Monday, 30 December 2019

Brexit Britain would have been no country for a child immigrant called Lothar Baruch who became its Professor of Immunology, Leslie Brent

Leslie died on the 21st December at the age of 94, after living in Britain for 70 years, having arrived a Jewish child immigrant fleeing from Nazi Germany in 1939. Two days before he died the Queen addressed the assembled Members of Parliament with the words :

"My Lords and Members of the House of Commons.

My Government’s priority is to deliver the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union on 31 January. My Ministers will bring forward legislation to ensure the United Kingdom’s exit on that date and to make the most of the opportunities that this brings for all the people of the United Kingdom."


What she didn't say, because it is part of the detail of this legislation, is that it will remove 'the Government’s existing obligations (under section 17 of the European Union Withdrawal Act) with regard to unaccompanied children seeking asylum in the EU who have family members in the UK.' The clause was included in the original Withdrawal Agreement Bill after a campaign led by Lord Dubs, 87, who fled Nazi Germany via Kindertransport when he was six years old.

This means the new legislation removes a post-Brexit obligation on the Government to secure protection for refugee children in Europe who may want to reunite with family members in Britain. If Leslie, who fled the Nazis via Kindertransport in 1938 when he was 13 years old, was aware of this hardening of the Government's position towards these children, two days before he died, it must have filled his heart with sadness.

Back in 2016 he argued against Prime Minister David Cameron's hard line attitude to child refugees from war-torn Syria when he and Conservative MPs voted against an Immigration Bill Amendment that would have forced his Government to bring in 3,000 Syrian child refugees already in Europe. Cameron said : "We shouldn't be encouraging people to make this dangerous journey. I think it's right to stick to the idea we keep investing in the refugee camps and in the neighbouring countries." 

Leslie responded with : "My survival is entirely due to the extreme generosity of the British government in 1938 and the contrast with the present government is quite pathetic" and "I  don't know anyone who came over on one of the Kindertransports who hasn't more than repaid the generosity of Britain in one way or another and I have little doubt that these modern refugee children would act in the same way. Everyone thinks of them as a nuisance and a burden."
There is little doubt that, three years later, his attitude towards unaccompanied children seeking asylum in the EU who have family members in Britain who they seek to join, would have been exactly the same. Hence his imagined sadness at the Government's loveless attitude to child migrants,

In November 2018 he said : "Brexit has unleashed a wave of hatred of foreigners which is quite frightening – one of the many negative aspects of Brexit. People say the situation is very different but these are parentless children, exploited, destitute. It may be unworthy of me, but I can’t help thinking there is an underlying racism here. I wonder if these refugees had been European, would the attitude have been the same?"

* * * * * * * * 

Leslie was born Lothar Baruch, in the summer of 1925 in K√∂slin, Germany, the son of his religious, although not orthodox, German Jewish parents, Charlotte and Arthur, a commercial traveller working for large companies. He enjoyed his first 8 years - the family were cultured and comfortably off - his father played the piano and his mother sang in a choir and took him and his sister Eva to the rehearsals.

His parents sent him to middle school where he learned English and all was well until 1933 and Hitler and the Nazis came to power. He recalled :  "I came in the class and it was written on the board : 'All Christians are liars and Deceivers'." Leslie was the only Jewish boy in the class and the teacher, himself a Nazi, who sometimes wore his brown shirt uniform, accused him of the writing and said : ""That was what the Jew, the Jewish boy did." I had to stand in front and listen to him insult me ​​and there I was desperate. I couldn't go to school anymore and my parents decided to educate me somehow differently."

At the age of 11 in 1936, in order to protect him from anti-Semitic harassment, he'd had stones thrown at him, his parents packed him off to the Jewish orphanage in Berlin-Pankow. It was a frightening experience to find himself in a "big building with about 100 other boys, many of them very poor, pretty horrible lives, were really orphans and actually didn't have a good life and were very unhappy. It was very difficult to suddenly live in such a large mass."

