Hello, I am Jurgen from Graz…, Exercises in Style.

a05Apart from poetry and jazz, what else discomforted Mister Watkin?  – certainly word play and anagrams. Puns were associated with David Plumtree (see Holleyman and Treacher) who held a Black Belt at Punning. Mister Watkin would groan at word play, screw his face up in agony, and then allow himself a constricted laugh. James Joyce was well represented in his Library but never alluded to in conversation.

Words were intended, he argued, to convey in as clear and succinct a form as possible, the exactitude of a thought. The thought might be obscure or heretic, but language was expected to deliver it in a neat clean parcel. His e-mails were written sparely and in the spirit of his famous one-liners delivered on set. Disgracefully he would ask an expert in, say, Hi-Fi , for a technical solution and then get irritated at the detail presented. In his world everything could, and should, be reduced to a simple concept.

Perhaps this explained why David was himself easily persuaded by the written word. Long experience had taught him however to be wary of being taken in, particularly in matters of the heart. Among his correspondence, there was always a folder of Fan Letters. Some were respectful and stolid (from scholars and enthusiasts). Some were filled with affection and gaiety (from fans). Some were from young fans and these had a particular hold on him.

Two young Austrian boys had written to him asking for a signed photograph. With the charming lilt of broken English, Jurgen launched into a frenzy of admiration together with a promise that he and his (younger)  friend would like to call personally to express their admiration. David was entranced, half amused at the scenario, half with an eye on the main chance. Showing the letter to the entourage in the mews, in merriment and in hope, it was generally agreed that Dr. Mullen had overreached himself this time with a spoof that bordered on the Obvious. The printer’s name on the reverse of the greetings card was in English. Hmmm. Various coy phrases seemed too artificial. One turn of phrase with its unconscious double entendre was pure Chris, David was told.

Around noon my phone rang.

“My dear Chris, how are you?…”

Pause.

“ Or should I say that in German?”

The general tone of archness warned me something was up.

“You’ve been rumbled. Or should I say, you’ve been rumbled, Jurgen…”

After his laughter subsided, I asked for an explanation. I was flattered that he credited me with linguistic nuance, as well as a familiarity with Gay Banter. Despite fierce denials, he still thought it was possible I was the perpetrator. In the next six months three subsequent phone conversations began with a sly question that alerted me to the arrival at the Mews of yet another letter from a young fan. His advisors were clearly keeping up the pressure, so eventually I decided to act.

“Dear Mr. Watkin,  – David if I may. I come to you with big problem. My friend says you might help me.”

Using some dog-eared foxed paper from my archive, I became Oleg Golitsin, ninety-three year old film maker from Riga, living in a bungalow in Peacehaven, whose career had taken him all over the world with a hand-held camera. He was clearly a charming old Queen down on his luck. Fish-gutting on the dockside. Life among the Salty Dogs. The Trade Winds etc etc.

“All in my garage. All nitrate stock. Oleg wake one day, dead from explosion. Dear Mister Watkin, please help, introduce to British Institute of Films.”

The phone rang the next day at nine in the morning.

“Chris, I’ve had this letter.”

It was promising there was no sly preamble.

“Ever heard of Oleg Golitsin? Film Maker from Riga.”

“Can’t say I have.”

“We really must help him. Sitting on a garage full of nitrate stock. In Peacehaven. There’s no phone number. I am going to write now. We’ll go over at the weekend and see what we can do.”

He read the letter out to me, and said ‘fish gutting’ straight. God, I thought, he’s serious about this. I had hoped for an invitation for Oleg to meet Sidney Samuelson, but a visit to Peacehaven sounded like very heavy weather.

Two days later, and well in advance of the weekend, the spirit of revenge in me had diminished in the face of David’s touching concern and generous outreach to an elderly colleague. He roared with laughter he had been so easily taken in. I asked him to reflect on the very idea of my masquerading as an eager Austrian boy.

Many years later I reminded him of the injustice of it all. He told me that the Austrian boys had actually appeared at his doorstep. Anticipation had triumphed over actuality and after a swift cup of tea, they were sent on their way.

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