Paul was my best friend for forty-six years.
When I told him that he was, not many years ago, he seemed a little surprised.
And I think I know why: I am absolutely certain that there are many, many people for whom Paul was possibly their best friend, too;
and certainly he was one of the best friends that so many people could ever have had.
Some of you are here today.
Paul had an amazing gift for giving friendship, unconditionally. And I believe that’s why he was so widely loved and respected, because he was so generous with his friendship.
I met Paul in 1973, shortly after he, Chris, Sue and Kev had suffered the tragic loss of both of their parents in Mansfield.
Paul was at Oxford at the time; I was working in the film industry down the road in Soho, and somehow we were introduced by a mutual friend who was at Oxford with Paul. We hit it off straight away.
It’s hard to explain how that happens, because it doesn’t happen very often in life.
Some kind of intangible sense that you like each other, are interested in each other, however different you may be, wherever you may have come from.
But since Paul left us I have been trying to find words to explain what it was about him.
I’ve said that he was a generous friend.
By that I mean that he was always there to listen to you, to give you his time.
Sometimes he could be stern and critical, often he could give you useful advice, but he was always kind, sensitive, loyal and loving.
And I always found him to be fundamentally non judgemental.
That is quite a rare and precious attribute in anyone.
And that’s why I miss him so much.
He was, simply, a lovely man.
Paul was, without doubt, the best read person who I have ever known.
He loved literature, notably the work of Marcel Proust, a great obsession.
Not least, I think, because he found in Proust some parallels with his own life.
Paul had a passion for the English language and he wrote continuously, or at least most days, in the form of diaries and notes as well as his more formal works that became published, or his film scripts that became films.
He loved music; his tastes were wide and deep.
He loved art.
He met his long time partner Bernard through art, when Paul was shopping for supplies for his painter friend Howard Hodgkin near here one day.
He had discovered Bernard behind the counter at Cornellisens artists’ shop and he kept finding excuses to go back for more supplies.
And to see Bernard. Here today, of course.
And I knew Paul, always surrounded by books, at so many homes in London.
He lived at Four Corners, the film group in Bethnal Green, for some years – I can see him there now, sat in his famous red leather chair, cigarette in hand, telling some wry and amusing anecdote.
In 1975 Paul had been instrumental in introducing me to Four Corners, when he suggested that I should meet Ron Peck and offer my services on Ron’s planned film, NIGHTHAWKS.
Also here today are Jo and Wilf, and Maureen, all of us close to Paul, too, from those early Four Corners days.
And another dear friend from then, Sally McLeay, sent me some of the photos that are on these (those banners outside?) banners. She sends her love from Queensland, Australia.
Meeting Ron was the beginning of a very important period in both Paul’s life and in my life.
Ron will be saying more about Paul’s professional writing achievements in a minute, and what a great collaborator he was.
I knew Paul at flats in Islington and in Clapham and eventually in King’s Cross before his move to Istanbul. Always moving, until he finally went home to Mansfield.
And always moving his huge library around from place to place.
The weekend that I visited him in Istanbul, he was on the move again. And he had roped in some hunky young Turks with a van, and me, to move his stuff across town.
I say “stuff”: it was really only books.
He never had much else.
He was probably the least materialistic person who I have ever known.
And, as some of you know, Paul was very conscious of the fact that he needed to downsize his collection, his archive.
And it was thanks to the generous help of Abbas Nokhasteh, who’d met Paul in Istanbul and who had commissioned Paul’s final, wonderful film treatment, THE TURKISH DORMITORY, that Paul was able to move his collection of writing and other material to the Bishopsgate Institute in London.
Stefan, the Librarian at the Bishopsgate, wants to make Paul’s amazing written archive as accessible as possible and I know that much of it has already been catalogued to make it easy to search.
And I am certain that, one day, many researchers will take the time to unearth more about Paul’s life and thoughts than any of us have ever known.
I’ve just mentioned Turkey.
Paul fell in love with Istanbul in about 2006 and that’s where he stayed until three years ago when a combination of health concerns and the increasingly nasty political regime in Turkey meant that it made sense for him to head back to Mansfield
Istanbul meant so much to Paul. He was mesmerised by the beauty of the city on the water, and by its people.
He didn’t speak Turkish, except for a few phrases, and when I visited him there I asked him how he got on without the language.
His answer was revealing, and was the quintessence of Paul: he said he found it easier to stay in his own mind without knowing what everyone around him was saying.
And yet despite his lack of Turkish he was able to make some incredibly strong friendships in Turkey.
That was because his personality always attracted people, often young people.
I know that his classes at one of the Universities in Istanbul were very popular, as his classes at Central Saint Martin’s School of Art had been in London.
He had always managed to eke out a living as a teacher in higher education as a supplement to his paid writing work, but it was a precarious existence as a freelance, never getting paid in the holidays.
Paul spent his life looking.
If I have one abiding image of him it is at a window, high above a road, with a park opposite, looking out on an early summer’s evening, probably with a cigarette in his hand.
Just looking, observing the world, working out who the characters are.
“Looking” features in the titles of two of his pieces – CAUGHT LOOKING and
IF YOU LOOK AT IT FOR LONG ENOUGH.
And, for anyone who reads his final major work, THE TURKISH DORMITORY, they will find that that is all about looking, too.
But Paul was not voyeuristic.
I think Paul’s kind of looking was simply about trying to understand people.
And he was addicted to that.
And he did it very well.
“My best friend” might sound a bit possessive. And that’s the last thing that Paul would have wanted.
He shared his friendship with so many people – I think he treated all his friends with equal love and respect and loyalty.
And he loved his family very deeply.
He may have caused them concern at times, but I know that they have always loved him as much as he loved them.
Chris and Kev are here today.
Paul was truly original, a uniquely wonderful man.
I will remember him forever.