Sunday, 18 November 2012

2012 In Memoriam (part 2)

Here I find a passage quoted from one Loveman(2) who says "In Poe one finds (it*) a tour de force, in Maupassant a nervous engagement of the flagellated climax. To Bierce, simply & sincerely, diabolism held in its tormented depths a legitimate and reliant means to the end". This appears to me to have no meaning.M.R. James, in a letter to Nicholas Llewellyn Davies, a student.

I believe the warning in it to be one worthy of taking on board (as well as being noted for being one of the finest put downs recorded). Let's hope there is no slipping into ostentatious warbling within the tributes now.

So war heroes, personal heroes, writers, actors, politicians, song-writers: all equal in the final parting.

21st April – Charles Higham, 81 

Hollywood biographer, known for spicing up accounts of spicy lives. His claims against Errol Flynn (Nazi spy), Howard Hughes (died of AIDS) and Orson Welles (fear of completion) were criticised heavily. 


24th April – George Vujnovich, 96 

American war hero who went without official recognition for nearly seventy years due to state secrets. An O.S.S agent, he had landed in Yugoslavia and made deals with the local partisans to sneak wounded Allied soldiers out of the country from under the Nazi’s noses. Vujnovich worked with the Chetnik leader, Mihailovich, in saving the lives of over five hundred servicemen. The Chetniks had been protecting the Allied men at great cost from the Germans.

So Vujnovich’s plan, Operation Halyard, saved hundreds of lives during the war. Why wasn't he openly admired for much of his life? In a word: politics.

The Brits wanted to keep the Soviets on side during the Second World War. That meant keeping Tito in Yugoslavia onside, as he was fighting the Germans. Tito’s rival was Mihailovich. The Brits were dead against this rescue plan happening as it threatened their war effort. The Americans, being more gungho about such things, rallied under the authority of William Donovan (OSS director). After the war, Tito’s partisans captured and executed Mihailovich, despite efforts by Vujnovich and the rescued soldiers to fight for his cause. Because of the complex and fragile state of affairs between Russia/Yugoslavia/UK/US, the legacy of Vujnovich and Mihailovich had to stay behind closed doors until 1997, when the British papers came out. Over the last decade, via a history book and the realisation the Cold War is a bit finished, the respect due to George Vujnovich came to be known.

29th April – Joel Goldsmith, 54 

Composer. Produced the soundtrack to every single episode of StarGate SG1.

30th April – George Murdock, 81 

Actor known for many roles, including a doomed conspiracy leader in The X-Files. That was just the connecting the dots point for me, however, in a career which seemed to extend along every major US show of the last fifty years. An appearance in The Dummy (the episode of the Twilight Zone dealing with ventriloquist dolls) brought acclaim. 

He continued the 60s and 70s in the same vein, appearing in well loved shows such as Rawhide, Night Gallery and Hawaii Five-0. His role as Dr Salik in the original Battlestar Galactica gave him everlasting geek cred, as did his role as Admiral Hanson in the seminal Star Trek Next Generation two parter, The Best of Both Worlds. This was not his first Star Trek role either, as he had played God in the fifth film. 

Into the 1990s and his 60s, he became a familiar face, appearing on ER, the New Adventures of Superman, Seinfeld, the sadly maligned Early Edition and as a Judge on Law and Order. His role as the Second Elder in The X-Files was one that seemed to be in complete control of the conspiracy... right until he was horrifically burned to death by a renegade group of aliens posing as house guests in a creepy scene which lasts long in the memory. Even passing eighty, he was still in high demand: just last summer, he appeared in the Miracle Day Torchwood franchise as a preacher. This is just some of the roles of the late and missed George Murdock, a glance over his IMDB will no doubt produce roles that make him recognisable to most US readers and the fans of US TV programmes.

2nd May – Tracy Reed, 69 

Actress in Dr Strangelove and A Shot in the Dark, cousin of Oliver Reed and ex-wife of Edward Fox. Tragically, she died in May, but there was to be no confirmation for nearly four months, a sad end for an actress who had cheered many in her younger days.

2nd May – Charlotte Mitchell, 85
Actress, possibly best known for The Adventures of Black Beauty (in which she played the housekeeper) but who also played in a variety of British films in 50s and 60s.

