Monday, December 01, 2014

Phyllis Dorothy James – In Memoriam

The crime-writing community was plunged into sadness this week, along with her millions of readers across the world, when PD James passed away 'quietly'. How like her that was!

I first met her through her books which were to my mind everything a crime novel should be: elegantly written, cleverly plotted, with always a sub-text of convincing psychological and social comment. She was my literary idol and – unlike most idols who are in general subject to feet-of-clay syndrome – she was, when I was privileged to get to know her, every bit as clever and charming and interesting as I could have hoped she would be. And unlike many much less successful writers, she never trailed the clouds of glory to make you conscious of her worldwide fame.

She was also very funny, with a good line in terrific jokes, and she loved to laugh. I treasure the memory of a conversation when we were recalling to each other the Peter Cook and Dudley Moore sketch, 'One-legged Tarzan', with us both saying in chorus, 'I have nothing against your right leg. The trouble is – neither have you,' and Phyllis laughing till the tears ran down her cheeks.

She was the sort of person who spread happiness but there was a steely side to her too. When at the age of  89 she was guest editor on the BBC Today radio programme and was given the chance to interview Mark Thompson, the then Director General of the BBC, she had him wriggling like a worm on a hook. Their encounter was a joy: the  answer that began, 'Well, I mean, it - it- I - I've' was fairly typical of his responses to her merciless questions about over-staffing, ridiculous salaries and unworthy programmes – she highlighted 'Britain's Most Embarrassing Pets.' You could almost heard the applause from listeners up and down the country.

The joy in writing was something that never left her. When I last saw her a few months ago she was definitely frailer, finding it more difficult to get about, but her enthusiasm was undimmed. She was, she told me, starting a new book and she was excited about it. I did ask her how she'd felt about the television production of her previous book, Death at Pemberley, and she replied, with characteristic restraint, 'Well, darling,' my agent just said to me, ‘When it's sold, it's sold.’

There have been pages of obituaries and affectionate tributes to her in every newspaper, outpourings of reminiscences in the media. She was greatly loved;  a shining light, as more than one person has said. I will miss her very much, but I still can't believe how lucky I was to have known her as a friend.

3 comments:

Rick Blechta said...

How amazing to have known her! How did it come about?

Aline Templeton said...

I first met her when she was President of the Society of Authors and I was Chair of the Society in Scotland, and then we met regularly at the Detection Club - the dining club started by GK Chesterton. It was a huge privilege.

Eileen Goudge said...

My condolences to you, Aline. But, as Rick said, how wonderful to have known her as a friend. She will be missed by her legions of fans, too.