Stuart Hall and I used to argue about jazz. He was a Miles Davis fan, and I was into the Modern Jazz Quartet. The third member of our late 1950s Universities and Left Review troika, Raphael Samuel, was more or less tone deaf except for folk. In the New Left’s early days Stuart and Raphael made a fabulous team: Stuart unfailingly courteous, cool, unflappable and – quite rare this on the left – with a terrific sense of humour. Raphael ‘hot’, constructively manipulative, constantly inventing creative ways to persuade, con and scavenge money to support the ULR magazine and its attached Partisan coffee house at 7 Carlisle Street, Soho. Raphael called everybody comrade. Stuart was more reserved as befitted a reader of Henry James, a taste I then did not share with him.
The ULR, and its coffee house and its countrywide New Left Clubs were brilliantly young: alive with youthful energies that saw no reason old Stalinist dogmas and British imperial smugness could not be swept away in one fell CND swoop by the sheer force of the New Left’s political virginity. An explosive, odd, inspiring mix of ‘absolute beginners’: fed up Young Communists, disillusioned Young Liberals, third-generation Labour children marching with idealistic Bow Group Young Conservatives, the unincorporated and uninitiated. Holding it all together was Stuart’s calm, humorous, easy, erudite personality. He was the very opposite of a political blusterer. This was Stuart the gentle, firm, forbearing but determined organiser before he became a world famous cultural theorist.
You can’t bring all these young men and women together under one roof without hormones bouncing off the walls. Hands down Stuart was the most beautiful man in Britain. Girls (and some boys) swooned, he gently laughed them off until he met Catherine.