Towards a Reappraisal of Colonialism: The Life Of Sir Alan Burns

In the modern Western, especially English-speaking, world in which “critical theory” (lower case!), i.e., “any philosophical approach that seeks emancipation for human beings and actively works to change society in accordance with human needs” has largely replaced empirical research in the Humanities; knowledge has been for the most part reduced to subjective opinion. Descriptive analysis has been supplanted by prescriptive dogma.

From this cesspool of learned ignorance, inter alia influenced by notions of “knowledge and power” (le savoir-pouvoir), espoused by the French intellectual chameleon Michel Foucault, modern “critical theories” (on race, gender, etc.) have become dominant. In the current caliginous academic world, driven on by publish-or-perish, hermetic peer review and the ability to churn out innumerable “scholarly” journals, this has becoming something of a thriving industry on campuses, and increasingly in everyday life. One of the hallmark publications of this was Edward Said’s famous work Orientalism (for a concise rebuttal of Said, there is the work by Buruma and Margalit). Based on this and patterned after Foucault’s post-modernism, the discipline of “post-colonialism” or “decolonial theory” emerged. One definition is that it “is a title coined to describe the intellectual work articulating a broad rejection of Western European supremacy by colonial/racial subjects.”

Simply put, this activism disguised as science ascribes all the ills of what is generally known as the “Third World” to the colonial activities of European powers. As this work is largely idea(l) driven, all manner of “evidence” can be herded to prove the previously established thesis. This, as the French public intellectual Michel Onfray has shown in in his recent book L’Art d’être français : Lettres à de jeunes philosophes (“Lettre 6—Sur l’islamo-gauchisme;” Islamo-leftism, another postcolonial discourse which reintroduces pre-revolutionary theocracy), like all such “critical theories,” works on the same scheme: essentializing [i.e. oversimplification], the liberal application of Godwin’s law, verbosity, exaggeration, denial and amalgamation—lumping together antithetical groups of victims and perpetrators, real or imagined. When one looks at the world today, especially the in the former European colonies, one cannot but be heartbroken, in many instances. The question is whether such “colonialism” lies at the root of these countries’ desperate state?

The book under review here, The Last Imperialist. Sir Alan Burns’ Epic Defense of the British Empire is, to present my conclusion first, a well-researched and fact-driven antidote to the popular and populist mythography of modern theorists. The author, Professor Bruce Gilley, perhaps best known in the field of Colonial Studies for his (in)famous article, “The case for colonialism” (Third World Quarterly, 2017), is to be commended for this well-written vindication of the British Empire, what it was and what it wasn’t. This biographical tour-de-force shares the same to-the-point literary gusto as the books written by the Sir Alan Burns, Gilley’s subject. Gilley, like Burns himself, prefers intellectual honesty to going with the languid flow.

It should be note here that this book is not a whitewash of colonialism. It is a realistic portrayal of many aspects of the last six or seven decades of the British Empire, based on the career of one of its major proponents, who held numerous key positions in various parts of it. The book opens with an ironic epilogue—Sir Alan Burns at the end of his career, learning of the death of his old adversary in the Gold Coast (now Ghana), Dr. Joseph B. Danquah, dying in prison as a political prisoner of Kwame Nkrumah’s regime.

Sir Alan Cuthbert Maxwell Burns, of Scottish descent, was born in Basseterre (Saint Kitts) in 1887. His family and early life on the multiracial and multiethnic Island, and his schooling in England. On p. 19 it is noted that Burns considered his limited formal education to be an advantage: “a strong character and sound common sense are far more valuable assets to a colonial official than the most brilliant academic distinctions;” university produced young colonial officials who were “full of zeal and theory” but lacking in what he considered most important “unlimited patience and a real sympathy for the people among whom the young officer will work.”

The book goes on to describe his further career, from his own writings and those of his colleagues and opponents, initially in the Caribbean and later largely in West Africa. We see here a man who took his posts seriously, having a genuine interest in the people and places he served. This can be seen in many of his publications, such as the Nigeria Handbook which first appeared in 1917 and was appreciated especially by the indigenous population (p. 60). Later, from 1924 on, as Colonial Secretary of the Bahamas, Gilley eloquently describes the realities of life, balancing local and international interests (especially rumrunning into the United States of the Prohibition Era), encouraging and when necessary, goading the local parliament to do their duty and take responsibility. Here, he also produced the first accurate map of the Bahamas. When he left in 1929, his empathy and administrative skills were praised by all.

His next posting, until 1934, was as Deputy Chief Secretary to the Government of Nigeria. Throughout the book, we see how Burns adapted to new situations, especially the tide of growing nationalist sentiments after World War I. We see what the British Empire was and wasn’t, e.g., p. 91: “It has been the policy of British colonial administrations to build up a national consciousness which would one day make it possible to give independence to a united country.” The language may seem dated, but not the will to do good. On p. 92, we read: “With all its imperfections, European government in Asia and Africa has given to the native inhabitants of the tropics greater personal liberty and economic opportunity than they have ever enjoyed before.” Among the challenges Burns faced were occasional uprisings, often to do with the challenges caused by modernity; and the protestors or rebels can, historically speaking, hardly be seen as early forms of anti-colonial resistance, as they are often depicted in modern postcolonial historiography. It is clear that the ruled also saw advantage in British rule—had there indeed been popular opposition, it would have been no match for the always short understaffed British, especially during the Great War, when only a bare skeleton administration remained—or perhaps we must suppose that mass Stockholm syndrome is a defining aspect of colonialism?

Throughout the book, the voices of the governed, the alleged victims come to word in a balanced fashion, such as Ahmadu Bello (p. 92) “The was no ill-will after the occupation. We were used to conquerors and these were different; they were polite and obviously out to help us rather than themselves;” Chinua Achebe (p. 93) “Let us give the devil his due: colonialism in Africa disrupted many things, but it did create big political units where there were scattered ones before.”

Among Burn’s activities in this period was his pioneering work History of Nigeria (1st ed. 1929) later deemed “tainted colonial historiography,” and the foundation of the Lagos Public Library in 1932. Here Gilley notes (p. 95): “Along with the drawing of maps, the creation of libraries is another colonial endeavor that has been scorned by later critics as devious and wicked. Having first imposed an alien conception on the outer geography of place, the colonialists next implanted an alien conception on the inner geography of the mind. Such libraries were intended, the critics allege, to create a pro-colonial native elite that would perpetuate European rule and train a literate work force to boost colonial profits. All those elderly lady volunteers affixing labels and dusting stacks are transformed by such works into powerful agents of imperial reach as they assist Africans to sign out copies of Baudelaire. ‘The violence of the library’ and ‘conceptual contamination’ are stock phrases. The effect of colonial libraries was to ‘dismember the dynamism and effectiveness of the oral tradition,’ one alarmed scholar complained. ‘Library colonialism remains one of the most hidden but deadly instruments of neo-colonialism’ he warned. On those quiet shelves ‘the malignant influences of Western civilization are diffused among literate Africans like invisible bubbles of air.’”

The next step is of course the burning of books, such as practiced in Canada as a “purification par la flamme,” led by a self-invented Indian, Suzy Kies. This alleged incarnation of colonial evil, Burns himself noted (p. 97): “We do not try to assimilate the colonial peoples, nor to turn them into imitation Scotsmen—or even Englishmen—but to help them develop a higher civilization of their own, soundly based on their own traditional institutions and culture.”

Thereafter, follow accounts of Burns’ next posting in British Honduras (Belize), 1934-1939, a stagnant backwater of the Empire when he arrived. His major activities here were road building, rediscovering the Mayan past which “offered a potential source of meaning and a unity for a place that had long been dismissed as nothing more than a timber settlement” (p. 107), including the founding of a national museum. Here, again, he worked to reform and make local government more effective and fairer. Upon his departure, again his achievements were hailed by even his most stern critics.

The beginning of the war found him in England, where he helped to broker the “Destroyers-for-bases deal.” From 1942 to 1947, he was back in Nigeria, installing, in 1946, a new, more democratic constitution with an African majority. Here, in 1943, transpired what would be the defining moment in Burns’ career, the ritual “Ju-Ju” murder.

The tides were however turning, Britain after the War had lost its desire for Empire, this murder case demonstrated the British government’s changing attitude. While the ruled, who had no taste for being the victims of such murderous rituals, demanded and expected justice, the rulers were hesitant; cultural relativism was coming of age, as Gilley notes (p. 179f.): “Not for the first time, Western progressives who claimed to speak on behalf of the Third World were contradicted by actual existing Third World people.” This seems to have been a turning point for Burns, who now increasingly went on record as a staunch defender of the Empire (p. 172): “The ‘tyranny’ of European rule has replaced tyrannies less bearable… In the past we have made many mistakes in our colonial administration and we will probably make many more in the future, but against our mistakes we can set a record of achievement which has not been excelled by any nation in the world, and on balance we have nothing to be ashamed of.” The historical reality is that more often than not, the British had been asked (sometimes repeatedly before they agreed) to govern by indigenous peoples. As Gilley notes (p. 172) “most colonialism was done by colonials.”

From 1947 until his retirement in 1956 Burns served as Permanent Representative of the UK on the United Nations Trusteeship Council. This is arguably the most relevant section of the book for understanding the present situation. The world mood after the Second World War was decidedly “anti-colonial.” The Trusteeship Council, originally mandated to oversee the trust territories, largely former mandates of the League of Nations, or territories taken from nations defeated at the end of World War II, to self-government or independence, but which also sought to decolonize the remaining “empires” (mainly Britain, France, Portugal and Belgium). Gilley notes (p.195): “The more important question is whether the UN adequately prepared colonies for independence. On this issue, scholars have been silent for an obvious reason: the failure of the UN to direct its attention to the post-colonial future was an inexcusable mistake, arguably a crime against humanity that the body continues to celebrate. Under the growing influence of anti-colonial voices, the UN became what one scholar called a “decolonization machine,” more concerned with ending colonialism than with the lives left behind. It was a mistake that Sir Alan Burns would try to avoid.” Here we see an excellent portrayal of how questions of good governance became overshadowed by emotive racial questions. The grandstanding professing the evils of colonialism was led by countries such as the Soviet Union, Yemen, Egypt, India or the Philippines whose democratic credentials were (and are) somewhat wanting (p. 219): “It is notorious that the most severe criticism comes from the representatives of countries where the administration is most corrupt, the treatment of minorities or the working classes is the most discriminatory, and the constitution so unstable that it is shaken by frequent revolutions.”

The mythical American “anti-colonial” attitudes and policies are also discussed, who saw in every self-proclaimed liberator another George Washington. These countries often insisted on a prescribed timetable (as was the case for the Trusteeships, which as with Somalia was an utter failure) for independence. Burns noted that in determining when a colony was ready for independence (p. 209f.): “There are not enough astrologers assigned to the UN for this task.” The question was as Gilley notes here: “What if the people of a colony did not want a timetable? Would it be undemocratic to force one upon them? Who exactly spoke for colonial peoples: coffee-house radicals in London, Soviet stooges at the UN or the elected native representatives of colonial legislatures? Part of the hypocritical incoherency of the UN policy at this time was the definition of what constituted a ‘colony.’ The criterium was the ‘salt-water fallacy,’ only colonialism overseas was considered ‘colonialism,’ expansion over land was seen as “nation-building” (p. 217f.)—ergo the Soviet Union with its Warsaw Pact Satellite states was not seen as colonial. That France and Portugal also saw their overseas empires as parts of their country did not count; the Belgians (Flemish, Germans and Walloons) noted logically that it would only be right if every UN member would be open to scrutiny for all groups ruled by a particular country (“Belgian Thesis” p. 218).

Having left the UN thoroughly fed up, Burns undertook further missions, such as in Fiji and in the Caribbean. He and his wife were back in Basseterre in 1967 when the new union of St. Kitts, Nevis and Anguilla were formed. The latter did not like the arrangement and demanded the reinstatement of British colonial rule (p. 259), forming a republic two years later, once their request had been turned down.

The tide had however turned for good. Decolonization was pursued on an international level, its proponents as Burns noted (p. 222) were “less concerned with the welfare of the indigenous inhabitants than with the spread of ideological propaganda.” History speaks for itself. Rushed independence—due more to the fact that the now defeatist colonial powers themselves jumped ship rather than mythical freedom fighters who often metamorphosed into butchers—had “virtually guaranteed failure in many places at the costs of hundreds of thousands of lives.”

But post-independence failures, famines, wars, rigged elections, refugee crises etc. are faded out while colonial atrocities, real or imagined, are highlighted, (p. 261): “Alan [Burns] noted that more people had been killed by police firing on riotous mobs in independent India than in the entire period of the Raj—this before the worst violence of the 1970s and 1980s.” Burns noted correctly that (p. 262) it does no good to bend over backwards in avoiding any reference to these things. [Recovery] can only be retarded by a refusal to face the facts or to recognize that everything is not lovely in the garden of independence.” As for these states “until they are prepared to admit their own responsibility for much that has gone wrong, they will not be able to correct the mistakes and to achieve the status which all their friends wish them to attain.”

It is clear that neither Sir Alan Burns nor his defense of the British Empire can be deemed racist, patronizing or the like. He was a dedicated civil servant, devoted to both the Empire and the people it ruled. His goal was not a Tausendjähriges Reich or a dictatorship of the proletariat (both as the book notes, idealized by many colonial nationalists) or some other such ill-conceived utopian dream, but rather, though imperfectly achieved, to lead the ruled to self-rule of their own making, within the confines of inescapable modernity. Although many of his colleagues, as he often complained to London, were not up to his standard, others were.

In conclusion, we hope that this book will contribute to a recalibration of the debate on colonialism and the British Empire in particular. Not to nostalgia for what is no more (and probably never was). Merely to an empirical, fact-based understanding. The fate of many former colonies is indeed determined for a large part by how long and how well they were governed. This can be seen especially in the presence (or lack thereof) of true civil society (not imported neo-colonial NGOs), the building block of democracy. South American states continued and some continue to pursue Spanish colonial exploitation, Haiti’s long independence has not been especially beneficial to its population. Countries that were never colonized, such as China have no real democratic institutions. The real question is do human rights apply to all humans, are the values of the Enlightenment really Eurocentric? Are cultures fixed and static categories; that most be preserved regardless of human cost (as has been noted by Marxists scholars such as Vivek Chibber)?

Indeed, one of the problems with postcolonial theory, critical or other, is that it negates the foundations of reason, reverses cause and effect and denies Ockham’s razor. Thus, before we judge too harshly, it should be asked how European colonialism came to be and what was the situation beforehand (Europeans didn’t introduce e.g., slavery or human sacrifice), and what would have been the alternative in a modernizing world that was becoming more interconnected? Did not the British Empire with some degree of success prevent large scale pillage and exploitation (often fending off American economic exploitation)? It is however easier to judge a theorized past than to learn from our past successes and failures based on empirical evidence. Gilley noted in his 2017 article about European colonialism “both objectively beneficial and subjectively legitimate in most of the places where it was found” — words to bear in mind, especially now, when the former colonies, the so-called Third World is subject to an orchestrated hostile takeover, by imperious, iron-fisted Chinese debt colonization. Tibet, Hong Kong, Xinjiang and the despotic threats made to Taiwan and islands in the South China Sea do much to put the British Empire in a proper historical perspective.


Professor Dr. Robert M. Kerr studied Classics and Semitics largely in Vancouver, Tübingen and Leyden. He is currently director of the Inârah Institute, for research on Early Islamic History and the Qur’an in Saarbrücken (Germany).


Featured image: “Britannia Rules the Waves,” by Nicholas Habbe, painted in 1876.

Guilty Pleasures: Gene Pitney, Scott Walker And Cliff Richard

Me And Pop

No, the articles by Mark Stocker that will dominate 2022 and surely represent the highlight of the Postil Magazine to its more discerning readership, are not about the author and the generally benign relationship he enjoyed with his much loved, late father.

Pop was a square about Pop—his idea of a great number one hit was the theme from The Third Man—I ask you—and his comprehension of heavy metal was minimal. That said, Oliver Stocker could be quite shrewd. Watching Mick Jagger on our Bush black and white television, a masterpiece of c. 1960 cabinetry, he pronounced: “That young man is interesting looking and has real presence. I predict a big future for him.”

I was a little disconcerted, for what right had someone of the older generation to comment in any shape or form upon “my” Mick? Such was my admiration for him that when I read in Fabulous magazine that he disliked tomatoes, I too boycotted them for a couple of weeks.

All this testifies to the place that music of the popular idiom had in my formative years. I am indeed “Talking about my generation” to quote Pete Townsend. I entered my picture of his group (as they were then called) The Who in the 9-12 year old section in the 1966 Window magazine art competition for children of civil servants at the Department of Social Security (where Oliver Stocker worked in the Legal Office) and attained second prize: a proud line in my CV. I think some messily painted family dog beat me to it, but I feel remarkably little bitterness. More to the point, pop music exuded from my every breath and pore….

As I pen these columns, memories are brought back and I feel the corresponding need to share them with my devoted readers. The undertaking is both profoundly intellectual (this can be easily inferred through my multiple literary and historical allusions), and unashamedly emotional. Indeed, I think of Carpenter (Karen, not Edward, you clot) when she reminisces:

When I was young
I'd listen to the radio
Waitin’ for my favourite songs
When they played I’d sing along
It made me smile.
Those were such happy times
And not so long ago
How I wondered where they’d gone
But they’re back again
Just like a long lost friend
All the songs I loved so well.
Every Sha-la-la-la
Every Wo-o-wo-o
Still shines
Every shing-a-ling-a-ling
That they’re startin’ to sing’s
So fine.

