Friday, 19 November 2010

It's a wonderful life - and it was for Tony

My favourite film is – and has been for many years – Frank Capra's 1946 masterpiece called It's A Wonderful Life.

To those who don't get it, this is just a whimsical American fantasy piece about a man who is given redemption by an incompetent angel. However, for those who do truly understand it, this is a truly uplifting film which shows how one man's life touches so many others and how no man who is truly loved can ever feel their life has been anything but a triumph.

This film kept coming back to me on Tuesday when I attended the beautiful funeral service of Tony Morgan at St Swithun's Church in Bathford.

I got to know Tony a few years ago when he was consort to one of his five beloved daughters, Loraine Morgan-Brinkhurst, when she was chairman of Bath and North East Somerset Council. Every time I met him he had the ability to make me feel like I was the most important person in the room, and his warmth, kindness and genuine love of life shone out of his eyes.

On Tuesday I realised that this quiet and unassuming man had the ability to do the same to everyone and I can honestly say I've rarely ever been as moved as I was during this quite remarkable service.

As well as an inspired and inspiring speech by Loraine herself and some beautiful words from nephew Kevin Moore and sons-in-law John Fry, Paul Allison and John Davies, the moment that really struck me was when Tony's many grandchildren went to the front of the church and paid their own incredibly moving tributes.

For someone from a relatively small family it seemed like there were dozens of these grandchildren but what really touched me was the way all of them spoke as if they were the only grandchild Tony had ever had because he clearly loved and delighted in every one of them.

Their loving words would have been heart-breaking – if they weren't completely inspiring.

As I left the service I thought again about my favourite film. It's main character George Bailey is given the chance to see what life would have been like had he not been born and when he realised the impact he'd made on others, he saw that it is, after all, a wonderful life.

For Tony Morgan it was exactly the same. As I looked around the packed church it was almost impossible to find a dry eye but this was a mixture of tears of sadness, tears of joy and tears of pride.

That is the impact that this humble man had on all around him and having not known him terribly well before the service, I felt I really knew him by the end. And my admiration soared.

It showed to me, once again, that we should not judge a man by the size of his bank balance or his home but by the size of his heart and his capacity for love.

In that context, Tony Morgan was truly a man amongst men.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

This was Hitler's favourite song. Or rather it wasn't.

Last night I was due to climb every mountain – well, head down the Lower Bristol Road – and go to Bristol to watch The Sound of Music onstage.

It was amazing to me the effect this had on some of my colleagues when I casually mentioned the news. As it is not the sort of music that people usually associate with me, I expected to be ribbed mercilessly but within minutes of mentioning it several hard-bitten hacks were heard to be singing about lonely goat herds and troublesome nuns.

It is just one of those shows that seems to ‘get’ everyone.

Having thought I’d done well to keep my credibility intact, however, I then completely ruined it with a chance remark. Someone said that their favourite song in the film was Edelweiss and I retorted: “Well, you may like it less when you realise it was Hitler’s favourite song”.

“Are you sure?” said someone.

“I am,” I replied. Firmly. Ish.

Two minutes later I was peeling egg off my face when I realised (or rather Wikipedia proved to my ‘doubter’) that the song was actually written in, err, 1959. I then weakly tried to regain my wrecked credibility in the ‘things-you-don’t-know-about-Hitler’ stakes by saying: “Ah well, did you know he designed the Volkswagen Beetle?”

Wikipedia – which you soon realise can be your biggest enemy as well as your best friend – found that this was nonsense too. The dictator had asked in 1933 for a ‘people’s car’ to be designed but his pencil never touched paper.

So once again I’d fallen for an urban myth.The truth is we can often fall of these and that is why Stephen Fry’s QI is an invaluable way of stopping us from repeating “truths” which are actually nonsense.

So, can I stop all of you from making similar mistakes by assuring you, for example, that Humphrey Bogart never said “Play it again Sam” in Casablanca, Sherlock Homes was never quoted in the novels as having said “elementary, my dear Watson”, Captain Kirk never uttered the line “beam me up Scottie” and Darth Vader never said the phrase “Luke, I am your father”.

And, to save you wasting a good ten minutes of your life hearing a long, urban myth story, can I assure you that David Beckham NEVER paid off somebody’s mortgage so his son could have a party at Alton Towers. If the elements of that story sound at all familiar then I’m not surprised because I’ve been told it in three different offices over the last few years or so by sincere people who claim they even know whose house was paid off by the generous footballer. But it never happened.

Trust me. I’m a journalist.

The only problem with de-bunking urban myths is that they do take some of the fun out of life. I love the story of how NASA apparently spent millions trying to develop a pen that would write upside down in space while the Russians just used a pencil. But, sadly, it wasn’t true.

Just like the moon landings, in fact.