Memorial Service for Graham Storey
15 August 2006
Memorial address: Feb 11 2006
The setting is the meadow of an old converted coaching inn in the Cambridgeshire village of Caxton. It is a warm summer evening, and music is filtering through the fruit trees and rose bushes of a garden in which nature has been just about held at bay. There is a long table, liberally supplied with drink. The wine has flowed, and most of the guests are lounging in deck chairs, while a string quartet competes, more or less successfully, with the low hum of conversation. The audience is listening politely, but is quite clearly keen to get back to some serious gossip. Standing to one side, looking on with a serene smile, stands Graham Storey. He is part of the proceedings, and yet not quite part of it, the director, as it were, of a piece of theatre which he has choreographed, but in which he is content to let others take centre stage.
This is Graham as so many of his friends remember him – and indeed as he would like to be remembered -- in the romantic/idyllic setting of Crown House, amongst young people whom he has brought together, but with himself as most un-intrusive element. Those summer parties of his were memorable. People looked forward to them all year, they were his creation. For a man who was essentially shy and retiring, he loved company, and he loved nothing more than the company of undergraduates. They were, in a sense, his life. Though Graham’s reputation will hang, and rightly, from the scholarship he brought to Dickens, Hopkins, and the wider sphere of English Literature, Trinity Hall students will remember him for something very different – his friendship. The interest he took in them. The tolerance he had for their foibles and pretensions, however tiresome. The discreet ways in which he helped them – sometimes without their even knowing about it. A troubled undergraduate facing a financial crisis might find, without quite understanding how, that his bank balance had undergone a favourable adjustment. A lonely young man in his first year would be invited to supper and find himself introduced to someone who, miraculously, shared his interests and would become his greatest friend. But if anyone were to challenge him with these acts of kindness Graham would retreat in confusion, mortally embarrassed at being found out.
I came to Trinity Hall because of Graham, and, only in retrospect, do I understand how he effected it. I was down for Trinity – had been accepted, and that was that. But I wanted to switch colleges, which was inconvenient for everyone, and well nigh impossible at that late stage. What’s more I was out of the country – doing a German course at Frieburg University. My father came down from Scotland and talked to Graham, who suggested that if I was prepared to take a special Hall entrance exam, it might be possible, even at a distance. And so it was that I found myself in the book-lined study of a friendly Professor, who locked me in to ensure exam-style conditions, but conveniently left row upon row of reference books and dictionaries beside me. I was later complimented on my extensive knowledge of German vocabulary. More important, I had a place at Trinity Hall.
I knew when I arrived – we all knew – about the mammoth enterprise on which Graham had embarked – the collecting and editing of the letters of Dickens. But he wore his learning lightly. Indeed, he seemed almost to retreat from imposing it on others. It was sometimes quite difficult to get him to talk about it at all. He loved, on the other hand, encouraging the intellectual interests of others, particularly extra-mural activities, like theatre for interest, which he loved. He would take three or four undergraduates to Stratford for the evening, driving them in his open-topped Alvis, taking in a Shakespeare play, treating them to an expensive dinner, then driving back, on one occasion shadowed by the police who suspected that an excess of alcohol had been consumed. When they caught up with him, however, he talked them out of their suspicions, arguing instead that he was guilty of nothing more serious than exemplary eccentricity.
Nicholas Hytner, one of his many celebrated pupils, says that what he valued in Graham was the way he regarded the academic and the extra-mural as being part and parcel of an undergraduate’s development. “He was everything a Cambridge don should be,” Hytner told me. “He never saw a distinction between what he was teaching and what I was doing.” He remembers, in particular, a production of Curlew River, to which Graham came, and which moved him greatly. He remembers the discussion afterwards as an intellectual exchange of great value, but one, typically, in which Graham scarcely seemed to intrude. They remained in touch until the end of Graham’s life, as so many students did. He was, said another former pupil, simply “part of our intellectual furniture.”
That should not imply, of course, that Graham was bland or uncritical. He loved gossip, and he could recycle it with the best of them. His comments on Henry Dean, a former Master to whom he was not greatly drawn, were waspish, as his interview with Nigel Chancellor in the Hidden Hall revealed. I particularly liked his description of Dean as “a hazard to be circumnavigated.” But even with Dean, generosity overcame hostility. On one occasion, in hall, Dean, sitting on the platform, tripped and toppled off, striking his head on a sharp corner, which left him bleeding profusely. Graham drove him to Addenbrookes, where Dean’s principal concern was whether he could get any beer. Graham assured him that he would smuggle in a supply. And so he did.
What he did not relish was unexpected social contact. Soon after moving to Caxton, he became aware that the local vicar was pursuing him as a possible new member of his congregation. Graham succeeded in evading him for several weeks, but finally, found himself face to face with him in the High Street. “May I say how delighted we are to have such a distinguished addition to our little community,” said the vicar. “Might we look forward to the pleasure of seeing you in church?” “Oh. No,” said Graham hurriedly, “you see I’m only here at weekends.”
Shy, retiring, and yet wonderfully gregarious at the same time, Graham loved parties and he loved people. I remember, we all remember, his sherry parties, the Hesperides club, his keen interest in the Ronald Firbank Society, the Preston Society, and his importance to generation upon generation of grateful Hall men. He was not, however, a soft touch. I remember, after our second year, a group of us in college deciding that the place we wanted to in move to for our final year, was Wychfield, the very superior hostel where college aesthetes like David Watkin and Alastair Langlands played croquet on summer afternoons, and entertained us to China tea and wafer-thin cucumber sandwiches. We threw a Graham Storey-style cocktail party, and turned on all the charm we were capable of, demonstrating our deep knowledge of the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, and the latest volume of Dickens’s letters (ed. G. Storey). Graham was not fooled. He dispatched the lot of us next year to Bateman Street, and turned over Wychfield to some hearty rowing men.
It is particularly appropriate that we are remembering Graham in this chapel, with its wonderful altarpiece, a painting which would not be here but for Graham and Owen Chadwick. The story is that he and Professor Chadwick, who had found it stored away in the vaults of the Fitzwilliam Museum, carried it bodily down King’s Parade and installed it here in the chapel. Inconveniently, Professor Chadwick informs me that the physical part of the story is a fiction. However, Graham himself related it, so I think we should favour the Storey version. I like the idea of the two of them struggling manfully under the weight of this magnificent masterpiece, and propping it up behind the altar. It would certainly not be here without them, and it stands as their memorial.
One can only hope that today’s university system, for all its competitiveness, will still be capable of producing men like Graham Storey, who can quietly bring out and encourage the best qualities in their pupils, inducing them to reach intellectual levels which they may not have thought themselves capable of. Warm-hearted, humane, generous and tolerant, he was, as one of his former pupils put it, “not just a teacher, but a friend.”