Sunday 11 November 2012

At The Going Down Of The Sun

Yesterday, Saturday, on the march again and needing something to do while avoiding the rain and waiting for the performance to begin, a newspaper was bought and the pages flicked through to see if there was anything of interest. 

Then in the obituaries page was one about someone I knew slightly from a long time ago.  He was Joe Melia, the actor with a fine reputation and well respected in the profession.  At one time in the early 1950’s he did his National Service, so Remembrance Sunday is a good time to reflect on his life.  

He did the Russian course as a member of the Intelligence Corps, so what he then did is an interesting question.  As he served with Dennis Potter whose memories were of long days slogging through Russian press and journals he could have been doing this, or perhaps working on intercepts or other sources.  Perhaps Joe’s later talent for the surreal was based on this experience.

He went on to Downing College, Cambridge on a scholarship and may well have turned out for one of the College soccer teams; he was big and quick enough.  He studied English under F.R. Leavis (see Wikipedia) a leading exponent of a major school of criticism.  His talents on the stage meant he was noticed and became part of leading Reviews.

Given that Joe came from a family who were blitzed out of London to live in a very ordinary district of Leicester it shows that social mobility was alive and kicking in the mid 1950’s.  He would have been at a local Council Elementary or Junior School before escaping at 11 into the “City Boys” grammar school.  It was located between the city centre Municipal Tram Depot and the Palais de Dance.

One of the intellectual conflicts of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s was between C.P. Snow who argued against the division of Britain into two distinct cultures, one of Arts and the other the Sciences and F.R Leavis who had his own views on context and what mattered in life.

In the newspaper chosen, “The Times” because it fitted better into the rucksack, the debate was rehearsed by Sir James Dyson, the man who has joined science to the production of household appliances.  Sir James is arguing that we need a lot more graduates in science and technology and a lot fewer in the Arts.

The case is simple enough.  If Britain is to pay its way and earn enough in foreign markets it needs a lot more science and the rest and a lot less spent on Arts education for which vacancies and careers will be few relative to the numbers qualifying.  This argument is too big for a short post in this blog.

To return to the past, the town we grew up in, both of us having arrived from other places, was the Leicester of Joe Orton (see Wikipedia), the dramatist.  One of the important influences on him and us was the local library service, unusually well provided for and with a wide range of books available. 

It was at the library in my early teens that I bumped into Joe from time to time and exchanged ideas on books and other matters.  Then we each moved onto other things, me into local rugby and he into stage productions.  From time to time we found ourselves at the same jazz clubs and arts events. 

Some we knew who were called for National Service did not come back and others were marked by the experience.  You now have to be close to at least or more often over 70 to have done it.  Looking at Joe on screen there were times when I could see the “bolshie squaddie” under the surface.

He was one of the “good guys” and always returned his books on time, unlike some.

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