Pure poetry, and beautifully enunciated singing. Reader, I will take you on a journey through “Every Sha-la-la-la/ Every Wo-o-wo-o” in these columns in the months ahead, and I thank you in anticipation for joining me. I prefer to keep the contents a closely-guarded secret, and the editor agrees, but I promise to explore a diversity of genres (I’m very PC, you see). Sometimes an arresting theme transcending them, such as “Pop and politics” and “Pop art,” will be my focus.

Throughout, I must acknowledge with warm thanks the patient and sagacious comments and corrections of Emeritus Associate Professor Robert G. H. Burns, a bass-guitarist’s bass guitarist and author of Experiencing Progressive Rock: A Listener’s Companion (2018). Impressed? I am, for starters. Well, without further ado, let us commence.


In this inaugural article, I consider three solo male singers who came to the fore in the 1960s, all of whom had an impact on me. Read on, and—aided by Youtube—appreciate how and why, and see if you feel similarly…

Let’s start with Gene Pitney, who was in the British Top Ten when I became instantly hooked on pop aged nearly eight. My moment of epiphany dates from the first ever episode of Top of the Pops, January 1964, presented by the egregious Jimmy Saville. I remained a TOTP addict up to its 500th edition (1973) but David Cassidy’s nauseating “Daydreamer/ The Puppy Song” was the limit, and I never watched a single episode thereafter. Gene’s current hit marked his British breakthrough, the splendid Bacharach-penned “24 Hours from Tulsa”:

It wasn’t so much a song as a short story. Gene was one day away from the arms of his girlfriend when he met this smashing babe, you see, and this is his confessional. What impressed me was the perfect consonance between the tone and timbre of his unusual tenor voice and his guilt-ridden state. A lot of Gene Pitney is pretty emotional stuff, dim critics would say faux melodramatic, on the verge of operatic, with a tenor that sometime barked with angst.

The tragedies of love central to the Pitney iconography were belied by what was evidently a happy, if sadly shortened, life: his wholesome looks, his invariably gentlemanly nature shown to what must have been many limited and irritating fans, his unaffected Anglophilia and his regular family life (marrying his high school sweetheart after briefly dallying with Marianne Faithfull, a fortunate escape). What clinched it for me, though, was the teenage Gene (and I hope beyond) as a keen coin and fossil collector. A punk rocker would doubtless deem Pitney a fossil, but that’s rude.

Once when I saw Henry Moore being interviewed on TV, I was initially irritated by, then suddenly grasped, why he appeared to be fidgeting all the time: he’d much rather be in the studio, modelling material than being browbeaten by some art historian. With Gene you get a comparable impression: he’d much rather be singing than doing anything else. Exploring his repertoire on YouTube shows something far wider than anything I had expected: put the phone book in front of him and Gene would happily sing it. My favourite songs are often the very early ones: a teen Gene (well, barely out of them) was perfectly cast with Dimitri Tiomkin’s eerie “Town without pity”:

He’s almost as impressive with the upbeat Jagger/Richards “That girl belongs to yesterday.” He’s typically moody in the anthemic “I’m gonna be strong,” which certainly made big girls cry. He sings a shampoo commercial in “She lets her hair down.” With “24 Sycamore,” he glories in unglamorous British semi-detached mock Tudor suburbia. But he’s utterly captivating—and if I may say so, totally Stocker-like—when, relatively late in life, he turned to singing John Betjeman’s poem, “Myfanwy at Oxford”:

Pink may, double may, dead laburnum
Shedding an Anglo-Jackson Shade,
Shall we ever, my staunch Myfanwy,
Bicycle down to North Parade?
Kant on the handle-bars, Marx in the saddlebag,
Light my touch on your shoulder-blade.

This is 24 light years from Tulsa but it’s the same irrepressible Pitney. After she’d written her superb double biography of John and Myfanwy Piper, I drew Frances Spalding’s attention to this recording and her response was “I just don’t believe this!”

Scott Walker: an act of sheer class, and he damn well knew it. Calling his first four albums Scott 1, Scott 2, etc. shows that he had no false modesty. He had a musical depth and refinement that I recognise the more amiable Gene lacked, and, not surprisingly, enjoyed a more respectful critical press.

Scott Walter, ca. 1968.

Pseuds particularly admire the experimental Scott Walker of the last 20-30 years of his career; but these impenetrable records sold pathetically and their titles say it all: “Track Three” (akin to the modernist “Untitled”) and “Bish bosch”—give me a break! But much earlier he had the nous, and indeed the talent, to forsake the heart-throb status of his first incarnation as lead singer of the Walker Brothers, who were in their heyday between 1965 and 1967. What I loved about their hits was not just their melodies, impeccable delivery and powerful orchestration, but their emotional generosity. The first verse of “Love her” reads thus:

Love her
and tell her each day
that girl needs to know
tell her so, tell her everything I couldn't say
Like she's warm, and she's sweet and she’s fine,
Oh love her like I should have done.

From beginning to end (the Ronettes’ cover, “Walking in the Rain”), the Walker Brothers were something special. But Scott was bursting to break free, to go up-market. It was a golden time, before the cult of the singer-songwriter which did untold damage to pop and rock (can you imagine Enrico Caruso or Kiri Te Kanawa as composers?) and when an artist was given free rein to choose their own material and not kowtow to mega-capitalist labels and ghastly managerial suits. Scott’s selection of songs has impeccable taste and deftly straddles genres. With the big ballad “Angelica,” he makes a fascinating comparison with Pitney:

Scott’s version is richer and more classically perfect but Gene wins the contest emotionally. Yet Scott made a dear friend (now sadly dead) cry when I sent her “Best of both worlds.” He can do a great Jacques Brel in “Jackie,” and a comparably impressive Tim Hardin in “Black Sheep Boy” and “The Lady Came from Baltimore”:

Yes, a bit soundalike those two, but gorgeously melodic and they don’t outstay their two-minute welcome. With “The Big Hurt,” Scott veers towards soul, but you’d never find him being danced to on the talced floor of the Wigan Casino.

“Scott 4,” alas, flopped and this setback set him on a new path of becoming ever more relentlessly experimental. It was brave but—unlike Philip Guston in painting—ultimately regrettable. Battling with his later material, I felt like screaming, “Oh Scott! Have you changed your name to Scotthausen?”

Cliff Richard, the “Peter Pan” of British pop, who never really made it in the US, is hard to write about. I champion him partly because he has long been the object of vicious, sneering, sniping criticism by critics and journalists with intellectual pretensions. I ask them this: isn’t his Christ-centred life (not one I’d choose, but…) a saner, better role model than that followed by his tragic near contemporaries Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin, as well as by improbable survivors like his dissolute near namesake Keith Richards?

Yes, there’s a lot of light-weight froth in Cliff’s vast repertoire and—good god—he has suffered for this (“Goodbye Sam, Hello Samantha” is an especially toe-curling example). At the same time, there’s also a fair bit that’s good, occasionally damn good. Cliff is so old, he long predates this recent pensioner, and I have to delve back to my pre-Top of the Pops infancy for some of his best songs: it’s hard to get past “Living Doll,” written in 10 minutes by Lionel Bart:

Then there’s the irrepressibly catchy “The Young Ones,” “Summer Holiday” and “Bachelor Boy.” A measure of Cliff’s appeal was when I was in a supermarket fairly recently and their canned music system was playing his early, and still spiritedly rocking, “Please don’t tease.” A little boy was shopping nearby and asked “Mum, what’s that song called?”

“Congratulations,” cheated by an unholy fascist alliance of Spain and Portugal out of winning the 1968 Eurovision Contest by a song that repeats “La-la-la-la” no less than 138 times, remains the YouTube number I send to friends who attain high places or have grandchildren. They seem to approve. You need stronger nerves to cope with Cliff’s remarkable 1999 “Millennium Prayer,” which infuriated his snobbish atheistic critics by setting the Lord’s Prayer to the song of “Auld Lang Syne”:

It was cheeky, it was naff, but you have to hand the concept to its composer, and it is nothing if not a conviction performance by Cliff. He enjoyed the last laugh over the knockers, as the great British public promptly sent it to Number One, the fourteenth in his phenomenal career.

And then, rather too rarely, Cliff records songs that are to my untutored ear, lovely standards. I’m a soft touch for his European composed ballads—the wistful and tender “Constantly” and the melodic “All my love”:

“When in Rome” is a remarkably good and as ever, critically underrated album of the mid-1960s. He goes reggae in a sentimental but effective cover of Harry Belafonte’s “Scarlet Ribbons” (avoid the tacky video, however), and is impressively Country in “Wind me up” and “The minute you’re gone,” recorded in Nashville. Cliff won the reluctant admiration of some of his sharpest critics with his so-called “Renaissance” phase (the early to mid-1970s hadn’t been particularly kind to him), with “Devil Woman,” “We Don’t Talk Anymore” and, particularly, “Carrie”:

Written by B.A. Robertson, a very different kind of artist, “Carrie” was justly admired by AllMusic pundit Dave Thompson as “an enthrallingly atmospheric number. One of the most electrifying of all Cliff Richard’s recordings.” Cliff is no social commentator, but this came closest to nailing the increasing anomie and alienation of British society in the early Thatcher era. He is trying to track down the young woman of the title, but is told:

Cliff Richard, ca. 1975.
Carrie doesn’t live here anymore
Carrie used to room on the second floor
Sorry that she left no forwarding address
That was known to me.

So, Carrie doesn’t live here anymore
You could always ask at the corner store
Carrie had a date with her own kind of fate
It's plain to see.

Another missing person
One of many we assume
The young wear their freedom
Like cheap perfume.

This is an unhappy real-life situation, really rather banal and almost certainly one of underlying tragedy, but the whole point is we can at once hear it and identify with it. Cliff’s quest culminates in a helpless, inarticulate, despairing “Carrie!” I love the muffled sound effects of the unhelpful information line. Don’t bother listening to Cliff Richard if you seek anything profound, but do so if you want a singer who—perhaps despite yourself and your Guardian-reading proclivities—can and indeed should sometimes move you.


Mark Stocker is an art historian whose recent book is When Britain Went Decimal: The Coinage of 1971.


Featured image: a portrait of Gene Pitney by James Wilkinson, ca. 1980s.

Guilty Pleasures: Reggae

I know that my childhood and youth would have been a lot less pleasant had I been deprived of reggae. My love of it is admittedly superficial but strong – the insanely compelling reggae beat, the equally compelling melodies and – something all too rare in rock and even in mainstream pop – a frequently wacky sense of humour that is charming and disarming. A sheltered youth, I never went to a proper reggae concert, the sole exception being the King’s College, Cambridge downmarket version of a May Ball, where the star act was the stellar Desmond Dekker. He played most of the big hits pretty damn well. Who can forget the a capella opening of “The Israelite:”

Get up in the morning slaving for bread, sir
So that every mouth can be fed…

Not much humour there, I admit. But Desmond could also produce something maddeningly catchy in “Sing a little song:”

When your heart is filled with sorrow
Sing a little song, sing a little song
When you’re worried and feel heavy-laden
Sing a little song, sing a little song.

What good advice. It’s like a secular variant on Cardinal Basil Hume saying – and I paraphrase – “If someone or something has angered you, don’t answer back. Instead, bite your tongue and just say, ‘Thanks be to God!’” I’m not much of a religious believer, but that really moved me. Of course, reggae itself can be religious, and why not? The lovely voice of John Holt is made for non-Rastafarian Christ-centred (or maybe Baby Jesus-centred) songs of praise. Once I found myself in a crowded bus in Samoa, wedged into a tiny seat by a generously proportioned Samoan lady, couldn’t reach my water bottle and thus in some discomfort, but was enchanted by the blaring sound system playing a succession of reggae Christmas carols – in August!

Who are my reggae favourites? Relatively conventional chart-orientated acts I suppose, which is hardly surprising for someone whose main idea of intellectual television when growing up was “Top of the Pops.” I’ve never been a huge fan of Bob Marley, though I immensely like his “One love,” and sometimes style myself, – never having quite reached the summit of academe – as “Robert Marley Professor of Rastafarian Studies, University of Oxford.” It would probably not go down particularly well in these woke days. In a pre-woke culture, white artists could happily record reggae and apart from a few far left white spoilsports, there were smiles all around. Sometimes the results could be woeful – the British singer Paul Nicholas was one such example with his fairly big hit “Reggae like it used to be.” But even here the following lyrics delighted me:

I had a reggae-pneumonia, I went to my doctor
He said “I got just what you need
Three times a day, a little reggae like it used to be”
We got reggae, we got reggae, we got reggae…

Yes, reggae is a fabulous cure for pneumonia and other ailments. While many people go for “I shot the sheriff” by Eric Clapton as the all-time white reggae classic, I beg to differ. For me it’s Led Zeppelin’s “D’yer mak’er.” The title itself a dreadful pun. It’s been said that people who dislike much of Led Zepp nonetheless adore this song, and I’m no exception. It takes courage to record a great cover version of it, but Sheryl Crow did so with panache. And, of course, a lot of reggae itself is by definition reggaefied covers of standard classics: few, I think, are more beautiful than Ken Boothe’s version of the David Gates/ Bread “Everything I own,” and the great British public thought so too in 1974, sending it to a deserved number 1.

The ageless Cliff Richard, a favourite of our friend Mrs Broadbridge, cut a reggae beat version of the Harry Belafonte classic “Scarlet Ribbons,” and excellent it is too. A very obscure white tribute to reggae came from the outstanding Johnny Arthey, conductor and composer, revered in his time by everyone in the British music business but very little known to the masses. Through his string arrangements, added to Jamaican recordings, he helped reggae artists such as The Pioneers trying to force a breakthrough on the British market.

Surely the best “wacky” reggae performer is Pluto Shervington, who notched up a number of hits while failing to attain the stardom that he richly deserved. One of his biggest hits, “Dat,” is about the tragic predicament of a Rastafarian trying to sell pork (without naming it aloud), contrary to his faith so that he can afford some ganja. In another song, the same fellow also fell prey to indigestion and worse following a curry derived from an illicitly obtained ram goat:

Well I pop two belch and I make a sigh
I tek a walk go outta street
But while I waitin down di road, fi bum a ride
I feel a gripe and I start feel very weak…

There’s a deeply conservative moral in this, of course.

Then there are reggae songs which, on first hearing, you knew would be huge and deserved hits. One such was the late Johnny Nash’s “I can see clearly now,” a song of wonderful optimism and a mite profounder than “Sing a little song.” So far I have been a reggae sexist (well, it can be quite a macho culture), so a tribute to reggae’s “Queens” is in order.

One is relatively obscure – Cynthia Richards who has a lovely voice and whose version of Cilla Black’s “Conversations” is great but lacked the expensive orchestration (hardly Cynthia’s fault) that money could have bought. Sadly, she never got the break via Johnny Arthey or anyone else to make it big outside Jamaica.

Someone who made it bigger was Susan Cadogan, whose raunchy and delectable “Hurt so good” (I will spare readers the lyrics) was a big hit in Britain in 1975. I was delighted to note that in later life Ms Cadogan became a respected university librarian, and I impudently suggested to a few not-so-young women in that profession that it was never too late to do a Susan Cadogan in reverse. This was received with watery smiles. And of course there’s Marcia Griffiths, one half of Bob and Marcia, of “Young, gifted and black” fame.

Ah, Wordsworthian happy, aspirational days, so unlike today… but I write as somebody who is ageing, talentless and white. I need cheering up. I know what, I think I’ll play myself some reggae on my tape-deck…


Dr. Mark Stocker is the resident classical and late Baroque music critic for the Postil Magazine.

More Guilty Pleasures: Northern Soul

Flash back to the mid-1970s. Was Britain’s intellectual nerve centre the Cambridge of Stephen Hawking and his black holes? No! Or Margaret Thatcher boning up on her Chicago economics? Warmer but no. Dear reader, ’twas the dancefloors of Northern and Midlands England where it was all happening: the rule of Northern Soul (hence the name). Its epicentre was the Wigan Casino – which was not a casino, while the Twisted Wheel in nearby Manchester was another Northern Soul mecca, as was the Torch Club at Tunstall, one of Arnold Bennett’s Five Towns and where I would now hang out at the Wedgwood Museum.

On those legendary soul “all-nighters,” talc was shaken on the floor to facilitate the glissando of the extraordinary dancers, an integral part of the Northern Soul aesthetic experience that complemented its aural delights and which anticipated the better-known break-dancing of a later era. And lest I put the cart before the horse, the music matched the dancers.

So, where did the music come from? Lonely Northern soul connoisseurs who could afford the airfares would go on quests to grungy US record stores and perhaps car boot sales to snap up rare vinyl, songs then going for a song but now often worth serious money, by the likes of Garrett Saunders and Susan Rafey.

Who? If you ask that, you haven’t lived… Well, to continue my story, the aforementioned connoisseurs would bring back their precious cargo and it would be played till it snapped, crackled and popped, to the delight of the Casino or Twisted Wheel regulars. They danced till the stars came home – or perhaps till the arrival of HM’s constabulary, no doubt in search of minute quantities of cannabis, not in itself particularly conducive to dance-floor aestheticism or athleticism.

