The boy who stood near the door, Harry Kroto
Imagine a Victorian terraced house in Bolton in 1952. Imagine a rather small front room with a small boy standing silently while his parents talk to a stranger, a young teenager.
The stranger is David Childs who will shortly be going to Germany to stay with an anti-Nazi family in Berlin. He wants to learn German. The boy is Harold, later, Sir Harold Kroto, the couple are his parents who are refugees from Nazi Germany.
The boy rejects their language and wishes to speak the language of the Britain where he was born and has always lived. He attends a minor public school, Bolton School, a school attended by future actors (Ian Mckellen) politicians (Baroness Taylor), TV personalities (Carol Klein), academics (Norah Lillian Penston) and many others.
Through playing with a Meccano set, and helping in his father’s balloon factory, Harold became interested in science and engineering. On the advice of his teacher, Harold enrolled at Sheffield University.
After gaining a first class degree and a PhD, Kroto began teaching and research at Sussex University in 1967. In 2004, Harold left Sussex to take up a new position as a professor of chemistry at Florida State University. In 1996 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry, which he shared with Robert Curl and Richard Smalley.
In 2003, prior to the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, Kroto initiated and organised the publication of a letter to be signed by a dozen UK Nobel Laureates and published it in The Times.
Harold Kroto died on 30 April 2016 in Lewes, East Sussex, from complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis at the age of 76. He left a wife and two sons.
Beryl Bainbridge, tap water please!
I do not recall precisely what led me to interview Beryl Bainbridge in 1985, but I believe it was partly due to my hope of getting another view of England, a view not directly party political.
Beryl was born in Liverpool and was brought up in nearby Formby. Her parents were Richard Bainbridge, a travelling salesman, and Winifred Baines.
Remarkably, she was expelled from Merchant Taylors’ Girls’ School for having been found in possession of a ‘dirty rhyme’. From there she went on to Con-Ripman School in Hertfordshire.
Perhaps surprisingly, Beryl did not mention the bombing of Liverpool in WWII. Yet death obsessed Beryl, she said, after she saw, as a child, footage of the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. On her return to Formby, her father managed to negotiate a job for her at Liverpool Playhouse and this led to a part in Coronation St in 1961.
She married artist Austin Davies, in 1954, but divorced in 1959. In between she attempted suicide and bore two children. She later had a third child by Scotsman screenwriter, Alan Sharp. Rather depressed, she stopped writing for a while to look after her children, a task made more difficult after the divorce.
After moving to London, she worked briefly in a wine-bottling factory pasting on labels, an experience she put to use in The Bottle Factory Outing.
When my wife and I visited her in her Camden Town flat it was a rather hot afternoon. In seconds we realised that the figure sitting close-by was a dummy who bore a striking resemblance to Adolf Hitler in civies!
Beryl offered us a drink of Baccarat apologising that there was no ice as her fridge had broken down. We decided on tap water!
Her Young Hitler, a brave effort, had appeared by then, and her book Forever England represents English families, three in the North and three in the South, which examines geographical borders, the circumstances of birth, class, economic opportunity, and social customs that confine them.
Her Every Man For himself set on the Titanic investigates English class society. Another book in which she takes a pot shot at ‘British values’ was The Birthday Boys about the last days of Captain Scott’s doomed attempt to reach the South Pole. This did not prove an impediment to her being made a Dame in 2000.
Her prolific output included 18 novels, three of which were filmed, two collections of short stories, several plays for stage and television, and many articles, essays, columns and reviews.
Beryl Bainbridge died on 2 July 2010, aged 77, in a London hospital after her cancer recurred. After her death, Master Georgie won the Booker prize for the author after being shortlisted five times.
A remarkable rise, James Callaghan
I was introduced to former Prime Minister James Callaghan when my wife and I were invited to a social event at the London home of a remarkable journalist. I started to get a bit embarrassed when, alone with Callaghan, he held on to my hand for what seemed to be a very long time. What would the other quests think?
When I asked for an interview, he readily agreed. I wish I had known more about his pre-Parliament life before the interview which took place in his parliamentary office. From memory, our time together was rather brief and he was not very welcoming. His thoughts seemed to be elsewhere. Yet his story is remarkable.
James Callaghanwasthe son of a Royal Navy seaman who was promoted to Petty Officer and briefly, became a coast guard,had a difficult childhood in Portsmouth, during the interwar period.
“My chief impression of the next few years is of living in rented rooms in other people’s homes”, he wrote in his autobiography, Time & Chance. When his father died, aged 44, his mother received no pension! Eventually, his father’s war service was recognised by the short-lived Labour government of 1923/4 “together with an additional allowance until I reached the age of fourteen.”
Going to university was a “far-fetched idea”. He passed an exam to become a civil service clerk and joined the Inland Revenue in 1929.
Of Baptist background, his mother was “deeply religious and fundamentalist” and he became a Sunday School teacher but also “endeavoured to overcome the great gaps in my education by joining WEA evening classes in social history and economics”.
In the 1930s he was happily married to Audrey, also a Sunday School teacher, and later Labour activist, the two took in a German refugee couple.
James helped to set up the Association of Officers of Taxes, a trade union, and increasingly campaigned in the Labour Party. He served in the Royal Navy in WWII as an officer and was elected as a M P for Cardiff South in the Labour landslide election of 1945.
A remarkable career followed. He was the only prime minister to come to the premiership after holding the other three great offices of state, serving as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary. In each case he had been offered these ministries at a difficult time.
As Chancellor he had to tackle both a chronic balance of payments deficit and various speculative onslaughts on the pound sterling. Premier Harold Wilson moved him to the role of Home Secretary. During this time, Callaghan was responsible for overseeing the operations of the British Army to support the police in Northern Ireland.
A motion of ‘no confidence’ against the Callaghan government was called by opposition MPs in Parliament in March 1979. This motion was passed by 311 votes against the 310 MPs that opposed it and the Callaghan government fell. He could be proud he was the only 20th-century British prime minister to have held all four major offices of state.
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