Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to an old black and white photographer and son of Clerkenwell called Colin O'Brien


Colin, whose career as a photographer on the streets of London spanned 68 years, involved taking photos, both digital and film and processing and printing his work in the traditional way in a darkroom and showed his work in more than 30 exhibitions, has died at the age of 76.

He was born in the second year of the Second World War in 1940, at home, in Northampton Buildings Clerkenwell in Central London an area known as 'Little Italy' and he recalled : “My family all worked in the area so my mother let them know the baby had arrived by hanging something in the window. I think it was just an old shopping bag!”

His childhood home was on the top floor of Victoria Dwellings, built as model housing in the mid-19th century to provide healthy homes for the labouring classes, sited at the junction of Clerkenwell and Farringdon Roads, just a stone’s throw from Hatton Garden, where priceless gems have been bought and sold since medieval times. He recalled : "I grew up in Little Italy. It was full of Italian immigrants, they came from a very poor area of Italy to a very poor area of London thinking that their lives would be transformed."

While his father was away as a conscript fighting during the War, his mother and her sister Winifred, stayed in London for most of the duration of the Blitz. “For my safety they did go to Ifracombe, Devon in 1941, but they hated the landlady and so they came back to London saying they’d rather ‘take their chance’.” It was a precarious existence : Clerkenwell had the flimsy Anderson bomb shelters and he recalled : “My granny lived in the middle of  Victoria Dwellings all the families from the top floors, and the families from the bottom would go to her flat. The grown ups would make tea, chat and reminisce. It was that feeling of being together, and being safe.”


Colin came to photography more by accident than design : "There was no real artistic backup in the family. I already had a box camera, it was just lying there and I just started photographing my mates. There were two things that got me into it : one of my uncles, Patsy, worked in the print and he used to bring magazines home. One of those magazines was Picture Post and I used to love looking through it. So that might have been some sort of early motivation that got me taking photographs of my surroundings. Being stimulated by the pictures of Bill Brandt and Bert Hardy isn’t a bad start."

In 1948 he took a photo of his friends Raymond Scalionne and Joe Bacuzzi leaning against a car in Hatton Garden and from the same time he recalled : "Two of my friends sitting on the steps of Onslow Street which is where we used to play and these were taken in 1948. I was eight years old when I took them and I often get asked by students of photography today "How did I get so close to society's outsiders ?" and to me they weren't outsiders because they grew up with those sorts of people and they were all poor. We were all in the same boat. I never knew anybody who had any money in those days."
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YYKVYIch7XM&t=1m55s

He recalled : "There was an Irish guy, lived in the block in Victoria Gardens. I think he was a chaufeur and think it was he who sold them or gave them for a much lesser amount of money than it was worth, this lovely Leica IIIB or IIIA, I can't remember what model it was, this camera which I then used after the box camera so from the sublime to the ridiculous from a box camera to a Leica." 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YYKVYIch7XM&t=1m02s

“Then another uncle, Will, a black cab driver, arrived one Christmas with a little contact printing outfit. Contact printing involves a technique where you don’t need a proper darkroom, because the paper is not that sensitive. He just mixed up these chemicals. He obviously knew something about it. We put one of the box camera pictures in a small wooden printing frame, held it up to the light for about 10 minutes and then we processed it and I saw this image coming through in the developer."

Now, at the age of 14 and armed with his Leica camera with its 3.5 Elmar lens, Colin realised "that there was more to photography than just taking pictures of my friends and family, although many of my favourite pictures are of friends and family. Beyond that, people began to tell me they liked my work so I began to take it more seriously.”


There were photos of : "Stoic Mrs Leinweber who lived beneath us waiting at 12.30 to dish out shepherd’s pie and peas with her huge arms” or "my mum cooking or trying on a hat."

Sometimes things were more  dramatic : "I would hear a bang, get the camera and then look down, see a car accident and take a picture. I took a wonderful picture of a three-wheeled van toppled over in Clerkenwell Road." 

