George Bull OBE 1929 - 2001

An appreciation of George Bull given by Mr Kevin Grant at the Chesterton Society reception at the House of Lords (September 19th 2001)

Your Excellencies, Your Honour, My Lords, Reverend Fathers, Ladies and Gentlemen: This evening's heroes are two men who held the main things, that is to say the first and last things, in common; G K Chesterton and George Bull.

But it is George who must be in the foreground of my brief remarks this evening. I daresay everyone here either knew George, or, as they say in Clubland, knew his works. I cannot here, by any compression, run over even lightly the awesome list of his publications and achievements. They stand in the record.

None of us, except perhaps Dido and the family knew every side of the man, and even they will never know all the details of his kindness, the full perimeter of his labours and influence. Most of us, I certainly, will have a fragmentary, or rather a segmentary picture and recollection of him. If we think of George as the Bull on a dartboard we are all plotted and scattered around him, each unique track passing through the centre that he represented.

The particular path across the board where George and I lined up ran through Catholic publishing, Chesterton and Gentlemen's Clubland. In those spheres we exchanged all sorts of ideas and dreams we had, some that we got forward and some not. I've spent a dozen years not developing that tv programme we discussed and together we spent six years not getting that Sunday publishing venture on the road.

He was such an available man. I'd get into some scrape or other. George liked scrapes. He'd hear about it, call me in, sort it. Or, I'd be off on some tricky mission to Rome. George was the man to brief me, warn me, Mgr Ralph Brown in benevolent attendance. All roads led through George.

I remember one very lumpy bucket of custard, which he took so much time smoothing for me that he actually agreed to accept a consultancy fee. But giving money to George was like trying to put blood into a stone. No account ever came. He eventually accepted a case of Athenaeum claret. The obligation was addressed if not discharged.

John Walsh has written of how George kept the pilot lights going under all his friendships. What a lesson. I'd be beavering at night, bleary-eyed over some text or book-keeping chore and the 'phone would go. "Kevin, it's George. "The spirit lifted, the mind came to attention, fatigue evaporated. "I've got an idea".

Goodness me, one thought of Michael Caine at the end of The Italian Job. George's life was a sort of Italian job.

This was one of the clear lines flying over his board. From the million-topping translation of Macchiavelli's The Prince back in '61, through a line of others to Michelangelo in '95 and his unfinished labours on Dante. Like Dickens he was working on the morning of the day he died, a sweet edge to sorrow.

Another line, there were so many, connected London, George and Tokyo. We are honoured tonight with the presence of the Japanese Ambassador who presented George with the Order of the Sacred Treasure, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon in 1999.

George and I were in and out of each other's clubs. I remember the first time he took me into the Garrick. No women, except the portraits of lovely actresses up behind the bar. What a place. Lord Longford led one table in a blur of gesture. But each table, like a ship, had some grand captain. I was the only person there I'd never heard of.

Our finest shared scrape was the Day of Celebration of Chesterton in 1995. Somewhere around here - please take one if you do not have one already - are some of the booklets we drew together for that exhilarating day. It includes an exquisite essay on The Club of Queer Trades by Judge Stephen Tumim, here tonight, a memoir by GKC's cousin, Neville Braybrooke, only lately gone from us and George's own tribute to Chesterton's erudition and intuitive genius. Jeremy Sinden read us a reverberating Lepanto, Jeremy, too, sadly and too soon away from us.

George and I lost a tidy packet each. We were gifted in that way. I, indeed, am anointed with the chrism of loss and red corners. But it was worth it. We were honest Christian gentlemen, and ready to pay for our pleasures.

Let me draw one last line across that board, a final happy co-linearity. I used to go round the country doing an entertainment that was almost a talk on Father Christmas, Mr Dickens and Mr Chesterton. I argued that the spirit of Christmas ran through them all like a legend in seaside rock. I am perfectly certain that that line, the line, actually, of the forgiveness of sins, which accounts, ungrasped, for seasonal glee even among unbelievers, would, if extrapolated, lead on to George. George was a man with a Christmas heart.