Lady Gwendoline (“Goonie”) Bertie, a daughter of the 7th Earl of Abingdon. According to The Times, the Earl’s family thought that Lady Gwendoline married beneath herself, because Jack, even though he was a Major from the Great War, earned his living as a stockbroker, something that true gentlemen did not do in that era.

Perhaps they were not wrong. Money was tight, so much so that Jack’s family lived with Winston’s in South Kensington, overlooking the Natural History Museum.

Childhood holidays were spent at Blenheim itself and later at Churchill’s home, Chartwell in Kent. They also included visits to Normandy where family friend Consuelo Vanderbilt, formerly Duchess of Marlborough, lived.

Clarissa had two older brothers. Despite her mother’s devoted attention to her, she grew up to be independently minded. She left a fashionable Essex boarding school, Downham, because she felt she did not fit in with the other girls.

At the age of 16, her family sent her to Paris to study art. This was the beginning of her adulthood and sent the tone for her life over the next several years:

There she was taken up by the younger members of the embassy staff, including Fitzroy Maclean. At 17, she had her first love affair, visited nightclubs run by White Russians and saw Josephine Baker dance clad only in a circlet of bananas. It was no surprise that when she returned to London she found her contemporaries to be lacking in sophistication. In imitation of Marlene Dietrich, she had a man’s suit made. Deborah Mitford, her fellow debutante, recalled the blue-eyed Clarissa as having “a whiff of Garbo” about her.

By the time the Second World War broke out, Clarissa had moved from London to Oxford, attracting the attention of men:

There she unofficially attended philosophy lectures and persuaded AJ Ayer to give her tutorials. “She was a don’s delight,” Lady Antonia Fraser recalled. Her circle included Lord David Cecil and Isaiah Berlin, who told her how as a small boy in Russia he had buried his mother’s pearls in the snow to save them from the Bolsheviks.

She inspired a fictional character called Emmeline:

The composer and writer Lord Berners, a noted wit — a notice at the top of a folly on his estate read: “Members of the public commit suicide here at their own risk” — left a portrait of her as the heroine of his novel Far From the Madding War.

Emmeline, who has “hair reminiscent of a cornfield at daybreak”, looks like “a nymph in one of the less licentious paintings of Fragonard”. She is not the sort of girl to whom one makes improper suggestions without encouragement. Reflecting on their acquaintance at the time, and on his more humble origins, the historian Raymond Carr noted: “I got no encouragement.”

The Times has a photo of her as a young woman, stately looking with fine, yet angular, features, so characteristic of the British upper class.

Clarissa’s life as a young adult, The Times says, resembled that of Anthony Powell’s series of novels, A Dance to the Music of Time. I’ve read all of them and recommend them to anyone interested in British society. What held true then still holds true today.

Anthony Powell became one of her friends along with many others in the arts. There were also two spies, who came to be infamous:

Other names of the era who flow through her memoir include Cyril Connolly, Cecil Beaton, Greta Garbo, Orson Welles, Peter Brook, Lucian Freud, John Pope-Hennessy, Emerald Cunard, Nancy Mitford, Moura Budberg, the Marchesa Casati and Donald Maclean, the spy, who danced with her.

She worked with Guy Burgess at the Ministry of Information after a spell decoding messages at the Foreign Office.

Working for the Government during the war was not without its glamour:

Clarissa was at the time living on the top floor of the Dorchester hotel in central London, which had cheap rates during the Blitz; in the next room was Churchill’s daughter-in-law, Pamela. When she later got a flat, she shared it briefly with the writer Elizabeth Bowen after she had been bombed out of hers. And when she made parts for submarines, she found herself on the production line next to Lillie Langtry’s daughter.

After the war ended, Clarissa went to work for film maker Alexander Korda, who made the iconic movie The Third Man:

Clarissa Churchill worked as a writer for Vogue and in the publicity department of Korda Films, then producing The Third Man. Subsequently, she joined a magazine owned by George Weidenfeld, Contact, persuading Elizabeth David, then little known, to contribute recipes to it.

Her life changed forever when she met Conservative politician Anthony Eden, remembered for the Suez Crisis of 1956.

During the war, he was the Secretary of State for the Foreign Office from 1940 to 1945. The two did not meet until after the war, however.

Eden’s first marriage had collapsed. He was single when they made each other’s acquaintance:

Despite their close relations to Churchill, the pair had not met properly until soon after the war. Eden was living as a bachelor, his first wife, Beatrice, finally having left their troubled marriage after the death in 1945 in Burma of their elder son, an RAF pilot.

They had a common interest — art:

“Like many Englishmen, he hadn’t known intimacy,” Clarissa observed of the Eton-educated Eden, whose mother had been beautiful but selfish. They brought happiness to each other, sharing a love of art and, arguably, a political outlook. “I’m not really a Conservative,” he told her, “I’m an old-fashioned Liberal.” A more certain influence was that “he offered me a taste of another side of life”, far removed from the more bohemian circles in which she moved.

Eden was 23 years older than his girlfriend. Some of Clarissa’s admirers disapproved of the relationship, especially when it resulted in marriage:

Indeed, their engagement in 1952 had astonished their two very different sets of friends

… betraying their lack of worldliness, both were surprised by the excitement that their wedding generated. The crowds who gathered outside the register office at Caxton Hall in Westminster were almost as large as those for Elizabeth Taylor’s marriage there a few months earlier. The reaction of others, however, was less friendly.

Evelyn Waugh, who had been in love with Clarissa, wrote her an intemperate letter (after lunch at White’s) about the state of her soul — she had been raised a Roman Catholic. Duff Cooper, another disappointed admirer of hers, confided to his diary his view that Anthony Eden had no friends and his only interest was in becoming the Tories’ leader.

Clarissa’s cousin Randolph Churchill, who in the press had repeatedly attacked Eden, his father’s political heir, said at the wedding reception that he would give her two years to “knock him into shape” before recommencing his criticisms. He kept his word.

Eden’s health was poor. Shortly after he and Clarissa married, he had a serious problem with his gall bladder, which took some time to resolve. He nearly died:

Stomach pains that he had had for some time were, at Clarissa’s prompting, found to require an operation in 1953 on his gall bladder. When this was botched, it necessitated two more, the last in America and with Eden close to death.

A bad health experience so soon after marriage drives some couples apart. Not so with the Edens, who became ever closer. Clarissa’s infertility was the next blow. Yet again, their love grew for each other to the extent that Clarissa stopped seeing many of the friends she made as a young adult during this period:

He recovered but the experience of nursing him, Clarissa recalled, “bound us together in a situation of emotional dependence”. It perhaps promoted a siege mentality in both of them, and it was a further sadness that Clarissa was unable to have children after a miscarriage in 1954. She admitted that she had never had women friends with whom she exchanged confidences. After her marriage, she lost touch with her other friends, dismissed by her husband as “café society”.

The couple spent their spare time alone with each other. By now, Eden’s star was in the ascendant; he was a popular Foreign Secretary. He was irked that his rival, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, did not stand aside to allow him to lead the Conservative Party and enter No. 10:

Clarissa emphasised her disinclination to cultivate strategic friendships by retreating alone with her husband as often as possible to her cottage, Rose Bower, near Salisbury. These were halcyon days for Anthony Eden as foreign secretary. His diplomacy saved Europe’s fledgling defence pact and brought peace to Indo-China, and in 1954 he was made a Garter knight. Yet he became increasingly irked by Churchill’s disinclination to step aside for him — a dozen times a date was set and then revoked — with Clarissa feeling bound to side with her husband against her uncle. The couple were not mollified by the gift of Dorneywood in Buckinghamshire as an official residence, arriving to find its late owner’s much-used hairbrushes still on their dressing table.

A general election took place in 1955. Anthony Eden finally became Prime Minister. The Edens were Britain’s most sought-after couple outside of the Queen and Prince Philip:

When in May 1955 she walked into Downing Street with her husband Anthony, the newly elected prime minister, the wind could not have stood fairer for them. After the young Queen and Prince Philip, they were the most glamorous and powerful couple in the land.

Lady Eden was only 34, her youth and good looks a refreshing contrast to the exhaustion exuded by the previous premier, her octogenarian uncle Sir Winston Churchill. Sir Anthony Eden was 23 years older than his wife yet still handsome, a natural performer in the new age of television, and genuinely popular. Foreign secretary during the war years and since 1950, he had just become the first leader of a government in a century to increase its majority.

The UK does not have a position of ‘first lady’. That said, some wives of prime ministers do undertake improvements in No. 10 Downing Street. Mrs Eden was one of them, although her first goal of refurbishment was thwarted by the shortage of government funds post-war. She settled on the catering instead:

After moving in, she planned a refurbishment that would have restored much of the original interior, but this fell victim to cutbacks. She had more success with the bland official catering. At one dinner she heard John Foster Dulles, the US secretary of state, bet a fellow guest that he could predict exactly what each course would be. That he had to pay out showed the potential strengths of the team that she and Eden made.

Anthony Eden had one immediate drawback, which was his relationship with the press. Churchill knew how to feed reporters stories. His successor did not.

This might have influenced press coverage of the Suez crisis in 1956, which ended his premiership:

This lack of support in the press may not have influenced Anthony Eden’s thinking when in July 1956 President Nasser of Egypt abruptly nationalised the Suez Canal, hitherto owned by Britain and France. But it meant there was less sympathy when, come November, Eden’s response misfired. After a secret agreement with France, British troops were sent to regain control of the canal on the pretext of halting fighting between Egypt and the other conspirator, Israel. Yet Eden was forced to withdraw humiliated when the Americans, describing Britain’s actions as colonial, threatened to impose oil sanctions and began to sell sterling.

Eden’s policy had sharply divided public opinion and Lady Eden was curious enough to attend a rally in Trafalgar Square against the invasion, although she walked away after being recognised. She herself placed much of the blame on Harold Macmillan, then foreign secretary. He had told Eden that President Eisenhower would not demur at an attempt to oust Nasser, and she thought that he had then exaggerated the gravity of the measures announced by Washington.

It was Macmillan who gained the prime ministership when in December 1956 Eden’s health gave way under the strain.

After leaving Downing Street, the Edens travelled to Jamaica and New Zealand for his health purposes:

He tried first to remedy it with a stay of three weeks at Goldeneye, Ian Fleming’s house in Jamaica, Fleming’s wife, Ann, being a friend of Lady Eden’s. When the break failed to improve matters, and with support for him failing in the cabinet and the Conservative Party, he resigned on January 10. He and Lady Eden then sailed for New Zealand. Over the horizon with them disappeared Britain’s remaining pretensions to be a world power, and the tradition of reposing trust in the ruling class; among the Edens’ stewards aboard the Rangitata was a young trades union activist named [future Labour MP] John Prescott.

Upon their return to England, the Edens settled in Wiltshire. Clarissa devoted herself to gardening. Her husband bred pedigree Hereford cattle.

In 1961, the former Prime Minister became the 1st Earl of Avon. His wife became Countess of Avon, or Lady Avon.

The Earl died in 1977 and his surviving son from his first marriage, Nicholas Eden, who was working in Margaret Thatcher’s government at the time, became the 2nd Earl of Avon. Nicholas died of AIDS in 1985 and, as there was no heir, the title of Earl of Avon died with him.

