Edward is one of my oldest friends. His father died three weeks ago, and he has just come back from burying him in Spain. I met his father just once, at a champagne tasting organised by Edward seven years ago. I don’t remember the fizz, but I remember his father. His life held many secret passages, barely known, if at all, by his wife and sons.
Early in the war he was in British Naval Intelligence. Later he worked on the Manhattan Project as a young nuclear physicist. He dismissed questions about either with a curt “Classified” right up to this year. In the Fifties he married Edward’s mother, radiant daughter of the nineteenth century textile barons who inspired Galsworthy’s _Forsyte Saga_. They were suspicious of this marry-in: too clever by half, and worse, half-Indian. Edward regards their ignorance as the failure of money just a few generations old: the established aristocracy had always survived by transfusions of bright young blood.
In the Sixties he ran a nightclub in Chelsea. Edward remembers a childhood home next-door to Diana Spencer’s London house. There was a private plane, a Rolls to drop him off at state school. The source of funds was not always clear, but living large was the only way. At seventeen Edward bumped into his parents at Annabel’s, Mark Birley’s famous London nightclub, and found his mother wearing full evening dress with flip-flops. Around this time his father became a celebrity divorce lawyer, sorting things out for John Lennon and Cynthia and dissolving Elton John’s early experiments in hetrosexuality. Sadly, he never gossiped.
After his wife’s death he moved to a James Bond-style bachelor flat in the Temple, near his legal chambers. He continued to practise as a barrister. One of his last cases was a pro-bono defence of the MacDonald’s Two, the couple who were sued by the burger people for handing out anti-fast-food propaganda.
Edward is planning a memorial service in the spring. The format for old legal bores is very fixed, he says: the service must start at 5.45 pm on the dot, and the speakers follow a waffling protocol. Instead Edward is sorting through the evidence, trying to find ambassadors from distant segments of his father’s life to deliver their own portraits, evoking, he hopes, a crusty “I say!” or two. It’s not easy task to piece this life together. The man’s pleasure was conspiracy thrillers, and though though he drank enough to pickle a lesser liver, he never spilled secrets. May he rest in peace.