The Guardian notes: “As a writer for television, Mitchell created the children's series The Kids from 47A (1973) and her plays included Summer and Winter (1965) and Buns for the Elephant (1976).”

3rd May – Lloyd Brevett, 80 

One of the founder members of the reggae band The Skatalites, who performed with Desmond Dekker as well as performed their own work over the course of forty years, despite several pitfalls on the way. Brevett’s health went downhill quickly after the murder of his son in early 2012. This leaves Lester Sterling as the sole surviving founder of the Skatalites.

4th May – Rashidi Yekini, 48 

Some men are immortalised in a single photo, a snapshot of time which will get played over and over again. You may recognise Yekini if you know football. His goal was special enough, but his celebration, in the net, is one of the iconic World Cup moments, and the highlight of a life sadly cut far too short by a succession of serious illnesses.

4th May – Adam Yauch, 47
You gotta fight...for yer paaaarty. One of the Beastie Boys, who lived just long enough to see his band inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, but was too ill to travel to the ceremony.

4th May – Edward Short, 99 

Former Labour government member who lived within seven months of his centenary. Elected to parliament in 1951 for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, he was to hold the seat for the next twenty five years until his life peerage in 1977. In his time in office he was Chief Whip, Postmaster General, Education Sectretary, Leader of the House and the Deputy leader of the Labour party. His loyalty to Harold Wilson was reciprocated throughout both’s public lives.

“Ted Short’s legacies are “Short Money” (funding from the taxpayer for Opposition parties at Westminster); the Register of MPs’ Interests; standardised colour television; and BBC local radio and Radio One. Colleagues simply wanted to outlaw offshore stations like Radio Caroline, but Short – while promoting the 1967 Marine Offences Act banning the “pirates” – encouraged the BBC to launch an alternative.” Telegraph obit

“My Lords, is the Minister aware that many of us who have been in touch with teachers all our lives believe that payment by results is the worst possible way to recruit more teachers and to retain those we already have? That was abandoned 80 years ago after it had thoroughly demoralised the whole teaching profession.”
Lord Glenamara (Ted Short), 1999

HC Deb 06 December 1951 vol 494 c304W304W§112.

“Mr Short asked the Minister of Education what steps she is taking to implement the policy of equal pay in the teaching profession.”

An advocate for teaching standards and education quality all his life, one shudders to think what he thought of the Gove reforms.

Anyone who knows our primary schools knows that they are probably the best in the world. They have a constant succession of visitors from other countries. It is an inspiration to go into our primary schools. I greatly resent the constant attack on our schools and teachers which is based on a completely false view of them. Our primary schools are good because since the Second World War teachers have used progressive methods which take into account the nature of childhood and do not regard children as little men and women but as children; they believe that childhood has its own perfections. One cannot have a perfect frog before one has a perfect tadpole. That is what our progressive teachers represent. I urge all of them in this country to stand up with pride and be counted; to glory in the title and to wear it with pride, no matter what Ministers, the press or anyone else may say.

“For more than 60 years, he was a dedicated servant of the Labour Party and the British people. As Secretary of State for Education, he played an important role in expanding access to higher education.” 
Ed Miliband.

Short was instrumental in the final stages of Harold Wilson’s Open University dream becoming reality.

7th May – Dennis E Fitch, 69 

A hero. With quick thinking and a refusal to give up in the face of overwhelming odds, Dennis Fitch helped save the lives of nearly 200 people who would have certainly died.

When all the flight controls died on board United Airlines Flight 232, a cause for concern would be understandable. Up until that day, no one had ever survived on a plane which this had happened. Between Fitch and the pilot, Alfred Haynes, the two men managed to throttle the plane into a crash landing in Iowa. 112 people died in the crash, but 184 lived, all down to the calm refusal to give up attitude of Haynes and Fitch. What made Fitch’s heroism all the more startling was that he wasn’t even a member of the crew: despite being a UA pilot, he was actually only a passenger on board who sensed the danger and offered his help. He died after a five month battle with brain cancer this year.

8th May – Maurice Sendak, 83 

Where The Wild Things Are might just be the finest young childrens book ever written. It’s certainly in the argument. The writer was Maurice Sendak, a grumpy genius prone to giving interviewers their moneys worth, and we lost him in May. He’d said he wanted a “yummy death” last year.

