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A Good Send-off for John Mortimer – 17th November 2009


Report by Norman Murphy


On 17th November, Hilary Bruce, Sir Edward Cazalet, Tony Ring and your reporter attended a Celebration of the Life of John Mortimer at Southwark Cathedral.

It was quite something. We had been advised to get there early and the advice was good; the nave was full half an hour before the service began. The problem at occasions like these is that, with the best will in the world, one cannot help noticing – and pointing out to each other – the celebrities present. And I suppose it is only natural that many of them looked slightly older than one remembered.

The Duchess of Cornwall was led to her place in the front just before the beginning of the service, which opened with a welcome and opening prayer from Canon Andrew Nunn. He was followed by Edward Fox, who read an extract from ‘The Summer of a Dormouse’ by John Mortimer which pointed out that as one gets older the years move faster and faster. ‘The playwright Christopher Fry told me that after the age of eighty you seem to be having breakfast every five minutes.’

We then sang ‘The day Thou gavest, Lord, is ended’ after which Freddie Fox gave us another reading which included John Mortimer’s memory of his father describing eternal life as a ‘a great transcendental hotel with nothing to do in the evenings’. Derek Jacobi then read from ‘The Summer of a Dormouse’. This was followed by a psalm sung by the choir and a reading from Ecclesiastes read by Joss Ackland. Belinda Evans sang ‘Voi Che Sapete’ from The Marriage of Figaro superbly and Lord Kinnock then gave the main Address. He spoke amusingly and perceptively on John Mortimer’s life and emphasised the numerous apparent contradictions in his attitude and beliefs. It was a good address and Patricia Hodge followed it with a reading from ‘Where There’s a Will.’ The congregation then sang ‘Lord of all hopefulness, Lord of all joy’ by Jan Struther and Jeremy Irons read ‘Afterwards’ by Thomas Hardy. The proceedings closed with a prayer by Father Joseph Tobin and a Blessing from Canon Andrew Nunn and we all made our way out to face the photographers once again.

Your reporter’s emotions were mixed. There is always a sadness inherent on these occasions even though it is called ‘A Celebration of the Life of’. Then one thinks how much John Mortimer would have enjoyed it and, no matter how he would have undoubtedly tried to hide it, how pleased he would have been that so many people came. And, while it is always a bonus to see well-known actors and actresses, the extra bonus for me was to listen to Edward Fox, Derek Jacobi, Joss Ackland, Patricia Hodge and Jeremy Irons reading with a clarity and perfection of timing and phrasing, which left a very deep impression. Perhaps I had become so accustomed to television that I had forgotten how a properly trained actor with a good voice can make you forget your surroundings and just concentrate on the beauty of the words he or she is speaking.

While the cathedral choir and organist were an important part of the service, the musicians who caught our attention were Jon Lord and the Bernardi Music Group who were accompanied by Clive Conway on the flute. I am no musician but even I could tell they were very, very good.

A sad occasion, certainly, but an impressive one.

John Mortimer was a much loved member and patron of our Society. Please see Sir Edward Cazalet’s tribute to John here, which dates from 19th January 2009.