After her husband’s death, Lady Avon divided her time between Oxfordshire and London. She was careful to preserve her husband’s memory and guarded about guests referring to the Suez Crisis:

All the while she continued to guard her husband’s memory with what her acquaintances regarded as characteristic vigour and her friends as her essential integrity.

At one lunch party when a guest referred in embarrassed and halting tones to “the events of 1956”, she said firmly: “We call it Suez at this end of the table.”

On November 16, Conservative History posted photos of Lady Avon and one of Greta Garbo. Lady Avon had captioned each one (click on the image to see them in full):

Final interview

In 2018, when Lady Avon was 98, she gave her final interview to Spear’s, a financial investment magazine.

The magazine’s then-editor Alec Marsh met with the Countess in her Bryanston Square home in Marylebone, central London:

Three tall windows overlook the square, and the sage-green walls of what she calls a ‘salon’ are coated with beautiful artworks, including one painting by the French cubist Marie Laurencin that catches my eye. ‘It’s a painting that my husband liked,’ Lady Avon explains. ‘He had a very good eye. He was always buying paintings.’ Was that something he had in common with Churchill? ‘My uncle didn’t have a good eye,’ she chuckles genially. ‘He did painting; they were quite nice. But he wasn’t an aesthete, but my husband certainly was.’

That year, Churchill was the most popular Briton. A film of his life as Prime Minister during the Second World War, Darkest Hour, was playing in the cinemas:

Like millions of others, she has seen Darkest Hour and was enthralled by it – including Gary Oldman’s portrayal of her uncle. Would Churchill, I ask, be surprised by the public adoration being heaped upon him today, more than seven decades after the moment of his greatest triumph? ‘I don’t think so,’ she says shrewdly, ‘because by the end of his life he was very great, wasn’t he? It would be very difficult not to realise that he would be remembered.’ Would he be pleased about it? ‘Yes he would, of course.’ She smiles. ‘Naturally.’

Alec Marsh asked what her impressions of her uncle were. Before he became Prime Minister during the war, he had largely failed at several points in his career:

We all think we know something of her uncle, but how does she describe him? ‘That’s very tricky,’ she starts, ‘because I always knew him as a great man who hadn’t been appreciated. Most of my [early] life he was a failure. He was out of a job, out of work and not right in anything he believed in. He was in exile, so to speak. Going to Chartwell [the Churchills’ home in Kent] before the war was going to a place in exile – a place where people were not doing anything. It was all rather frustrating and sad.’

She described her frequent visits to see her uncle when he was PM and she was working in the Foreign Office decoding documents:

‘There was always a crisis, a tension, but one knew that that’s what he lived on; the fuel that got him going. Which it did with any good politician,’ she adds, noting that the same was true for her husband. Did Churchill wear the pressure with equanimity? ‘Oh yes. Of course,’ she insists, as though nothing else would be possible. ‘Certainly.’ How did he cope? ‘I don’t know. But he had always done it.’ Did he drink too much? ‘No, not more than most men,’ she fires back.

I ask about her wartime visits to Chartwell: ‘I didn’t particularly like it, but it was interesting always because Winston was so interesting,’ she recalls. ‘One always wanted to know what he was thinking and doing.’ Whatever the house itself lacked in aesthetic quality (‘Have you ever seen it?’ she asks), its host more than made up for its architectural shortcomings. ‘It was just him,’ Avon states emphatically. ‘One went and there was him and nothing else. They had the lunch or whatever it was, and he would talk and one would listen; that was the important part.

‘But he was not interested in what anybody else had to say,’ Avon recalls, laughing fondly. That said, she insists that he was ‘very polite’. ‘If somebody famous was at lunch he would listen to them, but on the whole he didn’t pay any attention to anybody.’

Was he entertaining company, I ask; funny? ‘He was certainly witty…’ And somewhat terrifying at times? ‘Not in the least, no. But,’ she breaks into laughter, ‘I could see he was terrifying, but not to me, no.’ Avon also recalls that he was ‘very conscious about things like nieces and nephews’.

Marsh asked what her abiding memories of her uncle were:

All these years on, how does she remember him? ‘He was exceptional, certainly,’ she punctuates this with a frank chuckle. ‘I think I realised he was very great in spite of the fact that everyone kept telling one that he was.’ She raises her eyebrows. ‘I did realise that he was exceptional. You couldn’t not.’ The greatest prime minister of the twentieth century? ‘Who was greater?’ she answers.

Then he ventured into present-day issues:

What does she think Winston would make of modern Britain? Lady Avon looks over towards the tall windows momentarily. ‘Not much,’ she chirps. ‘I don’t know. He was very, very old-fashioned in his approach to life.’ That comment sits a moment; the quiet of the square seeps into the salon.

Where would Churchill be on Brexit, I ask? ‘I think he would probably not [be] very much for staying in Europe,’ she announces after some consideration. ‘But he was a good politician,’ she adds, ‘so I don’t know what he would have said.’ Which is rather a good answer when you think about it.

Then questions turned towards her late husband and the Suez Crisis:

I wonder how he saw it all; was he proud of his career?

‘I suppose so,’ she replies doubtfully. ‘Absolutely.’ Does she think people have the wrong sense of Suez – that it was a mistake? There’s a long pause. ‘A mistake because it took place at all?’ she asks. ‘I don’t know,’ she states at last. (At the time she famously said that she ‘felt as if the Suez Canal was flowing through my drawing room’.) I wonder if memories of this crisis have fallen prey to time, as she explains: ‘I’m not good at politics, I’m afraid.’ I’m still not sure as the silence of Bryanston Square returns.

How would Eden have liked to be remembered? ‘You mean as a success or failure?’ she responds. ‘Certainly [he] was a success at the beginning,’ she says, referring to his three spells as foreign secretary – covering ten years between 1935 and 1955 – before the disappointing period of highest office. ‘At the end, I suppose not. I never thought about it,’ she adds absently. She reaches forward to the plate and nudges a biscuit towards me. ‘Have that one,’ she says.

While being photographed for the article, she asked Marsh about his tie. So many British ties represent private club membership and other associations:

‘What does your tie represent?’ asks Lady Avon, looking over. It’s decorative, I say. ‘That’s disappointing. Right,’ she chirps, addressing Greg. ‘Where am I looking?’

May Lady Avon rest in peace.

There was a time when one could get an excellent job in the UK without a university degree.

In fact, one could get an excellent job even without secondary school qualifications.

It was so long ago, however, that those days have vanished in the mists of time.

At the end of October 2021, I read The Telegraph‘s obituary of advertising genius Mo Drake, who died in August at the age of 93.

By today’s standards, on paper, Mo Drake would appear to be a scholastic failure and doomed to a life on the dole. Yet, he worked in advertising and gave the UK one if its best known slogans for Heinz Baked Beans: Beanz Meanz Heinz.

This advert is from the early 1960s:

During the Second World War, Drake’s schooling was interrupted to the point where he received very little of it:

He passed the 11-plus but could not take up a place at grammar school because of the outbreak of war – and in fact did not attend secondary school at all until he was 14, and even then he left after a few months.

He was born a Cockney, within the range of the Bow (church) bells:

Maurice Drake was born in working-class Bromley-by-Bow, east London, on May 20 1928 to Thomas and Sarah Jane Drake. The family moved to Ilford [Essex] when he was three.

Nothing there in 2021 spells ‘success’.

However, young Mo Drake spent a lot of time reading. As such, he absorbed the cadence of the English language and developed a way with words.

As an adolescent, he started work at a London advertising agency:

After leaving school he worked as a filing clerk for the Thames advertising agency, before National Service in the RAF.

Afterwards, he worked for a PR agency:

He then joined the PR firm Armstrong Warden, where he proved so good at drafting publicity blurb that he was appointed a full-time copywriter.

Then he worked for a time as a comedy writer. He managed to link this to his former employers which ended up catapulting him to one of the top ad agencies, Young & Rubicam:

For a short spell in the early 1950s he left the company after he and a friend, Jack Potter, began to submit jokes to Bob Monkhouse, then a BBC scriptwriter, who introduced them as joke-writers to other entertainers such as Arthur Haynes and Bruce Forsyth. In the process he provided Drake with useful contacts in the entertainment industry on whom he could call after he returned to Armstrong Warden – and at Young & Rubicam, which he joined in 1959.

That was the start of a beautiful career, involving well known celebrities such as Bruce Forsyth and Frank Muir:

Thus Bruce Forsyth agreed to front a campaign for Maxwell House coffee, while he got Frank Muir to sing “Everyone’s a Fruit and Nut Case” for Cadbury’s.

Everyone over the age of 60 remembers ‘Fruit and Nut Case’:

As the years passed, more successful adverts followed, such as the iconic ‘Just one Cornetto’ for Wall’s, which I remember well:

When the Wall’s ad came out, Mo Drake was creative director of Grey Advertising and Lintas. His team had written the ad.

When Drake — the man with no school qualifications — retired, he lectured at universities and held a regular seminar at Trinity College, Oxford. That would never happen today.

In 2003, Mo Drake disparaged today’s advertising, criticising it for concentrating too much on special effects rather than a memorable slogan, invoking another advert of his:

For years after the Murray Mints campaign came out people were going round singing ‘Murray Mints, Murray Mints, the too good to hurry mints’. You can’t imagine that happening now.

Drake’s wife predeceased him. I wish his three daughters and a son all the best in the months ahead. They must surely miss their father.

Reading about his career, I could not help but wonder whether we will ever recapture the time when someone enterprising and literate can get a good job without school qualifications.

Today, it would be impossible to work in advertising without proper connections and a university degree. If Mo Drake were a teenager in 2021, he’d never get a look in. His job application would go in the bin, accompanied by peals of laughter. More’s the pity.

Yesterday’s post recapped the horrific murder of Sir David Amess MP on October 15, 2021.

Today’s will cover more about this much admired man’s personal character and political causes.

Posthumous victory: Southend-on-Sea now a city

I was delighted to learn at dinner time last night that the Queen granted Southend-on-Sea city status. Sir David must have mentioned Southend at least once a week in Parliament. He had long campaigned for it and made 115 references to it. Here he is with his two French bulldogs, one of which is Vivienne. He was due to participate with her in the Westminster Dog of the Year charity event on October 28:

The GB News article says that Prime Minister Boris Johnson made the announcement to MPs on Monday, October 18 (emphases mine):

The Prime Minister has notified the House of Commons that the Queen has agreed to confer city status upon Southend in tribute to Sir David Amess who was recently killed.

MPs cheered in the Commons as the Prime Minister announced Southend “will be accorded the city status it so clearly deserves”.

Mr Johnson said: “As it is only a short time since Sir David last put that very case to me in this chamber, I am happy to announce that Her Majesty has agreed that Southend will be accorded the city status it so clearly deserves …

That ‘short time’ was probably last Thursday, October 14:

In a three-hour debate on Monday, preceding a service of remembrance at St Margaret’s, the Parliamentary church next to Westminster Abbey, Boris noted that Amess was never an MP interested in climbing the greasy pole to a Cabinet or party leadership position:

“That Sir David spent almost 40 years in this House, but not one day in ministerial office, tells everything about where his priorities lay.”

Boris Johnson, opening tributes to Sir David Amess, told the House of Commons: “The passing of 72 hours has done little to numb the shock and sadness we all felt when we heard of the tragic and senseless death of Sir David Amess.

This House has lost a steadfast servant, we’ve lost a dear friend and colleague, and Julia and her children have lost a loving husband and devoted father.

