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The Prophet of Exhaustion
Being Yet Another Remembrance of
Bill Hopkins (1927–2012), Part 1

3,016 words

Part 1 of 2

Bill Hopkins, photographed by Ida Kar, 1955

Hopkins, around the time of Declaration and The Divine and the Decay (1957).

(Told in the discursive spirit, if not quite the style, of Jonathan Bowden.)

“The evidence of exhaustion stares out from the columns of the daily newspapers. The references to ‘Angry Young Men’ for example, record a general astonishment at the vigour of simply being angry. Another instance is the hero-worship of the late James Dean, who posthumously remains as the embodiment of Youth’s violent rebuttal of a society grown pointless. That the rejection is equally pointless does not appear to matter; the sincerity redeems it.”

— Bill Hopkins, “Ways Without a Precedent,” in Declaration, 1957 

1. When the Paddy Wagon Comes, It Takes All the Girls

Ain’t it a bummer, when you go back to a place where you used to live, and find that all the Interesting and Useful people you knew are dead? And not just dead; it’s like they all died recently, as though they were all in cahoots and knew you were coming.

This has happened to me twice.

The first time was about fifteen years ago, when I moved back to Manhattan after a decade away. Most of my contemporaries had got out of New York around the same time I did (1990), but there was still an older generation of hooligans I could ring up out of my old address books. Or so I thought. I called, but they didn’t answer. Maxwell V., an old Etonian and onetime investment-banking hi-flyer now living in a tatty part of Brooklyn, had just turned 70; I learned that he had celebrated this milestone by stepping off a curb in the path of a speeding truck. There was Ben Bagley, the wraithlike record-and-musicale producer (The Shoestring Revue) whose lungs suddenly ruptured so that he choked to death on his own blood (so his caretaker told me) about three days before I tried to phone him. There was the old lady near the Museum of Natural History, a longtime benefactor of David McCalden [1], as well as the first Savitri Devi enthusiast I ever met. She’d died, or disappeared, a month before. There were others . . . a Wall Street pair, husband and wife, who offed themselves in an apparent suicide pact. (They didn’t leave a note, so everyone’s still guessing.)

They all saw me coming.

The second time this happened was in the last year or so, when I decided to go back and visit London, where I’d lived on and off during the Nineties. One person I wished to reconnect with was Simon Hoggart [2]  of the Guardian newspaper. But it turned out he’d died of pancreatic cancer in January 2014. (Oopsie! Didn’t even know he was ill. But now that he’s gone I can drop his name here without causing anyone any embarrassment.) Simon had been Useful indeed. He knew editors who would buy my stuff, and furthermore the Guardian paid the tab on our expensive, and increasingly liquid, lunches.

Around the time Simon went, I was informed by a mutual friend that Tony Hancock—not the suicidal comedian but the rightist publisher [3] —had also passed on, after a couple of strokes. Another great loss. Tony had been a veritable portal to all kinds of interesting people and paradigms. When I first met him in 1993, at the Heidelberg, his family’s hotel-pub in Brighton, he was throwing a birthday party for someone, I forget who. Maybe it was his toddler son, whom Tony had care of that weekend. Later on we three visited Brighton Pier and the Aquarium, while Tony told me tales of the Blackshirt Tendency—his father had been a Mosleyite back in the days of BUF rallies in Earls Court, and Tony had known David McCalden in the 1970s when Dave was stirring up trouble in the National Front and National Party. Tony also seemed to have an encyclopedic knowledge of rail transport and the London Underground.

Also in attendance at this Heidelberg party was a young Italian named Roberto Fiore. Tony introduced him to me with some explanation like, “He’s a member of the Third Position Movement, based on the political writings of Julius Evola . . .” I hadn’t a clue about either. Nowadays (2015) Roberto is a Member of the European Parliament from Italy, where he heads the fascist Forza Nuova party, but twenty years ago he was in Britain as a political refugee. He’d been accused of involvement with the 1980 bombing of the Bologna train station (85 dead). He was convicted and sentenced in absentia. Antifa groups put it about that Britain wasn’t extraditing him because he was doing work for MI5 or -6. What is more likely is that the Italian government just wanted him to stay put for a while, because it was easier that way. In 1996 Roberto invited me to a gala reception-concert with Romano Mussolini, the jazz-piano-playing son of Il Duce; the event was co-sponsored by Roberto’s accommodation agency and the Italian Embassy.[4] But I digress . . .