He remembered about three months before Kristallnacht there was a so-called 'rehearsal in Pankow.' "A mob of men entered the house and were confronted by a teacher with a child in his arms who addressed them calmly and said : "I want you remember that this house is an orphanage, I want to invite you to leave immediately. " Afterwards we sat in the garden and had eaten strawberries with cream. I remember that very well. But the orphanage was not attacked at all on Kristallnacht. Funny. I do not understand. All other Jewish houses, synagogues and shops were destroyed, but the orphanage was not attacked."

The Director of the Orphanage, Dr. Kurt Crohn, who would be murdered in Auschwitz in 1944, organised a place for him on the first Kindertransport out of Germany in December 1938 and he can be seen in transit in Europe with other boys.
He wrote : 'Almost 10,000 children arrived in the Kindertransports from December 1938 to the outbreak of World War Two, which put a stop to the evacuations. I was 13 at the time, but children up to the age of 16 were admitted. Certain conditions were insisted upon – a guarantee of £50 per child, the children were to be unaccompanied and required to move to other countries after the war. (The latter condition was totally forgotten about and most remained in the UK.)'


He recalled : "I was nonetheless fortunate in many respects : once in England, I was selected to continue my education in a Jewish boarding school that its farsighted head mistress, Anna Essinger, had brought from Germany to this country as early as 1933."

Anna was a remarkable German lady. The eldest of nine children, she had studied at American universities, where she became impressed by Quaker philosophies. She opened a school in rural Herrlingen in Germany, in 1926, with two of her sisters, believing tranquil surroundings were the best setting for learning. Avoiding actual teaching in favour of organisation, she embraced a liberal educational path known as 'Reformpedagogic', in which pupils were considered to be equal and community spirit was fostered above all.

Leslie recalled : "TA, as she was always known - it was short for Tante Anna - was a truly formidable woman. She was very stout, stern and not that good with children, but she had their welfare absolutely at heart" and given that the school eschewed science teaching because they couldn't afford laboratories "in spite of that, an astonishing number of us went on to become doctors and scientists, and I put that down to a really solid early education." He went on : "My life and that of the others was thus saved : my parents and sister and most of my relatives were murdered in cold blood by the Nazis in 1942." 

For many years he had believed they has perished in the Auschwitz Death Camp and only found out fairly recently that they had been deported to Riga in Latvia and were murdered in the Rambula Massacre. "I found that my parents were followed my sister (Eva) in October '42 and were taken into the woods and shot." He confessed that this was "a little better than what I thought had happened to them in the concentration camp. I have had so many nightmares about this. I still suffer from survivor's guilt, however irrational I know it is."

Oblivious of this, at the age of 15, Leslie sat his school certificate exams : "I had to sit it with five other pupils in 1940, six weeks after the school was evacuated to Shropshire, and we lost a fortnight's education helping with all the loading and unloading." He now had no choice but to leave school "when money ran out for me after School Certificate - our fees were paid by the Refugee Committee." which was the Central Jewish Fund for German Refugees.

At the school he recalled : "We had a very good teacher at the school in Bunce Court who taught biology and that interested me very much in the subject and there I have always thought, well, it would be very nice to study biology." In fact, at the age of 16 in 1941 he got a job as a laboratory technician at the Birmingham Central Technical College and "had studied there in the evening and at the weekend, to prepare myself for university.


Then, at the age of 18 enlisted to serve in the British Army and Anglicized his name to 'Brent' in the process. He joined the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, anxious to serve his new country and to help his family at the same time. He later recalled : "Having volunteered for the infantry in the middle of 1943, when the war was far from won, I had ‘a good war' in that I survived and was demobbed in 1947 with the rank of Captain." In fact, if he had been captured by the German Army, his status as a defector would have spelt certain death at the hands of the enemy.

He now studied for two years at the Birmingham Central Technical College and after passing his school certificates, gained a place to study as a zoology undergraduate at the University of Birmingham where he came under the influence the head of the Zoology Department, Professor Medawar.

"He was a charismatic lecturer, teaching us statistics, embryology, and immunology. I had planned to become a school teacher and had already applied for a postgraduate diploma in education at Cambridge University. Toward the end of my studies, Medawar who, unknown to me, had already nominated me for the Vice Chancellor’s Prize for 'The Most Outstanding Undergraduate of the Year' (I had been president of the Students’ Union and played lawn hockey for the university), asked me whether I would like to join him as a postgraduate student. I jumped at the idea and duly abandoned my plan to become a teacher."

