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
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
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
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
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
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