Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Siegfried Sassoon’

Happy 150th Birthday, Robbie Ross!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 25th May, 2019

Edwin Thomas, Gyles Brandreth, JF“A real friend,” declared the American gossip columnist Walter Winchell, “is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.” That statement perfectly encapsulates Robert Baldwin Ross, erstwhile lover and devoted friend and literary executor to Oscar Wilde as well as mentor to several younger writers, including the First World War poet, Siegfried Sassoon. Last night, in the gorgeous ballroom of the Savile Club in Mayfair, members of the club and of the Oscar Wilde Society gathered to celebrate Robbie Ross’s 150th birthday, which falls today. The club Chairman, Robert Harding, spoke of Robbie’s short tenure at the Savile (at that time based on Piccadilly), as well as of Oscar Wilde’s failed attempt to join. The actor Edwin Thomas, who played Robbie in Rupert Everett’s film The Happy Prince, read the speech that Robbie had himself given at a huge dinner at the Ritz Hotel in 1908, when Wilde’s creditors had all been paid off (largely thanks to German interest in his work). The chef at the Savile recreated deliciously much of the menu of that event over a hundred years ago. I gave the after-dinner speech highlighting Robbie and the value of friendship. Gyles Brandreth was the Master of Ceremonies.

Robbie Ross cover 1Ross was born in Tours, France, on 25 May, 1869, but moved to London with his widowed mother and siblings while still a child. He was precocious and cheeky and remarkably confident in his own sexuality; at age 17 while a house guest he seduced Oscar Wilde. Later he was friends with Oscar’s passion, Lord Alfred Douglas, until they had a terrible falling-out. “Bosie” Douglas then persecuted Robbie for years, the stress undermining Robbie’s already weak constitution. For several years he had rooms in an extraordinary establishment run by Nellie Burton at 40 Half Moon Street, Shepherd’s Market — a haven for bachelor men of letters. It was there (and at the Reform Club) that Robbie entertained Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen and others. I wrote about all this in my biography, Robbie Ross, which is still available in paperback and as an ebook:    https://www.amazon.co.uk/Robbie-Ross-Oscar-Wildes-true-ebook/dp/B00J2SR9DM/ref=sr_1_4?keywords=Jonathan+Fryer&qid=1558766955&s=digital-text&sr=1-4

 

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LGBT History Month

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 2nd February, 2019

Alan TuringFebruary is LGBT History Month in the UK, providing an opportunity to showcase the contribution made to society by LGBT people, ranging from one of the fathers of modern computer technology and artificial intelligence (AI), Alan Turing, to the playwright and wit, Noel Coward. Given my own professional and personal interests I inevitably hold especially dear those who made a big contribution to politics and the Arts, several of whom I shall be celebrating during the course of the month. A great tribute is deserved for Peter Tatchell, who for decades has campaigned tirelessly for human rights and equality, and those who were instrumental in getting Equal Marriage put on the UK statute books by the 2010-2015 Coalition Government, not least Liberal Democrat Lynne Featherstone. History Month events are already occupying a significant place in my diary. Last night I was at a dinner for the Siegfried Sassoon Fellowship and today I’ll be attending a lunch put on by the Oscar Wilde Society.

Noel CowardOscar Wilde has posthumously played an important role in my own writing life, as I have produced three books about the Irish playwright and his circle. I am currently working my way through Matthew Sturgis’s monumental new biography, Oscar, which is full of previously unknown details, including a very detailed account of Wilde’s American lecture tours. It is often overlooked just how important Oscar Wilde was as a social reformer, the grey clouds of his trials and imprisonment obscuring his progressive agenda, expressed directly in a number of essays and indirectly through his plays. For me, he represents the clearest example of living out the life philosophy of discovering who you are and then proudly being that person. That was a very brave position to take in the late Victorian period.

9326E15F-E174-4CA8-A6F2-71AACBE68C7CDuring LGBT History Month we can mark new milestones in the campaign for equality, such as Angola’s recent decriminalisation of same-sex relationships, while also noting with concern backward steps, such as the election of the homophobic Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. LGBT people are still the subject of discrimination and abuse in several parts of the world, one of the most egregious examples being in Chechnya. But the heroes and heroines of the past and the present can perhaps serve as an inspiration and even a consolation to those who still have to attain the full human rights that should be the norm for all people, irrespective of their sexuality.

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The Robbie Ross Centenary

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 5th October, 2018

Robbie Ross photoOne hundred years ago today, the Canadian art dealer and literary figure Robert Baldwin Ross — Robbie to his friends — died in London at the age of 49. He had made the British capital his home, though he was born in France and had plans to move to Australia to establish a gallery. His health had been poor, yet his death was unexpected and received little public attention in a country focussed on the final stages of the First World War. But for a close band of friends — including young poets such as Siegfried Sassoon, to whom he had served as a mentor — the news was a shock. Robbie was cremated and his ashes later transferred to Paris to be placed in the tomb of playwright Oscar Wilde, to whom he had been a devoted friend, lover and literary executor. That relationship with Wilde somewhat overshadowed other aspects of Robbie’s life and was in sharp contrast to Oscar’s tempestuous affair with Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas. Douglas cost Wilde a fortune, as well as his reputation, and was instrumental in Wilde’s conviction for gross indecency. Robbie, on the other hand, was waiting for Oscar in France when he was released from prison, together with a significant sum of money that had been raised from friends and supporters. It was he who managed Oscar’s allowance — delivered in installments, as he knew the profligate Oscar would blow the lot if given the chance — and after Wilde’s death it was Robbie who carefully managed the literary estate so that Wilde’s two sons would benefit. In December 1908, a grand dinner at the Ritz Hotel in London was held to honour Robbie when Wilde’s debts were cleared, and it is in the spirit of that dinner that some of us will be celebrating Robbie’s 150th birthday next May. Coincidentally, Rupert Everett’s film The Happy Prince, about Wilde’s last two years of life, prominently features Robbie, played by Edwin Thomas, is now in cinemas on both sides of the Atlantic and available on DVD. My own biography of Robbie is available as a paperback and ebook:

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