When Peter moved to University College London he offered Leslie a studentship that involved the study of what became the phenomenon of ‘acquired immunological tolerance’." he reflected : "for me it was a tremendous opportunity, together to work with this very charismatic man. He was an excellent teacher, an excellent scientist, a wonderful man who I very much revered." 

At the age of 26, the research he did as a PhD student in 1951 with Peter and Research Fellow, Rupert Billingham, dealt with 'immunological tolerance' - the question of how to succeed in organ transplants to outsmart the body’s immune system so that the new organ is not rejected by the body. "Our method was completely organic. We were able to show that if you have cells injected from strange mice into very young mice that have just been born, then you can completely change the recipient's immune system." "Then you can, when the mice are five or six weeks old, take a small piece of skin from the Transplant donor mouse and then it will be accepted like normal skin." 
It is worth remembering that we now take for granted that tissues and organs can be transplanted even if the recipient is genetically dissimilar and perpetually takes powerful drugs that suppress the immune response. This was unthinkable in the early 1950s.

The donor skin grafts were accepted without rejection. Their first paper was published in 'Nature' in 1953. Leslie later confessed that : "The tolerance studies were undoubtedly the most challenging and formative of my career " and "the best experience was almost certainly the day on which we discovered that some of the mice we had inoculated in utero with allogenic spleen cells had donor strain skin grafts that far exceeded their normal lifespan. it was a "eureka" moment : After quite a few months of experimentation this was our first indication of success."

Leslie (left) worked with Rupert (right) in the lab under Peter's guidance for 6 years. In addition to their landmark finding in induced immunological
tolerance they also discovered what became known as Graft Versus Host Disease (GVHD), an immune condition that occurs in a patient after transplantation when immune cells present in donor tissue, the graft, attack the host's own tissues.

It was a mark of their brilliance as scientists and a display of intellect, creativity and great technical ingenuity and perseverance and their results were published in a series of landmark papers. When Peter, who later became known as the 'Father of Transplantation', shared the 1960 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine "for discovery of acquired immunological tolerance" with Frank Macfarlane Burnet, he also shared the prize money with Leslie and Rupert in recognition of their contribution to the award.

Peter 's career prospered : his doctorate at University College London was followed by a two year stint as Lecturer in the Department of Zoology followed by a year as a Rockefeller Research Fellow, California Institute of Technology, 1956–57. Then back to Britain he worked for three years followed by his appointment as Professor of Zoology at the University of Southampton. In 1969 he was appointed Professor of Immunology at St. Mary's Hospital Medical School, London where he continued his studies of transplantation tolerance, trained and mentored PhD students and post-doctoral fellows and supported the development of immunology at St.Mary's including a major focus on HIV and AIDS.

As one of the pioneers of the transplantation of organs he served as the European Editor, of 'Transplantation', 1963–68, the General Secretary of the British Transplantation Society, 1971–75 and then its President 1976–78. He won the Medawar Prize in 1994, the highest distinction of the international Transplantation Society. After his retirement in 1990 he continued as  Professor Emeritus at the University of London and in 2009 saw his autobiography, 'Sunday Child ? - A Memoir.'

In 2016 he said : "At one of the recent demonstrations I gave an interview to a reporter from the Socialist Worker and some of my rather fierce comments were published by them. It was at the demonstration in Parliament Square and with all the noise around me I hadn’t understand which organisation the interviewer belonged to. When I read their report I said to my wife: “Damn, there goes my OBE!” Her reply : “It went ages ago, my dear.”"

In fact, they were both wrong : Leslie was awarded an OBE for 'Services to Holocaust Education and the Field of Immunology and Organ Transplantation' in the 2020 New Year's Honour List. Despite, his deteriorating health, he continued to campaign for refugee children throughout the year, a rare example of a great and good man in 2019, a year in which so many in public life have sunk to new lows.