The most memorable personality Tony Hancock ever introduced me to (drum roll) was the novelist, art critic and “Angry Young Man” philosopher Bill Hopkins. He was much older than Tony or Simon, in his mid-60s when I met him back in ’93. Could he be dead too now, in 2014, I wondered? I Googled. Indeed he was gone, died in 2011. Where? How? There were few details. I hadn’t spoken to him since about 2005. And now that Tony was dead, I didn’t have anyone to ask, other than Bill’s lifelong confederate and fellow Angry, Colin Wilson. But—surprise! Colin had gone west too! He died in December 2013, age 82.

So now I’m really working the search engines, trying to find a substantial obit. At the site of Wermod & Wermod, a small rightist publishing house in England, I come across an impressively detailed biography of Bill in an analysis of his novel The Divine and the Decay. It is written by one Jonathan Bowden. Who is this Jonathan Bowden, and how does he know so much about Bill Hopkins, and why have I never heard of him? I look for his e-mail, this Jonathan Bowden, but can’t find it. And then it turns out Jonathan Bowden is also dead.

They’ve killed them all.

But then I find this other little publishing site, in California, called Counter-Currents . . . and they seemed to have published a lot of Bowden’s stuff, including remembrances of Bill Hopkins. So here at last we are.

2. The Oracle of Kensington Park Road

Bill Hopkins was not a person you just stumbled across at a drinks party, or bumped trolleys with at Tesco. You had to be led to Bill Hopkins, admitted entrance. In the 1980s and ’90s, if you hung around far-right or Fortean circles in England, sooner or later someone would tell you, Oh you must meet Bill Hopkins! He was an Angry Young Man, you know, back in the 1950s! The dark, sinister one, the non-person, the one they never talk about anymore!

It all put one in mind of Aleister Crowley, the “Wickedest Man in the World.” Anyway, phone calls would be made, a date set, and then you’d go present yourself, generally at his house; or maybe you’d get lost after getting off at the wrong Tube stop (I did) and forgetting your A-Z. Pop in the phone box, ring up Bill, and there he is, shuffling out to meet you. Voilà un homme! Cigarette in hand, circles under the eyes, a slow-moving, misanthropic but hospitable toad.

Maybe not a toad. “Bill’s an old possum,” Tony Hancock said once, years later, when I complained that Bill wasn’t returning my phone calls. Bill Hopkins was not quite a recluse, but he was certainly sedentary, one of those people who seem to have been born in an armchair. I have been told that when he was young Bill ventured far and wide—Hamburg, Channel Islands, Covent Garden—but that was decades ago. The one time I dined out with him, we went to the Indian place across the street. Home was 21 Kensington Park Road, a stretch of terraced shopfront a little north of Notting Hill. Work was either at home (art criticism—under a pseudonym, evidently, as I heard he wrote it but I could never track it down), or a block or two away at the Portobello Road market, where he kept antiques stalls.

At one point, back in the 70s, he’d started a coffeehouse called Zog, which he’d tried to nurture as a 50’s-style espresso bar for artists and intellectuals, but instead attracted hippies and drug dealers. [5]

americas-decline-first-edNowadays there’s a bookshop and literary agency at 21 Kensington Park Road, in what I believe used to be the ground-floor storeroom where Bill kept his antiques and salvagings. This is sort of appropriate because in Bill’s day he generously allowed people of a sound political bent to use his house as an address-of-record when publishing incendiary, blackhearted books. For example, if you look inside the first edition (1981) of Revilo P. Oliver’s America’s Decline: The Education of a “Conservative,”you’ll see it’s ostensibly published by one “Londinium Press,” and the address of this selfsame imprint is none other than 21 Kensington Park Road. [7]

Sedentary old-possum Bill was not an admirer of enthusiasm, exercise, or religious observance. I learned to avoid such topics in conversation. If I ran six miles in Holland Park that morning, if I went to the 6pm Mass at the Carmelite Priory in Kensington Church Street, if out of sightseer’s curiosity I climbed to the top of the Monument—those were things I oughtn’t to tell Bill. Actually I did mention the Monument. He sighed and waved his open fingers at me in a crumb-brushing gesture: “Maaahrgot—please go have a good lie-down.”

