Features

RIP November


Artists, war veterans, protesters...the unusual, the quirky - they're all here. No place for alcoholic teeny-boppers or insane serial killers. Only those who might otherwise be forgotten.

We salute the memory of one of our own this month. Bob van den Born was a Dutch cartoonist and caricaturist, who died on 27 November aged 90. His most famous creation was Professor Pi, a one or two picture strip which featured the insouciant eponymous professor, a man with large bald head, round glasses, and a propensity to bump into absurdity. The Professor Pi cartoons originally appeared in the UK in the magazine Time and Tide, now sadly no longer around. Van den Born was one of the very few Dutch cartoonists to have forged an international career, and was highly talented beyond cartoons – his clay caricatures of Dutch politicians were also a great success.

“Poor His Lordship! Gone without oral sex for 1,000 years.”

The illustrator Jill Barklem left the stage in November, her life brought to an end at the age of 66. When she was just 43 Barklem had a brain tumour successfully removed, but her health was never quite the same. While I never knew her, her creations – the gentle children’s tales of Brambly Hedge, all meticulously and intricately illustrated with families of anthropomorphised mice – were the perfect children’s bedtime stories: comforting, unthreatening, and a constant source of observational delight. Her books were a commercial success, being translated into 13 languages and selling more than seven million copies. Another children’s book creator was Pat Hutchins, who died aged 75. Hutchins started drawing very young and at the age of 16 gained a scholarship to attend the Darlington School of Art. Despite her talent she was regularly rejected by UK publishers and so turned to in advertising, before moving to the US to accompany her husband – where she broke into print. Rosie’s Walk, perhaps her most successful book, is a classic of skilled illustration, perfectly pitched for early readers.

The number of people with first-hand memories of the Second World War, more than 70 years ago, is in free-fall and very soon now there will be none left. Many of the veterans, such as Leon Cooper, who commanded a US Navy landing craft in the Pacific and has died aged 98, are disappearing. Cooper was involved in six battles against the Japanese, including the bloody onslaught to take Tarawa. He once recalled: “You never really lose the memory of the sounds, the smells and everything, including the blood running down your nose so you’re smelling blood instead of breathing.”

It was “better than working in a bank” she said

The last Royal Air Force Polish fighter squadron commander of the Second War, Franciszek Kornicki (pictured), who was born in Wereszyn, Poland, in 1916, died a few weeks short of his 101st birthday. A member of a Polish fighter squadron when war broke out in September 1939, he made a difficult and circuitous journey to the UK where he took part in the Battle of Britain, becoming at 26 the youngest squadron commander in the Polish Air Force in Britain. His wife Pat, whom he married in 1948, died ten days after his own death. Joy Lofthouse, a member of the Air Transport Auxiliary in the same war, died aged 94. Along with a hundred or so other women Lofthouse transported fighter and bomber aircraft to various bases: it was “better than working in a bank” she said. Geoffrey Packham breathed his last aged 95. He flew a Lancaster bomber over Holland on 16 June 1944 when it was hit by flak and attacked by two German fighters. He ordered the crew to abandon the aircraft and – despite his parachute slipping off his shoulders – landed safely and unfortunately landed in the hands of the Gestapo.

Bizarrely she was put in charge of 2,000 women in a munitions factory in the Second World War

The midwife Helen John, and one of the first women to camp overnight at Greenham Common in the protest against RAF Greenham Common being used as a nuclear weapons’ site in 1981, died aged 81. “I went through life like a pudding” said John of her days preceding the Greenham Common protest. She camped there for more than a decade and was arrested several times for her various protests against the UK government’s backing of nuclear weapons and greater secrecy. Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005, she had the great merit of standing as an independent candidate against Tony Blair in his Sedgefield constituency in 2001 and 2005. Unfortunately she didn’t unseat him.

More grand, less great. Lady Ursula Isabel d’Abo died shortly before her 101st birthday. As a maid of honour to Queen Elizabeth – whose pudgy round face stared out from the Buckingham Palace balcony at the Coronation of King George VI in 1937, utterly over-shadowed by the beautiful Lady Ursula, a step behind – she was born with the surname Manners, child of the Marquess of Granby. the became known as the ‘Girl with the Widow’s Peak’ and wrote a memoir with that same name, a blithely unaware account of a life lived among the wealthy and untroubled. Bizarrely enough she was given the management of 2,000 women in a munitions factory during the Second World War, and eventually had a long-term affair with John Paul Getty.

