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A figure from our past emerges to tell a wonderful Titanic tale

Posted on 14 June 2011 | 6:06am

A long time ago a man named Christopher Ward became a very important person in my life. I have often thought that if my meeting with him 30-odd years ago had not gone so well, I might never have become a Daily Mirror trainee journalist, and so I might never have met Fiona. If I had never met Fiona we would not have had the children we have. And if I had not trained on the Mirror, I might never have become the political journalist I became, which is the route that led me to politics and all that followed.

So I often think that Chris Ward, Ernie Burrington, Peter Thompson, Dan Ferrari and the other Mirror execs who interviewed would-be Mirror trainees way back when were pivotal figures in our lives.

I remember my interview with Chris for the fact that a copy of Forum magazine, in which lurked one of my pieces, was on his desk. Oh God, I thought – he knows! But it turned out he had read it, and thought it was, er, ok, and quite enterprising that I had turned my hand to sex writing as a student.

By the time we had finished our training two years later – by now I had met Fiona and we were living together – Chris was editor of the Daily Express and he offered her a job, thereby becoming pivotal in our lives once more.

… And then the trail went a little cold … he left newspapers and went into magazine publishing … then a couple of years ago I bumped into him, and later when I was speaking at The Borders book festival  out of the blue Chris contacted us to say he lived nearby and we should meet up. So we did, and had a very nice time.

At the time I was promoting my early diaries and my first novel (volume 3 of the diaries is published early next month btw and I have decided not to do too much by way of media promotion so please do tell your friends). Chris meanwhile was working on a book he intended to publish for his kids and grandchildren, about his own grandfather, who was a violinist in the band which played on board the Titanic.

Two years on, I have just read it. Thankfully, it has been snapped up by a publisher and is now reaching an audience far wider than the Ward family. Indeed it has made it into the Sunday Times top ten, and I confidently predict it will be there for a while.

There have been many many books about the Titanic. What is terrific about this one is that in addition to telling the basic story of the sinking, with some wonderful colour about the band, and some chilling insights into the role of class in the whole ghastly story, Chris has researched in real depth the story of his own grandfather, Jock Hume. So it has become a story not just of the disaster but the lasting impact on those his grandfather left behind – a fiance who was carrying Jock’s child (Chris Ward’s mother), a horrible father who hated said fiance and would get up to all sorts of nastiness to cheat her of money from the various disaster funds, Jock’s sister who hated her father and would later fake the death of a third sibling to try to punish her father and her equally hated stepmother.

It is no surprise to me having read the book that the rights have been sold for a two part drama documentary. It really is a gripping and moving account not just of the sinking of the Titanic, and the wretched class system which bedevilled the aftermath, but of the impact upon the survivors and dependants. What started out as a story for his family has become something for all of us. I read it in two sittings, and was immersed from the first page. I learned a lot about the Titanic, and a lot about British and especially Scottish society at the time.

And if my commendation all sounds a bit over the top, and you think I’m just paying back someone who helped me get into journalism, and gave Fiona her first big break, well there you go. What goes around comes around. It is a very good book and I am delighted to plug it for him.

*And the Band Played On by Christopher Ward, Hodder and Stoughton £20

  • Hate to say this but your right, there was an article on it in the papers, it had it all, Titanic, Edwardian Class system, families at War, might just buy the book. I guess you can be right once and while, long time in between!

  • Thomas Hart

    It is interesting how people in our lives caan weave in and out. The minister who married me and my wife moved to Australia shortly after our wedding. we met him last year – 23 yrs after our wedding – on holiday in New Zealand

  • Todd Jackett

    Most of the younger generation will know the Titanic story from the love story of Kate Winslet and Leonardo Di Caprio. That is the power of cinema. But it is a distorting power. As Mr Ward appears to be saying – I shall definitely read his book – the class system operated at every level of his tragedy, to a shaming degree. And I cannot help thinking that too much of the class structure, particularly with Cameron now in power and the Royals having a revival,  prevails

  • Colin Lyle

    I am impressed how much you seem to be able to do with your time, and still read books. I read about three books a year, on holiday, and wish I read more. I will try to get this one because I am something of  a Titanic student from my days as a history student in Liverpool

  • Ehtch

    Ah yes, Forum booklet of titilation. Remember it well for my teenage years. It used to pop up in my dad’s bedroom side cabinet. I am sure there are several copies in the attic left as we speak.