I consider these Northern Soul connoisseurs the equivalents, nay, the superiors, of, say, Pico della Mirandola and Marsilio Ficino, hunting down their priceless classical texts 500 years earlier. And their patrons weren’t poncy Renaissance princelings in tights like Lorenzo the Magnificent, but the white working-class heroes and heroines who took to the talced floor and, as I say, danced away the heartaches of their humdrum lives. This cultural appropriation of obscure vinyl was surely akin to Palladianism, that distinctively English take on a great Northern Italian architect, but whereas Palladianism is posh (like Lorenzo), and formed part of one’s liberal education, Northern Soul is triumphantly proletarian and regrettably did not.

I was a gormless, liberally-educated posh boy when it was in its pomp; I had barely heard of Wigan Casino and nearly 50 years on I bitterly rue one of life’s missed cultural opportunities. But an “all-nighter” would have finished me off – I would have wanted my cocoa by midnight, or 1 a.m. most definitely. And it would have been a logistical nightmare: getting to Wigan from Cambridge would have probably taken over 6 hours, involved numerous changes of train and bus, and left me with little change from £20, which sustained me for almost a week in those days. I would have had to ask a suspicious mater and pater for more, when I should have been writing my next essay. Stocker the swotter. Shucks!

Old American records that matched the genre but had flopped commercially ten years earlier, their singers long retired and now probably cleaning houses like Darlene Love at her lowest ebb, suddenly became gold dust. As for the bemused artists – well, I certainly hope they were chuffed. To be a Northern Soul star, it positively helped to be a miffed miss and a slipped disk and not, pray, a chart hit. Northern Soul eschewed the mainstream: it studiously avoided the cloyingly commercial, such as “Reach out and touch somebody’s hand” by Diana Ross. As the author Anthony Burgess memorably replied, “I’d rather not.”

Diana just didn’t get it when she dissed Northern Soul as not being very good in the first place. It was uneven, sure, but it had an emotional generosity that transcended any shortcomings in musicianship. And sometimes its production values, perforce very economical, can make the outcome all the more moving. Give me the kitchen utensil percussion of Susan Rafey’s “The Big Hurt” any day in preference to a slickly professional Motown production of c. 1970.

Yet there were some Northern Soul chart hits, and I love many of them. Probably the best known is (the white Jewish) Len Barry’s gorgeous “1-2-3.” I still feel a thrill when I hear the recitative – and philosophy – of Len to the accompaniment merely of drums:

Baby, there’s nothin’ hard about love
Basic’ly, it’s as easy as pie
The hard part is livin’ without love
Without your love, baby, I would die!

A more minor hit-maker was Donnie Elbert; his version of the Four Tops’ “I can’t help myself” is exhilarating, his desperate tenor matching the emotional tenor – he sure cannot help himself, o sugar pie, honey bunch!

Then there was the slightly bigger R. Dean Taylor, a white Canadian(!) artist, whose “Gotta see Jane” is – like a lot of the genre – disturbingly obsessive, even menacing, and sounds as it’s been sung through a megaphone as Taylor relentlessly motors through wind and rain, destination wrongly forsaken lady love. The same singer’s hit “There’s a ghost in my house” with its stop-start rhythm would make the vast dance floor cast of Northern Soulsters go collectively bonkers.

But, I repeat, most Northern Soul worth its salt was “top of the flops” territory, as in the delectable girl group The Poppies’ “There’s a pain in my heart” (a nice juxtaposition with “There’s a ghost in my house”) which sadly failed to match the stunning chart success of its predecessor, “He’s ready” (Billboard #106).

A pain in my heart. Yes, even an up-tempo number like this reveals the emotional scarring and tragedy that is the sine qua non of so much Northern Soul, love’s agonies, not its ecstasies. It wouldn’t surprise me if the big-voiced Garrett Saunders blew his brains out after singing “In a day or two,” by which time shallow friends try and reassure him he will have recovered from disappointment in love.

Women singers could pile on the agony superbly: I think of Lorraine Ellison’s powerfully imploring “Stay with me, baby,” an anaemic cover version of which was cut by the normally admirable Walker Brothers. Then there’s the tragic Linda Jones, who died of diabetes aged 27 after failing to take her insulin. Her big hit (#74) “For Your Precious Love” scales alpine emotional heights and is justly esteemed by anyone with aspirations to Northern soulfulness.
Yet Northern soul can be happy, silly and sometimes today profoundly politically incorrect. Take “Girls, girls, girls,” when Chuck Jackson philosophises with a series of rhetorical questions, after confiding, speaking not singing, “Let me ask you something, fellas…”

What’s warm when the fire glows with glitter?
What’s sweet when all else seems so bitter?
What’s cold when your dreams start to wither?
And gives strength when you feel like a quitter?
Look to your heart when the trouble starts!
It’s girls this thing that I’m describing
Girls that make a man keep striving
Many shapes and sizes
Man’s greatest prize
Is girls! (girls) Girls! (girls)

Tell me, how many red-blooded fellows would not concur with Chuck’s sentiments? (Sorry, girls, I mean women…). Another, rather less loaded but joyous and celebratory Northern Soul classic is Robert Knight’s “The Power of Love,” which cheekily borrows its melody from Tchaikovsky’s “Marche Slave.” The Toys’ “Lover’s Concerto” – a bit too prettily successful for my liking – flagrantly borrows in turn from Bach’s Minuet in G major, which I was playing for my Grade II piano at the very time the girl-group were high in the charts.
But it’s the Toys’ less successful follow-up “Attack” that is far more Northern Soulful. Its changes of key and still more its lyrics, are unforgettable. I’ll treat you to the first couple of verses, and the plot thickens:

Once I walked beside you, so in love were we then
It had always been that way since we were children
Then one day she saw you, lied and flirted for you
Helplessly I watched her take your love away.
While she’s not with you she cheats and she enjoys to
How can I sit by and cry while she destroys you?
Though you may not want me, my heart keeps repeating
Onward, onward, time to stop retreating
Attack! Attack!

Awesome stuff, Northern Soul as emotional revenge. I wish Frankie Valli had recorded a cover with his famed falsetto.

Indeed, the genre is more than music, more than dance, more than a provincial British working-class cultural movement and, if you dare condemn it for colonialist appropriation, I can but pity you.

In its heyday and in its ageing aficionados’ hearts, it was something fundamental, a way of life, a faith. Lest we forget, its celebrated logo – itself a cheeky appropriation of the Black Power clenched fist – exhorts us to “Keep the faith.” Well, I’m a believer!


Dr. Mark Stocker is the resident Greek and Renaissance dance critic for the Postil Magazine.

Mrs Lilian Broadbridge Returns

Well, I’m literally over the moon! Nirmal (we’re on first name terms!) says that he was so impressed by my political vision and the short shrift I gave to those feminist sacred cows, that he wants more from me. Rather than everything being politics, politics, politics (reminds me of the rather rude “Boobies, boobies, boobies,” I know it’s trashy but I did so enjoy Valley of the Dolls!), I thought this month things should take a more intellectual turn. I also know that Doctor Mark would approve.

And so, without much further ado, here is my 5 pence, I won’t say 5 new pence or heaven forbid – cents – on the worlds of art and music. And as there are probably more “petrol heads” reading this magazine than they would ever admit, I thought I’d add my perspective on cars.

It’s just possible that some readers who haven’t had the privilege of living in Radlett during the time I was in my true prime there (from the 1950s to the 1980s) may not know a few of the names I drop, so I’ve asked Doctor Mark to supply a brief glossary. Enjoy!

Mark Stocker: Sigh, how much am I paid? But anything for a quiet life, so here goes:

Sir William Russell Flint – slightly risqué British early 20th century watercolour painter of nudes and landscapes.

Rowland Hilder – hugely popular mid-20th century British landscape painter

Pietro Annigoni – kitsch, skilled and popular Italian 20th century painter, famous for portraits of the Queen. No known ballerina works, but never underestimate Mrs Broadbridge’s fertile imagination.

Matt Monro – British later 20th century singer, normally in the ‘lounge’ genre. Outstanding vibrato. Fond of golf, and alas, the bottle. Died too young.

Semprini – mid 20th century pianist, composer and conductor. Despite the name, British.

Mantovani – British orchestra leader, and with his pal Semprini, purveyors of popular dance music. Unlike Semprini, totally Italian, but bless him, says Mrs Broadbridge, he died in Tunbridge Wells!

Sir Jimmy Young – prominent later 20th century British radio host, formerly a hit parade crooner. Marginally more trendy than Manto and Semps,but not much.

Austin Allegro, Austin Maxi and Ferrari Dino – three kinds of cars, the first two outstanding British engineering of the late 60s/early 70s, the third foreign rubbish, though beloved of the utterly vulgar Mark Broadbridge.


Mrs Broadbridge On Gay Lib

It’s in my name and it’s in my character – Broadbridge and broad-minded. As a lifelong Tory you’d probably think I would be very intolerant about men loving other men, but though it’s wrong, I can understand it a bit and sympathise quite a lot. Certainly it’s unnatural – a man and a woman should love each other, marry and have children – that’s the normal run of things and god save us if it was anything else though sometimes these days you do honestly wonder.

That reminds me of a very funny joke I heard the other day, I think it was that clever young man David Frost. His friend told Mr Frost he was emigrating. Why? Homosexuality. But surely you’re not one of those people? No, of course not, but that’s the whole problem. First it was a capital offence, then it was corporal, then you’d simply be fined, and now it’s legal. I’m leaving before it becomes compulsory!

Seriously, I think there’s a good case for being true to one’s innermost feelings, and I don’t think any amount of Jesus can cure them. And let’s face it, there are some pretty dreadful women around, so sometimes I hardly blame them! It’s unnatural, yes, but homosexuals are human, they have thoughts and feelings, and Barry, my hairdresser, even seems to know my thoughts and feelings better than me. Lovely man.

I wanted him and his friend, Clint, to come to tea but Leslie wouldn’t have it. “Those homos, surely not? Whatever has come over you, Lilian?” Well, I was cross and said “You’re a homo too!” He got very angry but I quickly added “Homo sapiens! And I’m a Les-bian, hahaha!” He did manage a wan smile, and nothing came of it. Hate the sin, I say, though sometimes I am really quite fascinated about exactly who does what to whom, when and where (I have a curious mind, you may have noticed), but love the sinner.

Oh, talking of all that, the American lady down the road whose husband Bill is a big shot in Handley Page, Cleo, Miss San Diego 1920 she was I’ll have you know, always leaves very particular orders to our milkman – I think she must fancy him or something. Well, the other day I took a little peep at one of her notes by the empty bottles and she’d written this: ‘2 homos’ [laughs uproariously].

Mrs B On The Royals, c. 1980

I wish our Charlie Boy would hurry up and get married and settled. It’s getting ridiculous, everybody bar him can see that. He needs a good woman to talk to him, just as I do to Leslie, rather than all that talking he does to oak trees or some elderly Highland stag he’s hunting. You won’t get much sense out of them. I do like him but he can be a bit daft at times, unlike his father, who I love and admire to bits.

The Queen is a very, very fine woman, my idea of a perfect Englishwoman, don’t misunderstand me. But she’s not a patch on that terrific, witty, intelligent and oh so handsome husband of hers. Honestly, Philip is like a Greek god – well, he is Greek after all – and I can just picture him on Mount Olympus where the gods feast on Ambrosia – good old English creamed rice pudding!

I know I should bone up on the British constitution before I speak my mind, but I’ve got this idea. Tell me, just why is it that the Duke of Windsor, who cosied up to the Nazis and had that horrid, skinny, greedy American woman Mrs Simpson telling him what to do all the time, why was he able to abdicate perfectly easily whereas they can’t make Philip our king? Couldn’t they simply swap their positions and have the Queen as his consort? It’s degrading for a fine man like Philip to always be following two steps back, downright silly, and I take my hat off to him for never complaining. And if they swapped jobs, she’d have much more time to spend with her beloved horses, so it would be a win-win situation!

She may be a rich woman but she must be an ever so lonely one, our Queen. Like Mrs Thatcher, it’s an isolated situation she’s in and it really must get to her sometimes, despite her lovely husband and the good old Queen Mum. Margaret and her playboys wouldn’t help much though, and I’m none too keen on that rather calculating and wilful Princess Anne either.

All this made me think about the Queen having those corgis around her. On the face of it, it’s a puzzle – a very fine woman indeed but a breed of dog I don’t care for at all. But then it all made sense. Corgis love their owners and hate everybody else – probably poor old Philip too [giggles]. She though gets unquestioning love from those corgis and they help keep the horrible pappa – what’s that Italian word for them? Papa…papageno? No, paparazzi – the corgis keep those intrusive papa… bastards (sorry) away. I always wanted an apricot poodle myself, but it was a rare moment when Leslie put his foot down: ‘An Englishman’s home is his castle. The Broadbridge home is not a poodle parlour!’ I was cross at the time but secretly quite impressed.

Mrs Broadbridge On Art

When I said to young Mark ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, he told me “That’s very Kantian, Mrs Broadbridge!”

Well, whatever these eggheads care to call it is fine by me, but I must be careful how I pronounce such a strange word. I can’t claim to have the sophistication or knowledge of Sir Kenneth Clark – or even Mark, but both Leslie and I certainly know what we like. The female nude is the most beautiful and time-honoured object ever known to man in art, and I admired Les’s sophistication when he bought our two signed prints by Sir William Russell Flint. He’s a knighted academician you know – and that’s what I always say to anyone who calls them ‘sexy’ – a bit embarrassing but I have to laugh!

William Russell Flint, Jemima. Leslie Broadbridge’s favourite artist.

To me, the more accurate and realistic the art is, the more impressive I find it. Abstract art does nothing, nothing to me: it’s 99.9% pretentiousness. I know a bit of Cockney rhyming slang from the telly and have a guess what rhymes with a load of Jackson Pollocks [prolonged giggling]. As for Picasso, I feel frankly sorry for him. I know he’s rich and has got all those silly girlfriends one third his age and is always swanning around in the South of France, but he lost his way badly with all that cubed rubbish after painting those lovely, very sad circus folk. What went wrong, I ask?

Henry Moore, well, he makes me think of one of my favourite hymns but not in a flattering way: ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty’! [giggles] Back to the art that we have in our humble abode. We’re a cut above the folk who are satisfied with reproductions everywhere, though they are fine for the spare bedrooms and the hallway. I’m a generous supporter of Radlett Art Society, and I have a number of their nice landscapes and flowers in vases – still lifes, as they call them – or is it lives?

And I’m very proud of my Rowland Hilder original signed print, it’s so wonderfully English – a corner of England ought to be in every self-respecting person’s lounge, I say. If Leslie had his way, he’d have more of the Russell Flints, but I tell him there’s a fine line between respectable art, and art that makes you blush. Broadbridges are broad-minded, but we definitely draw the line at Hawaiian girls on velvet, though I am partial to those rather magnificent stallions in sunset.

If I had a lot of money, I’d definitely get an Annigoni ballerina – that to me would be the ultimate. Oh, I must tell you, Leslie told me many years ago that he’d like one of those [rolls her eyes] tiger-skin rugs but I shut him up promptly: ‘Les, that’s vulgar! Over my dead body!’ He’s said nothing about it since. I feel I’ve hardly started so now I must tell you all about our joint passion, our pride and joy, our small but highly selective collection of Royal Doulton Toby Jugs…

Mrs Broadbridge On Music

Music has really gone to the dogs since the late 1950s, I think it must be, what with that horrid rock and roll. Music by juvenile delinquents for juvenile delinquents I call it. And though I liked the Beatles, especially Paul, and the Seekers, it all nosedived again in the late 1960s and now seems to be at the beck and call of long-haired druggie weirdos and those squalid, promiscuous festivals. Gone to pot, haha! No, thank you. Give me a good melody, any day: Oh what a beautiful morning, Three coins in the fountain, Stardust, proper songs like that – Michelle by the Beatles is rather lovely, too.

The key thing is, you could hear every word they were singing, whereas singers today don’t have a clue apart from Matt Monro – I hear he used to be a bus conductor and I can just imagine him singing out ‘Fares, please!’ to the tune of ‘Born free’ [giggles]. I wouldn’t really call myself musical – when I grew up we had a nicely polished walnut Broadwood piano, but only my elder sister Violet was allowed to touch it and I can never forgive her for that. She lives in Surrey, and is honestly rather hoity-toity. We still see each other at Christmas, so it’s quite civil really.

But I can sing in tune – this may surprise you but I’ve got quite a powerful voice, and I beat time well. I certainly don’t mind what I call light classical – In a monastery garden, the lovely Mario Lanza (Elvis tried to imitate him – ‘It’s now or never’, and the answer is obviously never!) And those wonderful bands that Les and I would dance to in our courting days – I may be a large woman but I have genuinely dainty feet, or at least I did till those horrid bunions. We would dance away to Semprini, Mantovani, the Joe Loss Orchestra and more. Slow, slow, quick, quick, slow. Happy days – and the youth of today just don’t know what they’re missing!

Mantovani, “King of Strings.” Music the Broadbridges danced to in their salad days.

Mrs Broadbridge On Race Relations

If I may say so, and I know it’s very controversial, but Enoch really has a point. I don’t think it’s really being racist to admit we have allowed too many of these Coloured Folk into our overcrowded country and you certainly won’t catch me in that curry house, stinks to high heaven, I bet.

Though I’ll tell you this [winks conspiratorially] Leslie and I do like our sweet and sour pork – Les likes his lemon chicken actually – at the New Garden, just for a bit of a treat every now and again. And, Joshua, Joshua, our very own Negro ticket collector at the station, he’s a real gentleman, lovely smile, and honestly, he puts the likes of us to shame. It’s a complicated world, isn’t it?

