An unusual item found among the archives at Jot HQ the other day is an eighteen page Xeroxed typescript bound in cloth and illustrated with rather poor Xeroxes of various art works. Entitled Diverse paths lead diverse folk to Rome, it narrates a fortnight’s vacation in the Eternal City during May 1955. This particular copy was presented to the author’s travelling companion, the eighty year-old ‘Nell’ Hill.
The author, who identifies himself at the end of the narrative, was M. T. Tudsbery (‘Tud’), formerly the BBC’s Civil Engineer, and the man who in 1932, with the architect George Val Meyer, was responsible for Broadcasting House, the iconic BBC HQ in Langham Place. The other companion on this trip was Alan Campbell Don (1885 – 1966), who was Dean of Westminster at the time. Nell was his cousin.
It goes without saying that for the Dean this was not his first visit to Rome. However, for Nell the occasion was a double first —it was her debut flight and her first trip to the Italian capital. Not so unusual for someone born in 1875. What is far more astonishing is the fact that this was also Tudsbery’s first visit. It would seem that this civil engineer, who must have studied the history of architecture, had never deemed it necessary to explore a city of such amazing and significant buildings –which included one structure, the Pantheon, which had been built by Hadrian himself, and had survived totally intact.
Tudsbery’s previous lack of exposure to the wonders of Rome may go some way to explaining his childlike enthusiasm for everything he encounters–from the Colosseum and the Pantheon to the paintings of Fra Angelico, Carravagio and Raphael. In contrast, as a civil engineer he was quick to notice all the inadequacies of the various ‘modern’ buildings in the city although he also admired scale of the main railway station. Tudsbery also had a good ear for the amusing anecdote. At the Colosseum he overheard an American tourist express amazement at the extent of the bomb damage inflicted by German aircraft on this ancient building!
The tour of Rome had features in common with those made by the upper classes taking the Grand Tour in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Here was a respected figure in the hierarchy of the world famous British Broadcasting Corporation taking in the sights of a World City in the company of a highly placed official of the Anglican Church and his cousin. The relationship between the Dean of Westminster and Tudsbery is not explained, but it is quite obvious that Don held a powerful sway with certain officials within the Church of Rome. In one instance we learn that he kept a date with a certain Monseigneur Mostin in his Vatican flat. On one Sunday, as if in penance for their obsequies towards the Catholic faith, all three visit the English Church.‘ During the service ‘, Tudsbery reflected, ‘my thoughts wandered: I compared the Protestant faith, into which I was baptised, with the vastness and solidarity of the Church of Rome. I thought of the strange ways of the Roman Church : its plenary indulgences …its Papal Blessings “ to order ”.
The narrative concludes with the cost of the whole fortnight. It is interesting to compare the price in 1955 of a flight to Rome and back with that of a lo-cost outfit today. Tudsbery paid £52 for a return ticket at a time when his salary would have been around £100 a month. [RMH]