He spent so much time on his window perch that : “My mother used to say, ‘Colin! You’ll fall out one day!’ But it was a beautiful perspective from which to see the world, and I never tired of it.”
Colin was 22 when, from the window, he took : "One lovely picture of New Year's Eve 1963. It had been snowing most of the afternoon and it was twilight and I leant out the window and there was hardly anybody an the street and there was one pedestrian crossing and the snow was beginning to settle and it was the last few hours of 1962."
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YYKVYIch7XM&t=8m21s

From the window he also took : "The daytime accident picture. There was little boy in one of the vans and we learnt later that he had unfortunately died."
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YYKVYIch7XM&t=8m48s

and :
"The night time  accident was amazing because it was a night time exposure and you could see traces of cars and also if you look at the people they're very shadowy. Some people stood still and some moved and the ones that had moved are obviously slightly blurred."
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YYKVYIch7XM&t=9m11s

Initially his school days in Little Italy were unhappy : “There were lots of Italians and kids with no clothes or shoes and we would all use the bombsites as vast playgrounds. Then there were the Roman Catholic schools with nuns that knocked the living daylights out of you. I went to one as an infant, but I cried most days because I just hated it.” His secondary modern school was better, although he left at the age of 15 in 1955 without qualifications. At first he had a series of jobs, as a tea boy, then as a runner at one of many press agencies near Fleet Street until, as he recalled : "I had a nice personality, so in my early twenties I worked with the City Literary Institute and Mrs Daley sent me to Media Resources.”

Colin found that his parents didn't share his photographic aspirations and he was sympathetic to their point of view : “They spent their days trying to earn a living, trying to keep us alive." His father, in particular, showed little understanding : "I never really got on with my Dad early on in my life. I was fairly creative and he worked in a pretty mundane, awful job so I was never sure that he got what I was doing.”

Having discovered that he could get time off work to study, he got himself school qualifications and after travelling around Europe in the early 1960s, took a BA in Photography at Westminster Polytechnic and then an MA in 'Photography and Advertising' at the London College of Printing at the Elephant and Castle where he also worked as a media resources technician.

Colin was never a full time photographer, His work was done when, for two hours or so every day, he would walk the streets with his camera, taking photographs of people who interested him. He recalled : "I wasn’t Don McCullin going off to war or David Bailey photographing celebrities. I was quite provincial. I didn’t go south of the river and I didn’t travel. I photographed what I saw, people acting out the drama of everyday life."

A good example of his street work came in 1986 : "This is the corner where I took the picture of mine called 'Comings and Goings' Everybody's about to do something or go somewhere or coming into one side or leaving out of the other side of the frame and there's only one little old lady sitting in the middle, not going anywhere and doing anything. She's got her shoes off and she's sitting there watching the world go by."
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YYKVYIch7XM&t=3m23s


Colin was philosophical about the popularity of his art : “My sort of pictures people didn’t want to have. Now people have a soft spot for the old days, it’s nostalgia. It wasn’t as good as they think! I took pictures of the threadbare years, the 1950s and the down and outs in the street, but there are still down and outs, sometimes even sitting in the same places. I’m a poor boy from Clerkenwell but just last night I was drinking champagne at the new Leica store at the Royal Exchange where they are showing some of my photographs."

Last year Colin said of London :  "At certain times the city has a stillness and beauty about it, but mostly it is on the move, at times frenetic, exasperating and tiring. But for me it is where I was born and where I grew up and it will always be my home."

"The great photographers are the ones that can pick out from that mass of information can just isolate something  for a moment a second, That's the trick : isolating something that makes a wonderful composition, has something to say."
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YYKVYIch7XM&t=12m40s

Some years ago and a few weeks before the death of his father he recorded : “He came to an exhibition at the Morley gallery and he wrote in the comment book: ‘I am very proud of my son, these pictures are wonderful.’ It was so nice to see that.”

* * * * *
Friday, 13 June 2014
Britain is no longer a country for and says "Goodbye" to an old artist-photographer, once 'Laureate of Teenage London' called Roger Mayne
http://britainisnocountryforoldmen.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/britain-is-no-longer-country-for-and.html



Saturday, 20 August 2016

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to its uncrowned 'King of Farce' and crowned 'Champion of the Disabled', Brian Rix

Brian, who elder citizens remember as a comedy actor in Whitehall farces on black and white tv and on stage in the 1960's and more recently as disability campaigner, has died at the age of 92.