Leslie looked at the pictures of Charlotte, Arthur and Eva in his bedroom every day and said :
"I would like to believe that my survival in this country is a little comfort for my parents and sister."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qV3cO0CigjM

Update : January 9th : 

The House of Commons has rejected proposals to keep protections for child refugees in the redrafted EU withdrawal agreement bill, triggering dismay from campaigners and Alf Dubs said it was a “very depressing” development. It is very disappointing that the first real act of the new Boris Johnson government is to kick these children in the teeth. It is a betrayal of Britain’s humanitarian tradition and will leave children who are very vulnerable existing in danger in northern France and in the Greek islands.” 

MPs voted 348 to 252 against the amendment, which had previously been accepted by Theresa May’s Government and which would have guaranteed the right of unaccompanied child refugees to be reunited with family members living in the Britain after Brexit.

Brexit Britain confirmed as a country, hard-faced, unloving and uncharitable.


Thursday, 26 December 2019

Brexit Britain is a country with old men who will never give in and will always remain implacably opposed to its exit from Europe

It is difficult not to agree with David Milliband, who said in the Guardian four days ago : 'I am convinced that Brexit is the biggest foreign policy disaster since appeasement in the 1930s.'  David, who is 54 years old and served as Foreign Secretary in Gordon Brown's Labour Government from 2007-10 has, unlike most members of the present Johnson-led Government, a razor sharp intellect, having been the third youngest Foreign Minister in history who studied at Corpus Christi College, Oxford where he obtained a first-class honours degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics.

Many millions of British men and women and among them hundreds of thousands of old men, remain unreconciled to Britain's exit from the European Union next month and implacably opposed to Britain's divorce from Europe. For those old men born either before, during or shortly after the Second World War, who played on bombsites of houses in cities in the 1950s, where, just ten years before, German bombs had killed civilians in The Blitz and had listened to fathers, elder brothers and uncles recall their Wartime experiences at family get togethers on sunday afternoons, there will be no reconciliation to the idea that we must all get behind Brexit now. Even as small boys, they could see how these men had all been deeply affected by their War, having fought either in North Africa and Italy, Northern Europe or South-East Asia.

Even the Queen, in her Christmas Message made on television yesterday was urging all Brits to put their differences about Brexit behind them and work together when she said : 'By being willing to put past differences behind us and move forward together, we honour the freedom and democracy once won for us at so great a cost.'  In fact, the reverse is the case : those who remain opposed to Brexit, hold steady in their beliefs and thus honour their freedom and democracy.

When she referred to Britain's triumph in the Second World War when went back 75 years to the time before many old men were born and D-Day in 1944 when she said said : "For the Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of that decisive battle, in a true spirit of reconciliation, those who had formerly been sworn enemies came together in friendly commemorations either side of the Channel, putting past differences behind them." Did she not see the irony of the situation, in that the old enemies, with whom we had reconciled differences, were about to become, once again, our rivals in a post-Brexit world ?

She used the experience of the War to argue that post-Brexit, we should all come together as one nation : "Such reconciliation seldom happens overnight. It takes patience and time to rebuild trust, and progress often comes through small steps. Since the end of the Second World War, many charities, groups and organisations have worked to promote peace and unity around the world, bringing together those who have been on opposing sides."

"You cannot tell from appearances how things will go. Sometimes imagination makes things out far worse than they are; yet without imagination not much can be done. Those people who are imaginative see many more dangers than perhaps exist; certainly many more than will happen; but then they must also pray to be given that extra courage to carry this far-reaching imagination. But for everyone, surely, what we have gone through in this period -  this is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty - never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy."
Winston Churchill. 1941


Monday, 23 December 2019

Britain at Christmas is a country with malnourished and hungry old men

According to NHS Digital, the number of old men and women in Britain diagnosed with malnutrition has more than trebled to almost 500,000 in the past decade and more than a million aged 60 and over, that is one in ten, are either malnourished or at risk of malnutrition.

These are the lucky ones who have been diagnosed by a either doctor or other health professional.The fact is that, more than a million aged 60 and over - more than one in ten - are either malnourished or at risk of malnutrition and many are undiagnosed and because the vast majority of these, 93%, live at home and their malnourishment often goes unnoticed.

The Malnutrition Task Force, an independent organisation set up in 2012 by Dianne Jeffrey to combat preventable and avoidable malnutrition and dehydration among old people in Britain, has said that Christmas is an ideal opportunity to spot the signs that old people might be struggling to eat enough to keep themselves well.

