Actor Saffron Burrows misses Tony Benn every day, sometimes too much: ” Over 14 years, he became my friend, my confidante and, eventually, my protector.”

Saffron Burrows

Tony Benn, who was president of Stop the War Coalition from its founding in 2001 until his death on 14 March 2014, was an inspiration and friend over decades to countless thousands of people who wanted, like him, to see a world of peace, justice and democracy, including the actor Saffron Burrows, who recalls her long friendship.

IT FEELS LIKE there was my life before Tony died, and my life now. We shared a particular, singular friendship, one that began in my 20s and in Tony’s post-parliamentary era. Over 14 years, he became my friend, my confidante and, eventually, my protector.

We met, for “the first time”, more than once. As a child, during a miners’ rally on a town hall steps, I approached him, asking for his signature in a book of his that I clutched in my hand. Of that day I recall his kindness, his stooping down to speak to me, and not much more.

As my family are politically active and involved in trade union organising and anti-racist campaigning, I saw Tony over the years on marches and rallies during my teens, but did not have the chance to speak with him again until years later.

One night I was at an education meeting in north London, where I was a school governor. Tony arrived in an impromptu manner because he had given my mum a lift.

Afterwards, I invited him in for a PG Tips nightcap and, to my delight, he said yes. Many more cups of tea later, over the ensuing months, we developed a kind of friendship that became one of great pride in my life. He took the place of those I had lost in my immediate family.

His feelings about the world, about the way people should be treated and the rights they should be afforded, translated directly into his personal life. He exuded a warmth that beckoned all, and the pride he had in his children and grandchildren sat with him, daily, as his great flag of achievement.

Ever modest, he knew, still, that he and Caroline had raised wonderful offspring. His politics, too, sat with him, always there, something integral to his spirit.

Amid the miners’ lamps and porcelain mugs from decades of campaigning, I recognised my own childhood home in his living room, my own ancestry of dissent and activism. Here, the important things mattered. I could leave behind the small and petty when I stepped across the threshold.

There were funny things too. A bust that had been gifted to Tony sat in his front room, covered with a tea towel as he felt it immodest to reveal the sculpture. I don’t think in all my visits I ever saw the head and shoulders unveiled. We would dine on sandwiches and biscuits and discuss the world, close and far.

Tony, with his vast political parentage, who as a child had sat on Gandhi’s knee, felt he moved further to the left the older he grew. In the 50s, he was the first MP to table a motion against apartheid. He also helped establish the H bomb national committee, introduced a human rights bill, and in 1963 successfully renounced his peerage so he could continue to serve as an MP – a battle that questioned the very fabric of British politics.

Years later, after positions as postmaster general, minister of technology, chairman of the Labour party, secretary of state for industry, and secretary of state for energy, he continued to buck the system, entering a House of Commons broom cupboard one night and placing a plaque on the wall to commemorate suffragette Emily Wilding Davison.

Tony famously said he was retiring from parliament in order to devote more time to politics, and in his post-parliamentary life he served as president of the Stop the War Coalition until his death and toured Britain, tirelessly; on speaking engagements, rallies, marches and events, without rest.

I attended his talks and speeches with great enthusiasm. Every interaction with Tony, in a cafe, on the street, on the bus, was an adventure of conversation that Tony made happen. He asked someone where they were from, never what they did. And from that sprung a discussion of great depth, often taking me utterly by surprise.

I gave him cardigans each Christmas that developed burn holes rapidly from his pipe smoking. When I had birthday parties, he would always arrive first, something familial in his presence, reassuring. Young and old would line up to greet him; he made the room shift in the most exuberant way imaginable.

I miss him every day, sometimes too much. And then I remember the vivid life of his funeral, the spirit of Tony alive there, the way his children spoke of him, the way people thronged outside to hear the broadcast, the way their applause as his coffin arrived made me think there was rain beyond the great arching doorway, the way the voices rang out in song as we filed out of the church, and the way I felt once he was driven away.

He loved so well. Rest in peace, dear friend.

Source: The Guardian

Tony Benn T-shirtRemembering Tony Benn: commemorative T-shirt
Slogan: “Every generation has to fight the same battles for peace, justice and democracy. And there is no final victory nor final defeat.” Part of the proceeds from sales will help fund a major Stop the War event in 2015.
More details and too buy »

21 Dec 2014

Sign Up