A ceremony to celebrate the life of Michael Schofield

24th June 1919 – 27th March 2014

Held at Golders Green Crematorium Tuesday, 15th April 2014

Led by Rupert Morris (BHA Celebrant)

14 The Milliner’s House, 173 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3UW Tel: 020 7378 0450 Email: Rupert@claritywritingexperts.com

 

Entry Music: Jubilation T Cornpone, sung by Stubby Kaye

 

Welcome, everyone. We have come to say our last farewells to Michael Schofield, who died last month at the age of 94. My name is Rupert Morris, a celebrant with the British Humanist Association, and I have been asked to lead you today in a humanist funeral. This ceremony is for all of you, whatever your personal or religious beliefs. Later on, we shall pause for a moment of silence to allow each of you to remember him in your own way, and to pray if you wish. You will have gathered from that unusual and highly satirical song that greeted you a few moments ago that this is not going to be a solemn occasion. And when someone dies in their nineties, it is tempting for an outsider to think that the person concerned has been fortunate to live a full and long life – and that there should be no great cause for sorrow. I know from experience that this is by no means the case. On the contrary, the longer someone has been around, the harder it can be to imagine life without them. This is particularly the case for Anthony, Michael’s partner for more than 60 years. It is extraordinary to reflect that after all Michael’s campaigning for homosexual law reform, same-sex marriage should finally have become legal on 29 March this year, just two days after his death. If such a law had been in place when Michael and Anthony set up home together, we would now almost certainly be several years on from their golden wedding. So our hearts go out to Anthony today, and we do grieve. We grieve not only for his loss but for the recognition he and Michael forfeited, the false denials and compromises they had to make, and the daily humiliations they suffered from a less tolerant society. That said, there is also a great deal to celebrate. Because in many of these important areas, ours is a more tolerant and kinder country today, not least because of the work that Michael Schofield did. And what a lot he crammed into his 94 years. I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing Michael myself, but I have spoken at some length to Anthony, his friend and neighbour Robbie McIndoe, and more briefly to Ken Plummer. You will hear from all of them shortly. But first, I’m going to take you through some of the main events in Michael’s life, and provide the backcloth upon which Ken, Robbie and Anthony can embroider with their more personal reflections. Michael George Schofield (he never liked the name George, so we won’t mention it again) was born in the Roundhay area of Leeds on 24th June 1919. His father Snowdon Schofield was a pillar of Leeds society, being the owner of the city’s main independent department store. Schofields was a byword for quality and service – something like the Harrods of the north. Snowdon Schofield had two children, Ronald and Mabel by his first wife, who died giving birth to their daughter. He then married Ella, a parson’s daughter, who went on to give birth to Peter in 1917, Michael in 1919, and Stephen in 1922. Michael enjoyed a privileged upbringing in a large, comfortable house with lovely gardens and two tennis courts. He got on especially well with his two full brothers, who were closest to him in age. The whole family, including the two older children from Snowdon’s first marriage, used to go on holiday to Filey and Scarborough. There they enjoyed all the traditional entertainments of the seaside, while Snowdon always had to check out the main stores in case they were doing anything Schofields could learn from. Like his brothers, Michael went to prep school in Scarborough, but unlike them, did not enjoy life at their public school Oundle, and was allowed to opt out in favour of private tuition to A level. It worked for him, and he went to Cambridge, initially to study economics – but switched to psychology after a year. He went on to graduate with a first-class degree. He also excelled at music, especially on the clarinet and alto saxophone. At Cambridge he became the leader of the Footlights dance orchestra. The orchestra was much in demand to perform at May balls – with the result that Michael never went to a May ball because he was always performing. Michael’s players included, on the euphonium, Jimmy Edwards, who went on to become one of the first great television funny men, but in those days was always being ticked off by Michael for his unreliability. You’ll never make anything of yourself if you don’t buck up, was the drift of Michael’s admonishments – something they chuckled about later when having a backstage drink after one of Jimmy’s West End performances. Aside from this and other enduring friendships, Michael’s time at university was also significant for confirming him in the knowledge that he was sexually attracted to men rather than women. Michael was called up for military service in 1941, and chose the RAF, where he became a night fighter pilot and in due course, squadron leader. Having trained at White Waltham, in Berkshire, he was stationed at various times in different parts of the country from Scotland down to the south coast. He flew a total of 20 missions, including to Holland on D Day. But Michael hated the war, and never wore any of the service medals he won. He did, however, enjoy his first real love affairs – one of which, although it ended tragically, revealed that there were people with enlightened attitudes about homosexuality even then. It was fairly widely known, it would seem, that Michael and this other young airman were lovers – so that when the young man was killed in action, Michael’s commanding officer called him in immediately to give him the news – even before writing to the man’s family. The war also claimed Michael’s younger brother Stephen, who had had a terrible row with their father just before going off to serve in the RAF. As far as we know, this was just a generational tiff that would surely have been resolved had Stephen made it back home. Alas, he never went on active service, but was killed in a training flight. Snowdon Schofield never recovered from the shock of losing his youngest son in such terrible circumstances, and died soon afterwards. This combination of circumstances associated with World War II amounted to a formative experience for Michael, who was to spend the rest of his life devoted to overcoming prejudice and furthering the cause of understanding and tolerance. After the war he did briefly go to work for the family firm; and it was his father who encouraged him to go to Harvard Business School. He enjoyed that, and came back to do a comparative tour of other leading UK department stores. Already, he was beginning to develop his own ideas about how society ought to come to terms with homosexuality – ideas which came together in his first major publication, Society and the Homosexual, published under the pseudonym of Gordon Westwood in 1952. Which seems like the right moment to hand over to Ken Plummer, who has known Michael for many years and is ideally qualified to talk about his post-war career and achievements.