Diane, who chairs the MTF said : “It is shocking that 1.3 million older people suffer from or are at risk of malnutrition in our country and the root of the problem doesn’t just lie with poverty. There are other contributing factors which add to the risk. Public health messages that don’t always relate to this age group; a lack of ability to shop, eat and drink at home without help. As well as loneliness and isolation, grief and bereavement, poor physical and mental health or a lack of awareness of the risks by health and social care staff.” 

One 'contributing factor' identified by the 'English Longitudinal Study of Ageing', was the fact that over 230,000 old men and women  aged 75 and over having difficulty with the physicality of eating, such as cutting up food and opening jars and over 1.9 million have difficulty eating food because of a dental condition.

The Study also identified not being able to afford to eat as another cause of malnutrition, particularly for those old men and women  people living in poverty and showed that over 29,000 of 65-74 year-olds admit having to cut or skip meals because they didn’t have enough money.


Lesley Carter, Clinical Lead for MTF, said too many old people and, in particular, women were failing to adjust their diet as they aged. She said : “We’re seeing this all the time. A lot of women have been dieting on and off all their life, or at least they've been very conscious of what they eat, and even as they become elderly they’re still chomping on the salads. Often that’s not the correct diet for someone who is ageing. They need to be trying to eat a lot more protein.”

Diane highlighted the opportunity to spot malnutrition at Christmas : “It is sometimes quite difficult to recognise that you or a loved one is unintentionally losing weight. At Christmas look out for warning signs like rings being loose and slipping off, clothes looking too big, belts needing to be tightened. Look for dental problems, loose teeth, sore mouth or loose dentures. All will make chewing and swallowing difficult or some may just have a small or general lack of appetite.”


All of this is well and good, but a new Age UK report estimates that around 200,000 old men and women aged 65 and over will spend the Christmas alone this year.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director of Age UK said that : “Increasing numbers of people diagnosed with malnutrition is a cause for concern because poor nutrition can be both a cause and consequence of ill health. Signs will often go unnoticed until they have made a negative impact on health and well being. Malnourishment can cause long-term health problems for otherwise healthy and independent older people. It can also mean more visits to the GP, increased chances of being admitted to hospital and longer recovery times from illness.".



Saturday, 21 December 2019

Britain is still, but only just a country for an old children’s book writer and illustrator, called Raymond Briggs, who gave them 'The Snowman'

Raymond Briggs is 85 years old and is one of Britain's most beloved of children’s book creator who gave them 'Father Christmas' in 1973, which featured a solitary old curmudgeon toiling through bad weather on his sleigh in oilskins, complaining all the way. Raymond commented : “Bloody awful job. He’s going to be a bit grumpy.”

'Fungus the Bogeyman' followed in 1977 and 'The Snowman' in 1978, which has sold in excess of 5.5 million copies globally and has been translated into 15 languages. Ironically, Raymond hates Christmas, but has become inextricably linked that season and the animation of his picture book, which was first screened in 1982 and is now as traditional christmas fare. He acknowledges that with stage shows, adverts, toys, toilet paper “it’s a worldwide industry. China, Japan: a world of Snowmen. The whole blessed world. I was fed up with it years ago. I’m even more fed up with it now it’s been going on for nearly 40 bloody years.” 

Even Raymond's sweetest, most playful works are full of intimations of mortality : 'The Snowman' ends up as a pool of water with a scarf floating on top of it and now, over the 256 pages of his last book, he contemplates old age and death and doesn’t like them much.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9hRSDDYroE



His collection of short pieces, entitled 'Time for Lights Out', which he has been working on for thirteen years, is illustrated with his pencil drawings and is a collection of short pieces, some funny, some melancholy, some remembering his wife who died young, others about the joy of grandchildren, of walking the dog.

Most of the collection centres on his home in Sussex which features in his poem.


Looking round this house,
What will they say,
The future ghosts
“There must have been
Some barmy old bloke here,
Long-haired, artsy- fartsy type,
Did pictures for kiddy books
Or some such tripe.
You should have seen the stuff
He stuck up in that attic !
Snowman this and snowman that,
Tons and tons of tat.

