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Leonard

 

Leonard had been attending a day centre for a little over two months when we met. He is a very quiet, polite gentleman, standing out from other day centre regulars in his immaculate jacket, tie and cufflinks. Our meetings began two weeks later. Sessions were one week apart.

Session 1

I’ve got this euthanasia now at the back of my head… it doesn’t hurt a bit… and don’t worry it isn’t contagious… but… it just means that by the time I finish what I’m saying I’ll have forgotten what price I offered you.

I was born directly - almost mathematically - opposite the Tube entrance in Hampstead… at the end of the street that runs straight down and curves to the right… my parents had a house given to them by my grandmother.

My Grandfather was a very good and generous grandfather… he had a very good job… every time I’m in Piccadilly I say a little prayer for him… he was a very kind man and well known… if you leave Charing Cross Station it goes up the hill past the moving pictures… if you remember, there is a good old building that rises in front of you… that was the premises of people who are insuring… my grandfather moved his desk to the very end so I could wave to him as I passed by… he was so good to me. He took me for a walk along the street through Admiralty Arch towards Buckingham Palace… and half way down… I could take you to the exact spot because I remember it clearly… there was one of those cabins that they’ve built for taxi drivers only… three or four to go and play cards and have tea… the King went in and chatted with the drivers and he wanted me to meet the King… I didn’t but the taxi drivers were very nice… they’d taken pictures… and told stories about what the King had said. My grandfather was a true gentleman… one of the boys… no swearing but one of the boys.

The King used to get there after midnight. The question I never asked and I’d have loved to have known was did the King walk there from the palace or was he in a taxi or was he… something else? Apparently he often kept them company… I don’t pretend to know how much but… the taxi drivers said something like… the King is always welcome here.

Are you aware of how my illness attacks me? I forget and I fall over… I fall to the right I don’t know why.

 

Session 2

It’s so nice to be able to talk to someone about all this. I’ll do my best. My first businesses were in ransacked premises… very rough when we took them over after the war… when we finished they looked rather nice… You should come to my home sometime… I’d be delighted to show you photographs but the whole place is very muddled up… if you came I’d be handing you things upside down and sideways up.

It all started because I knew a man in the cinema in Oxford Street… he ran a major cinema there… it’s only very recently been destroyed… taken away down to the ground in the bombing. It was transferred into a gallery when they couldn’t run it as a cinema. What I did was blank in the windows … and people would be curious about what was going on… talking about it round the dinner table… we tried as far as we could never to open the doors to anybody… we just ignored the knocking. We were getting down to opening day… the boy with the car went round to anyone who contacted us for a show and he came back to me with what he thought was sellable. We started selling or trying to sell landscapes, animals and so on… which we thought was the stuff to sell but it was not. I suddenly realised that we were getting nowhere… nothing sold… it was a total disaster… in my ignorance we’d chosen the wrong people. We slowly took all the paintings out and started again.

There really was no interest in art in my family other than me… I was totally the one… I think my dad thought it would be all nancy boys… it turned out to be far from it… he was quite wrong. I’ve been lucky in life… my father slogged at it… but it was a different age… different morals and so on.

My first venture was an incredible stroke of luck… I could take you to it this evening if you want. You would be standing on the pavement with my gallery behind you… a big window… and you’d be looking mathematically to the square inch at the central door of the Ritz. We got all the people from America where they make all the pictures… Hollywood… every day there would be girls and boys on the pavement to get names… autographs.

 

Session 3

When the war started… my father had a friend in Whitehall… Dad managed to speak to his friend and they took me on and sent me up north away from trouble… I can’t remember where it was… one of those places with a raised place to walk around for security… around the whole town. 

I made a friend on the train going north… a chap came and sat opposite me in the carriage… he was rather shy… almost in tears… we went through the war together… I don’t know what happened to him… we sat in silence for about half the journey… we didn’t want to be soldiers… he was very shy…. he became a great friend then we drifted apart. I can’t remember where we were billeted… in mid winter… we had to get ourselves settled in… it was so cold… and only ice cold water to wash… we were taken on to break our nerve.