“Nothing I or anyone else can say can lessen the pain, the grief, the anger they must feel at this darkest of times.”

Returning to Southend-on-Sea, having city status will help to increase its profile and encourage outside investment, as the leader of the city’s council explains below. Incidentally, having a cathedral, the traditional marker of an English city, is no longer necessary. City status is now a symbolic designation:

On Friday night, this Southend business owner said that Amess was dedicated to making his town a city:

Everything I know about Southend I learned from David Amess’s contributions in the House of Commons:

‘Community man’

There are MPs and there are MPs.

Sir David was the type of MP who will be sorely missed by his constituents, who called him a ‘community man’. GB News interviewed several over the weekend, some of whom were in tears or close to it, including men, such as this Leigh-on-Sea councillor:

This councillor from Southend says that Sir David, whose mother lived to the age of 104, used to throw parties for constituents over 100 years old. He also used to ask about local issues in Southend and resolve them with the help of councillors:

Another councillor remembers that Sir David would check on certain constituents to see if they had transport for important meetings, probably related to issues of theirs he was dealing with as an MP. The man says that Sir David would personally drive those constituents to the places they needed to go. And, yes, there were right to life issues he campaigned for:

The Chairman of Leigh-on-Sea council recalls Sir David’s selflessness:

This lady from Leigh-on-Sea, the Essex town where Sir David was stabbed to death (17 times), discusses his dedication to his constituency. Like many other people, she had the pleasure of meeting him at work in nearby Southend:

As was the case with other people GB News interviewed, a man interviewed (at 2:35 in the next video) said that people used to see Amess in the local Lidl, where he took time to chat with fellow shoppers. The man said that he did not vote for him but said that the MP was always available and accessible to everyone:

Vigil Mass

On Friday evening, the Revd Jeffrey Woolnough conducted a vigil Mass at St Peter’s Catholic Church in Eastwood, Leigh-on-Sea.

This is the church the Amess family attend.

The video below has a few photos from the Mass. Starting at the 40-second point, notice how traditional it is. The priest stands with his back to the people, as in days of yore. He also wears a short chasuble that is very pre-Vatican II, a fiddleback. How fortunate for the Amess family to have found such a church:

At 1:50 in the video above, two ladies expressed their grief on Friday night following the vigil Mass. One of them said that Amess ‘knew everybody’. As was the case with other people GB News interviewed, one of ladies said that people used to see him in the supermarket.

GB News was on hand to cover the Mass:

 

A service at Saint Peter’s Church in Eastwood Lane, close to where Sir David was killed, was held on Friday evening to remember him – where he was described by a priest as “Mr Southend”.

The church fell silent as Father Jeffrey Woolnaugh paid tribute to the Conservative MP and invited his constituents to remember him.

He placed a photograph of Sir David at the front of the church, and said: “This liturgy is one I was not expecting to lead today.

“The whole world grieves. In this Mass we pray for the repose of the soul of dear David.

“Have you ever known Sir David Amess without that happy smile on his face? Because the greeting he would always give you was that happy smile.

He carried that great east London spirit of having no fear and being able to talk to people and the level they’re at. Not all politicians, I would say, are good at that.”

Around 80 people attended the service and listened as Father Woolnough recounted his own memories of Sir David.

He said: “When you can speak to your MP and you can talk and get on like a house on fire, that’s when you can talk to them later about things that are important to your area.

“What can we say? He died doing the thing he loved, meeting his constituents, his local people.”

Father Woolnough added that his constituents could “count on” Sir David, and said: “He was always available. We don’t have the words tonight.

“Dear Sir David, rest well.”

The priest also said that Amess’s smile is ingrained on everyone’s hearts:

On Saturday night, a secular candlelit vigil took place near where Sir David was murdered. The Daily Mail has many moving photographs of the gathering.

Biography

Most Britons think that all Conservatives were born with a silver spoon in their mouths.

Not so.

David Amess was born in humble circumstances in London’s East End.

The Telegraph recounted his life:

David Anthony Andrew Amess was born on March 26 1952 in working-class Plaistow, East London, to James Amess, an electrician, and Maud, née Martin, a dressmaker. As Amess recalled, “we were very poor and lived in a small terraced house with no bathroom, an outside toilet and a tin bath hanging on the wall”. In 2014 he would compile and publish a pamphlet, Party of Opportunity, containing short biographies of Tory MPs with working-class origins.

David’s mother was a Roman Catholic who brought him up in the faith and he remained a staunch Catholic throughout his life, his commitment reflected in his opposition to abortion and to the broadening of LGBT rights. “Confession,” he once said, “is very important to me.”

He attended St Antony’s Junior School, Forest Gate, where he was “often in classes of 50, and the teachers still gave us excellent tuition and kept order to a high standard”, and St Bonaventure’s Grammar School, Newham, where he remembered being “quite bossy and pushy” and was rumoured to have once hit a fellow pupil over the head with a bicycle pump.

Until the age of five, Amess said, he had the nickname of “Double Dutch” on account of a bad stutter: he could not make the sounds “st” or “the” and saw a speech therapist for three years, which also had the effect of virtually eliminating his Cockney accent.

He had a varied career prior to entering politics:

He took a degree in Economics and Government at Bournemouth College of Technology. Then, after 18 months’ teaching at a primary school (“I specialised in teaching children who were described as ESN”), and a short stint as an underwriter, he became a recruitment consultant.

One wonders if he met his wife Julia while he was an underwriter:

In 1983 he married Julia Arnold, a former underwriter, who survives him with their four daughters and a son.

Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister during Amess’s early years in politics:

A dedicated Thatcherite, Amess contested the safe Labour seat of Newham North West in 1979, and in 1982 became a councillor in the London borough of Redbridge.

During those years, Essex went from electing Labour MPs to Conservative ones. The county is still Conservative-dominated in Parliament.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the media coined expressions for Essex voters, many of whose families had been moved out of London after the Second World War had ended. The next generation of voters became known collectively as ‘Basildon man’ and ‘white van man’.

Amess rode the crest of that wave, as The Sun‘s Trevor Kavanagh explains:

Basildon was the first constituency he served, beginning in 1983:

When the incumbent Tory MP for Basildon, the Right-wing Harvey Proctor, moved to safer Billericay for the 1983 general election, Amess was chosen to fill his shoes and was duly elected. Three years later he stood down from the council to concentrate on his Westminster seat.

Basildon was regarded as a bellwether seat, and when Amess won it again in 1992, albeit with a tiny majority, it provided the first indication that despite the pundits, and the triumphalism of Labour’s leader Neil Kinnock, the Tories were on course for a fourth successive election victory. He would later describe his campaign in a short pamphlet entitled 1992: Against All Odds! (2012).

Boundary changes prior to the 1997 general election meant that Basildon was almost certain to go Labour, so Amess decided to look elsewhere, and in 1995 was selected to fight Southend West after the retirement of Paul Channon. Returned to Westminster again, he held the seat until his death.

Amess focused on his constituents, first and foremost:

Assiduous and likeable, Amess built a strong personal following by concentrating on constituency issues: the Guardian’s Andrew Rawnsley once suggested that the secret of his electoral success was that “he never completed a sentence without mentioning his constituency”.

This was also reflected away from Parliament:

Amess … was a lifelong supporter of West Ham United, and also followed Basildon United …

Even after he left Basildon, he still returned to visit, as this former Basildon councillor remembers:

He had many accomplishments with regard to charity, earning him a knighthood. He:

was knighted in 2015 and received several awards for his contributions in parliament, including the Animal Welfare and Environment Champion award of the 2011 Dods Charity Champion Awards, and the “Outstanding Achievement Award” at the same event the following year, in recognition of his lifetime commitment to charitable work.

This was how the newly knighted Sir David celebrated:

He did not always follow the Conservative line in Parliament:

he incurred the wrath of many fellow Conservatives by consistently voting to ban foxhunting and hare coursing (though he was in favour of capital punishment), and supporting numerous other animal welfare campaigns.

Many MPs will remember his staunch support of Brexit, however.

They will also remember him for supporting animal causes and an end to fuel poverty:

The most significant of these were the Protection Against Cruel Tethering Act (1988), and the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act (2000) …

The animal-related Act, supported by the NFU, banned the tethering of “any horse, ass or mule under such conditions or in such manner as to cause that animal unnecessary suffering”.

The second piece of legislation, following on from the death of a constituent from cold, required the Secretary of State to “publish and implement a strategy for reducing fuel poverty”. The measure was credited with pushing fuel poverty to near the top of the political agenda, contributing to a dramatic fall in the problem in England from 5.1 million households in 1996 to 1.2 million in 2004.

Another cause that Amess supported, thanks to a Leigh-on-Sea constituent, Carla Cressy, was that of endometriosis. 

The Telegraph has the story:

“I first approached Sir David Amess when I’d just found out I had endometriosis five years ago,” says Carla Cressy, 30, an accounts manager from Leigh-on-Sea. “I didn’t know much about it, and realised there was very little awareness, support and education around it. He’s my local MP so I visited him at his surgery. I had no expectations of what would happen. I just knew I wanted to share my story with him, about how I’d suffered with endometriosis for an entire decade before I was diagnosed.

He was so lovely – genuinely concerned and upset about what I’d been through. He said we need to do something about it, and he then really did. He went above and beyond to champion this community like a beacon of light. It was incredible. I am devastated that he’s gone.”

This is what happened:

“Sir David recognised the significant impact endometriosis could have, and really wanted to make a difference to help those with the disease,” says Emma Cox, CEO of Endometriosis UK, a charity that was working closely with an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) that Sir David set up in 2018 to raise awareness in Parliament of the condition …

One of Sir David’s goals when he created the APPG was for the government to provide education on endometriosis in schools. It’s something the group achieved over a year later, meaning menstrual wellbeing is now included on the English curriculum. “We made so much progress together,” says Cressy, who worked closely with Sir David on the campaign. “He really has changed so many lives, including my own.”

One of Sir David’s upcoming tasks, had he lived, was to ask for further research funding, as a Labour MP explains:

“He really wanted that debate,” says Labour MP Emma Hardy, vice-chair of the APPG on endometriosis. “We’d published a report last year, collecting evidence from women around the country with their experience of endometriosis, and Sir David wanted to draw attention to our recommendations.”

Their key goals are to reduce the time it takes for people to be diagnosed, ensure GPs have enough information to make them aware of the condition, raise public awareness, and fund more research into non-invasive ways of diagnosis …

“The main thing that comes from women is not being listened to, not being believed, taking ages to be diagnosed and then when they are, there’s not much change. Sir David wanted to change that. Endometriosis isn’t party politics, but he was really passionate about trying to do something about this condition. I don’t want him to be remembered as the person this tragedy happened to, but the person who worked so hard to improve the lives of people with endometriosis. We can’t replace him, but I hope we can find another Conservative MP to champion his work and continue with the APPG.”

This GB News video covers Sir David’s public life from the time he entered politics:

MPs paid respects

On Friday afternoon, Union flags were lowered to half-mast over government buildings, including No. 10:

On Saturday morning, prominent Conservative and Labour MPs laid flowers near the Methodist church hall where Sir David was murdered:

Government whips have reminded MPs that there is an Employee Assistance Programme for anyone among them who wants counselling after Sir David’s senseless murder.