He reflects on the joys of the daily walk : “Great clots of primroses everywhere! Good job this book’s not in colour. I’d have to paint the bloody things” and goes on to investigate the mysteries of old men’s hair, the frailties of age and ill health, the passing of time and the stubborn endurance of objects : “The breadboard I use today, and the knife, have been with me all my life”.
He also returns to his childhood during the Second World War; to his evacuation to the countryside, and to his parents, previously immortalised in the 1998 graphic memoir 'Ethel and Ernest'.

Raymond generally sits uneasily in the Britain of 2019. He hardly touches his "iPad thing because it gets me in a temper. I need it to keep in touch through incoming mail, but that's all I use it for." He finds tv programmes go on for too long : "I looked up Foyle's War in the Radio Times and it was on for two hours, I mean two solid hours. I couldn't sit through that, however much I like Michael Kitchen". Of recent British politics, he found Nigel Farage "is the only person I like because he's slightly amusing. The others, these dark-haired blokes of about 40, I can hardly tell the difference between them"  He doesn't mind meeting his readers, "if it's brief", but confesses if they start singing the Snowman song, "I'm Walking in the Air" he is tempted : "to give them a kick up the arse." And on top of everything : "When you get older everything takes so bloody long, getting the food, clearing up, washing up, getting the bedroom ready, having a bath".

Twelve years ago, when he was 73, he told 'The Telegraph' that 'Time for Lights Out' would “definitely be my last” book and was “bound to have a sad ending”. When he was 81 he showed 'The Independent' one entry from the book – a list of illustrators’ names, with the dates of their deaths beside them, and another list noting the health of living illustrators and said he "didn’t like being taken by surprise by people telling me one of them’s died.” 

Dan Franklin, who has acquired the book for Jonathan Cape, said that “in some ways, all of Raymond’s books have been about death. Here he confronts it head-on in a book that is honest and truthful and very touching. 'Ethel & Ernest', about his parents, was the very first book on the Cape graphic novel list. It’s wonderful to be publishing him again.”



Friday, 20 December 2019

Britain will be no country for the Grandchildren of old men

It's good news for old men and women aged 65, in terms of life expectancy, but not for their grandchildren. New data from the Office for National Statistics has shown that, while these old men have gained 31.5 weeks of life, and 33.5 weeks of healthy life, since 2009, by contrast, their grandchildren born in England and Wales are likely to spend a larger proportion of their lives in poor health than them. The proportion of life expected to be spent in good health has decreased between 2009-11 and 2016-18, from 79.9% to 79.5% for their grandsons and from 77.4% to 76.7% for their granddaughters.


Having said that, there is still enormous regional variations, with old men today living in Richmond-upon-Thames having the highest male healthy life expectancy at birth in Britain of almost 72 years and almost 19 years longer than men in Blackpool, who have a healthy life expectancy of just over 53 years.

Liz Emerson, Co-Founder of the 'Intergenerational Foundation' said : “We, as a society, are failing our children and grandchildren disgracefully on intergenerational fairness grounds if we cannot give them the same healthy life prospects as enjoyed by older generations today. To change these outcomes we must end childhood deprivation in all its forms and that means prioritising funding for children.”


Aideen Young, Evidence Manager at the 'Centre for Ageing Better', agreed : “These inequalities are unacceptable and much more must be done to ensure that the opportunity of longer lives is shared equally. Tackling health inequalities at all ages must be a top priority for whoever forms the next government.”


Theresa Marteau is Director of the Behaviour and Health Research Unit at the University of Cambridge and with colleagues has written an article in the Lancet entitled 'Increasing healthy life expectancy equitably in England by 5 years by 2035 : could it be achieved?'

They make a compelling case for structural and policy interventions that create healthier environments for behaviour change related to tobacco, alcohol, diet, and physical activity and outline how these are likely to be more effective than either the personalised information or precision public health approaches currently favoured in the British Government's proposed public health strategy on prevention.

They report : 'Rises in child poverty, homelessness, food poverty, and a deterioration in mental health have been observed. These have occurred at the same time as a reversal of investment in public services, with the biggest cuts in the most deprived areas. Previous research has shown that public investment improves health outcomes, and disinvestment has the opposite effect. It is time to acknowledge the elephant in the room—the underlying causes of the disturbing health trends in England—and to design appropriate policies to reverse them.'

