The Old Un’s Notes

The Oldie - - CONTENTS -

Writer and Oldie reader Duff Hart-davis got in touch with the Old Un with his grip­ping tale of ghost­ing Next Stop Ex­e­cu­tion, the 1994 au­to­bi­og­ra­phy of Soviet spy Oleg Gordievsky.

Gordievsky was the most valu­able dou­ble agent Britain has ever had – and is now the sub­ject of Ben Macin­tyre’s new bi­og­ra­phy, The Spy and the Traitor.

One of the au­to­bi­og­ra­phy’s most ex­plo­sive sec­tions was the ac­count of the Labour leader Michael Foot’s 20-year flir­ta­tion with the KGB, which recorded him first as an ‘agent’, and later as a ‘con­fi­den­tial con­tract’.

‘We de­scribed the blue-cov­ered file en­ti­tled “Boot” which Gordievsky had read in Moscow, and Foot’s meet­ings with KGB op­er­a­tives in Lon­don, dur­ing which his Soviet con­tacts would slip him an en­ve­lope of used £5 notes,’ says Hart-davis. ‘Of­ten the ren­dezvous was one or other of the twin win­dow-seats in the Gay Hus­sar restau­rant in Soho.

‘At the last mo­ment be­fore pub­li­ca­tion, Foot threat­ened ac­tion for li­bel, and both the Sun­day Times, which had bought se­rial rights, and the pub­lish­ers chick­ened out – with the re­sult that we had to delete the most ex­plo­sive pas­sages.’

Had they been pub­lished, Foot’s re­main­ing po­lit­i­cal cred­i­bil­ity would have been de­stroyed.

‘Now that a full ac­count has ap­peared in Macin­tyre’s book, it seems ex­tra­or­di­nary that a lat­ter-day leader of the Labour Party should per­sist in as­so­ci­at­ing with re­bar­ba­tive regimes,’ says Hart-davis.

An­other Oldie reader, Mike Read, the for­mer Ra­dio 1 disc jockey, has ad­mirably turned his hand to com­mem­o­rat­ing he­roes of the Com­mon­wealth.

Read is chair­man of the Com­mon­wealth Plaque Trust and the Bri­tish Plaque Trust. In Septem­ber, the Com­mon­wealth Plaque Trust put up its first plaque, to com­mem­o­rate the ‘Three Ws’ of West Indies cricket: Sir Frank Wor­rell, Sir Clyde Wal­cott and Sir Ever­ton Weekes. All three were born in Bridgetown, Bar­ba­dos.

Wal­cott and Wor­rell are sadly no longer with us. But Weekes – along with the great Sir Garfield Sobers, Sir Wes­ley Hall and Sir Char­lie Grif­fith – were all there to un­veil the plaque to the Three Ws at the Kens­ing­ton Oval in Bar­ba­dos. The plaque is in­scribed with the words ‘Com­mon­wealth Plaque Trust’ as op­posed to ‘Bri­tish Plaque Trust’ on the orig­i­nal blue plaques.

The plan is to ex­tend the com­mem­o­ra­tive scheme across the Com­mon­wealth.

Three cheers for the Three Ws!

A rich fund of sto­ries was told at the me­mo­rial ser­vice for Ernest Hecht, the Arse­nal-sup­port­ing, cham­pagne-quaffing, ec­cen­tric-bach­e­lor pub­lisher be­hind Sou­venir Press.

Hecht ran Sou­venir Press from 1951 un­til his death. He was once de­scribed by our pa­tron saint and late deputy ed­i­tor Jeremy Lewis as hav­ing a wa­ter­melon-slice smile and the un­ti­di­est of­fice in Lon­don.

Hecht, who was 88, ar­rived here with Ni­cholas Win­ton’s Kin­der­trans­port and was the last of that gen­er­a­tion of fiercely in­de­pen­dent Jewish émi­gré pub­lish­ers.

At his me­mo­rial ser­vice, at St Paul’s, Covent Gar­den, ev­ery speaker told of his mad gen­eros­ity, his love of long lunches, cabarets and torch singers. Barb Jungr, his favourite singer, sang Bob Dy­lan’s For­ever Young.

Deb­o­rah Owen, the lit­er­ary agent and wife of for­mer For­eign Sec­re­tary David Owen, re­called that, af­ter they first met, Hecht sent her a life-size cut-out of Lit­tle Richard (she was a fan), which stood in her of­fice un­til it fell apart.

Anne Do­lam­ore, the indie pub­lisher, told of her ‘com­pet­i­tive lunch­ing’ with Hecht. His own favourite place was the north

Lon­don restau­rant Oslo Court (‘where it is for­ever 1977’) but she took him to the ‘achingly trendy’ Dean Street Town­house, where they looked askance at his beanie hat, em­bla­zoned ‘Arse­nal’.

The East Euro­pean wait­ress, hav­ing lit­tle English, had dif­fi­culty de­cod­ing the menu for them. So, when it came to the wine, Do­lam­ore asked, ‘Have you got a som­me­lier?’ To which the hap­less woman replied, ‘Is that a red or a white?’

The Old Un was very sad to hear of the death of Liz Fraser, Britain’s an­swer to Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe, in Septem­ber, aged 88. Only five days later, her fel­low Carry On ac­tress Fenella Field­ing died at 90.

The Oldie’s TV critic, Roger Lewis, in­ter­viewed Liz Fraser for his book The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (1995).

‘She was a use­ful comic ac­tress, putting up with Ken­neth Wil­liams’s scorn in sev­eral Carry On films,’ Roger told the Old Un. ‘She’d have been in many more Carry On films, but Fraser made the mis­take of telling the ghastly pro­ducer, Peter Rogers, that, in her opin­ion, the fran­chise could be “bet­ter mar­keted”.’

