KATHLEEN HALE OBE
With Cedric Morris and Lett-Haines
Cedric Morris said to me one day,
'Do you mean to tell me, Kathleen,
that you have hung your slender reputation
on the broad shoulders of a eunuch cat?'
KATHLEEN HALE ORIGINAL PAINTINGS & PRINTS FOR SALE
In the late 1950s I rented a cottage at Wivenhoe, near Colchester in Essex. There was not yet a concrete university in Wivenhoe; and the small village, with more than its fair share of eccentrics, retained something of the atmosphere of Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood. I had already known for several years Jack and Mary Gunnis, mine hosts at the George Hotel, and Michael Chase, the sensitive curator of the nearby Minories Art Gallery; now I came to know too the artists Jack Cross, Dickie Chopping and Denis Wirth-Miller, and their frequent guest Francis Bacon.
These new friends led me in turn to the art school at Benton End, started by Cedric Morris and Lett Haines, where the diverse talents of Lucian Freud and Maggi Hambling were nurtured. One of its pupils who became a great friend was Maudie O'Malley, married to Peter O'Malley, who taught ceramics at the Royal College of Art. I admired Maudie's paintings - exhibited under her maiden name, Joan Warburton - and her boundless joy in life at the White House at Stoke-by-Nayland.
It was Maudie who introduced me to another artist associated with Benton End: 'Moggie', alias Kathleen Hale, creator of Orlando the Marmalade Cat. When I opened my gallery in Motcomb Street in the 1970s, Kathleen was a frequent visitor. I remember her and her son Nicholas at my Fitzrovia exhibition, full of stories of Augustus John (whose secretary she had once been) and the Fitzroy Tavern. She never lost her admiration for Augustus - always insisting that there was a more serious side to him than his boisterous public image suggested - nor her love for Dorelia. When, later in that decade, I launched an annual exhibition named, with a sideswipe at the old Leicester Galleries, Cats of Fame and Promise, I asked Kathleen if I could exhibit her alongside Louis Wain and others. She readily agreed, and after writing the next year that she was sure 'Orlando and Grace would like to come out again', became a stalwart of the show. Kathleen's irrepressible humour was evident in all her contributions to those exhibitions, as well as in her letters - 'Congratulations on your CATalogue' - and even her wonderful Christmas cards. I treasure especially one she made for me in 1975 of the Rajah of Catmandoo.
I put Kathleen up for the Chelsea Arts Club. She was proud of her membership, and enjoyed talking to Fred, the very ancient club cat - I think he lived to 23. During dinner there with Kathleen and Nicholas there was always much laughter, and lively reminiscences - of Orlando's Silver Wedding, for instance, the Festival of Britain ballet for which she designed costumes and scenery and in which Harold Turner and Sally Gilmour danced Orlando and Grace in the Open Air Theatre in Battersea Park. I remember too meeting Kathleen there after she had been to Buckingham Palace to receive the O.B.E., wearing a necklace of Moroccan coins - 'my other medals'.
The first Orlando book, Orlando's Camping Holiday, appeared in 1938; the eighteenth and last, Orlando and the Water Rats, in 1972. The book Kathleen finally wanted to do was a pacifist declaration, 'Orlando Joins the Furry Legion', but failing eyesight sadly prevented her undertaking it. To the end of her long life, however, she remained sprightly and witty, continuing to draw and paint. She died on 26th January 2000, aged 101.