Thursday, November 09, 2006


Sad News

The last couple of weeks have been something of an emotional rollercoaster. It would take a heart of stone not to laugh at the downfall of the Republican Party and the departure of Donald Rumsfeld; I’ve had a birthday and Richard and I have celebrated our twelfth anniversary. But I’ve been paying more attention to much sadder news. Readers who know my family will be saddened to hear that my Grandad, Walter Wilcock, died last week. Other readers may be more familiar with the work of Nigel Kneale, Peter Barkworth and William Franklyn, who have all also recently passed away.

While the damage to my arm means I can type little at the moment (still a fortnight to my hospital appointment), and with trips up north to see my family also meaning I’ve frequently been away from Internet access, it’s also true that even without these barriers I’ve not been feeling very sociable. So, plenty of blog pieces remain part-drafted inside my head, and apologies to the many people whose e-mails I’ve not answered in the last few weeks. With Grandad’s funeral tomorrow, Richard and I are about to leave for another few days in Stockport, so this will be my only blog piece this week, too.

Grandad had pretty much 95 years of conspicuous hale-ness, but his health declined sharply in the last year. Until then, he’d been proudly independent, usually tanned and busy in his garden when I’d go to see him in South Oxhey. He’d moved there on getting a job in London when my Dad was just 8, leaving his native Glasgow (well, almost native; though most of his side of the family were Scots, he had his first few months in Harrogate). He had very forthright views and we enjoyed debating – at least both of us heaping scorn on the Labour Party – and though I suspect that I was the only Liberal Democrat he’d ever have considered voting for, he took joy and pride in my political activity and I always appreciated his support. I think he pretty much had the life he wanted, though he was sadly deprived of my Nana, Wilna, for his last two decades after she died suddenly in 1985. It was only around this time last year that his age suddenly seemed to start catching up with him, with increasing periods of hospitalisation and a stroke that left his right arm too weak to use and meant he had to move to Stockport, where my parents were in easy reach. He was diagnosed with cancer a couple of months ago, but bore it stoically. Despite the decline of his body, his mind remained sharp right to the end, though he was at most barely conscious in his last three days. Richard and I drove up last Tuesday and so were with him and the rest of the family in his final hours.

This is my Dad’s piece for tomorrow’s Service of Thanksgiving, which will be conducted by Father Brendan Kelly and the Revd Philip Winn. You can probably see where I get my taste for punctuation from…
Walter Vernon Wilcock, 1910-2006

Throughout his life, Dad was a man of steadfast reliability: a rock for his family. Especially living with Mum, who was excitable, emotional and overgenerous, he felt that he had to ensure calm and control. He was careful (a Yorkshire Scotsman), exhibiting self-control and an amazing resistance to indulgence – we have only just finished his Easter eggs and Thornton chocs! He only partook of a noggin if he had company; whereas, with shopping, Mum thought that denial was a river in Egypt!

Dad’s passions were for home, garden and family – great generosity to us all! …For jazz – a rare indulgence to build up a record collection… And for golf: which he introduced me to after Mum had died – Mum didn’t like being a grass widow, so Dad only played golf when a friend visited from Scotland. Thereafter, he remained true to her memory, but joined the Fairways Golf Club and played until his 93rd year.

He greatly loved his grandchildren and their families, and determined that they should receive as much material support as he could manage. He was an independent and contented man, but cheerfully adapted in the last year to being more dependent on others. Dad left his home to visit us, as usual, at Easter, had a stroke and never saw it again. Yet he adapted to and enjoyed his flat and the company at Clifford Court, and was content for the last weeks at the Meadows, with his family visiting daily.

We give thanks for his life.

Love from all the family.

Nigel Kneale and…

The day after my Grandad’s death, a friend got in touch to tell me about Nigel Kneale. A huge influence of a very different kind on my life, if ever the history of British television in the second half of the Twentieth Century is written – really, the first half-century of creative British TV – he deserves to be one of the half-dozen writers at the very top. Brilliant, influential, ground-breaking and prolific, he might be largely pigeon-holed as a science fiction writer, but I suspect that’s mainly by people who want to sneer at both him and the genre. He was massively inventive, and deserves statues across the country for virtually inventing original drama on BBC TV and dragging TV production away from just staid stage plays on the visual wireless. All lovers of good television owe him a huge debt. I wrote in the summer about his most famous work, the Quatermass serials, with Quatermass and the Pit still a strong contender for the best TV drama ever made. Read author and actor Mark Gatiss’ lovely eulogy to him, and pick up a copy of The Quatermass Collection DVD set. It’s superb.

Usually I’d distract myself from one piece of sad tidings by concentrating on another area of my life, but losing my Grandad and hearing about Nigel Kneale rather hit me for six on both a personal and an intellectual level. I’d spent October worrying about my Grandad, and on hearing of the death of Peter Barkworth – an actor who I remember impressing me with his quiet charisma in Telford’s Change when I was a boy, long before I got to see his splendid 1960s performances in Doctor Who and The Avengers, and a famous son of Stockport – I couldn’t help thinking of Grandad, though I didn’t realise that I’d be rushing to his side just a couple of days later. I found that it’s the unexpected things that made grief the most sharply painful; when I thought I’d prepared for it, the little things I couldn’t prepare for have been hitting me. Steeling myself to read through the papers last Wednesday in search of Nigel Kneale’s obituaries, for example, it was a shock to see that smooth, gorgeous-voiced actor William Franklyn had died too – on an ordinary day, I’d have felt a little sad at the passing of the man who said “Sshh,”, the final voice of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and the Avengers villain I’d written about just the previous week, but on that day, it felt like everyone was dying. Or a couple of days ago, taking pleasure in looking through an old photo album and pictures of Grandad, I was suddenly upset to see photos of a schoolfriend and I, aged nine and ten, knowing that he’d died appallingly early just a few years ago.

I wish I’d met Nigel Kneale, and had the chance to tell him how fantastic he was. But more importantly, I’m glad I knew my Grandad for so much of my life and so much of his, and that I told him I loved him. Most of it was a very happy time, and a bit of me will always think of Watford as my second home. A much larger part of me will always miss him.

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