Rather greater although less grand was Jeremy Hutchinson QC, who died at the age of 102. The son of a barrister, Hutchinson was notable for several of the high profile cases in which he was involved, including the defence in 1960 mounted by Penguin Books in the watershed obscenity trial over its publication of D. H. Lawarence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, in which case Hutchinson sought to have as many women jurors as possible because, as he said later: “I’ve always taken the view that women are much more sensible about sex. Men get so worked up about it.” He served in the Second World War in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve and the destroyer aboard which he served was sunk off Crete. He tried to enter Parliament as a Labour candidate – being driven around by a very young Tony Benn – and sold a Monet painting that he inherited to finance his legal training. He acted on behalf of several well-known people including Christine Keller, the Great Train Robber Charles Wilson, and the Russian spy George Blake. In 1969 he defended Paul Ableman against charges of obscenity for his book The Mouth and Oral Sex, during which the judge, Mr Justice King-Hamilton, asked one of the defence witnesses why anyone needed to read about oral sex: “We have managed to get on for a couple of thousand years without it.” In his closing speech to the jury, Hutchinson mocked the judge, saying: “Poor His Lordship! Poor, poor His Lordship! Gone without oral sex for 1,000 years.”

Ninian Stephen was a former governor-general of Australia in the 1980s, was born on a chicken farm in Oxfordshire, the son of a chauffeur who shortly deserted his wife after the birth of Ninian and then studied law at the University of Melbourne, thanks to the generosity of a wealthy Australian woman, for whom his mother worked as a maid. he died aged 94, but not before a career packed with invaluable public service. In 1993 he was appointed a judge at the international criminal court set up by the UN to investigate and punish war crimes during the Yugoslav war.

Some deaths evoke a sadness precisely because of their youth.

Kasëm Trebeshina, the Albanian writer who spent 17 years in Albania’s prisons under the communist regime there and was accused of being “a madman” died at the age of 91. He fled the country for Turkey in 1997 following the Albanian civil war, sparked by the failure of widespread Ponzi scams in which the three million citizens of the country lost more than $1 billion and more than 2,000 were killed. The German actor Hans-Michael Rehberg, whose craggily unmistakable face appeared in more than 100 movies but whose best-known role was that of Rudolf Höss in Schindler’s List, died aged 79. Wood Moy (pictured), the American actor who played Mr Tong in the 1978 science fiction horror remake The Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, died aged 99. Janusz Kłosiński reached 96: a fine actor, who appeared in the 1965 movie classic The Saragossa Manuscript, he later fell into unpopularity after his support in December 1981 for the communist authorities’ imposition of martial law to crush the Solidarity movement. Erika Remberg, a striking Austrian actress whose early movie success in the 1950s descended into trash in the 1960s, died aged 85.

Some deaths evoke a sadness precisely because of their youth. Anita Board, an eight year old drag racer in Australia who crashed into a cement crash barrier; Amanda Friedland – better known by her stage name ‘Shyla Stylez’ – was an American hard-core porn actress whose mother found her dead in bed aged 35; Franco Miguel Hernandez Lumanlan , the Filipino TV host, drowned aged 26; David Poisson, the French alpine ski racer, who died in a training crash in Canada aged 35; Gustav Åhr, the American rapper better known as Lil Peep (pictured), died aged 21 from a suspected drug overdose…the list of those who died at a cruelly early age goes on. Yet Charles Manson made it to 83.

In the end, one survives as best one can. Hou Bo (pictured, centre), the Chinese photographer who became an official photographer of Mao Zedong along with her husband Xu Xiaobing, was a remarkable survivor who lived to 93. Her background was that of a poor peasant and, unsurprisingly perhaps, given that her labourer father was beaten to death by a factory owner who refused to pay his wages, she joined the Chinese Communist Party at just 14. Hou didn’t just survive the Japanese invasion of China – she also managed to outstay the jealousy of Jiang Qing, Mao’s wife, who attacked her during the Cultural Revolution. Although she took a lot of official photos, she also managed to make Mao look very human, ordinary – and her art will survive.

The only law needed for humanity was that no bullying of any kind is allowed.

Perhaps there’s something to be said for living a life of quiet modesty, such as Masao Sugiuchi, who reached 97 before succumbing in Tokyo. He spent his life as a professional player of Go, and reputedly had a serious style of play and a very austere life. Harry Blamires, the British Christian theologian and literary critic, whose 1963 book The Christian Mind remains in print today and who reached 101, seemed to have lived a life of contemplation and study. But perhaps he was simply more fortunate than other scholars, such as Stefan Lorenz Radt, the German-born Jewish specialist in ancient Greek geography, who has died at the aged of 90. After all, Blamires didn’t have to live in hiding from the Nazis, as did Radt in the Netherlands during 1943-45.

To end with, one obituary from a rival publication – The Guardian – stood out this month, and it concerns a person who was anything but a public figure, Hugh Sacker, who died aged 92. Sacker, an academic, thought there there was only one principle worth knowing: “no coercion”. The only law needed for humanity was that no bullying of any kind is allowed. Hugh Sacker, therefore, did not live – or die – in vain.

A very happy Christmas – and may the Reaper not knock at your door in 2018.

Picture source: Gabukasv, Nancy Wong, First Access Entertainment Limited and Chen Zhengqing