A degree too far…

I went to school with Robin Russell, the second son of the Marquess Of Tavistock, who was in turn the son of the Duke Of Bedford (who owns, among others, Bedford Street, Covent Garden, home of the brand-new Z Hotel and the Actors’ Church…).
I think it was 1973, which would make me almost ten. We moved out of the school into a synagogue while building work has done. We used to take packed lunches and Robin and I used to drink instant coffee in a thermos – very good taste for ten-year-olds, I’m sure you’ll agree… The other thing we had in a thermos (and it must have been his idea, because I’ve never really liked it, before or since) was Campbell’s tinned consommé…
It was my first (of 2) experience of hanging out with an aristocrat. We shared an interest in horse racing. His father owned racehorses; my father bet on them.
He was nice. I was aware of his wealth. One time, we were fooling around on Primrose Hill, where we were supposed to be playing football. (Not my forte: I used to count the times I touched the ball. That was enough. I never even got close to scoring a goal…) He was upset because he’d lost his pen; not a biro or a Pentel, you understand – a gold-plated Parker…
I thought: Why HAVE a gold-plated Parker in the first place? Pentels write just as well, and you don’t have to go crazy when you lose them…
He disappeared from my memory about that time. Maybe I got moved up a year? (I think he was in the same form as Spottiswoode…) Or maybe he went away to boarding school? I suppose he ended up at Eton or Harrow, with the Toms and the Benedicts…
The internet reveals as little as possible about him now. Other than the fact that he seems to be still alive.
His maternal grandmother was Joan Barry, the original Hitchcock Blonde. She was in Blackmail and Rich And Strange (which I remember as being weird and good, and not your typical Hitchcock…) And she was Robin Russell’s grandmother! Infinitely more exciting than the Duke Of Bedford…

My second time hanging out with an aristocrat was about 2 years later, at the same school (The Hall, Belsize Park; it must have been quite a posh school…).
Brer, Viscount Ruthven Of Canberra, was the son of the Earl Of Gowrie who – his son told me – liked Physical Graffiti! (The Earl Of Gowrie was later Arts Minister under Margaret Thatcher, in the days when the holders of that job actually LIKED art…)
I was only in his class for 1 term (I had to wait till I was older before going to big school). He’s recently been in court for throwing his 19-year-old girlfriend into the street (he’s 54). He was out of control even then. His parents were divorced. Oddly, his mother (who wrote a memoir my mother said was good) lived in a house next to Primrose Hill, overlooking the avenue of trees where Robin lost his Parker. And she still does. Xandra Bingley is her name. And on the Andrew Marr stroke documentary on the BBC she owns the room to which he walks – across Primrose Hill – and PAINTS.

Both Marr and Russell Senior had strokes! I wonder if they know that? Or is it a degree too far?


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I had a stroke on July 26th, 2013. I was a screenwriter. Don’t do that anymore. But have found another way to write.

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