Tag Archives: Walking

The Gaits of Memory: the way they walked. Part two

carringtonIn part one we looked at the way John Thaw tried to disguise a leg injury he had sustained as a teenager. Later on in his audition for RADA he had played Richard III with a limp and as Morse he had tried to disguise his limp. But some actors can easily affect a certain gait for dramatic affect. Both Alec Guinness and Laurence Olivier maintained that once they had got the walk right the rest of the role fell into place. In an adaptation of Ivy Compton Burnett’s ‘A Family and a Fortune’ Guinness had to leave a room to get out into the cold. The way he flung a scarf round his neck and trod stutteringly before leaving told you everything you needed to know about the climatic conditions and preparing to brave them.

Gielgud was once seen coming out of L’Etoile in Charlotte Street. His grey Rolls Royce awaited him. He had to cover about three metres. The only word for what he did is ‘process’. There is a funny scene in ‘Cage aux Folles’ ( the American version is better in this instance ) when one of the guys does the ‘John Wayne Walk ‘ in order to appear a proper heterosexual. He does it perfectly—but somehow it is very camp. At least one burglar  has been arrested because  his distinctive John Wayne style swagger  had been caught on CCTV. Cowboys also walked with bow legs, which is obviously an occupational distinction like that of sailors, with their ‘rolling gait’. The TV detective Hercules Poirot, as played by David Suchet, affected a rather silly short-paced walk  and we all know how John Cleese played the civil servant at the Ministry of Silly Walks. Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) , CIA head in Homeland affects a memorably fast and determined walk with plenty of arm movement.. The actor Richard Beckinsale, well known for his parts in ‘Rising Damp’ and ‘Porridge ‘, used hardly to pick his feet off the ground. He shuffled.

We’d surely all like to know a little more about how certain writers and artists walked. Unlike most ‘ celebs ‘ they are generally invisible to the public, unless they take part in literary conferences, symposia and arts festivals. Does anyone know how Grayson Perry, Tracey Emin or Martin Amis walk ? The novelist Frederick Raphael is very tall and affects what might be called a don’s stoop, though why fellows of Oxford and Cambridge colleges should be more likely to stoop while walking hasn’t been explained. Perhaps it’s just the tall male ones who stoop. A few writers may have had disabilities which affected the way they walked. Bruce Cummings ( aka ‘W. B. Barbellion’) developed disseminated sclerosis early in his life, so his gait must have been unusual. Alex Pope’s scoliosis must also have been reflected in his walk, though there are few, if any, references to it. As for Charles Dickens, the last five years of his life were blighted by the extreme pain he suffered in his left foot through what Dr Chris McManus describes in a recent article in the Lancetas a ‘right parietal temporal disorder ‘, which might have heralded  the stroke which eventually killed him at the age of 58. Many of his friends had diagnosed gout, but the symptoms that affected other parts of his left-hand side, such as his hand and eye, suggest otherwise. The gait of Dickens must have been severely affected by this affliction and indeed those with something similar or who suffered with gout, would have had distinctive ways of walking. Continue reading

The Gaits of Memory: The Way They Walked

2-P21-W1-1910-7 (125401) 'Wandervögel stimmt die Saiten / lasst uns wacker vorwärtsschreiten (...)' Jugendbewegung / Wandervogel. - 'Wandervögel stimmt die Saiten / lasst uns wacker vorwärtsschreiten (...)'. - Bildpostkarte nach Aquarell von Paul Hey (1867-1952). Nr.77 der Serie: Volksliederkarten von Paul Hey, Dresden (Verlag des Vereins für das Deutschtum im Ausland) o.J. E: 'Wandervögel stimmt die Saiten, lasst uns wacker vorwärtsschreiten (...)' Education / Youth Movements / Wandervogel. - 'Wandervögel stimmt die Saiten, lasst uns wacker vorwärtsschreiten (...)', Song lyrics. - / Postcard after a water colour by Paul Hey (1867-1952). No.77 of the series: Folk song cards by Paul Hey, Dresden (Verlag des Vereins für das Deutschtum im Ausland), undated.