Everyone, regardless of party affiliation, was deeply sorry to lose this man:

This was because he befriended MPs from both sides of the aisle and found ways to work constructively with them:

One of the things I found moving in watching and reading these tributes was the recollection made by more than one MP, regardless of party affiliation, on his befriending of new Parliamentarians. He introduced himself, asked how they were getting on and enquired if they had any issues with which he could help.

Conservative MPs

These are some of the Conservative MPs’ tributes, beginning with Boris’s:

Long-time friend David Davis paid tribute to Amess’s career of service, rather than ambition:

Stuart Anderson remembers Amess helping him settle into the job:

Andrew Rosindell, another Essex MP, lamented the loss of his oldest friend in the Commons:

Another long-time friend, David Jones, called him ‘frankly irreplaceable’:

I agree with Mike Wood. Forthcoming Adjournment debates will never be the same. That said, Southend is now a city:

The folks running PARLY agree on the adjournment debates, during which Sir David addressed more issues than Southend:

Labour

Party leader Sir Keir Starmer emphasised Amess’s Christian faith and the fact that he was well liked across the House:

Hilary Benn remembered Amess’s dogged campaigning and dedication:

Siobhain McDonagh will forever connect Amess with Southend, and who can blame her?

Steve McCabe will remember Amess’s cheerful nature:

John Cryer was a former neighbour:

Liberal Democrat

The most moving tribute, however, came from Lembit Öpik, a former Liberal Democrat MP, who spoke to Mark Dolan on GB News Saturday night:

The former MP was so moved that he had to sit down and recover after that interview. Mark Dolan’s producer was with him during that time.

Conclusion

It was serendipitous that the Gospel reading for Sunday, October 17, was about service (Mark 10:35-45):

10:42 So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.

10:43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant,

10:44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.

10:45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

What apposite verses for Sir David Amess, who gave his all in service to his constituents.

May his place in Heaven be an exalted one.

On Tuesday, October 12, 2021, Sir David Amess MP (Conservative), posted the following tweet promoting his upcoming constituency surgery in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex:

These surgeries are an opportunity for constituents to present their problems to their MP. They might be seeking help with schooling, crime or health, among other things. Meetings are face-to-face, one-on-one. One’s MP then cuts through bureaucracy to achieve a successful resolution to the problem.

It seems this type of in-person connection between a member of the public and an elected constituency politician is unique to the UK. Long may it continue.

Two days later, Sir David posted a photo of himself and the Emir of Qatar. Amess was the chairman of the All-party Parliamentary Group fostering good relations between Britain and Qatar:

That same day, the MP for Southend West tweeted his gratitude for the government aid to Southend-on-Sea, no longer a smallish, seaside resort, but a town with a population of 160,000. Sir David has been campaigning tirelessly in Parliament for it to have city status. Winter fuel poverty was another of his big causes:

Little did he realise those would be his final tweets.

Just before noon on Friday, October 15, I was watching a heart-warming segment on GB News about the Westminster Dog of the Year charity event, to be held on October 28 in Victoria Tower Gardens, London. Isabel Oakeshott was interviewing Matt Vickers MP (Conservative) and his dog Karen. Karen was paying attention to the conversation. As soon as it turned to dog-napping, she began barking.

The public can vote up for their favourite MP-dog pairing until October 27. Sir David had already registered with his French bulldog Vivienne. Recently, he said:

If I am feeling down, the dog lifts my spirits as she is always pleased to see me and she makes me smile.

Little did I know watching the GB News segment with Matt Vickers and Isabel Oakeshott that Sir David was minutes away from his last breath.

Amess’s last meeting was a Zoom call about the Children’s Parliament, which pairs up an MP with a young member of the public. The meeting ended at 12:02 p.m.

At 12:05, Sir David was gasping his final breaths, having been stabbed multiple times in the church hall.

The Times reported:

It was just moments after midday on Friday when Sir David Amess had his last appointment.

Richard Hillgrove, a PR professional, shared a call with Amess to discuss the Children’s Parliament, an event where kids are matched with members of parliament to debate the important issues of the day.

As usual, the MP for Southend West was firing on all cylinders, full of buzz and ideas for the event: the running order, the voting system, what software they should use. Hillgrove’s daughter, Lola, 11, had been matched with Amess, who visited her at school so they could have their picture taken.

Hillgrove says he ended the Zoom call at 12.02pm, so that Amess could host a constituency surgery at the Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea. It was his final farewell. By 12.05pm, Amess had been stabbed to death.

A few minutes later, Hillgrove saw the first reports of the murder on television. “I didn’t even realise it was Sir David at first,” he recalled. “I was absolutely horrified, every minute that came passed seemed like an hour, the longer it went, the more concerning it got.”

Eventually the unimaginable news filtered through. Lola came home from school in tears. “I was honoured to have known him,” said Hillgrove. “He was such an inspiration, his engagement was incredible. He made sense of a crazy world.”

The events of Friday afternoon have pierced the quiet provincial calm of Leigh-on-Sea, leaving the tight-knit Essex community fearful and furious. A deep, heavy sadness hangs over this seaside town. Yesterday, the flower bins were empty at the Co-op on Eastwood Road, just 100 yards from where Amess was stabbed 17 times by a 25-year-old man. Every tulip, rose and pansy had been scooped up and deposited at the tribute for the man alternately known as “Sir David” or simply “Dave”.

The Telegraph reported that Amess’s staff, women, witnessed his horrifying murder. Paramedics from an air ambulance worked in vain for two hours trying to stabilise him:

Sir David was attacked seconds later, stabbed repeatedly in front of his horrified staff.

Sir David’s wounds were so many and severe that paramedics were unable to stabilise him sufficiently for a transfer to hospital. After two hours of vain struggle to stem his injuries, the air ambulance took off empty.

The Telegraph spoke with the aforementioned Richard Hillgrove:

Mr Hillgrove recalled how, during their conversation, Sir David had periodically glanced to his right.

He assumes this was towards trusted assistant, Rebecca Hayton, upon whom Sir David, not being the most technologically savvy parliamentarian, relied for help when making video calls.

It was she who witnessed at close quarters the full ferocity of the knife attack, running from the Belfairs Methodist Church hall screaming. Her screams alerted Sir David’s other assistant, Julie Cushion, who was positioned in the church hall lobby.

Shortly after the attack, Stephan Aleyn, a former Southend Conservative councillor, spoke to Ms Cushion.

“She is in absolute bits,” he said. “What she saw is going to stick with her for the rest of her life.

“It was a normal surgery and they were assisting Sir David in helping his constituents.

Julie and Rebecca thought this man was just another constituent who needed help from their MP, when suddenly he launched his attack on Sir David.

“For anyone to witness that sort of shocking, unprovoked assault is awful. It was a lovely, normal, sunny day – then this.”

After stabbing Sir David several times, his assailant sat down next to his body, making no effort to evade police, it has emerged.

A Southend Conservative Party source said: “One of Sir David’s office staff was in the hall with him, and it now appears that after attacking Sir David, this man sat down and waited for police to arrive. It’s absolutely chilling.”

The article says that 999 calls were made at 12:05 p.m. Police, including an armed response unit, and the air ambulance responded immediately. The suspect went quietly with the police:

The 25-year-old suspect was detained inside the church hall and led out to a police van. A knife was recovered.

Amess’s staff must have also contacted a Catholic priest he knew. The Revd Jeffrey Woolnough showed up shortly afterwards and asked police to be admitted to administer Last Rites — or Extreme Unction, as it used to be known. However, he was refused entry:

He was denied entry, however, and so stood on the street with another man reciting the rosary. He described it as a “great disappointment” for a Roman Catholic not to be able to receive the last rites.

“It was remarkably calm by the time I arrived,” Fr Woolnough told The Telegraph.

“I prayed from outside and I just hope David received those. I know he would have done, because any prayer said that is sincere is received by the recipient.

“I was praying the rosary – it’s a half hour prayer going through all of those intentions, asking that whatever was going on in there, for God’s will to be done. That’s all I could pray at that point in time.”

I did not know until he died that Sir David was a devout Catholic, but, given his serene demeanour, sincere smile and gentle wit, it does not surprise me that he was a churchgoer.

The Spectator‘s Melanie McDonagh, also a devout Catholic, expressed her displeasure with the police response regarding Last Rites:

It’s not known whether Sir David was alive when the priest arrived at the scene, but he still should have been there. Nothing should come between a dying man and the mercy of the Church. Of course the police were dealing with a tremendously difficult situation and would have been shocked and confused – how could they not have been? – but it doesn’t excuse this failure of judgment, which we can assume stems from a failure of training.

Essex Police sent The Spectator a statement, which says, in part:

As with any police incident, it is of the utmost importance that we preserve the integrity of a crime scene and allow emergency services to tend to those in need. A cordon is put in place to secure and prevent contamination of the area. Access into a scene is at the discretion of the investigating officers. This is a fundamental part of any investigation to ensure the best possible chance of securing justice for any victim and their family.

McDonagh says that the priest was ‘an emergency service’. I cannot disagree:

The most troubling element of the statement is that the police wanted to ‘allow the emergency services to tend to those in need.’

A priest is an emergency service. In the case of Sir David, the priest was someone who could help see him into the next world, not just keep him in this one. You don’t have to share a belief in the efficacy of confession to go along with this; you just need a very elementary knowledge of and respect for the faith to refrain from standing between a confessor and a dying man. As for the reference to the ‘emergency services administering potentially life-saving treatment,’ Catholic priests are used to operating together with medics for precisely this reason.

You might like to know that Essex police recently engaged in that exercise in cultural conformity, Hate Crime Awareness Week. Perhaps in future, some awareness of Christianity might be part of the training.

Monsignor Kevin Hale, who knew Sir David, told GB News how Catholicism informed the MP’s life. Amess’s mother was a Catholic and she brought him up in the faith:

Monsignor Hale said that Sir David had grown up in the East End of London and attended St Bonaventure’s Roman Catholic School in Newham. It is a secondary school for boys.

The Right Revd Stephen Cottrell, the Anglican Archbishop of York, lived for a time in Amess’s constituency and paid a warm, faith-filled tribute to his former MP and friend in The Telegraph:

It was said of Sir David Amess that though he had opponents, he didn’t have enemies. As we come to terms with the horror of his murder on Friday, this is a distinction worth pondering.

I think of David Amess as a friend. Leigh-on-Sea is my home town and, for ten glorious years as Bishop of Chelmsford, part of the diocese I served. We often met: in parliament, but usually in his constituency, Southend West.

He was, as we have heard over the weekend, a dedicated, zestful, persevering constituency MP. He loved Southend, as I do. He rooted for it. He exemplified that vital, but overlooked, root of our democracy that Members of Parliament may get elected on a party ticket, but, once elected, serve everyone

David Amess was a kind man. The word kind is related to the word kin. When we are kind to someone, it doesn’t mean we necessarily agree with them, or even like them, but that we recognise a kinship, a common humanity and treat them accordingly; or as we sometimes say, “treat them in kind”.

David’s robust kindness came from his Christian faith. He was a devout Christian, a Roman Catholic. But the idea that we human beings belong to one another and have a responsibility to each other is not self-evident. Observation of our behaviour and attitudes shows us the opposite. Our worst desires can be seen everywhere, leading us to separation, fuelled by selfishness, and bearing fruit in hatefulness and the possession of each other.