Ken Plummer: I first met Michael in 1967 as a young student wanting to research into the impact of the decriminalization of homosexuality. He was extraordinarily encouraging and we have remained life long friends. I am saddened by his death and feel a loss. But dying is also I think quite a lot about remembering.

I am helped in this with a poem from the 1960’s Liverpool poet Bryan Patten:

How long is a man’s life, finally?

Is it a thousand days, or only one?

One week, or a few centuries?

How long does a man’s death last?

And what do we mean when we say, “gone forever’?

We fret, and ask so many questions –

then when it comes to us the answer is so simple.

A man lives for as long as we carry him inside us,

for as long as we carry the harvest of his dreams,

for as long as we ourselves live, holding memories in common, a man lives.

How long does a man live after all? A man lives so many different lengths of time.

 

Today, I want to share briefly five memories of Michael that I will carry with me… and which will help keep him alive.

I will remember Michael as a brave man, as a compassionate man with a fine sense of justice, as a caring and generous man, as a modest man and finally as a progressive humanist who wanted to make the world a better place for the next generation. First, the memory of his braveness. Here he was back in the 1940’s privately experiencing his own personal pains of being gay in a culture where it was condemned as a crime – as a sin, sickness, and sadness……. And what does he do about it? He writes a book, goes public and champions it. This is what he writes in 1952…… “We might question whether the social stigma attached to the homosexuality does not actually do more harm than good. We should recognize that we will not even start to find a solution until we sweep away the prudish silence and superstitious prejudices that surround the subject. The problem of homosexuality must be brought out into the open where it can be discussed and reconsidered. That is the object of this book.” And he pursued this challenge himself with great vigour over the next three decades. And here is my next memory of Michael: of his compassion and sense of justice. Having fought the battles for homosexual reform he moved on to wider social issues. He became involved with the NCCL (now Liberty) and became a campaigner of unpopular causes. Michael would research tricky topics: sex amongst young people, promiscuity, contraception, drugs. And then he would be seen engaging in debates in courts, on television, in the press, acting as a public intellectual – busy championing the then very difficult issues of single mothers, free contraception, drug reform, pornography, abortion law change, sex education and human rights. Often his opponent was Mary Whitehouse. In many ways he was a key campaigner for the swinging sixties – and seventies. My third memory of Michael is that of generous and kind man. He used much of his inheritance to establishing a charity – The Lyndhurst Settlement – devoted to giving small sums to causes that were struggling to survive and for whom a little money meant a lot. Between 1984 and 2005 he gave £1,000 to a prison charity here, £2,000 to an environmental cause there … and on. When AIDS arrived in 1981, Michael was amongst the first to back, the Terrence Higgins Trust – now a major government body but then a small struggling newcomer. But if Michael was generous publicly, he was also generous to his friends. Possibly quite a few of us here may have been at one of his birthday treats: the trip on Concorde, the visit to Bilbao, the meals at the Café de Paris and Lloyds. Not to mention the 90th birthday celebration at Bentleys, the fish restaurant where Michael had ordered steaks for all his 50 guests! My fourth memory, though, belies a lot of the above. For he was a shy, modest, gentle man. At parties, he hated dressing up and would go to some of these events in his slippers! While he could be argumentative and passionate, he was also gentle and sensitive in his way of dealing with people. He treated people well. Finally, I will remember Michael as an inspirational progressive humanist – as someone who quietly wanted to make the world a better place for all. He believed in the importance of education, in research, in opening people’s minds. I asked Michael several times in his life if he was pleased with what he had achieved. When he retired he was not at all pleased – it was the time of Thatcherism and he thought little had changed, the clocks were going back, and was saddened. But when I asked him just a few years ago – after thirty years of retirement and a dear loving relationship with his life companion Antony – he told a different story. I quote him: “I am pleased about almost everything. The world has become a much better place. It is to do with tolerance…and tolerance is helped by people being told the real situation. And to that extent, people’s books do help. We are very lucky. I see myself as a nagging little insect biting other people. I had not a measurable role, but the fact that I was there and writing brought it to the attention of other people.”

