Recalling Fr Bill
IF YOU picture Earls Court as a London district that embodies the essence of transience, littered with Australians’ camper vans, you are out of date. There are plenty of people still there, I am told, whose memories go back readily to the ministry of the well-loved Fr Bill (Kirkpatrick) during the 1980s.
After his funeral at St Cuthbert’s (Gazette, 12 January), a group began to realise that his life story was one that deserved to, and could, be told. No doubt, talking heads will be a strong feature of the documentary that is being planned for a première at the Earls Court Film Festival in November.
Already, £7000 has been raised for this £15,000 project, which is to be followed, it is hoped, with a dramatic film about his work during the UK’s AIDS crisis. Having stepped up to address the pastoral needs of young male sex workers by setting up his drop-in listening and support service Reaching Out, he followed this up with Streetwise Youth, and was one of the Terrence Higgins Trust’s founders.
As an unofficial chaplain on the AIDS ward at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, he took the funerals of hundreds of men, and threw himself into the battle against stigma and isolation. Subsequently he founded the St Cuthbert’s Centre in Philbeach Gardens as a drop-in centre for vulnerable and elderly people.
The bigger picture, Caroline Tod-Richardson, the executive producer of the documentary, says, is that you can have strong community even in a city like London; and letters will be going out, too, to those further afield than Earls Court with whom Fr Bill had contact. He was “very involved”, she says, in Diana, Princess of Wales’s involvement in breaking down barriers over AIDS. There are hopes that Elton John, one of the founders of Body Positive, may attend the screening.
In the mean time, fund-raising continues, with tempting incentives to those who donate £50, £100, or £150. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to help. The director will be Tom Young, the co-director Anton Wainwright, and the producer Guy Wilson.
‘Agents of debauchery’
IT IS less than a decade since the common-law offences of obscene libel and criminal libel were abolished — a hobgoblin and foul fiend who could be invoked to daunt the journalist’s spirit. Now that their terrors are no more real than those of the London Dungeon, they are serving only to brighten the weary moil in this office.
It was researching the background of this week’s coy 100 Years Ago item which made me sit up — though I would still blush to give the title of the article that caused all the trouble when Noel Pemberton Billing MP ran it in his periodical Vigilante.
His views wouldn’t be far out of place in one of the far-flung outposts of today’s American culture wars; but his unique angle was a theory that Britain’s setbacks in the (actual) war could be blamed on vile German agents’ “spreading debauchery of such a lasciviousness as only German minds could conceive and only German bodies execute . . . [and] the propagation of evils which decent men thought had perished in Sodom and Lesbia”.
There were 47,000 names in a German Secret Service Black Book, he said, including even those of Cabinet ministers’ wives; and he implicated, in the article that provoked the libel prosecution, Maud Allan, the exotic dancer well-known before the war for her own Salome dance, and now being advertised as Salomé in a private production (at the aptly named Court Theatre) of the Wilde play that the Lord Chamberlain had banned from the public stage.
THE trial, which sorely tested the usually droll Mr Justice Darling, descended into outrageous farce worthy of Beachcomber, if not Joe Orton. But the jury, like the public, succumbing, one feels, too easily to a heady combination of moral panic and spy fever, lapped up the Billing spiel, and, after one of Lord Alfred Douglas’s vivid performances on oath, Miss Allan’s reputation still lay where Billing had left it.
You will find an expert account of the trial in Joseph Dean’s book of libel cases, Hatred, Ridicule, or Contempt. The legal climate at the time of my 1964 Penguin edition, however, means that there are now more candid descriptions online.
But no one, I think, has added the postscript that, just before Germany struck again, Miss Allan’s name appeared in the Church Times in relation to the forgotten social calendar of summer 1939. She was kindly permitting her property near Regent’s Park to be used for a gala garden party, under the patronage of Princess Alice of Athlone, in aid of the St Pancras House Improvement Society founded by Fr Jellicoe.
The central attraction was a cricket match between Authors and Actresses. The Authors were to be captained by J. B. Priestley, the Actresses by Joyce Barbour, and among the vice-captains was the young Celia Johnson, yet to reach our cinemas. No wonder people talk about six degrees of separation.
A year or two later, I gather, the house was blitzed. At the time of her death, in 1956, the Canadian-born Miss Allan had moved to the US
SO OFTEN do I hear what I would call a “hymn” referred to as a “song” by younger colleagues that it is refreshing to hear of the reverse. John Puxty, a Reader in Ilkeston, recently attended a memorial service at which the undertakers’ order of service labelled “Yellow Submarine” a “hymn”.
It was clearly special to the family of the deceased, and the words made Mr Puxty think, too: “We all live . . .”, “So we sailed . . . until we found . . .”, “Everyone of us has all we need,” and “Our friends are all on board.”
Next time the committee who are revising a certain rather traditional green hymnal are passing through our office to a meeting, I must remember to ask whether there will be a white album to follow.