People and their profiles: dukes, archbishops, actors, writers, monks, oddbods, the garish, the gregarious - here they are in single file, chosen by chance, by inclination, or by necessity ... and all reflecting, one hopes, the essential, but indefinable, spark that makes one human being interesting to many. Geoffrey Mather
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On the scent of Sir James Scott Douglas: hare coursing or coarse hareing?
Sir James Scott Douglas (the fat one, right, with Northern Daily Express editor John McDonald, circa 1966) taught me that gentlemen recognise each other rather like dogs recognise other dogs - by scent. We were companions in a human crush during hare-coursing near Liverpool (not a sporting entertainment I could possibly enjoy) and James was hailing people and being hailed by people who were several layers of humanity away from him. There was instant recognition. I was intrigued because no-one was hailing me. "Scent," he said when asked. "Recognise the scent."
The particular scent he referred to was Trumper's Floreka, Trumper being an upper-class hairdresser in central London and Floreka being the establishment's lotion for customers. It did, indeed, have quite a distinctive smell.
I sent for a bottle and Messrs Trumper dispatched one forthwith. It held a greenish fluid and there was rather a lot of it. Thereafter, it lay on a shelf for years, virtually untouched. Not much point in an earl in a crowd sniffing around only to find that he has discovered me: a point I had neglected to consider when I bought the stuff.
Sir James was related to all kinds of elevated people, including the Duke of Beaufort. He was employed by the Daily Express in the North to provide William Hickey gossip column material and was well equipped for the task. In his contact book was the private telephone number of the Queen. He referred to "Uncle Essex" and probably had a fond relationship with Kent and Sussex. In his work, he came under my modest guidance, and a splendidly slippery customer he was.
One had to be careful in briefing him. Not much point in saying, "Could you find out what the Queen eats for lunch?" because he would vanish, re-emerging days later with an enormous bill for an hotel in London and a rumoured answer to the subject originally under discussion. No use protesting that you intended him to make a simple phone call. He was never more dedicated than when he felt the call of the Metropolis, and I could never understand why he left it.
When an editor complained of his booking into an expensive hotel - the Dorchester as I recall - at the firm's expense, James merely said, "Where else can one entertain one's proprietor?" and the matter was hurriedly concluded, since no-one was prepared to phone (the late) Sir Max Aitken, who bossed the place at the time, to confirm the validity of the claim.
I asked Jim (I always called him Jim, to be perverse, though it was obvious that he was entitled to James) to find out something one day - on the phone, I emphasised - and he said, "Oh yes, I shall ring" - go on, guess - "...Uncle Essex." It made me wish I had an Uncle Oswaldtwistle.
James had a habit of living extravagantly and encountering hard times, which is how he came to be a journalist. Both conditions are almost fundamental to the job.
He had been a yacht owner, racing driver and chauffeur before that. As a chauffeur, he said that he once ferried his aunt, the Duchess of Newcastle, in a hired car in Northumberland and pulled his peaked hat very low so that she would not recognise him. She chatted amiably during a long trip and asked where he was born. He gave the correct answer. She said she had a nephew who was born there. Did he know him? Not so, said the chauffeur. Just as well, said the duchess, because he was a wastrel.
James was enormous, and used to travel to his second-floor office by hoist, since the lift was not equal to him. An invisible cloud of Messrs.Trumper's preparations marked his arrival. He served champagne in half-pint pewter tankards at home and supervised the hanging of meat at his butcher's before a party. His cat had a heated blanket, the first such implement I ever saw. I made a note of the Queen's telephone number but never found occasion to use it.
When James sought to buy a farmhouse, so that he could leave rented property, I thought I had found one for him. It was long, low, old, constructed in stone, set in the countryside, and had excellent views. I reported my find in some excitement. "Where is it?" he asked.
"Ramsbottom," I said. "Can't live there," he said. "Why?" "I am heir to the title of Lord Botetourt. Can't be called Botetourt of Ramsbottom."
"I have an idea," I said, "that Ramsbottom's crest is a ram's head." "Makes no difference to me," he replied.
When someone in his family died, leaving him silver articles, prosperous and strange men appeared in the office and fivers changed hands. Jim with money was a splendid man to know: like a firework dispensing wondrous sparks to illuminate and transform the slow progression of a peasant's day.
He said one Monday morning, "Editor seems depressed." "Monday," I said. That editor tended to be depressed on a Monday. And a Tuesday, and a Wednesday etc etc ad infinitum.
Jim phoned the pub across the road from the office and asked for half a dozen bottles of champagne to be put on ice. We drank them with the occasional brandy. Jim noted with satisfaction around 3 pm that the editor was no longer depressed and went home to his rented accommodation and cat in Cheshire. Then he had a pleasant bath. And as he stood up he had a heart attack and died. We know he died at that point because there were the drag marks of his wet hands on the wall. It was the precise point in his ablutions where he might have considered applying Trumper's Floreka.
The Co-operative Funeral Service was called upon to do its best on his behalf, and he was returned to the Duke of Beaufort for burial among his peers.
He was much missed, not least by me, and I have not encountered Trumper's Floreka from that day to this.
An addendum: A friend tells me that when James was the worse for drink he went late at night to Alnwick Castle and roared around the courtyard crying, "A Douglas! A Douglas!" Whereupon a voice from an upper window, replied, "P--- off, or I'll call the police.
Sir James "The Good" or "The Black Douglas", Lord of Douglas
Sir James, son of William "le Hardi", continued his father's fight for Scottish independence at the side of Robert the Bruce. He fought with Bruce at Methven in 1306 then led a raid on Douglas Castle, his Douglasdale Estate, which had been confiscated by the English. Disguised as peasants, Sir James and his men surprised and defeated the English garrison in the battle which has become known as the "Douglas Larder". Once again disguising his men, this time as oxen, he attacked and captured Roxburgh Castle. His stealthy and effective means of combat are remembered in a children's bedtime song,
Hush ye, hush ye, little pet ye,
Hush ye, hush ye, do not fret ye,
The Black Douglas shall no get ye.
Geoffrey Mather © 2004
24 December, 2011