Sport 26: Autumn 2001
A Eulogy for Brian Rodney Bell, 1929-2000
(Penned for delivery at Brian's funeral. In the event, my nerve failed me.)
I went to the library yesterday. Brian once wrote a piece on James K. Baxter for a book published by Alister Taylor. He sat on the floor in Jonathan Hunt's flat and typed up the essay on Debbie Tait's portable.
On two rare and sobering occasions, I saw tears in Brain's eyes. Once was when he told me that he'd just heard the news of Baxter's death. The second time was one afternoon in the old Grand Hotel. We were drinking whiskies and Waikato chasers (amazingly, Brian was flush). ‘I know I'm hated,’ he said. What could I answer?
I went to the library yesterday, but there was no Book of Brian on the shelves. That Baxter piece I mentioned somehow or other evolved into a startling television event, The Burnt Ones. For once, Brian was trusted; for once, he was given his head. The results were scintillating. Colleen Hodge remarked on how quickly he won the technicians over, inventing his own little bits of technical jargon. When it came to working ‘to camera’, he was better than Jacob Bronowski or Kenneth Clark.
The last time I saw Brian, he regaled me with a barely credible tale. Every time he emptied his bath, the Somalis in the flat below copped his tepid grey effluent. According to Bell, he'd opened his door to a sodden delegation, the spokesman of which was a bemused black lawyer with pince-nez and a furled umbrella. Like a character out of Evelyn Waugh, the lawyer spoke a lofty sort of English he'd learned from a phrase-book purchased in Brighton in 1932.
We didn't hate you, Brian. Not all of us. Not all the time.