  • simon

    Wonderful, isn’t it ? A ship sinks 100 years ago and one of us manages to turn even that into a swipe at Cameron !

  • Dave Simons

    ‘And I cannot help thinking that too much of the class structure,
    particularly with Cameron now in power and the Royals having a revival, 
    prevaiIs.’

    I assume you’re referring to the above quotation? You miss the point. Todd is talking about the class structure or system and comparing the situation in 1911 with that of 2011. With Cameron’s toffocracy in government and a Royalist revival, it seems that not much has changed in a hundred years. Anyway, Cameron could do with a few swipes – he hasn’t had many in the last few years.

  • Keane Sinéad

    As much as it pains me to agree with you,it sounds like a rather interesting book.As a history buff I think it will be on my list when I get my next group of books.

  • Yonks

    Funny don’t you think that Tony Blair, the quiet multi-millionaire, or Shaun Woodword are never referred to as toffs…..

  • Dave Simons

    Neither Woodward nor Blair are scions of the British aristocracy. Cameron and Clegg have connections with Royalty. There is a big difference between middle class meritocrats and upper class twits, as Monty Python expressed so well a few decades back. What ought to be a matter of great public concern is the fact that there are families like the Manners, the Grosvenors and the Fitzalan-Howards who still dominate land ownership in the UK nearly a thousand years after their ancestors supposedly held Duke William’s lance at Hastings during the last successful invasion of these islands by foreign adventurers. I think you, Yonks, will be greatly concerned by that.

  • Yonks

    Why? Why do you think I’ll be greatly concerned when I’d rather live in the here and now than the past.
    You might be correct, they might be twits but, so what? The fact that their families have been around for as long as yours and mine means diddly squat…yours is the politics of envy Dave.

  • Gilliebc

    Yonks you may not be concerned.  But, I don’t think you’ve entirely grasped the whole picture.  It has nothing to do with the “politics of envy” as you call it.
    Living in the here and now, as you say is completely dominated by past events.  History is not a separate and irrelevant part of “today”  History has ensured that there always has been a social and financial divide and always will be. 

  • Gilliebc

    Yonks you may not be concerned.  But, I don’t think you’ve entirely grasped the whole picture.  It has nothing to do with the “politics of envy” as you call it.
    Living in the here and now, as you say is completely dominated by past events.  History is not a separate and irrelevant part of “today”  History has ensured that there always has been a social and financial divide and always will be. 

  • Dave Simons

    Absolute unadulterated rubbish! On the admittedly rare occasions when I’ve met members of the British upper class I’ve been very unimpressed rather than envious – except by a drop-out member of the Guinness family I met once who was very interested in the radical psychotherapist, Carl Rogers. He was doing a bit of a George Orwell and working on the assembly line in Ford’s, Dagenham, and good for him in every sense. I have no aspiration to live in any of the many great houses I’ve visited and have some difficulty in understanding why anyone else does. After all, surely this world is just a passing through place and no-one takes a single brick or fraction of an acre over to ‘the other side’. Mind you I’m glad to hear you live in the here and now because you’ll therefore appreciate that it’s impossible to understand the here and now without some attempt to understand where here and now came from.

