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Hallam Tennyson (Read 9423 times)
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Hallam Tennyson
Jan 4th, 2006, 8:54am
 
This is taken from The Independent:

Hallam Tennyson
Descendant of the poet who had a distinguished BBC career and wrote a compelling autobiography
Published: 02 January 2006


Beryl Hallam Augustine Tennyson, writer and broadcaster: born 10 December 1920; married 1945 Margot Wallach (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1971); died London c21 December 2005.

In his autobiography Hallam Tennyson wrote that, while the most important element in the life of his father, Sir Charles Tennyson, had undoubtedly been "his descent from the Victorian Laureate", the most crucial factor in his own was that his parents had hoped he was a girl. It was perhaps inevitable that vulgar headlines over reports of his murder in London before Christmas should refer to "Tennyson's gay great-grandson". Hallam Tennyson deserved to be remembered for much more than the manner of his death.

He once said himself that he had "a predilection for danger" and that he had on a number of occasions found himself through his own deliberate fault in circumstances entirely alien to the man who was, above all, non-violent, and who had spent much of his life doing what his great-grandmother called "good work for the world". He was altogether a surprising man - a prison visitor who was also not only a "demented" tennis player, but a Wimbledon umpire.

Hallam Tennyson was named after the poet's son and biographer, who had himself taken his name from Alfred's close friend Arthur Hallam, whose death is commemorated in In Memoriam. Young Hallam, as he may be thought of to distinguish him from his great-uncle, always maintained - whatever others might suggest - that there was no sexual element in that pre-Freudian friendship.

He himself was born a third son in December 1920. One of his earliest memories was of his mother saying, when he was about three and had been happily handing round a plate of sandwiches, "He's just like a daughter to me." He also recalled the "puzzled exclamation" of Mark (the fifth and present Lord Tennyson) when the little boys were being bathed together and he noticed that his cousin had the same "appendage" as the rest of them. Born in the same year as Christopher Robin Milne, he looked very much like him. In 1928 (he thought much later) he was one of the first seven-year-olds to weep at the end of The House at Pooh Corner: "It was a lament for childhood: a first experience through art of death."

In his compelling autobiography, The Haunted Mind (1984), which deserves to be reprinted, Hallam Tennyson told many stories he had previously "never told to anyone". He wrote of the sadness of someone who had "a physical need for men", but "an emotional commitment to women", and admitted that one of his "most damaging beliefs was that an intimate relationship can be founded on complete honesty".

He said he could do nothing to alter his sexuality any more than he could change the colour of his eyes, but at different periods of his life he had made strenuous efforts to be heterosexual - succeeding to such an extent that he had 25 years of what he himself called "a tremendously happy marriage" to a courageous German Jewish refugee, Margot Wallach. Together they produced two children, Rosalind and Jonathan, whose "character, intelligence and charm" left their father "gasping in pride and incredulity". He also had many close friendships with women, including a "passionate" one with the writer Iris Origo, almost a neighbour in the Tuscan hills where he spent a great deal of time after the end of his marriage.

As a boy, Hallam Tennyson had spent grey years at a prep school concerned only with processing boys for Eton - where he actually enjoyed his time when he duly arrived. He went so far as to say it would be an excellent school if only it could become part of the state system. It was there he made friendships for life (including one with the founder of Amnesty International), became a "pacifist-Marxist" and a hater of blood sports, and decided he would be a writer, if also a painter, an archaeologist and a museum curator.

He went up to Balliol when he was only 17. It was 1938. Two years later he registered as a conscientious objector, joined a Friends' Ambulance Unit and spent two years away from England, first in Egypt, where he found himself involved with Yugoslavian refugees (he would later write a book, Tito Lifts the Curtain: the story of Yugoslavia today, 1955), and then in Italy.

He denied he had a particular gift for languages, said his facility came from "a grinding determination to study". It remains impressive that he added Serbo-Croat and Italian to his fluent French in these early years and then, after his marriage, mastered Bengali. (When I knew him, he was learning Japanese.)

In 1946 Margot and Hallam Tennyson went together to India, where for three years Hallam was Head of the Rural Development Programme in West Bengal - a post which would have been an extraordinary challenge to any young couple. They found themselves running a million-dollar project of reconstruction and social change, and remained fondly remembered in the area where they were based. In July 1947 they were manning an ambulance in the Calcutta riots and soon after had the chance to spend time with Mahatma Gandhi. One of Hallam's more successful later books would be on Vinoba Bhave, Gandhi's successor (Saint on the March, 1955). In 1969, the BBC published Talking of Gandhi, by Francis Watson and Hallam Tennyson, based in part on radio documentaries from the Fifties.

Sir Charles Tennyson, Hallam's father, was working on his life of the poet for 20 years before Alfred Tennyson: by his grandson was published in 1949. In it he acknowledged the help of his three sons: Penrose, killed in 1941, Julian, killed in 1945, and Hallam - to whom he paid particular tribute, thanking him for his many helpful criticisms and suggestions, and saying he felt his book would have been much better if Hallam's work in Africa, Italy and India had not kept him so much out of England. Though their temperaments were so different (the father was adept at sweeping things under the carpet), father and son became particularly close. Hallam would make his own contribution to Studies in Tennyson, editing this collection of useful essays in 1981.

I got to know Hallam Tennyson when I was working on a biography of his great-grandmother Emily, the poet's wife, in the 1990s. He seemed well aware that he had three other great-grandfathers, one indeed a butcher in Balham. (He was fascinated by his mother's complex history and difficult character.) But he had spent a lifetime with what he called "the gently corrupting beneficence" of his famous name. I remember his pleasure when he identified himself after I had been talking about Emily at the National Portrait Gallery and the audience responded to him with a round of applause.

