Frank Cottrell Boyce
A while ago I attended a screenwriter’s event at BAFTA where Frank Cottrell Boyce, screenwriter, author of children’s fiction and writer of the Olympic opening ceremony gave a lively and inspiring talk. At one point he extolled the benefits of having children, saying that it hadn't interfered with his work at all and there was a sense that he was encouraging us to go forth and multiply. I hadn’t noticed that a shortage of humans was a particular problem besetting planet Earth but as the father of seven children perhaps he felt the need to talk up fecundity. Either that or, as a good Catholic boy, he felt that the lack of babies in our lives suggested that we had been making use of ungodly contraception. Ar one point he quoted Cyril Connelly’s famous dictum that “There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall.” Now of course Connelly was saying: “don’t for Christ’s sakes have kids if you want to be a great artist” but Cottrell Boyce’s point was that Connelly was a bit of an idiot who didn’t know what he was talking about. His proof was that “Connelly never made any art – he was just a critic.”
Barbara Hepworth's triplets
In practical terms there is no doubt that having children is likely to interfere with your working life and in the past the burden of taking care of them has largely fallen on women. I always think of the great sculptress Barbara Hepworth who, to her considerable inconvenience, gave birth to triplets in 1934. Any hope that the father might step up and do the multiple nappy changes and night feeds while she concentrated on her minimalist forms was utterly forlorn. Ben Nicholson was at least as obsessed with his work as she was with hers, and although Hepworth’s sculptures at the time were clearly influenced by motherhood the truth is that little Simon, Rachel and Sarah were farmed out to a Hampstead nursery-training college. I don’t want to put word into those babies’ mouths but I’ll take a wild guess that being raised by professional’s in starched uniforms in an institution that probably reeked of disinfectant and overcooked cabbage was not top of their list of lifestyle choices. Thus it wasn’t so much the pram being the enemy of art as art being the enemy of three adorable rosy-cheeked babies .
In fairness to Cyril Connelly it is not quite true that he produced no art. He did in fact write several books although it has to be said that his second book “The Enemy of Promise” (from which the pram quote comes) is a detailed explanation of why Connelly never fulfilled his promise and was, in his own estimation, a failure.
In one section he uses an elaborate metaphor about weeds which choke the rye. Each weed represents something that Connelly regards as being detrimental to an artist, with journalism, politics, escapism, sex and success all being found guilty to some extent. Poor Cyril was a golden youth who excelled at school but never fulfilled his promise, while suffering the added indignity of watching his old schoolmate, George Orwell, become a great writer. You have to admire his searing honesty in facing up to his shortcomings but I can’t help feeling that for the real culprit you need look no further than Connelly’s chubby face. Does he look like the kind of man who is prepared to starve in a garret while he pens his masterpiece? It is said that when he stayed with friends his host would afterwards have to remove rashers of bacon from the books he had borrowed (he used them as a marker) and would find half eaten plates of food in drawers. There was to be no Down and Out in London and Paris for Connelly, who was probably a little too fond of good food to resist lucrative commissions from publications – thus keeping him from what he regarded as his true vocation.
Tabby and I at the Koax drawing exhibition
My own experience of recent fatherhood has been that my daughter has imported into my life that essential ingredient of any screenwriter’s career – good luck. Projects that have been stalled or trapped in development limbo are suddenly springing to life. What is more some drawings I did of her in her first weeks were recently selected for an exhibition at Mascall’s Gallery in Kent, proving that the pram in the hall is not so much the enemy of art, as excellent subject matter for it. Incidentally the next exhibition at the excellent little Mascalls Gallery is Barbara Hepworth’s 'Hospital Drawings"; her beautiful drawings of surgeons undertaking serious operations. We can be thankful that her triplets don’t feature in them.