He did not like America—or his idea of America, which was very scanty and cartoonish, based on the strange-as-it-seems American-news nuggets that have long been a staple of British newsprint filler (America Calling!). No doubt it was also due to some degree to the knee-jerk-leftist bias endemic to the chattering classes. Like many Englishmen, Bill understood America to be a land of mindless optimists, physical jerks, god-botherers, wowsers. Also a crooked, cruel place, where a sizable minority of the population lives in desperate, grinding poverty, because, you know, they don’t have a Welfare State in America! This has long been a prevalent delusion in Britain; as is the idea that if you visit America and you get sick, no doctor or hospital will take you in, unless you immediately fork over the equivalent of about fifty thousand pounds sterling.

Bill assumed, as a matter of course, that the Americans he met in London (generally through the same conduit that brought me to him) were of much the same opinion. They hated America too, presumably for the same reason Bill did. I did not disabuse him of this notion.

If Bill had ever had an interest in science or technology (or “geometry and theology”) he had long ceased to care about it. His technical knowledge basically consisted of the curious notion that Britain had had a railway system a good generation or two before the rest of the world (i.e., North America and France).

Bill had been a journalist for some years in the 1950s (London bureau of the New York Times) but that was back in the days of pneumatic tubes and yellow copy-paper. I told Bill that I was trying to file stories with a paper in California, but was having trouble because I didn’t have a modem, so had to pay a service bureau in Covent Garden to transmit my files. (This is 1993, but it’s sounding pretty antique itself!) I mentioned these technical details to Bill. They bored him to tears.

osbert-bookIf you wanted to have a good conversation with Bill, you were always on safe ground with literary matters, particularly literary matters of the 1950s and 60s that were journalistic rather than academic. I’d been reading Osbert Lancaster’s memoir All Done From Memory, and told Bill that Lancaster’s childhood home was on Elgin Crescent, a five minutes’ walk away. This delighted Bill. (“Yesss . . . I’d see him around. His writing was always so very . . . luguuubrious.”)

He was even more delighted when I told him how the book opens. During the dark days of WW2, the author finds himself on a random stroll through a down-at-the-heels Notting Hill, and is shocked to discover he is standing in front of his family’s old house, now denuded (like the other houses) of all the wrought-iron railings that had surrounded all these grand late-Victorian and Edwardian manses. The railings had been torn out early in the war and donated as part of the War Effort.

This meant a lot to Bill because that’s how he made his living when his career as a novelist and journalist went south: he sold railings, doorframes, pieces of wrecked houses, at the Portobello Market.

* * *

One day Colin and Joy Wilson came up from Cornwall and stayed with Bill, and Bill invited me to drop by. Colin was giving a talk at the Shaw Society, as he occasionally did. It wasn’t about George Bernard Shaw. It was more of a typical Colin Wilson topic, something occult and Fortean, perhaps transhumanism, on which subject Colin Wilson practically held the patent. Colin once wrote that about this time he’d been giving a talk at the Shaw Society and his thoughts suddenly caromed off in a wild direction; he found himself declaring that mankind was on the verge of a great “evolutionary leap to a higher phase.” That could well be it. [6]

Apparently the Shavians had fed him, because Colin didn’t want the dinner Bill had prepared for him and Joy. So Bill offered the dinner to me (it had been kept warm in the oven) and I gobbled it up, with a lot of red wine. It was like eating at Grandmother’s: lamb, peas, and potatoes on a blue-willow plate.

Colin, around April 1993

Colin, around April 1993

I made Bill and Colin talk about the Angries and the Spartacans and the Mosleyites. Around my third glass of claret I suggested that something called Last of the Angries might make a good book proposal. Exactly how many of the Angry Young Men—I mean the people who contributed to Declaration in 1957—were still alive?

