The Biography of the Rev Fr David Johnson
The Reverend Father David William Johnson M.A. (Cantab) has died at the age of 66. Johnson was a troubled and troublesome figure of fun. The death of this whisky priest in an Abingdon nursing home ends a maelstrom of mirth, mischief and malice. David will be remembered as very unwise, very unholy and very dirty old man. He was a most scabrous, splenetic, squiffy, scapegrace, sybaritic, scandal-struck scoundrel. David was so often uproariously funny and outrageously rude. His liver shall be buried separately with full military honours. His rabelaisian rodomontades, xenophobic screeds and waspish wit were inimitable. David was a most irreverent reverend. As David liked a joke at anyone else’s expense this obituary shall continue in that spirit. Here was a priest who committed every sin in the Decalogue except perhaps wilful murder. Verily, David was the Anglican answer to a Borgia pope. The main consequence of his death is that Guinness’ share price has plunged!
Rev Fr David Johnson was a puzzling and wearying amalgam of good and bad traits. I shall not stint from showing him warts and all. To show the whole man I have to put the bitch into obituary. It was as though his entire life was a harlequinade of performance art. There are those who say nil nisi bonum de mortuis. David can scarcely be said to have been oversensitive. Therefore, it is meet to write candidly about his riotously funny life. He was never one to pull punches. David always hit a man when he was down. His Edwardian dress sense and studied mannerisms will be sorely missed. It was as though he lived a life of conscious self-parody. He was playing up to the stereotype of a dirty vicar. It seemed as if he had stepped from a production of Gilbert and Sullivan. He really ought to have been a music hall impresario. Therefore, I offer my remembrances of this man whose virtues and vices were always on a grand scale. He did nothing by half measures – especially drink.
The priest was a study in studied eccentricity. It was hard to tell where the act ended and the man began. Did he know himself?
Despite being a priest, he was a man for whom the seven deadly sins were his ten commandments. Envy, lechery, gluttony, sloth, pride, vanity – these were a few of his favourite things! It is a minor miracle that the NHS managed to keep someone alive after such a madcap career of sozzled iniquity. As David liked to quote Cyril Connolly, ”whom the gods wish to destroy they first call promising.”
David was born at Leicester in the year of grace 1953. He grew up in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. His father was a small time civil servant. His mother was a Scots housewife. Despite being half-Scots he identified as completely South British. David had one sister to whom he was not close. His relations with his family appear to have been cool. When he was born his father asked the doctor ‘does he have footballers’ legs?’ He did not measure up in this and other regards. His pater has been hoping to sire a sportsman. In other regards David seems to have disappointed his parents. David only stood 5’3” and was not well built. Being a sporting disaster was a cross to bear in football obsessed Newcastle.
David was also a Conservative. His father was a Labour man and his mother was a Liberal. That was because she said one must always stick up for the underdog plus Jo Grimond was nice. His political orientation was another bone of contention at home. Being a teenage Tory in a rock-solid Labour city was another difficulty.
The only anecdote that he related to me of his childhood was of being told they were going to have a picnic. As a little boy he was exhilarated by this. At the last minute he was told they were cancelling it. Why? To teach him to cope with disappointment. Whether they were so cruel I do not know. But it clearly signifies his lack of love for his parents.
Many of the apercus that follow come from the horse’s mouth. David was rarely guilty of veracity. Therefore you must take these with a large pinch of salt. If these stories are false they still reveal much about the man. This is what he would have liked to have happened and what he would have us believe.
The family belonged to a Nonconformist church. David found it judgmental and uninspiring. He came to the Church of England which seemed life affirming to him. It was filled with light and colour and everything uplifting and positive. He remained a zealous Anglican for the rest of his days. The Evangelical wing of the church did not hold much appeal for him with its tendency to teetotalism. His sexual awakening cannot have endeared him to a strain of Christianity that was so censorious.
Dame Allen’s School was the one that David attended. Most boys there spoke with mild Geordie accents. David affected a stratospherically posh accent. He explained this by saying his headmaster was Churchill’s aide de campe and his mother was an elocution teacher. In the end he sounded more like a Dalek. Thought when he wanted to he could put on a Geordie accent so thick as to be impenetrable. He spoke in the BBC accent circa 1939. It was indicative of his melodramatic and endlessly creative character. That was what he was to do for the rest of his life. Flamboyant and sanguine; he was a fireball of energy and emotion. He was forever reinventing himself and playing a part as if on stage. So much of his persona was performative.
At school his textbooks were from the 1930s. They assured people that there could never possibly be another war because of the League of Nations collective security. As David later commented, ‘well ha, bloody, ha.’
Growing up in the shadow of the Second World War he was acutely aware that most of his schoolfellows were the sons of veterans. His father on the other hand had spent the war as a functionary. That must have taken some living down. Presumably he was bullied. By early adolescence he was a homosexualist in self-understanding. How much of a choice was it to be gay? If he were a hetero he would not have got many girls being the runt of the litter as he was. Despite his diminutive stature he never lacked for self-assurance. It simply never occurred to David that people might be displeased to see him.
David won a twist and shout competition as an adolescent. That was principally due to elan vital and not technical accuracy. He was also a champion debater. I surmise this was more owing to ebullience and panache then logical reasoning.
An undersized, queer, bookish and bespectacled sort who is useless at games is apt to be bullied especially if his father was a ‘shirker’ in the war. I wonder if alcohol was him self-medicating for childhood angst and sorrow. He was not given to self-pity. But in a rare moment of introspection he told me that his problem was that no one had ever loved him. In fairness he never seemed to have loved anyone else in either the romantic or the familial sense.
If he had been a hetero he would not have got far. A weedy, midget alcoholic was unlikely to be a lothario.
Though David was a fantasist and pathological liar it is telling that he did not embellish his background. He unfailingly kowtowed to the quality. Was it not tempting for him to invent a more chequered or upper crust lineage for himself?
As an adolescent he began his lifelong romance with alcohol. He tried to conceal this from his parents. But he was found out. He joked, ”My mother never knew I drunk until one night I came home sober.”
David was accepted at Cambridge to read Theology. He went up to Selwyn College in 1973. Despite his lack of height and his modest background he was blessed with boundless self-confidence and a very forward nature. It simply never occurred to him that people might not be pleased to see him. He threw himself into the Cambridge Union. This suited his talents to a T. Though no Shakespearean he surely believed that all the world’s a stage.
When a dosgbody at the Union he was once tasked with meeting a speaker for that evening at the railway station. The speaker was Rev Martin Smyth MP who was an Ulster Unionist. It being the height of the Ulster Troubles the young David was petrified that he would be assassinated by the IRA.
The young David also joined the Conservative Association. David was an ardent monarchist and a sentimental imperialist. At this stage he also developed his lifelong devotion to the demon drink. He also acquired a reputation for being a crashing snob, a shameless social climber and incorrigible name dropper. If it was his aim to make a splash he certainly succeeded. David was also an incurable rouee and rapscallion. Bibito ergo sum ought to have been his motto.
For the first time David was able to mingle with jeunesse doree. It must have been quite an eye opener. I doubt family finances had run to anything in the way of dash. His contrived upper class accent never slipped. He spoke in the clipped cadences and lingering languorous vowels of a 1940s newsreel.
As an undergraduate he had a reputation for being of a bent, well,… bent! Homosexuality had been de-criminialised only a few years before. It was still very much disapproved of and could be an impediment to many a career. As a Ganymede he found many of his ilk at Cambridge. The expression ‘raving homosexual’ might have been invented for him. Despite his incessant filthy talk he did not claim to have bedded many males. Though he said he had some physical encounters so far as I know he never had a boyfriend.
By his own admission David was not too scholarly. But he just about got through the course. In his holidays he worked as a civil servant. It was the sort of virtuous tedium that he reviled.
At Cambridge David was fond of playing pranks on people. According to himself he tricked some freshers into providing urine samples and leaving them on the desk of an unpopular don. He was to continue such japes throughout his life.
One of David’s best practical jokes was the faux ceremony of the bathing of the high professor. People processed in full academic regalia to the Cam where a don ritually dipped one toe into the water. He also chivvied bemused Japanese tourists into standing on one leg for a minute’s silence.
The acme of his time by the Cam was his election unopposed as President of the Cambridge Union. He served in Easter term 1976. His opposite number at Oxford was Benazir Bhutto who according to himself he came to know well. She later became the first woman to serve as Prime Minister of Pakistan.
When David was President of the Union he colluded with the Oxford Union ‘kidnapping’ him. This was a time honoured practice at the farewell debate: the last debate of the term. By tradition the farewell debate is a light hearted debate full of in-jokes. It is all self-indulgent and sparsely attended. Some ‘speeches’ are actually songs.
The Oxonians drove over to Cambridge and seized him at water pistol point in a public place. David was then driven to Oxford and ‘held prisoner’ at the Oxford Union for a few hours while generously plied with food and booze. The debate commenced that evening. The climax of the debate was having David wheeled into the chamber tied up in a supermarket trolley. The prisoner was then set at liberty to participate in the debate.