He was born in 1924 in Cotingham in the East Riding of Yorkshire, the son of Fanny, who ran a good amateur dramatic society and was lead soprano in the local Operatic Society and Herbert, who ran a family shipping business and subsequently, oil company, in Kingston upon Hull.

As a boy, he was a talented cricketer, who wanted to play for Yorkshire County Cricket Club, but when at Bootham School in York, he decided to follow his sister, Sheila, into an acting career, He made the first step at the age of 18 during the Second World War in 1942, when on 'deferred service' from the Royal Air Force he worked in Donald Wolfit's itinerant Shakespeare Company.

He played Sebastian in 'Twelth Night' at St James's Theatre in London, gained repertory experience with the renowned 'White Rose Players' at the Opera House in Harrogate, then had a spell in the RAF before volunteering to work as a 'Bevin boy' doing war time service working in the coal pits near Doncaster.

Brian returned to the stage after the War and formed his own theatre company at the age of 23 in 1947 after talking his father and uncles, into putting up, the then, considerable sum of  £1,000 and
used £50 of the cash to buy an option on 'Reluctant Heroes' which became the first 'Whitehall farce' and 'number one' cinema hit in 1952, with him playing the gormless north-country Army recruit, Horace Gregory.

At 25, he married actress Elspeth Gray and remained with her, domestically and professionally for 64 years until her death in 2013 and worked alongside her in in the fifties and sixties for 16 years in his farces at the Whitehall Theatre, before he moved to the Garrick Theatre, breaking West End records in the process.

After his wife gave birth to their first child in 1951, he was summoned to her obstetrician's Harley Street rooms where, offering him a cigarette, the doctor asked: "Have you heard of mongolism? I am afraid that your daughter is a mongol. Will you tell your wife?"

This dramatically changed his life and, with Elspeth, he became involved in the world of learning disability after finding a complete lack of welfare support and education for their daughter who had Downs Syndrome, with the only care in the shape of a Victorian, run-down hospital where 'patients' were left to their own devices for hours on end.

He threw himself into fund raising for learning disability charities, became the first treasurer of the 'Stars Organisation for Spastics', which supported the then 'Spastics Society' and became first chairman of the 'special functions fundraising committee' of the then, 'National Society for Mentally Handicapped Children and Adults', which became 'Mencap'.

Brian presented more than 90 farces on BBC TV, with viewing figures regularly topping 15 million and in the early 1960s was its highest paid actor, but is rarely mentioned in retrospective programmes looking at the early days of tv because only 6 recordings exist in the BBC archive.

He became renown for losing his trousers and subsequently lost them at least 12,000 times in 26 years he was on stage, although less on tv in scenes, with his character innocently caught with his trousers down in the bedroom of a woman who was not his wife.

Brian produced 'Dry Rot' (left) in 1954 and saw it run for 4 years,
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mTqdS-b1zW8&t=35m17s followed by 'Simple Spyman' and 'Chase Me Comrade' with Ronald Bryden in the 'New Statesman' writing : 'There they are are: the most robust survivors of a great tradition, the most successful British theatrical enterprises of our time. Curious that no one can be found to to speak up wholeheartedly for them – no one, that is, outside enthusiastic millions who have packed every British theatre where they have played.'

We catch a glimpse of him at the age of 37 in the 1961 film  'The Night We Got the Bird'  : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gIObu7DMhsg&t=0m5s

He was described by Harold Hobson in the Sunday Times as : 'The greatest master of farce in my theatre-going lifetime', but received no theatrical awards and after 26 years of almost continuous performance in the West End, in January 1977, gave his final very emotional performance in 'Fringe Benefits' to a packed house on the stage where he started, the Whitehall Theatre.

With his stage career at an end, from 1978-82, with his daughter, Louisa, he presented the BBC TV series, 'Let's Go', the first designed specifically for people with learning disability and in 1980, became the Secretary-General of Mencap, then Chairman in 1988 and at the age of 76, President.