Mrs Broadbridge On Cars

I’m not one to hold forth on cars, I have plenty of other interests, leave that one to the men of the family. But when Les and I buy a new one, which is every 8 to 10 years or so, of course I like to try them all out and weigh up their pros and cons. It’s got to have a tasteful colour: beige, light green and primrose all appeal to me, nice and very fashionable colours for bathrooms too these days I believe.

And I do like a firm front seat, high up, so I’m Queen of the Road, and I can see everything ahead of me but also comment if need be on Les’s driving. He’s very good, but even he has his occasional lapses, like that silly little boy playing on the drive – but that could have happened to anyone, he wasn’t badly hurt and we even gave him a box of mini Mars bars when he was in hospital. We’re kind souls!

Well, I can’t abide those seat belts or any government which forces you to wear them – they can belt up, as far as I’m concerned. I do like my simulated sheepskin seat cover, and as a little luxury, a stereo radio, so I can listen in to Jimmy Young if we’re out at the time. As for the make of the car, I still say, when all is said and done, buy British. Les drives our beige Allegro with pride and honestly, it doesn’t break down at all often. And we certainly haven’t had a mishap like Mr Curtis with his Austin Maxi when he opened the door and the handle came off in his hand [giggles] – but Theo can be rather a rough man! No, very few breakdowns, touch wood – and I think there’s still a bit of veneered wood on the dashboard, though it’s not like it used to be.

Austin Allegro, Mark II. The Broadbridge mode of transport.

Fancy cars are strictly for the younger generation. So far I’ve said nothing about my Mark. He was a bright kid and very much his own man, downright willful, really. Still is. His profession, which sounds very grand, is a purveyor of recreational medication, and he’s certainly done very well for himself there – a grander house than Violet’s in Surrey and a villa in Spain, I’ll have you know. And a new girlfriend, they’re mostly blonde, seems to pop up every other month, though some of them really do speak “common,” as they say.

But you should see his car! A bright red Ferrari Diana, I think it’s called. He might have been a bit of a rebel but, bless him, he’s proud of the Broadbridge name and he’s got this cherished number plate which he tells me cost him several thousand which reads, wait for it, BB 69. The BB is obvious, but the 69 is more puzzling, unless dear Mark was thinking of his father, who indeed turned 69 only the other day. Boys will be boys!

Mrs Broadbridge On God

Though I don’t go to church except at Christmas, I like it because it’s there, a reminder of God and a reminder of that good Vicar, the Rev Manley, that we had for so many years. He once admired my jam at the Horticultural show, second prize for damson it was. Peggy Major’s was all runny – a damson in distress [giggles]. But that new young vicar looks like Mick Jagger, if you ask me, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he plays the guitar in Christ Church – perish the thought. If I was God, I certainly wouldn’t want to be serenaded like that, even though Cliff Richard isn’t bad – and such a handsome lad with a touch of the Indian in him.

Looking at the world today, we really could do with another Jesus, or at the very least another visit from Jesus, but if he prefers to stay safe up in heaven, I wouldn’t blame him one little bit. God help us! Occasionally a churchy friend asks me about what I believe in, and whether Jesus matters to me. I tell them I’m full of admiration for him. He was obviously a very great, wonderful man who performed all these miracles, turning water into wine, turning loaves into fishes, when all poor old Uri Geller can do is bend spoons, of all the useless things!

If there is a saviour of today, I’d definitely say it was Margaret Thatcher. She really is quite someone. Almost spiritual, I reckon, there’s an aura about her whole being and that handbag is like the symbol of a great saint. Her eyes are a seer’s eyes and her mind is extraordinary. Jesus himself would look up to her! The Christians I can’t stand are those RC’s – dumb Irish mostly – always crossing themselves, and saying Father this, and Father that, while the chances are their beloved Father is sleeping with his housekeeper.

Bloody hypocrites (excuse my French) but I have to say I do rather like that Cardinal Hume – he makes you think it can’t be all bad. Basil. Nice man! But even worse are those Christians who go from door to door, spreading the word so they say, more like spreading diseases says I. The Broadbridge oak is firmly closed to them. Those Jehovahs people don’t believe in blood donations – I know I should give my blood but I’m squeamish, I would faint, but they’re always needing other people’s blood for this and that, so why in god’s name can’t they see this?

The best thing ever said to the door-knockers was by Mrs Stocker, who lives in that semi in Theobald Street. She opened the door and saw a couple of these men in dark suits. I know she’s a foreigner and her English can be faulty but you’d never believe what she said to them: “Hello, are you hormones?” They just fled, serves ’em right! I had such a laugh when she told me.

But now for a serious question, which Christians who are deeper thinkers than me are always going on about. Is there life after death? Ooh, my brain hurts is what my lovely grandson, Liam, would say to that but as I’m quite an intelligent woman, I’ll give it some thought.

No matter how good we are, when we’re dead we’re dead – we simply crumble into dust and that’s why I want a good Christian burial myself, the idea of being microwaved in a crematorium is dreadful – and you should hear the cheap recorded music they play there these days – “Come on baby, light my fire” was one of the songs [giggles]. But seriously, I know I’d die happy if the remains of Lilian Broadbridge become part of the soil that gives birth to a beautiful Peace rose, with a thrush perched on it, singing. Peace, perfect Peace, they should write on my gravestone.

Mrs Broadbridge On Her Nearest And Dearest

Mrs Broadbridge confessed to me the following in a lucid moment:
‘I do know I talk a fair bit about myself, but I’m considerably shyer than you think, and also, this may surprise you, I’m really quite a private person when it comes down to it. Keep your private life private is what I tell my nearest and dearest. Leslie knows that full well, and my Mark has worked that one out too in his profession.

By the way, I’ve always wanted to try one of his medications but he seems to keep the lid firmly shut on that. “No, Mrs B (that’s what he calls me, isn’t that lovely?), you cope fine on that modest dose of Valium that Dr Saunders puts you on – it helps make you the Mum you are. You won’t need that stuff I deal in, I mean purvey, honest!” Fair enough!

As for Susan, Mrs Broadbridge changes the subject, rolls her eyes, or looks the other way at the very mention of her daughter, a primary school aide in St Albans, while Roger, her son-in-law, ‘that bearded, geography teacher in a comprehensive… a bit of a drip if you ask me’, is if anything worse. Roger’s Labour Party activities are of course completely beyond the pale.

In her more compassionate moments, Mrs Broadbridge realises she’s being a little tough on Susan and at one point even briefly dabbed her primrose Kleenex when she told me this:

‘Let’s face it, that well-known Broadbridge charm has somehow by-passed our Susan. And she’s rather a plain girl with it. But she means well, I know that in my heart of hearts. And she’s flesh and blood, though she’s now Susan Jones, and you can’t take that away from her.

Her daughter Amy [shudders] does take after her mother, but I do remember her birthdays and she always gets a little something from Les and me at Christmas. She really needs to get her adenoids seen to. But Liam, Liam – the young scamp! I’d cross Tyke’s Water, I’d fight Hitler’s war for him.

That reminds me, I must go down the village to check at the pet shop when that ferret will be ready for him. Repulsive creature (the ferret I mean, of course!) but I’d love to see his face when he opens the box.

Talking of ferrets, I was watching Sir Kenneth Clark on da Vinci the other day and he was holding forth, as Sir Kenneth does with such style, about this portrait in communist Poland of a lovely blonde aristocratic girl which he called “Lady with an Ermine.” Well, these arty people really don’t have a clue – it’s obviously a ferret; my Fowler ancestors were good North Country people, and back in the day the menfolk, when they were in their cups, were known to stuff a live ferret down their mates’ trousers! I got that from Granny Fowler when I was a little girl and it all makes sense when I see my Liam and Mark!’

To confirm the above, and though no eavesdropper, this author was passing by the Broadbridge household just the other day and noticed Susan’s Ford Anglia parked there. The oak front door had been left inadvertently open, no doubt by her. Crouching down low beside the ivied wall, he was an unwitting witness to the somewhat one-sided conversation that follows. Clearly, Susan had been momentarily careless…

‘Don’t call me Mum, why do I have to tell you this? I never call you Sue though you say you wouldn’t mind. Call me Mother, or even, dammit, Mrs Broadbridge, if that won’t suit you. As for those flowers you gave me, you should know that reds and pinks shouldn’t be mixed like that and anyway, Leslie would tell you we’ve got quite enough Michaelmas daisies in our garden. But I suppose it was a kind thought. Now, here’s a shopping list of special things we can’t get down the village to get me in St Albans because the Allegro is in with the mechanics for the next few days. Normally I wouldn’t be imposing on you like this, and I’m sure you know that too. Though I’ve got one of those free passes they seem to dole out willy-nilly, I simply can’t abide those buses which never come, and when they do, they always seem to be full of silly pensioners!”

“Yes, Mother, and I’ll pay of course!”

“No, Susan, I know you mean well but I have my Mother’s Pride, and I don’t mean the bread. Here’s a £10 note and don’t lose your change, though it was your brother who’d always do that, bless him! Why not let our Liam keep the change, he could get himself a couple of those… what do they call them… transformers?”

“Okay, Mother.”

I resolved to linger no longer, but I noticed Susan grinning bravely, knowing that Mrs Broadbridge’s unquestioning love of one of her two grandchildren was something to hold on to, and no doubt resolving to split the change between Liam and Amy.

More Politics With Mrs Broadbridge

Young Mark, our near neighbour who’s a rising university star, tells me he’s a liberal. A man of intelligence and culture (you should hear him talking about art, mark my words, he’ll be the new Kenneth Clark before you can say palette knife!) – but – and it’s a big but, I think his brain must have turned into mush when it comes to politics.

I have words for him: wishy-washy, flip-flop, wet behind the ears and more. He’s so interested in what the person he’s supposed to be arguing with him says, half the time he ends up agreeing with them, though occasionally he can show sense and agrees with me! But that doesn’t stop him coming up with daft sayings every now and then like “A lot of crime is a cry for help. It’s not the criminals, it’s society that’s to blame!” [puts on a high pitched, feminine voice]. One of those bleeding-heart do-gooders who live in cloud cuckoo land is our Dr Mark.

Honestly, you need the intelligence of a five-year-old to know right from wrong and all those Cambridge degrees must have turned him a bit soft in the head. I say, let the punishment fit the crime – the Bible was on to a good thing when it said “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”

The other day, would you believe it, my bright little spark Liam bit poor Mr Van Noorden, the dentist! Well, he got his comeuppance alright when Mr Van Noorden went on to remove two of his teeth. That’ll learn him, as they say. ‘And count yourself lucky I don’t tie them to the door and slam it!’ he told him. Liam was quiet that whole evening Susan tells me, which must be a first. I reckon a bit of wisdom (not a wisdom tooth, he’s too young for that!) had sunk in.

Now back to politics: though I’m a true blue Tory, I don’t welcome all the kowtowing they do to those Brussels folk in the Common Market. It might benefit our trade but it certainly doesn’t benefit the cost of living. After decimalisation – they decimated us, as I tell people, there’s going to be metrication, and if that isn’t enough, fluoride in the water supply, all by order of Brussels!

I really don’t care much for those Continentals; at least all those coloured folk, well the older ones holding down jobs at least, do love and respect our Queen. While I wouldn’t go as far as suggesting we should have another war with the Jerries (though I loved wartime, I have to say), I’m very wary of them all the same. They need to remember that the three most important dates in German history are 1918, 1945 and (after extra time), 1966.

Those effete French aren’t much better: just imagine what it would be like on the buses and trains when we’re swamped with them and they’re breathing garlic at you. Their cooking is ever so la-di-da – cooking for poofs I call it – but the meat is just gristle and the way they disguise it with any amount of subtle sauces would never fool me. Chances are it’s rabbit or horsemeat – and they even ate cats and rats when they fought with the Germans a century ago! What with our problems with the coloureds, who wants a swarm of continentals on top of that?

Yet I do admit I have a soft spot for Italians, their men are ever so handsome in those tailored jackets and tight trousers (I can’t for a moment imagine my Leslie in a pair of them, he’d do the splits in seconds!). And to a man, those Italians know how to treat a lady, they have real charm. I’ve been to the Costa del Sol a couple of times and lovely and warm it is too (and getting all tiddly on far too much sherry and paella, yum yum!) but I would love a romantic holiday in Venice. I’d get a season ticket for those gondolas, and would look up with delight at the charming pilot who, while he’s steering me to the Doge’s Palace would be serenading me, just me, with “O sole mio!”

Back to politics. No wishy-washy liberals for me, and no stinking socialists taxing Leslie and me out of existence, and caving into striking miners, giving us power cuts and all those foul-mouthed trade union leaders with their Yorkshire and Scottish accents – at least you can’t understand a word the Scots say! Government by the government, say I, not those pesky unions.

Quite frankly, and if only more people could see it, the Conservatives are the only party with any backbone, and what with Mrs Thatcher now in No. 10, I believe she will be the greatest thing since Churchill and will make us all proud to be British again. With any luck she may even lead us out of the Common Market! The Tories are the party of the nation – One Nation as some of them call it – the party of the Queen and the Church (and don’t get me started on those liberal clergymen); the party of the armed forces, the police, law and order, an eye for an eye, three strikes and you’re in the clink.

A couple of years ago, Lady Radley took me along with her to the Conservatives’ conference in Brighton – I wore my best hat and quite enjoyed it for a couple of hours, though those politicos did talk a bit too much for my liking. A real highlight was that handsome Michael Heseltine, ‘Tarzan’ as some of the cheeky journalists call him – well, I can tell you, I’d be his Jane any day!

Bottesford Women’s Institute, 1977. “My kind of girls, salt of the earth types, and pity any man that crosses them!” (Mrs Broadbridge).

Appendix: The Mrs Broadbridge Limericks

Mrs Broadbridge
Down the village, on each working day
Mrs Broadbridge would chatter away
On the dear price of meat,
On her bunionèd feet
And whether that vicar was gay.

Mr Broadbridge’s revenge
The bank clerk who murdered his wife
Spoke thus, before sentenced to life:
‘Such a truculent nag,
An insufferable hag,
So I went – like this – with my knife!’

Mrs Broadbridge in heaven
The food, it’s all pretty and pink!
That angel, he gave me a wink!
James Last plays all day,
Frank sings us ‘My Way’,
I’ll stay here a while, I think!


The Importance Of Being Poirot

This month, through the very kind courtesy of St. Augustine’s Press, it is a sheer thrill to present this excerpt from Jeremy Black’s latest book, The Importance of Being Poirot. Make sure to pick up a copy of this fascinating journey through England during the two world wars, and all by way of Monsieur Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie’s masterful creation.

Black proves himself to be a worthy history-teller because he can aptly “detect” the meaning of stories that seeks to answer the past and guide the present. His erudition runs much deeper than his ability to navigate the stores of resources available on the subject, and the reader gets a glimpse of this early on when in the introduction he proffers his own defense for writing about the importance of a Hercule Poirot.

It all makes for truly fascinating and absorbing reading. Pick up your copy right away! You will not be disappointed.

Here’s a foretaste of what lies in store…


{…} The detective novel, as classically conceived, dates from the nineteenth century, but novels in which detection plays a role have a longer genesis, as even more do stories about crime and detection. Indeed, Simon Brett’s humorous spoof ‘The Literary Antecedents of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot’ begins with the Anglo-Saxon classic Beowulf (S. Brett, Crime Writers and Other ). This was set in the sixth century, although dates from between then and the tenth.

Moreover, the notion of crime had a moral component from the outset, and notably so in terms of the struggle between Good and Evil, and in the detection of the latter. Indeed, it is this detection that is the basis of the most powerful strand of detection story, because Evil disguises its purposes. It has to do so in a world and humanity made fundamentally benign and moral by God. Thus, as with the Serpent in Eden, a classic instance of malign disguise, Evil seeks to exploit weakness and, to do so, has to lie, or to challenge Good by violence.

These sinister purposes and malign acts are disclosed, at the time or subsequently, and, accordingly, in all religions and religious cultures, tales developed, as did the conventions that affected their contents, framing, and reception. So also did processes to find the truth, some, such as physical trials, extraordinarily rigorous, others, such as the understanding of oracular testament, a challenge of frequently obscure clues that offers much for those interested in Golden Age detective novels in particular. Priesthoods had special functions in discerning, confronting and overcoming Evil, and guidance accordingly, as in confessional handbooks. Campaigns against the menace and deceit of witchcraft saw such anxieties rise to murderous peaks, as in seventeenth-century Europe. This echo of the priesthood as the detector of Evil was seen in G.K. Chesterton’s homely, but clearly moral, clerical detective, Father Brown, who first appeared in print in 1910.

Drawing on the same mental world, a different form of story of detection related to the journey to Salvation, as in John Bunyan’s epic The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678), as individuals had to detect snares en route. In part as a result, there was a clear overlap between writing about this world and the next, the struggle with Evil being foremost. John Buchan used the Bunyan epic in his Mr Standfast (1919), a World War I story in which a German agent in Britain is a major threat and needs uncovering and vanquishing.

The development of the novel in England in the eighteenth century saw the notion of secrecy pushed to the fore, with an opening up of such secrets being a key theme in the plot of many novels, secrets related to behaviour, as in the exposure of hypocrisy, or to origins. This could be in a comic context and to comic effect, as in Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones (1749), with the unveiling of his parentage; but there were also novels that were darker and more troubling. This style came to the fore with the Gothic novels of the late eighteenth century, notably those by (Mrs) Ann Radcliffe, especially The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and The Italian (1797), and also Matthew Lewis’s The Monk (1796). These novels had elements of both the thriller and the detective novel. The fears to which they could give rise could be a source of fun, as was clearly with Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (1817), but the popularity of Gothic fiction is instructive.