Cambridge exacted revenge by ‘abducting’ David’s Oxonian analogue: the Honourable Rupert Soames. Hon Soames just so happened to be Churchill’s grandson. This was a fact that gratified David no end. Hon Soames was then tied up and placed in the window of an academic outfitters as though he were a dummy. 40 years after Ruper’s kidnapping he was still on speaking terms with David.
An exact contemporary of David’s at Cambridge was one Michael Portillo. This London grammar schoolboy was at Peterhouse. At that time the college was a hotbed of homosexuality known as Poofterhouse and the undergraduates – all male – were known by girls’ names. Portillo was known as Polly since it was similar to his surname. By the time I met David people were speaking of Portillo as the Tories great white hope. But Portillo was completely anonymous at Cambridge. He spent most of his time with a don with whom he was in a sexual relationship. David was truthful enough to say he had never heard of Portillo when at Cambridge. It would have been tempting to invent some scandal about Portillo when Portillo was the supposed Conservative saviour. According to David the young Portillo spent most of his time abed with a middle-aged don.
As finals approached, he was told in advance that they had decided to award him a 2:2. He was no intellectual nor was he diligent. David was more bibulous than bibliophile. But they could not very well fail 25% of the people reading his subject. There were only four on the course. This tale, like the others, comes courtesy of the late D Johnson of happy though inglorious memory. As a real pissant it might have been an uphill struggle to secure a good degree.
Johnson’s sister was at Cambridge at the same time as him. They spent no time together. She was a typical left winger and had no time for his reactionary penchant. Apparently, she speaks with a slight Newcastle as one would expect for a middle class Novocastrian. His sister married a man of the same attitude as herself and they had two children. She went on to become a model civil servant. It was the sort of blameless bourgeois domesticity that David found insufferable. Not for him suffocating conformity! As an Anglican priest he is supposed to bless marital bliss. To make matters even worse his sister was virtuous enough to qualify as a doctor in middle age.
At Cambridge David got to know Henry Bellingham. This Old Etonian and former Guards officer was the sort of person David adored. Bellingham was later elected MP for Walpole’s old seat: King’s Lynn. Bellingham was of course not a Whig though!
Whilst up he voted Yes to staying in the EEC. He did so because he believed it would lead to cheap booze. At least he had his priorities right. He said France’s motto was liberty, equality and adultery. His own appeared to be vulgarity, venality and drunkenness.
By his early 20s David had started out on a well-worn path for a young fogey: High Church, High Tory and High Camp. It was a path from which he never once deviated.
Despite being a practising Anglican David seems to have been utterly devoid of Christian morality or charity. He quoted with approbation a Cambridge contemporary whose motto was: marry for money and fuck for fun. Another of his undergraduate friends was Tucker. David unfailingly called him ”Fucker Tucker.”
What was he to do when he graduated? He applied to Cuddesdon Theological College. The chaplain of Selwyn did not approve of David’s antics. But he loathed Cuddesdon even more. To spite Cuddesdon he provided David with a magnificent reference. The glowing reference did the trick. The aim was to destroy Cuddeson. David did not quite manage it. He tried bloody hard though! An alcoholic catimite is probably not what the Church was hoping for.
What else was David to do? He lacked the intellect or conformity for law. As a teacher he would have been laughed out of the classroom. He did not have the mathematical ability or work ethic for finance. His low boredom threshold ruled out the civil service. As for the diplomatic service: one day with him as a diplomat would have caused the Third World War.
Into the Church
What attracted him to a clerical career? It might have been the dressing up. I never met a man who so thrilled to dress up. The Church offered him incomparable fashion opportunities. It is probable that he perceived an ecclesiastical career as a 40 year long fancy-dress party. The Church of England with its established status and connection to royalty was irresistible to such a snob and name dropper. It also appealed greatly to the poseur and the showman in him. He adored the sound of his own voice. The church guaranteed him an audience. David was an attention addict which explains his flamboyant sartorial style. It was also a comfortable berth for someone not cut out to make it in a competitive career. David does not seem to have had any genuine spirituality. He almost never talked about religion. I suspect the topic bored him rigid. He would have considered Jesus a long haired leftie drip. In point of fact I never heard him mention Jesus and he seldom alluded to God at all. ‘Meek and mild’ was not exactly David’s style. He was never one to hide his light under a bushel. His reverence was as unchristlike as can be imagined. Not for him a life of sacrifice and self-abnegation.
David presumably saw High Anglicanism as a life of lace dropped sodomy. This is the gay wing of the C of E. That is not to say that all or even most High Anglican clergy but some are. Gays were very thin on the ground in the Low Church back then. There was something indubitably effeminate about the prissiness of High Anglican chasubles, bells and smells etc…
The High Church was David’s faction within Anglicanism. The iconography and nomenclature of Anglo-Catholicism held an irresistible appeal for him. He was all right with latitudinarians. However, he felt disdain for the Low Church. He scorned the Low Church as do gooders, killjoys and loonies. He was also scathing about them for being prudish and regarding his sexual inclination as deviant. By contrast David’s theme tune might as well have been penis angelicus! David felt very much at home with fellow incense wagging misogynists.
It was the frippery, social status and performance aspects of being a clergyman that gratified David. The Church held an unparalleled appeal to a man of his raging vanity and irrepressible theatricality. David always craved an audience. He had a very forward personality. The Church provided him with a stage to project his self-importance. It also provided him with ample scope to pursue his ruling passions: alcoholism and homosexual ribaldry. To a man so prurient there was no other choice to be made.
If David worshiped any deities they were Dionysus and Mammon. Though only half Scots he was double Scotch both in his attitude to alcohol and money. His taste for strong water was unquenchable. His moral philosophy appeared to be: I drink therefore I am.
Cuddeson is a few miles outside Oxford. There a grace was said ”may the boys of this college all be learned, wise and sober virgins by the grace of Christ Jesus. Amen”. Learned, wise, sober or virginal could never be said to describe David Johnson.
There was a fire walking duty at Cuddesdon. The college was of course all male: this being long before the days of women priests. Every seminarian had his own room. David liked to the ring bell in the middle of the night. A corridor with 8 single bedrooms in it would have 12 students running out of it? Because the male students were bedhopping. The seminarians were often semenarians.
David was openly gay in middle age. But he never seemed to have had a boyfriend. He vouchsafed that he had once been to a male brothel in the 1980s. As a punter not a rentboy! He recalled the youths there were all colours, shapes and sizes. When I asked him about it again he changed his story and said it was ”nother priest” who had been. I distinctly recall who he had shortened ‘another’ to ‘nother’ in that phrase.
In the 2000s David told me, ”I do not have sex because it destroys relationships. It creates all sorts of petty jealousies and tensions.” The truth may have been more prosaic. By then he was so unappetising not even an alley cat would bed him. His years of overconsumption of alcohol had presumably rendered him incapable of rising to the occasion. He could of course have made his orifices available. So far as I know he was not active by then. He acknowledged sharing a bed with men. ‘And when you wake up in the morning it is nice to wank off.’ He appears to have had no predeliction for buggery.
In the 1970s he had to be a little discrete about his orientation. It would have been frowned upon as a perverse proctological proclivity. Homosexuality was seen as deviancy at the time. In 2000 he said to me that a third of the Anglican clergy were gay. This was surely a huge overestimate. For David gaiety and gayness came together. He was self-confessedly ”as queer as a three pound note.” David was very much the homosexual’s homosexual. Did I mention that he was gay?
When the Church told David ‘to convert the heathen’ he appears to have misheard this as ‘to pervert the heathen.’ If so then he did so with missionary zeal. I would guess he was a catimite. He quipped that when two gays met and found themselves to be takers rather than givers it was called a ”catamite-astrophe.” So far as I am aware he nver had a boyfriend and never wanted one.
Despite never being a transvestite there was something undoubtedly effeminate about his manner. His timbre, his movements, his languid diction and his fixation with clothing were all unmanly.
After Cuddesdon David was ordained a deacon. He moved to London. There he continued his life’s mission of vulgarity, venality, alcoholism and buggery. He was attached to a parish in Fulham. The first time he served communion he made the pope look like Paisley by comparison. His vicar did not approve of his style and did not attend.
David was not just homosexual he was also homosocial. He did not seem to have any female friends. The one exception was Christine Hamilton. He told me, ‘I would very much like to have married Christine Hamilton. And I did marry her: to Neil!’ Indeed, he performed the wedding ceremony of what later became one of Britain’s most notorious couples. Christine was a domineering sort. Did he want a dominatrix? I never knew him to express admiration for a woman’s looks even in an aesthetic sense. He really was a 24 carat gay. Pharasaism was not one of his besetting sins.
It was a matter of much amusement that some of his Cantabrigian contemporaries were struggling to make it in London. These men of thrusting ambition often found themselves underperforming. Rather than reside in the more chi chi boroughs they were forced by pecuniary circumstances to subside in London’s more unsalubrious districts. David skewered them by saying that they would live in Clapham and pronounce it ‘Claam’ to pretend it was somewhere posher or live in Stockwell and call it Saint Okewell. He loved to puncture pomposity despite being egregiously stuck up himself.