Brian entered the House of Lords as an apolitical cross bencher in 1992, campaigned ceaselessly on legislation affecting people with a learning disability , has been one of the most regular attenders , introducing numerous amendments to legislation associated with health, social welfare and education and saw his amendments to the 'Childcare Bill' extend statutory childcare provision for children with a disability from 16 to 18 years old and changes to the 'Electoral Administration Bill' lead to people with a learning disability being able to vote freely.

He served as the first Chairman of the 'Arts Council Monitoring Committee on Arts and Disability', founded and chaired the charity 'Libertas' which produced audio guides for disabled people at museums, historical buildings and  places of interest, gave up smoking in 1950 when he lost his voice during a matinee of 'Reluctant Heroes' and subsequently became a founding member of ASH, 'Action on Smoking and Health'.


Brian produced two autobiographies : 'My Farce From My Elbow' in 1974 and 'Farce About Face' in 1989 and 'Gullible's Travails', an anthology of travel stories by the famous for the 'Mencap Blue Sky Appeal' and for Mencap's 60th anniversary, produced 'All About Us! – The history of learning disability and of the Royal Mencap Society.'

In recent weeks, terminally ill, he wrote to Baroness D’Souza, Speaker of the House of Lords and said he hoped Parliament would act ‘as soon as possible’ to allow those with a terminal condition to be assisted to die. He pleaded for euthanasia to be legalised so that he might be allowed to ‘slip away peacefully’.

He wrote :
As a dying man, who has been dying now for several weeks, I am only too conscious that the laws of this country make it impossible for people like me to be helped on their way, even though the family is supportive of this position and everything that needs to be done has been dealt with. Unhappily, my body seems to be constructed in such a way that it keeps me alive in great discomfort when all I want is to be allowed to slip into a sleep, peacefully, legally and without any threat to the medical or nursing profession. 
I am sure there are many others like me who having finished with life wish their life to finish.’

It was typical of Brian, who had devoted his life to making people laugh and helping those with disability, that he should try to make the manner of his own death instrumental in bringing change for those who suffered and came after him.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to its scarce old, church minister-clown, Roly Bain

Roly, who led a unique existence in the Anglican Church as a full time and professional clown and 'Fool for Christ' has died at the age of 62.

David 'Roualeyn' Findlater Bain, whose name was taken from a distant ancestor who killed lions, was born in 1954, one triplet son of journalists Romany Bain and Richard Findlater, born Kenneth Bain, who was the Arts Editor for The Observer, who had published 'Grimaldi : King of Clowns' in 1955 and 'Michael Redgrave, Mask or Face' three years later.

His Grandfather, on his mother's side,who died eleven years before he was born, was the Reverend George Bramwell, a minister of the Methodist Church. George's mother was a true gypsy, born in a caravan or ‘vardo’ in Romani and he became a national figure in the 1930′s and 40′s broadcasts on BBC Radio with his Children’s Hour in his ‘Out With Romany’wild life programmes. His young friends Muriel and Doris and his animals 'Raq' the dog and 'Comma' the horse accompanied him on his weekly outings
often centred on his vardo. It is not surprising that, with these antecedents, that Roly, at the age of eight, having read the biography of Coco the Clown, wrote in his school book that he 'wanted to be a clown in Bertram Mills Circus, make people happy, visit hospitals and do it for nothing.' It was 1962, the year in which his parents divorced.

Roly's mother was clearly the formative influence in his life. Before he was born, during the Second World War she joined the British Naval Service and was part of the team working on Ultra signal intelligence, which played a part in breaking the Enigma code. She was described by the actor Richard Burton as a "wild Welsh gypsy" after they were first introduced backstage after a performance of Henry V in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1951, when she was a young, aspiring  RADA trained actor. Motherhood put paid to her theatre career, the marriage wasn't happy and in 1957 she began an affair with Tommy Watt, a working-class Glaswegian, socialist musician, Ivor Novello-winning jazz composer and leader of London's most celebrated jazz big band. Roly and his two brothers were 8 before the divorce laws of the day allowed her to marry Tommy in 1962.