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to an old Celt, born an aristocrat who chose to become a potter, called James Campbell


James, who has died at the age of 77, was born in the summer of 1942, during the Second World War, in the ancestral home of the aristocratic Clan Campbell, Cawdor Castle on the Moray Firth in Nairnshire, Scotland. He himself belonged to a branch of the Clan based in Pembrokeshire in Wales, the Stackpole Estate having come into their hands by the marriage of the 16th Thane of Cawdor, Sir Alexander Campbell, to the Welsh heiress Elizabeth Lort in 1689.
He was the second son of John Duncan Vaughan Campbell of Cawdor, 5th Earl of  Cawdor of  Castlemartin and Wilma Mairi Vickers, herself the daughter of Vincent Cartwright Vickers, the Director of Vickers Limited and London Assurance. From an early age he would have been familiar with the motto over the crest of the family coat of arms : CANDIDUS CANTABIT MORIENS  'The pure of heart shall sing when dying' and under the shield : BE MINDFUL.

Grandfather Vincent Vickers, who died three years before James was born, was an extraordinary man, who between 1910 and 1919 was a Governor of the Bank of England, while at the same time worked as a humorist and artist who wrote and illustrated a children's book,'The Google Book'. As a boy James would have had his copy of Grandad's book with its illustrations of weird and wonderful birds. Many years later James would refer to his recurrent black bird : "The bird is a frequent presence; it often seems to be searching for something within the landscape, and it is probably me."

Memories of his early childhood, spent either in the ancestral home of Castlemartin in the County of Pembroke, West Wales and of Cawdor Castle left an indelible mark on him and he always counted his blessings for growing up in and being visually stimulated by these two regions of Celtic Britain with their sometimes ferocious landscapes of great lyrical beauty.

Over 60 years later he would write : "I make pots. They are hand built, individual pieces, usually slabbed and coiled, using a red clay from Staffordshire, masked with a white slip. After the first firing I paint on the surface with oxide pigments and underglaze colours, using imagery based on the special places of my childhood, remembered, observed, and still longed for. I was fortunate to be brought up in the North of Scotland and West Wales, two landscapes of great lyrical beauty, which have been a dominant influence, particularly the wild and windswept coastline of South Pembrokeshire. I try to combine form with image, in such a way that they meet as equal partners, in an object with domestic and poetic overtones."


As a boy he found Cawdor Castle "a surprisingly friendly, warm, grey sandstone castle, tucked into the edge of the Big Wood above the Cawdor Burn and looking out to the north over the fertile coastal plain towards Nairn." As a child he lacked the companionship of his sister Caroline, who was 12 years his senior and brother Hugh, who was 10 years older and grew up as a boy who loved nature, solitude and a contemplative existence, who was free to wander and dream amongst the trees, by the river, along the lake or by the sea as his poem revealed :

My heart beats
in a secret place
under the hill
Over my head the rivers run
My people's land
My father's bones
speak to me
through the ground
ploughed by my dreams

He recalled : “In the special and magical places of my childhood in Wales and Scotland, I was always drawing. When I was very small, the images were of aeroplanes; it was 1944 and there was an aerodrome near our house. The landscape began to appear when I was in my teens and away at school in unhappy exile from these sacred havens, which always offered a place to travel inner worlds of dream, joy and peace. The pain of separation and the longing to reconnect have been dominant forces in most of my subsequent work."





The school he referred to was the boys public school of Eton in Berkshire, which may have been part of his unhappy exile, but had the saving grace of bringing him, at the age of 15, under the influence of the British ceramics artist who taught ceramics and sculpture, Gordon Baldwin, who was only ten years his senior. It was under his tutelage that young James had his first experience of making art out of clay and it was Gordon who introduced him to Hans Coper, whose aesthetic Gordon embraced.

He later recalled that Gordon was "probably the most inspiring, intelligent and exciting teacher of that time" who "opened my eyes to the deeply enjoyable and serious business of making pots and making marks on them. It slowly dawned on me that pottery was something that one could do, not just on Saturday afternoons, but for a lifetime." He recalled that his first pots "were initially sculptural, slab built forms."

