Monday, 2 July 2007

My talks with the famous

There can be very few people who ever had, within a week, a meaningful conversation with the late Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington and another with the late Arthur Michael Ramsey, the one hundredth Archbishop of Canterbury.

l. to r.: Ellington, Ramsey

I am not among this fortunate band but while travelling in the Far East back in the sixties I very nearly was. This is how it happened, or rather how it didn’t happen:

Spotting Duke Ellington in the departure hall of Bangkok airport, I felt impelled to accost him and tell him how much I had always admired Mood Indigo. Then I realised that this would hardly be an adequate basis for a stimulating discussion, that in the middle of an exhausting tour he would not enjoy a chat with a total stranger who would have nothing of much interest to say to him, and that he was accompanied by some grumpy-looking heavies who looked unlikely to welcome me to the group. So, probably wisely, I resisted the impulse and we went our separate ways; I shall never know whether an exchange of views with the great man would have been fun or not

Then, a few days later, I was walking down a corridor in the Okura hotel in Tokyo when I saw coming towards me the Primate of All England, a genial-looking fellow, impressively be-gaitered and with a relaxed air, possibly having just completed a productive day at some ecumenical conference. We would pass each other just by the entrance to the bar; I was on my way there, but he was probably not (though you never know with archbishops), and it struck me that it would be a friendly and perhaps welcome gesture to say to my compatriot, “Would Your Grace care to join me for a quick one?”.

I suppose I imagined that over a gin-and-tonic for me and some suitably prelatic tipple for him I might recount an amusing incident I had witnessed in the Ginza the previous night and tell him what I was doing in Japan (selling dyestuffs, actually), while he would be happy to bring me up to date with all the latest gossip from Lambeth and maybe put my mind at rest about a few doctrinal issues which had long been bothering me.

But it was not to be; by the time all this had gone through my mind we were already passing each other; he gave me an affable nod and was gone. Running after him and grabbing him by the arm might have led to an unseemly scuffle, so I abandoned the idea, went into the bar and ate a whole dish of nuts with my lonely drink.

I did not realise until years later just what I had missed through my slow reaction. Ramsey was the last of the stylish As of C, though perhaps not quite in the same league as John Whitgift, who had the job from 1583 to 1604 and used to travel to Canterbury with a retinue of 800 horsemen; he was a real class act, unlike his modern-day successors. Ramsey clearly had a bit of charisma, but after him there was Coggan, said to be orderly and punctual but otherwise unremarkable, Runcie, who officiated at the marriage of Charles and Diana (despite suspecting privately that they were ill-suited and that their marriage would not last but not having the nerve to say so), then the fatuous Carey, who smarmed over Charles and Camilla and secretly demanded the release of Pinochet, and now under the mitre there is a little bearded Welsh fellow called Rowan Atkinson or something like that.

P.S. No wonder the Church of England is in terminal decline; the omens are not good. Future Archbishops of Canterbury will be selected from among its top bishops; the Daily Telegraph always finds space for their loopier pronouncements, and reported yesterday:
The floods that have devastated swathes of the country are God's judgment on the immorality and greed of modern society, according to senior Church of England bishops. One diocesan bishop has even claimed that laws that have undermined marriage, including the introduction of pro-gay legislation, have provoked God to act by sending the storms that have left thousands of people homeless.
The Rt Rev Graham Dow, Bishop of Carlisle, argued that "…We are reaping the consequences of our moral degradation… The sexual orientation regulations are part of a general scene of permissiveness. We are in a situation where we are liable for God's judgment, which is intended to call us to repentance."

[It is not known whether these views are also held by Carlisle City Council's Chaplain, but it seems likely that they are: he is called Canon Pratt.]



grumio said...

I once rode in the lift, sorry elevator, with Bill Gates at the St. Regis Hotel. I didn't get round to asking him why C:\>fdisk /mbr is undocumented.

Likewise he found himself out in the balmy New York sun quite ignorant of my lunch plans.

Tony said...

Yes, well, I always thought your life and mine ran along similar lines.

My wife Anne, on the other hand, does not miss such opportunities. Standing next to John McEnroe in the queue for The Graduate, she had no hesitation in engaging him in an animated conversation.

Tony said...

Grumio: P.S.
From what I know of her, your wife is much the same.

grumio said...

Oh absolutely. On being told at an opening that Edward Albee was "that man over there in a leather jacket" she ran over to tell him how excellent his play was.

And then came back and reassured a visiting South African journalist that "Oh yes Albee is still with us you know, quite alive. As a matter of fact... "

Gemini2 said...

Talking of meeting celebrities, sort of...
I once sat next to a very lovely girl at the first night of a show in the West End, I had no idea who she was but she seemed to have an air of celebrity about her. We had a chat and she said how excited she was to be there as she knew the producer, a bit. That's nice I said. We watched the show and then said our goodbyes as she was off to the aftershow party...
It was at the aftershow party that I saw her again talking to said producer.... I didn't think it was fair to go up to her and disturb her conversation with my brother! Her name was Cat Deeley.