I happened to see him in the town I was stationed… he’d stayed and made his living… he was a bachelor… we were very lucky because dad had got me a good place to spread my wings… I was a soldier but I didn’t do any fighting… I was posted to… no I can’t give you the place… up in the north… a walled city… I was north of the walled city… in premises with… sorry it’s gone… a crescent. The first morning… we were rookies… we wanted to run away and leave.

I was allowed to wear khaki but I wasn’t a real fighting soldier. I used to go home at night to sleep in the barracks… and then go out and do something else in the daytime. I went back maybe six months ago and… the parade ground…flat and large… with a place where women serve tea at the side… but the buildings had been removed… it was all gone.  The centre of the place where we marched is a beautiful garden.  There is a place… library isn’t the right word but… you could pay to look up the soldiers you knew and find out what happened to them… I wasn’t in the army long… I got someone helping me… he got me a posting to something else away from the fighting… I think money may have changed hands… the regiment I was in… where I was shouldering arms… were slaughtered… I got speaking to the senior lady behind the desk in the records office. She said, “We still get people who come in, pay their money to open the book and they cry.” She said, “My dear, you don’t know how lucky you are, it was a bloodbath. The group you were with was murdered.” I was lucky. My father was friendly with a top man in Whitehall… he protected me. 

 

Session 4

Leonard is unshaven and rather on edge. His clothes are crumpled and appear to have been put on in a hurry. He is not wearing his customary tie and cufflinks. As soon as he arrives in the day centre he becomes quite upset, saying that he needs to go home immediately to ensure the safety of an address book containing details of a man called Hopkirk whom he urgently needs to speak to. He is very concerned that the address book may be destroyed or thrown away.

I’ve been very, very happy in my life… I think it would be fair to say… but… there’s something I really must get off my chest… I went for a check up just the other day… I had a very fine doctor… a superb man… so helpful and kind, but the day I went he wasn’t there and I had a lady doctor… it was in the period that I had the lady doctor that I became aware that I couldn’t get words out… terrible… terribly frustrating… I mean… it doesn’t start… it comes in over a period of time… I realised more and more often that I’d be thinking, “Sod it… I can’t remember what I just said”… but I didn’t tell anybody for six months or more… I was training myself in how to get by and how to cover up.

I… it happened this way… amateur film was a strong movement… very strong… I don’t think it would have any pull at all any more… of course I went all over Britain as a guest… all paid… travelling and making films… wonderful. I started as an amateur cinematographer with a fairly expensive camera… and… concurrently there was a group of people making a hobby of it… acting in front of the cameras… I had two pages near the front of the monthly or weekly or whatever… I’m terribly upset but I can’t remember the name of the magazine and I so wish I could… I had two pages side by side published in a magazine by a man who worked on the first floor of a building at the lower end of… oh God… I can’t even remember the name of the place… a tube station… Tottenham Court Road… yes… which at the moment is on a crescent set off from the pavement… it’s in a building where you can go and look at plans… demolished in the last two months… and when I heard I realised that I couldn’t remember what I’d written or anything… so I didn’t know how to start. This is upsetting… can I tell you? I want to tell somebody. I’ve not been able to tell anyone. Please have you a minute to listen to me?

DC.  Take as much time as you need. 