As Roly was growing up in the 1960s and 70s, his mother became one of the leading newspaper interviewers of her day who, when he was very young, had written humorous features about motherhood in the Express, the Daily Mail and the London Evening Standard and, having given birth to Roly and his two brothers as triplets, was an expert in the field. As Tommy's career faded, he stayed at home to look after the children when Roly was in his teens and his mother's career continued to flourish.



Having completed school Roly decided to continue his religious studies at Cuddesdon Theological College in the 1960s which he had not found easy, finding it 'the place you had to go to be a bishop, and there were a number of students there who definitely seemed to think they were bishop material.' It was here, however that his love of and interest in clowns returned as he recalled : "I had to preach one day, and I thought, 'I'll preach on the idea of Jesus as clown'. Jesus was challenging religious authority, and that's what clowns do. Look at the model of clowns in the circus, with the auguste, which is the idiot like me, and the white face clown, who always took themselves deadly seriously. The white face clowns are rather like religious leaders who take themselves far too seriously and will always get their comeuppance, and the auguste always wins. The Jesus we see in the gospels makes sure that the white faces – the Pharisees and Scribes, the hypocrites – get their comeuppance."

Roly's career in the Church of England began to follow a conventional route. He was ordained in Southwark Cathedral as a priest at the age of 24 in 1978. He said it was too painful to spell out 'Roualeyn' to the then bishop, the Rt Revd Mervyn Stockwood, even though it was his baptismal name and was therefore 'Roly The Priest' before he became 'Roly The Clown.'

The potential of clowning as a form of Christian communication had remained in his heart and in 1982 he helped found 'Holy Fools', a loose-knit network of those committed to clowning in ministry and worship. Then at the age of 36 in 1990, after a varied 12-year ministry in the diocese of Southwark, he resigned his living as Vicar of St Paul’s, Furzedown, in Tooting, and took his two small sons and wife to Bristol, where he had gained a place at Circus School, now called 'Circomedia,' He had been given leave by his bishop to train seriously as a clown and enter a full time 'clown ministry'.

He found the School taught him that there is no such thing as a mistake, just an opportunity and having graduated, he began his full-time career as a clown, he became the first full-time member of 'Holy Fools' and confirmed : “That is the only sort of clowning I do: getting across the Christian message to different audiences in different ways.”

In 2011 he said : "It's my way of being a priest. It's a bit like the clown being a jester, the truth teller. The one who's allowed to tell the truth and get away with it. I think if a clown's going to preach the gospel you must certainly do it as a clown would, so I use circus skills and old clown gags and, of course, humour. Humour's the best way of conveying truths of all and hope that people get the joke which is what coming to faith is."
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBGPnr4LKmw&t=0m28s
"Faith can be enjoyable and there's lots of humour in the Bible, but actually it's quite profound. People think of clowns as superficial. They think of Christianity as just being nice, but neither of those is true. So you enter into the mysteries of faith with this very mysterious character called the clown." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBGPnr4LKmw&t=1m07s

He often used his 'slack rope of faith' as a prop to combine humour, circus, pathos, slapstick and storytelling in order to amuse, challenge, move and teach his audience.

In his book 'Fools Rush in : A Call to Christian Clowning' in 1993, Roly laid out the philosophy which underpinned his clowning

'The clown embodies and offers a world where different rules apply, a world that has been turned upside down and inside out, a playful world where the only rules are the law of love. It’s a place where everybody wins and everybody loses, all at the same time. It’s the world where the first are last and the last first, so that when the first become last they become first again! But nobody’s counting, because everybody counts – everyone is important and each is loved. “Where there are places that angels fear to tread, the clown steps up as the eternal volunteer, saying “Here am I, send me" for nothing is too fearful or too sacred or too much for him. Clowns are both fools and angels.'

In his 26 years as a clown Roly worked all over Britain in schools, prisons, hospitals, as well as the great cathedrals including Canterbury. He worked throughout Europe, as well as at international events in the USA, Canada and Australia. He appeared on TV and radio, and was featured in the press. By 2006 he was travelling 38,000 miles a year and his tally of custard pieing bishops stood at nine and was ultimately ten. He was proud of this fact, as “not taking oneself too seriously” is a cardinal rule of a clown. 

