Camden News
Publications by New Journal Enterprises
  Home Archive Competition Jobs Tickets Accommodation Dating Contact us
Camden News - by DAN CARRIER
Published: 23 December 2008
‘Adrian was a genius. He was a tender, political poet who never compromised’

Leading lights of the literary world pay tribute to poet and playwright Adrian Mitchell

FRIENDS of the poet Adrian Mitchell, who has died aged 76, have spoken of his immense contribution to the two passions of his life: the peace movement and the spoken word. The poet and playwright passed away on Saturday night.
Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen first saw Adrian perform his poem To Whom It May Concern at a massive anti-Vietnam war demonstration in Trafalgar Square in the early 1960s and became a life long friend of Adrian’s.
Mr Rosen said: “Adrian was a socialist and a pacifist who believed, like William Blake, that everything human was ‘holy’. That is to say he celebrated a love of life with the same fervour that he attacked those who crushed life.
“He would point out how society crushes the inventiveness and play in children, and he created poetry for children that is full of wordplay, mystery, absurdity and music.
“There are more than 50 years of revolutionary literature that he has given us. He has sung, chanted, whispered and shouted his poems in every kind of place imaginable, urging us to love our lives, love our minds and bodies and to fight against tyranny, oppression and exploitation.”
Kentish Town based poet Jehane Markham first met Adrian when she was 15 and performed at many readings with him.
Ms Markham remembered how he articulated political views in brilliant, memorable prose. She said: “He was always himself. He never compromised his views. He was the first radical poet I had ever heard. He put his money where his mouth is. He never deviated. He was never part of a fashionable in-crowd. He was very much his own man.”
She added that his genius in writing for children came from his own innate sense of mischief and fun.
She added: “He was naturally anti-authoritarian, a natural anarchist. He had a child’s spirit. It is beyond me to put his genius into words. He was a tender poet, yet political.”
Playwright Sir Arnold Wesker recalled running into Adrian at shows and parties.
He had performed at Sir Arnold’s Centre 42 at the Roundhouse, in the 1960s, springing on to the stage like a rock’n’ roll front man.
Sir Arnold said: “His death has come as a great shock – it just seems so wrong. It really takes something away from the period.”
Actor Roger Lloyd-Pack worked with Adrian at the children’s theatre company Wonderful Beast. He said: “Adrian had a spark about him. It is a very sad loss.”
In the last years of his life, Adrian did not slow down in expressing fierce anger at the stupidity of war. He travelled to the Faslane nuclear base in Scotland in 2006 to demonstrate against the Trident missile programme. He was arrested for taking part in non-violent direct action to disrupt the convoys going into the base. He recalled spending a night in the cells and being treated kindly by the Scottish officers who took him in.
He told the New Journal: “They didn’t want to charge me with anything – they thought it was too much bother and I’d get the publicity of being in a magistrates’ court.
“They thought a night in a police station might inconvenience me a little bit. But they made me endless cups if tea and made sure I was warm and comfortable, so I wasn’t inconvenienced at all.”
Adrian had been suffering from pneumonia through the autumn, although he seemed to be bearing up well – he was occasionally spotted walking on the Heath, albeit at a slower pace than usual, with his golden retriever Daisy, “The Dog of Peace” as she was dubbed in his children’s book of poetry called the Zoo of Dreams.
Adrian lived near the Heath for much of his life and was born in Parliament Hill in 1932. His father, Jock, was a chemist and Adrian showed early promise, writing his first play aged just nine. He did his national service in the RAF and his experiences in the forces confirmed his anti-militarism.
He studied at Oxford and then became a journalist, moving back to London to work on the Evening Standard. He worked on the Sunday Times, but fell out of favour for reviewing Peter Watkins anti-nuclear film The War Game, which had been banned.
Reporting on the arts, he began writing poetry, novels and plays from the mid-1960s onwards.
Adrian was a British beat poet – his love of jazz influenced him in his writing, and he was aware of the importance of the rhythm of the language he used, writing of the trumpeter Charlie Parker: “He breathed in air/He breathed out light/ Charlie Parker was my delight.”
His back catalogue includes an adaptation of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe for the RSC and a Beatrix Potter trilogy for the Unicorn Theatre. Other works included a play about William Blake, Tyger for the National Theatre. His version of Pushkin’s Boris Godunov is due to be performed by the RSC next year.
Always willing to give time to the peace movement – the windows of his house in Dartmouth Park are still festooned with 1960s-style CND signs – he helped write and produce an open air show for the Woodcraft Folk in a field in Kent.
Adrian leaves his wife, the actress Celia Hewitt to who he was married for 47 years, their two daughters, as well as two sons and a daughter from his first marriage.

My Literary Career So Far

(Adrian Mitchell’s last poem, written on Thursday evening)

As I prowled through Parentheses
I met an Robin and a Owl
My Grammarboots they thrilled like bees
My Vowelhat did gladly growl
Tis my delight each Friedegg Night
To chomp a Verbal Sandwich
Scots Consonants light up my Pants
And marinade my Heart in Language
Alphabet Soup was all my joy!
From Dreadfast up to Winnertime
I swam, a naked Pushkinboy
Up wodka vaterfalls of rhyme
And reached the summit of Blue Howl
To find a shining Suit of Words
And joined an Robin and a Owl
In good Duke Ellington’s Band of Birds

Comment on this article.
(You must supply your full name and email address for your comment to be published)







Theatre Music
Arts & Events Attractions