Wednesday, 3 October 2007

J.W.H. Madeley: A Tribute

In the belief that more helpful and relevant information will make this blog a success, I have decided to expand my horizons and provide a vital service to all people blessed by the name Madeley. In the coming weeks and months, I intend to publish biographies of significant members of our family. I begin today, with a man who eclipses even my own moderate fame. I speak, of course, of the highly esteemed J.W.H. Madeley.

Some of you might be aware that I recently discovered this hitherto unknown member of the Madeley family posting comments on another blog catering to a niche audience with special interests (not all of which are entirely wholesome). I admit that the discovery led to regrettable words being exchanged between myself and my relative. I was too hostile in my reaction to him, having previously believed that only one Madeley had achieved any measurable success in the public eye. I now see that it was an overreaction on my part and I want to make amends, here today, with my profile of the man I have come to think of as the pater familias of the Madeley clan.

Throughout his eighty seven years, Jacob William Horlicks Madeley, known to his friends, colleagues, and creditors as ‘JWH’, has challenged convention. Building a reputation as a gentleman, scholar, and the nation’s most important aquaculturist, he was a controversial figure in his youth. Yet in recent years, he has fallen foul of critics who say that he is nothing more than a reclusive old man who smells of fish. To accept these criticisms at face (or perhaps nose) value is to perhaps overlook JWH Madeley’s many other faults. Vain, argumentative, prone to histrionics, and with highly refined taste in oriental lady friends, he challenges traditional notions of greatness. What makes it more intriguing is that this comes from a man who made his name as a philanthropist, a raconteur, the lover of the some of the world’s most famous women, an award winning novelist, and as a long distance ferreting champion. Little can be said about JWH Madeley that does not evoke strong emotions, except to say that he has lived his life in a way that has brought nothing but credit to the family name.

At a very early age, JHW was recognised as possessing a great talent but his mother soon managed to make him stop touching it and he instead turned his mind to more healthy interests. Bought a goldfish for his third birthday, Madeley developed the passion that would govern the rest of his life. At four years old, he could already distinguish between ninety seven different breeds of fish by smell alone, and, by the time he was seven, he was considered an expert in bearded herring.

This savant of fish left school at thirteen and entered university, emerging from Trinity College Cambridge four years later with an MA in Fish Aquaculture and a growing reputation as a radical thinker in the British fisheries industry. His eminence was confirmed by his Ph.D thesis, titled, ‘A Theology of Herring’, only for Dr. Madeley to eschew an lucrative academic career. Buying his own fishing boat when he was still only 21 years old, he began a second career skippering a trawler and learning many of the practical skills that would serve him well over the coming decades. Using his amazing aptitude to smell fish over great distances, Madeley was soon finding some of the biggest shoals of herring in the North Sea. His first boat was followed by a second and a third, and after ten more years, the Madeley fleet was cited as the main cause of overfishing in the North Sea. His 1954 performance before the UK Fisheries Committee is considered one of the classics of modern day filibustering, denying the committee’s authority give their inability to distinguish between the nineteen different types of haddock.

The downturn in JPM’s fortunes began when his 1967 biography was fist published, containing allegations of his taste for exotic fish oil cocktails and his involvement in the notorious Kensington and Chelsea Society of Eels. Escaping prosecution by moving to Switzerland, it was there that he had surgery to repair damage done to his hands by a knife-wielding lover whose heart he had broken in his fish gutting factory. The operation left him with webbed fingers and, inexplicably, a dorsal fin. Allegations of his private life would become news again, a year later, when his romance with Diana Dors became public and his newspapers printed details of his on-off relationship with Irene Handl.

1969 proved a turning point. Accused of importing variegated marsupials with the intention of breeding them with his fish stocks, Madeley retired from public life, becoming a prolific writer. The seventies were a productive time for Madeley. Author of seventeen books on fish subjects, his ‘Herring Trilogy’ is considered the finest series of novels about fish and first introduced the world to his much loved anti-hero Barney Calbill.

Shunning the literary limelight, he continued to write a series of epics about the lives of North Sea bass but critics soon began to argue that his obsession with fish themes prevented him from developing as a writer. Reclusive, belligerent, brilliant, but often prone to delusions that he was part mackerel, Madeley spent the following decades seeking the holy grail of herring breeding, the fabled hairy herring.

In November of last year, an allergic reaction to treacle saw Madeley break his silence for many years and declare to reporters waiting outside his London hospital that the hairy herring was a reality, claiming that he’d successfully crossed fish with the koala bear. The announcement has led to rumours that Madeley is now ready again to return to public life and news that the Icelandic Fisheries Board have agreed to drop charges of flipper tampering leads many to believe that the path to Madeley’s rehabilitation in the public eye now lies open to one of the greatest yet overlooked figures of the twentieth century. But if the public is ready for a man who is now reportedly more fish than man, we can only speculate.

8 comments:

lady thinker said...

Me thinks there is something fishy about this tale. I think there is a red herrring in there somewhere ..

Dick Madeley said...

No red herring, Lady Thinker, just my tribute to a great man. The more I discover about my heritage, the less surprised I am that I turned out the way I did. Greatness is clearly in the genes.

JWH Madeley said...

An astonishing and very moving tribute, Dick, one I will treasure until that day when the greatest herring fisher of them all bids me welcome to the Celestial City, known in some quarters as Grimsby (ha ha, thought you'd like that one; you did like that one, didn't you, Dick?).

In such a tribute, you clearly had to mention my age, but it does you great credit that you refused to catalogue the many age-related problems I suffer from, and I was particularly pleased that there was no reference to my acute erectile dysfunction, a relic of over-activity during long solitary evenings spent on Baffin Island.

Yes, I feel like a man at last recognised for services to fishing in general and to my beloved herrings in particular. And it's all down to you, Dick. I've asked Muriel to light a candle tonight in homage to a man truly fit to be called Madeley, Never again will I sit idly by when Muriel shouts out at 5.00 of an evening "there's the flouncy haired fucker, toffee-nosed git, we knew him when he was a raggy-arsed little sod who used to see if he could piss over next door's washing line".

Anyway Dick, all that is past, and if you and Judy ever venture this way, please pop in for a cup of whelk juice and a plate of herring pie.

Dick Madeley said...

JHW, you know I would like the Grimsby joke. As I love all jokes about that odorous little town. And yes, I still try to urinate over the next door’s washing line and one of these days I’ll make it. I hear it’s good exercise for the prostate, which, from what you say, it would appear you need to toughen up. Baffin Island has seen the end of many lonely men, and indeed, has seen many lonely men’s ends. I didn’t want to mention it in the biography as I know it’s a private grief. It is reassuring to hear your spent seed is now providing locals with a rich harvest of fertilizer now the guano has run out.

But enough of this reminiscing. I'm humbled by your visit and I’m in awe of the lucidity of your reply. Couched as it is in such lurid detail, your descriptions stretch language in new and interesting ways and it makes me regret that your herring novels are no longer in print. It makes my own writing seem thin and unworthy. Have you not thought of launching a blog? There’s money to be made in herring related merchandise.

Thanks again for the visit. Few of Bryan’s readers venture into these parts. But I’m pleased you did and so long as the sweet smell of herring stays with this blog, we’ll have happy memories of your visit.

Lord Higham-Johnson said...

Importing variegated marsupials was possibly the dating pointing of his subsequent decline.

By the way, I'm another of Bryan's readers who comes over here.

Richard Madeley said...

Change your name to Madeley and I'll write your biography too.

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