8th May – Robert de la Rochefoucauld, 88 

War hero. Now I might be a pacifist, but, I do feel that when someone’s obituary reads “he escaped from his first execution..” then he might be worth a look into.

““En route to his execution in Auxerre, La Rochefoucauld made a break, leaping from the back of the truck carrying him to his doom, and dodging the bullets fired by his two guards. Sprinting through the empty streets, he found himself in front of the Gestapo’s headquarters, where a chauffeur was pacing near a limousine bearing the swastika flag. Spotting the key in the ignition, La Rochefoucauld jumped in and roared off, following the Route Nationale past the prison he had left an hour earlier.”
Telegraph obit

His Telegraph obit is no longer available, which is a crying shame as it was a fine one. His previous execution escape was more mundane, he merely dressed up as one of his own Nazi captors.

“After surviving an under depth charge attack in a submarine off the coast of England, Rochefoucauld parachuted back to France to blow up a giant munitions factory in Saint-Médard. Over the course of the four day mission, code named "Sun," La Rochefoucauld dressed as a factory worker and "smuggled in 40 kilos of explosives, concealed in hollowed-out loaves of bread and specially designed shoes," The Telegraph wrote. He blew the place up, scaled a wall and bicycled to safety. "The blast was heard for miles," The Telegraph wrote. "After sending a message to London (the reply read simply: “Félicitations”) he enjoyed several good bottles with the local Resistance leader, waking the next day with a hangover."
Atlantic Wire

“Imprisoned at Fort du Hâ, La Rochefoucauld faked an epileptic fit and broke the neck of the guard who opened the gate for him. Then he put on a German uniform, shot the two other guards, and "walked out of the fort, through the deserted town, and to the address of an underground contact," according to The Telegraph.”
Atlantic Wire

A member of the S.O.E. Later in life, he defended Maurice Papon against his charges of working for the Nazis during the Vichy. Papon claimed (and Rochenfoucauld seconded) that he had been acting as a double agent for the Resistance at the time. When Papon was found after his flight to Switzerland during the trial, he had the passport of our man, who had aided him in his escape.

“When detectives arrived to question La Rochefoucauld, his wife told them: “Don’t try to lock him up. He escapes, you know.”
Telegraph obit

They should make a film about his life. Trouble is, they’d have to water it down to make it realistic for the big screen. I’m wary not to go overboard on the compliments, however. After all:

“By August 1944 the Germans had abandoned Bordeaux. In the city La Rochefoucauld found men in glorious French uniform in every café; on the streets, others wore holsters. “It seemed the heroes were two a penny, now that the danger had passed”, he noted. “The ostentation made me feel sick.””

8th May – Roman Totenburg, 101

Centenarian violinist and educator.

9th May – Vidal Sassoon, 84
Possibly the most famous hairdresser in the world.

10th May – Joyce Redman, 96
Irish actress, twice nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in the 1960s, for Tom Jones and Othello. She was acting up into the 21st century, with the role of the later Queen Victoria in Victoria and Albert for the BBC in 2001.

15th May – George Wyllie, 90 

Scul?tor responsible for many images of my childhood. Not a name that might come to the top of your mind, but his Straw Locomotive once seen in Glasgow for the Garden Festival was never forgotten. Nor was his Paper Boat, a full size ship made entirely out of paper which rested on the Clyde in 1990, and was responsible for many imagination flings of mine as we passed over the bridge into town. A longer lasting legacy of his are the clocks outside the Buchannan Street bus station, which appears as running legs. Time is forever running in that area of town. An eccentric genius, we salute George Wyllie, the man who put the ? in sculptor.

18th May – Peter Jones, 49

“We are in mourning today for the death of Peter Jones. We remember him as a warm-hearted, funny and talented man, who was a valuable member of Crowded House. He played with style and spirit. We salute him and send our love and best thoughts to his family and friends.”
Band website

The man who replaced Paul Hester in Crowded House as drummer has now joined him in the afterlife. 

20th May – Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, 60
Man jailed for the Lockerbie bombing. In a diplomatic sense, that’s all we’ll say.

