Friday, January 16, 2009

The death of John Mortimer

Mortimer's spirit moves to a place he had no belief in: if oblivion is now his lot he'll be none the wiser.

He was one of my first celeb interviewees. I'd written to him as a freelance writer pretending to be working on a collection of starry chats for a book, and he saw me. The interview was my first sold piece to the national UK glossies. Many years later the lackadaisical South African who'd bought the feature mentioned in passing, during a drunken lunch at Joe Allen's, that Mortimer had phoned the magazine shortly after publication to say how much he enjoyed reading the interview. I thought that very generous of him.

I can recall the way he sat, sprawled lazily like a Roman senator at a bacchanalia, giving his sofa the "bean-bag treatment", which is how I think I put it. He was strikingly clear-headed and unsentimental. When I asked him why he did all the lawyering and writing, why he worked so hard, he responded simply, "because one can."

His hostility to censorship, moral nannying, illiberalism was underpinned by his interest in the anarchist writings of Peter Kropotkin. The Russian prince held that humanity is ultimately good and altruistic: even a capitalist state "cannot weed out the feeling of human solidarity, deeply lodged in men's understanding and heart," as Kropotkin put it. Even now this sounds heretical: the assumption of original sin is made not just by the happy-clappies and their faith equivalents but by numberless secular bureaucrats dreaming of biometric nirvana for our own good.

Oddly in a lawyer, Mortimer I think took it for granted that more laws played to our uglier side - his valedictory blasts against the New Labour nannies were a consistent tailing of his life-long work. All this and he fucked for Britain, too.

I shall follow his passage in the spirit world with much interest.


forgotten ones fund/stephmastini said...

Mr. Mortimer earned my respect when he spoke his mind without fear of recrimination...
He left us with this quote about death:
"Dying is a matter of slapstick and pratfalls. The aging process is not gradual or gentle. It rushes up, pushes you over and runs off laughing. No one should grow old who isn’t ready to appear ridiculous.”
...we should all remember that when we take ourselves so seriously...

Elvira said...

Beautiful eulogy, MA darling. If there are Pearly Gates and he had a chance to read it while waiting at the lobby, I’m sure he‘s just as pleased, as he was with that interview, to be remembered so fondly without going into much sentimentalism.

Anna said...

Dear Whoever-You-Are, in just a few words you capture Mortimer so well, much more so than in encomia of thousands of words in the press. I didn't know about his interest in anarchist writings, in many ways he was a traditionalist. Spiritually however he aimed high, whatever spiritually means.