Some of David’s Cambridge friends started to get engaged. In those days a man could only become affianced to a female of the species. Some of David’s circle he had assumed were ‘not the marrying type’ in the parlance of those lavender days. But many a man whom he assumed to be a confirmed bachelor became plighted to a young lady. David expressed his cynical ‘surprise’ when this happened. He told me an umbrella was the wedding present that one gave to a queen whom one knew to be marrying simply to disguise his homosexual preference. If a man married a woman for this purpose she was known as a ‘beard’. The trouble was the luckless woman might not even know her husband was gay. There were many lavender relationships at the time. Many gays were deep in the closet in those days. It is hard for many people to realise now just how socially unacceptable homosexuality was in the 70s and 80s. Though not a crime it was certainly a sacking offence in most jobs.
In 1977 he was enthused by the Silver Jubilee. His local publican was an Irish republican. Despite that he bedecked his establishment in Union Flags. David was ever the passionate monarchist.
The Queen was semi-divine in Johnson’s opinion. His other deities in his pantheon were Oenone and Bacchus. Remarkably even in his age he was not especially florid face.
Whilst in London David produced a spoof edition of the Church Times which is the C of E’s house journal. His publication was entitled Not the Church Times. But apart from the title it was so realistic it could easily have been mistaken for the genuine article. The font and house style were imitated perfectly in every particular. The headline was bemusing: ‘Church to covenant with Vanuatu headhunters.’ There were many more hair raising and howlingly funny stories like this. It treated the enthronement of a new bishop of London as the most awe striking event since the Resurrection. It was all part of his irrepressible urge to make elaborate and uproarious practical jokes. He was blessed with an outsized sense of the ridiculous.
From 1982-87 David worked at Church House. He was on the Board for Mission and Unity. This is the nexus of the Church of England. He handled relations with the Catholic Church and the black churches. He called them ‘papes and nigs’. It is astonishing that someone as deliberately offensive as David was put in charge of such a delicate issue. Fr Johnson could never be accused of cultural sensitivity. He referred to the Roman Catholic Church as ”The Italian mission to the Irish in this country.” He explained, ”the Italians preached Catholicism but the Irish believed it.” One of his party pieces was to sing ‘Doin the Vatican Rag’ by Tom Lehrer. So often he was a reactionary provocateur.
Fr Johnson found Nonconformists insufferably tedious. He also had to handle relations with them and did not always do so with finesse. He found them frustrating as they were not easy to bait. He preferred dealing with the purple prelates of the Roman Church. On one occasion he used contacts in the RAF to have a French bishop flown home by them when the bishop needed to go back to France in an emergency. Jono also arranged for a welcome hamper to be delivered to all guests of Church Huse.
Whilst at the Anglican nerve centre he was a minor canon of Westminster Abbey. He liked politicking. He has status, money, access to booze and boys. The AIDS crisis in the 1980s might have caused him to become a little more circumspect.
As David liked to recall he acted as a chaplain to the Brigade of Guards. He said, ‘I served with but not in’. At least he was honest enough not to pretend to have been a proper forces padre. I am sure that David was an ornament to the Household Brigade! He remarked that the Irish Guards were the most fun of all the regiments of Foot Guards. He was told when attempting to enter the officers’ mess a sergeant quipped to him in a strong Irish brogue, ”You’re not enough pissed to come in here.” That was astonishing given his insatiable thirst for booze. Bearing in mind he weighed 8 stone ringing wet his capacity to consume alcohol without getting blind drunk was staggering.
His reverence spent some time in Rome. He was thrilled to be presented to His Holiness the Pope. The grandiloquence and the sartorial pretentiousness of the Catholic Church was almost irresistible to him. He must have fantasised about donning the jupes of a silk scarlet soutane and riding side saddle up the Quirinial Hill. How David would have adored being a prince of the church. There is a shade that he hankered after called crushed cardinal. He would have been in his element wearing the red hat. Being borne aloft in Sedia Gestatoria must have been his wet dream. Did his aspirations ever rise to the Throne of St Peter? Humility and mortification of the flesh were not for David!
The Church decided that it was time that David put his dynamism and gregariousness to use in a parish. He was interviewed for a number of posts. ”They have a hilarious way of asking you if you are gay. The interviewer embarrassedly studies his fingernails and says ”So do you have an emotionally supportive relationship?”. I reply, ”Yes, he is big, German, musclar and hairy and he licks me all over in bed.” And the interviewer is a bit shocked until I say, ”I have a German shepherd.” ” Evidently this cut the mustard.
Quite why he was let loose on a rural parish I am unsure. Had he blotted his copybook so badly in London that Church House wanted to get rid of them? They palmed him off on another diocese. Leicestershire was about to get a lot noisier!
In 1987 David was sent to a parish in Leicestershire. He had to drive around. His alcohol abuse became an unmanageable problem. Before long he was frequently preaching to the police. He was repeatedly pulled over by the police for drink driving. ‘Eventually the magistrates and I agreed that I would not drive anymore.’ David was unashamed about his dypsomania.
Cottaging for the odd blowjob cannot have endeared David to his parishoners. It was discomobobulating to be propositioned by a man of the cloth particularly if you were touching cloth. Curiously, seeking rough trade in a public lavatory was not considered exemplary conduct in the Church. Alcohol also made him the soul of indiscretion about his frolicsome activities. The staid old maids and retried colonels had been hoping for someone more conventional.
On the issue of same sex attraction David was not a hypocrite. He scorned those who engaged in queer bashing. He noted that the books of the Bible that railed against homosexuality also permit slavery and forbid wearing clothes of more than one fibre.
Fr Johnson invited the Right Honourable Enoch Powell MP to preach at his church. David liked to refer to Powell as ‘the prophet’. It was less than 20 years since Powell’s notorious Rivers of Blood tirade. Nearby Leicester had a lot of Indian immigration. Some thought that Powell would harp on about the wickedness of immigration. In fact, he never mentioned the subject. This was the only Sunday the church was packed. The sermon was recorded. Listening it to again later David noticed that there was not a single um or er at all.
At dinner Johnson had hired a cook and butler to serve them. He did not wish to miss a moment of Powell’s conversation.
David later recalled that when another Tory MP came to preach at his church only five people came ”and they were all my servants.” In David’s fantasy he was a well to do 19th century vicar from a landed family.
Colour blind from birth; David once got himself into hot water because of his debility. He bought an RAF overcoat (insignia removed) from a military surplus shop. He went to France to represent the Church of England at a conference. On return to the United Kingdom he took the train home. Aboard the choo choo a man came up to him and said, ”It is fucking disgusting when bastards like you wear that coat.” David suspected he was being accused of wearing an RAF coat to which he was not entitled. David defended himself, ”I shall have you know that I used to be a chaplain at RAF Abingdon so I am entitled to wear this coat.” The man explained, ”I am an expert in Second World War memorabilia. That is an SS overcoat.” David was perplexed, ”but it is RAF blue.” His interlocutor corrected him. ”Are you blind? It is black. It is an SS overcoat!”
In the early 90s he cultivated a beard that he said made him look like George V. Sitting in the Oxford and Cambridge Club one day a man saw him and remarked loudly, ‘these fucking Jews get everywhere!’ This tale may well be apocryphal.
When the Church of England considered ordaining women David was adamantine in his opposition to this. For him, the ordination of females was the final horror. He regarded it as outright heresy. Jono was no believer in gender equality. However, when the change came this confirmed misogynist did not cross the Tiber. Why would he became a Catholic? ”I do not want to play second fiddle to Fr Seamus O’Pig ”, he said tartly.
David’s contribution to literature was The Spiritual Quest of Francis Wagstaff. The tome was co-authored with Toby Forward. It consists of silly letters they sent to various public figures. It was David’s answer to the Henry Root or the H Rochester Sneath letters of the 1950s. These mocking epistles are full of ludicrous requests. It was his attempt to send up th Church of England. It succeeded in spades.
Francis Wagstaff was a figment of his mischievous imagination. The character lived in Yorkshire and was part of the equally fictitious Old Northern Catholick [sic] Church of the East Riding. He described a vacans patriarchate run out of a semi-detatched house in Scunthorpe. Wagstaff wrote to numerous well known Anglican clergymen. These people replied to Wagtsaff assuming him to be a real person. It was so typically David. His magnum opus is as droll as it is iconoclastic. A letter to a bishop compliments on his toupee and asks where he bought it. The prelate writes back to inform him ”my hair is my own”. Wagstaff writes once again to opine that ”surely Christian charity comes before mere personal vanity?”. In another epistle Francis Wagstaff writes to say to a certain bishop that he met Shagger Reilly who knew the bishop when he was in the Royal Navy. Shagger says the bishop is ”a short arse – forgive the serviceman’s slang.” It goes on in that vein. He also tricked a bishop into acknowledging that he was a Tory. That was at a time when the Conservative Party was deeply unpopular.
It got far, far worse. In the mid 1990s the press was full of stories of paedophile priests. They had especially preyed on scouts. In one missive Johnson saw fit to ask a prelate, ‘would you like to be patron of a right wing leatherbound boy scout movement free from any of the sexual moralising which causes so much idle gossip?’ Unsurprisingly the clergyman concerned courteously declined this tempting offer. Within a few months Jono had ridiculed most of the bench of bishops.
The episcopate failed to see the funny side. Unsurprisingly, the book was not greeted with universal acclamation by his flock either. Regular churchgoers did not welcome seeing the Church of England turned into a laughingstock. Some of the proceeds went to charity. This must have been the only time he ever gave a groat to a worthy cause.
