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I once met… Ian Hamilton

I first encountered Ian Hamilton (1938 – 2001), poet, critic and famously combative editor of The Review, via Geoffrey Grigson. That is, I discovered that he’d once done an interview with Grigson and that this wonderful piece of barbed writing had been reproduced in Grigson’s The Contrary View.

I never expected to meet the man himself. I assumed that he might be difficult to pin down to a time and place, and so I left it at that. After all, I had the printed interview, which was probably all I needed. Then it occurred to me that as he lived in London I could at least write to him and see if he was willing to meet me. I think I got as far as finding his address in Wimbledon. I duly wrote. He replied, but no date was fixed…

Time passed, but around late 1994 I was glancing through the newspaper and I found a photograph of someone ( I forget his name ) who  was the spitting image of Ossie Ardiles, the Argentinian mid-fielder who was then managing  Spurs. A bit of lateral thinking led me to an extraordinary decision. Ian Hamilton was a fanatical Spurs supporter. I would go to his address and present him with this newspaper clipping. It would be an ice-breaker and hopefully might lead to a formal interview.

So, after a few weeks I did just that. I made my way to Hamilton’s rather comfortable Edwardian house in Wimbledon and gazed through the window. There he was, sitting around the dining table with a number of people, including a woman of Asian appearance who I later found out was his second wife, Ahdaf Soueif, an Egyptian novelist. I boldly marched up to the door with my clipping of ‘Ossie Ardiles’ and rang the bell. I seem to recall that Hamilton himself answered, but I can’t be sure. Anyway, I announced myself and, with the minimal explanation, handed over the clipping. He did smile. He might even have laughed. It was all over in two minutes. He told me that he had dinner guests, but asked me to phone or write with a view to an interview. I never did write. Sadly, he died a few years later. [RMH]

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