The picture of humanity that God gives us in Jesus Christ offers something else. In this regard, perhaps the most radical words Jesus ever spoke are the ones most of us know and many of us say every day: “Our Father.” In saying these words we don’t just acknowledge we belong to God, we acknowledge our belonging to each other as kith and kin

David Amess, the friend with whom I sometimes disagreed, had the same values and the same vision. It shaped his life and it is what made him such a loved and effective constituency MP and an exemplar of what our democracy can be.

He was always very kind to me. He supported the Church. He cared. He liked to build coalitions of goodwill so that people could work together. Kindness and kinship, it turns out, gets things done.

My heart goes out to his wife and family and the constituents of Southend West. I am praying for them …

David Amess didn’t wear his faith on his sleeve. He wore it in his heart. That’s the best place for it. It means it runs through your very being.

Late on Friday, the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Command took over the case from Essex Police:

Early on Saturday, October 16, it was established that the suspect is a Briton of Somali parentage.

The Mail on Sunday reported that the BBC’s home affairs correspondent, Dominic Casciani, downplayed the suspect’s parental origins:

The BBC‘s home affairs correspondent was accused yesterday of trying to downplay the suspect’s reported Somali origins …

Although every national newspaper with the exception of the Financial Times mentioned that the suspect had Somali ‘origins’, ‘heritage’ or ‘descent’ yesterday, Casciani appeared to wrestle with the issue on Radio 4’s Today programme.

Presenter Nick Robinson asked him: ‘The suspect is a British citizen, but he’s also of Somali origin. Is that regarded as significant?’

Casciani replied: ‘The Somali element – erm, no. The reason why some reporters have established this fact is that there has been some misreporting …’

Twelve hours earlier, he had tweeted: ‘We have learnt from official sources that detectives have established the individual is a UK national, seemingly of Somali heritage. We report this in the interests of accuracy’ …

The BBC says Casciani ‘focuses on stories relating to law, order, society and belonging – including immigration, ethnicity’.

The Telegraph reported on the Met’s discoveries made on Saturday. The suspect lived in London, far from Sir David’s constituency:

On Saturday, officers from the Metropolitan Police’s counter-terrorism team, which is leading the investigation into his death, were searching three addresses in London – at least two of which were believed to be in the east of the capital. One search had ended but the others remained ongoing on Saturday night. The suspect, a British national of Somali origin, is thought to have acted alone and travelled by train from his north London home to Essex to carry out the attack.

The Daily Mail told us that the suspect lives among at least one celebrity in London, the rest of his neighbours clearly well-heeled, and might have spent a week planning the bloody attack:

Ali, who is thought to have been targeted by the Government’s anti-terror Prevent programme, may have lived in Sir David’s Southend West constituency in Essex in the past.

His most recent residence is believed to be in London. Officers have been carrying out searches at three addresses.

The security services are providing assistance to Scotland Yard, which is leading the investigation. Last night, detectives were granted a warrant of further detention, allowing them to keep Ali in custody until Friday.

Police officers were yesterday standing guard outside the North London council house where Ali lives. It is in a street of £2 million three-storey townhouses where the late actor Roger Lloyd Pack, who played Trigger in Only Fools And Horses, used to live.

That day, news emerged that Sir David had received a menacing threat just days before his murder. However, police believe that the two events are unconnected, according to The Telegraph:

The threat to the veteran MP was made in the past few days and reported to police …

It is understood that Essex Police received a report of the threat, but they are not connecting it with Friday’s attack.

John Lamb, the former Mayor of Leigh-on-Sea and a close colleague of the murdered MP, said Sir David had received the “upsetting” threat in the past few days …

Mr Lamb said it had been Sir David’s idea to hold his surgeries in places like the Methodist church, so he could be more accessible to his constituents, rather than in the local Conservative Party offices in Southend.

It is understood this came despite concerns being expressed by some of his staff over the potential security risk at more open venues.

Mr Lamb said: “Sir David used to hold them at the Conservative Association, but that made it hard for older people to see him so around a year ago he started going out into the community. He didn’t want to hide away, he wanted to be visible and accessible. He told me: ‘I want them to be able to see me in their local area’.

Before this, the last time an MP was murdered was in June 2016, just days before the Brexit referendum. A white male fatally stabbed Labour MP Jo Cox outside her own surgery. He was said to have had mental health problems, aggravated by the threat of eviction. His mother was also in poor health. That is not in any way to excuse his horrific crime of murdering a young wife, mother and MP. However, at the time, the media said the motive was because he was pro-Brexit and she was not.

Sir David, along with every other MP, was deeply affected by her death. He mentioned it and attendant security issues in his 2020 book, In Ayes and Ears: A Survivor’s Guide to Westminster, published last November.

He wrote:

The British tradition has always been that Members of Parliament regularly make themselves available for constituents to meet them face to face at their surgeries. Now advice has been given to be more careful when accepting appointments. We are advised to never see people alone, we must be extra careful when opening post and we must ensure that our offices are properly safe and secure. In short, these increasing attacks have rather spoilt the great British tradition of the people openly meeting their elected politicians.

He also said that he had to check the locks on his property and that certain ‘nuisance’ (his word) members of the public occasionally showed up outside his home. Other MPs have installed CCTV cameras on their properties.

Jo Cox’s sister, Kim Leadbeater, is now an MP in her former constituency, Batley & Spen. She tweeted her condolences:

The Emir of Qatar also sent a message of sympathy. Last week, he and Sir David were discussing Afghanistan refugees who are currently living in Qatar, awaiting settlement in other countries:

On Sunday, October 17, the father of the suspect in custody spoke. The Sunday Times reported:

The father of the suspected killer of Sir David Amess said he had been left “traumatised” by his son’s arrest after the stabbing of the veteran Tory MP.

Harbi Ali Kullane, a former adviser to the prime minister of Somalia, confirmed that his British-born son, Ali Harbi Ali, 25, was in custody. Kullane said that anti-terrorist police from Scotland Yard had visited him.

Speaking at his sister’s home in north London last night, Kullane said: “I’m feeling very traumatised. It’s not something that I expected or even dreamt of.”

The suspect was a “self-radicalised” lone operative known to counterterrorist police, according to Whitehall sources. He is believed to have been referred to Prevent, the government’s deradicalisation programme, before allegedly stabbing Amess on Friday

Investigators are examining the theory that he was radicalised online during lockdown.

Officers were yesterday granted a further warrant to detain him until Friday under terrorism laws. Scotland Yard said that early inquiries had uncovered “a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism”.

Amess, 69, an MP for almost 40 years, was a devout Roman Catholic who was guided in his daily life by his strong faith

Intelligence sources said the suspect had not been on the radar of MI5, which is monitoring more than 3,000 people who it is feared could be plotting a terrorist attack. However, he is believed to be one of thousands of extremists who have been referred to the voluntary Prevent programme after displaying potentially disturbing behaviour such as inflammatory postings on social media.

More than 6,000 people were referred by police and other agencies to the programme in the year ending March 31, 2020.

By the way, referral to the Prevent programme does not include monitoring by police and/or security services.

That day, the Amess family issued a statement thanking the public for their messages of support and urged the Government to grant Southend-on-Sea city status.

The Times reported:

Sir David Amess’s family have said that achieving city status for Southend would be a way of paying tribute to a “patriot and man of peace”.

In their first public comments since the MP’s murder, his family thanked people for the “wonderful, wonderful tributes paid to David following his cruel and violent death. It truly has brought us so much comfort.”

Amess, 69, was married with five children and in a statement tonight they said: “The support shown by friends, constituents and the general public alike has been so overwhelming. As a family it has given us strength.”

They urged people “to set aside their differences and show kindness and love to all” so that some good might come from their father’s death. His family said there was “still so much David wanted to do” insisting: “This is not the end of Sir David Amess MP. It is the next chapter and as a family we ask everyone to support the many charities he worked with.”

They cited his efforts to raise money for a statue of Dame Vera Lynn and said: “Closer to home, David was working hard for Southend to gain city status. In his memory, please show your support for this campaign.”

As I write on Monday, no known motive for Sir David’s gruesome murder has emerged.

Some of his friends believe it was because he was a devout Catholic. I’m not sure about that. I did not know he was one until he died, and I’m a political junkie and frequent viewer of BBC Parliament.

A radical Islamist preacher says it was because Sir David was pro-Israel, as the MP had been an honorary secretary of the Conservative Friends of Israel since 1998.

However, let us not forget Qatar and the current tensions in Somalia.

In Monday’s Times, speculation arose over whether Amess was murdered because he headed the APPG fostering relations between the UK and Qatar. Qatar supports the current regime in Somalia:

Meanwhile, members of the public are calling for those voting for the Westminster Dog of the Year to choose Sir David and Vivienne as a fitting posthumous tribute to the tireless yet cheerful MP, who will be sorely missed.

I will have more on Sir David’s life in tomorrow’s post.

My deepest condolences go to the Amess family, Sir David’s staff and his many friends. May the good Lord grant them His infinite grace and comfort in the days and months ahead.

Eternal rest grant unto your servant David, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed rest in your eternal mercy and peace. Amen.

As I write, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is on holiday in Spain.

He, his wife Carrie and their young son Wilfred left for Lord Goldsmith’s holiday villa after the Conservative Party Conference ended on Wednesday, October 6.

It is a well-deserved break. His stay in Cornwall in August lasted 24 hours before he had to return to Downing Street to deal with the fallout from Joe Biden’s abrupt withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Despite Britain’s crises of fuel and food, he needed a break before Parliament resumes next week.

However, a pivotal personal event also occurred during this time: the death of his mother, Charlotte Johnson Wahl, whose funeral was held on September 28.

A Remainer campaigner sent a nasty tweet asking who was in charge of the Government:

Boris’s sister replied:

Boris has not taken any bereavement leave until now.

However, with every lamented death comes new life. Carrie Johnson will be giving birth again in a few weeks’ time, which will be a consolation to the Prime Minister.

Budding artist

Charlotte Maria Offlow Fawcett was born in 1942 in Oxford to Frances (née Lowe) — ‘Bice’ — Fawcett.

Her father, James Fawcett, was a barrister. Three decades later, Sir James Fawcett assumed the presidency of the European Commission for Human Rights.

Years later, Charlotte described her childhood family and friends as ‘rich socialists’. She never voted Conservative, although she told Boris that she did vote ‘Leave’ in the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Charlotte’s mother, Bice, was close friends with a woman from another prominent family, Elizabeth Pakenham. Elizabeth and her husband had a baby girl, Rachel.

In a tribute to her friend which she wrote for The Times, Rachel Billington said (emphases mine):

In May 1942 our mothers, Bice Fawcett and Elizabeth Pakenham, both had babies in Oxford and walked our prams side by side. Her family, the Fawcetts, were clever, artistic and international; the Pakenhams were political and literary. Charlotte and I were fat little girls together, waving our Peace in Europe flags and trying to keep up with our siblings. She ended up with four siblings, while I had seven. When both families were in London, I was jealous of music in her house and the sense of an intellectual world beyond my grasp. And she was jealous of my rumbustious life, with a house in the country and horses. Not that she had any wish to ride.

Rachel Billington says that Charlotte attended Catholic school and said her prayers every night, kneeling at her bedside. This religious education might well have imparted the wisdom she gave to Boris, who remembers her talking about ‘the equal value of every human life’.

The Fawcetts moved to the United States for a time. Billington recalls:

When her family went to live in America and her youngest brother acquired an American accent, I realised she inhabited a wider world.

