ave atque vale
He was my friend. And colleague.
Graham died a few days ago.
A lot of you – London Walkers who are true blue London Walkers, who go back, in some cases way back, a long way with London Walks – will remember him. You went on his walks. You enjoyed them, you liked him.
Nothing but good to say about Graham. He had no “side” to him. Out of that great Santa’s bag of goodness that was his, I’ll pick six gifts. There are so many more, but six will do. Graham would have been embarrassed – no, horrified – if I’d emptied out even half the contents. Let alone the whole shebang.
1. Graham was so brave. He will have been in considerable pain that last year, attacked and invaded by that unspeakable. Never complained. Was always cheerful. Maybe his only regret – this by way of getting it said that Graham did it his way – and boy did he ever succeed – his only regret was that he didn’t quite make it to the 40 year mark as a London Walks guide. Came so close, though.
2. And that’s by way of saying Graham was our last link with Keith Baverstock, who founded London Walks – the oldest urban walking tour company in the world – half a century ago. Keith hired Graham. Graham told – it’s these little things, tense shifts, for example, that do me, that bring it on, that bring on the tell-tale catch in the throat that accompanies my now having to write told here when my every instinct is to write tells – Graham told great stories about Keith and those early days.
3. Graham was good company. He was a recovering City of London banker. And, yes, those two go together. He hated that bank. He’d got over the wall but the memory was evergreen. Whenever he went by it, priest-like, he’d do the sign of the cross. Whatever it took to ward off the evil one.
4. Graham was maybe London’s last stage door Johnny. He loved musicals. Loved dancers, loved beautiful young women. Would go to the same show over and over again. Worth mentioning here that fetching older women – some of them walkers – were always setting their caps at him. “You’re coming home with me [to South Carolina]” in one famous incident. And the corollary of that strand of his life: he was a master at taking evasive actions that bruised no egos – a consummate practitioner of that fine art.
5. Graham was a guide’s guide. You’ll hear actors talking about an actor’s actor. Graham was – oivei, that tense again – a guide’s guide in much the same vein. An actor’s actor is an actor who doesn’t go in for cheap tricks, who would be horrified at hamming it, who abhors frills and look-at-me, show-off mannerisms, whose sole object is finding the truth of his character. And holding it right there, night after night – abiding by it, honouring that truth. This line of work of ours – it is, I’m sorry to say, full of third-raters (none of them London Walks guides, I hasten to add) who go in for all kinds of “look at me”, “show off” antics. Graham was the gold standard in that matter. He wanted to be – and he was – a clear pane of glass through which his walkers looked at the buildings – and/or the history – he was showing them. It was the purest guiding I’ve ever seen. Putting to shame of course the circus mirror antics that so often pass for “guiding” in these fallen times of ours. A guide’s guide.
6. Graham was my hero. My heroes aren’t the people who get the official imprimatur – the statues and the big roles in history books. They’re “ordinary” people. The headmaster, for example, who, in a staff meeting (a million years ago) in which a “colleague” who was nine parts damaged goods was arguing for further damaging some goods in our care – a difficult student whom he wanted to be severely punished – the headmaster who said, quietly, “it’s more important to be fair than firm.” Forty years on I remember that moment. Will never forget it. A quiet, unassuming almost self-effacing man, that headmaster. He’s a hero of mine. As is Graham. Here’s the story. Not long after Mary and I took London Walks over – May 1, 1990 – one of the low-life, wideboy knock-offs pulled a stunt that was in character for him and that was designed to harm London Walks. It was low, it was bent, it was underhanded, it was contemptible. I was really angry about it. My mettle was up. I said to Graham, “two can play at that game.” Graham said, “don’t do it, Dave” [Graham was the only person who ever called me “Dave”] – you lose your integrity you’ve lost everything.”
“You lose your integrity you’ve lost everything.”
Graham was my friend. He was a colleague. He’s my hero. And, yes, why not say it – do notice the tense.
ave atque vale