Fraser lived in some com­fort, all the same. Trained in com­merce and eco­nom­ics at Gold­smiths, she en­joyed spec­u­lat­ing in stocks and shares, and owned nu­mer­ous Lon­don flats.

‘Fraser had first come to at­ten­tion as Cyn­thia, the buxom daugh­ter of Sellers and Irene Handl in I’m All Right Jack (1959),’ Lewis says. ‘When Sellers in­tro­duces her to Ian Carmichael and proudly ex­plains she works as a “spindle pol­isher” in the fac­tory, the great Goon could scarcely keep a straight face.’

Fraser next turned up in Two-way Stretch, this time as Sellers’s girl­friend, Ethel. It was a re­la­tion­ship Sellers wanted to fur­ther in real life. ‘Peter, you can pull your trousers back up now,’ she said to him very firmly.

Fraser went on to do some Con­fes­sions films with Robin Askwith, Benny Hill sketches and cheap Seven­ties come­dies, such as Rosie Dixon: Night Nurse. Viewed to­day, they seem to reek of sex­ual ha­rass­ment but, in the 20th cen­tury, they were re­garded as in­no­cent, raunchy fun. Her Mrs Pike, along with John le Mesurier, stands out in the film spin-off of Dad’s Army, as does a Miss Marple episode with Joan Hick­son.

‘Other than that, and with two early mar­riages down the Swa­nee, Fraser was con­tent un­til old age to draw her rents, study her in­vest­ment port­fo­lio, and take her dog for long walks,’ says Lewis.

The Old Un will fondly re­mem­ber Fraser’s faux­in­no­cent charm on screen. As with Mon­roe, it takes a very good ac­tress to play the dumb blonde so con­vinc­ingly.

Many con­grat­u­la­tions to the writer and il­lus­tra­tor of The Oldie’s Bird of the Month col­umn – John Mcewen, one of the mag­a­zine’s founders, and Carry Akroyd.

They have just signed a deal with Blooms­bury to

pub­lish their col­lected Oldie works. A Spar­row’s Life’s As Sweet As Ours – a line from John Clare – is the name of the book, to be pub­lished in July 2019. There will be a show of Carry’s work at the Chris Bee­tles Gallery in Lon­don at the same time.

What’s more, there’s also a new 2019 cal­en­dar out now, fea­tur­ing Bird of the Month ar­ti­cles and il­lus­tra­tions. De­tails of how to buy it are on page 97.

If you’re in search of a stiff drink, head for the Vat­i­can-ap­proved dis­tillery at Dun­ton Hall, near Fak­en­ham, be­tween the two an­cient monas­tic cen­tres of Wals­ing­ham and Cas­tle Acre.

There, the ‘Ar­changel Gin’ is pro­duced by two ob­ser­vant Catholics, Peter Alling­ham and Jude de Souza, who

pre­pare the booze be­tween ob­serv­ing Lauds and Ves­pers. They work ac­cord­ing to the Bene­dic­tine rule of ‘ Ora et lab­ora’ – ‘Work and pray’.

The dis­tillery has been blessed by Fa­ther An­thony Rob­bie of the Arch­dio­cese of Syd­ney, now work­ing in Rome. The gin brings new mean­ing to the words ‘spir­i­tual up­lift’.

The Old Un was much moved by a new book, Ard­kin­glas – The Bi­og­ra­phy of a High­land Es­tate by Christina Noble.

Ard­kin­glas is a Scots Ba­ro­nial pile on the shores of Loch Fyne, built by Sir Robert Lorimer for the Noble fam­ily in 1907. Christina Noble is a de­scen­dant of that

orig­i­nal fam­ily but this is no Mc­down­ton Abbey tale of ‘the Big Hoose’.

She tells the story of how her late brother, Johnny Noble, saved the house by set­ting up the Loch Fyne res­tau­rants and Loch Fyne Oys­ters seafood com­pany.

Christina Noble also in­ves­ti­gates what life was like for all the em­ploy­ers and em­ploy­ees on the 45,000-acre es­tate over the past cen­tury or so. Among the pic­tures in the book is this one of the es­tate shep­herds. It’s such a time­less pho­to­graph – can you guess the date? An­swer at the bot­tom of the page.

The Old Un is dis­tressed to see how quickly the ‘clasp hand­shake’ – with the hands meet­ing as if in a mid-air arm-wres­tle – has gained in pop­u­lar­ity.

He noted Aus­trian Chan­cel­lor Se­bas­tian Kurz clasp­ing hands with Don­ald Tusk, Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Coun­cil, when they met in Salzburg in Septem­ber.

Ad­mit­tedly young Kurz is only 32. But Tusk is 61 and should know bet­ter. The Old Un takes no sides on the Euro­pean ques­tion but feels very strongly about hand­shakes. They must be tra­di­tional – and no bone-crush­ers, please.

Barack Obama could pull off the fist bump – but that’s only be­cause he is so im­pos­si­bly cool.

Other politi­cians should pay heed to the Wil­liam Hague’s Base­ball Cap Rule of Pol­i­tics: any politi­cian who be­haves in a con­sciously young way ends up look­ing im­pos­si­bly naff.

Re­mem­ber Tony Blair meet­ing Noel Gal­lagher at the Cool Bri­tan­nia re­cep­tion at Down­ing Street in 1997?

An­swer to the pho­to­graph ques­tion: 1975

‘Well, of course I’m re­lieved. But I can’t help think­ing… why did the shark spit me out?’

The Bri­tish Mar­i­lyn: Liz Fraser

Carry’s spar­rows

Shep­herds at But­ter­bridge, Ar­gyll. Can you guess the year?

‘Re­ally? I’m called bad dog, too’

‘Rodin’s over-thinker’

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