Sunday, February 19, 2017

Words spoken on February 6th

Many of us perhaps knew Daddy as he was over the past couple of decades, a man enjoying possibly the best retirement it is possible to have, maybe not the individual leading the more action-packed life of adventure which preceded it....adventures across several continents, across two marriages - more specifically between those marriages - and across a long and successful career as entrepreneur turned company Chairman. 

When I was little I remember people asking him what he did for a living and he'd reply Industrial Theatre or even Commercial Showbusiness. It was an industry that he and his partner Malcolm built from the ground up in the late 60s - and MMA Presentations Ltd, as it then began, evolved into the dominant outfit within it across the whole of Europe. 

Industrial Theatre: it's a term that points to some of the other playful oppositions at the heart of Daddy.

He could strike one as the most risk averse adventurer (or perhaps an adventurous risk avoider)

...a non-believer with the most complete, well-grounded and admirable value system you could ever hope to encounter, apparently unreflective nature with a profound intuitive connection with what others might offhandedly call creation, 

....a keeper of traditions with an aversion to rituals, gregarious and generous to a fault, yet always deeply shy, and ever a man who could spot a rip off when he saw one. 

His first great adventure took him, aged 13, across the pond when the Nazis controlled a large part of Europe, their U-Boats sinking two of the ships in his convoy. 

On arrival at the docks in New York, he received what we might today call a topical greeting from the first native he encountered, a New York Cab driver: Well Limey, he inquired, how's it feel to be a refugee? 

From the Big Apple he went west to Kansas City Missouri and an all-American adolescence: high school, flag saluting, the boy scouts, a prom date and his first significant change of identity: from Henry to Hank.

Back in London as the war drew to its conclusion and his parents Mark and Rose had opened their home, specifically their living room floor, to American GIs on leave and needing somewhere in the city to kip for the night, Daddy enlisted and was commissioned into the Royal Fusiliers.

He was soon despatched to Egypt to take charge of a motorised courier platoon in the Sinai Dessert, an adventure which commenced when he famously paid off his army driving instructor, so that right up to the end of last year we were never quite sure if he really ought to be bombing around that little car of his. 

In 1948 he crossed the ocean once again to seek his fortune in the Argentina of Juan Perón. 

It would be an adventure of the amorous variety that brought this chapter to a close when officials connected with a woman scorned had his leave to remain there duly cancelled. 

But from Buenos Aires he extracted an extraordinary lifelong friendship with a French woman called Michelle,  girlfriend to his best friend Nick. Though they only met up again person a handful of times, they kept in touch for almost 70 years by letter, by telephone and then by email - and she always called him Hanky. (This morning she sent me a lovely message)

Then began the years of marriage and family, and between them a more mysterious interregnum, involving underground jazz clubs, playing the bongos and some well-situated bachelor pads. The showbiz kicked off first, but the industry was not far behind. 

Daddy always wanted to write this story himself. Today I have only been able to provide a taster of the tales he might have told. He was justly proud of everything he had done and the things he had achieved, in life and in business. 

But he was never a showy man. Some even said they could find him a little intimidating. Only last week Leonard, his accountant of half a century told me how he first met Daddy in his Hertford street office sitting behind a desk on a raised level looking down on him, and how at the time, he was a just little bit scared. 

In latter years Daddy’s been known for an occasional grumpy turn or, as Neale's story before attested, a degree of consternation at small changes in his everyday environment, a quality he shared with his capricious cat Meow. 

Yet he had this admirable knack for treating everyone he had dealings with as if they were equally important to him, was quietly sentimental and just occasionally, a bit of a pushover. 

Back in the 50s he was winning prizes for his fantastic dahlias and throughout his life retained an extraordinary flair for transforming any unlikely space into a garden. On the little balcony outside my bedroom, just months after I left home for good, tomatoes and cucumbers soon flourished where, he would soon quip to me, only been beer cans had been growing before. 

So it was hardly surprising that he was surely never more contented than in these last few years - a town mouse turned country mouse - free to indulge in his lifelong love of nature, doting on his soul mate, his garden, his canine and feline companions and his ever-devoted horse Twoflower. 

It was - at every stage - a life well lived....and no matter how hard he worked at leading a good life for himself he always strove to create the best possible existence for those he cared about and in this I can count myself most fortunate and forever grateful. 

Thank you all for coming today.

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