His talent secured him awards :  Clowns International 'Clown of the Year 1994' and 'Slapstick Award 1999', the 'Clown Impact Award' from USA in 2001 and the 'Barbara Miler Award for Precision, Attack and Timing' in 2010. In addition, in 2003 he was invited to become a member of the College of Evangelists.

Roly, who described his character as “quiet and private” said that it was unusual to find a clown who played the fool in his or her private life. “A clown needs depth.”  

He also once said :

 "Clowns are about comedy and tragedy, death and resurrection and you can't have one without the other. That's where you get the profundity of clowns. They are mirrors of mankind."

Friday, 12 August 2016

Britain is no longer and never was a country for the scarce old Gerald Grosvenor, Duke of Westminster

Gerald, who has died at the age of 64 came from the wealthiest family in Britain and although that position has now slipped slightly, with assets worth £9.3 billion, he was still considered the third richest person in Britain. His family went back a long way. In 1066 his ancestor, Hugh Lupus, crossed the Channel and took part in the conquest of Saxon Britain with the Norman, William the Conqueror. As the the King’s head huntsman his title was 'Grand Veneur', but because he was a large man, he was nicknamed 'Gros Veneur', Hence the family name of 'Grosvenor'.

He was given confiscated Saxon lands in Cheshire in return for an obligation to protect the region from the Welsh. It was,however, the profitable marriage of one of Gerald's ancestors in 1677, that secured boggy farmland in what became the Mayfair and Belgravia areas of London that really cemented the family fortunes.

He still owned Grosvenor Square, where he was the landlord of the American Embassy, part of Oxford Street and, in addition, he also owned estates in Oxfordshire, over 10,000 acres around the country seat at Eaton Hall, 110,000 acres in Sutherland, and shopping malls and other property as far afield as Los Angeles and Australia.

Gerald began life in 1951, brought up in a remote part of Northern Ireland on a farm with his two sisters in what he once called, a “Swallows and Amazons childhood” and where "Popping down to the corner shop to buy sweets was a bit of a safari. It was a wonderful foundation for life. I am a country person by birth and inclination."

It was not to last and at the age of 7 he was sent to Sunningdale Prep School, near Ascot in England and at 13 was packed off to Harrow Boys' Public School where he was a boarder, which he hated, recalling : “I was not motivated at school. I was unhappy. I never applied myself. I found it very difficult to make friends,” He remained convinced that its single-sex education was the reason why he was terrified of women. A schoolboy footballer, he had trials for Fulham FC, but his father, the 5th Duke, disapproved on the grounds that there was too much kissing on the pitch and nothing came of it.

He was keen to be an Army officer, but failed the entrance exam to the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst and his subsequent inability to gain a commission in the Army confirmed his view of himself as a failure. ‘At that moment all my wealth counted for nothing. I was fragile and, although never suicidal, I recognised something was desperately wrong and that I needed to do something fast.’

He refused medical help and he decided to treat his depression in his own way and went for three months to Madrid, a city he had always loved where he 'walked a lot, thought and read. Through sheer willpower I started to recover and was back on the road in six months. I still don’t understand why it happened to me, and I don’t dwell on it because conditions of the mind are complex. But I learned never to be ashamed of what I went through and, most importantly, it gave me an empathy with people in trouble.’

Eventually, he worked his way through the ranks to become a Major-General and then Commander-in-Chief of the Territorial Army's 38,500 part-time soldiers, with a desk at the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall. A friend recalled : "He was proud of this because it was something he himself had earned. He believed it had nothing to do with him being a duke.’

In 1998 he had a nervous breakdown caused by the stress of business and public appearances. “Given the choice I would rather not have been born wealthy, but I never think of giving it up. I can’t sell it. It doesn’t belong to me,” he told an interviewer, adding, when he appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs in 1995 :

“In the context of eternity, if I am lucky I might live 70 years, but this estate has been with us for 3, 4, 5, 600 years. I am only a mere flicker in the process of time. It is what I do with it, rather than what I am worth, that I believe is more important.”

