The Great August Harvest of my friends and heroes continues as the opening night of Shakespeare In Italy on Thursday nears, a play that Hardy, Vidal and Hughes would have liked. My first experience of theatre in Sydney was Hughes’s blank verse Orwellian play Dead Men Walking, starring John Bell, Dick May and John Croyston, in the Wallace Theatre, its text lost now, and I remember being impressed by its craft and annoyed by its pretension in almost equal measure and being startled by Bell, a pale thin pimply boy I knew from English tutorials, being so magnificent in voice and appearance up on the stage.
I wrote something about Hughes I’m looking for now and will put up when I find it. He was Lucy Turnbull’s uncle and Bryan Brown’s cousin, and they were pen friends in the sixties, and Noeline Brown’s lover (wait for me, he said, I’ll send for you, and he never did) and these close connections of blood and romance in Australia startle even now. My episode with Charmian Clift. Charm’s with Peter Finch. Peter Porter’s eith Sally Lehman. The succession of famous girls with Frank Moorhouse. And so on.
I see now the piece I was after was cut out (by me, for length) of And So It Went and I’ll retrieve it with Annie’s help after next weekend when the play is settled in.
Hughes was almost the best of us as a writer. But he was a fine painter too — and a painting-forger I hear tell — a good playwright, and he could have been a great cartoonist, and was for a while.. But largely because of an article by Geoffrey Lehmann that I and Laurie Oakes published in honi soit — called, I think, Robert Hughes: The Phenomenon Of Subconscious Recall — alleging, and proving, some instances of plagiarism in his poetry he fled the country without taking a degree and by accident became, after European travels and humiliations in London (his wife Danne persisted in gang-banging the Rolling Stones), the best-known art critic of the recent century and a great occasional historian and television star.
But he could have been much more. As his friend Clive James, who was better at career, so tirelessly proved.
And it’s a pity.