Some anecdotes from Harold Murray’s Kaleidoscope

Oscar_Browning_(crop)Joe and Arthur Rank


“The richest man I ever knew was Joseph Rank, the flour miller whose quiet son, Arthur Rank, the film magnate, is so much in the news today. There were only three lines about ‘Joe Rank’ in Who’s Who. He was said at one time to be worth twenty millions. No one knows how many millions he gave away. Again and again I heard him say he stayed in business as an octogenarian in order to make money to give away. He refused titles and honours except the freedom if the city of Hull…This remarkable man had his little eccentricities, as millionaires generally do have. He told me he couldn’t stand journalists; they were always telling lies about him…In the ’14-18 war he handed over, it was said, a few million pounds to a Board of Trustees for the extension of Methodism. One of the last occasions on which I met Mr Arthur Rank was at the opening of a Methodist milk bar in Battersea, when he, with his wife, served behind the counter. His interest in films began when he warmly supported a campaign for religious films …”


Oscar Browning


“One of the most interesting men I then met at Bexhill was Oscar Browning (above right)  the famous “ O.B.” of Cambridge, a plump, bald-headed, Pickwickian little man, who, when over eighty years of age, would go down to the sea very early in the morning and bathe, whatever the weather.
One morning when I went to see him he was explaining that he had no family connection with Robert Browning and as going on to describe the literary work on which he was engaged, when a barrel organ struck up outside. “O.B.” rushed to the window and cried, “Hurray ! I love that Italian tune. Isn’t it jolly” and he threw the hurdy-gurdy man a smile and a sixpence. Of course, I shall have to drag in here once more the familiar Cambridge epigram:


O.B., O.B., if we should see

Your girth still more increase,

You then would be, my dear O.B.

Not once, but two obese


He never pretended to be adverse to publicity. I have a post-card he sent me from Florence on which he had scrawled, “Seize any opportunity to give a leg-up to my latest work. I am now writing a history of Medieaval Italy.” The unkindest of the many references to him in biographies is, I think, that of G. Orioli in “Adventures of a Bookseller.” He says of O.B. “ He was an insufferable snob, and altogether the wrong kind of Englishman. He stayed in Florence at a small pension in the Piazzo Santo Sprito, calling busily upon everyone in the town whom he considered worthy of that honour…that repulsive talking machine, that self-satisfied old idiot, that old humbug…we were afraid lest this terrible infliction should settle down in Florence for good, but he went to Rome and died there.”


Murray on sketching


“I always had a mania for sketching. At Grimsby in the ‘nineties I scrawled political cartoons on little chalk plates and they were published. Forty years afterwards I was still doing caricatures. At a Communist meeting, addressed by Professor Haldane I did one of him; the chairman put it up for auction and it fetched 10/- and was put up again—and again. I think I was first inspired to attempt this sort of thing in Hackney in 1888, when I was taken to a schoolroom somewhere and saw a clever young fellow doing lightning sketches of Dickens characters . That artist became distinguished in later years as Sir John Benn. I always thought Low to be the funniest cartoonist of our time, but Giles is great. I often used to meet F. Carruthers Gould in Fleet Street, but if he lived today there would not be much demand for such drawing as he turned out—too wooden, like Tenniel’s…”

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