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Thursday, March 03, 2005

The Bard on Bainbridge

Arts News and the excellent BIAHC remind me of the Bard on Bainbridge "inquiry" (sic) running 'til April 2. The memories flood back.

I can't actually remember a time during my schooling when I *wasn't* 'inquiring' into the Immortal Bard.

Even as early as my preparatory school, outings were arranged for the literate pupils to Shakespearean productions.. I still remember my first taste of "live" Shakespeare - Julius Caesar - The Old Vic, October 1956.

It always amuses younger theatre buff pals of mine to hear that, in late 1960s London, a whole generation of red-blooded males discovered the Bard thanks to the drawing power of two talented actresses, also rocking the conservative theatre scene as majorly hot babes of a beauty rarely seen on the classical stage: mesdemoiselles Judi Dench and Helen Mirren.

Balliol ArmsAnd so to Oxford and Balliol College where my Master was the redoubtable Christopher Hill about whom many fine tales abound, including my favorite of how,

At St Peter's school in York, his academic prowess was immediately evident.

It is said that, when Hill was 16, the two Balliol dons - Vivien Galbraith and Kenneth Bell - who marked his entrance papers agreed to award him 100%, before travelling to York to capture him for the college and prevent him going any further with a Cambridge application.

The great Mary Visick, my own tutor in Hong Kong who did such a fine job bringing me up to Balliol standard for the entrance exam, told me another - no doubt apocryphal - that I actually put to good use myself once among the dreamiing spires.

As the anecdote goes, the undergraduate Hill was returning worse for booze one dark night and bumped into a tree in the quad. Leaning heavily on it in his inebriated state, Hill gingerly felt his way round the hefty trunk before sinking to the ground with the woeful cry:

"Trapped - in an impenetrable forest!"

I never confirmed the truth of this: suffice it to say that by the time I met Dr Hill as Balliol's Master, his towering intellect and somewhat pugnacious appearance made him a forbidding figure to a gangly freshman like me.

Oxford memory #1:

In fact, I don't even remember the name of the central figure, a young don at Merton College who kept reminding us that his Finals papers were "unsullied by a beta".

He would set us essays on Shakespeare that we would real out loud for comment. Having spent some time in France and fancying my accent, I deliberately tracked down some impressive quotes by the eminent critic, Henri Fluchère.

It came my turn to read and I delivered the lines with suitable aplomb. At the end there was a pause.

"Good. Very good," muttered the tutor, "And well done you, tracking down Fluchère ... but ... "

To the amazement of the room, he then recited the closing sentences of what I had just quoted, rising as he did and making his way to his bookshelf where he took down the volume in question:

But doesn't he go on to say "... "bienqu'il soît ... " "Although this may be the case ..."

Blow me down if the beta-less bugger didn't know it off by heart.

Memory 2:
Taking tea and crumpets on Broad Street after a buying spree at Blackwells bookshop.

lee marvinSuddenly, who should be peering in but actor Lee Marvin.

Grabbing my newly purchased book - Wilson Knight's learnèd Wheel of Fire - I dashed outside and asked Marvin if he would sign the fly leaf.

He gave me a very odd look, then smiled and signed. And I tell you, his voice was as from a subterranean cavern.

Good times.

this is probably totally inappropriate. Please tell me about Mary Visick - I came across your mention of her by accident.
I knew her in - I don't know - 1950 - 1951 - when she lived in Ashford. My father had worked with her in WEA - I was too young to appreciate her - but she and Harold left 100s of books in our attic when they went to Hong Kong. I read my way through them all - and I've still got some of them today.
sorry to be intrusive
Mary - not intrusive and v appropriate. send me yr email address to busker@gmail.com and we'll take it from there. C
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