‘Forgotten of the Empire’ was a weekly column appearing in the Oxford Enquirer which ran in the year 1947, penned by a certain Mr Malcolm Reeve. The premise of the column, in the recovery years after the Second Great War, was to look back at people who had achieved greatness and yet had fallen from public memory. Detailing the lives of extraordinary persons bound to our Great Empire was a reminder of what we had fought for and a ‘feel-good’ antidote to the austerity imposed during this period of rebuilding.
The OE was a somewhat conservative publication, yet curiously exposed itself to the possibility of ridicule by including the controversial figure of Horatio Fiendish. His contributions to society being somewhat disputed and many considering him a charlatan or crack-pot. We consider the reason for this inclusion may be simply, that Professor Fiendish was personally know to his editor:
This then, is the story told by Malcolm Reeve:
A great deal has been speculated about our next ‘Forgotten’ – the reclusive inventor Horatio Fiendish, who disappeared from public view at the turn of the century.
When applying for my very first job as a journalist, I was summoned to a certain London Private members club for interview. It was a tradition started by our founder to meet all prospective employees at his club and continued by all subsequent Editors.
After presenting myself in the lobby, I was lowering myself onto a chair, when I heard the concierge clear his throat loudly enough to halt my decent. Frozen in my half-squating posture I looked up and saw him slowly shake his head. I immediately straightened up , at first imagining he was saving me from crushing a pair of spectacles or perhaps a bowler hat (a quite frequent occurrence in those days); however, glancing round, the chair was empty. Perusing the lobby, I realised that this was the only chair upholstered in black fabric, all others being brown or red leather Chesterfields. I motioned to another chair and the concierge smiled and nodded, I took my seat there until being called up to join my potential employer at his brunch table. This was none other than the late Harry Kane, the gruff but fiercely intelligent editor renowned for his direct manner. Without asking, he ordered me Eggs Benedict and a black coffee ( I confess this has since become for me a kind of totemic breakfast for me which I tend to order when seeing inspiration or am covering a difficult story). Mr Kane was a large imposing figure and after ordering sat back and looked me up an down. After waiting in some silence, as a way to break the ice, I mentioned the curious seating incident in the lobby.
He instantly became animated, leaned forward and furnished an explanation. The black chair was reserved for a previous members Professor Horatio Fiendish. That Professor Fiendish had disappeared from public life some years since, yet the chair was reserved for his personal use; notwithstanding that by calculating his age, Professor Fiendish had obviously met his demise some decades since and would never know the comfort of this chair again.
He then smiled and sat back as if a memory danced across his mind and it seemed the years of hard reporting fell away from him.
This then, is the story told by Harry Kane:
It is almost 50 years previously that I was myself waiting for interview and saw the professor sitting in that very chair. In those days the professor was quite notorious due to an article published in a rival journal which lambasted him for ‘a pseudoscientific and confused’ paper he had presented to the Royal Society on his use of Tesla machines to contact the Spirit World. The Paper had published his photograph and he was an easily recognisable figure being some six feet and four inches tall, with a regal bearing a roman nose and emerald-green eyes. After the article he had become a figure of ridicule and withdrawn to living in the club due to reporters accosting him at his home. When they traced him to his club he had taken a trip abroad and not been heard from for three years. Suddenly, a fortnight before my interview I had read that he had surfaced in the great American city of Boston and had there demonstrated a new invention for the ‘Capture and analysis of Auras’. This too was greeted with some scepticism, but the article was much more sympathetic to the Professors work and several journalists in attendance were impressed at the effect produced by this device which was ‘housed in a wooden box, about the size of a large suitcase and connected by wires to the electricity supply.’ I was not surprised that the Professor had decided on that great seat of learning in the United States to announce his new invention, the Americans being much more open to ideas and likely to celebrate an entrepreneurial spirit rather than seek ways to cut it down. The professor now had a beard with some grey, but was unmistakably the same man in the photograph published three years earlier, returned from his talking tour in America.
Being brash with the flush of youth, the young Harry Kane had approached the professor and asked straight forwardly how the Professor first came to develop his fantastical Aura-revealing device.
At this moment Mr Kane leaned forward, breaking off from his story, and urged me, that if I should remember anything of today’s conversation, it should be that he ‘sensed’ a story and without hesitation seized the chance to ‘grab it’. It is this ‘reporter’s instinct’ that I had to develop, to press forward until the heart of the story is exposed. Mr. Kane, of course, secured his fame by his style of unrelenting questions treating politicians and movie stars with equal disdain in an age when meek deference was the mantle worn by most journalists. Approaching the Professor on instinct he received an unexpectedly frank response from a man who was considered notoriously guarded. Maybe it was the familiar safe environment of his Club or perhaps the Professor saw something in the frank young man’s openness that temporarily ameliorated his distain for a cynical press, but the professor seemed eager to outline his story in his own words and agreed to talk to Mr.Kane in his rooms after his interview.
I can not now recall any other business discussed with my venerable Editor, for the tale of Horatio Fiendish dominated the conversation, and it seemed as if my interview had become a mere formality. Clearer than all the memories in my subsequent long career, the images Mr Kane painted with words that day have stayed with me.
Mr Kane continued: ” I relate my meeting with Fiendish now, as faithfully as my memory allows. Professor Fiendish had a prodigious love of Irish Whiskey and it was only by matching him glass for glass that I felt able to gain his confidence. Remember at that time I was a mere boy and Professor Fiendish a tall and athletic man. My recollection may be somewhat cloudy and I leave your judgement to decide on it’s veracity; but I can affirm the tale was delivered in a most serious and world-weary manner. I believe anyone who had held the steely glint in the eyes of Professor Horatio Fiendish that day would be as convinced as me that the author fully believed in every word.
This then, is the story told by Horatio Fiendish …