Geoffrey Lee Proposes a Toast

It is my very great honour to propose a toast to the health of Terry Hudson on his fiftieth anniversary, of whom it has been said that at the age of 6 he wanted to be a train driver; at 7 he wanted to be Napoleon, and his ambition has been growing ever since.

50th

The Provincial Grand Master has already referred to the importance of the year 1937. The year in which King George VI was crowned; Billy Butlin opened his first Holiday Camp; George Gershwin died; The Hindenburg crashed; Nylon was patented and Walt Disney produced Show White & the Seven Dwarves. And on 23rd of May, the billionaire oil tycoon and philanthropist John D Rockerfeller died in his penthouse in New York, to make way, as it were, for Terry Hudson. And just like John D Rockerfeller, Terry has spent the last 40 years of his life more or less in retirement.

After a spell in the midlands, his family chose Blackpool to reside in. He is a familiar sight there; staggering with his purchases between Poundland and Primark. But it is perhaps not the town it was. Sonja and I were out shopping with Terry recently in Blackpool and we were entirely unable to find a new commode for him.

Both he and his family (I was fortunate enough to know his dear mother) have always risen above the otherwise unglamorous reputation which the town sometimes has, and indeed had when I went to work there in the 70s. The father of one of my pupils, Syd Gee, was the leading novelty retailer in the town and he once confided in me that the material he sold ‘only had to last until the holidaymakers were on the train home’.

In a most interesting coincidence, Terry attended the same school at which I started my teaching career – Blackpool Grammar School, and I worked with a number of colleagues who had taught him. I am therefore uniquely placed to report on this stage of his career. This is the school where, in my time, the staff were complaining that they could never get hold of the Deputy Head when they had a problem with one of the girls, for whom she was responsible, and from whom she hid. We succeeded in getting her to agree that her timetable would be published weekly. So it was that a notice appeared on the staffroom board informing us that ‘Miss Roberts’ movements will be displayed here every Monday morning.’

Terry’s memories of the Grammar School are mixed. He does not relish the memory of huddling round a coke fire reading works of literature which he felt did not have much to do with the demands of the immediate post-war years when he was at school. And he does recall not being offered the title role of Macbeth in the annual school play with some resentment. Instead he was offered the role of the Porter, and at his hands, in the whole history of the English stage, those six short lines have never taken longer to deliver. Those of his teachers, who were still there when I was, remembered Terry wistfully, with the exception of Jim Wynn, his maths master.

Jim Wynn told me a fascinating story about Terry which illuminates both his intellectual preferences (he is a lover of the arts, which makes all the more regrettable the failure of his first novel, The Thirty-Eight Steps) but also his talentfor getting into trouble. Now while it is obvious to us all that Terry does not have any problems adding up, his talent faded at the upper levels of mathematics, and this was regularly revealed in the termly Maths exams.

In those days, the exams were designed to become more difficult as they went on, and Mr Wynn was marking Terry’s effort at the final question with some irritation, as it was no more than a desultory sprinkling of unrelated numbers and unsuccessful  calculations, followed, somewhat mysteriously, by the word ‘Macbeth’ in the margin. This puzzled Jim Wynn and he made a mental note to speak to Terry about letting the vagaries of English Literature invade the pure realms of mathematical exactitude. But he seems to have forgotten to do so.

The following term, again towards the end of the exam paper, Terry’s maths collapsed into gobbledegook, and there, in the margin, were the words Macbeth Act 1. Now Jim Wynn was not a particularly cultured man but he did recall that Macbeth is a play in which the principal character is persuaded by his wife to stab to death the King of Scotland. Macbeth himself has doubts about carrying out this gory plan and tells his wife so, though she wins in the end. Mr Wynn was puzzled that Hudson should have this matter so obsessively on his mind, and particularly in the maths exam, and he thought about asking the School Chaplain to send for him.