  • Dave Simons

    Absolute unadulterated rubbish! On the admittedly rare occasions when I’ve met members of the British upper class I’ve been very unimpressed rather than envious – except by a drop-out member of the Guinness family I met once who was very interested in the radical psychotherapist, Carl Rogers. He was doing a bit of a George Orwell and working on the assembly line in Ford’s, Dagenham, and good for him in every sense. I have no aspiration to live in any of the many great houses I’ve visited and have some difficulty in understanding why anyone else does. After all, surely this world is just a passing through place and no-one takes a single brick or fraction of an acre over to ‘the other side’. Mind you I’m glad to hear you live in the here and now because you’ll therefore appreciate that it’s impossible to understand the here and now without some attempt to understand where here and now came from.

  • Yonks

    Gillie, I well understand ‘our’ history and how it has shaped all of us but you should note Dave’s view about toffocracy and a royalist revival. He makes it sound like the Queen is going to come riding over the hill demanding her tithes be paid by us serfs!

  • Yonks

    Dave, I’m very pleased for you in your contact with the British upper class but really, so what? I’m sure all of your encounters thought equally of you.

    Probably the only thing we will agree on is that we will most certainly not be taking anything with us….

  • Dave Simons

    Much as the Queen loves horses she doesn’t need to come riding over any hill demanding anything – it’s all built into the law of the land and the tax system.

  • Gilliebc

    Hi Yonks,  I had to smile at your last sentence regarding the Queen riding over the hills demanding payment from the serfs, what a mental picture that conjures up!  I couldn’t resist giving you a “like” for that alone.

    The big problem is though, that this image is not really that far from the truth.  There was a time when I thought in a similar way to you about the way our lives are “governed” but I know different now.  I don’t think you will agree with my final paragraph because some of your other previous comments have been rather anti-unions.  All I ask is that you do not dismiss it on sight, maybe do a little investigation of your own and don’t rely on the mainstream media for acurate information.  They just broadcast and write what they are allowed to.

    If it wasn’t for strong unions such as the FBU and other well known unions
    the ordinary decent working people would indeed be still be living in serfdom.
    A return to serfdom is exactly what many of the elite want to happen.  The unions will fight to the bitter end to ensure this does not happen and I for one support them 100%  They are all that stands between us and them!
    If this Government thinks that the ordinary hard working people are going to sacrifice their hard-earned pensions to pick-up the bill incured by avaricious unprincipled bankers, they have got another think coming!

  • Dave Simons

    Yonks, if you keep saying ‘so what?’ it rather negates what you’ve said before it. How can you be ‘very pleased’ for me with my contact with the British upper class if it’s such an irrelevant and unimportant experience? Are you always very pleased that people should have such useless experiences or does your left hand not know what your right hand is doing?

  • Gilliebc

    Hi Dave,  I posted a comment in reply to Yonks a couple of hours ago, saying pretty much the same as you just have only with more words, as usual for me!  and then some.  Your succinct reply says it all.

    Attention MODERATOR/S  The post I refer to in the above paragraph is the 3rd post of mine to go “missing” in the past 10 days or so.  It’s not as if I ever say anything controversial, so why am I being censored?  I suppose it could be down to a technical clitch.  Anyone else had any problems perchance?

  • Yonks

    Gillie, Thanks for the ‘like’, I think it’s only the second or third time I’ve received one on here….I understand where you’re coming from with regard to the unions and you’re partially correct in believing I wouldn’t agree. I worked in a heavily unionised industry for a very long time and am sorry to say, in my opinion, they brought about more job losses than the management.
    I think you’ll find that the present government wants the workforce to contribute ‘fairly’, not unlike the previous government which also managed to screw up private pension funds in one fell swoop by the less than wonderful Brown.

  • Yonks

    Dave,

    I think you need to, as the police would say, ‘move on sir’. You’re now arguing semantics…

  • Gilliebc

    Yonks, I think you make a fair point there about some unions!
    I believe it’s only right to take a close look at the leadership of all unions,
    to see exactly where they are coming from.  e.g. are they simply just “commie bastards” and not really working in the interests of the membership.
    Why does life have to be so complicated, I wonder.

  • Judy66

    Reading it now on your recommendation!  Can’t put it down!