20th May – Robin Gibb, 62

The Beegee. When the trio performed, Robin would stand in the middle, performing back up to Barry’s rich tones on their famous 70s tracks, leading on their 60s and many of their 90s tracks. With Maurice on the instruments, and Barry’s falsetto trick, one might have thought of Robin as the odd one out. Yet to do that would be to do the man a great disservice, for he was one of the finest singer-songwriters around. He wrote hit after hit. “Chain Reaction”, “Islands in the Stream”, “How Deep is your Love”, etc.

26th May – Hans Schmidt, 87
Pro-wrestler. One of the first to channel the now infamous “foreign villain” role, as he played the evil German to crowds still recovering from the Second World War. The Teuton Terror was jeered all over America, and one of the biggest drawing heels in the 1950s. Not bad work for a man born in Quebec!

26th May – Jean Morton, 91
ATV’s Auntie Jean. British TV childrens announcer from the 1970s.

27th May – Johnny Tapia, 45
Boxing world champion in three weight classes.

28th May – Bob Edwards, 86
British journalist who spent over thirty years in high ranking newspapers jobs, from an early start as the editor of Tribune, till his 12 year editorship of the Sunday Mirror. This was just a step up for a man who had founded his own newspaper for his school!

“his two spells as editor of the Express (1961 and 1963-65) were successful. He took the paper to its highest ever circulation, at more than 4.3m, and built on the brilliant formula created by its editor from the 1930s until the 50s, the legendary Arthur Christiansen. In those days it was a broadsheet, and although then described as part of the popular press, it would nowadays compare very favourably with the modern, tabloid-ised version of some of its "serious" rivals. Its news coverage was remarkable. After a major Commons debate, it often devoted two full broadsheet pages to its report, written (or rather, dictated) by the amazing William Barkley. But what set it above the others was the fizz with which the whole confection was presented.” Ian Aitken, Guardian obit 

“When the Tories lost the 1964 general election, a Conservative bigwig (according to Edwards) complained to Max Aitken that victory would have been theirs if the Daily Express had not had a socialist editor. Edwards left the following year.”
Telegraph obit

30th May – Andrew Huxley, 94 

The grandson of Darwin’s Bulldog, and the half-brother of the Brave New World writer, Andrew Huxley was no small fry in his own family: indeed, he was a Nobel Prize winner! He won this in Medicine in 1963, alongside Sir John Eccles and Sir Alan Hodgkin for “"for their discoveries concerning the ionic mechanisms involved in excitation and inhibition in the peripheral and central portions of the nerve cell membrane". The central nerve system and synapses, in other words.

Within six years, Huxley and Hodgkin, building their own equipment, had laid the detailed foundations of the modern understanding of the transmission of nerve impulses. They showed that these travel, not along the core of the fibre, but along the outer membrane as a product of successive cascades of two types of ion. The finding and the detailed mathematical theory that accompanied the work was revolutionary and resulted in their share of the Nobel prize.
Guardian obit

2nd June – Kathryn Joosten, 72

Actress best known for her role in The West Wing.

5th June – Ray Bradbury, 91 

Oh dear.

My favourite living author, till dreaded mortality kicked in this year. He was so young, had so much more to give. Damned death. But death will never take the lifetime achievement away from us, and Bradbury’s name will last as long as books are read.

He inspired me before I even knew he inspired me, for his novel Something Wicked This Way Comes was one of the biggest influences on a young R.L. Stine, a writer who was to influence ten year old me. So I was inspired second hand before I was first hand. It just goes to show the amazing scale and lasting influence of Bradbury, a rare writer indeed who got an acknowledgement of condolence on his death from the American president himself!

“For many Americans, the news of Ray Bradbury's death immediately brought to mind images from his work, imprinted in our minds, often from a young age. His gift for storytelling reshaped our culture and expanded our world. But Ray also understood that our imaginations could be used as a tool for better understanding, a vehicle for change, and an expression of our most cherished values. There is no doubt that Ray will continue to inspire many more generations with his writing, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.”
Barack Obama (I think if there were a litmus test for writers entering the public conscience, then this would break it!)