The way famous people in history walked—their gaits—is not given as much attention as the subject deserves. Why did people walk in a particular way? Was it something to do with their legs—their ankles—since surely ankles do play a major part in how we move ourselves around. Is a limp being disguised? Is one leg shorter than another? Do two short or two long legs require one to move in a certain way? Or—more likely than any of these—is one’s gait determined by one’s personality? Why do some men ‘ mince ‘ ? Is there really something called the ‘ Mancunian swagger ‘, most famously seen in the walk of pop singer Liam Gallacher. If so, why do people from Manchester have more cause to swagger than, say people from Southampton or Bristol? It was said that William Morris ‘ rolled ‘, as if he were drunk. Wyndham Lewis, who characteristically for a satirist who relied on caricature, memorably described G. K. Chesterton as a ‘ great foaming Toby jug ‘, may have watched him ‘ roll’ out of a room after a drinking session. We don’t know, but someone of Chesterton’s physical dimensions could hardly walk in any other way. Edgar Wallace, very rich and very unfit, is said to have employed a couple of men to prop him up on both sides on his journey from his limousine to a club or restaurant and back. He could not be bothered to walk…

People sometimes put on a walk for effect, but it is hard for most to sustain this for long.‘ You forgot to limp ‘, someone reminds a friend who wishes to appear mildly disabled for a certain reason. Instead we revert to our usual gait. Walks are divided into certain types, as we shall now see:

The skip

The very beautiful Mavis de Vere Cole, once the young wife of the famous practical joker Horace de Vere Cole, captured the heart of archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler, who noticed that she moved with a very pronounced skipping motion. The couple married, but it is not known whether the skipping motion persisted during their years together, which were not long, as Wheeler was not a faithful husband.

The glide

Very few men ‘glide’, it would seem. It appears to be confined mainly to women. ‘She glided out of the room ‘, is one novelistic convention that conveys very fast movement without apparent effort. But some real women have been noticed gliding. The servant girl Sarah Walker, with whom poor William Hazlitt —almost old enough to be her father—was smitten for over two years moved with a strange gliding walk which Hazlitt found entrancing but others thought sinister. Here is Hazlitt, writing on Walker’s gait in Liber Amoris ( 1823), which unflinchingly records the whole sorry infatuation:

“Your ordinary walk is as if you were performing some religious ceremony; you come up to my table of a morning, when you merely bring in the tea things as if you were advancing to the altar. You move in minuet time: you measure every step, as if you were afraid of offending in the smallest things.’

But Hazlitt’s friend Bryan Waller Proctor was less entranced:
‘Her movements in walking were very remarkable, for I never observed her to make a step. She went onwards in a sort of wavy, sinuous manner, like the movements of a snake…’ More recently Michael Jackson’s Moon Walk had the effect of gliding… Continue reading

Walking with G.M. Trevelyan (1910s)

Found– Walking by G.M. (George Macaulay) Trevelyan* (Mitchell, Hartford, Dry_stone_wall_20Connecticut 1928)  – a special American edition. The great historian ‘s paean to the joys of walking (” I have two doctors, my left leg and my right..’) was published first as an essay in 1913 in Clio, a muse, and other essays literary and pedestrian and the American introduction  by J. Brooks Atkinson notes that the walking world has changed much since then: “..the motor car has completely separated the walkers from the riders. It lays a new responsibility upon the walkers to conduct themselves nobly in God’s light.. they cannot be road walkers now, like Stevenson, since roads have  become arteries -hardened arteries- of traffic. They are pushed willy-nilly into the hills, meadows and woods beyond the clatter and the evil fumes of the highway..” (he then launches an attack on the new walking clubs- ‘their walking is a bastard form of motoring.’) Trevelyan’s essay recalls a  world now largely lost, although our great modern walkers (Iain Sinclair, Robert Macfarlane, Will Self) still find great places to ramble. GMT writes:

The secret beauties of Nature are un-veiled only to the cross-country walker. Pan would not have appeared to Pheidippides on a road. On the road we never meet the “moving accidents by flood and field ” : the sudden glory of a woodland glade ; the open back-door of the old farmhouse sequestered deep in rural solitude ; the cow routed up from meditation behind the stone wall as we scale it suddenly ; the deep, slow, south-country stream that we must jump, or wander along to find the bridge ; the northern torrent of molten peat-hag that we must ford up to the waist, to scramble, glowing warm-cold, up the farther foxglove bank ; the autumnal dew on the bracken and the blue straight smoke of the cottage in the still glen at dawn ; the rush down the mountain side, hair flying, stones and grouse rising at our feet ; and at the bottom the plunge in the pool below the waterfall, in a place so fair that kings should come from far to bathe therein yet is it left, year in year out, unvisited save by us and “troops of stars.”
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