Bill and Colin booted this around and decided that they both were still alive and so was Stuart Holroyd, and probably Lindsay Anderson, though no one had seen him for years. And then there was Doris Lessing (though it wasn’t clear whether she should count as a true Angry Young Man inasmuch as she wasn’t a man). So there were at least five Angries still kicking. [8]

In later years, when I saw very little of Bill—often just phoning him up on the Vodafone from Paddington Station when I got off the Heathrow Express—he would sometimes mischievously send me off on wild-goose chases. Around 2000-2004 he often claimed to be curating an “Outsider Art” exhibit at a gallery in Bond Street or someplace. Bill claimed to have discovered the Outsider Art genre, and promoted it to the point where it was now taken half-seriously instead of being dismissed as inept, primitivist daubings on lavatory lids.

If I had the time, I’d make my way over to Bond Street or wherever to see what Bill was up to. But sometimes it would turn out the gallery didn’t exist. Alternatively the gallery would be there, but it would be full of brass Buddhas.

Maybe I had the address wrong. Or maybe Bill was just telling me to get lost. Once I said I’d try to get his novel published in America, but I never did (the Angry Young Man thing was not thought to have any traction in the USA, or so I was told). Was that the reason? I never knew.

Notes

1. David McCalden (1951-1990) was a young veteran of the British nationalist movement who moved to California in the late 1970s and founded the Institute for Historical Review with Willis Carto. He broke with Carto in 1981 and started a rival one-man “revisionist” entity called Truth Missions, which published the monthly David McCalden Revisionist Newsletter and, with the occasional assistance of the present writer, various bits of cartoon agitprop.

2. Simon Hoggart (1946-2014) was an English journalist who spent much of his career as “Parliamentary Sketch Writer” for the Guardian, specializing in light, humorous commentary about press and politicians. He also was television critic for The Spectator, a columnist for The Observer, a contributor to Punch, the author of several humorous nonfiction books, and a frequent television commentator in both the UK and US. His father was the noted academic Richard Hoggart, author of The Uses of Literacy (1957), and almost as famous for being the first person recorded as using the word “fuck” while giving expert-witness testimony (in 1960, during the obscenity trial for Lady Chatterley’s Lover).

3. Anthony Hancock, 1947-2012, published books under his own imprint, Historical Review Press, and also printed materials for nationalist organizations and such writers as David Irving and Revilo Oliver.

4. The Italian embassy’s involvement in the March 1996 Mussolini concert was not widely reported. Here and here, the Independent talks about “Anti-Nazis” picketing the Grosvenor Square Marriott and only mentions Roberto’s Meeting Point agency as the sponsor. But support by the embassy’s cultural section was clearly stated on the concert program. Furthermore, during the break I ran into an old boss, who told me that he was now President of American Express UK/Europe, and that he and his wife, who was Italian, had come to the concert through the express invitation of friends at the embassy! Q.E.D.

5. Recollection of Bryan Hemming in his blog.

6. I believe this talk at the Shaw Society was on April Fool’s Day 1993.

7. As I recall, Bill told me that the publication of this first edition was arranged by Sam Dickson of Atlanta, with the printing done by Tony Hancock’s printing house. Anyway, the second edition of the book, and the one you can read online, bears Hancock’s imprint, Historical Review Press in Sussex.

8. Colin Wilson himself got around to writing an excellent recollection of the Angries in The Angry Years (2006).

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14 Comments

  1. Dr Faustus
    Posted March 7, 2015 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    I wonder, if there is a Blue Plaque on a wall in Cardiff somewhere saying Bill Hopkins was here…

    I must also thank Mr Bowden and Counter Currents for beinging this man to light. He being one of my kinsmen.

    • Margot Metroland
      Posted March 7, 2015 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

      Could be wrong, but I recall there is a ten-year wait between death and blue-plaque status. Maybe that’s just London.

      • Posted March 8, 2015 at 7:51 am | Permalink

        Bill had his own blue plaque erected outside of 25 Chepstow Road when they were given notice to vacate in 1960. It was designed by Bill and sculpted by Lawrence Bradshaw (who also did Marx’s tomb in Highgate cemetary) and read: “In this house lived 1955-1960: Colin Wilson, John Braine, Stuart Holroyd, Tom Greenwell, Greta Detloff, Bill Hopkins “Hallowed be thes precincts”‘. This was flanked by angels “blowing their own trumpets” as Tom Greenwell put it! There is a picture of it on the back of Tom’s playscript ‘Chepstow Road’. The plaque disappeared soon afterwards and has never been found. Bill was convinced that Christopher Logue wrenched it off the wall but Logue died a few years ago and it was not found among his effects.