But it wasn’t just me and the President (not a phrase often used) who mourned the passing of this giant. Everyone I know, with few exceptions, had their own favourite Bradbury tale. His writing was so extensive, so varied, so many, that you could be a fan of SF, or horror, or comedy, or any genre you liked, and you’d find a home in Bradbury’s work. He enthused his great love of everything in his writing. At the book launch for Duncan Lunan’s Green Children book in June, we even took time out to salute our fallen fellow. Lunan himself met Bradbury, but that story is not mine to tell. It does make me smile, however.

“Ray Bradbury was the kind of person who would give half a day to a kid who wanted to be a writer when he grew up.”
Neil Gaiman

There is evidence of this in the 1962 documentary “Story of a Writer”, where he is seen inviting a budding young writer in his home and then going over their manuscripts to suggest how to improve. Not only this, but earlier on, we see Bradbury finish the first draft of his latest story, only to read it to a circle of fellow writers who tell him every thing he got wrong in it. I know of writers today who balk at the idea of criticism, who have come to me for advice, but whom I found later were only wanting a yes man. Folk who don’t last long in writing, it has to be said. Well, look here: if constructive criticism was good enough to be listened to, and taken on the chin, and realised for Ray bloody Bradbury, then it can be for every living writing today.

“He was my muse for the better part of my sci-fi career. He lives on through his legion of fans. In the world of science fiction and fantasy and imagination he is immortal.”
Steven Spielberg

To list my favourite Bradbury stories would be to take up several thousand words more. “The Veldt” and “The Pedestrian” are famous, but justly so, there is horror in both, but in separate ways in both. The wonderful threnody that was Farewell Summer, published late in his life, has a joyful quality to it despite its sombre tones. I am particularly fond of his spot on Poe pastiche, Usher II, and of its Ray Bradbury Theatre adaptation with the equally spot on Patrick MacNee.

When he was 88, Bradbury spoke of his great love for George Bernard Show, and how sad he was that he’d never got a chance to meet him. Those words echo in my mind to this day, as I think of the great many hours of advice offered up to the word, and inspiring books and stories written, and the hand that can no longer be shaken and the man thanked for the impact he has had on me. Yet he’ll never die. Dickens and Tennyson and Dahl haven’t died yet, and I have no qualms in adding Bradbury to that elite. He was that damned good.

So, really, to close out this In Memoriam section, here is the great man himself, in his own words, a collection of his finest wit and wisdom over 90 years.

Love what you do and do what you love. Don’t listen to anyone else who tells you not to do it. You do what you want, what you love. Imagination should be the center of your life. 

I never consciously place symbolism in my writing. That would be a self-conscious exercise and self-consciousness is defeating to any creative act. Better to get the subconscious to do the work for you, and get out of the way. The best symbolism is always unsuspected and natural. During a lifetime, one saves up information which collects itself around centers in the mind; these automatically become symbols on a subliminal level and need only be summoned in the heat of writing.

The trouble with a lot of people who try to write is they intellectualize about it. That comes after. The intellect is given to us by God to test things once they’re done, not to worry about things ahead of time.”

“Don’t worry about things. Don’t push. Just do your work and you’ll survive. The important thing is to have a ball, to be joyful, to be loving and to be explosive. Out of that comes everything and you grow.”

“Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.”

“You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”

“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”

When people ask me where I get by imagination, I simply lament, "God, here and there, makes madness a calling."

At 7 a.m. all my voices start talking inside my head, and when it reaches a certain pitch I jump out and trap them before they're gone. Or I shower and then the voices talk. You solve problems not by thinking directly of them but allowing them to ferment in their own time.

“If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads. I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories — science fiction or otherwise. Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”

“And when he died, I suddenly realized I wasn’t crying for him at all, but for the things he did. I cried because he would never do them again, he would never carve another piece of wood or help us raise doves and pigeons in the backyard or play the violin the way he did, or tell us jokes the way he did. He was part of us and when he died, all the actions stopped dead and there was no one to do them the way he did. He was individual. He was an important man. I’ve never gotten over his death. Often I think what wonderful carvings never came to birth because he died. How many jokes are missing from the world, and how many homing pigeons untouched by his hands? He shaped the world. He did things to the world. The world was bankrupted of ten million fine actions the night he passed on.”

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