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Standing up for Anthony Blunt


Speaking out in defense of the truth
Brian Sewell Writer
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Why am I outspoken? I don’t know. I think it goes back a very long way. My childhood and my education. I think the instruction always to tell the truth was constant, and there were ways of not telling the truth, which were silence. And that was as bad as lying. In other words, one should tell the truth when it is necessary to tell it. And I think that was partly my educational background and partly my religious background.

And I bring that up because there was an occasion at my school when a master who was a conscientious objector, which was not a problem, but he was also very 'low church' preacher, in his private life. He was Welsh, and he belonged to one of those strange Welsh congregations, and he persuaded our headmaster, probably because there was a shortage of masters or something, that he should teach us religious instruction. And it reached a pitch with him where I remember – I was about 15, certainly not more. I remember standing up, very, very angry, and saying to him, 'You have no right to deny the transubstantiation of the Host. It is what Catholics believe in, it is fundamental to our belief, and you should not just put it down as a piece of bread and a sip of wine. And I will not'… I don’t know what the word was, but I remember saying, I will not put up with it or stay with it, and walked out of the classroom.

And in the strict order of things, I think there should have been quite a ruckus about that; I had disobeyed all the rules. But… his name was Barling. Taffy Barling. At least, we called him Taffy. How odd to be able to remember that.

Anyway, he did nothing. He didn’t report me to the headmaster, there was no disciplining for my indiscipline. And I got away with it. And I have to say, he had either the decency or the common sense not again to directly attack the rituals of the Roman Catholic Church. So I won a small battle, but I… everything in my background said, this is a point at which you have to take the risk. And I think the next point at which I took such a risk was much, much later, over Anthony Blunt. It was again a matter of principle. So it’s always been there.

Born in England, Brian Sewell (1931-2015) was considered to be one of Britain’s most prominent and outspoken art critics. He was educated at the Courtauld Institute of Art and subsequently became an art critic for the London Evening Standard; he received numerous awards for his work in journalism. Sewell also presented several television documentaries, including an arts travelogue called The Naked Pilgrim in 2003. He talked candidly about the prejudice he endured because of his sexuality.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Roman Catholicism, low church, transubstantiation, Taffy Barling, Anthony Frederick Blunt, Sir Anthony Blunt

Duration: 4 minutes, 10 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2013

Date story went live: 04 July 2013