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The Apostles society
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Now, this may have also been influenced by my membership of a society which I joined in Cambridge.  It had… in those days it was a secret society, well, secret, I mean, it was private and not well known, called the Apostles.  And I was invited to join the Apostles.  So I must’ve attracted someone's attention being amusing and bright in some way, and my future brother-in-law, who has the same surname as I, Karl Miller, who then became Professor of English at University College London, he was a member of the Apostles and he asked me to join. Anyway we used to meet every Sunday night in EM Forster's rooms where he was, I suppose, once every three weeks on a Sunday night, and we'd, you know, one of us would read a paper and then we'd get up on what was called the hearth rug and… one by one and discuss the paper. And I think that meeting a lot of interesting and intelligent people who prided themselves not merely on being serious but being light-hearted and witty with their seriousness, had a great influence on me.

[Q] Can you share a bit more about the Apostles? I mean, the Apostles were people like… Hardy was an Apostle, wasn’t he?

Yes, well, I think that the Apostles had been founded much earlier in the 19th Century by Tennyson and some friends of his, a man called Frederick Denison Maurice, and then it became much more famous retrospectively by its early membership in the 1900s with people like Bertrand Russell, GE Moore, Lytton Strachey and Maynard Keynes and so forth.  And then… I mean, then it was secret, or private, at any rate, it wasn’t… you couldn’t join it because you wanted to join  it as you could’ve joined other societies, you simply got invited not knowing that it existed.

I was rather surprised to discover that my mother knew about it but she didn’t know about its current existence when I was in Cambridge, she was rather surprised and delighted to hear that I was a member of it for the simple reason that she was at that time engaged in writing rather lengthy essays on Tennyson, and she knew that he had been an Apostle.  And, actually, she had a rather interesting and rather original theory about the Idylls of the King. She thought that the Round Table, which was described in the Idylls of the King, was nothing other than the Apostles.

In fact, I remember walking across Trinity Bridge with her one lunchtime when she came to do some work in the Trinity Library, and we walked across the Trinity Bridge and looked over towards my college, which was St John's where there was this Neo-Gothic new court, and she paused on the bridge and said, look, there is many towered Camelot, and there’s the river winding down to Camelot, and she thought that the relationship between Hallam and Tennyson, they were… both of whom were Apostles, was in the Idylls of the King, and she was delighted and surprised to find that her son was part of a society that she was writing about.

Initially studying medicine at Cambridge, Sir Jonathan Miller came to prominence with the production of the British comedy revue, Beyond the Fringe. Following on from this success he embarked on a career in the theatre, directing a 1970 West End production of “The Merchant of Venice” starring Laurence Olivier. He also started directing opera, famously producing a modern, Mafia-themed version of “Rigoletto”.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: Cambridge University, the Apostles society, Idylls of the King, Trinity College Bridge, Cambridge, St John's College, Camelot, Cambridge Apostles, Carl Miller, Frederick Denison Maurice, Bertrand Russell, GE Moore, Lytton Strachey, John Maynard Keynes, Alfred Tennyson, Arthur Hallam, EM Forster

Duration: 3 minutes, 32 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2008

Date story went live: 24 September 2009