{…}

The moral framework of any society is one we need to consider when assessing literature as a whole, and fiction in particular, because in fiction it is possible to alter the story to drive home a moral lesson, a method that is not so simple when dealing with fact. Thus, we need to consider the changes in religious belief and sensibility in this period. Despite Murder in the Vicarage (1930), At Bertram’s Hotel (1965), and several other appearances, clerics do not play a major role in Christie’s novels.
Nevertheless, in Three Act Tragedy (1934), there is a positive account of Christianity from the dynamic young Egg Lytton Gore referring to a recently dead clergyman.

‘…He prepared me for confirmation and all that, and though of course a lot of that business is all bunkum, he really was rather sweet about it…. I really believe in Christianity – not like Mother does, with little books and early service, and things – but intelligently and as a matter of history. The Church is all clotted up with the Pauline tradition – in fact the Church is a mess – but Christianity itself is all right … the Babbingtons really were Christians; they didn’t poke and pry and condemn, and they were never unkind about people or things’.

Canon Prescott, in A Caribbean Mystery (1964), is positive. In a gentler age, it was possible to say that Prescott is extremely fond of children, especially small girls, without that being seen as sinister.

Moreover, even though clerics are not thick on the ground, that does not mean that religion is absent, either in terms of the lay religiosity of the characters or with reference to the role of the author. Far from it. A similar discrimination to that of Egg Lytton Gore, in favour of a true Christianity as the basis for judgment, is offered in Christie’s Appointment With Death (1938), when Sarah King observes in the symbolic setting of Jerusalem:

‘I feel that if I could sweep all this away – all the buildings and the sects and the fierce squabbling churches – that I might see Christ’s quiet figure riding into Jerusalem on a donkey – and believe in him’.

This leads Dr Gerard to reply gravely: ‘“I believe at least in one of the chief tenets of the Christian faith – commitment with a lowly place”’. He goes on to claim that ambition is responsible for most ills of the human soul, whether realised or not. Asylums are filled, he argues, with those who cannot cope with their insignificance.

In a way, Christie presents murder in the same way, and the implication throughout is that it defies the true message of Christianity, not least the acceptance of suffering and the significance of the soul. Some ghost stories, for example those of M.R. [Montague Rhodes] James (1862–1936), explored similar themes. At the close of In Search of England (1927), H.V. Morton meets a vicar who tells him:

‘We are, in this little hamlet, untouched by ideas, in spite of the wireless and the charabanc. We use words long since abandoned. My parishioners believe firmly in a physical resurrection. … We are far from the pain of cities, the complexities … We are rooted in something firmer than fashion’.

In Three Act Tragedy (1934), the disabled Mrs Milray refers to ‘“The Lord’s will”’. At the denouement, there is also a social dimension, one that Christie brings up when Sir Charles Cartwright responds to Poirot: ‘He radiated nobility and disgust. He was the aristocrat looking down at the ignoble canaille.… Hercule Poirot, the little bourgeois, looked up at the aristocrat. He spoke quietly but firmly’. Speaking truth to power, or rather to social eminence and fame, Poirot is observed as taking a moral line, both in stopping murder and also in thwarting a would-be bigamist. The dubious morals of much of the ‘smart set’ have recently been highlighted in the 2021 first volume of a projected complete edition of the diaries of ‘Chips’ Channon. Poirot is more generally against crime, in The ABC Murders comparing murder to gambling. In ‘The Chocolate Box’ (1924), Poirot’s sole professional failure, he refers to himself as being ‘“bon catholique”’.

Religion is present again in Triangle at Rhodes (1937). Poirot goes to the Mount of the Prophet where he meditates on God permitting ‘himself to fashion certain human beings’ and advises Marjorie Gold to ‘leave the island before it is too late’, a moment recalled in the closing lines when he refers to being ‘on the Mount of the Prophet. It was the only chance of averting the crime… she chose – to remain…’ Thus, Poirot as prophet, and Gold as the sinner with free-will, who has rejected, through pride, the possibility of safety, are clearly revealed, with the message underlined in case the reader has missed it. Furthermore, as another aspect of morality, Poirot is convinced that, if the wicked escape, as in the case of ‘The Mystery of Hunter’s Lodge’ (1923), it is at a price. In that story, and the capitalisation is in the original, the murderers gain the huge fortune of the victim, Harrington Pace, but Nemesis overtakes them. They crash in an aircraft and Justice is satisfied. In the penultimate scene in Death on the Nile (1937), Mrs Allerton and Poirot join in thanking God that there is happiness in the world. Earlier in that novel, Poirot has referred to a parable in the Bible when chiding Linnet Ridgeway.

Reference to God is part of everyday conversation; as in Murder Is Easy (1939) when Mrs Pierce reflects on the death of her young Emma Jane: ‘“a sweet little mite she was. ‘You’ll never rear her’. That’s what they said. ‘She’s too good to live’. And it was true, sir. The Lord knows His Own”’. However, in the same novel there is bitter criticism of the pompous press magnate, Lord Whitfield, who has a great faith and trust in Providence, with enemies of the righteous (the latter a group with whom he identifies) struck down by swift divine wrath. Luke Fitzwilliam finds excessive Whitfield’s retribution on the drunken chauffeur, and Whitfield’s comparison of himself with the Prophet Elisha is obviously inappropriate. Christie is clearly with Fitzwilliam, although, in a typical case of misdirection, the proud and pompous Whitfield is not in fact the villain.

The references to religion continue. N or M? (1941) takes its title from a catechism in the Book of Common Prayer, while in Evil Under the Sun (1941), Stephen Lane, a cleric, complains that ‘“no one believes in evil”’, whereas he firmly sees it as a powerful reality that ‘“walks the earth”’. Poirot agrees with this longstanding view. In Destination Unknown (1954), the villainous impresario of evil evades justice on earth, but Jessop comments ‘“I should say he’ll be coming up before the Supreme Justice before very long”’. The link between crime and evil is thus reiterated. Very differently, the continuity of ordinary Christian society is presented as significant in A Caribbean Mystery (1964), in which Inspector Weston of the St Honoré CID notes that there are few marriages on the island, but that the children are christened.

A practising Anglican, Christie was far from alone as a detective novelist with a strong religious sensibility. Others of this type included Freeman Wills Croft, as in Antidote to Venom (1938). The detective fiction of the period presupposed a providentially governed universe that could provide meaning. This was a key aspect of the religious necessities of such fiction and of the contemporary reporting on crime. At the same time, standards were more general. Thus, the world of Sherlock Holmes required a very striking stability so that clothes, routines, and other factors had a fixed and knowable meaning. These ideas of order, epitomised in character and behaviour, were an aspect not only of particular detective novelists, such as Dorothy L. Sayers, but also of the genre as a whole and, indeed, of social norms and practices.

Christie did not restrict her morality to crime. ‘Magnolia Blossom’, a magazine story of 1925, was not a crime piece but a three-way drama of a marriage under strain and of how people react. The role of the author in terms of judgment is not of course synonymous with the life of the author. It is well-established that some of the great detective writers had somewhat rackety personal lives (Edwards, The Golden Age of Murder). Yet, that rarely stops moral grandstanding or indeed simple conformity. And so with detective fiction, much of which relates to morality, directly or by reflection, and with both the author and the reader offering moral frameworks. Indeed, in one respect, fiction is an attempt to offer guidance in a post-Providential world. In an urgently-religious age, Providence brings an instant fate to the wicked, but, by the 1920s, the religious environment was somewhat different. Judgment in life came to be seen more as a matter of human agency and agencies, and the detective was to the fore. Yet, there could be a religious aspect to the moral dimension, a perspective vividly demonstrated in J.B. Priestley’s play An Inspector Calls (1945), a haunting drama of discovery.

Christian morality is applied by Christie in part in terms of the newlyfashionable psychological insights and in terms of the belief in heredity Poirot mentions in ‘The King of Clubs’ (1923), and in which he follows other detectives including Holmes. These insights provide both a subject for discussion and explanation and a particular modus operandi for Christie and her detectives. This is true not only of the ‘foreign’ Poirot, but also, albeit using a different language, the very English Jane Marple, who is first introduced in ‘The Tuesday Night Club’, a thoughtful short story of December 1927. In The ABC Murders, Poirot insists that it is crucial to treat the murderer as ‘“a psychological study”’ and ‘“to get to know the murderer”’. Subsequently he adds, ‘“A madman is as logical and reasoned in his actions as a sane man – given his peculiar biased point of view”’. Cards on the Table (1936) also sees an emphasis on the psychology of the suspects, which is a theme underlined in Christie’s Foreword. A total misunderstanding, one that is all-too-typical of responses by critics, was offered by Camilla Long in a television review in the Sunday Times on 16 February 2020 in which she claimed: ‘Christie didn’t do personalities; she felt any hint of psychology could distract from the plot lines’.

So also for others. In Three Act Tragedy, Lady Mary Gore, who, in a Christie-like autobiographical touch, had fallen for ‘a certain type of man’, foolishly thinking ‘new love will reform him’, explains to Satterthwaite that:

‘Some books that I’ve read these last few years have brought a lot of comfort to me. Books on psychology. It seems to show that in many ways people can’t help themselves. A kind of kink…. It wasn’t what I was brought up to believe. I was taught that everyone knew the difference between right and wrong. But somehow – I don’t always think that is so’.

Satterthwaite adds that: ‘“Without acute mania it may nevertheless occur that certain natures lack what I should describe as braking power… in some people the idea, or obsession, holds”’. In ‘The Red Signal’ (1933), Sir Alington West, ‘the supreme authority on mental disease’, explains: ‘“suppression of one’s particular delusion has a disastrous effect very often. All suppressions are dangerous, as psychoanalysis has taught us”’.

The methodical and intelligent Superintendent Battle, who first appeared in The Secret of Chimneys (1925), acknowledges a debt to Poirot’s psychological methods in Towards Zero (1944). The language varies, but the theme is constant. In Death in the Clouds (1937), the young Jane Grey challenges the ‘“very old-fashioned idea of detectives”’ as involving disguise (as Holmes had done), as nowadays they simply think out a case psychologically.

Christie was far from alone in her interest in psychology. Thus, in The Mystery of a Butcher’s Shop (1929), Gladys Mitchell, who was up on Freud, introduced as her detective Mrs Beatrice Bradley, the author of A Small Handbook of Psycho-Analysis. Yet, Christie had a much more Christian feel for psychology. At the brilliant end of Crooked House (1949), where there is one of the more outstanding reveals, there is a psychoanalytic explanation in terms of ‘retarded moral sense’ and heredity, including of ‘ruthless egoism’. More bluntly, this becomes “There is often one of the litter who is ‘not quite right”’, and Christian judgment and justification are offered: ‘“I do not want the child to suffer as I believe she would suffer if called to earthly account for what she has done…. If I am wrong, God forgive me… God bless you both”’. In Hallowe’en Party (1969), Mrs Goodbody, the very pleasant local witch, or, at least, fortune-teller, is clear on the real presence of evil:

‘wherever you go, the devil’s always got some of his own. Born and bred to it … those that the devil has touched with his hand.
They’re born that way. The sons of Lucifer. They’re born so that killing don’t mean nothing to them … When they want a thing, they want it… Beautiful as angels, they can look like’.

Mrs Goodbody contrasts this with black magic: ‘“That’s nonsense, that is. That’s for people who like to dress up and do a lot of tomfoolery. Sex and all that”’. At the same time, Honoria Waynflete, in Murder is Easy, is compared to a goat which is presented as an apt symbol of evil, as also in Miles Burton’s The Secret of High Eldersham (1931). In Honoria’s case, her behaviour is discussed as an instance of the touch of insanity allegedly present in old families, and she is definitely seen as unhinged. Being a ‘“wrong ’un”’ is the problem for Roger Bassington-Ffrench in Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? (1934).

Although there was no equivalent to Doyle’s strong interest in Spiritualism, the occult plays a role with Christie, one that is understated in television treatments. ‘The Harlequin Tea Set’ (1971) very much offers the idea of the mixing of this world with a spirit world, as the dead Lily joins Harley Quin from the other world to help Mr Satterthwaite protect the living in a combination that Christie described in her autobiography as her favourite characters. So also with the protection of many ghost stories both of this period and of earlier ones, such as those of Sheridan Le Fanu (1814–73). An altogether more menacing moral framework is on offer in Christie’s The Hound of Death (1933). The occult is to the fore in this mysterious and disturbing tale of an alternative ‘Brotherhood’, but a moral retribution is delivered on the vulpine Dr Rose. The hound is very different from that of the Holmes story about the Baskervilles, while in the title-story of the collection there is a religious dimension not present in the latter.

Not black magic, but a good equivalent, can be deployed, as with the kindly nurse in Towards Zero (1940) who comes from the West Coast of Scotland where some of her family had ‘the sight’ or ‘Second Sight’. Possibly because the nurse, like Christie, can see what will occur in the novel, she tells the suicidal Angus MacWhirter that God may need him, and is proven correct.

In many respects, Christie adapts psychological views to match Christian morality. That itself may appear to be one answer, but it is not so, for on matters such as free will Christianity offers a range of explanations. As a consequence, Christie’s work can in part be seen as an aspect of debate within inter-war Christianity, including English Christianity. In A Pocket Full of Rye (1953), the Calvinistic, very elderly Miss Ramsbottom, who is committed to missionary work as the ‘“Christian spirit”’, refers to Marple as ‘“frivolous, like all Church of England people”’. Christie was Church of England. Alongside Poirot’s concern for psychoanalysis, there is Marple’s blunter focus on, and denunciation of, wickedness, one that is more to the fore than with most of the clerical detective novelists of the period such as Ronald Knox and Victor Whitechurch: they generally left their cassocks at home. In A Pocket Full of Rye, Marple remarks ‘“This is a wicked murderer, Inspector Neele, and the wicked should not go unpunished”’, and Neele replies ‘“That is an unfashionable belief nowadays. Not that I don’t agree with you”’. Christie is speaking through both of them.

Aside from wickedness, the frequency with which murderers are castigated for ‘conceit and self-confidence’, as in The ABC Murders, is instructive. In that novel, Poirot seeks to psychoanalyse and profile the murderer after his first murder:

‘In one sense we know nothing about him – in another sense we know already a good deal…. A great need to express his personality. I see him as a child possibly ignored and passed over – I see him growing up with an inward sense of inferiority – warring with a sense of injustice – I see that inner urge – to assert himself
– to focus attention on himself ever becoming stronger …’

This approach is very deliberately contrasted with what is presented as a Holmesian one; although Sherlock also relied heavily on pre-Freudian psychology. This is to a degree that not all television and film versions of Poirot stories have fully represented. The point is very much driven home in ‘The Plymouth Express’ (1923), with the emphasis for Poirot on psychology, and not ‘scene of the crime’ footmarks and cigarette-ash. Inspector Japp, in contrast, focuses in this story on finding clues along the route. Based on Lestrade, Japp was introduced in the Mysterious Affair at Styles and appeared in seven Christie novels, always alongside Poirot, finally appearing in One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (1940); although being mentioned thereafter. In The ABC Murders, Poirot jests with Hastings:

‘The crime was committed by a man of medium height with red hair and a cast in the left eye. He limps slightly on the right foot and has a mole just below the shoulder-blade’.
… ‘For the moment I was completely taken in’.

‘You fix upon me a look of dog-like devotion and demand of me a pronouncement à la Sherlock Holmes … it is always the clue that attracts you. Alas that he did not smoke the cigarette and leave the ash, and then step in it with a shoe that has nails of a curious pattern’.

In ‘The Kidnapped Prime Minister’, Poirot, to the anger of all, refuses to leave Boulogne to search for clues to the kidnapping such as tyre marks, cigarette-ends, and fallen matches because he must focus on a logical solution, which he does successfully. Similarly, in Death on the Nile, the murderer, as Poirot notes, is not so obliging as to drop a cuff link, a cigarette end, cigar ash, a handkerchief, lipstick, or a hair slide. Instead, in a comparison that would have come naturally to Christie, Poirot compares himself to an archaeologist clearing away the extraneous matter. This involves, as he notes in Mrs McGinty’s Dead (1952), using a hunting image, starting, as it were, several birds in a covert, as if seeking to create a form of creative disruption that will lead to the revelation of the truth. The misdirections provided through, and by, possible culprits are a form of this creative disruption as well as a response to it.

In practice, Christie offers a degree of caricature, as the Holmes stories include psychological insights, but she is correct to draw attention to a contrast. And not always simply with the detective. In ‘The Market Basing Mystery’ (1923), Dr Giles tells Japp that he cannot give the time of death to an hour as ‘“those wonderful doctors in detective stories do”’.

And so also with other novelists. In J. Jefferson Farjeon’s Seven Dead (1939), Inspector Kendall, a figure of brusque intelligence and determined drive, remarks, ‘“When you don’t play the violin, or haven’t got a wooden leg, smartness is all you’ve got to fall back on”’, and says of Inspector Black: ‘“a good man. He doesn’t play the violin, either, or quote Shakespeare”’.

In a conversation in The Clocks (1963), not one of Christie’s better novels, Poirot gives Colin Lamb a long account of what he likes in ‘“criminal fiction”’. Anna Katharine Green’s The Leavenworth Case (1878) is praised for ‘“period atmosphere … studied and deliberate melodrama”’ and ‘“an excellent psychological study”’ of the murderer. Poirot then moves on to Maurice Leblanc’s The Adventures of Arsene Lupin (1905–7), which he finds preposterous and unreal, but also as having vigour and humour, which is indeed the case. Gaston Leroux’s The Mystery of the Yellow Room (1907–8) is approved of from start to finish, not least for its logical approach. Charges that the novel is unfair are dismissed as there is truth concealed by a cunning use of words, which is very much Christie’s technique. Poirot notes that that masterpiece is now almost forgotten. The selection Christie offers in the account is scarcely insular, nor the approach xenophobic.

