From 1812 to 1870 number 48 Doughty Street was the home of Charles Dickens.
Clerkenwell and Bloomsbury have been my own stamping ground since the early 1960’s. Many of the street names were used by Dickens for characters in his novels.
Walking down Doughty Street I have always been attracted by the doors, which front the many elegant Georgian town houses. I often think of the comings and goings of the myriad of people passing through those doors over the decades.
Come with me for a little door walk…
The entrance to Charles Dickens house is via number 49 where the museum is housed
He is a surgeon and writer. More importantly, he is giving this year’s BBC Reith Lectures.
So far, there have been 3. There is just one to go. They are wonderful.
It is the first time I have heard a doctor speak with such clarity, simplicity and elegance. It is a tour de force in the art of clear communication void of all jargon. Anyone who has to speak publicly should listen to this man. He has the gift of storytelling. Take a listen to this one on ageing and death. It is extremely moving. Click Here
Just a month or two ago Michael Wolff and I met with David Abbott to discuss a joint project.
David being David took us to his favourite Italian restaurant, where they knew him well and made sure he had his favourite corner table with no overhead lighting (something that he hated).
He was witty, charming and as elegant as ever, immaculately turned out right down to his shiny brogue shoes.
That’s how we will both remember him.
Here are some heartfelt thoughts from Michael…
When a genius dies it leaves a gaping empty space. Without any doubt the sudden death of Dave Abbott leaves such a space inside me. My heart stopped and my brain ached on hearing the shocking news that he has left us.
Before I met Dave I never realised that brilliant writing can only come from brilliant thinking. Ever since I met Bill Bernbach I understood the power of language, but it was Dave who inspired me to relish and cherish the elegance, simplicity and courageous thoughts that guide the hand of great writers.
Photography, illustration and writing have long spanned the space between art and commercial communication. There have been, still are and will always be many imaginative and great photographers, illustrators and writers. But great as great can be, it’s only genius that can produce magic and it was magic that Dave’s writing always brought to us.
Dave was one of the most generous, elegant, helpful, modest and inspiring people I had the good fortune to encounter during my working life. Today I feel a boundless sense of loss, sadness and emptiness, and I can only wonder if we will ever see another to equal him.
More on David Abbott Here an interview I had with him a few years back:
You’ll be familiar with the letters of Michael Wolff on this blog. They are full of wit and wisdom. Well, now for the first time you can read a short story that I have persuaded Michael to allow me to post.
I think you will agree it is charming with a beautiful simplicity of prose, a tricky thing to pull off. But he does.
Here it is.
Friendship by Michael Wolff
This is a story about friendship and how you can experience it in the nuances of a few well-chosen words.
Many years ago there was a brilliant English teacher in one of England’s well-known Roman Catholic public schools – Downside.
The teacher was called Father McKenzie. He was an extraordinary man, well loved by those he taught, by their parents and by all his colleagues.
He was also greatly admired by the Abbot who led the school because many that he taught were accepted into colleges in Oxford and Cambridge. This enhanced the reputation of Downside.
Towards the end of the war there was a series of unusual incidents at the school. Many of the students noticed that small things like pens, notebooks, penknives and a variety of intimate personal items, seemed to be disappearing. No one had thought much or said much about it until one day a student noticed that his precious fountain pen had gone and told his parents. Other parents had heard similar complaints and eventually a complaint was made to the Abbot.
After a brief investigation it became clear that there was only one explanation for all these small thefts and only one culprit – Father McKenzie.
The Abbot called Father McKenzie to his study and a stern meeting took place between the two of them in which the Abbot both praised this marvellous teacher and also rebuked him.
Father McKenzie admitted that he suffered from kleptomania and naturally the Abbott forgave him on behalf of everyone involved. But he also had to warn him that there could be no question of any reoccurrences or he, Father McKenzie, would have to leave Downside forever. He insisted that Father McKenzie engaged in some treatment for his disorder, which of course he did and after this all went well.
The war ended, the whole incident was forgotten and Downside continued to win more places for its students in Oxford and Cambridge than any other school in the land. These wonderful results were directly attributable to the genius of Father McKenzie and to everyone’s love and respect for him.
Then, after a few years, some of the students found that some of their belongings had started to be missing again, only this time, more expensive things like transistor radios and tape recorders.
Swiftly, the culprit was identified.
It was, of course Father McKenzie. There was a brief meeting after which, in no time at all, he was no longer teaching in Downside.
The years elapsed, and one morning the Abbot received a confidential private letter. It was from the Abbott of another school called Ampleforth. The subject of the letter was confidential. It was a request for a reference for a new teacher who’d applied for a position teaching English. His name, Father McKenzie, and he’d given this Abbot his former Abbot’s name.
This was a challenge for the Abbot of Downside and he wondered how he could tell the truth and, at the same time, share his deep respect and affection for a man who’s brilliance as a teacher had brought both an enviable reputation and valuable academic results to Downside for so many years.
Father McKenzie had been both a friend to the school and a good friend to the Abbot. Carefully, taking the quality of friendship into account, the Abbot crafted the reference he would send.
This is what he wrote:
“Father McKenzie was a brilliant and well loved teacher here. His unusual abilities enabled those who studied with him to take their appreciation of English literature and their skill with the English language to exceptionally high levels. Because of this, Downside has excelled in its supreme record of successful entries to Oxford and Cambridge.
However, in order to add some verisimilitude to this exceptionally high praise, I need to tell you one more thing. On occasion Father McKenzie had a tendency to take things rather too easily.”
What wisdom. The truth more or less told and a friendship, instead of being betrayed, as it might well have been, generously sustained.
A few years back I protested against Wallpaper Magazine's insensitive competition called ‘Tart Cards’ and sent them a prose poem to accompany the above photograph that I took to convey the mood of my piece. They published it.
I have now turned that poem into a short film, working with actress Dorota Zakrzynska and the highly talented musician/sound designer Tom E Morrison. It is in support of the work of the Helen Bamber Foundation and all those working against the evils of sex trafficking.
So do try to listen on reasonable speakers or earphones because the soundscape is very special.