As he celebrated one marriage service after he had ”dined well” he pronounced the happy couple man and wife. The groom then asked, ‘May I kiss the bride?’. David did not miss a beat: ‘Why not? You’ve already been fucking her for three years.’
Father Johnson’s thirst grew ever more unquenchable. He had drunk the county dry in terms of alcohol and semen. This was not quite what the old maids of the shire were hoping for in a cleric.
The vicar had all the egotism and tactlessness of beadle in Oliver Twist as well as the self-importance and the sycophancy of Mr Collins from Pride and Prejudice.
By the 1990s David’s antics had been brought to the attention of the bishop. His bad language and over drinking were becoming an embarrassment. David was lent upon to retire on ”health grounds”. He was 41! His ill-health was a code word for his raging alcoholism. You would not get such an overgenerous settlement these days. People said that the C of E was paying him off to keep his mouth shut. But stuffing his mouth with gold did not work. He kept blabbing about scandals in the church. He described John Witheridge as ‘a frightful shit.’
The Church tried to help him dry out. He was sent to a clinic to enable him to give up alcohol. Part of the rehabilitation course was going to a pub and ‘learning to say no.’ The trouble was as soon as he set foot in any pub in Leicestershire the barman would start pouring a Guinness extra cold unbidden. He was widely recognised and his order was known.
Fr Johnson was moved to Cogenhoe, Northamptonshire because he had totally alienated his parishoners in Leicestershire. In Northamptonshire he proved to be a walking disaster zone. Though bonhomous he did not love his fellow man. He was the most sociable misanthrope you could ever meet. Running a parish requires a great deal of tact and diplomacy. These were qualities in which he was sorely lacking. Funerals threw his indifference to the suffering of others into embarrassingly sharp relief.
Fr Johnson’s mordant wit meant he was resourceful in terms of one liners or impersonations. These were uncalled for in a rural parish. Jono sometimes forgot he was in a church and not on the standup comedy circuit. People wanted compline not cabaret.
Decades later Fr Johnson asked a friend, ‘Do you think I would have done better at ministry if I had actually liked people?’ Therein lay the rub. He was fundamentally unsuited to being a parish cleric. His antics let to a total breakdown in parochial relations.
The reverend became choleric and cantankerous when his flock did not take kindly to what may charitably be called his eccentricities. Nor did he like rusticating. The one saving grace of bucolic life was getting sheep as natural lawnmowers for his church.
A sybaritic sodomite was possibly not what the very staid elderly parishioners were looking for. Stories surfaced of him getting shit faced in local hostelieries and loudly giving graphic accounts of his incredibly varied gay sex life. If even only a fraction of this were true then it was enough to make an acidulous Anglican apoplectic. Being a Ganymede was not the done thing in Middle England. It might be hard to remember now how radically attitudes have shifted in a quarter of a century.
Asked for his shortest joke he would say, ”He is called the Archbishop of Canterbury.” David pubished a remark about the archbishop (George Carey) ”His scheming ambition is concealed behind imperfect dentistry.” This hilarious and highly personal insult was not a model of Christian brotherly love.
The Church of England had campaigned zealously against apartheid. Typically, in his attention seeking perversity, David said the demise of apartheid was to be mourned. He was an outspoken Tory in the 1980s. This was the time when the C of E produced ‘Faith in the City’ which was a laceration of Thatcherism for causing mass unemployment. Fr Johnson had slaughtered just about every sacred cow that the Church of England had.
The Church of England found Jono excruciatingly embarrassing. Furious complaint inundated the bishop. The MP for Rutland and Melton, Alan Duncan, was one of those who said to the bishop that Jono needed to be given the old heave ho. Duncan had been President of the Oxford Union just after Jono’s time as his analogue at Cambridge. Duncan had always found Jono too fond of his own voice, unfunny and totally disreputable.
Just before he was removed from his house, he got his hands on a photo of his bishop holding up a pint. David had a farewell card printed with this photo on it and a quotation from the Book of Kings, ‘David fled and made good his escape.’
At the positively juvenile age of 41 he was put out to grass. The Church of England let him live in a house in Oxford rent free. His address was 112 Hurst Street.
Why did he choose to live there? He was ‘not going back to Cambridge and being a professional old boy’ he said. Professional old boys are frightful bores – he said. Oxford was almost the same thing. It was his natural habitat. I would have paid good money to see how his antics whent down in his native Newcastle.
David was puer aeternus. It is a convivial city and full of like-minded people to David. Never once did he voice the least gratitude for the unexampled liberality of the settlement that the Church had granted him.
If the Church believed that by retiring David, he would mellow with age then it was sorrily mistaken. David had not the slightest intention of toning down his lifestyle. He blazed a trail for every reprobate. The reverend carried on his notably harum scarum existence. Did he give up the demon drink? Far from it. At Oxford he was very seldom stable. Perhaps once he disgraced himself by appearing in public sober.
The porter-soaked popinjay washed up in Oxford. But in terms of his opera buffa he was only just beginning. His inventiveness, energy and meanness knew no bounds. His persiflage was too much for many.
The Oxford Union because the focus of his uber extroversion. He was a soi disant people hater but he could not live without an audience. He became known to a generation for Oxonians for nattering to and regaling anyone who would tolerate him. This tireless chatterbox was soon put on an alcohol ban. The reverend found solitude unendurable.
David was still fit as a fiddle. He was perfectly capable of working. He found minimum wage work as a tour guide.
Being contra mundum was his trademark. Oxford is 75 miles from the nearest salt water but David still named his house Seaview Cottage. If you phoned him and got the answering machine it would say that he was either ‘at sea’ or ‘out with the tide.’
Another Anglican said to me that the thing to do for the Church was to unfrock David. The C of E wanted to avoid the negative headlines about defrocking him. However, this other chap argued that the Church should simply have taken it on the chin. The embarrassment of that was less than this loon traipsing from pub to pub in Oxford regaling people with scatological stories and racist epithets all while togged out in full clericals. The Church’s name was dragged through the mire every time he did this. This caused contempt for the Anglican Church. One Anglican I know crossed the Tiber because of David. This man said that if David represented the Church of England then he would rather become a Catholic than stay in the same church as David. David was as unpriestly as may be imagined. The Church of England was constantly left with egg on its face due to David’s racist rodomontades, ultra-Tory philippics and perverse sexual ravings. People did not expect to meet a clergyman who drank them under the table.
More than one undergraduate told me with absolute conviction that David had never been a priest. They said he was a mentally ill man who dressed up as a priest and had even fooled himself into believing that he was one. People simply could not believe that a real priest or even an ex-priest would do this. No one less suitable has ever worn the sacerdotal breastplate. David was a living argument for anti-clericalism.
In Oxford David was an indefatigable evangelist. He preached a gospel of sodomy and sybaritism. Here he found fertile ground for his unique brand of Anglicanism. It was in no small measure down to him that the Oxford Union became the most outrageous gay bar in Britain. It was his natural habitat and even hunting ground.
It was as though David was playing up to the stereotype of a priest with a penchant for every vice. He made me call to mind the Dirty Vicar Sketch by Monty Python. The man was sordid: bereft of virtue. This bon vivant was in the Church for himself.
In 1995 we went to a Japanese restaurant on the 50th anniversary of Victory of Japan Day. A waiter asked David what he would like. ‘An apology!’ he demanded. He was known to refer to the Japanese as ‘snub nosed, slit eyed little yellow bastards.’ Him calling anyone else ‘little’ was the pot calling the kettle black. David could not in truth be described as politically correct.
At Oxford David sought out posh freshers. In his late 40s his friends were aged 19. He liked an ingenue. He went weak at the knees for a peer. His reverence always made a beeline for Old Etonians. I could not help surmising that he dearly wished he had been to Eton.
Be it understood that David was not predatory and certainly not a pederast. He mostly got off on merely talking dirty and that was to adults. His vice was liquor not licker.
Knowing David to be dead against female clergy, when he was sent to Oxford the Church put him under the superintendence of a woman priest. David took it as a calculated insult. But even he had to admit that Rosie was reasonable and competent. Yet he scornfully called her ”the priestess”. She did not object to him being a sot and a sod.
As soon as David left home each morning he would walk down to the Union or some other city centre pub in the forenoon. He never took the bus or cycled. The day would be spent drifting from one licensed establishment to another and button-hole anyone he would. He would pass the time of day with whoever’s ear he could chew off. There was no purpose or routine other than that. He was profoundly bored and under stimulated. That is partly why he grew ever more mischievous. The devil makes work for idle hands. If you are an alcoholic with nothing to do what are you going to do other than drink? By the late 90s he was on an alcohol ban at the Union. It was never rescinded.
Fr Johnson held court for OUCA loons. He was their guru. David had been like them: a young man in a hurry. Like him they were attitudinally and sartorially Edwardian (pronounced ‘’ed WAARD ian’’. They pined for an irrecoverable age of imperialism.
