The ever-colourful raconteur George Melly is bringing the Surrealists to life. Words: Susanna Beaumont
One question you have to ask George Melly, if you can’t actually see him, is what he’s wearing. ’Moleskin trousers, grey slip-on shoes, an orange T-shirt with a yellow shirt over it,’ is the reply.
Long renowned for not being a man in a grey suit, Melly still enjoys a dash of colour it seems. But then the writer, jazzman and art critic's life has never been what you might call a monochrome affair. Even his CV can get away with being titled ‘The Many Facets Of George Melly’. There’s no need for career-enhancing here. Subheadings read ’Melly The Author,’ the ’Television Personality’, the ’Art Lecturer,’ the ’Journalist’ and the 'Jazz Singer’.
Now 70, the avuncular Melly has one of those lives that seems implausibly varied. When asked if he suffers from the occasional bout of mental indigestion from leading such a rich life, his retort is: ’I’ve got a very efficient mental bowel system.’ But then he's more discerning about what he does
these days. ’I’ve made a rule not to respond to ring-rounds,’ he says. ’I won’t comment any more on Elizabeth Taylor’s underwear.‘
Melly admits luck has played a part. He got the job of vocalist with the Mick Mulligan Magnolia Jazz Band in the 505 through an ad he spotted in the Melody Maker, and because Mick ’couldn’t think of a reason why they couldn’t take me on’. He left the jazz scene in the 605, to find himself pop critic of The Observer, though he knew little about pop and, at 40, was hardly a young groover. It got him out and about and he found himself in the company of 'public school Iayabouts on the Kings Road like The Who’.
Besides jazz, the other big Melly passion is Surrealism, which he is talking about in the Bacher Trust Lecture at the Book Festival. The talk ties in with the Scottish National Gallery Of Modern An exhibition Surrealism And After: The Gabriel/e Keil/er Collection.
The young artist lads of Paris in the 205 — which Melly describes as a mistress-like city - had no shame in letting their testosterone run riot and producing overtly sexual art. It touched a chord with young schoolboy Melly. Later, while at Chatham during another phase — his Navy years - Melly dropped a line to the secretary of the British Surrealist movement, Simon Watson- Taylor. Melly found himself meeting
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George Melly: 'I won't comment on Elizabeth Taylor’s underwear
Surrealist Eileen Agar, collector Roland Penrose and the famed Belgian painter, Rene Magritte.
Melly 3 Spice Girl, describing Magritte as: ’charmingly normal, with a sardonic edge which was intriguing, as was his wife and dog.’ Melly went on to collect works by the likes of Miro, Max Ernst, Picasso and Magritte, but didn’t hold on to them for long. ’The pictures became valuable and I became in debt, so they were sold,’ he says. One Magritte showing a female nude with a skeleton head, The Bung/er, was sold to the collector Gabrielle Keiller, and is on show at the Scottish Gallery Of Modern Art.
As to his dotage, Melly is philosophical. ’Seventy, it's not so old these days,’ he says. But his lifelong belief in anarchy has been tempered: ’Our humanity is not sound enough to abolish the Government, police or the church.’ Lucky Blair.
Bacher Trust Lecture: The British Surrealists (Book Festival) George Melly, 220 3990, Tue 12 Aug, 7pm, £7 (£4). Surrealism And After: The Gabrielle Keiller Collection, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Venue 66) 556 8921, until Sun 9 Nov, Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 2-5pm.
Living On The Lottery
It could be you but 14 million to one says it won’t. It'll be somebody else. Hunter Davies, author of books on The Beatles, Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter, has spent time with the somebody eises.
’I purchased my ticket in November 1994,’ he says, ’not to win my fortune but because I collect memorabilia. Then I became fascinated. Here was the Lottery throwing up all these interesting peOple. And so I wrote to Camelot asking if I could follow ten jackpot winners over a year to see how their lives changed.’
Among the couples picked by that gold finger of fortuitousness were Bob and Anne Westland from Alloa. The sub post master and depute head teacher netted £3.8 million in 1995 after spending £11 on Lottery tickets. ’They’ve grabbed their money in an emotional sense by opening a hotel,’ says Davies. ’They've embarked on a Creative adventure, the only people in the book who have really done that.’
Not that Davies has any truck with the but-are-they-happy shtick. 'Out of all my winners only one said he’d been happier, and that was the time he was unemployed for seven years and then landed a washing-up job . . . Everyone else is happier. It’s a consolatory myth that winning a lot of money ends in tears.
’We were happy before,’ says 59- year-old Bob Westland. ’On a scale of one to ten, it’s gone up half a point to nine and a half.
Hunter Davis: it's definitely him
’We are still the same people We were well set in our ways when we won. If we had been twenty years old, it w0uld have made a big difference.’
’Most of us enjoy the shared experience of the Lottery and fantasising about what we’d do if we
won,’ says Davies. ’And nobody has '
done what the Pools wrnner Viv Nicholson did in the 608 and blown the lot. They’ve been extravagant, certainly, but not wasteful.’ (Rodger Evans)
I Living On The Lottery (Book Festival) Hunter Davies, 77 Aug, 6.40pm, £5 (£4). Living On The Lottery by Hunter Davies is published by Little, Brown at £75.