The Commissioning of St.David

Saint David Commissioning1997 was a difficult and stressful year. The “Gays in the military” campaign was in full swing and I was under intense media scrutiny. My neighbour had just called to let me know that, once again, journalists had been looking in my rubbish bins. That morning I also found a live 9mm round on my doorstep, courtesy of Chapter 18 on whose death list I had achieved a significant promotion.

With the post came a letter from a member of the public. Supportive, encouraging and warm, the author displayed an understanding of the pressure I was under. I replied in detail thanking the writer and explaining what our plans were for the campaign.

A couple of weeks later a package arrived. Inside was a delightful letter in a now familiar green ink which thanked me for an unexpected response and enclosed his book “which you may find a little amusing”.  It was only then that I realised an emotional connection with the verdant correspondent and my last days in the Royal Navy.

1994 had seen us at sea for all but one month in the South Atlantic, the Falklands and Antarctica.  On our last night at sea before entering Portsmouth, Neptune paid us a violent farewell and we entered the South West Approaches and English Channel to a storm force 10.  In the wardroom it was film night. The silver screen swung as the ship rolled. Then the rickety Bell and Howell 16mm projector cranked up and the junior officers gave their familiar countdown as the reel fed. I was immediately enthralled at the richness and beauty of the photography. Love had gone into the shooting of Africa and her people and atmosphere leapt to life. “Out of Africa” was my last night of fun in the navy for a few days later my sexuality was discovered and I was dismissed. I cannot now watch the film without intense emotion.

Naturally David was touched at this connection and our correspondence increased. He was thrilled to find that we shared a love of music as well and indeed that I collected many of the old recordings he adored. Many dinners followed where we enjoyed David’s cellar of fine wines, his excellent way with beef and I chided him for his use of a BAFTA as a doorstop. “Well what fucking use would you suggest I put it to my dear?” We would spend hours listening to music or playing the piano together.

Those evenings were hysterical. David’s sound and film libraries contained diamonds of clips of unpublished material showing the “stars” in their true colours. His stories left us in tears of laughter. He loved gossiping about the lovely small Mews in which he lived and which he had bought after Chariots of Fire as his pension plan. He was particularly thrilled one morning when, in dressing gown and slippers as was his custom, he walked to the tram stop at the end of his Mews which was now a newsagent to find that his neighbour was exposed in the papers as a dominatrix Madame. The thought of such goings on in one’s street which would have disgusted many sexually up-tight Brits delighted David.

In 1999 as I prepared to complete build of a ship, David was the obvious choice to launch her. He had told me of the time as a trainee that he set fire to a ship’s bridge and I knew he would get a kick out of it. I knew too that he would find the ship’s name (Saint David) amusing. “Can’t be named after me, I am no Saint!”

Saint David Commissioning

At the launch I handed the champagne to David to swing across the bows. In true David fashion he checked the label: “Fuck me, that’s too good to waste!” I reassured David that he was, in fact, about to break a bottle of Asda’s cheapest. He and I would share the bottle from which I had soaked the label in my cabin after the launching.Saint David Commissioning

Saint David CommissioningSaint David CommissioningSaint David Commissioning

David took some wonderful photographs of our first sea trials. Unbeknown to me he ventured out in a storm to the end of the breakwater and shot as he became drenched while we pitched and rolled off Brighton. Later he said that “I would not have done that for any director”.
Saint David sea trial
Saint David sea trial
Saint David sea trial
He came to sea with us a couple of times and was inspired to revisit his youth and planned to make his last film, a documentary onboard with us, thus completing the circle of his career with a ship film. In the film industry the period from gestation to fruition of an idea is often longer than that of a herd of elephants and sadly his cancer prevented that.

I accompanied David on a shoot in Prague for what was to be his last film “All Forgotten”. I think he rather relished the idea of having gay friends out to meet the evangelical director.  St Petersburg had been recreated in the woods outside the city and the dachas were built both for external and internal filming and they were beautifully furnished. Needless to say David could be found in the bed in one of the Dachas at many times in the day. That was, in fact, the secret of his success. His team knew how he worked and what he wanted. He need not stand over them cramping their style and hindering their work. They set it up as they knew he would wish. He, with great economy would take a look through the lens, maybe move a lamp or two, and then go back to sleep! His laid back style belied a dedicated professional who knew how to lead. These were happy days in a beautiful city among his wonderful close-knit team. His mastery of his craft was evidenced by the apparent ease with which he worked!

David was always there for others. As unselfish as he was unpretentious he touched my life at a time when his support, affection and humour were sorely needed. As I thank him for all he did and meant to me and bid him farewell, I am reminded of a story he once told me. A humanist and, to say the least, detester of religion, David often had to cope with the fact that much of the most glorious music he knew had religious connotations. One of his particular favourites was Elgar’s “Dream of Gerontius”. He managed to avoid the liturgy by listening to a version sung in Japanese “I don’t want to listen to that religious shit”.

David inscribed his first book thus for me “With respect and in deepest admiration” – these words some up my feelings for a dear friend with whom I will sail no more.

  One Reply to “The Commissioning of St.David”

  1. Tom Davison
    08/08/2009 at 4:16 am

    Hello Duncan.
    Beautifully written. No suprises there given your talent with the pen and word.

    I hope your well. It has been a long journey.
    Have thought often of you wondering where and what..

    Do get in touch.


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