{…}
International malice and domestic conspiracy is an important context for some of Christie’s early work, and to this we will turn shortly. There is no but here, for categories overlapped, strands interacted, and there was no tightly defined set of parameters. Yet it is also important to see Christie in terms of the strength of a middle-brow reading public who wanted good stories and found detective fiction an established means to that end. This public was the key to the genre. At the same time, what this interest would mean in the post-war world was unclear, and authors developed their characters, plots, and styles, in the context of probing a readership that was resetting after that cataclysmic conflict.

And that probing was necessary in order to earn money, as Christie recorded making only an advance of £25 from The Mysterious Affair at Styles, and that from a half share of the series rights which were sold to The Weekly Times. Her novel, however, had introduced two stars, herself and Hercule.


The featured image shows, “Autoportrait (Tamara in a Green Bugatti,” by Tamara de Lempicka; painted in 1925.

The Last Imperialist. Sir Alan Burns’ Epic Defense Of The British Empire

We are so very pleased to offer to our readers a first look at Bruce Gilley’s latest book, The Last Imperialist. Sir Alan Burns’ Epic Defense of the British Empire. This excerpt is made possible by the kind generosity of Regnery Publishing. Please support this important research and purchase a copy – and tell others.

Bruce Gilley is a Professor of Political Science at Portland State University. His research centers on the empire, democracy, legitimacy, global politics, as well as the comparative politics of China and Asia.


By the 1930s, most colonial governments were under pressure to set out a plan for self-government if not outright independence. India was the furthest along, and African, Asian, and Caribbean nationalists wanted to follow. Good government was losing its appeal amid the allure of selfgovernment. British socialists and communists, including Alan’s brother Emile, were calling for the empire to be handed over to the League of Nations. The Belize Independent columnist and Battlefield general Luke Kemp told his readers that they should follow the advice of Emile, “reputed to be the greatest exponent of the Marxist (communist) doctrine in England” and treat colonial rulers like his brother as temporary “aliens.” “It is the ‘great brains’ that ran this colony to the rocks. Now we ask that men we feel are honest be given a chance,” Kemp demanded. Universal suffrage was needed, because national unity would “be as strong as the political latitude granted to the entire population.” When colonial officials complained about the desultory singing of God Save the King on one occasion, Kemp riposted: “I am quite sure the English taxpayers and the Secretary of State for the colonies would be shocked at the result of a plebiscite in British Honduras as to whether a change to the Stars and Stripes would be desired.”

London had imposed direct rule on British Honduras after the 1931 hurricane to speed recovery. Alan returned the colony to partial self-rule in 1936 with the election of 5 of the 13 seats in the legislature. He gave women the vote for the first time. Even so, the number of votes cast in the 1936 election was a meager 1,300 (less than 5 percent of the adult population), compared to 1,900 in the election before direct rule. Many people had fallen below the income or property thresholds, while others simply could not be bothered to register or vote. Most of the votes, about 1,200, were cast for the two seats in Belize Town. Of the other three seats, two were acclaimed. One returned a candidate whose nomination papers had been signed by a road crew. Robert Turton, the chewing gum nationalist, won the northern chicle district by sixty-five votes to forty-four. Given Alan’s legislative experience in the Bahamas and his “great ability as a speaker,” the Belize Independent bemoaned, the government bloc in the legislature—consisting of six officials and two appointees—was “so well clothed with power that their position” was “nigh impregnable.” Alan was “a Mussolini” for the way he “swept aside” opposing views in legislative sessions.

As in the Bahamas, London argued that any attempt to loosen voting qualifications would cause a backlash from white elites fearing mob rule. Luke Kemp, for instance, wanted only blacks and Creoles to be given the vote under his “natives first” plan. The Maya would be relegated to a secondary
role while whites would be disenfranchised or even expelled. Kemp wrote that “fascism or Nazism is a superior form of government” to colonial rule “for food, shelter, and medical treatment are within the reach of citizens and it is only the small minority that suffers unjustly.” Soberanis and Kemp
appealed for “closer association” with military-ruled Guatemala despite its comparative poverty and instability. Law and order “would be so under any flag,” Kemp wrote. Just as Haiti provided a sobering reminder to citizens of the Bahamas of the dangers of popular government, Guatemala, which had thrown off the colonial “yoke” in 1821 and similarly descended into a century of chaos, did
so for British Honduras. When Alan arrived, the conditions of the working class in Guatemala were far worse than in British Honduras, and labor leaders there were simply killed by the government. For the colony’s middle classes, a populist politics that led to control by Guatemala or by a native fascist regime would spell disaster. When Guatemala mobilized troops on the border in 1938, even the Belize Independent scurried for cover: “British Honduras must ever remain a British colony.”

For Alan, demands for political advance were rooted in demands for social dignity. “The one problem at the bottom of all their troubles, and the ones for which they passionately seek a solution, is how they are to obtain from the white world that recognition of social and political equality which has, up to now, been denied them,” he would write. When the German boxer Max Schmeling defeated the black American boxer Joe Louis in the first of their two fights in 1936, Alan recalled, “The gloom among the coloured inhabitants of British Honduras was worthy of a major national disaster.” Colonialism had, for better or worse, brought “social restrictions and personal insults” to subject peoples which prevented them “from recognizing or admitting” its great benefits. “The inevitable effect of this is that the unthinking mob . . . will follow the noisy and irresponsible persons who freely express their hatred of the white man and promise the people fantastic and impossible things.” The task was to expand democracy without handing over power to demagogues. Holding ultimate power in the hands of the governor for as long as possible, Alan would later write, was critical because it “ensured that British humanitarian and liberal principles should prevail, for the benefit of the underprivileged and often illiterate classes, against the selfish policies of the members of the old Assemblies.”

Alan drove this lesson home in his reform of the Belize Town Board. Since its founding in 1912, the board had been treated as the de facto democratic legislature of the colony because of its elected majority (eight out of fourteen seats). Board members typically debated issues far outside their purview, and the board was diligently covered in the local press. But it was also dysfunctional,
constantly in turmoil over committee battles and mutual recriminations. It failed to collect most of its taxes and most of its elected members were in arrears on their own taxes. One local merchant called it “effete, dishonest, and a menace to the progress of our City.” Without consultation or explanation, Alan cut it down to five elected and five appointed members for the 1936 election.

The act by Il Duce caused outrage on the Battlefield. But locals noticed that municipal affairs were working better and that day-laborers on town projects were being paid on time. A new “Sanitary Brigade” kitted in khaki replaced the slovenly food market and street inspectors of the defunct board. In 1938, Alan suspended the board altogether pending a reorganization. He made himself chairman of an interim board and was seen on the streets inspecting clogged drains and filthy latrines. Kemp eventually admitted that “90 percent of the citizens of Belize wanted the defunct board to be abolished” and congratulated Alan on “a master step.” Alan had proven his point: when faced with a choice between good government and elected government, colonial peoples would prefer the former. Clean latrines and operable sewers might not stir the passions on the Battlefield, but they made lives better and laid the foundations for durable democracy.

True to his word, Alan restored the democratic nature of the Belize Town Board in 1939 with six elected and three nominated members. All nine were non-European, marking the first all-local and majority-elected council in the colony’s history.101 He also added one elected member to the colonial legislature in the 1939 election, replacing a nominated member, leaving the government bloc with a slim majority of just seven to six. In these ways, Alan was balancing his liberal instincts with his attention to administrative efficiency. “It is not logical,” he would write, to tell colonial subjects that “all men are equal before the law and then to deny him the equality which he claims.” Democracy was clearly desirable. On the other hand, if that “right” came at the cost of death and destruction, it would be a poor trade. Like his growing interest in racial questions, his political reforms in British Honduras presaged a growing interest in the question of when and how a colony could be brought to independence. He rejected the idea that “independence should be given forthwith to those colonials who ask for it, whatever may be their competence to govern themselves, and regardless of the consequences to the mass of the population.” There would be nothing noble about decolonization if it caused countries to implode. “It would probably save us a lot of trouble and win us the applause of the unthinking if we surrendered at once to all the demands for self-government and rid ourselves of the burden of trusteeship,” he would later comment. “But we have a duty to the people of the dependent territories and to the world at large that it would be cowardly to shirk, and we could not later escape the responsibility and the blame for the disasters that would follow if we abandoned our trust.”


The featured image shows the map of the British Empire by Walter Crane, printed in 1886.

The Compleat Mrs Lilian Broadbridge

Preamble

I grew up in Radlett, Hertfordshire, about 15 miles from London, in the same cunningly modified semi-detached late 1930s home for the first 19 years of my life, and would periodically return there, sometimes from New Zealand, for a further 19 years.

Our place was right by a bluebell wood and opposite wheat fields. Back then, Radlett was a rather smug, solidly, perhaps even slightly upper, middle-class place. Today it is dominated by footballers, plutocrats and other nouveaux riches. In my day, there were two titled people on my Horticultural Society delivery list (Dad was an avid dahlia grower) – and our quarterly bulletin was the splendidly titled, Weeder’s Digest.

The heroine of the literary amuse-bouches that follow, Mrs. Lilian Broadbridge, long gone to Jesus, lived in a detached house in the street running parallel to us, Newberries Avenue. Fortunately her back garden was one along, but within easy hailing distance – and, by Jove, her voice carried.

Were she alive today, I think she would be tickled pink by the thought of having her views on race relations and the Royal Family as well as her wider Weltanschauung committed to print (these are coming up in the months ahead)!. There’s even a thank-you letter from her to Dr Dass to that effect.

Her husband, Leslie, was a shadowy presence, whose later years were absorbed in his stamp collection, watching cricket on TV, and silently working in the garden during her lengthy absences ‘down the village’, as everyone called it.


Mrs. Broadbridge Talks Politics

Though I always vote what my Leslie votes for, for us it’s just like what Henry Ford said about cars. You can have any colour, so long as it’s true blue [laughs]. He actually said black, I know a thing or two about history, but you know what I mean. A proud, true blue Tory, that’s me, born, bred – and educated.

Mrs. Thatcher wants to protect our great grammar schools, and I can tell you that getting into Watford Grammar was a life-saver for young Les. You won’t catch me dead in a ditch voting Labour! Their aim is to make everyone, regardless of their ability and intelligence, everyone equal. That’s alright on a desert island maybe, but on our island with 55 million people on it, it’s another matter. Equality is the slippery slope to communism, mark my words. And what did we fight the War for, with Winston at the helm, if it wasn’t to keep out those nasty Nazis and their pals the Reds?

Labour wants to tax you up to the hilt, down to the final penny. Les and I have precious little to show for after the taxman cometh, even with Mrs. Thatcher, thank heaven she’s in no. 10 now. And the price of those fresh vegetables at Draper’s (you’d never catch me going to Daryll’s on the other side of Watling Street), is really shocking. Melons 50p each! Never did I ever think it would come to this.

We have to scrimp and save, Les and me. And when we drove through the council estate on our way to Watford the other day, there was a late model Rover, or even worse a Toyota (I’ll never forgive them for what they did to our lads in the War).

Where was I? Yes, a gleaming Toyota parked on just about every drive, it made me almost ashamed of our Allegro. I ask you, where does all their money come from? And you should see what they cram into their trolleys in the supermarket, honestly, all those Cola bottles, beer cans by the dozen, huge packets of crisps, it’s money no object – alright for some!

Well, talking of shopping, I’d best be going down the village again myself, Les is clean out of his pipe tobacco, he’s a very particular man is our Les, but let me tell you this, though I love watching Cilla on Blind Date and some of those young men are really handsome, I’d never, ever hope to find a better or more loving husband…

Mark interjects (no chance earlier): So he’s a real man, is he?

Mrs Broadbridge: Oh you are a one! [Dissolves into laughter].

Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, favourite reading of Leslie Broadbridge.

Mrs Broadbridge On Feminism

Those feminists are whiners and whingers. I never needed feminism and
just look at me now! As for bra-burning, well that’s even more stupid. When Leslie was courting me, he admired my endowments. Wearing a bra is part and parcel of them. Burning it would be like smashing my lovely, privately prescribed, tortoiseshell glasses, cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Germaine Greer, seen confronting Mrs. Lilian Broadbridge.

And let me tell you this. If a woman can’t influence her husband in every way, she must be some kind of a ninny. I’m quite progressive, really, and once the children are at school, I quite understand it if a woman wants to go back into the big wide world and find a job – and do very well in it. But that’s about as far as my feminism goes and if that cocky Germaine Greer ever comes anywhere near Newberries Avenue, I’ll jolly well give her a piece of my mind!


Mrs Broadbridge Says Thank You

[Ooh! I have a soft spot for handsome Indian gents, while Les is a big fan of that cunning slow bowler in the pink turban, the Venerable Bedi he calls him!]

Dear Dr Dass,
Never would I have thought that our clever young Mark, from that semi-detached in Theobald Street, would be featuring an article on the likes of us!! Truth be told, I’m really chuffed. You notice, as a literary man, how
I write it correctly, not “never would I of thought.” There lies a story! I wrote that in primary school and got a black star, my only one. My teacher said, and full of sarcasm Miss Venables was, ‘You don’t want to be one of the great unwashed!’

No I do not, and to this day I’ll have you know I enjoy two hot baths a week, complete with my lovely Yardley Lavender salts. Leslie, he does the same, and – I’ll let you into a little secret – he sings rather loudly in the bath. Lordy, I heard him bellowing out :We all live in a yellow submarine” last night, and it gave me quite a giggle.

Well, that’s more than enough of our private lives for the time being at least, but before I go, just to say many thanks indeed for publishing our boy!!

Sincerely yours and God bless,
Lilian Broadbridge (Mrs.)


The featured image shows, “Housewives’ Choice,” by Winifred Hartley; painted in 1956. Image courtesy of Elizabeth Crawford.

Saint Aebba Of Coldingham

It is regrettable that only a few facts about the life of this great abbess who was venerated all over Scotland and northern England and esteemed by the Venerable Bede are known. Now that the interest in this holy woman is increasing among the Orthodox, let us recall her biography.

St. Aebba, also known as “Ebba the Elder,” was born in about 615, in the royal family of the Kingdom of Bernicia, in northern England. Her father was King Aethelfrith, who ruled Bernicia from 593, as well as Deira (from 604) until his death in 616 (the amalgamation of these two kingdoms was later to be called Northumbria).

Among her brothers were St. Oswald the martyr, and Oswiu, kings of Northumbria. After her father had been killed at the Battle of Bawtry, St. Aebba’s mother Acha took her children to the kingdom of Dalriada, situated in the north-west of Scotland and founded by Irish Gaelic settlers. Princess Aebba was a little girl then. Meanwhile, Edwin, St. Aebba’s maternal uncle, who converted to the faith much later, assumed the Northumbrian throne. At that time, Dalriada was a stronghold of Christianity (by contrast to the largely pagan Pictland in the rest of Scotland and Northumbria in England) – and numerous spiritual and monastic centers sprang up there, the most famous being the Monastery of Iona founded by the Irish St. Columba in 563.

Under the protection of Dalriadan kings, having absorbed the Irish spiritual tradition, St. Aebba and her kinsmen were converted to Christ and baptized.

In the 630s, when her brother St. Oswald became the king of Northumbria and a champion of the Orthodox faith, St. Aebba decided to return to her homeland and help him evangelize the Northumbrians, most of whom were still pagan. In 635, on St. Oswald’s initiative the Irish St. Aidan, a former student of Iona, was sent to Northumbria and founded Lindisfarne Monastery, which became a beacon of Orthodox monasticism, culture and learning.

St. Aebba was beautiful and had suitors, but the princess chose to become the bride of Christ and took the veil in about 640. According to late tradition, she was tonsured on Lindisfarne by St. Finan, who later became the successor of St. Aidan as its abbot and bishop. No doubt, St. Aidan himself was among St. Aebba’s spiritual mentors and friends.

Well instructed in monastic life, and with the assistance of her brothers St. Oswald and Oswiu, the maiden of God in due course established her famous double monastery in Coldingham (its original name, according to St. Bede, was urbs Coludi, meaning “Colud’s fort,” and later became known as Colodaesburg), with two communities of monks and nuns who lived separately and prayed in the same church. At that time, Coldingham was part of Northumbria in England; now it is in the Scottish Borders area of Scotland.

Alas, we know little about the activity of St. Aebba as abbess, but she was noted for her wisdom, exemplary holy life and preaching that contributed to the conversion to Orthodoxy of many pagans. It is likely that in governing Coldingham, St. Aebba imitated her celebrated contemporary St. Hilda, who was abbess of Whitby in Northumbria at the same time.

Aebba’s monastery was situated some twenty-five miles north of Lindisfarne in a very austere place: Coldingham sits on the North Sea coast off south-eastern Scotland, with cold weather, heavy storms and large waves. Until recently, historians argued as to where exactly St. Aebba’s monastery was located. Some maintained that it was in what is now the village of Coldingham, and others—that it was at the Kirkhill overlooking the rocky promontory of St. Abb’s Head (named after St. Aebba) in St. Abbs village with cliffs right by the sea. The archeological excavations led by DigVentures, and carried out from 2017 to 2019, proved that her monastery was in Coldingham—exactly where the present-day Coldingham Priory stands.

