29 July 2012


Prometheus was punished, and indeed all of mankind, for Zeus sent Pandora with her box of evils to compensate the advantages of fire; but Zeus never took back the fire. … Still, the march of knowledge and technique continues, and with it the social and moral travail. No one can be sure that mankind will survive this painful course, especially in an age when man’s knowledge of nature has far outstripped his knowledge of himself. Yet we can be sure that man will take this road and not forsake it; for although he has his fears, he also has eternal hope. This, it will be remembered, was the last item in Pandora’s box of gifts. David Landes, The Unbound Prometheus: Technological Change and Industrial Revolution in Western Europe from 1750 to the Present

This photograph is the perfect coda to Friday night’s Olympic opening ceremony, which featured huge smoking chimneys rising from the ground to symbolize the dark satanic mills of the industrial revolution and our Promethean progress from pleasant pastures.

(Click image to enlarge)

Here my brother Bill (second from the left) and his teammates pose with a sports shield in the playground of their elementary school, circa 1933, and in the appropriate setting of working-class Bradford, complete with smoking mill chimney in the background. They were, I suppose, beneficiaries of what Jacques Rogge praised in his ceremonial speech, namely Britain’s inclusion of sport ‘as an educational tool in the school curriculum’.

In fact the person responsible for introducing P.E. into the school curriculum was Swedish-born Martina Bergman-Österberg, who in 1885 established the first physical training college in England, in none other than West Hampstead. A significant campaigner for women’s suffrage and emancipation, she is also credited with the introduction of the gymslip as female athletic wear, releasing women from the constraints of the corset, and for introducing a prototype of netball to England – first played in West Hampstead!

The house in which she lived and founded the college was called ‘Reremonde’ and still sits proudly on the corner of Broadhurst Gardens, now sporting a blue plaque and part of the architectural and cultural melting pot that is modern West Hampstead.

Photo by EP

Another former West Hampsteadite of sporting distinction has an unusual place in Olympic history and indeed the women’s suffrage movement. Eustace Miles, who was born at West End House, won a silver medal in real tennis at the 1908 London Olympics, the only time jeu de paume was an Olympic medal event.

A man of eclectic talents and interests, he was an advocate of vegetarianism, or as he called it ‘fleshless food’, and with his wife started the Eustace Miles Restaurant in Chandos Road, near Charing Cross Station. So famous was the restaurant that it was referred to (and parodied) in E. M. Fortser’s Howards End (‘It’s all proteids and body-buildings, and people come up to you and beg your pardon, but you have such a beautiful aura.’) It was also a favourite meeting place for the women’s suffrage movement and breakfasts were often held there to celebrate the release of suffragette prisoners from Holloway.

From The Bystander, 7 August 1907

I close my short homage to the Olympic spirit and its local resonances, past and present, with my ‘Cultural Olympiad’ trophies from the early 1950s with their depiction of Nike, winged goddess of Victory, together with our very own new season’s West Hampstead grapes in praise of the Greek god Dionysus.

Photo by EP

I was awarded these shields for performances given in the little custom-built theatre constructed for the workers in Lister’s Mill in Bradford, dominated by its soaring chimney. This is a picture of the mill before it was salvaged from dereliction and converted into luxury flats.

Photo by EP

And here is an architectural detail I photographed in the last five years, after the restoration and clean-up. Dark and satanic it may have been, but it was also classical or at least Renaissance in style!

Photo by EP

A reprise of my iPad recreation of my childhood vision of a magical sunset over West Bowling. I painted it with my Brushes app this time last year whilst preoccupied with another legacy of the ancient Greeks, Sophocles’ Antigone.

15 July 2012


I pace upon the battlements and stare
On the foundations of a house, or where
Tree, like a sooty finger, starts from the earth;
And send imagination forth
Under the day’s declining beam, and call
Images and memories
From ruin or from ancient trees,
For I would ask a question of them all.
W. B. Yeats,  The Tower (1928) 

I have had some personalized greeting cards printed very reasonably by Snappy Snaps and featuring my two finished portraits of my neighbour, Captain Cox. 

The Latin motto reads: Canis mei gratia emeritum hunc cognoscebam,
triginta per annos mihi exoticum peregrinum
(It’s thanks to my dog
 that I became acquainted with this old soldier, for thirty years an exotic stranger to me)
My local branch’s printer was out of order so I went three Tube stops south to St John’s Wood, the same firm and design of shop but in a street from another world, a world which seems to ooze money. As I browsed about the high street, the confusion of languages was even richer than in my local high street, which is a good thing if one reads what God thought of the single language of the Tower of Babel. Well-dressed young families were easing themselves in and out of large expensive cars. The houses advertised in the estate agents’ windows were of an elegantly earlier period and at least three-and-a-half times as expensive as their West Hampstead counterparts. The cards I’d ordered were the same price as my more local shop but at a nearby gents outfitters there was a pair of quite ordinary jeans in the window, sale price £199 reduced from £285.