I will nurture and develop my fond memories of Michael over the years to come.

RM: Thank you, Ken. Now I’m going to read some brief extracts from a final novel that Michael wrote, and a review of it.

The book was called Report Of The Committee On The Operation Of The Sexual Containment Act. Presented as a government report, it was a brilliantly sustained pastiche, in which everything (from the book layout to numbered paragraphs to the pompous Royal crest and crimson red dust jacket) mimics the in-house Home Office style. Michael’s erudite and sly sense of humour resonates from the opening pages, where the committee members include such luminaries as Fanny Hill, Oliver Mellors (Lady Chatterley’s gamekeeper) and Mrs. Winston Smith. The climax of the book is the appendix, which features a dozen or so case studies of individuals affected by the Sexual Containment Act. One of the last people to interview Michael was the writer Peter Scott-Presland and he wrote a glowing review of the book. This is how Scott-Presland set the scene: “In the not-too-distant future, scientists find a way of recording every orgasm, male or female, in the country. (The science of this, contained in Appendix A, is frighteningly plausible.) The way then becomes open to ration sex, through the Sexual Containment Act, and the novel works out both the mechanisms and human implications of that. Michael Schofield has written an extraordinary satire on British attitudes to sex (on the whole, we’re agin it), and on government hatred of any aspect of human behaviour which is not firmly under control. The lightness of touch makes the Swiftian savagery of the attack on Puritanism all the more effective, while the case studies (Appendix B) take the operation of the Act to brilliant absurdist heights. Here in History 5, the ORD (Orgasm Recording Device), which sets off a klaxon when you exceed your monthly orgasm allowance, has gone off, so the poor man has to report to the Emergency Inspector: “It was too far to walk and I couldn’t afford a taxi… So there was nothing for it but the tube…. It was terrible, everyone looking and laughing and shouting. Then waiting for the bloody train. It was diabolical. All those remarks, like calling me ‘Dirty Beast’ and ‘Serve you right, you sex maniac’. Some of them were just kidding, like the chap who said, ‘What you been doing then – riding your bike?’ But I wasn’t in the mood for jokes and anyway most of it was very nasty. One woman just came up and spat at me.” The book is long out of print and well valued on the internet. In our view, it deserves a reprint and digital version for Kindle and tablet users. Funny, intelligent, uncompromising and morally balanced, it could yet become a cult hit. Michael’s final book was his favourite work, and reflects all the wonderful and complex values of the man we are celebrating here today.