In 1959 the Royal College of Art, a postgraduate institution, ran a pilot scheme that involved accepting a few students straight from school and James applied and after a brief entrance procedure, gained a place.

When he arrived, the RCA was in a state of transition because the Professor of Ceramics, Robert Baker had left his post to join the Board of the Royal Worcester Porcelain, taking some of his most talented colleagues and students with him. He had handed over to David Douglas, the Marquis of Queensberry, from Crown  Staffordshire, who ushered in was a period favouring one-off, hand-made ceramics alongside the industrial variety.

James now found himself in the company of fellow students David Hockney, Derek Boshier, Ossie Clark and Zandra Rhodes. In addition, as well as being an unworldly provincial, he was several years junior to his fellow students who, typically, had already completed one or even two art/design courses and in some instances, served two years National Service in the Armed Forces.

James recalled that "it was not an easy time for me. The College was never a teaching school and I missed Gordon's tutorial input." Nevertheless, he was was taught to draw by Dicky Chopping who, in addition to teaching, designed the covers for Ian Fleming's James Bond books and despite his feelings of being overawed in the company of his more assertive contemporaries, James progressed and to his considerable surprise, emerged in 1964 with a first class diploma.

It was the early 1960s, at a time when a degree without a teaching certificate entitled you to become a teacher he secured a post teaching pot making on a foundation course, where students were taught across disciplines, from ceramics to fashion. At the same time, he set up now for his first pottery workshop near Ross-on-Wye and started exhibiting his pots.

After several decades of work with sculptural ceramics, in the early 1980s when he had no access to a workshop, he began a great deal of drawing  : landscape, architecture, people and birds and a move to a new house and the decision to make his own kitchen ware had the practical result of reintroducing him to domestic vessels. He then moved from making the smaller domestic pieces to larger platters and bowls and, as a natural result of the time he had spent drawing, applied his draughtsmanship and colour to these.

He recalled : "When I started making ceramics again – initially utilitarian vessels for my own use – it was not long before imagery started to appear on the pots. I now make pots and drawings, sometimes combined, sometimes not. The imagery still informed by the landscapes of my childhood, remembered and observed.”

"Over the years spent as potter, teacher and draughtsman, I came to love drawing, variously, as a tool for generating ideas about shape, for speculating about form and image, and as a language for putting down images of landscape observed, remembered, and imagined. The pastels and watercolours have developed over time, from sketchbooks full of attempts to capture the poetry of these special places: they are meditations on landscape. Some are closer to the external facts, some closer to the inner world. The bird is a frequent presence; it often seems to be searching for something within the landscape, and it is probably me."

In 1983 he made a 6 week trip to Japan which confirmed his instinct that he was a European potter, not an orientalist and that he should express a European aesthetic in both form and surface. When pressed on specifics about his exposure to Japanese ceramics, he said that the relative looseness and freedom of some Japanese and Korean potters in the making process, were what impressed him and caused him to incorporate this in his making method. Observing potters at work in Tokoname, he realised that he had, without being fully aware, become tight and overly precise. Freedom and flow of movement in form and image were to become the essence of his future work.

"I try to make pots where form and image coexist as equal partners. They are in different languages, and to bring them together into balance is an endlessly fascinating puzzle. A pot decorated with a drawing is something of a paradox. They have different terms of reference and are in different languages, and bringing them together in a way that works is an exciting challenge."


"I try to make the form strong enough in its own right to hold the drawing, to be muscular and even dynamic. Too much movement, however, would make it an incompatible partner, so there is a balance to be struck. The drawing must not overwhelm the shape, but at the same time it must have a content of its own and be more than decoration."

His reputation was such that, in 1998 at the age of 56 and, for three years, he served on the Arts Council of Wales, Art and Crafts Advisory Panel and in 2002 was appointed as a Selector, for the Arts and Crafts Exhibition, National Eisteddfod of Wales.

James had the satisfaction of seeing his work displayed in the in public collections in the Aberdeen and Dundee Art Galleries in Scotland, the National Library and National Museum and Gallery of Wales in Aberystwyth, the Manchester City Art Gallery and in Australia at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne and in Japan at the Tokoname Institute of Ceramic Art.