Photo by EP
I noticed an Oxfam charity shop across the road, hemmed in between the boutiques, and sure enough the window display was up market, too, tastefully minimalist with some choice books, a nice mirror and a classy gilt ladies’ evening bag. Out of curiosity I went inside, with a minute to closing time, to price the jeans if they had any, and to my astonishment actually bought a nice pair for £10.99! On the price tag there was a photograph of a smiling little boy clutching a goat and the words: ‘£10.99 buys a milk goat for a home for street children in Tanzania.’

Photo by EP
Soon I re-encountered a lady who’d been in Snappy Snaps yesterday when I had discovered she’d been a BBC radio producer; even so she was as ignorant of my illustrious radio past as I was of hers. This afternoon, as the rain had stopped, we sat down at a street café and chatted for a while and she told me about her absorption in Buddhism and the grand masters she had been fortunate enough to know and how the ‘reality’ around us was merely a dream. 

Now it so happens that I had been reading about the Buddha in H. G. Wells’s Short History of the World whilst commuting to Windsor last week and had been rather shocked to learn that he (the man who became known as the Buddha) had crept out of his home in the night and left his sleeping wife and newly born son so that he would be free to live and seek enlightenment. The rest is history as the saying goes, except one wonders about the untold history of the wife and fatherless child.

An illustration from Wells’s Short History showing the Dhamekh Tower
in the Deer Park at Sarnath, site of the Buddha’s first discourse after his enlightenment 
I would like to be able to make a decent essay out of these and other of the week’s happenings – I have, after all, been listening to the father of essayists (and indeed the first ‘blogger’), Montaigne, on Radio 3 this week – but it is late and I will leave these snippets hovering with the addition of one more. I saw our Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, claim that Anish Kapoor’s Olympic Orbit tower was ‘much more unique, more complex, more interesting than the Eiffel Tower.’ Kapoor’s Orbit bears a striking resemblance to the Soviet artist Vladimir Tatlin’s Constructivist Tower (or Monument to the Third International). It too was based on the Tower of Babel and was intended to eclipse the Eiffel Tower in height and as a symbol of modernity, though it was never built.

Tatlin in front of a model of his Tower in 1919
and Kapoor with a model of his Orbit

A scale model of Tatlin’s Tower was erected in the forecourt of the
Royal Academy last November as part of its exhibition
Building the Revolution: Soviet Art and Architecture 1915-1935.
Photo by EP

Comparative towers, the price of houses, of jeans and milk goats … and I’m not dreaming!

On the subject of towers and their ‘local’ associations, this watercolour of St Aldate’s in Oxford and the famous Tom Tower of Christ Church College was painted in 1896 by Fritz Althaus, who lived in Iverson Road, West Hampstead.

The Tower, whose bell ‘Great Tom’ still tolls 101 times each evening at 9.05, was also for three years the central view from Kathleen’s window in Oxford.

Photo by KR
The good news is that the waist of the jeans is slightly loose on me.

02 July 2012


When the centuries behind me like a fruitful land reposed;
When I clung to all the present for the promise that it closed:
When I dipt into the future far as human eye could see;
Saw the Vision of the world and all the wonder that would be.
Tennyson,  ‘Locksley Hall’ 

Photo by EP
Louise Gold as Miss Prism and EP as Dr Chasuble

Next weekend on BBC Radio 4 Extra you will have three opportunities to hear a wonderful adaptation of Shaw’s Candida from 1977, starring Edward as the Reverend James Morell and Hannah Gordon as his wife ‘Candida’. To be broadcast at 6 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturday 7th July and at 4 a.m. on Sunday 8th. For those of you outside the UK, you can listen online.

And a reminder that you can keep track of Edward’s latest news (including stage appearances, TV and radio listings and reviews) on his designated News blog.



Photo by EP

A new film blog to follow shortly. Meanwhile fresh plaudits for the Windsor reprise of Edward’s singing Canon Chasuble:

Written by Douglas Livingstone with music by Adam McGuiness and Zia Moranne, its songs could have been written by Wilde himself: they are witty, tell a story, are perfectly in keeping with the era and the original play and provide some of the funniest moments. One such occasion is the duet between distinguished actor Edward Petherbridge as the doddery Dr Chasuble, and Louise Gold, founding member of The Spitting Image team, as governess Miss Prism, imitating birds and bees as they sing of their love which ‘all began in a garden’. … Presented with more than just a little nod to an old fashioned variety show and not a touch of pantomime, with lime lights, ornate flats around the proscenium arch and a good dollop of melodrama, The Importance of Being Earnest has certainly grown up since its Hammersmith preview days and if it doesn’t go into the West End, as is rumoured, London’s theatreland will be the worse for it. 
UK Theatre Network (Full review)

Musical highlight, however, is the mock coyness of ‘It All Began in A Garden’, cleverly performed by Louise Gold as Miss Prism and stage veteran Edward Petherbridge as Dr Chasuble, which has the audience in stitches. A jaunty, jocular, little gem of an evening ... Very British, very Windsor – and very good. Oscar would have approved! 
Fulham and Hammersmith Chronicle (Full review)

Photo by EP

The show is in its final week at Windsor and closes on Saturday 7th July. To book online, click here.

Stay tuned!