I just got an email from Charlie Radcliffe telling me that Chris Gray died last Thursday morning (14 May 2009). Chris is probably best known for his brief membership of the Situationist International and being one of the key figures in the Notting Hill (west London) based King Mob. Chris was the editor and translator of the first English language anthology of French Situationist texts Leaving The 20th Century: The incomplete works of the Situationist International (1974), a book that over a long period was to have an enormous impact.
I got to know Chris around 2002 when I was researching the life of my mother Julia Callan-Thompson. At that time Chris had been ill with hepatitis c for some years, but it didn’t stop him from getting out on the streets to join anti-war and other demonstrations. He was extremely upbeat about the ongoing possibilities for the revolutionary transformation of society, and never complained about his illness. Chris told me several times he felt really sorry for those who got hep c from blood transfusions etc.; his attitude was that despite becoming ill from needle sharing, at least he’d had and enjoyed the smack that went with it.
When I saw Chris it was usually at his spartan flat in New Court, Hampstead. For health reasons, he was dividing his time between London and Cornwall. Despite the minimal decor in his London pad, Chris was really hospitable and always cooked for visitors. He viewed both me and his own daughter Mob as numbering among what he humorously referred to as ‘the lost children of Ladbroke Grove’. The first time I visited Chris, he told me he’d been aware of what I’d been doing for a long time, and said it was a shame we hadn’t met before because we had so much in common; viz, shared political and cultural interests alongside his acquaintance with my mother. Nonetheless, Chris hadn’t known my mother nearly as well as two of his former partners did in the late-sixties and early-seventies; both Brenda Grevelle and Hazel Gray saw her more much more regularly than he did back then.
During the years I knew Chris he was working on a book about LSD, and he seemed particularly curious about his own mother’s medical treatment with this drug in the 1950s. There is no need to repeat here the many anecdotes about Chris that have led some to view him as legendary, you can find them elsewhere but obviously not everything that has been written about him can be described as strictly factually accurate. Suffice to say I found Chris great company and appreciated him for his sharp mind. Rapping with him really brought home for me the fact that his translations of Situationist texts were intended to have an effect on the political climate of Britain and America; he was not aiming for the dry pseudo-objectivity of an academic.
Some of the lines that most impressed me when I first read the translations Chris made from French were his interpolations; added because he wanted to ensure these incendiary Situationist tracts worked for an Anglo-American audience. My absolute favourite among them is in his translation of On The Poverty Of Student Life. Here he threw in something along the lines of: “If the anarchists will tolerate each other they will tolerate anyone…” Chris assured me this addition was based on a throwaway line of conversation the pamphlet’s author Mustapha Khayati had tossed at him, he’d merely substituted ‘anarchists’ for ‘English’.
To the best of my knowledge, Hazel Gray died many many years ago. But Chris was still in close contact with Brenda Grevelle when I knew him. So my thoughts are with her and their daughter Mob.
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!