This royal establishment enjoyed the influence that may be compared with Lindisfarne. Alas, that prosperity did not last long after St. Aebbe’s death.

Some monks and nuns of Coldingham neglected vigils and prayers and towards the end of her abbacy it was hard for St. Aebba to keep discipline at the monastery. That is why she would ask the great ascetic St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, an illustrious pastor and wonderworker, to visit Coldingham and instruct its inhabitants. It was during one of those visits by St. Cuthbert that his famous miracle with the otters occurred. Let us cite from Bede’s Life of St. Cuthbert:

“When this holy man was acquiring renown by his virtues and miracles, Ebbe, a pious woman and handmaid of Christ, was the head of a monastery at a place called the city of Coludi, remarkable both for piety and noble birth, for she was sister of King Oswiu. She sent messengers to the man of God, entreating him to come and visit her monastery. This loving message from the handmaid of his Lord he could not treat with neglect, but, coming to the place and stopping several days there, he confirmed, by his life and conversation, the way of truth which he taught. Here, as elsewhere, he would go forth, when others were asleep, and having spent the night in watchfulness return home at the hour of morning prayer. One night, a brother of the monastery, seeing him go out alone followed him privately to see what he should do. But he when he left the monastery, went down to the sea, which flows beneath, and going into it, until the water reached his neck and arms, spent the night in praising God. When the dawn of day approached, he came out of the water, and, falling on his knees, began to pray again. Whilst he was doing this, two quadrupeds, called otters, came up from the sea, and, lying down before him on the sand, breathed upon his feet, and wiped them with their hair after which, having received his blessing, they returned to their native element. Cuthbert returned home in time to join in the accustomed hymns with the other brethren. The brother, who waited for him on the heights, was so terrified that he could hardly reach home; and early in the morning he came and fell at his feet, asking his pardon, for he did not doubt that Cuthbert was fully acquainted with all that had taken place. To whom Cuthbert replied, ‘What is the matter, my brother? What have you done? Did you follow me to see what I was about to do? I forgive you on one condition,—that you tell it to nobody before my death.’ In this he followed the example of our Lord, who, when He showed his glory to his disciples on the mountain, said, ‘See that you tell no man, until the Son of man be risen from the dead.’ When the brother had assented to this condition, he gave him his blessing, and released him from all his trouble. The man concealed this miracle during St. Cuthbert’s life; but, after his death, took care to tell it to as many persons as he was able.

From the 660s on St. Aebba had considerable influence on St. Etheldreda (Audrey), the future foundress and abbess of Ely Monastery in what is now Cambridgeshire. In 672, St. Etheldreda was separated from her nominal husband, King Ecgfrith of Northumbria (670—685; Aebba’s nephew), took the veil and for some time lived at Coldingham under St. Aebba’s guidance before travelling south to the Isle of Ely.

St. Aebba communicated with other contemporary saints too. She interceded for the great missionary, bishop and builder of churches St. Wilfrid of York, who more than once was treated unfairly by royalty. In 681 the same King Ecgfrith visited St. Aebba’s Monastery with his second spouse, Ermenburga, who was struck down by an illness after the unjust imprisonment of St. Wilfrid and the theft of the holy relics brought by Wilfrid. This episode is narrated in the earliest Life of St. Wilfrid by Stephen of Ripon, an extract from which we quote below:

“In the meantime the king and queen were making their progress through the cities, fortresses, and villages with worldly pomp and daily feasts and rejoicings, in the course of which they came to the nunnery of Coldingham. The abbess, King Oswiu’s sister Aebbe, was a very wise and holy woman. At this same place the queen was possessed by a devil during the night and, as in the case of Pilate’s wife, the attacks were so severe that she was hardly expected to last till day. As dawn was breaking the abbess came to the queen and found her lying with the muscles of her limbs all contracted and screwed up. Obviously she was dying. Off went Abbess Aebbe to the king and with tears in her eyes gave her opinion of the cause of the calamity. Indeed she rounded on him. ‘I know for a fact that you ejected Wilfrid from his see for no reason. He was driven into exile and went to Rome to seek redress. Now he has returned from that see that has the same power as St Peter himself in loosing and binding. And what have you done but despised its injunctions and despoiled the bishop? Then to pile injury on injury you have had him locked away in jail. Listen, my son, to your mother’s advice. Loosen his bonds. Restore the relics your queen has taken from his neck and carried round from city to city like the ark of the Lord to her own doom. Send a messenger with them. The best plan would be to reinstate him as bishop, but if you cannot bring yourself to do this, at least let him and his friends leave the kingdom and go where they will. Do this and you will live and your queen will recover. Disobey and, as God is my witness, you shall not escape punishment.’ The king obeyed the holy matron, freed our bishop, and let him depart with his relics and friends. And the queen recovered.”

During hat time there lived a holy recluse called Adomnan (Adam) in the Coldingham community of monks under St. Ebbe (feast: January 31). He was born in Ireland, ordained hieromonk, and during his pilgrimage to Scotland remained at Coldingham. (He shouldn’t be confused with his great namesake, St. Adomnan of Iona, the author of the Life of St. Columba).

Adomnan excelled in the ascetic life, the strict observance of all monastic rules and denounced those members of the community who behaved in a disorderly way. In a vision it was revealed to him that in the future the monastery would be destroyed by fire because of “the frequent gossip and frivolity” of some of its monks and nuns. Hearing this prophecy, the negligent monastics mended their ways, but not for long. After the deaths of St. Adomnan (c. 680) and St. Aebba a disaster befell the monastery – it was destroyed by fire in 686, though rebuilt soon afterwards.

After 870, monastic life was not resumed at Coldingham for a long time. Little by little the waves washed away the original beauty of Coldingham, St. Abb’s Head and Ebchester, but no waves could ever erase the memory of the virtues of their foundress, Aebba, in people’s hearts.

In the late eleventh century, after the Norman Conquest, the relics of St. Aebba were rediscovered and in 1098 King Edgar I of Scotland (1097–1107) endowed lands for the new Roman Catholic Benedictine Coldingham Priory in honor of the Virgin Mary, St. Cuthbert and St. Aebba (later often referred to as the Priory of the Virgin Mary). Its church was consecrated in 1100, but the priory was officially established under King David I of Scotland (1124–1153). The Priory brethren consisted of monks who came from Durham. It grew into one of the largest and most flourishing in Scotland and a center of the wool trade.

Thus the veneration of St. Aebba was revived all over Scotland and across northern England. Part of St. Aebba’s relics was kept at Coldingham, and another part in Durham. Among medieval figures associated with Coldingham, let us mention Monk Reginald of Durham († c. 1190), who composed his version of the lives of St. Godric of Finchale, St. Oswald of Northumbria, and wrote an account of St. Cuthbert’s miracles and preserved a sermon of St. Aebba of Coldingham, where he may have lived for some time. The Priory also produced Geoffrey of Coldingham (+ c. 1215), its sacristan and a chronicler, who recorded the history of Durham between the 1150s and 1215 and probably composed the lives of St. Bartholomew of Farne and St. Godric of Finchale.

A true gem is kept at the British Library in London. It is the Coldingham Breviary, created in the late thirteenth century, by a monk of Durham (Coldingham Priory was a cell of Durham Monastery and later of Dunfermline Abbey) for Coldingham Priory. This beautiful manuscript in Latin and French contains the calendar of local feasts and commemorations (such as the dedication of the altars of the Archangel Michael and St. Aebba at Coldingham Priory, the consecration of the church in Coldingham, etc.), along with the texts for the feasts read during the year, and hymns and psalms to be read weekly, complete with illuminations. Among the relics once kept by the priory were a tiny piece of the True Cross and a nail with which the Savior was bound to the Cross. However, the Priory was almost wiped off the face of the earth several times over its history—for example, by King John of England in 1216, during his punitive expedition to the north after signing the Magna Carta.

Coldingham Priory was of such great renown that King James IV of Scotland included revenues from this monastery among the gifts to his wife, Queen Mary Tudor, for their wedding in 1503.

In 1560, during the Scottish Reformation, Coldingham Priory was dissolved, the relics of St. Aebba and other holy objects destroyed, and its lands passed to a local landowner. The Priory’s demolition was completed in 1650, when Oliver Cromwell besieged it and drove out some Royalists who had taken refuge inside it. Later it was extensively used as a quarry by locals. In 1852 a splendid new church was constructed in Coldingham using the materials from the Coldingham Priory ruins. This church is open to this day. It belongs to the Presbyterian Church of Scotland and is called “Coldingham Priory”. Although the current church is huge, it comprises materials from only one section of the former monastery’s choir. Recently work to improve the state of the Priory ruins was carried out and theme gardens dedicated to its history were added. The remains of the original monastery of St. Aebba were unearthed beside this church in 2019. The radiocarbon analysis results showed that the fabric, materials and butchered animal bones are from the Anglo-Saxon period—between 660 and 860 A.D. Among the most impressive finds was the original ditch, or vallum, that surrounded St. Aebba’s Monastery.

Today only remains of the wall foundations, chapel ruins and a well survive from the supposed community of St. Aebba at St. Abb’s Head near Coldingham. Interestingly, no finds of any significance were made during excavations at St. Abb’s Head, as opposed to a wealth of discoveries at the Coldingham site. This indicates that there was no permanent community at St. Abb’s Head throughout its history, apart from the buildings whose ruins are mentioned in the article. Coldingham is slightly further inland, and it was logical if St. Aebba set up her main community there. As for St. Abb’s Head, the saint may have used it for quiet prayer and retreats.

The remains are concentrated on the headland called Kirkhill close to the lighthouse at St. Abb’s Head, a local landmark. The chapel was built in the Middle Ages by the neighboring Coldingham Priory to perpetuate the memory of their pre-Norman predecessors. This place was visited by many pilgrims in the late Middle Ages and miracles were worked. Thus, a girl who was blind in one eye and deaf in one ear was healed after praying at the chapel for fifteen nights.

In his work, Britain’s Holiest Places, Nick Mayhew-Smith mentions two small coves beside St. Abb’s Head; one of them was certainly used by St. Cuthbert for nocturnal prayer in the waters (the Horse Castle Bay). The other cove preserves a well chamber, which was popular among pilgrims in earlier days who came here to commemorate the local saints; another well which reportedly has water in it is close by and is dedicated to St. Aebba (this second bay is called the Well Mouth). This area offers spectacular views of the seashore, with recurring howling gales and waves crashing beneath, as in the time of St. Aebba.

The village of Ebchester in County Durham stands on the site of the Roman fort of Vindomora. It was believed that St. Aebba founded one of her monasteries here, but it was subsequently plundered by pirates and never restored. The village church is dedicated to St. Aebba and dates back to the eleventh or twelfth century, its foundations being pre-Norman. However, no traces of an earlier monastery have been found so far. In the Middle Ages this isolated and rural spot attracted many hermits and it was known as a haven for anchorites.

There is St. Aebba’s Church in Beadnell village in Northumberland, which has a stained glass window depicting Sts. Aebba and Oswald. The village sits on the North Sea coast not far from Bamburgh. The church was built as a chapel in the eighteenth century and rebuilt in the following century. Apart from this there is a narrow promontory called Ebb’s Nook on the edge of the village, where in 1853 a very ancient stone chapel was dug up. The chapel was dedicated to St. Ebba and dated back to the thirteenth century. During the latest excavations in 2012 many burials, much earlier remains and a series of earthworks were found around it, presumably of the seventh century, enabling historians to suggest that St. Ebba may have founded a hermitage/skete here and the later chapel was erected to commemorate her. Now the site is carefully preserved.

There is the Episcopalian St. Ebba’s Church in the fishing town of Eyemouth in the Scottish Borders of the Diocese of Edinburgh, built in 1887. There used to be a St. Abb’s holy well beside the famous Ayton Castle at Ayton village in the Scottish Borders.

Finally, a district, a street and a parish church in the city of Oxford are named after St. Aebba (“St. Ebbes”). Historically, it may have been the oldest parish church in this university city. Though its origins are unknown, it formed part of Eynsham Abbey in Oxfordshire in 1005, and even then it was referred to as “a very ancient church.” St. Aebba is depicted in it on an old stained glass window. According to one version, the presence of a St. Aebba’s Church so far in the south is explained by the fact that she may have accompanied her brother St. Oswald to the nearby Dorchester-on-Thames to attend the baptism of King Cynegils of Wessex by St. Birinus, the enlightener of this region. Thus this church may have been built to commemorate the holy maiden’s visit to the area. The present church was almost wholly rebuilt and enlarged in the nineteenth century, while retaining some medieval monuments, stained glass and communion plates; over its history it was connected with some outstanding figures.

Perhaps this holy princess, one of numerous seventh-century powerful early English women, should be revered on a par with her brother St. Oswald, who founded Lindisfarne Monastery, making history and enlightening the north-eastern England. Likewise, his sister, St. Aebba founded Coldingham, made history and contributed to the enlightenment of south-eastern Scotland. They truly are two stars—two of a large number—shining in the firmament of seventh-century Britain.

Holy Mother Aebba, pray to God for us!


Dmitry Lapa writes for Pravoslavie on Church history.


The featured image shows, St. Ebba in stained glass from St Ebba’s Church Beadnell, Northumberland.

Saint Augustine, First Archbishop Of Canterbury

Together with St. Gregory the Dialogist (Gregory the Great, according to the Western tradition), the Pope of Rome, St. Augustine (also Austin) is venerated as “the Apostle of the English”. He was most probably born in Sicily in the mid-sixth century and became a friend of the future Pope Gregory. In his youth St. Augustine led the monastic life at St. Andrew’s monastery in Rome, which had been founded by St. Gregory, and later became its prior (the abbot’s assistant; with St. Gregory as its abbot). St. Gregory praised Augustine for his brilliant knowledge of the Scriptures and excellent administrative abilities.

Around the year 596 St. Gregory sent Augustine at the head of the mission of forty Italian monks to England. The history of this crucial mission of English and even European history is well-documented and, specifically, described by Venerable Bede in his History of the English Church and People. The prehistory of this mission is also remarkable. Once St. Gregory happened to visit a slave market in Rome where he spotted three young male slaves with fair hair from northern England. He asked the slave trader who they were and where they came from. The latter answered that they were Angles and brought from Deira (then a kingdom in northern England). The future Pope with all his heart wished that these Angles would became like angels and come from the wrath of God (“de ira” in Latin) to eternal bliss.

So, when the time came, St. Gregory decided to fulfil his great ambition: to re-establish Orthodox Christianity in the now English land (we use here the word “re-establish” knowing that Christianity had existed in Britain during the Roman occupation perhaps from the first century till 410—when the Roman legions withdrew from Britain—but soon after almost completely and rapidly disappeared until the Augustinian mission; while in Wales, Dumnonia,1 Ireland, and Scotland, inhabited by Celtic peoples, a developed Church and monastic life was already flourishing by that time).

On their journey to Albion the missionaries stopped in Gaul, present-day France, where, it is said, St. Augustine performed his first miracle in Anjou: through his prayers a well with miraculous properties gushed forth there. The companions first stopped at the famous Lerins monastery in southern Gaul. Monks in Gaul told the missionaries about the life and customs of the Angles, especially that they were for the most part ferocious and cruel heathen. The fellow-missionaries of Augustine were scared and rather hesitant to go ahead, so it was decided to send St. Augustine back to Rome and ask the Pope Gregory what they should do further. The Pope encouraged Augustine, blessed him to go back, and commanded other brethren not to lose heart, but to go forward without any hesitation. He promised to pray hard for the success of their mission.

In spring 597 the Italian monks, accompanied by a number of Frankish priest-interpreters, arrived on the shores of Kent in the south-easternmost corner of England. According to tradition, they landed in or very near Ebbsfleet in Kent, on the Isle of Thanet which then was separated from the mainland England by a small river or channel, but now is part of the mainland (a memorial cross still stands on the site to commemorate the arrival of the missionaries). At that time Kent was the most influential of all the early English kingdoms and it had mostly been settled by the Germanic tribe of Jutes.

From the year 562 Kent had been ruled by the pagan Ethelbert (later to become St. Ethelbert). Fortunately, his spouse, Queen Bertha—a Frankish princess—was a Christian. Kent had permanent trade links with Gaul and communication with the continent and the Christian world, unlike other local kingdoms. Born in Gaul, Bertha had agreed to marry Ethelbert on condition that she was allowed to practice her Christian faith in England and to take her confessor, the priest Liudhard (+ c. 603) with her. Not only did Ethelbert consent to this condition, but even provided her with a small and ancient church of St. Martin of Tours in Canterbury (though it has since been rebuilt, this very ancient church, which is about 1700 years old, survives to this day).

King Ethelbert knew about the Christian faith and thus received St. Augustine very kindly, but at the same time with caution. He did not invite the saint to his palace, but preferred to talk with him “under an oak tree”, obviously hoping in this way to protect himself from “Christian magic”. The royal residence of the Kentish king was situated in Canterbury, which then was called Durovernum. Tradition tells that the first official meeting between the King and Augustine took place in Richborough near Ramsgate on the Isle of Thanet. Augustine was accompanied by his monks: all of them sang beautiful Christian hymns, and welcomed the king with a large silver cross and a large icon of Christ the Savior.

Ethelbert was impressed by the look of the monks and by their speech. There St. Augustine preached his first sermon to Ethelbert through an interpreter, and a chapel was later built there to commemorate the event. St. Ethelbert was more interested in Christ, though confessed he was not yet prepared to embrace the new faith. However, he allowed Augustine and all his brethren to be accommodated in Canterbury (the capital of Kent), to preach Christianity among his subjects freely, and provided them with the church of St. Martin.