Luncheon found the vicar in an alehouse. He passed the remainder of the day cruising from one licensed establishment to the next. Along the way he would fortify himself with a few liberal swigs from his hip flask. Fr Johnson really was a boozy beggar. But he was not always sloshed. He did not often get drunk. It was just that he never got sober. He could stick it away! The decades of heroic drinking meant that he could outconsume a man twice his size and not be visibly under the influence. He was not permanently pissed. He only drank the juice of the barley when awake.
The reverend father took a lively interest in what he unironically called ‘colonial affairs’. His favourite President of Zimbabwe was the Reverend Canaan Banana. That was partly because he was a churchman but also because of his cartoonish name. Banana’s gayness was another plus.
The vicar addressed the Union and joked ‘Tony Blair invited me to Downing Street. He said ”Dave – you have done more than anyone else for taking alcoholism, foul language, sexual deviancy off the streets – and putting them back into the church where they belong!’‘ David never objected to being identified as a beery swine. Nay, he revelled in it. He was always proud of what he was. His life of unexampled iniquity was spoken about by MPs because he knew a few.
On one occasion I introduced him to someone, ‘This is my brother in law James’ . Next day he called me up to say he had spent all night leafing through Burke’s peerage trying to find which peer of the realm had my surname. He had misheard me saying ‘This is my brother Lord James.’ He was a crashing snob and always kowtowing to the nobility. When I introduced him to Countess Tolstoy he took her hand and gracefully executed a deep bow. I have never witnessed such an obtrusive display of deference to a peeress. Even when stotious – which was any time he was conscious – he was unfailingly obeisant towards the titled. Perhaps he felt they could get away with being an epicurean like him.
In 1999 a ball was held at the Oxford Union that involved seafood being served. A certain undergraduate from St Peter’s ordered oysters and left them in front of a radiator for a few hours before they were served. People unwittingly ate these oysters when they were served later. The results are best not described. Fr Johnson fell victim to food poisoning. He decided to enact vengeance on the witless boy who had accidentally given him food poisoning. Jono sent a parcel to the Union with it addressed to ‘the Secretary. Personal. To be opened strictly only by the secretary.’ The house manager unwisely opened the parcel. He found something made of cloth. Putting his hand in further he felt something squishy and his nostrils were affronted by an overpowering stench. David had sent in his shitty underpants! I later asked him if he really had sent in diarrhoea smeared Y fronts. ‘They were slightly soiled’ the drunkard said grinning wickedly.
In 1999 he held a large celebration for the 20th anniversary of his ordination. By that stage he was already an Oxford character. He was a legend among OUCA loons. I idolised him. His acolytes were often treated to his repertoire of stories. But not everyone was enamoured of his middle-aged adolescent posturing, foulmouthedness and alcoholic antics. As one Oxonian said to me of David ‘he is a warning!’ David was a middle-aged man who had not grown out of freshers’ week. He was known to his acolytes as ‘the Vicar of Cowley’. Some of gli cognoscenti called him ‘Jono.’
OUCA appointed David dean. He said grace at OUCA termly dinners. Successive presidents of OUCA were at pains not to let him anywhere near the speaker for fear he would mortally offend a Tory grandee. If people were hoping that ‘Father’ Johnson would be a father figure they were to be disappointed. He often attended port and policy. We were often treated to a racist rant by the man in the dog collar. In 2010 OUCA was striving to shake off its bad image. David simply had to spoil this. A journalist came up to see how OUCA had reformed. David was asked how inclusive OUCA was. He answered, ”We are very inclusive these days – look at this boy here. He is Welsh but we let him in anyway.” He was probably not even in a crapulous state when he said that.
In December 1999 at the farewell debate Fr David sang ‘I was a fair young curate then.’ He had a listenable tenor singing voice and carried off his performance with aplomb. Apart from his voice the only instrument he played was the pink oboe.
As a wag David liked writing satirical letters to national publications. The Telegraph published a letter by him saying he was joint master of the Cowley sewer beagles. Like Tony Benn he immatured with age. The reprobate never grew out of a puerile desire to create shockwaves and feel them reverberating back to him. Because David had never grown out of freshers’ week he was forever dining out on tales of Cambridge in the mid-1970s. He could not move on.
David would sing for his supper. This gay gadfly was an amusing raconteur. He would regale us with hilarious reminiscences and outrageous accents all embellished with plenty of invention. But this middle-aged man demanded that teenagers buy him drinks. Anyone undergraduate who pleaded poverty would be greeted with the words ‘You mean bastard’. By contrast generosity was not among his virtues.
Fr Johnson cadged drinks. He often asked people for cash loans. He would feign amnesia about repaying them. When finally shamed into repaying people he would shout ‘just paying my rentboy’ as he handed over the readies.
Perhaps David intended to set himself up as an Anglican answer to Monsignor Gilbey.Gilbey died shortly after David moved to Oxford. Fr Gilbey was the Catholic chaplain at Cambridge for decades. Alfred Gilbey had also been a notable ‘Priest of Bacchus’ Admittedly Gilber was more about savouring the finest clarets and not about getting three sheets to the wind. Monsignor Gilbey was a guru for young fogies at Cambridge including when David was up. David Johnson liked to dine out on tales about the redoubtable Monsignor Gilbey and his antics. I often heard his repertoire. However, Fr Gilbey was seldom if ever inebriated.
David was full of Gilbey anecdotes. He told us with relish of how when Franco died, Gilbey ordered a full requiem mass. The trouble with that tale is that Gilbey retired several years prior to 1975.
As for his homosexuality by the 2000s he was a non-playing captain. Rumour has it that he went to bed with an undergraduate in the 90s whom David later accused of having lumpy sperm. That is the only Oxonian whom I ever heard had touched Johnson’s Johnson. It was as though he was in a Carry On film. I wondered if David consciously played up to the stereotype of the dirty vicar.
In 2002 I filmed him saying in a restaurant, ‘I scored with Steven Doody in a public lavatory in St Giles at 3 o’clock in the morning.’ People’s jaws dropped when they saw the video.
David made cameos in College Girls. This was a documentary on St Hilda’s broadcast in 2002. He said the election at the Union would be tightly fought and tightly fraught.
The reverend claimed that a certain gentleman of colour with dreadful dentistry offered him oral ministrations. Fr Johnson rebuffed him, ”not with teeth like those.”
Fr Johnson was amused by Doody. Doody wished to be what David was. But times had changed and people like Doody did not get into the Church anymore. Jono had apology cards made for Steven: ‘Steven Philip Doody deeply apologises for…’ and then a series of boxes that could be ticked: outing you, exposing himself, passing out or can’t remember.
On one occasion there was a queeny strop in the Macmillan Room. Doody berated David ‘You are a disgrace to the cloth.’ David retorted ‘well you never even had the cloth.’ The door of the room had been opened and then let swing back to David. David had his back to it. The door pushed David several inches. He was so tiny and light that it swept him along. It is etched onto my memory.
Anthony James (deceased) said of David ‘what he wants is a big 6 foot guardsman to fuck him’. That would have been a social as well as a sexual fantasy. One of David’s favourite parlour games was to conjecture as to which STDs people had. David never evinced the slightest sympathy for the sick or the poor or anyone in suffering. He could not abide do gooders. The vicar scorned philanthropy. He boasted that he never gave a brass farthing to any charity that helped Commonwealth countries. His logic was that these countries wanted independence and they got it. So they could stew in their own juice.
The Oxford Student made the mistake of claiming he had been unfrocked. It was then obliged under threat of libel to publish a grovelling apology. It wrote a piece entitled ‘Without Prejudice’. It wholly and unreservedly apologised for the offence it had caused. The publication accepted that his reverence was a priest in good standing with the Church of England and with specific permission from the Lord Bishop of Oxford to conduct worship. It further accepted that he had never been unfrocked nor had any processes ever been entered into to unfrock him.
The reverend tickled me pink with Irish jokes. Fr Johnson often told me that I was a bog trotter. And he liked me! Jono told me he would go to the jungle with me. I assumed that to be flattering. He liked to make catty comments about women’s looks. David had a great gift for mimicry. This was. He was more than passable as accents. As an impressionist he took off facial expressions and hand gestures as effectually as he did the voice and speech patterns. His thespian talents were largely squandered. It was his metier manque.
David spent the days cruising the pubs. He would regale anyone who would listen with his witticisms. This washed-up porter soaked popinjay was not everyone’s idea of good company. In the Union Bar he was forever persiflaging people. He ribbed girls about their visible panty lines.
They say a man should only drink when the sun crosses the yardarm. This was the only thing that David stuck to religiously. Except in this case that meant sunrise rather than sunset. I saw him drink beer at 8 in the morning. He was endlessly self-indulgent. His reverence was as fond of his morning dram as he was his night cap.
Of an afternoon he would haunt The Jolly Farmer or the Castle. Those being the only gay pubs in town. There he sought refreshment as he perused morally disimproving publication called ‘Boyz’. Then he would drift from one alehouse to the next.
David hung around the Oxford Union. He was elected to standing committee in 1999. The former President of South Africa came to visit. F W de Klerk addressed the Union. Fr Johnson asked an overly long question. Years later F W de Klerk returned and recalled his previous visit. ‘There was a turbulent priest.’
Another reason that David haunted the Union was the Bursar. Lindsay Warne was the only woman he desired. He may have perceived a dominatrix in her. David’s sexuality can perhaps be explained by citing his favourite Reverend Sydney Smith quotation, ”There are three sexes: men, women and priests.”