Thank you… I’ve tried and tried to get in touch with the editor… he became a close friend… a lovely man… About a month ago… I was going through the paper… for a number… in London… I looked up and at the top of the page… the first thing in a column… was his name… and it was Dr Hopkirk… I rang that number for a month… three or four times a day… because the magazine was recently published so presumably they got the right name… and I never got answered… just the ringing… I thought, “I need to go there”… I did everything I possibly could but I couldn’t remember the name of the publisher doing the magazine… so anyway I put a red line in my telephone book so I could get to it… It seems the building has gone… the records have gone… I can’t remember the name of the book or the publisher. It was a book I contributed to for four years… all I can remember is his name. One day I reached up to get a book down for something else and when it opened it opened at his name… and I thought this is a sign… I dropped everything…

My parents thought that I should take it easy now… because of this thing with my brain… and to be sure that I did, they tore everything up and threw it away… and now it’s all gone… they did it because they thought it was for the best… I would be so pleased if you’d help me find out… he was such a good friend to me… I’ve still got some of the pictures but no words at all… it’s all falling apart… I’ve forgotten what I was trying to say.  My parents, without telling me… they tore it up… they wanted me to be ill in the house… and not try to get better… they didn’t want me to take steps to separate myself from my original self… and it’s the worst thing they ever did to me…

I loved writing… I was the… I can’t get the words out… the judge for the international amateur film thing… in… in… oh dear… I’m under difficulty… the South of France… Cannes… I took my friend there… had a very lovely time and met the famous painter… very fine… very masculine… he came at night over six nights with his wife… actually I think it was his mistress… people were cheering from the other side of the road… but it’s all destroyed now.  They took the building down.  

 

Session 5

Leonard is wearing a well-matched suit, tie and gold cufflinks. He is very keen to talk but noticeably more relaxed than in the previous session. He takes the tea offered by one of the care staff and immediately goes to the private room where all our sessions have taken place without any need for recap or encouragement. Once again he mentions his pressing need to track his friend Hopkirk.

Where he worked was on the first floor of a building… that is… in the main road… just near here… I’m struggling… there’s a cinema on the left…Come out of the cinema and just go a few steps up north and make a right… towards the British Museum but not so far… the depth of a shop… and… there’s a semi circle… a crescent… He was on the second floor. I could take you but it’s been destroyed… It’s taken down to the floor… it doesn’t exist… they’re working on it now… one of the men there was so helpful to me when I tried to trace it…  but they couldn’t help in any way.

DC. Did you make films yourself?

Oh yes… very much so… I made serious films and… sort of amusing films… I was out in India… and when I came back from India I did nothing at all to go into films… I didn’t even try.

My father was… Mayor of the Borough… and one of the people at the table when he retired…was a senior officer at the beginning of the war, but where the Prime Minister lives… Downing Street… and there are secret tunnels leading to the left… Whitehall… but only accessed through… the top floor… the top floor is secret. He was there… and he had met me… and… three days later I was called up… I had to go to a Catholic premises just off the Edgware Road for my… to see how strong I was… my medical… that came back and two days later I was in the Rifle Brigade… so swift…

I was in the Rifle Brigade for about one week… then I was taken out of that and sent on to making films…and I’m sure this man… the General had done it. I was doing all sorts of things… propaganda and documentaries and news… making films in India… Bombay… There’s the entrance to India… where the royal boat comes in… you walk up a short road and then you’re on a main road and I was in a block of flats… it was a base partly for films and partly for soldiers… more films than soldiers… occasionally we had soldiers because they’d be writing the script…

Excuse me I’m becoming a little… sorry I’m beginning to get wet… I shan’t forget today as long as I live. I really won’t… I really can’t thank you enough. It’s the best thing that’s happened to me in my life. I’ve worked so hard to try and find my friend…

What I was going to tell you was that having come past we’re back on the thing… the major street terminates… terminates in a church… almost anyone that’s been to Bombay would know where it is… I had a bedroom on the second floor… looking down into an alleyway and a grocers shop with the food out… one man actually jumped out of the window from the floor above and fell past my window… I heard him screaming upstairs and then I looked out and he’d committed suicide by jumping from his window… it wasn’t a soldier. He was dead at the foot of the greengrocers.

