Sunday, 13 November 2011
Remembrance Sunday 2011
Moffat was the childhood home of Air Vice Marshall Sir Hugh Dowding. His life, in many ways a tragic tale, is well told by the Wikipedia entry http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugh_Dowding,_1st_Baron_Dowding head of Fighter Command in the Battle of Britain. His wife, Clarice, died from a wasp sting (anaphylactic shock) when their son Derek was only two years of age. I met Derek when we worked together in 1966 on The American, a weekly paper funded (unbeknownst to me at the time) by the CIA. A friend from student days had been recruited as sales manager and he in turn had suggested me as feature writer. Derek Dowding was also in some undefined way to do with sales, and a member, with the proprietor's wife, of Alcoholics Anonymous. He was an intensely aimiable man, a former fighter pilot who took nothing seriously. He looked like a thin tall leprechaun, with a grin that practically split his face in two, and kept us in helpless fits of laughter. Impeccably suited by Savile Row, he would lean on the doorway to our rabbithole- sized office above the Old Curiosity Shop (someone behind The American at least had a great sense of humour), in Portsmouth St off Kingsway WC1, sweeping his straight, fine, thining chestnut hair back from his forehead, chatting in his inimitable drawl. His father, the Laurence Olivier look-alike war hero, was by then deep into mysticism and would routinely claim when he arrived at a destination that he had travelled 'in the fourth dimension'. Another - perhaps the only experienced - member of the team was a bulky salesman known as 'El Stupido', (MI5? the Metropolitan Police?) ostensibly responsible for selling space to the various luxury hotels and other places where Americans might pick up a copy of our publication. Alcohol came into it in a big way with another shadowy player in this extraordinary ensemble: a very rich young drunk who would arrive in his open sports car in the early afternoon, toot his horn and carry off my former student friend and colleague for excursions into Swinging London that may or may not have contributed to the bottom line. With the benefit of hindsight I now wonder if even the hotel where I used to meet the 'stars' (not very glittery ones as I remember), the Westbury just off Bond St, might also have belonged to the US government. My responsibility was 'copy' - newspaper speak for putting together the words between the ads. Not long after joining, I had a call from a real newspaper group to be the women's editor of a paper, the Watford Evening Echo, to be printed using new technology - not hot metal but 'web offset', using a photographic technique. I was launched.