An occasional series in which a member of the academic community recalls an early encounter with a fellow academic some years older than themselves.
A Fellow of St Radegund's College, Cambridge writes:
Your recent reference to the somewhat neglected Cambridge don Dr Kenwood Chefe brought back memories of my days as a Junior Fellow of St Radegund's in the late 1970s. By then Dr Chefe was quite an old man (old men being, on the whole, older for their years then than they are now). I suppose he would have been in his early 80s though such was his Methuselah-like presence that he could have been 100 for all I knew!
As a Junior Fellow, it was my privilege to empty the spittle-can after combination in the SCR each evening and, being a life-long smoker of the Passing Cloud Turkish cigarettes which circulated freely during our post-prandial port and conversation gatherings, Dr Chefe was a major contributor to the "pot". This gave me ample opportunity to observe him as well as to ask the odd (probably impertinent) question as I stooped before him.
As I recall, he was unfailingly civil if a little brusque. He was not, for example, a man to use ten words where two would do, though his use of a well known two-word expletive was largely confined to situations in which he had come to the end of and perhaps "lost" an argument with one of the other Fellows.
More than anything I recall: [a] his likeness to his portrait under which he generally sat at dinner - it was almost stereoscopic, [b] his penchant for white fish, rice pudding and any other white foods [it was rumoured that this was because such comestibles could disappear into his beard without leaving obvious evidence of their presence], [c] his riveting conversation about the chicken and egg conundrum which he had apparently solved and shared with only three other persons (alas not me!), [d] a certain "aura" which tended to mean there were more than usually generous spaces between him and his dining companions, [e] his generous habit when he found himself dining alone of inviting one of the younger and more attractive male undergraduates to join him on High Table and [f] his boast that it was almost impossible to traverse the floor of his private rooms without navigating head-height piles of expensive and hard-to-find magazines.
Sociable on his own terms, he was unquestionably a character and one I sorely missed from about 1985 onwards once I realised that he had died in 1982*.
PS I now also recall that he spoke a good deal about one of his pupils - I believe it was a young Dorset chap - by the name of Thrupiece - who he claimed to have mentored and on whom he believed he had exerted a very great influence. He said that this Thrupiece chap had, in turn, idolized him as a younger man and had, in addition to once sending him some Green Shield Stamps, shared his passion for esoteric literature. Thrupiece had also, apparently, commissioned a portrait in a style similar to his own. I cannot vouch for the last of these but am told that a portrait of Professor Thrupiece "in the style of Ianuarii John" can be found somewhere in Alma Mater College.
* Like many Cambridge colleges, St Radegunds makes much of its claim to being "small and friendly" [Ed]