Now can I tell you something? I don’t really know how I can tell you this but I live with another man… and we were lovers… he was, funnily enough, the lady of the house… I’m totally dependant on him now with this thing that’s happened to me but I’m so worried… I’ve been told that under no circumstances must I tell you that I’m gay… it’s something terrible.

I always hoped that I’d someday find someone but I never did other than the one I’m with… he and I got together… we’re both gay… and… we were gay for about ten years… neither of us is gay now… I’m finished with sex… I don’t need it… and I don’t miss it... neither of us had any gay friends… I’m not in the gay league or anything… I really feel very ashamed of it… I think we’re both finished with being gay… I’m certainly straight again.

I would dearly love to open another gallery but he wants me to tear up everything… he’s burnt all my letters… I don’t even know how to start. I… I want to give you a careful statement… with my memory loss… I can’t remember why or when the galleries closed.

Can I ask you, do you realise that my father is dead? The man I’m living with now is not family. I think it’ll all have to be done in secret, otherwise my father would be very upset. You see we can get on perfectly well but he can turn in a second from saying nice things to suddenly, “Why the fuck have you done this?” He shouts at me and I’ve got such a nervous constitution… I find it terrible. I never had it before, not even in the army.

I went to the cinema… it was getting ready for another showing and the half lights were on and I was very near the front of it… and… I knew it to be gay… at that time… it was certainly a well known place to go if you wanted to meet somebody… I was in the front row… and I knew that in a few moments the lights were going to go down… so I turned round in my seat and looked at the people still coming in… mostly young men but women too of course… and I saw one I liked the look of… I’d never met him… but I thought he looked amusing… well, he came and we sat together and he put his hand in my lap… My parents were out, I knew that… we didn’t see the film… we left straight away… I got quite a few men like that but he was the best. 

He became a great favourite of my mother and father and when I was in the forces he went to live… he had his bedroom there… and when they wanted help in difficult times in the war… he trained him as a tailor… and when I came out of the war he was still working for my father in the workrooms.

Many people I knew went to prison… many people from the film studios. My father would have been furious if he found out… if he knew I was having sex with him… he never knew. It just became a habit to tell little lies.  He never asked me a word about it… he was in on it but he didn’t want me to know that he knew… I’m amazed that my father didn’t kick up a fuss…

Can I suggest to you that we set ourselves the task of finding this chap… it’s been something I’ve wanted to do for years and you’re the first person to help me… people have been kind but sort of ignored it… I want to be completely fair with you… I’ve left everything behind me now… I haven’t got the camera… I don’t want it back… I just want to meet that man….   

 

Session 6

Leonard arrives at the day centre by mini-bus holding an envelope in his hand. Surprisingly he seems to have remembered the day of our weekly meetings and is very keen to resume our conversations straight away. The address of a Dr S Hopkirk has been typed on the front of the envelope. Having passed me the envelope at the breakfast table, Leonard never shows much interest in tracing his former friend again.

I have this for you now… I should tell… I’ve been thinking that the address I gave you isn’t his address so there’s no point trying to contact them.  The building has gone… taken down to the ground just a few weeks ago… a very kind man came out to help me… he said I’d missed it by two weeks. I have trouble with memory now… that’s why I’m sitting here… my partner has a wonderful memory… mine was always bad so I didn’t notice when the forgetting started. 

My first gallery was in the building owned by my father… because he wanted to become full-time… an officer in the fire service. And you see I had helped him… during the Blitz… because he had to come away from the fire sometime for money… this was during the war… his business never closed… it went right through the war… I remember the Blitz… very much so… well… we got unexploded bombs on our roof… two… and they were probably aimed at the Ritz… they wouldn’t bother with a tailor’s…

The Ritz was made to open up for all the buildings facing them in any side, even the back where the cars were parked, even those people… were able to come down to the thing they had… they had to permit a given number of people in four areas… four entrances… four areas… four shelters… they were so kind to us… but it was filthy down there… Mark you they’d lost a lot of their best men… they’d gone into the army…