    • Gérard
      Posted March 8, 2015 at 7:18 am | Permalink

      Hopkins beat you to it. He erected his own blue plaque at the house he shared with Colin Wilson, Stuart Holroyd and John Braine. I think the story is related in The Angry Years.

  2. Gerard
    Posted March 5, 2015 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    A short video of Bill Hopkins talking to the extreme leftist Stewart Home (I won’t dignify him by calling him a writer) is to be found on youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eNFVLU0pIWM

    For more information on Hopkins and the late Colin Wilson you might visit the Colin Wilson RIP page on facebook https://www.facebook.com/colinwilsonmemorial?fref=nf

    The week Colin Wilson died, a spiteful article appeared in a London newspaper authored by one Terence Blacker. CW’s friend Gary Lachman (aka Gary Valentine, founder member of Blondie) was so outraged by Blacker’s disrespectful piece that he challenged him to a duel. Sadly, Blacker, true to his kind, refused the challenge. One hopes that Hopkins and Wilson were looking down with approval at the prospect of another London literary punch-up.

    • Posted March 5, 2015 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

      Don’t be too hard on Stewart Home. He has had to preserve literary viability. When the wind shifts, so will he.

      • Gerard
        Posted March 6, 2015 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

        I shall have to take your word for that, Margot, since I know little about the man, apart from reading some of his work on the psychogeography of London: you mean he’s only posing as an ultra-leftist? As you may know already, Jonathan Bowden gave a talk on Home, which is recorded here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S8tjGJ4eUdA – I think JB may have bellowed one of his famous laughs at the thought Home was anything other than sincere.

  3. Posted March 5, 2015 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    I discovered Maurice Collins and James Lees-Milne last year and this reminiscence reminds me of them and their colorful disappeared world which, in the case of Lees-Milne anyway, was way more establishment. I’d never heard of this writer until now. I’m always on the lookout for scuttlebutt about interesting, creative and obscure human museums and Bill Hopkins fits the bill quite nicely. Thanks! Now, off to Part 2.

  4. Bernie
    Posted March 4, 2015 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

    An excellent remembrance. I only heard about Hopkins through Counter Currents and am glad I did. I wonder who has the rights to The Divine and the Decay? Can it be reprinted?

    • Posted March 4, 2015 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

      Pretty sure it can be republished, without much copyright hoohah. But as I note in the second part of this turgid saga, I strongly believe it should be reprinted in a new edition only if it has illustrations, and the original title, The Divine and the Decay. It would not have occurred to Dickens or Thackeray or the young Waugh to put out a book without illustrations.

      • Posted March 5, 2015 at 11:54 am | Permalink

        Thank-you for this. I too visited Bill several times when he was in Notting Hill. Your memories of him are similar to mine. I believe his last published essay (which took him a long time to write!) appeared in my book of essays: ‘Colin Wilson, a celebration’ published in 1989 by Cecil Woolf. Concerning reprinting ‘Divine…’: copies of ‘The Leap’ are still available from me; Bill also reprinted a few copies under its original title and gave me one which he signed (and is now in Colin Wilson’s archive at the University of Nottingham, here in the UK). His widow Carla holds the copyright so she would need to be consulted before it is reprinted. One correction: Bill, Colin and Stuart lived in a flat on Chepstow Road, not Villas, which is just around the corner (where Colin and Joy Wilson lived in 1956).

        • Margot Metroland
          Posted March 5, 2015 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

          Thank you very much for this. I have read both ’25 Chepstow Road’ and ’25 Chepstow Villas,’ but when I saw Chepstow Road I figured it was in error. I am aware they are two different places. Could be Villas sticks in memory because of the horsewhipping incident, here at 25 Chepstow Villas… http://www.cantab.net/users/antoni.diller/aym/wilson/colin.html

          I will change it to “Road” for now, but footnote my confusion.

          • Posted March 6, 2015 at 6:24 am | Permalink

            Yes, confusingly it was 24 Chepstow Villas and 25 Chepstow Road (see Colin Wilson’s Introduction to Tom Greenwell’s AYM play ‘Chepstow Road’

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