Christopher Fowler has died, and my heart is full.
He never made any secret of his illness, but kept friends and admirers up to date via his blog and Twitter messages. We all know that cancer is an absolute bastard, and its worst trait is that it is a death by a thousand cuts, Give a little – take a little bit more.
Grief is a strange thing. Too strong a word to use when someone you have never met in person dies? I remember being appalled and left feeling empty on that December morning in 1980 when people in Britain woke up to the news that John Lennon had been murdered. Sorry if this sounds about me, but I am simply trying to show that one can grieve for the death of someone – never met – when that person has been a substantial stone in one’s cultural wall. Lennon and The Beatles were the soundtrack to my late teens. With The Beatles, Hard Day’s Night, Revolver – scratched vinyl LPs taken from party to party, played endlessly as one tried to engineer a “slow” with some willowy teen girl, long since a grandmother. Christopher Fowler’s Bryant & May books were, for me, equally iconic. Full of silly gags about long-forgotten brand names, comedic echoes of George and Weedon Grossmith, a knowledge of arcane London streets and alleys fully equal to that of Iain Sinclair (but more comprehensible) and – above all – a glorious distillation of the essence of what it is to be English that stands alongside the perceptions of John Betjeman and Philip Larkin. Never triumphant or xenophobic, mind you, but always with a poignant sense of the people who walked those London streets long before we did.
I never met Christopher, but we exchanged messages on social media, and I remember one lovely email from him about a review I had written of a B & M book, and he was as pleased as punch that I “got” what he was on about. We had an informal and indefinite arrangement to have a pint at some stage in The Scotch Stores on Caledonian Road. Sadly, that pint will remain undrunk.
When dear old Arthur Bryant ‘died’ at the end of London Bridge is Falling Down, I felt as one with the of thousands of grateful readers, people who loved the sounds and smells of hidden London, appreciated the jokes, chuckled quietly at the nostalgic product placing contained in the depths of Arthur’s coat pockets, and shared the poignancy of those moments when the two old gentlemen gazed down at the river from their special place, Waterloo Bridge – the final eleven words of the biblical quote known as Let Us Now Praise Famous Men will resonate as long as there are books to be read, jokes to be shared and dreams to be dreamed.
But these were merciful men whose righteousness hath not been forgotten.