Robert Graves – Artful Interviews by Christina Katrakis – Part II –
This is the second part of a series of articles. Christina Katrakis interviews her good friends Tomás Graves (son of Robert Graves, writer, musician and environmentalist) and Natalia Farrán Graves (Robert’s granddaughter, singer, writer and artist). The interview focuses on the major stars and celebrities who visited Robert Graves in Mallorca and includes stories never told before, curious anecdotes and personal insights. We will get some insights of some celebrities of our and of their time like Oliver Stone, Ava Gardner, J.R.R. Tolkien, Alec Guinness, Stephen Hawking and many more…enjoy this little look back in art history.
Christina: Now, is it true that Robert Graves knew J. R. R. Tolkien, or is it just Tolkienist folklore?
Natalia: Ha ha! No, they truly knew each other. Robert and Beryl lived in Oxford for a brief period of time, where Robert was a professor of poetry – in the early 1960s, wasn’t it, Tomás? Anyway, J.R.R. Tolkien lived nearby.
Tomás: Yes, they were next door neighbors when he was Professor of Poetry at Oxford during his first term there… I think it was 1963? I never met Tolkien because I was at home in Mallorca, staying with friends of the family and going to school.
Christina: Did Robert Graves and J.R.R. Tolkien have anything in common, common interests, garden flowers, bird watching or a favorite beverage they shared?
Natalia: (laughing) No, I don’t think so . They couldn’t be more different, but the story goes that they got on well as neighbours.
Christina: Did they speak Tolkien’s language between them, to keep their neighbourly secrets secret?
Natalia: (laughs) Nope, I can’t see that happening…
Christina: Well, there must be a story about those two interacting – give us some of that “Tolkien tale”!
Natalia: After one of Robert’s lectures at Oxford University, which was attended by a few close friends as well as students, there was a party, where Robert introduced Tolkien to Ava Gardner with the words “You won’t have heard of each other”. And he was right…!
Christina: I love Robert’s sense of humor to bits! But wow, they truly lived in different worlds, which back then would never intersect… Now, of course, everything has changed. The best Hollywood actors play leading roles in Tolkien’s tales, which now are top Hollywood films… it’s kind of ironic that everything has changed so much, don’t you think?
Natalia: I guess so! I wonder what he would have made of the films…
Christina: But the real question is, did you read any of the Tolkien stories as children?
Tomás: Oh yes, my mother read me The Hobbit when I was a child.
Christina: Well, that’s poetic justice – a son of Robert’s dreaming of hobbits!
Christina: What about Sir Alec Guinness? I know that Robert was a close friend of his.
Tomás: Yes, he came to Deià a couple of times.
Christina: What kind of visits were they?
Tomás: He liked to drop by for tea, actually.
Christina: Any good stories about him?
Tomás: Oh, I have one particularly fine memory of him. When he was performing a Shakespeare play at the Chichester Festival, which was close to my school, he sent a chauffeur-driven car to pick us up, his niece and I (we went to the same school).
Christina: Wow, you were picked up by a fancy chauffeur after school! (smiling)
Tomás: Well, that was not the end of it… He then took us to the theatre and, after that, he took us out to supper! That was something – we were truly pampered, like two little aristocrats.
Christina: It must have been really special for a school kid to be treated as a Sir or a Lord!
Tomás: Yes, it was indeed. Alec was just that kind of man, he would do things like that – unexpected, surprising, generous and genuinely special.
Natalia: He was also highly amusing, apparently.
Christina: How so?
Natalia: Oh, it’s an old story…he took part in one of the annual plays that were put on every summer, at my grandfather’s request, I believe. But he only wanted to have one word to say. Just one. Not even a sentence or few lines, just one single word!
Christina: (laughing) Well, come on it was summer, it was hot…
Natalia: True… he was on holiday, after all!
Christina: Some of Robert’s friends’ children, who visited him in Deià, grew up to be famous, like Robert Wyatt, the musician, or Stephen Hawking, the scientist. Did they visit with their parents?
Natalia: Yes, Stephen Hawking stayed in Deià with his mother and sisters for a few months in the early 1950s, when he was a little boy.
Christina: Any special Stephen stories?
Tomás: (laughs) Oh, yes! I remember one story, which became a family classic… when Stephen Hawking came to visit he threw a stink bomb in the middle of the room where everyone was.
Christina: My God, that must have caused quite a stir!
Tomás: It sure did. But, as my mother said, at least he announced: “Stink bomb!” before throwing it!
Christina: (laughs)… that is so Stephen-like! I can imagine Steven Hawking doing that even now.
Natalia: Oh, how funny! I didn’t know this story. And I can just hear Beryl saying that! But he is an inspiration to all of us – despite his physical issues and complications, Steven Hawking has continued to develop his intellect in extraordinary ways, and change our perception of the universe in the process.
Christina: Do you have any Stephen stories of your own?
Natalia: All I know is that he spent a whole summer in Deià with his family as a child. His mother and my grandmother Beryl were close friends. He shared a tutor with my uncle William, who was the same age, and they got on well. I wonder what mischief they got into… the stink bomb was probably just the tip of the iceberg!
Christina: And what about the great comedian Spike Milligan? I know he was a close friend too.
Natalia: Oh, Spike Milligan was another hero of mine. He became a close friend of Robert’s and visited him in Deià.
Christina: Any Spike stories?
Tomás: One special sad and funny memory comes to mind. When my father was bedridden and needed help being turned over, I asked Spike to give me a hand. “What if I drop him? It would be like dropping Jesus Christ!” he joked.
Christina: (laughs).. simply brilliant! He was a natural, wasn’t he?
Tomás: Yes, an absolutely brilliant comedian and person.
Christina: And what about you Natalia, do you have any childhood memories of Spike?
Natalia: Well, as a child, it felt like one of my biggest achievements was to make him roar with laughter with my Spanish and Majorcan accents and imitations!
Christina: That’s hilarious.
Natalia: It was all rather silly! But I remember him telling me what a comedian I was. I was probably about twelve years old at the time.
Christina: Did you blush and flip with happiness?
Natalia: I probably did – (laughing) it was almost as shocking as Ava telling me I looked pretty!