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Camden New Journal - One Week with JOHN GULLIVER
Published: 28 August 2008

Sir Jonathan Miller
Sir Jonathan Miller always knows how to put us in the picture

WHAT is my office coming to? Often readers drop in trying to land a story in the paper.
Most of them chat to fellow reporters. Few I know.
But on Tuesday I got a surprise – there sitting on the couch, long legs splayed out from his hunched position, was someone I regard as one of Britain’s leading intellectuals: writer, theatre director, neurologist, Sir Jonathan Miller. He’s a lovely fellow for quotes because he is one of the few people who can talk in whole sentences. I have met many well-known intellectuals, literary lions among them, but not one who can let flow such well-constructed sentences.
I was walking hurriedly into my office when first I heard his unmistakable voice, then looked across the room and then, good God! It was the great man himself. I almost spilled my coffee!
Jonathan, who lives in Camden Town, was in full flow on his favourite subject – dirt, rubbish, the boorish behaviour of the masses, from all over the world, as they walk through Camden Town in pursuit of “that market at Camden Lock”. Our reporter’s pen was flying across his notebook (See page 14).
Jonathan was agitated. He feels protective towards an area he’s lived in for 50 years, remembering the old days when butchers like Pages dominated Inverness Street market. But Jonathan – isn’t that another age? It’s gone. Swallowed up by the past.
I wanted to say that, but didn’t. Time still for another discussion with him. But I wondered what Jonathan, himself a distinguished artist, a director of great theatrical spectacles in the West End and Broadway, thought of a figurative painting by a Trinidad artist looking down on him from my office wall. I had bought it a few years ago while on holiday on the island.
Politely, he explained it wasn’t his cup of tea – he preferred the Constructivists of the 1920s in the former Soviet Union, he expounded, again with that voice that began to give life to the subject.
Extraordinary abstract artists the Constructivists, I thought, whose paintings – and here I am, oh dear, being mercenary – sell for millions.
There are artists today who dip into the Constructivist style. I met one last year – he lives in Belsize Park – at an exhibition in Islington of Russian art.
I possess a tiny bit of knowledge about the subject and soon Jonathan brought up a name I was familiar with – Malevich. You could call him perhaps the father of the Constructivist school who dominated Russian art in the 1920s, only to die 10 years later.
Jonathan’s eyes were alight and you could see he could talk for ages about Malevich.
I cannot say we did. Just for a few moments, I regret. But, again, Jonathan poured out whole sentences.

Mayor Boris’s Olympic effort to budge a Labour party man

LONDON Mayor Boris Johnson, who has cleaned the Augean stables at County Hall, sweeping out Ken’s men and women, at considerable cost, came across an obstinate Camden Towner who was difficult to move, I learned some time ago.
Long active in the local Labour party, he was hoisted into County Hall by Ken several years ago, and worked merrily away on the top floor with the great man himself.
But could Boris budge him? No, because he had been employed by the Greater London Authority (GLA) and not directly by Ken himself.
The laws of employment protected him. For weeks he must have troubled Boris. So much so, that Boris moved him in pique from the eighth floor down to the second, into a kind of internal exile so cherished by totalitarian governments.
He was allowed to spend his time on a non-job on “statistics”.
This week I can report he has escaped his captor, and found a job as a reasonably well-paid assistant to Murad Querishi, a GLA representative. Querishi has myriad responsibilities covering environment, sports and tourism, transport and the fire authority.
I rang Querishi on his mobile yesterday (Wednesday) to discuss his new assistant but found he was in China, where he had been invited to the Olympics as a London politician. Nice if you can get it.
Presumably, he spent some time with Boris in Beijing. I’m sure they wouldn’t have discussed that awkward Camden Towner.

‘No!’ Here’s the bottom line on Chamberlain’s cinema censors

LONG porn scenes in the uncut version of the film Caligula, starring Malcolm McDowell, script by Gore Vidal, have been given the nod this week by the censors for DVD distribution.
But in the 1950s you couldn’t even get a scene in the serious theatre showing a still nude past the Lord Chamberlain’s office!
This came to light in the early rehearsals of John Osborne’s classic, The Entertainer, starring Lawrence Olivier – one of my favourites.
To get permission for the daring scene, the producers photographed Vivienne Drummond, an aspiring actress, in full bloom, showing her looking sideways.
A direct look at the audience would never get past the censor.
But the censors threw a fit when they saw the photograph – sideways or not – and wrote “No” across Vivienne’s buttocks.
More about censorship in the post-war British theatre can be seen at an extraordinary exhibition at the British Library, which opened yesterday (Wednesday).

Tall story: A lively exchange with an undertaker

“OUR problem is not only we are living longer, we are also getting longer.”
He went on: “Time was when your average British male was 5ft 11 and 20 inches across. Now he’s 6ft 3 and 20 inches across.”
I was aware, like most observers of human bodies today, that the physical dimensions of bellies and bottoms had changed over the years, but somehow I had never quite seen human beings in this way until these remarks flowed across the hotel bar from a middle-aged man I had got chatting to.
Soon he had introduced himself as an undertaker. Here, quite clearly, was a man who knew his bodies.
And within minutes he was commenting on the need for bigger coffins. Better health today has its unexpected consequences, I realised.
Fascinated by a subject I knew little about, I listened as he explained that most coffins are prefabricated and arrive in flat packets to be assembled.
Our new physical dimensions, it seems, have caused some stretching problems on the assembly line.
A literary undertaker, he launched into a quote from Jessica Mitford’s The American Way of Death.
When she wanted to buy a coffin, a haughty west coast mortician saw her off with: “We sell funerals, madame, not coffins.”
Quite. O death, where is thou sting, Oh Grave where is thy victory.
But now we know at last size really matters.

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