The family returned to England. By then, Charlotte was interested in painting and pursued her artistry at Oxford, the university that Billington also attended. Charlotte was reading English:

At Oxford, her intensity was reflected in her small college room where the objects were ordered as if already in a painting. She was painting and drawing complicated faces and patterns. Her essays were remarkably short and there was never anything regurgitated from “further reading”. She discovered her views from the text and from her imagination.

Meeting Stanley at Oxford

Charlotte met her first husband, Stanley Johnson, at Oxford.

In a 2015 interview, she recalled how they met at a university dinner:

… she told Tatler magazine in 2015: ‘I was engaged to somebody called Wynford Hicks, who was extraordinarily beautiful to look at but actually quite boring.

‘Anyway, [after the dinner] Stanley sent me a note asking if he could come to tea and go for a walk. 

‘So a few days later we went for a walk and he suddenly said, ‘Love is sweet. Revenge is sweeter far. To the Piazza. Ah ha ha har!”, which made me laugh so much I fell in love with him.’

When he earned a scholarship to study in America, Charlotte accompanied him. They married in 1963 and their first child, Alexander Boris, was born a year later.

Billington explained his middle name. Stanley and Charlotte were on holiday in Mexico City at the time:

The name Boris, incidentally, arose when they ran out of money at the airport on the way to New York where Charlotte was to have the baby, and an impatient passenger in the queue offered to pay what they needed. “That’s terrific,” Stanley said gratefully, “We’ll call the baby after you if it’s a boy. What’s your name?” “Boris,” answered the gentleman. In fact it is our prime minister’s second name; while he was at Eton Alexander was dropped in its favour.

However, Boris is still known to his nearest and dearest, Billington included, as Al or Alexander.

Charlotte painted a portrait of her son as a young boy, who grew up with shoulder-length hair:

The casually dressed, floppy-haired boy looks up from his painting. He is relaxed but serious, his complexion fair.

The Johnsons returned to England for a time. Charlotte and Rachel resumed their friendship:

Nothing seemed impossible to this glittering couple and Charlotte returned to resume her degree with Stanley and Alexander while also pregnant with her daughter Rachel. Through these perambulations and my own, Charlotte and I remained close; I was Al’s godmother and later Charlotte was my eldest son, Nat’s. Friendship was very important for Charlotte and she had the kind of loving warmth that made even newer friends bond to her for life. And tell her their stories and listen to their jokes and laugh. Lots of laughter.

It seems likely that Charlotte named her daughter Rachel in honour of her friend.

Charlotte completed her degree at Oxford as the first married female undergraduate at her college, Lady Margaret Hall.

Ruined marriage

Stanley received a transfer back to the US to work at the World Bank in Washington DC.

Billington was also in the US, working for ABC television in New York.

She remembers meeting up with her friend, the mother of four:

With the Johnsons living in Washington, where Stanley was working at the World Bank, enjoying a highly sociable life, plus now having four children, it seemed extraordinary that Charlotte’s painting life could continue. Yet when I visited from New York where I was working for ABC TV, she still had the energy to go down to Rehoboth Beach [Delaware] and bebop with the rest of us.

In the 1970s, the Johnsons’ marriage began to break down once the family returned to London.

The Mail alleges:

Mrs Johnson Wahl had an unhappy marriage to Boris’ father Stanley, who was accused of breaking her nose in the 1970s.

Charlotte’s mental state disintegrated, to the point where she had to be admitted to the Maudsley Hospital in London.

Billington visited her:

… suddenly I was visiting my brilliant friend in the Maudsley Hospital suffering from the problems that pressure and an obsessional nature can bring, properly called obsessive compulsive disorder. While the children ran round in the garden, Charlotte and I talked and I discovered that every day she was painting for hours at a time. Eventually, nearly 80 paintings were exhibited in the hospital, terrifying pictures of people in despair, agony or just misery. Yet also implying hope in the vibrant beauty of the colours and quite often a kind of wry humour, as if saying, “This is my life at the moment.”

The Times obituary notes:

She had already become “extremely phobic . . . terrified of all forms of dirt”. Eventually she had a breakdown and spent eight months at the Maudsley hospital in south London as a patient of Hans Eysenck, the influential psychologist.

While Charlotte was in the Maudsley, Stanley was transferred to Brussels. He took the children with him.

Charlotte discussed the difficult marriage in a 2008 interview:

“My husband and I were not making each other happy, to put it mildly. It was ghastly, terrible,” she told the Daily Telegraph in 2008, tears filling her bespectacled eyes. “The children used to come over from Brussels to see me in hospital. They’d run down the passage and it was sickeningly painful because then they’d go away again. It took me a long time to recover.”

Once Charlotte recovered, she was able to move to Brussels and, during holidays, welcome guests at the family farm in Exmoor in Devon. Billington remembers her stays with the Johnsons:

As Charlotte recovered, the family moved to Brussels, but when they were in England I would join them in the house on Exmoor that Stanley inherited from his father. It was a glorious cold comfort farm, but friends, if they survived the long pot-holed driveway, were fed hugely and taken on challenging treks that usually included river swimming and mountain climbing. Well, hills. It was hard for Charlotte to paint there, yet the pictures of her children and her friends’ children prove she was still managing. I have three from that period.

The renowned journalist and author Tom Bower has written a biography of Boris, The Gambler. The Mail‘s obituary of Charlotte recaps how Stanley treated her:

A biography of the Prime Minister claimed her marriage became ‘irredeemably fractured’ due to her husband’s ‘neglect and philandering’.

The Gambler, by Tom Bower, alleged that doctors spoke to Stanley ‘about his abuse’ while the couple’s children were told a car door had hit their mother’s face.

The most shocking claim was that in the 1970s Stanley hit the Prime Minister’s mother in a domestic violence incident that broke her nose and left her requiring hospital treatment.

Mr Bower describes Stanley’s first marriage, to Mr Johnson’s mother Charlotte, as violent and unhappy, quoting her as saying: ‘He broke my nose. He made me feel like I deserved it.’

It was claimed that the incident took place in the 1970s when Mrs Johnson Wahl was suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder and had ‘flailed’ at Stanley, who broke her nose when ‘flailing back’.

Stanley, now 81, is said to have deeply regretted the incident and denied he had been violent on any other occasion

By the end of the decade, the couple separated. They divorced in 1979.

Billington lived five minutes away from Charlotte, once she separated and could really throw her energies into painting:

After her separation from Stanley, paintings poured out from her flat at the top of a large building in Elgin Crescent in Notting Hill, London, happily just five minutes’ walk from me.

The Mail says Charlotte refused financial support from Stanley:

After moving to a flat following her divorce, she refused to accept money from her ex-husband and made a living selling paintings. She later recalled she was ‘very hard up’.

Dr Nick Wahl, second husband

Charlotte found happiness with her second husband, Dr Nick Wahl, an American professor. They married in 1988.

The Times obituary tells us how they met in 1982 and summarises their life together:

… she met Nick Wahl, an American academic. “We were at a dinner party in Brussels given by [the diplomat] Crispin Tickell and Nick asked could he see my paintings,” she told Tatler. “He was on a trial separation from his wife. There was an immediate connection. I flew out to see him and he came to see me. There were an incredible number of crossings of the Atlantic.” They married in 1988, by which time her youngest son was in his final year at Eton, and lived on Washington Square, New York. Wahl died from cancer in 1996 and she returned to London, settling in Notting Hill in a flat that, according to one visitor, resembled “an Aladdin’s cave with exotic carpets, a dolls’ house, flowers, cherubs on the wall and oil paintings everywhere, including several of the flaxen-headed children”.

Billington recalls those years:

That was a great period of creativity that was reinforced by her marriage to Nick Wahl and a double life in London and Washington Square, New York where Nick was professor at the university. It gave her a chance to play with the Manhattan skyline and the sardine tin of the subway to dazzling effect, sometimes on giant canvases. In London, she modestly remarked, “I just paint what I see”, but Elgin Crescent had never looked so dramatic. My son Nat snapped up one, which I visit just to see what she made of a fairly ordinary London street.

As her beloved children grew up and made their own paths, and she no longer had the constant responsibilities of motherhood, I saw a painter at the peak of her powers. Now when I visited Manhattan, we ate out for every meal, feeling young and independent, both of us with four adored children, but free to do what we wanted. She painted, I wrote, and of course Charlotte had a whole lot of fascinating New York friends.

Unfortunately, around the time Charlotte met her second husband, she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. That was in 1982, when she was only 40 years old.

Her quality of life diminished until 2013, when she underwent state of the art treatment in London.

The Times obituary says:

A cocktail of drugs helped to slow the progress of the disease, but the quality of her life was impeded. “The worst thing is a terrible stiffness,” she said. “When you want to walk you can’t — you freeze and your feet become attached to the ground.” In 2013 she achieved something of a medical breakthrough when Ludvic Zrinzo at the National Hospital in Bloomsbury introduced two electrodes into her brain and linked them to a battery in her chest. “It means I don’t jerk any more and I can go to the cinema and the theatre again. It’s bliss,” she said.

Political opposites

The Mail‘s obituary states that Charlotte was amazed to be the mother of four children who are all Conservatives:

She was described in a 2015 article in the Evening Standard as ‘left-wing’.

Boris Johnson’s sister, Rachel, said in the article, about two-party families, ‘We are a very mixed-race family politically and my father tends to marry socialists.

She later described her mother as ‘the only red in the village when we lived on Exmoor’And she herself once admitted that she had never voted Conservative, despite two of her sons being Tory MPs.

She told the Radio Times in 2015: ‘I find it extraordinary that I should have married a Tory and have four Tory children.

‘I’ve never voted Tory in my life. My parents were very socialist – rich socialists with three cars and two houses, but they were socialists in the days when that happened’

Along with Boris Johnson, she was also the mother of former Conservative MP Jo Johnson, journalist Rachel Johnson, and entrepreneur Leo Johnson.

The Prime Minister’s son Wilfred was her 13th grandchild. 

Charlotte had several exhibitions of her paintings, and she sold many. She was also commissioned to paint celebrity portraits, which were equally well received.

May Charlotte Johnson Wahl rest in peace. Hers was a life well lived. Most importantly, she was able to overcome adversity.

Sources:

Boris Johnson’s mother Charlotte Johnson-Wahl dies “suddenly and peacefully” at the age of 79, Daily Mail (includes family photos)

‘Charlotte Johnson Wahl was my best friend’, The Times

‘Charlotte Johnson Wahl, the prime minister’s mother, dies aged 79’, The Times

In June, I read a fascinating obituary in the Telegraph about an American, Ann Russell Miller, whose life journey took her from being a socialite to a Carmelite.

This lady lacked nothing in her life and gave it all up for the Lord.

The article has photographs of her throughout her life, which are equally fascinating. Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Early life

Ann Russell was born in San Francisco on October 20, 1928 and was an only child. Her father was the chairman of Southern Pacific, the railway line that served much of the western United States.

The Telegraph describes her as being ‘petite and vivacious’. Her parents sent her to the Spence School in New York. She returned to the Bay Area for higher education at Mills College in Oakland.

In 1948, she married Richard Miller when she was 20 years old. Miller’s family had founded Pacific Gas & Electric.

On her wedding day, a young man told her he would wait for her, which he did (see below):

In the reception line at her wedding, a rival admirer, George “Corky” Bowles, kissed Ann on the cheek and told her: “I will wait for you.”