Terry confirms that there was not much dynamism about my former colleagues in that era and so the matter was set aside until the end of year exams when it was particularly important to do well. Mr Wynn had forgotten all about it until he was marking Terry’s paper. Mr Wynn thought he had been particularly ingenious in creating this exam, which would subtly draw forth the latent talent of his class. But it didn’t seem to have worked for Hudson. The calculations dribbled to a halt earlier in the paper than usual, and, this time in red ink, there across the bottom of the script Hudson had written Macbeth, Act 1 Scene 7, line 32.

Mr Wynn rose, shaking, from his desk in the staffroom and crossed to the smoke-filled area inhabited by the English Department and asked to borrow a copy of Macbeth. He took it back to his desk, worried anew for Hudson’s sanity. He thumbed through the play to find the appropriate page, unsure about how to help with Terry’s adolescent uncertainties. Why should his mathematics exams cause him such anxiety? Was Hudson crying out for help? Was he trying to tell him something? He found the page, Act 1, scene 7, line 32 and there is was; there was Hudson’s message, in the very words of Macbeth to his wife, ‘I cannot do this bloody thing’.

History does not record the sanctions imposed by the authorities upon young Hudson, but he did not have much of a future with the Maths department after that.

He went on from school to the National Cash Register Company where he made an upward adjustment of his age in order to get in. It was inevitably detected by the personnel department and Terry, who has met more than his fair share of famous people (only Terry Hudson could meet Cary Grant in a novelty shop in Llanduno), was sent for by the Chairman of NCR, the aloof and terrifying Mr PA Donald. Terry was quite sure that his days with this gigantic multi-national company were about to come ignominiously to an end. Mr Donald was quiet but exact in his questioning, and Terry heard himself admitting that he had lied about his age, to which Mr Donald, with the faintest of smiles, replied, ‘But, Mr Hudson, ladies do it all the time’, and his career with the company went from strength to strength. Another encounter with PA Donald also provided Terry with a motto for life: ‘Good enough, Mr Hudson, is the enemy of all progress’. We all know Terry sufficiently to understand just how much this advice has played a part in his conduct through life.

Other people Terry has met (and he DID meet Cary Grant in a novelty shop in Llandudno – he was buying post cards) include the greatest of all jazz pianists, Oscar Peterson. Terry’s memories of shaking hands with him are vivid. He felt as if he were in the grip of a python. Oscar Peterson could span two octaves on the piano and Terry reports that his hands (quote) ‘were like sausages’. Another encounter was with the American crooner Dick Haymes, little remembered now, but who had a voice as good as Sinatra’s and who was married to Rita Hayworth, the most desired goddess of Hollywood at that time. Under other circumstances he might have remained a superstar, but he fell on hard times and most bizarrely, Terry encountered him in a show on Central Pier, where he was supporting the local Lancashire comedian Al Read. Because he is a sensitive man, Terry is alive to the lessons of such misfortune and he recalls that occasion with poignancy.

But back to commerce! Perhaps Terry’s entrepreneurial peak was reached when, on one day in Wrexham, he sold eleven old but reconditioned cash registers to local shopkeepers. He made a substantial profit but, in that era when prices had started to inflate and many items could cost £1 or more, he did omit to inform his purchasers, that those particular cash registers did not register any sums greater than four and eleven pence halfpenny! Some of those customers would still like to speak to him about this.

Imagine this young man; smart suit: large turn-ups, Aquascutum coat, Homburg hat, a moustache (believe it!), the fragrance of Bay Rum radiating from his hair, a Colgate smile and a pipe full of pungent Balkan Sobranie. Together with certain others present here tonight, he invaded the nightlife of Blackpool, and he quickly became the Fred Astaire of the Tower Ballroom, sweeping women off their feet, and jitterbugging the night away around the other palais de dance.  And armed with his experience at NCR, in what daylight hours were left, he was now working for his father’s substantial hardware business in Blackpool, the full catalogue of wares in his head, touring particularly the north of the county; and even further, to visit the strange people who live beyond Lancaster.

