A Christmas story from ‘Jack’s Country’

A Christmas story from the book

Jack’s Country

– a new edition of the book originally entitled JACK HARGREAVES

by Paul Peacock

Simon Baddeley recalls affectionately his own first ‘encounter’ with Jack on a magical Christmas Eve:

“It would be very personal for me, but because Jack became a particularly public person in his TV persona it is perhaps interesting to learn about the private person. There are no nasty secrets but there are some rather interesting and intriguing elements to the story of his life. Jack was much more than the rather super person so many people liked on TV. I suspect he would have been difficult to live with in his younger days. I first saw him as this figure through a crack in the door of the Chelsea house we lived in for a few years in the late 1940’s when I was six. I can still see (in my study in Birmingham) the set of wonderful Lydekker natural history books he placed under the Christmas tree for me that year – a 1948. Some would have thought they were a bit old for a six year old – especially as he must have known very little about me. I love these eight wonderfully bound books for the fabulous ink drawings of every kind of creature. I look at them today – in my early sixties. Jack didn’t even know I’d spied him listening to my mum, but I had wanted a sight of our Christmas tree all surrounded by presents – and that’s when I saw this strange, large, dark bearded man standing legs apart, hands behind his back, talking to my mum, invisible beyond the crack in the door. In those days both he and my mum were working for an advertising agency called ‘Colman Prentis and Varley’ and going off to work in the morning to their West End offices on scooters …”

Simon Baddeley replied:

Oliver studies a chimera

Yes. Jack, gave me a Christmas present laced with a treasury of illustration – Richard Lydekker’s ‘Royal Natural History’ in 6 volumes, published in 1896. Now and then I’ve immersed myself, and my children and now my grandson in this magical bestiary in which the animals don’t speak human, don’t smile cheerfully and are, irrefutably, denizens of a feral universe. When he was hardly three I wanted some imprinting on our grandson, Oliver, of images to compete with patronised animals, animated cars and Thomas the Tank Engine and friends. The illustration here, protected by a delicate page of tissue in one of the six Lydekker volumes, is of a Chimera.

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