Tribute: Rob McIndoe

Although I only became friendly with Michael and Anthony in the last three years, it was a surprise to realise that I had come across Michael a few times before. His book The Strange Case Of Pot was on my philosophy A-Level syllabus for wider reading… I was never able to get hold of a copy and now find out that it is rarer than hen’s teeth. I have a large collection of British television drama and documentary from the 1960s and 1970s. And there is Michael – cropping up three times. Once writing and presenting a radio documentary, once appearing on a panel on Late Night Line Up, and the third time being played by the actor Nicholas Farrell in a BBC2 adaptation of The Oz Trial, intellectually outmanoeuvring a judge and being damn funny to boot. I was lucky enough to show all of these to Michael and see his reaction. When I think of Michael Schofield I’ll think of a number of things. His gorgeous smile… His love of chocolate… And his years of campaigning… How Michael chose to do the right thing, even though he didn’t have to and often it was the difficult path. It’s the difficult path down the stairs at Lyndhurst Gardens that I’d briefly like to talk about. Michael was happy and content – still curious about the world. I doubt there are many of us in this room who will get the kind of care that Michael got from Anthony… But Michael was stuck in his room. His legs were too weak to walk downstairs; and despite all Anthony’s efforts it proved impossible to put in a stairlift because of the design of the house and tight angles of the staircase. So we came up with a plan… We purchased a sleeping bag, two safety harnesses, some long thin planks of wood and a U-shaped cushion to protect Michael’s head and neck. The beds in Michael and Anthony’s house were stripped of mattresses, which we placed on the stairs to form a soft slide from the first floor to the ground. With Anthony (and sometimes with their good friend Neil) waiting with a wheelchair at the bottom of the stairs, Michael would sit on my lap and we would slowly make our way down the improvised slide. We had a few hairy moments… Going downstairs at an unexpectedly frightening speed, for instance. Getting stuck on the bend on more than one occasion. But we managed twenty-three trips out, without any major disasters. To museums, galleries and country houses… I’d heard much about Michael’s generosity – of everything from the Concorde trip to the Lyndhurst charity – and experienced it first-hand with National Theatre tickets, lunches and even a stay at Hartwell House. Michael seemed most impressed by the simple things – our long walks through Regent’s Park, taking in the sun and looking at the flowers – and he really loved Tate Modern – probably our best day out where the floors are made for wheelchairs and he could glide – I could wheel him one-handed while he held my other hand, indicating what he wanted to look at next. We even got to Hardwick End a few times and on a gorgeous day went around the garden looking at the statues and water features. When Michael was too weak to come downstairs, I felt honoured that on occasions when Anthony needed to be elsewhere, Michael let me bring him lunch and sit with him. He was a good man. I liked him a lot. I wish I’d known him earlier in his life. I’ll save the story of the twenty-three trips back upstairs for another day, and tell you my abiding memory…. Of sitting in the back of a car, on a busy road heading out of London, stuck in traffic and staring at the backs of Michael’s and Anthony’s heads… Suddenly the traffic in the parallel lane started to move – we were passed by a luxurious continental coach with the improbable logo S.O.S. emblazoned along the side. Anthony and Michael only had to glance at each other before collapsing into helpless giggles at the inappropriate name for a coach company. Sixty years together and they were slapping each other’s thighs and laughing like drains. That’s how I’d like to remember Michael – laughing in the car.

 

And so to our final speaker, the man who first met Michael in Cambridge in 1953, who moved in with him in Regents Park Terrace three years later, and has lived with him at their house in Lyndhurst Gardens since 1958 – Anthony Skyrme.

 

Anthony Skyrme

 

Thank you, Anthony. Now with all those memories and reflections fresh in your minds, would you like to take a moment to remember Michael in your own way, in thought or in prayer? Moment of reflection We’re approaching the end of our ceremony. You have been reminded of some of Michael’s most notable achievements, and you’ve heard from each of our speakers evocative vignettes, personal impressions and memories that will resonate for a long time.

 

William Wordsworth put it like this:

And when the stream that overflows has passed,

A consciousness remains upon the silent shore of memory;

Images and precious thoughts that shall not be

And cannot be destroyed.

 

In that sense, Michael Schofield remains very much alive. Those images and precious thoughts are yours and will remain yours as long as you live. On top of that, there is all of his work, the books, the tapes, the TV appearances and the historical record. And the enduring contribution of the Lyndhurst Settlement – including the small charities that have gone on to greater things and will continue to benefit people for many more years. Your lives are richer for the part Michael played in them, and the lives of many others who never knew him will be better too. Michael Schofield was an enduring force for tolerance and understanding. Thank you all for coming today to honour an exceptional person. Exit music

One response »

  1. papadlucien says:

    Hello, thank you for sharing this.

    I had heard of Micheal from my dad, a nephew of Michael. I now regret not having gone with dad on a “boring” visit to the “old” uncle. Seems the uncle was not at all boring !

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