Married life

Ann bore Richard ten children: five daughters and five sons. She had the first five by the age of 27.

She was splendidly Catholic: a woman who partied but also prayed.

(As a side note, people express empathy for me when I tell them I was raised a Catholic: ‘Oh, that must have been terrible’. I say that it was great fun. Today, I cannot be anything other than Anglican, which is even better because one can go straight to the Source, as it were.)

The Telegraph tells us:

She smoked, drank, played cards and spent five hours a day on the telephone, though she did once give up the instrument for Lent.

She devoted her life to charity but not without personal extravagance:

she was friends with Nancy Reagan and Loretta Young, the film star [also a devout Catholic], and sat on the board of 22 charitable organisations. She had her hair done four times a week by Elizabeth Arden, covered her parasols with Hermès scarves and had her spectacles coordinated with her outfits.

She and her husband also hosted frequent dinner parties:

Forty guests regularly sat down to dinner at the nine-bedroom house overlooking San Francisco Bay where she and her husband Richard made their lives.

Deciding on the convent

In 1984, Ann Russell Miller became a widow. Richard Miller died of cancer that year.

She knew her plans for the next phase of her life included entering the convent, so she told her children of her decision:

At two separate lunches at Trader Vic’s, for her five sons and her five daughters, Ann Russell Miller – a devout, not to say dogmatic Roman Catholic – told her children of her decision to take the veil. She had decided, she said, to devote the rest of her life to taking care of her soul.

She spent the next few years divesting herself of her material possessions:

She spent the next years doing all she wanted to do and in giving away all her wealth (the house was bought by one of the members of the rock group Metallica).

In 1988, George ‘Corky’ Bowles, the man who told her he would wait for her, took her on a cruise in the Mediterranean, even though he knew she wanted to enter the convent:

One evening under the stars, he slowly knelt on the deck of the yacht and asked Ann Russell Miller to marry him.

“Oh, don’t be ridiculous,” she said.

In 1989, on her 61st birthday, she threw a lavish farewell party:

at the Hilton for her 800 closest friends. Guests listened to music by two orchestras and nibbled at a coquille of seafood as Ann Russell Miller moved through the crowd, trailing a helium balloon bearing the words “Here I am.”

Convent life

The day after her farewell party, Ann Russell Miller flew to Chicago and headed for the convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

This cloistered order is also known as the Discalced Carmelites. ‘Discalced’ means ‘shoeless’. The nuns wear sandals.

(Another side note: I know a Discalced Carmelite, a woman I met at university.)

News of the socialite’s arrival at the Chicago convent travelled quickly. Reporters contacted the Mother Superior who gave a wise reply to their enquiries:

the Mother Superior replied shortly that there was no story in a nun entering a convent, but there might be in someone remaining there.

Indeed.

Ann Russell Miller never went beyond the convent walls and assumed the most basic life buoyed by prayer. Upon taking her vows, she became Sister Mary Joseph of the Trinity:

after five years as a postulant she was allowed to take her final vows and join the other 17 resident sisters.

Sister Mary Joseph now slept on a thin mattress and a bed made of planks. She wore a brown habit, black veil and sandals, and spent 23½ hours of the day in silence. The order is a secluded one, so she never again went out into the world.

That said, she still kept in touch with her friends by fax.

In keeping with convent rules, she was allowed only one visitor per month:

even then meetings were conducted with her sat behind two sets of bars.

Her son Mark tweeted that she never met many of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

He also revealed that his mother retained her spark:

Sister Mary Joseph, said Mark Miller, often had to ask forgiveness for being late for her duties and for breaking the rules by throwing sticks for the nuns’ German Shepherd.

She still had one property, which she her daughters administered for her:

Through some of her daughters, she also retained control of a rural family property from which she banned those of her children who divorced and remarried.

What an unusual story for:

one of the “Rockefellers of the West Coast”, as a friend put it, a hard-partying, high-diving, fast-driving socialite with a shoe collection that made Imelda Marcos’s seem “pitiful in comparison”.

May Sister Mary Joseph of the Trinity rest in peace with the Lord.

It was with sadness that I read of Jackie Mason’s death at the weekend.

Still, he had a good innings. He was 93 years old.

The Daily Mail had an excellent obituary of one of the world’s most consistently funny comics. Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Life before comedy

I did not know that he was born in Wisconsin:

Mason was born in 1928 in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, as Yacov Moshe Maza to immigrant parents from Belarus.

In the early 1930s, the family moved to New York’s Lower East Side. All the male relatives were rabbis and young Yacov was expected to follow in their footsteps:

‘It was unheard-of to think of anything else,’ Mason said. ‘But I knew, from the time I’m 12, I had to plot to get out of this, because this is not my calling.’

However, there was no way out for many years. Mason earned a degree in English and Sociology at City College of New York then completed rabbinical studies at Yeshiva University, after which he became a practising rabbi. 

He served several congregations, including those in Weldon, North Carolina, and Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

Sometime in the 1950s, he began working summers in the Catskills, a mountain range in New York State, known for its resorts which attracted Jewish clientele. It is known as the Borscht Belt.

He wrote his own material, put comedy sets together and accustomed himself to being on stage.

Comedy career

It was only in 1959, after his father died, that the rabbi pursued a stand-up career full time and changed his name to Jackie Mason.

However, he did not leave his theological training behind. In 1988, he described his style of comedy to the New York Times:

‘My humor — it’s a man in a conversation, pointing things out to you,’ 

‘He’s not better than you, he’s just another guy,’ he added. ‘I see life with loveI’m your brother up there — but if I see you make a fool out of yourself, I owe it to you to point that out to you.’      

From the Catskills, he branched out into the big time, playing clubs in Miami and New York in 1960 after two television appearances on the iconic Steve Allen Show.

I am old enough to remember that Jackie Mason was on television a lot in the early 1960s.

In 1964, he appeared on another iconic programme, The Ed Sullivan Show, which aired on Sunday nights. I remember my mother got very worked up about what happened in one of his appearances, as she was a huge Ed Sullivan fan. We never missed a show. After this appearance she turned against Jackie Mason:

after a terrible misunderstanding in 1964 between Sullivan and Mason involving a perceived obscene middle finger gesture, Jackie’s career hit a major slump.

Sullivan canceled Mason’s six-show contract, refusing to pay him for the performance

Mason eventually filed a lawsuit, and won.

Mason’s career did not recover until the late 1970s:

… it would take him many years to find his momentum once again, with his comeback punctuated by well-received performances in 1979’s Steve Martin film The Jerk, and Mel Brooks’s History of the World: Part I two years later.

People started to think I was some kind of sick maniac,’ Mr. Mason told Look. ‘It took 20 years to overcome what happened in that one minute.’

My mother would definitely have agreed with the ‘sick maniac’ description, unfounded though it was.

He hired a new manager Jyll Rosenfeld, whom he later married. She convinced him that there was an appetite for Borscht Belt humour beyond the Catskills. He launched a long-running show on Broadway in 1986:

Mason decided to bring his one-man comic shows The World According to Me!, to the Broadway stage in 1986.

The hit show ran for two years, and earned him a special Tony Award in 1987, followed by an Emmy for writing when HBO aired a version of the show.

From there, the legendary comedian put close to a dozen other one-man shows on Broadway, with the last being The Ultimate Jew in 2008.

Here is one of his performances from 1986:

Mason also enjoyed an on-screen appearance in Caddyshack II in 1988 and a voice-over as Rabbi Krustofsky in an early episode of The Simpsons in 1992, for which he won a second Primetime Emmy Award, for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance.

In the aforementioned New York Times interview from 1988, he was philosophical in the way only a rabbi can be:

‘I’ve been doing this for a hundred thousand years, but it’s like I was born last Thursday,’ Mr. Mason told The New York Times in 1988. 

They see me as today’s comedian. Thank God I stunk for such a long time and was invisible, so I could be discovered.’

London appearances

For several years, Jackie Mason used to come to London once a year for a stand-up show that was often televised.

I was in stitches.

Guido Fawkes tweeted Mason’s 2002 appearance, which was or was close to being his last over here:

Here’s the video, which is just over 90 minutes long:

The next video is his 1999 performance at the London Palladium. It is just under 40 minutes long:

However, in 1992, Mason did a half-hour set at Oxford University, where he ribbed the students for their total lack of sartorial elegance and fondness of political correctness. He also made fun of the Jewish lifestyle which encompasses self-denial of Jewishness as well as certain material aspirations. The University asked him to do the set for free, something at which he also cavilled, in a humorous way:

This is his description of the video:

This is a clip from a lecture I gave at Oxford University back in 1992. They gave me an award and a fellowship in the Oxford Union Society. The first American comedian to receive such an honor. That’s how they got me to work for nothing. Enjoy!

Here’s the second part, which was a Q&A session:

He talked about his years as a rabbi where people didn’t want the sermon and hoped for a few jokes. He said that Oxford students were very polite and he hadn’t heard one four-letter word yet: ‘I’m waiting, I’m waiting’.

Near the end, he said that England is the most polite society in the Western world with all the ubiquitous apologies one hears. The only exception, he noted, is in Parliament, where the raucous tone reminded him of a ‘sanitarium’.

Politics and talk radio

In 1998, Mason’s biography was published and he began a career in talk radio:

he published an autobiography, ‘Jackie, Oy!’ (written with Ken Gross), and discovered a new venture as an opinionated political commentator on talk radio.

Twenty years later, he issued a series of vlogs against then-candidate Barack Obama. I watched most of them. This one discusses the first presidential debate in September 2008:

His description of the Obama v McCain debate reads as follows:

Here are my thoughts on the first presidential debate. Although neither candidate had a clear victory Friday night, the media is saying Obama won because he didn’t lose. He looked poised and presidential. Well he did look poised as he made no sense! And if looking Presidential is telling bold lies, the Hail to the Chief!

In 2016, Mason was an unabashed Trump supporter:

He was among the few well-known entertainers to support former President Donald Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign.

In October 2016, he appeared on Aaron Klein Investigative Radio, which airs in New York City and Philadelphia. Mason contrasted Trump’s words about women to Bill Clinton’s actual violence against his victims.

Breitbart had the story, reporting that Mason said:

What Trump ever did to women is that he called them a name because she gained too much weight so he said she got too fat and he called her a pig. Imagine if the worst thing Bill Clinton ever did was call a girl a name. He called them names after he raped them.

When he got through with them, Juanita Broaddrick wound up with a cut lip. And he had advised her to please go see a doctor. He was very compassionate about sending them to doctors. But he wasn’t too concerned about beating them up in the first place. He was so busy punching them around that nobody knows if he made love to them or he just wanted to beat them up a little bit.

As for Hillary, he said:

He was really a violent, insane character. Now his wife, she had a job. Her job was to make sure that these women were never heard about it. Every time somebody threatened to talk about it she immediately went to work on destroying them. First he punched them around. Then it was her job to wipe them out altogether.

And she’s calling Trump a person who can’t be trusted because of the way he treats women? This is like somebody who crossed a red light being compared to a murderer.

After Trump’s election, Mason turned his attention towards the RINOs, especially the then-Speaker of the House Paul Ryan:

In March 2017, Breitbart reported:

In this week’s exclusive clip for Breitbart News, Jackie weighs in on the GOP’s failed healthcare bill, explaining that Republicans in Washington were focused on “repealing and replacing” the wrong thing.

