Obituary: Harman Grisewood

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The Independent Online
There was one friendship in Harman Grisewood's life which was so important to him that I should like to add a note about it further to Leonard Miall's admirable obituary [10 January], and that was with the artist and poet David Jones, writes E. C. Hodgkin.

"I miss Harman appallingly," Jones wrote in June 1941. "They have gone to live at Richmond, found a house and settled down there . . . but I am jolly sorry for the complete break-up of all that old Chelsea thing. I can hardly bear it. I do miss seeing Harman and calling on them more than I can say."

This was in a letter written to Tom Burns, another of Jones's great friends, later editor of the Tablet, who in the 1920s shared a house in St Leonard's Terrace, Chelsea, with his doctor brother, and so became the animator of the "Chelsea thing". "Those were halcyon days," Burns wrote in his autobiography, The Use of Memory (1993). "What a roaring time we had." Grisewood and Jones were both regular "lunchers" at St James's Terrace, where there was endless exciting talk about art, religion, history and much else.

New jobs, new loyalties (including marriage, for Grisewood, but not for Jones) meant dispersal, though friendships were kept in good and happy order by visits and, above all, by correspondence. Grisewood and Burns were two of the correspondents who made up the 1980 volume of Jones's letters, Dai Greatcoat, the third being Rene Hague, who edited it and who married Eric Gill's daughter Joan. (Jones had for a time been engaged to another of Gill's daughters, Petra.) This was part of a multi-way correspondence, supplemented rather than damaged by the telephone. Jones, when he got through on the telephone, liked to chat for hours.

It was with Grisewood above all that Jones discussed his writings. "I do not think I should have continued, especially through the earlier stages, had it not been for the sensitive enthusiasm and understanding of Mr Harman Grisewood," Jones wrote in 1937 in the preface to In Parenthesis, a tribute which he was to repeat 15 years later in the preface to The Anathemata.

Jones had been a friend of mine from the early 1930s, and had often spoken to me about this "marvellous chap, Harman Grisewood", but I don't think we met until 1966, when he briefly joined the editorial staff of the Times, where I had been working since 1952. Sir William Haley was then editor, and Grisewood had been closely involved in the genesis of the innovation of which Haley had been proudest during his time as Director General of the BBC - the Third Programme, of which Grisewood was to become the Second Controller.

Haley wanted to start a Diary, and after, I suspect, a good deal of arm- twisting, persuaded Grisewood to prepare one and get it going. Grisewood was a very clubbable man and knew masses of people, but he was no more at ease in the job than Harold Nicolson had been as editor of the Londoner's Diary on the Evening Standard, and he stayed only six months. But how good it was to have him as a colleague, and so the privilege of another friendship and a fresh insight to those that had formed the "Chelsea thing".

Harman Grisewood was one of my husband Douglas's oldest friends, writes Nest Cleverdon. They overlapped at Oxford in the 1920s, and were held together for the next 60 years by their mutual love and admiration for David Jones, that most unpractical of all poets and painters.

David was propped up all his life by a noble band of friends, and Harman was easily the most noble. It is doubtful if those two great books In Parenthesis and The Anathemata would ever have been written without his patient symapthy and practical help. After David's death, it fell to Harman to sort and edit his vast bulk of archive papers and to ensure that they were properly sorted and deposited; would that all writers had such a friend. His name should go down in literary history in the same category as Joseph Severn, John Keats's friend, or Cowper's beloved Johnny Johnson.

One other memory of Harman: a lunch at our Albany Street house in the Fifties; the guests mostly members of Ouds 30 years before - John Betjeman, Osbert Lancaster, J.T. Yates, John Crow. Conversation became more and more hilarious, and luncheon ended in an unforgettable cod-Shakespeare scene - Osbert as a pompous King, John Betjeman an obsequious Archbishop, Harman's gnome-like figure skipping in and out as the Messenger with ever more and more unsuitable Tidings. Eventually they all left for Broadcasting House, in no fit state for the recording which had been planned, and I was left giggling into the washing up.

In my obituary I erroneously referred to Ampleforth College as a Jesuit boarding school instead of a Benedictine one, writes Leonard Miall. I apologise.