Page 14, 10th August 2001

10th August 2001
Page 14
Page 14, 10th August 2001 — B rian Brindley died last Wednesday as flamboyantly as he had
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B rian Brindley died last Wednesday as flamboyantly as he had

lived. He was at his 70th birthday dinner party in his club. the Athenaeum, when — to employ an unsentimental phrase he was fond of— he dropped dead.

It was, of course, a most distressing scene for his 13 close friends to witness; but afterwards we agreed that there was something spookily appropriate about his manner of going. Fr Anthony Symondson, who had given him absolution, observed that all the strands of Brian's life had come together in one small, candlelit library: friends from childhood, Stowe, Oxford, his time as an Anglican vicar and his new career as a Catholic journalist.

Only later did we discover that on the morning of the dinner party he had been advised by a medical friend to cancel it and go straight into hospital. Brian had spent months planning the guest list and an intimidating eight-course menu; he said there was no question of calling it off. You could die at your own dinner, the friend warned him. "So be it," he replied. "I shall go down in flames."

I first met Brian when I was a cub reporter in Reading and he was the town's best-known clergyman. It was 1984; the then Bishop of Durham had made one of his seasonal assaults on Christian orthodoxy and my news editor wanted indignant quotes from local clerics. "Brindley's your man," he advised.

He cut an extraordinary figure in those days: enormously fat, with a mop of tight grey curls that looked like an 18thcentury periwig, his height accentuated by a pair of buckled shoes with fourinch heels painted (by himself) in monsignoral red. The services he conducted in Holy Trinity made High Mass at the London Oratory look like a meeting of the Society of Friends. His church was dark and cramped, but filled with glorious cast-offs: a pulpit from one Oxford church and the tabernacle from another, and the rood screen carved by Pugin for St Chad's Catholic Cathedral, Birmingham, which he rescued from a scrap-heap after it was discarded by archdiocesan vandals.

For Brian, beauty was the first requirement of worship; but, unlike many Anglo-Catholic priests, he did not allow his interest in the niceties of rubric to turn into liturgical solipsism. He became a senior member of the General Synod and lobbied hard in order to Catholicise the text of the Alternative Service Book; it was partly thanks to him that for years Anglicans used a rite almost indistinguishable from our own second Eucharistic prayer.

His decision to become a Catholic after the Synod vote for women priests in 1992 was instantaneous and irrevocable; I had the privilege of being his sponsor. He had never liked the Church of England. if the truth he told, and later enjoyed teasing it from the other bank of the Tiber. He chose Leo as his confirmation name — in honour, he said, of the Pope who had declared Anglican orders null and void. "I feel like a commercial traveller who has spent 30 years selling a particular brand of vacuum cleaner only to discover that they don't actually work," he said. The red sash — he would have been cross that I don't know the right term for it — that he wore so proudly over his cassock after being made a canon was converted into a bellpull for his house in Brighton.

Brian could hold forth confidently on a prodigious number of subjects: the operas of Rossini, the gardens of Jekyll, the language of Cranmer (which he thought overrated), the joys of Coronation Street and, especially, the architecture and food of Rome. It was a sadness to him that his health was not good enough to allow him to visit his beloved city as a Catholic. Unusually for a man of such baroque tastes, he was an enthusiast for the Bible, and deplored what he saw as the efforts of liberal scholars to obscure its unvarnished truth. He was amused that his columns simultaneously annoyed progressive and Tridentine ideologues: his liturgical ideal was the New Mass, celebrated in Latin with elegant ceremonial.

He was an inspired choice to write a fortnightly Charterhouse column. His copy arrived promptly by fax, precisely to length, with a covering sheet addressed to "the Catholick Herald" written in lugubrious Gothic type and headed "fax vobiscum". In my early years as literary editor I tried to persuade him to abandon his self-consciously archaic use of Victorian semi-colons, but to no avail: he ignored what he called my "colonic initation".

"lam never afraid to use a good honest cliché," he used to say of his writing, so let me end with one: the world will be a duller place without my irreplaceable old friend.

—Damian Thompson




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