Friday, 5 August 2016

San Serriffe is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to its greatest publicist and Britain its greatest April Fooler, Geoffrey Taylor

Geoffrey, who has died at the age of 89 was the Foreign Editor at the Guardian in 1977 when for April 1st it produced a 7 page travel supplement on the tiny tropical republic of San Serriffe, 'a small archipeligo, its main islands grouped roughly in the shape of a semicolon, in the Indian Ocean' which was celebrating ten years of independence. Geoffrey was the brains behind what would be recognised, in time, as Britain's greatest journalist April Fool spoof.

If we ask the question : what went into the making of this consummate journalist and prince of April foolers ?  We find that he :

* was born Geoffrey Duke Taylor in Sheffield in 1927, the son of Winifred, a musician and Edward, a teacher of music and maths at Sheffield City Grammar School and having passed the 11+ started to attend the King Edward VII Grammar School in the City in 1938 and continued to attend during the Second World War until he was 17 in 1944, when he attempted to join the Royal Navy, for which he was turned down on medical grounds.

* joined the Sheffield Telegraph where worked for three years before joining the 'Manchester Guardian' at the age of 20 in 1947 as its Foreign News Sub Editor and in the 1950s, after he felt drawn to working in Africa, placed an ad in 'The Times' which was answered by the Mirror Group Newspapers and at the age of 30, in 1957, was dispatched to work at the 'Lagos Daily Times' in Nigeria.

* in 1960, returned to Britain to work at, what was now, 'The Guardian' and after its move to London in 1964, became a leader writer and, with the exception of the USA, had responsibility for the other regions in the world.

* was happiest in dealing with and the African countries he had visited as Foreign Editor the subject of arms control and Ireland, where he could visit the place he was writing about, form close links with some of the politicians at the heart of the peace process and envisage a future political entity which he called 'Iona', the 'Islands of the North Atlantic.'

* on the home front during one of Labour’s leadership battles in the 1970s, wrote a series of leaders in Shakespearean verse that greatly delighted readers who remained unaware of him, the author.

* in 1977 worked on the spoof April fool supplement based on an idea from Philip Davies, an advertising rep who worked on special reports within the advertising department at the paper and produced this kind of advertiser-funded supplement and who later recalled : "I was thinking about April Fool’s Day in 1977 and I thought, why don’t we just make a country up?"

* saw the idea developed by The Special Reports Editor, Stuart St Clair Legge, who suggested the
name of the fictitious country be 'San Serriffe', part typographical pun based on the 'sans serif ' typeface and part credible name for a tropical isle and took over the job of designing the islands, take care of the editorial content and edit the feature.

Geoffrey began his introduction, 'Three point key to prosperity,' with :

'To those who have not followed its development at close hand, San Serriffe may be remembered only as a small archipelago, its main islands grouped roughly in the shape of a semicolon, in the Indian Ocean. Until recently, that would have been an adequate description : a punctuation mark, as it were, in a long chapter of oceanic exploration. But fifteen years ago came the phosphate industry, ten years ago the first tourist packages, and five years ago the resource which has added bounteously to its riches : oil.'

Geoffrey invested his islands with further typographical references :
On the island of  Upper Caisse (case), he sited his capital, Bodoni, which was another typeface.
His Pie Island was a referring to a letter press term where type were dropped all over the place.
Port Elrod referred to the Elrod machine which allowed printers to cast metal strips used for spacing type.
The port of Erbar referred to the first geometric sans-serif face,
Port Clarendon referred to the 'slab-serif typeface.'
The town of Perpetua made reference to the typeface designed by Eric Gill, which was classified as a 'transitional serif font'. Eric also gave his name to Gill Sands on the south island.

The small island of Ova Mata referred to 'Over Matter', or type which didn't fit into a column.

