Amusing Names 3

The first time I encountered the comical name Hubert was in West Cumbria, when I was about 10, and started reading the Just William books of Richmal Crompton, to which I became rapidly and joyously addicted. They became so much a part of my world and imagination, I regularly dreamed that I discovered non-existent titles, as before too long I had read almost the whole substantial oeuvre. Anarchic William aged 11 and his friends, Ginger, Henry and Douglas, had a gang significantly  called The Outlaws, which also included William’s mongrel dog Jumble. They were opposed by a weedy gang of sneaks and Mummy’s boys, whose improbable name The Laneites, was that of the eponymous leader, a fat, spiteful  and perfidious boy called Hubert Lane. The only other Laneite I was recall was his speccy adjutant Bertie Franks, and all in all they were a half-hearted opposition to William’s astounding charisma and his loyal Outlaws. The fact that William was a solidly middle class boy whose parents had servants, and yet amazingly he went to a village school and talked demotic, and dropped his aitches, never bothered me, but it must have presented compositional problems to Crompton, who was also after all a would-be serious novelist. To compromise, when the Outlaws got involved in a pretend General Election, William who was never without grubby knees and a catapult, and in every respect a dauntless and angry Outlaw, without a second thought presented himself as a Conservative, and needless to say won the mock Election.

By contrast Hubert Selby Jr (1928-2004) was a rebel of another colour. 6 years after DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover escaped successful prosecution, in 1967 Selby’s 1964 novel Last Exit to Brooklyn was tried in the UK for obscenity. The book was found guilty, but freed on appeal, and one who spoke up in its favour was Anthony Burgess. Filmed very effectively in 1989 by Uli Edel, the novel recounts the low lives of NY longshoremen and features pimps, prostitutes, homosexuals and drug addicts, and spares nothing in terms of graphic sexual detail, gang rapes and heroin use. Selby himself became addicted to heroin, having been given it in hospital after a botched TB operation, which almost killed him. However, after 1967 he effectively kicked the habit, and even refused morphine as pain relief on his death bed. Supported by a working wife for many years, and bedridden with the aftermath of TB, he was encouraged by another Bert, his friend the author Gilbert Sorrentino, to become a writer rather than waste away lying on his back. A lifelong fan of the Chicago Cubs earned him his unusually gentle nickname ‘Cubby’. However gentleness was a long way away from his 1971 novel The Room which recounts the mind and musings of a criminally insane man who has been locked away in total isolation. Almost as if someone else had authored it, Selby described it as one of the most frightening books ever written, and was unable to read it for decades after it was published.

Other excellent folk called Hubert, include the black Texas jazzman Hubert Laws, born in 1939,  who is the doyen of living jazz flautists, but also has recorded Faure and Stravinsky and Bach for flute. In the 1970s he was a member of the New York Jazz Quartet and he has also recorded with virtually everyone in the rock and soul, as well as jazz and classical  worlds: Herbie (aka Herbert) Hancock, Aretha Franklin, Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, and not forgetting the cruelly murdered jazz bass genius Jaco Pastorius, formerly of Joe Zawinul’s legendary fusion band, Weather Report.

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