“When they were talking about ‘repeal and replace,’ they were stupid,” Jackie says. “They were talking about healthcare, they should have been talking about [House Speaker Paul] Ryan. If Ryan was repealed and replaced we would have had no problem today.”

Jackie — who was born in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, in Ryan’s home state — says he finds it odd that a Speaker of the House who is supposed to be some kind of “genius” can’t count correctly.

“You know what Ryan should do if he wanted to save this whole country? Get another job,” he says. “Find out something that you actually know. If there’s nothing like that, sit in the House and don’t bother anybody. Mind your own business, you’ll save the country.”

My deepest sympathies go to his widow and former manager Jyll Rosenfeld and his daughter Sheba Mason, from a former union with Ginger Reiter in the 1970s and 1980s.

For more Jackie Mason shows and interviews, visit TheUltimateJew channel on YouTube.

Sadly, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, died on Friday, April 9, 2021, exactly two months short of his 100th birthday:

The Queen has lost her best friend. My deepest sympathies to her for the unimaginable loss of her long-time husband and daily confidant. My condolences also go to the Royal Family in their grief.

Young love

The couple first met in 1934, and began corresponding when the Prince was 18 and a cadet in the Royal Navy. Princess Elizabeth was 13 at the time.

She was smitten with him from the start.

Prince Philip served with distinction during the Second World War in the Mediterranean and Pacific fleets.

After the war ended, he could have had a stellar career in the Royal Navy. His superiors praised his clear leadership skills.

However, love intervened and the rest was history.

Born Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, he renounced his foreign titles and took British citizenship before he and Princess Elizabeth were engaged. He took the surname of his maternal grandparents: Mountbatten.

He and Princess Elizabeth were engaged in July 1947. They married on November 20 that year. Shortly before the wedding, George VI gave him the titles of Duke of Edinburgh (created for him), Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich.

Prince Philip remained in the Royal Navy until July 1951. He retired with the rank of Commander.

Royal succession — and surname

In January 1952, he and the Queen began a tour of the Commonwealth countries. They were in Kenya when news reached them that the Queen’s father, George VI, died on February 6 that year.

Although she became Queen immediately upon her father’s death, her coronation took place in 1953, as it had to be planned meticulously.

On Coronation Day, he knelt before her, clasped her hands and swore an oath of allegiance to her:

He also had to touch her crown and kiss her on the cheek.

He never had a constitutional role, nor was he ever formally given the title of Royal Consort. The courtiers did not like him, nor did they trust him. They believed his personality to be brash and unbecoming of the Royal household. They shut him out of as much decision making as possible.

When Elizabeth became Queen, the question about her family name arose. Prince Philip suggested that the Royal Family be known as the House of Edinburgh. Upon discovering that suggestion, Queen Mary, Elizabeth’s grandmother, wrote to Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who advised the young monarch to issue a royal proclamation saying that the Royal Family would continue to be known as the House of Windsor.

In his inimitable style, Prince Philip complained privately:

I am nothing but a bloody amoeba. I am the only man in the country not allowed to give his name to his own children. [57]

The Queen did nothing until eight years later, in 1960, 11 days before she gave birth to Prince Andrew. She issued an Order in Council declaring that the surname of her and her husband’s male-line descendants who are not styled as Royal Highness or titled as prince or princess would be Mountbatten-Windsor.

Pater familias

Prince Philip had to carve a role out for himself. He became the pater familias and, through the years, his role expanded to cover not only his four children but his grandchildren. He listened to their concerns, shared their joys and gave them advice. He knew everything that went on in their lives.

Although the public knew him for speaking as he saw — rather bluntly, on occasion — behind closed doors Prince Philip was known to be a warm, loving man.

He also favoured a more transparent Royal Family. According to the BBC, it was he who encouraged the Queen to make a multi-episode documentary on their daily lives, including those of their four children. It was broadcast in the late 1960s. I remember seeing it in the United States.

When Princess Diana died on August 31, 1997, Prince Philip was the one who kept an eye on the public mood that fateful week. He, the Queen and Princes William and Harry were at Balmoral in Scotland for their summer holiday. When the young princes wanted to attend church, their grandparents took them to the Sunday service on the day of their mother’s death. Later in the week, it was Prince Philip who encouraged the boys to walk behind the funeral procession the following Saturday. He said:

If you don’t walk, I think you’ll regret it later. If I walk, will you walk with me? [93]

One cannot imagine what he thought of Prince Harry’s departure for the United States to live a life separate from his closely knit family. I did read that the Royal Family shielded information about the Oprah interview from him.

John F Kennedy’s funeral

Prince Philip was in Washington for John F Kennedy’s funeral in 1963.

He had a friendly encounter with John Jr, who was still a toddler and known as John-John at the time. The child wondered where his father was, as he had no one with whom to play. The Prince stepped in to fill that gap. In 1965, the British government gave an acre of land at Runnymede to the United States for use as a memorial to JFK:

Funeral arrangements

Prince Philip was self-effacing and did not like a fuss to be made over him.

Therefore, the funeral arrangements will respect his wishes, which is rather convenient, as coronavirus restrictions are still in place. Up to 30 people will be allowed at his funeral, in line with legislation across the nation:

The funeral is scheduled to take place on Saturday, April 17:

It is interesting that Prince Harry will be able to attend when we have a 10-day quarantine in place for arrivals into the UK under coronavirus regulations.

The Sunday Mirror reported on Prince Harry’s return to the UK:

He could also be released from quarantine if he gets a negative private test on day five, under the Test to Release scheme.

Given his status as a member of the Royal Family travelling to support the Queen, Harry might be considered exempt from travel restrictions.

Wow. It’s nice to know we have a two-tiered quarantine system in place /sarc.

A championship boxer remembers the Prince

Former WBC Heavyweight Champion Frank Bruno MBE posted his memories of meeting Prince Philip. He is at the top left in the following photo:

An Anglican priest remembers the Prince

The Revd Peter Mullen, an Anglican priest, recalled his encounters with Prince Philip for Conservative Woman on April 10 in ‘A personal recollection’.

He first met the Prince during his schooldays:

The first time I met the Prince was in connection with his Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme which gave a leg up to youngsters from what would now be called the less privileged parts of the country. He paid a visit to the Leeds branch of the Church Lads’ Brigade of which, aged fourteen, I was a member. We were in the church hall making things. My task was to make a table lamp. I was hopeless at it.

The Duke got hold of my half-finished creation, held it up to one eye and said, ‘I suppose this hole is where the flex goes?’

‘I think so, Sir.’

‘You think so? I was never any good at this sort of thing either!’

And he was off . . . 

As an adult, Mullen met him on more than one occasion thanks to the Honourable Company of Air Pilots. The Prince was its Grand Master. Mullen served as chaplain.

He recalls:

The Company gave a lunch for him to mark his 80th birthday and I recall how jovial he was, making light of his years: ‘I believe I have lasted so long because you people are always toasting my good health, but I don’t want to live to be a hundred. Things are dropping off already!’

At another luncheon one of our Liverymen who had his own port wine business presented the prince with Bottle Number One, the first fruits, so to speak. As he left, the duke handed the bottle to me: ‘You have this, Peter. Our house floats on the bloody stuff.’

‘Well, Sir, now I don’t know whether to drink it or frame it.’

‘Gerrit down ya neck!’

Prince Philip on MPs

Guido Fawkes came up with a good quote from one of the Prince’s trips to Ghana. It concerns MPs. His Ghanaian hosts told him the country had 200 MPs. Prince Philip replied:

That’s about the right number. We have 650 and most of them are a complete bloody waste of time.

Incidentally, Parliament will be recalled one day early from Easter recess. On Monday, April 12, MPs and Lords paid tribute to the Prince in their respective Houses:

That afternoon, the House of Commons reconvened to pay their tribute — from 2:30 p.m. until 10 p.m. (good grief).

Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle spoke first:

Prime Minister Boris Johnson had this to say:

Boris Johnson, who was invited to the funeral but declined so that another member of the Royal Family can attend, said that he would forego a pint when pub gardens reopen on April 12, out of respect for the Prince. Guido Fawkes, however, thinks that the Duke of Edinburgh would have wanted us to toast his memory, especially at a pub that bears his title in Brixton, south London:

Guido had a second tweet on the subject with another quote from the Prince:

Agreed.

Prince Philip on Australia

This is too funny. For those who are unaware, Australia was established as a place where Britain could send convicts. That was a long time ago, but the nation’s original purpose was to serve as a prison:

https://image.vuukle.com/afdabdfb-de55-452b-b000-43e4d45f1094-dd97fb07-388d-4ddb-91b8-ccf8a88d5905

Prince Philip on civil liberties

On a serious note, the 12-minute interview below from 1984 is well worth watching, especially in the coronavirus era.

Prince Philip firmly supported the rights of the individual and believed that the state should serve the individual, not, as in our times, the other way around.

This is from a Thames Television programme originally broadcast on ITV:

I have posted the video below in case the tweets are deleted:

The Prince also said that certain subjects are out of bounds, such as the media and the NHS.

He said that the media are incapable of taking a joke about themselves and, as for the NHS, well, one cannot say anything against it. He didn’t necessarily dislike the NHS but thought it was held in too high a regard. Nothing is perfect in this world.

We have been travelling a long road towards the point where we are at present: ruled by the media (they clamoured for coronavirus restrictions) and worship of the NHS. This is how Health Secretary Matt Hancock, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and SAGE have been able to rule our lives. It’s been at least 40 years in the making.

BBC coverage on Friday

I was watching BBC Parliament early Friday afternoon, around 1:15, when the programme was interrupted by a broadcast from the BBC News Channel.

I checked the schedule an hour later, which said that the programme would last until 4 p.m. It was still going when I was preparing dinner at 5 p.m.

The final of MasterChef was to have been broadcast that night on BBC1. This was a clip from Thursday’s programme:

Pictured are the hosts and judges, chef/restaurateur John Torode on the left and former greengrocer, now television presenter, Gregg Wallace on the right:

BUT:

The BBC News channel was simulcast all afternoon and all night long, not only on BBC Parliament but also on BBC1, to the dismay of MasterChef fans (myself included), and BBC2. BBC4 was suspended for the evening.

I read on social media that the BBC also broadcast continuous coverage of Prince Philip on their radio stations, including Radio 2, knocking out Steve Wright’s drive-time show on Friday afternoon.

A friend of mine said that most of the BBC’s employees were probably rubbing their hands with glee because it meant an early weekend for them. It’s a cynical perspective that could well turn out to be true. We’ll find out when someone writes his or her memoirs.

Everyone with a television set receives the BBC News channel. It comes into our homes at no extra charge. There was no need for the BBC to take over every channel for hours on end. By the way, if one had watched two hours of the Prince Philip coverage, as I did, one would have seen and heard everything in its entirety.

The BBC braced themselves for a plethora of complaints; they took the relevant page down on Sunday. Good. I am sure Prince Philip would have objected, too.

As much as I love the Queen, I hope they do not try this when her day comes. God willing, may it be long into the future.

Record-beating prince

Prince Philip established two records as consort to the Queen. He was the longest-serving royal consort in British history. He was also the longest-lived male member of the British royal family.

May he rest in eternal peace with his Maker.

May our gracious Lord grant the Queen, Defender of the Faith, His infinite peace and comfort in the months ahead. May He also bless the Royal Family during this difficult time.

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