On his island of Lower Caisse (case), his Cap Em referred to the 'em', a unit of point size, which was originally a reference to the width of a capital M in the typeface.
His port of Garamondo referred to Garamond, a group of old-style serif faces designed by the engraver Garamond in the 16th century.
Villa Pica referred to the pica, a typographic unit corresponding to 1⁄6 of an inch.
His tourist centre of Gillcameo was a reference to the 'cameo font' by Eric Gill.
Thirty Point referred to the point, smallest unit of measure in typography.
The town of M'Flong referred to the flong, a papier-mâché mould used in the process to make a set forme of type in metal.
Mount Montallegro referred to the font invented by the American printer, Daniel Berkeley

Back in the introduction Geoffrey made reference to the pica typographic unit and also to John Baskerville, the 18th century type designer :

'President Pica's emphasis on economic development, which he rightly sees as the best way to enrich the islands, has led to practices which some observers describe as authoritarian and which the Opposition, under the ageing Mr Ralph Baskerville, believes are only temporary.'

He continued that the Government had created 'more wealth for the islanders, particularly for those highly placed in the Administration. By making the islands a tax haven and creating duty-free zones round Port Clarendon and Bodoni all Governments since that of Colonel Hispalis, which took office soon after independence, have attracted much hot and some questionable money to the islands. Once there, it has tended to stay.'

Geoffrey had a lot of fun with the fact that, in terms of education, San Seriffe was 'much in advance of comparable countries, with three geriatric teaching hospitals and a pioneer pre-school psychiatric unit attached to the university at Perpetua. The university itself has begun to acquire an international reputation for its work on thermonuclear fusion and other alternative energy sources.' 'And the schools are attempting a unique synthesis of the old and new so that in addition to mainstream subjects a San Serriffe teenager may well be offered pearl-diving as an ‘A’ level choice.'

Geoffrey oversaw the other articles in the supplement :

'The block vote which resulted in industrial peace' by John Torode, which discussed San Serriffe's unique solution to union/management cooperation in which all collective agreements on the island expire on the same day each year and are personally renegotiated by Antonio 'Che' Pica, second cousin of the President.

'The leader's rise to power' by Mark Arnold-Forster, which discussed how Maria-Jesu Pica, San Serriffe's young President-for-life, came to power following an almost bloodless coup on May 11, 1971.

'Bold expansion in tourism' by Adrienne Keith Cohen, which discussed the many tourist attractions of San Serriffe, including a diverse mix of cultures, modern highways, air-conditioned hotels, and beaches 'from which terrorism has been virtually eliminated.'

'Transposed by the tides' by Anthony Tucker, which discussed San Serriffe's unique geological characteristic : the constant eastward movement of the islands caused by tidal erosion.

'Casting off into unknown wealth' by Victor Keegan, which discussed San Serriffe's transformation from a small agricultural economy into an industrial steel-exporting force to be reckoned with.

and

'Spiking the cultural roots' by Tim Radford, which discussed the cultural heritage of San Serriffe's indigenous people, the Flongs, focusing on their unique celebration, the 'Festival of the Well Made Play' during which 'local committees of Flongs and islanders of European extraction combine enthusiastically to mount the complete cycle of plays by William Douglas-Home in English, Caslon, and Ki-flong.''
Sidebars in the supplement included 'Guide to the Republic' and 'Landmarks in History' which offered brief details about San Serriffe's demographics, geography, and history.

Philip Davies contacted the advertising agency J Walter Thompson to fill the advertising space in the supplement and clients were very enthusiastic about the hoax with four out of the seven pages taken up with advertising. Themed adverts for insurance brokers, soft drinks and fine bone china accompanied the spoof stories. Kodak ran a competition asking for amateur photographers’ pictures of San Seriffe, for an exhibition to be mounted 'at this time next year', with the line 'If you’ve got a photograph of San Serriffe, Kodak would like to see it' with entrants required to call Kodak 'before noon today.'

Apparently, when on the morning of 1 April Geoffrey appeared in the office canteen, the whole place broke into applause and he promptly retreated. During the day the report generated a huge response and the papers phones rang repeatedly as readers sought more information about the idyllic holiday spot,

Geoffrey retired in 1988 at the age of 61 and left Britain with his second wife, Janet and settled in her native New Zealand where they lived in Christchurch for the rest of his life, interspersed with infrequent visits to Britain. By the time of his death he had long ceased to be a reader of the Guardian, a paper which had changed far too much for his taste.