George Melly R.I.P.
If you read the obituaries
and blog comments
about George Melly, who died yesterday aged 80, you'll only find kind words.He was neurotically fastidious in his habits, and there was much that was contradictory in his personality. A compulsive story-teller, he even talked loudly on the riverbank as he cast for trout, a well-known way of frightening the fish. But he recognised the contradictions, indeed revelled in them, and made them his subject.
First and foremost a performer, he loved both to entertain and shock his audience, and though shocking naturally became more difficult as he grew older, he was never shocked himself. His favourite quote in old age was Groucho Marx's "Hello, I must be going". And now he has gone. Open-minded, open-hearted, he will be missed all over Britain by people of every class and kind.
He was a singer of 'revivalist' jazz and early blues (from whence jazz came), a raconteur, an art collector with a love of surrealism, a social commentator, an anarchist and a freethinking social critic who could be extremely sharp and subversive.
I saw him perform a few times in the late sixties with Mick Mulligan's Stane Street Jazzband and had the pleasure of meeting him in 1970. That was the year when teachers went on strike for the first time.
London teachers, supported by their union, were seeking an interim pay rise to reflect the extra costs of living in London. A rise of £132 p.a. was sought; we got £125 which I thought was a failure. But then I was in my early 20's, new to teaching and because I'd spoken some sense at a union meeting (i.e. focus on one issue first: the lack of resources, large class sizes, the need for special education etc. etc. could wait), I had become secretary of the Camden teachers' strike committee. We had to organise around a schedule of selective school closures ~ and mine was never one of them..
A local school, Gospel Oak, being close to Hampstead, had a number of 'celebrity' parents, including George. My memory of George at that time is of his support for a cause he felt was just. And no doubt he was a quiet activist elsewhere, such was his desire for social justice.
There was only one George. Thanks for touching my life.