He told stories, some typically self-mocking, about the reactions to his name in different places round the world. In his modest flat in north London he had showed me the huge dresser which had once stood in Emily's home in Horncastle and which had, in 1850, been part of Henry Sellwood's wedding present to his daughter and her poet bridegroom. Hallam was, I think, pleased to find that his own father's uncritical admiration for his grandmother was far more justified than he had himself believed, and he revised his own published judgement of her in the light of my research.

Hallam Tennyson's first broadcast had been as early as 1951. It was in Bengali for the Overseas Service. He joined the BBC in 1956 and it was there that he worked for most of his distinguished career, for many years as Assistant Head of Drama to the remarkable Martin Esslin. He remembered with particular affection his own six-part adaptation of Fielding's Tom Jones and recalled with wry regret that, like so much good radio, it vanished without trace.

Fortunately Hallam's own Tennyson comments and his readings of some of his great-grandfather's poems have already been recorded for posterity for a Tennyson Society DVD, which will in 2009 mark the 200th anniversary of Alfred Tennyson's birth.

Ann Thwaite
2005 Independent News and Media Limited
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Re: Hallam Tennyson
Reply #1 - Jan 6th, 2006, 7:40am
 
This is taken from The Guardian:

Hallam Tennyson

Author, scriptwriter and radio producer
by Angela Pleasence
Friday January 6, 2006


The writer and former radio producer Hallam Tennyson spent his 85th birthday dinner glowing with energy, colour and contentment, surrounded by family and friends. Some days later he was brutally murdered.

Hallam's father, Charles, wrote a major biography of his grandfather, the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and spent his retirement writing and lecturing on him. Hallam's mother, Ivy Pretious, was the first general secretary of the Free Trade Union and much admired by Bertrand Russell.

Educated at Eton, Hallam passed his entrance exam for Oxford at the age of 16 with an essay on Gainsborough. However, the start of the second world war aborted his studies, and Hallam, a conscientious objector, went to Egypt and Italy with the Friends Ambulance Service; his two older brothers, Penrose and Julian, joined the armed forces and were both killed in their early 20s, leaving Hallam with a deep sense of loss.

After the war, rejecting what he regarded as a privileged upbringing, Hallam went to live in London's East End, a committed socialist, and for a limited time, a member of the Communist party. It was there that he met and fell in love with Margot Wallach, a young, handsome Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany. They were married in 1946.

Utopian in outlook, they now chose to work for two years in west Bengal, India, helping to sink wells and build self-reliant communities. During this time they got to know Mahatma Gandhi well, spending several months living in his ashram. The work and philosophy of Gandhi had a deep and enduring influence on both Hallam and Margot.

On returning to Britain from India, Hallam embarked on the chancy living of a writer. Early publications included a novel, the Dark Goddess, based in India, and a collection of short stories, the Wall of Dust (described by Terence Rattigan as "the best collection of short stories I have read"). Then in 1953, a seminal book on Yugoslavia, Tito Lifts the Curtain, still regarded as prophetic in its analysis of what would happen once Tito died.

In 1953, Hallam and Margot moved to Hertfordshire with his friend from Eton days, Peter Benenson (founder of Amnesty International), his wife Margaret, and their children, all sharing a large farmhouse. This now extended family was able to provide practical support during Margot's regular periods of depression and mental illness.

Hallam joined the BBC World Service in 1956, later moving into BBC radio drama, where he achieved a very distinguished career as assistant head of drama to Martin Esslin during those golden years of radio. Throughout his time with the BBC, he adapted many classics; scripted programmes on Verdi, Mozart, Gerard Manley Hopkins and so on; and produced works by Shakespeare, Stoppard, Beckett and Pinter.

Hallam was the director of a poetic monologue by Penelope Shuttle that I was preparing for BBC radio. He bounded - an exact description - into my early working life: his enthusiasm and knowledge of literature was captivating, his generosity of spirit and sensitivity in guiding my lack of learning was palpable. Thus our friendship began.

In 1971, after years of devoted care of Margot, and when his children Ros and Jonny were 21 and 16 respectively, Hallam decided he could no longer deny his homosexuality. He became a champion of gay rights, campaigned on behalf of gays in prison and worked for the Terrence Higgins Trust. In 1984, he wrote his autobiography, the Haunted Mind, an exploration of his complex personality and sexual nature. This caused a considerable stir when serialised in a Sunday paper.

Although no longer living together, Hallam and Margot remained close friends until her death in 1999; he was by her bedside at the end.

On retiring from the BBC, Hallam turned full-time to writing short stories, plays and monographs. Most recently he completed a play about Beethoven's relationship with his nephew. Now, he also had the freedom to pursue his lifelong love of reading and languages. He remained politically active, deeply disturbed by the Iraq war. Having suffered during his life from serious illnesses including TB and malaria, Hallam, at 85, was in extraordinarily good health. He was as alert and active as a man half his age.

One of the kindest of men, he maintained the closest of friendships; and strong bonds with both his children and seven grandchildren. His untimely death has left many with a grievous sense of loss.

Jill Balcon writes: Hallam Tennyson was one of my dearest and most loyal friends. I was part of his family as my parents had been before me. Because he was so modest, his formidable scholarship and gifts never made one feel inferior - quite the reverse. His knowledge of literature and music was vast. He learned Sanskrit in no time, and he was a demon tennis player, well into his 80s.

In the BBC he was a brilliant dramatiser of the classics, and a sensitive director. He came to the bedside of my husband, the poet Cecil Day-Lewis, just before his death, and recorded his last broadcast with great delicacy.

Between ourselves he was called "Alge" and "Big Bruvver" - nothing Orwellian about that, just affection for a loved, older and wiser man.

Beryl Hallam Augustine Tennyson, writer and radio producer, born December 10 1920; died December 21 2005
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