There was a very nice feeling of helpfulness between the people… they all more or less agreed to help each other out… people were very much nicer as a result of the bombs, there’s no question about that… and there was a lot of laughter… strangely I don’t think I was ever afraid.  I thought I’d be shaking but I wasn’t… you hear the bombs and the explosions and try to think who got that.  ‘That’s Hanover’ or… ‘What tosser got that?’ The funny thing was how everybody got chatting… all different socialites… the boy of the fruit counter would be talking to a Colonel or a Lord. I always used to shelter in Hampstead because it’s a long way down… there was an upright grand piano with two locks on it on the platform… I can remember that quite clearly.

I wanted to do films and not tailoring but I had to support my father… he had a tough time with money… but he always gave us the money rather than have it for himself… he was a good man…

I’m enjoying this so much… I don’t want to run dry and let you down.

At the end of the war I went down by myself to the very big palace… the King… Buckingham Palace… we all walked… and I got there, met somebody and we were friends for quite a long time… a total stranger… I got fairly close to the gates of the palace… saw Mr Churchill… saw everything… the police were mingling with the crowds… all happy… in the Tube going back to Golders Green I met another man… everyone was chatting and chatting… all happy.   

When the bombing started we had a Miss Deeks… she was the senior woman… she would take the orders and take the measurements and the moment the first range of planes started coming over she was on a train out of it… she died… we knew where she was going on the coast… almost straight away it was bombed and she was killed. She told me she didn’t have the guts to live in London… she died down there.    

 

Session 7

Leonard is in respite care.

For some unknown reason I’ve been taken away from this block and put in another one… do you know there’s another one? I haven’t been able to fathom it why they made the change… but it’s been quite extraordinary… when I come back here they all still say nice things to me… I don’t know who’s behind it but it’s been very kindly done… the only tangible difference I can find is that this place is financed by where we are and the other place is financed on stories and being a soldier.

My father tried to dissuade me from opening the gallery but when he became a fireman… and when he saw the money we were taking still, during the war… he turned over… he was wholehearted with it until the day he died… he took an active interest… It was difficult for him to get around with the petrol rationing and so on… he was a fireman… climbing ladders… and I’m not sure now how high he got with the fires and so on.

I can tell you about the time the horse caught fire… each of the fitting rooms was about the size of this room… just over there we had a chance to build a recess… my father backed a plastic dog… gee up… horse… then he put a low barrier so the horse’s head could look out… quite imaginative. Well a man had bought it… his wife saw it… he said he must have the horse… he rang up and he was terribly polite… he asked if we delivered… I told him we had to clear some things away to move the horse through… I more or less just put the phone down and the horse was blazing then… it was all sort of thin plastic… it burnt like real skin… all sort of rolling up… it made little tubes. I never met the man who bought it… he sent in three or four well built men to lift out the horse… there was a rather cocky man in charge… he lowered the curtains in one place… he was pushing one way and somehow in pushing it started a fire… very shortly after they went out the fire started raging… men came with buckets and shooters but it was blazing below ground level. I’m very sorry but now I’m telling you this I’m not at all sure it’s right. It seems a bit muddled.  There were soldiers.

I was very lucky because an elderly man… a very important man in the British film business… he was very helpful to me… when I told him I was opening a gallery he said, “Marvellous. Is there anything I can do to help?” I said, “Yes, would you like to suggest anywhere I can go to get lamps?” He went to Mister… oh damn it… I had it just a second ago… the wording… I was going to give you the name of the man who was the tycoon of British film during the blitz… He backed me to the hilt… I know for sure he knew J. Arthur Rank… he went to Arthur Rank when bombs were falling.  It was J. Arthur Rank that donated the lights. He was a charming man. He gave them free… as a gift. When I look back on this it’s all very surprising. Everything seems to have fallen into place just as it should.

Edited by Andrea Capstick