Understandably David was not everyone’s cup of cha. Some considered him noisome, tedious and tiresome. His attention seeking got up people’s noses. Many dismissed him as a poison dwarf. His living in the past made many despise him. Some loathed him for bringing the C of E into disrepute.
David was always up to mischief. The old rascal ordered Gay and Lesbian Christian Association Literature to be sent to the home address of a troubled fresher.
I shall never forget the first moment I clapped eyes on him. It was an emergency debate in my first week. The motion before the Oxford Union was that ‘This House Believes that student protest has no effect.’ He made quite an entrance swishing into the debating chamber in full clericals. He gave a speech in which he recalled an apocryphal tale about someone seeing a boat of Papua New Guineans row down a river in a film shown in the 1950s. An Oxford wag shouted, ‘well rowed Balliol’. This was an allusion to the considerable number of our Commonwealth cousins at that college. The vicar claimed that this was the only time that student protest had ever had any impact.
I was transfixed as soon as I saw Fr Johnson. I had to find out who he was. I came to know him very well over the next few years. I was staggered to hear a priest swearing his head off and regaling me with vulgar quips. But he was often deliberately offensive. His schadenfreude was unseemly for a putative man of God. He was a living profanation of the priesthood. His wildest antics were often whilst wearing clericals including a dog collar. He often indulged in racist screeds and foul-mouthed tirades.
David’s voice was like that of a conceited duck. It was slightly nasal and unwavering. He corrected my pronunciation of Kenya and said it was ‘KEEN – YAH’. I was soon part of his banter.
By the time I met David was already well established as a dirty old man. This was a magnificent accomplishment by the age of 46. Fr Johnson was a paragon of vice. I could not believe my hear when I heard a priest complete with a dog collar spewing out sexual jokes. In the corridor of the Union I was speaking to him and the Laird of Camster. David said something about ‘grabbing his balls’ and then moved towards to me making a grabbing gesture but deliberately not touching my chaste loins. I backed off hastily. ‘Don’t back away from me!’ he chided. The Laird was in hysterics and said to Fr Johnson ‘well you are the one raving about grabbing people’s balls.’
The reverend father struck me as being like a bitchy version of Kenneth Williams. David was a comedian more than a priest. Much of his mirth was autoparodic. How much of this was consciously so?
Before long David was my confessor. I thought it meet to have a confessor more depraved than myself. He affected to take this duty seriously. It came across to me that he was playing a part. It was as though being a priest was a theatrical role for him. He did not come across as genuine. But he gave it his best shot. I got my iniquities off my chest. He would say, ‘God with all his universe to worry about does not care about a silly little thing like masturbation. But you have to make up with your parents.’ Fr Johnson was not sedulous about his sacerdotal duties. In fact, he was deeply unserious but I shall say this for him: he never betrayed the seal of the confessional. I give him his due! This was quite an achievement for a drunken fart. He joked that he had to bite on a lemon to stop himself chortling at my confession. At the end of the sacrament he would always say, ”and pray for me a sinner also.” At least he admitted that he was iniquitous too. I never knew him to offer any orisons.
David swore by the Daily Torygraph. He was always to be seen carrying a carefully folded copy. I daresay he read it a good deal more than the Bible. In fact, I hardly ever heard him allude to Bible. Nor did he know a great deal about politics. He had gone into the Church for worldly and even fleshly reasons. When I once dared broach a religious issue he scorned me, ”There is always a religious nut, isn’t there?” provoking gales of laughter from all around.
Despite consuming copious pints of porter, he was not portly. He ate sparsely and walked everywhere. Moreover, David was more than partial to one of Ireland’s most splendid inventions: whiskey. It is odd that as he had such a taste for Liffey Water he never went to Ireland. He had a drop of the crature every morn.
Around that time David spoke of his aspiration to be elected to Parliament. He said he would do it either as a Tory or Monster Raving Loony. Was there a difference? It was typical of his buffoonery.
David was quintessentially British. I never heard of him ever going abroad. He was a monoglot and to some extent a xenophobe. From 1995 he seldom left the Thames Valley. He was an unabashed Islamophobe. He detested women wearing a veil and expressed a desire to rip it off.
When hopping into a taxi David often found it was driven by a man of Pakistani extraction. Upon learning the cabbie was from Pakistan, David would boast of his friendship with Benazir Bhutto. Pakistani opinion on this lady was sharply divided. Half the time he would be let off his fare; the other half he would be told to get out immediately.
His finances stretched to hiring the Lady Ethel a boat on the Thames for a birthday party cruise in 1999. I do not recall what the occasion was. Perhaps it was his birthday as it was early December.
David haunted various pubs. His antics got him banned from many places. He was a staple of gossip columns in newspapers like the Oxford Student and Cherwell. He also appeared on the Oxford Channel with Will Goodhand.
The vicar was in demand as an after-dinner speaker. He told me he was paid four figure sums. That is 20 years ago, and it was all in cash. There was no nonsense with the taxman. But despite being flush he was not flashing his cash. He never showed a modicum of liberality to the rest of us. I never remember him buying anyone a drink much less giving an ob to the needy.
Fr David often alienated people. A young artist befriended him and helped him out. Fr Johnson then put it around that he had bedded this youth. The young man in question too umbrage at this and cut David off.
David’s badinage was not everyone’s cup of tea. Some found him profoundly unfunny. His egocentricity was wearisome and exceedingly self-indulgent – so many people felt. Many clergy believed that he was the worst possible advertisement for the Church. Indeed some regarded him as rebarbative. Being a bugger and a beggar for the bottle did not endear him to the more serious-minded clergy. By the Noughties David was not exactly the image that the C of E wanted to project.
Evangelicals were a favourite target of David’s. He liked to tell a joke about evangelicals praying over a man with one short leg, rubbing the leg ”and do you know: it grew!”. Then the evangelicals say, ”there was a woman with one arm shorter than the other. We prayed over that arm and we rubbed that arm. And do you know? It grew!”. David then told them about a man with a short penis. ”We prayed over that penis and we rubbed that penis and you know? it grew!”
In the mid-1990s David was close to a young heroin addict named Mungo. David claimed that his relationship with Mungo was paternal. If that was his idea of paternalism, then it is a mercy that David never had children. In making David childless the Good Lord knew what he was doing. Mungo was rumoured to be mainlining his heroin and sharing needles. If so an anal relationship with Mungo might not have been conducive to longevity. David’s outrageous alcoholism had surely rendered him impotent many years before. But perhaps he was a catimite.
One of the only times I knew him to be avuncular is when in 2000 a certain Etonian classicist fresher had got himself blind drunk and gatecrashed an event at the Union where he loudly offended all present. David pushed the boy into the office next day with the sage advice ”go and say sorry.” If even David had to tell you off about you high jinks then you really had overstepped the bounds of propriety. David’s raillery got him into trouble too.
David smoked a pipe. His lighter was in the shape of a naked male torso. He said it was modelled on a classicist from LMH.
On Valentine’s Day 2000 I made some quip to him about love letters. That evening I looked in my pigeonhole in my college. There were several gay valentines there. They were male nudes. I wonder who sent them?
The old rapscallion was irremediably homosexual. On one occasion I was in the Union Bar with him. At the far end were two tables. One one table sat three boys all aged about 21. On another table sat three chicks all aged about 18. I confided in the reverend father ”I would do all three of em.” He looked around and immediately started leering at the boys. I knew of only two undergraduates whom Jono bedded.
In 2002 Fr Johnson organised a mini-Glyndebourne at the Union. This opera fest as the damp squib to end all damp squibs. Half a dozen people attended. This did not seem to faze Fr Johnson who sat in the president’s chair sporting a tricorn hat and grinning ear to ear.
In 2002 Anne Widdecombe addressed the Union. Her speech was chaired by the President of OUCA: Edmund Sutton. David asked a question of Miss Widdecombe. A propos of nothing the scoundrel made a remark about Sutton who was half Cypriot, ”He looks like he is here selling cheap olives.” This crude racial slur fell flat.
David started to openly express withering contempt for the Church of England. When the Laird voiced an interest and seeking ordination David disabused him of the notion that it was a suitable vocation for a man of gifts; ”You can do joined up handwriting? Then you are a dangerous intellectual.”
He always cut a dash around Oxford. He wore old style clericals including a hat. These would be a biretta, a soutane, a black fedora or a shovel hat. What a curious taste in headgear he had. What a fashion statement it was!
Fr Johnson’s daily rig consisted of flyless pantaloons (often breeches), a double waisted waistcoat (ronounced ‘hes cut), and a frock coat. . One some occasions he completed the ensemble with a silken cincture in a modest sable hue. He often sported a cape but forewent tasells. His biretta did not include a pompon. That was self-effacing of him.
David sometimes wore a striped blazer and boater. It was Selwyn summer dress as he said. He wore this at Selwyn in the summer – only in that sense was it Selwyn summer dress.
Father Johnson was often to be seen in a stalking cape and buckled shoes striding with all the celerity his little legs afforded him along the central streets of Oxford. One of his other favourite getups was a civil servant’s court dress from the 1930s. It was navy blue with gold braid. It must have cost a pretty penny.
