George Melly

George Melly Paris and the Surrealists, with photographs by Michael Woods, is due from Thames and Hudson in June.

Robbing banks

George Melly, 25 June 1992

Inspired by the bourgeois ‘bad taste’ of Magritte’s house in the Rue des Mimosas in suburban Brussels, Jonathan Miller took off into one of his self-intoxicating fantasies. We were there together in the mid-Sixties to make a film for the BBC, and although I had forewarned him, Jonathan couldn’t believe that this overstuffed furniture, this aviary of china birds, these chiming clocks, garish oriental rugs and draped curtains could form the chosen, or at any rate tolerated, habitat of the austere master of unease. He therefore conceived the notion that, at the back of the wardrobe in the bedroom (a chamber so immaculate one could hardly imagine anyone sleeping in it), there was a secret door leading into Magritte’s ‘real bedroom’, whose squalid vice-stained sheets were full of sausage-roll crumbs, where the po was unemptied, and a stale bottle of Tizer had got stuck to the top of a bedside table defaced by cigarette burns.

Beau Beverley

George Melly, 27 June 1991

On 9 September 1983, Beverley Nichols spent the morning of his 85th birthday working on a poem about his birth. He called it ‘Lamplight’ because his mother had told him he was born at dusk. In the first verse he describes the scene: ‘shadows flit across the lawn,’ ‘roses fade,’ ‘stars, like silver sentinels, take up their watch.’ The second verse imagines the octogenarian Nichols hovering over the cradle with the power to spare or choke his infant self. The third would presumably have given us his decision, but he never finished it. Rising to his feet to look at something in his last garden, he collapsed, rallied temporarily in hospital, but died six days later.


George Melly, 4 April 1991

‘Am I eccentric?’ Edward James once asked me in the days before I was added to his long list of enemies both real and imaginary. ‘I suppose I am, but I don’t mean to be. I’ve always tried to behave like everyone else.’ We were sitting on the platform of one of the inevitably incomplete concrete follies he was building at enormous expense on a hillside he owned by proxy in a Mexican jungle. He was wearing a poncho, while a macaw, perched on his shoulder, was pulling hairs out of his beard, and I thought: is this how he thinks ordinary people behave? Is he mad? He probably was a bit mad – not dangerously so but mad nevertheless. But he was also rich: rich enough to fail, although he tried hard enough, to ruin himself; rich enough to buy himself out of trouble. It is very often money which transforms ‘mad’ into the less pejorative ‘eccentric’.’

In some Eastern mystical traditions there is a route to enlightenment called ‘the Path of Blame’. The idea is to abandon any outward or inward claim to superiority, to disdain the...

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Rubbing Up

Michael Church, 7 June 1984

Born within months of each other, both raised under constant scrutiny by powerful grandparents, both made into vehicles for their mothers’ repressed artistic ambitions: the early histories...

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Edward and Tilly and George

Robert Melville, 15 March 1984

In 1935, Edward James, English and very rich, entered into an agreement to purchase from Salvador Dali his most important works. It was a funny sort of agreement, but it lasted until 1939 and...

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