You are missing one of the most rewarding experiences of your life if you have not shared, as have Sonja and I on many occasions, Terry’s long tales of the travelling salesman, the odd persons who were his customers, emerging to meet him, if he was lucky, coated in dust, from the interior caves of hardware shops, and the fascinating lists of sizes and shapes of his hardware catalogue. Did you know, brethren, that there were 3 different sizes of rice plates; 4 sizes of butcher’s trays; 4 oval and 2 round roasting dishes; a bewildering number of galvanised buckets, each for a different purpose, and a huge variety of shovels. But it is when he comes to discuss chamber pots that Terry waxes most lyrical. One has to admire the ingenuity of manufacturers seeking to accommodate, shall we say, all requirements. In  an email to me only last week, Terry reminded me that the Silver Swallow Company alone produced three deluxe non-slip chamberpots, varying in size according to the area to be accommodated.

It was on such travels in the north that he became acquainted with Eddie Stobart, and rather after the fashion of the Provincial Grand Master’s father-in-law who was able to sell stair carpet to people living in bungalows, there are men in this room tonight who can affirm that on one occasion in Grange over Sands, Terry sold a vacuum cleaner to a lady who had neither a carpet nor a socket in which to plug it. He remembers with rapt fondness the coming of plastic and the arrival of newer and bright bread-bins, WC sets and the Prestige Minute Mop, which sold for 19/11d  but, cunningly, for which the refills cost 9/11d; half the cost of the machine itself. So the vendors of computer printing ink didn’t invent that particular ploy!

While working in wholesale chamber-pots, Terry made his first tentative steps into renting out property. In his own words, when he started he did not know a skirting-board from a joist. This was most consuming work and many of us remember that his Saturdays (when he collected his rents) were the busiest and most demanding days of his week. Many, particularly young, people were grateful to him for providing their first pied a terre when they began work or college, and his property was particularly well maintained. But those who attempted to confess themselves unable to pay him in a particular week could expect very long, embarrassing and closely reasoned conversations (such as his Group Chairmen will be familiar with); and the following week, they would make sure they had the cash to hand. He was particularly cunning and successful with those who attempted to fiddle the electricity meter, and it is believed by some that he exercised similar ingenuity with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.

Most of his tenants were mild and quiet people, but I will never forget visiting him on a day when one of his tenants had had to spend the night in the dark as he had no money for the meter, and so Terry had  been chased around one of his flats by a lunatic called Henry Piggins, armed with a standard lamp. Mr Piggins ended his days sectioned in Blackpool Victoria Hospital surrounded by teddy bears. Equally demanding to handle was a self-styled (but unpublished) poetess and clairvoyant called Joan. This lady draped in her kaftan would lurk in Terry’s properties, awaiting his arrival, and spring forth (like the dancer Isadora Duncan) declaiming her latest work; all the while attempting to negotiate Terry towards her bedroom. Despite his love of poetry, Terry would make his excuses and leave. But he still hears from her!

Terry and Sonja are great vacationers. His love of sport, wine and art has taken him to many parts of the civilised world – and to the USA. Those who have holidayed with Terry first have to come to terms with seeing him in shorts; a sight not for the faint-hearted, brethren. (Let us not forget that in his time as one of our leaders of the Royal Arch, it used to take three sturdy men each morning to gird him with the curious girdle of the Ephod.) His favourite spot is New England, but it was on a visit which I shared with him to the wine-growing areas of California that I experienced one of the most revealing episodes of our acquaintance.

Terry is not usually an awkward man. He is usually clear-sighted and accommodating. But he can, of course, make his mind up, and this he did one day as we approached the Californian coast from inland, intending to travel south to Los Angeles. He was driving. When we reached the coastal road, with the Pacific Ocean glinting invitingly in front of us, Terry turned right. That is to say, North.  I imagined that he was making some small personal detour, whose purpose would become clear to us. But half an hour later, and becoming a little uncertain, I heard myself remarking, ‘Terry, when travelling south along the west coast of America, should the sea not be on our right?’