All this posing meant that David was so often stagey in his facial expressions and gesticulations. I can remember him staring in mock accusation and pointing at people; leaving his mouth agape and letting his tongue droop in studied astonishment; bowing from the neck as he turned and almost curtseyed as be politely made a point and even putting on his ‘serious’ face to listen to confession.
David saw himself as a camp and bacchanalian Beau Brummell. He was often accoutred with an umbrella even when it was not raining. He had a confection for millinery.
When in lay dress he was often dressed up to the nines. He boasted of his Cheviot tweed suit. He was seldom without a hat. David favoured a fedora. His style was always eye catching. He almost never dressed down. He would even wear clericals whilst getting rampageously drunk.
David accused a certain artist of offering blowjobs for a Guinness. Are they worth it? I asked. I don’t know I never had one – he replied. I joked: ”Never had one? Oh you are a liar. I have seen you slurping one greedily and the froth dribbling down your chin.” He smirked sardonically.
Fr Johnson was often deliberately insulting. When a certain classicist had a horizontal encounter with an undergraduette from St Peter’s; Fr Johnson disapproved. He thought that this female was not pulchritudinous. He booked the boy an optician’s appointment! David was not afflicted by softheartedness. It was the sort of cruel practical joke that was his metier.
David was bored. He had to organise day trips to London with young men. I went to the Guards Chapel with him in 2001 for Remembrance Day. I also went with him and several others to the College of Arms.
The only time Fr Johnson showed me the least liberality was in giving me a ticket to a son et lumiere at Blenheim Palace that he did not want to attend. Next day he saw me on the phone. He demanded I ring off immediately to tell him how it was.
OUCA was something he attended regularly. He claimed to be a reciprocal member from CUCA. At OUCA dinner he said grace. Despite that he was put on the naughty table with myself and an obese Yorkshireman: as far away from the guest of honour as possible. We were the disreputable ones. At OUCA meetings he would preface each question to a Tory MP with ‘In my local pub in a slum area of East Oxford…’ before offering his homespun wisdom. His insight was that working class Britons agreed with the Conservatives on most issues but voted Labour because they believed that Labour was on the side of the working man.
The other activity he liked was beagling. It appealed to his aristocratic pretensions. He took care to say ‘hounds’ not dogs. When out with the Christ Church hounds he wore a flat cap and tweed plus fours.
One Oxford undergraduate publication said that he had been unfrocked. He threatened to issue a writ for libel. The newspaper in question issued a grovelling apology entitled ‘Without Prejudice’ accepting that he was a priest in good standing with the Church of England and with the specific permission of the lord bishop to conduct worship. In fact, the vicar had been the one to disseminate the bogus trope that he had been defrocked.
The Oxford Student and the Cherwell often covered his japes. These are the newspapers of Oxford University. The late Eddie Tomlinson profiled the vicar.
I attended some worship led by him. He did not get to do this often. This was perhaps the only occasion on which he was neither drunk nor suffering from withdrawal symptoms. He cannot be said to have been sedulous with regard to his sacerdotal duties.
In 2000 he broke his leg. He attended Royal Ascot by wheelchair. I was his wheelchair attendant. He did not get many miles to the pint. From the Union we had to stop at two pubs en route the station. He took a hip flask to fortify himself with whisky on the way. The man’s taste for strong water was incredible.
After a day’s drinking at Ascot we came home at midnight. What did he want to do? Go to the pub. He was a true bacchant.
His house at Seaview Cottage was a mess. The place was packed with furniture and books. Fr Johnson claimed to be an excellent cook but I never met anyone who had any evidence of this. He claimed ”as a celibate priests I was most discombobulated on one occasion to be awoken in the wee hours by an Irish burglar once berated me in an Irish accent for, ”living in a fockin’ tip.” ” As with so many droll tales by David it was probably not entirely factual.
One of his favourite impressions was of Princess Margaret. She would be admonished by the Queen for her uncouth hat. David would then play the princess, ”You look after your kingdom”, tips ash off imaginary ciggie, ”and I’ll look after my fucking hat.” All Princess Margaret impressions included tipping the ash off before the punchline.
Another Davidism: Prince Philip is at lunch with Lord Jenkins. Lord Jenkins stood to give a speech. He delivered it with trademark aplomb, grace and articulacy. It dawns on the prince’s staff that as Jenkins is Chancellor of Oxford University then the prince will have to reply on behalf of Cambridge. For his oration the prince stands up and simply says ”Why do South African telephonists wear condoms on their ears? Because they don’t want hearing AIDS.” After three seconds of deathly silenced the room is filled with forced courtly laughter.
David liked Guinness extra cold. He seldom ate. This is the sign of a true alkie. He was the piss artiste to end all piss artistes! With Fr Johnson it was always a liquid lunch. Doubtless he consumed fortified communion wine by the gallon. A pity for him that he missed the wedding at Cana.
Despite drinking porter, he was not portly. He ate precious little and walked everywhere.
David was a zealous Freemason. He was very much on the square! Was it the dressing up, the flummery or the sense of exclusivity that appealed to him? Here was an Anglican who wore a biretta half a century after it went out of fashion in the Universal Church. Perhaps one of the reasons he never crossed the Tiber is that the RC Church does not allow its adherent to be Masons. I spoke to him in Masonic language, ”For the sake of a Mother’s son, Jah Baal On or should I say the Great Architect of the Universe wants you to give me a square deal.” He chided me, ”you know too much.”
On the runup to my 21st I mentioned that I would be having a party. David scoffed, ”that could be held in a phone box.”
Reverend Father attended consultative committee religiously. He went to that more than church. He only set foot in church if he was leading worship. The lack of a pulpit frustrated him. On one occasion he gave a speech in an emergency debate in the lead up to Remembrance Sunday. He remarked how George V had opposed the interment of the Unknown Soldier in the aisle of Westminster Abbey because it obstructed the processional route. David knew this since he worked there a lot. When he sat down, he remarked to me that this speech was to have been his sermon for Remembrance Sunday but he had no church to preach in.
He was a member of the Oxford and Cambridge Club. He liked to go on excursions to London and take boys with him. The rapscallion had many tricks up his sleeve.
Jono hated being alone. At home he had only the bottle for company. Every day was bacchanalia for David.
I recall the first time in the Trinity of 2000 that I met Fr Johnson. It was outside the King’s Arms. He greeted me with ”lazy dons” and held up a copy of a newspaper. The fellows of All Souls were supposed to engage in the mallard hunt at the first Easter of every century. It relates to a legend dating back to All Souls foundation in 1453 when a mallard duck supposedly flew into the drain. The dons are supposed to look for it.
If I ever wore shorts and the vicar saw me, he would excoriate me, ”There is nothing so ridiculous as an Englishman in shorts.” It was at that point that I was obliged to remind him that I am Hibernian.
In 2000 his father died at the age of 86. David reacted with complete indifference. When he told me his father had died I commisserated with him at this bereavement. The mountebank told me dismissively, ”My father and I were never close anyway.” He was always begging his mother for money after that.
Fr Johnson was forever cadging money off his aged mother. He commented that although his mother had been a Liberal she had changed. She is the Toriest of them all now – he commented. She was inflexibly opposed to adopting the Euro. She said, ‘’I am keeping the Queens head on my coins thank you very much.’’
Unsentimentality was his style. The only thing that ever got him choked up with emotion was the monarchy. He would speak about Her Majesty the Queen with a lump in the throat. By curious contrast death even of undergraduates was reported by him without a catch in the voice.
His reverence had no affection for children. He did not care a hoot for his nieces. Not for him ”suffer the little children to come unto me.” For him little children were insufferable.
David claimed to be writing a novel about a young Guards officer at Cambridge in the 70s. This youth had a VC for saving someone from a bomb in Northern Ireland. In the story the officer has a gay affair with his valet and is blackmailed. He ends up committing suicide.
David like his life as an unapologetic alcohol. He was also unabashed about his 100% homosexuality. There were some for whom he was a pub bore and exasperating exhibitionist. He was once a cult figure for me. But after several years the joke started to wear off. I had heard all his anecdotes many times over. I began to grow increasingly uncomfortable with his racially themed shtick. Was this really just a drollery? Or perhaps this humourist really was racialist.
There was some literary talent in dear old David. He composed a droll ditty about a certain President of the Oxford Union wanking on the Oxford tube after a trip to Stringfellow’s. The victim of his poem was not that much of a scallywag. I dearly wish I could have a copy of that comic poem.
David had the unique privilege of being chaplain of Stringfellow’s. That is the UK’s premier lap dancing club. It might seem odd. He did not engage in blessing of the breasts.
On one occasion he led me and several others into Stringfellow’s. It was a gynaecological education! These girls were holding themselves open inches from the boys’ faces. One of the most hilarious things I ever saw is Mark enjoying a lap dance. I believe that is what turned him gay.
At Stringfellow’s we called him father. ‘Shut up don’t you know the press are onto me’ he chided me. I then pretended to the whores that he was my father. The nude dancer said, ‘you must look more like mum.’
Fr Johnson never evinced the remotest attraction to even the comeliest female. He regarded heterosexuality as an incomprehensible, abominable and unforgivable vice. It was odd that he did not like women even socially. He was like a bored housewife him with his nattering. He was an inveterate gossip.
