Thursday, 1 April 2010

The Quiet Man

I find no mention of Julian Horsecroft in any of the news bulletins or newspapers today, and once again it looks as if the anniversary of his death will pass without any kind of acknowledgement.

This is not at all surprising and just as he would have wanted, for this man, who for all anyone knows may have been one of the greatest Englishmen of the twentieth century, contrived with extraordinary self-denying modesty throughout during his long life to keep every one of his remarkable achievements hidden not only from the general public but even from his many friends and large family, most of whom weren't at all sure who he was.

A promised biography of him was never published, and plans for a film of his life were dropped because so little was known about what he had actually done. After his death from tertiary obstrecosis of the ductal tract (in itself worthy of note: this painful disease had never been been heard of until then and is still very rare) a few facts came to light; I am recording some of them here, though it may be that not all are completely accurate.

His co-direction of Citizen Kane with Orson Welles was uncredited, as was his joint authorship with Alan Davidson of the magisterial Oxford Companion to Food, and his work on the double helix structure of the DNA molecule was not mentioned in Watson and Crick's Nobel Prize citation. The title role in the early film The Invisible Man was a natural part for him but he is said to have insisted that a young actor called Claude Rains was named as the star.

No photographs of him are known to exist, though in a group photo of the John Major cabinet and another of the board of the then Imperial Chemical Industries there is a figure in the middle row which may well have been Horsecroft, though it is difficult to be sure for in both cases the man was blowing his nose and thus obscuring his face. It was once asserted that he was sitting next-but-one to the Archbishop of Canterbury at an important ecumenical conference but no proof has ever been given that this was not someone else. What is beyond doubt is that if he had indeed been present at all these events then he must have made a contribution at the highest level to the important political, business and religious developments of the day.

He may well have been the winner of the silver medal for the pole vault at the Barcelona Olympics, but if so then in accordance with his invariable practice he was participating under an assumed name, so we cannot be certain.

He died as he had lived, virtually unknown, having achieved the total lack of recognition he sought so ardently. It can hardly be said that he is sorely missed, for no-one much ever heard of him. Following his death there was noted one final instance of his extreme shyness and reluctance to reveal himself: from that day to this his ghost has never been seen.

May he rest in peace.


Gervase said...

I am told that he is buried in a tiny churchyard on the Cumbrian coast, where his unmarked grave has never been visited and is overgrown. This is perhaps sad, but not altogether unfitting.

Elizabeth said...

I met him once while he was unravelling his DNA.

Thalia Domenica said...

You're genius :)