According to tradition, on Pentecost Sunday of the same year, 5972, King Ethelbert was baptized at St. Martin’s church, together with many representatives of his nobility. Soon afterwards some 10,000 people of Kent voluntarily resolved to follow their ruler and be illumined by holy baptism. The mass baptism took place in the small River Swale in Kent. It was the first mass conversion to Orthodoxy in the English part of post-Roman Britain. This remarkable event was accompanied by numerous healings and miracles. It is noteworthy that neither Augustine nor King Ethelbert forced any of them to accept baptism—it was the voluntary decision of the people. Among those baptized were Jutes, Angles and Saxons. The monks began to live in Canterbury near the present-day Staplegate, to fast, pray, keep vigil, imitate Christ in their life, to go out to the people and preach the Good News to them. Soon further miracles followed. It was evident that the abundant grace of God had descended on this corner of the future England.

Meanwhile, in the following year of 598, St. Augustine travelled to Gaul for a short time where he was consecrated archbishop. Thus, he became the first Archbishop of Canterbury and primate of the English Church. The city of Canterbury ever since has been considered to be the English ecclesiastical capital. On account of his success in his mission in Kent and partly in neighbouring parts of England, St Augustine has been regarded as the enlightener of the Angles, and he shares this title with St. Gregory.

Among the monks who came with Augustine to England there were several other saints: St. Laurence, the second Archbishop of Canterbury (+ 619); St. Honorius, the fifth Archbishop of Canterbury (+ 653); St. Peter, the first Abbot of Canterbury (+ 607); and, probably, St. James (d. late seventh century), an illustrious deacon in York. In the year 601 new missionaries were sent from Rome by St. Gregory, some of whom later became saints as well: the future St. Mellitus, third Archbishop of Canterbury (+ 624); St. Justus, the fourth Archbishop of Canterbury (+ 627); and St. Paulinus, the first Bishop of York (+644). They brought relics, liturgical books, church vessels and vestments from Rome.

St. Augustine founded his Cathedral in Canterbury and dedicated it to Christ the Savior. It was said that an earlier church had existed on the same site, perhaps from Roman times. The present Canterbury Cathedral, the main Cathedral of the Church of England, is the successor of the Cathedral founded by St. Augustine. It is known that the archbishop began building a monastery in honor of Sts. Peter and Paul near the walls of Canterbury, which was completed after his repose. That was the first monastery in England. In Canterbury St. Augustine also built a school where many Christians of that period came to study, and produced many future saints and Church figures. A generation after St. Augustine’s repose this school had already sent missionaries to help enlighten the Kingdom of the East Angles.

St. Peter, mentioned above, became the monastery’s first abbot; but he unfortunately drowned during his journey to Gaul in 607 near Ambleteuse, not far from Boulogne, where his relics are still venerated. Among old Christian churches restored by Augustine in Canterbury let us mention the church of St. Pancras (an early Orthodox boy-martyr in Rome, some of whose relics were later translated to England, where, for example, one of London’s railway stations is called St. Pancras in his honor to this day). Of this once splendid church only ruins survive today.

St. Augustine also founded the diocese of Rochester in the kingdom of Kent. The first bishop of Rochester was St. Justus, who was afterwards raised to the rank of Archbishop of Canterbury. The first Cathedral at Rochester was dedicated to St. Andrew the Apostle. One of his subsequent bishops in the seventh century was St. Ithamar, the first English-born bishop, from whose relics miracles were reported. The present Norman Cathedral in the port town of Rochester on the River Medway’s estuary is dedicated to Christ and the Mother of God. It is possible that under St. Augustine a fine church dedicated to St. Sophia, the Wisdom of God, was established in Reculver in Kent. Ruins of this church can be seen to this day.

By the end of his life St. Augustine had founded another diocese—in London, in the Kingdom of the East Saxons, which was at that time also under the control of Kent as St. Ethelbert was recognized as the supreme ruler of all the English lands situated to the south of the river Humber. In all his labors to spread Christianity and establish the Church throughout Kent, St. Augustine was helped by king Ethelbert. The holy king along with his wife Bertha were highly praised by St. Gregory from Rome, who in one of his letters even compared them to Sts. Constantine and Helen, Equal-to-the-Apostles.

During his ministry in England St. Augustine corresponded regularly with Pope Gregory. Their correspondence, all of which is considered by the majority of researchers to be authentic, survives to this day. Both hierarchs discussed numerous liturgical, pastoral and ritual matters, and methods of missionary work. On the Pope’s advice it was decided to bring the English people to the true faith gradually and not to force anybody to embrace Orthodoxy. All the idols were removed from pagan temples, but the temples themselves were not demolished – they were converted into Christian churches. The missionaries acted little by little.

In order to make the English people give up their old pagan habits, new Christian festivals were established, and the days of their celebration often coincided with the former heathen ones. However, the local customs and traditions which had nothing to do with paganism were not abolished, but were instead preserved and transformed in the light of the Christian life, so that the English people might cultivate their own distinctive Christian culture. The English Church thus was developed after the model of the Roman Orthodox Church but with local customs in mind.

It was recorded that during one of his journeys across the country St. Augustine healed a dumb girl by prayer in Chilham in Kent, and through his prayers, in the settlement of Cerne Abbas in Dorset a stream gushed forth which had healing powers. St. Augustine tried to reconcile the native British people—Britons3 who had a relatively developed Church life—with Angles and Saxons who had come to England from the continent. But despite his efforts, the Britons still regarded Angles as their invaders and enemies—they did not wish to reconcile themselves with them or communicate with them, although the Angles began to come to Christ in numbers. They also refused to recognize St. Augustine as their bishop. It was only closer to the end of the seventh century that the great archpastor, the Greek Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury, succeeded in reconciling and bringing together these two peoples—the British and the English.

Augustine’s mission played a huge role in the conversion of Angles and Saxons to Christianity, though the same can be said of that of St. Aidan, the Celtic monk from Ireland who organized a very successful mission from northeastern England some three decades after St. Augustine. The role of both these saints in introducing and spreading Orthodoxy in seventh-century England cannot be overestimated—they lived in somewhat different yet complementary traditions, in the same pure Orthodox spirit. The existence of these two different types of post-Roman Christianity in England enriched the Church and made it more diverse.

St. Augustine lived in England for only seven or eight years but by the end of his life could see the formation of the early English Church with his own eyes. Shortly before his repose, the Savior Himself appeared in a vision to St. Augustine. The holy archbishop passed away soon after his beloved teacher St. Gregory, either in 604 or 605, and was buried at the monastery he had built in Canterbury. It is known that he performed miracles in his lifetime. In the year 747 the official veneration of St. Augustine was confirmed by an English Church Synod in Clovesho.

Miracles continued especially in 1091 after his relics were translated to the new Norman church of the Canterbury monastery (it was at that time that the learned monk Goscelin wrote his famous Life of St. Augustine in two parts, and an account of the translation of his relics). There they were kept until the Reformation, when most of the relics were destroyed. However, small portions of them survived and later were translated to Chilham church in Kent where, unfortunately, they were destroyed as well. A tiny portion of St. Augustine’s relics is kept at the Orthodox Church of St. John of Shanghai in Colchester (Essex) and another small part of a bone was not ago acquired by St. Augustine’s Roman Catholic Church in Ramsgate (Kent) which also houses a relic of St. Laurence of Canterbury.

Many Catholic and Anglican parish churches are dedicated to St. Augustine of Canterbury in England, though more are dedicated to Blessed Augustine of Hippo. Only two of the eight ancient manuscripts brought to England by the Italian missionaries 1400 years ago still survive. One of them is a fragment of the Rule of St. Benedict from the early seventh century, which is kept at the Bodleian Library in Oxford (Oxford also has a mid-seventh-century Gospel book associated with St. Augustine), and another is the illumined “St. Augustine’s Gospel” from the early seventh century, which well may have belonged to the saint himself (this is kept at the library of the Corpus Christi College, Cambridge). This Gospel is used at the enthronements of the Archbishops of Canterbury to this day (and each time is taken to Canterbury on this occasion).

There are ancient depictions of St. Augustine on a fourteenth-century stained glass window at Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford, at Canterbury Cathedral (c. 1470), on the miniatures of “the Breviaries of the Duke of Bedford” (1424) as well as on fourteenth-century frescoes at St. Gregory’s Church in Rome. For their contribution to spreading Orthodoxy in England and great support of the Augustine’s mission both King Ethelbert and Queen Bertha were venerated as saints after their repose in 616 and c. 603 (or 612) respectively, though no information on the official feast day of St. Bertha survives. Although after St. Augustine’s death a number of pagan reactions occurred in various parts of southern England, his mission revitalized life in the country and began the long process of its re-Christianization. This mission brought spirituality, learning, art, literature, music, and medicine to the English people who had been in isolation and regress for around two centuries before Augustine.

Let us now talk about the holy sites in Canterbury associated with St. Augustine.

The little church of St. Martin of Tours is one of the oldest Christian churches in the world still in use. A part of it dates back to the late Roman period. Though most of it was rebuilt, part of its construction still includes Roman brickwork. A section of a wall on the south side of its sanctuary is purely Roman. The doorway dates to the Saxon era. The church was obviously enlarged with time (because the number of the faithful townsfolk increased) as the original church was tiny even in comparison with the present structure. It was used as St. Bertha’s private chapel—her confessor, St. Liudhard, served here; after the arrival of Augustine it was restored, and the hierarch himself worshipped here before his main cathedral was completed. Both Sts. Ethelbert (who was baptized here) and Bertha are commemorated in this church: St. Ethelbert is depicted in stained glass which shows his baptism, and St. Bertha in a statue on the Roman wall.

The church font’s upper part is mainly from the twelfth century, while its lower part is much older, and it is quite possible that it was used for the king’s baptism. A curious find was made in St. Martin’s churchyard in the 1840s. A Saxon gold coin, or medal, which was probably used as a medallion, was found here in a woman’s grave. The name of St. Liudhard was inscribed on one side of the coin and a patriarchal cross is depicted on the other side. Thus the existence of St. Liudhard was confirmed for those academics who by that time had begun to doubt it. Now the unique relic is housed at the World Museum in the city of Liverpool.

The ruins of Canterbury Abbey, founded by St. Augustine, is another precious gem. They are located not far from the Cathedral and are now attached to Canterbury’s Kings School. Some consider this school to be the heir of the great school opened by Augustine himself. That school grew into one of the most important in the whole country. It was developed especially under St. Theodore of Canterbury and the Holy Abbot Hadrian of Canterbury (he was a Berber from Africa who ruled the monastery for over forty years until his repose in c.710). For a long time this monastery was the burial site of the abbots and Archbishops of Canterbury and Kings of Kent. It had a huge library and a scriptorium for copying manuscripts. The monastery, originally dedicated to Sts. Peter and Paul, was rededicated in the tenth century by St. Dunstan in honor of its founder, St. Augustine.

The medieval monastery was so large that it could be compared with the present huge Canterbury Cathedral. Unfortunately, it was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1538 and gradually ruined—after over 900 years of permanent monastic life, education and learning on this site. Now the ruins are cared for by English Heritage. Large-scale excavation work was carried out here recently and there is a museum/visitors’ center nearby that tells the story of this site—indeed one of the most significant sites in English history. Remains of the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul and that of St. Pancras can be distinguished among the ruins. Big bronze statues of Sts. Ethelbert and Bertha stand by the ruins. This is a very holy place also because more early saints were buried here even than at the Cathedral. Lately English Heritage has put markers (some of them symbolic) on the supposed graves of the early saints on the territory of the abbey. (Who knows, maybe the relics of some still lie in the ground under them).

The names of the saints buried at the St. Augustine’s abbey are: St. Augustine (first Archbishop of Canterbury), St. Laurence (second Archbishop of Canterbury), St. Mellitus (third Archbishop of Canterbury), St. Justus (fourth Archbishop of Canterbury), St. Honorius (fifth Archbishop of Canterbury), St. Deusdedit (Frithona in baptism: the first English-born and sixth Archbishop of Canterbury; + 664), St. Theodore of Tarsus (eighth Archbishop of Canterbury; + 690), St. Berhtwald (ninth Archbishop of Canterbury; + 731), St. Tatwine (tenth Archbishop of Canterbury; + 734), St. Nothelm (eleventh Archbishop of Canterbury; + 739), St. Jambert (fourteenth Archbishop of Canterbury; + 792), St. Hadrian of Canterbury, St. Ethelbert of Kent, St. Bertha of Kent, St. Mildred of Minster on Thanet (d. early eighth century; some of her relics were translated here in the first half of the eleventh century to rescue them from the pagan Danes), St. Mildgyth (St. Mildred’s sister, late seventh century).

The Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Canterbury, the current edifice of which is mainly from the twelfth century and built of Caen stone, is one of the most visited buildings in England, and the historic heart of the English land. The first Cathedral was built by St. Augustine by the year 602. Not long ago part of the Saxon building was discovered under the nave of the present Cathedral. The earliest part of the Cathedral is the crypt—some of it is from the eleventh century. The Cathedral has very many memorials and artefacts, though most of its treasures were barbarously destroyed during the Reformation initiated by Henry VIII nearly 500 years ago. The Cathedral precincts are entered through the impressive Christ Church gates with the splendid figure of Christ above you. The west towers of the Cathedral along with the famous Bell Harry Tower are magnificent. The beautiful huge West Window of the Cathedral is reputedly the oldest surviving stained glass in England (dating to the 1170s).

The twelfth-century murals inside St. Gabriel’s Chapel depict scenes from the life of St. John the Baptist. The high altar at the end of the Cathedral choir is dedicated to St. Thomas Becket who was murdered in 1170 by knights of King Henry II (the latter then tried to atone for his sin, walking to the Cathedral as a simple pilgrim, praying for his forgiveness at Becket’s tomb and even allowing the Canterbury brethren to whip him). On both sides of the high altar are markers showing the sites of the former shrines of Sts. Dunstan and Alphege, great Orthodox Archbishops of Canterbury. Many sites within the Cathedral are still dedicated to the memory of Thomas Becket, who is venerated by the Catholic Church—his shrine at this Cathedral attracted millions of pilgrims in the Middle Ages, as he was the most venerated Catholic saint of England and one of the most venerated post-schism saints in the whole of Western Europe. Though his shrine and major relics were destroyed during the Reformation, a tiny portion of his relics still survives at the Catholic Church of Thomas a Becket in Canterbury to this day.

Among other treasures of the Cathedral are thirteenth-century stained glass windows with images of various saints (for example, a twelfth-century image of St. Paul the Apostle with a snake), depictions from the life of Christ and, notably, the thirteenth-century Purbeck “St. Augustine’s Chair” on which each Archbishop of Canterbury is officially enthroned. There is also a remarkable chapel dedicated to all the modern martyrs of major Christian denominations, called “the Corona Chapel”. Here is the list of the saints buried within Canterbury Cathedral (nobody knows whether the relics of any of them still rest concealed there or not, though the Lord may reveal it one day):

St. Cuthbert (twelfth Archbishop of Canterbury; +760), St. Bregwin (thirteenth Archbishop of Canterbury; +764), St. Ethelhard (fifteenth Archbishop of Canterbury; +805), St. Plegmund (twentieth Archbishop of Canterbury; + c.923), St. Athelm, or Athelhelm (twenty-first Archbishop of Canterbury; + c. 927), St. Odo, or Oda the Good, or Severe (twenty-third Archbishop of Canterbury; + c.958), St. Dunstan (twenty-sixth Archbishop of Canterbury; + 988), St. Aelfric (twenty-ninth Archbishop of Canterbury; not to be confused with the learned abbot, scholar and spiritual writer Aelfric of Eynsham; +1005), St. Alphege the Martyr (thirtieth Archbishop of Canterbury; +1012), St. Aethelnoth the Good (thirty-second Archbishop of Canterbury; +1038), St. Eadsige (thirty-third Archbishop of Canterbury; + c.1050), St. Swithin of Winchester (his head relic rested here; +862), St. Wulganus (an eighth century British missionary who enlightened the Atrebati in Gaul and lived as hermit in Arras; a portion of his relics rested here).

As we can see, twenty-two early (and Orthodox) Archbishops of Canterbury were canonized—and St. Augustine is at the head of them. During the Second World War Canterbury was heavily damaged by Luftwaffe bombs but the cathedral was rescued by the city residents and, of course, through intercession of St. Augustine. As we know, a similar miraculous event happened in Durham in 1943: St. Cuthbert whose relics rest there saved the city of Durham and its cathedral from Luftwaffe bombs by hiding them in thick fog!

The Way of St. Augustine” is a pilgrimage trail from Ramsgate to Canterbury embracing some 20 miles and covering places associated with St. Augustine. It begins from the Catholic church-shrine of St. Augustine in Ramsgate and passes, among other places, through the village of Cliffsend (according to one version, it was here that the saint first landed in England; the Saxon leaders Hengist and Horsa also landed here in 449 A.D. to settle in England), St. Augustine’s cross, Minster-on-Thanet, and Fordwich near Canterbury (claiming to be the smallest English town; it has the old St. Mary’s church which houses a tomb believed to be the one that once contained St. Augustine’s relics).

Holy Hierarch Augustine, pray to God for us!


Dmitry Lapa writes about Orthodox history and faith. This article appears through the kind courtesy of Orthodox Christianity.


The featured image shows, “St Augustine at Ebbsfleet,” by Frank Brangwyn, painted in 1920.