‘Nonsense,’ he replied. Sonja and I looked at each other, while Terry plunged on up the highway.

After a while, Sonja, carefully and in the most friendly tones, suggested, ‘Terry, when travelling south on the west coast of America, should the sea not be on our right?’ He looked at her with the haughty disdain of a geography teacher to whom a pupil had just made a stupid answer. And on he went.

Sonja and I both felt that Terry was in error, and that if we didn’t intervene, we could soon be in Canada, so we asked him to stop, and we engaged him in reasoned conversation from which it became clear that he felt he was driving in the correct direction. In his opinion, and obviously, when travelling south along the west coast of America, the sea should be on your left. Simples. We were clearly lacking any intelligence at all.

At this point we became aware of a figure, about twenty yards from the side of the road. He had a little table in front of him on which was a small selection of flowers wilting in the heat. He has become known since then, in the Hudson Family, as ‘The Mexican Flower Seller’.  Terry saw him, and with the expectation of triumph in his eye he harrumphed and said, ‘I’ll ask that man.’ Full of righteous indignation, he alighted from the car and he proceeded towards the Flower Seller, in his cowboy hat, his surfer’s shorts flapping around his monumental thighs. He was so determined to reach the man that he took no notice of the soft terrain, and as he walked away from us, he appeared to descend further and further into the ground until, with only yards to go, he fell over in a great cloud of Californian dust. He looked at the Mexican Flower seller, and the Mexican Flower seller looked at him.

Terry struggled to his feet and attempted to engage the man in conversation, but it became clear to us back in the car that the Flower seller did not understand a word of what Terry was saying to him, by now  rather loudly. The conversation became animated, but eventually, after much gesticulation, our hearts sank as the flower seller, clearly hoping to rid himself of this troublesome and heated tourist (who showed no interest in buying his flowers) made a large and grand gesture at the end of which, he pointed north. Terry looked round like Oliver Hardy having just proved Stan Laurel wrong, and stumbled back to the car. In a flurry of dust, he revved the engine somewhat  unnecessarily and we carried on, with the sea on our left.

We were all dry as a bone by this time, and in need of refreshment, and so, not saying much to each other, we stopped at a café for a drink and fell into conversation with a cyclist who was touring the state. He was English as it happened and explained that he had much experience of cycling the highways of California. We enjoyed his company and as we bid him farewell he told us he was off to Los Angeles. Terry saw another opportunity for scoring a point and ostentatiously walked to the door to wave the cyclist goodbye. But his expression changed when the cyclist waved back, and set off south, with the sea on his right. Nothing was said. We returned to the car, and through gritted teeth Terry looked at me … and simply growled, ‘You drive!’

And this is the man to whom we have entrusted the leadership of the Province for so long. But, seriously, what leadership we have had, brethren!

Terry has travelled a long way in masonry. He started his Masonic career in quite a different era. He remembers the stiff hierarchy and the expected deference. The places you couldn’t sit in and the people you couldn’t talk to.  An era that is reflected in Brother Tommy Cooper’s remark that he was once a member of a secret society called The Secret Six, which was so secret that he didn’t know the other five.

Brethren, fifty years later, there couldn’t be a more modern Mason than Terry Hudson; more popular or more sought after for advice. This is a great achievement from which we all benefit. His judgement and authority are natural and sensible. Perhaps he bears in his cautious mind the futility of Pope Pius X who, in 1903, attempted to ban the saxophone.

Since leaving his first Chair, in which he served for two years, Terry Hudson has spent only two weeks not a Provincial Officer. A Grand Officer for half of his Masonic life, Terry Hudson has, in my view, simply the finest Masonic mind I have ever known. He is naturally a Mason and it is our very great good fortune to have had him with us for fifty years. Terry we all congratulate you on your Jubilee, and we toast your continuing good health.