David was certainly far from politically correct. Fr Johnson called me a bog trotter – and he liked me! He did not hesitate to ask people who had been to India, ”how is the empire?” Some of his epithets would have you choking on your chai. He referred to Neil Mahapatra as chapati. On another occasion he told an undergraduate of South Asian ancestry ‘fuck off back home to Pakiland you filthy brown wog.’ Passing the erstwhile India Office he remarked to me ‘from there a hundred civil servants ruled four hundred million darkies when the wogs knew their place.’ On another occasion he met an British Indian Oxford graduate who had made a million in banking in only a few years. David greeted him with, ”I hear the corner shop is doing rather well.”
When in Singapore I sent him a postcard I found of a British tank crushing a Japanese soldier with a caption which was a Churchill quotation: ‘Great Britain shall continue the war against Japan until the very end.’ It pleased him immensely. He was Japonophobic. He did not hesitate to call them Nips in a decidedly unchristian tone. David went misty eyed when describing how an officer of the Rajputana Rifles had taken the surrender of thousands of Japanese.
Once he asked me to bring him to chapel in my college. He appeared in a cloud of pipesmoke. He was in academic gowns complete with mortarboard. We went to chapel. When it came to the donations he put something in the offering plate. I caught the guilty grin on his face. I immediately snatched the banknote out. I looked and saw in place of the Queen’s face there was a topless girl. It was a gratuity banknote from Stringfellow’s. My chaplain later asked me ”Was that the Union priest?” David’s infamy had preceded him. Fr Johnson was disgusted that people were allowed to attend formal hall in casuals and I was not plying him with enough booze. He walked out in high dudgeon! He later sent me a handwritten apology.
David was exceptionally fortunate. He had been an undergraduate when there were no fees and there were grants for all. He was allowed into one of the most respected professions despite his disgraceful misconduct. David benefited from the exceptional liberality of the Church. He ponced off friends. But David was a total ingrate. He never voiced appreciation for his elderly widowed mother bailing him out financially when he was in his late 40s. David rarely visited her. He was utterly shameless about exploiting an octagenarian widow. This freeloader did not show the generosity to others in the pecuniary sense or any other that he demanded for himself.
The vicar was friends with another clergyman of his own vintage. This morbidly obese chap strove to be respectable but was handsy. David would crack crude jokes. His chum would giggle girlishly and chide David for his naughtiness. The other priest fought the good fight against his own lust.
By 2003 things were going wrong for him even as a pensioner. He was getting bored of Oxford and Oxford was getting bored of him. He showed up at the Oxford Union on 5 December and announced it was his 50th birthday. Few have closed half a century of life with more wasted opportunities to their name. He had no party and precious little to celebrate.
In 2004 David organised an event for the 60th anniversary of D Day. It was in a pub called the Far from the Madding Crowd. The Luxembourgish ambassador came. David said this man was straight from central casting. The Canadian High Commissioner also attended. It was a very low key event without orations. The Canadian High Commissioner must have been underwhelmed by such a casual event despite everyone being dressed up. He was in a tailsuit. At this event I chatted to Neil Hamilton who was a pal of David’s since Cambridge. David said that the Hamiltons did not wish to be a circus act which they had been in the late 90s as he was himself. The former Tory MP Neil Hamilton had been a dear friend of David’s since Cambridge.
Sometimes I would see him in the Union Bar first thing in the morning. He would have vomit encrusted on his shirt. David would reek of perspiration and be shaking uncontrollably. His fingernails would be clogged with filth. Clearly irritable he would be speaking 19 to the dozen. I realised it was delirium tremens. He was having withdrawal symptoms from having a dangerously high level of blood in his alcohol stream. He was the alcoholic’s alcoholic. You cannot be an epicurean that long without it catching up with you. This disciple of Dionysus never wavered in his faith.
I decided to exact vengeance on David. I called him up posing as a police sergeant telling him to come to the station to be interviewed on suspicion of inciting racial hatred. When I quoted some of his racist outbursts he said ”I never use language of that kind” but agreed to come to the station.
On another occasion a certain Nigerian bishop named Methusaleh Akintunde called David and said he remembered David fondly from his time at Church House. Bishop Methusaleh suggested David come to Nigeria for a handsomely remunerated post leading the crusade against the sin of Sodom. David did not protest. He was assured ”there is a vast amount of money to be made in service of the Lord!” The bishop asked David how many children he had. The Nigerian was flummoxed to learnt that David had not taken to wife. ‘Does not the good book say be fruitful and multiply?’ Told that David had not spawned he asked if David’s goodwife was barren. The Nigerian prelate suggested meeting for tea at the Randolph Hotel. David was willing to meet but only if the bishop picked up the tab. The good prelate agreed to do so. The bishop turned out to be yours truly.
I phone David up pretending to be Rowan Williams. It being lunchtime he was of coursed in a licensed establishment. David boastfully called out to his interlocutors, ”Be quiet a moment. I have got the Archbishop of Canterbury on the phone.” I then proceeded to tell him I was dissatisfied with Richard Harries and would like to ask David to take over as Lord Bishop. Tempting though it was to believe even David was not going to fall for that one. ”Ha bloody ha!” he expectorated.
By the late noughties, life was beginning to pall for David. The barfly had been banned from most bears. His decades of alcoholic abuse on a titanic scale had begun to catch up with him. The old magic was vanishing. He felt increasingly alienated from the Church of England. It seemed to want clergy to be left wing social workers. That was never his style.
When I was at Ampleforth I received a handwritten letter from the vicar. He hoped I was not kept awake by black marias wailing across the moors to take monks from the dormitories of the sexually abused.
In 2007 he was suffering pancreatitis. This kills in a few years. It is a miracle that he lasted 13. Of course, he might have been lying about that disease as he lied about so much else. His copious consumption of liquor had put him in this state. He did not go off the sauce.
Fr Johnson had some strokes occasioned by his horrendous overdrinking. But he did not slow down. There was little point. In view of his boozing he seemed almost immortal.
By 2013 David was very frail and had to move into a nursing home aged 59. He had grievously abused alcohol for decades. There was put on the wagon for a while. But he had nothing else to live for but booze. Unlike Churchill alcohol took more out of David than David took out of it. His life of geriatric delinquency began.
Actor though he was David was not a tragedian. He did not feel sorry for himself. He was lucky to have lasted that long. In the late 90s he had been hospitalised a few times when on death’s door from his alcohol dependency.
On 5 December 2013 he had a 60th birthday party upstairs at the Union. David was himself again. He was remarkably good at getting around on his disability vehicle or ‘invalid carriage’ as he liked to call it. The pensioner managed to get to and around London by train and cab. He drooled and stank. He expression in his voice was going.
Despite being exceptionally sociable David was in a sense not an easy man to know. Though gratingly garrulous it was hard to know the real David. He acted so much. Had he become the act? What was beneath all that bluster? He was in inebriated half the time. In moments of melancholy perhaps then I saw David as he really was – an unhappy and easily bored boy who craved recognition.
Later he went around in a disability vehicle. He drank from an adapted cup. Despite his physical debilities he as compos mentis. Drooling was the only thing he was liberal about. He began to reek. He cut a decidedly pathetic and forlorn figure. Nevertheless, it was a plaintive few years.
The reverend father vocalised his fulsome support for the English Defence League. I imagined that he might attend its rallies in clericals. But it was not to be. His vociferation against political correctness was undimmed.
David was absolutely Anglican but in no sense a Christian. There was not one tittle of Christianity goodness in him. He was very insulting and selfish. I never recall him expressing the least iota of sympathy for anyone who was ill, unemployed, depressed, jilted or otherwise suffering. He was gratuitously offensive to people about their children and about failing exams. David was a disgrace to the cloth. It is astounding that he was ordained. He would not have been accepted nowadays. David seemed more like a disciple of the antichrist than the Nazarene.
There are those who say that David was kind. I seldom saw him do anything for someone else. He was a selfish as can be imagined. He also started to feel sorry for himself. David never felt sorry for anyone else. The last few years are hard to limn with anything other than pathos.
So much of his eccentricity was studied. Every man has his foibles. But with David it was hard to know where the posing ended and the real person began. Did I ever get to know the man under that carapace? But a deux he was the same as when on display mode. When he was down in the mouth that is perhaps as close as one got to seeing David unspun. So often he was in his cups that it was hard to find a sober baseline to compare that with.
Perhaps this son of Bacchus intended to donate his body to medical science. David took the trouble to preserve his body in alcohol. In the nursing home he was a little forlorn. After two strokes there was not much left to live for. I imagine that he mused on what might have been. Had he squandered his prodigious gifts and the numerous golden opportunities afforded him? He was spending a lugubrious few years of dotage.
I cannot help reflecting that he was blessed to be born when he did. He was totally unappreciative of his lucky timing. Had he been born a generation earlier then university would have been financially beyond the grasp of someone as unscholarly as him. Had he been born a generation later then his outrageous antics would not have been tolerated in the Church or any other profession. He was an odd living self- contradiction: a combination of conformist and contrarian traits.
I have often wondered whether Fr Johnson had a personality disorder. It was clear that he was not entirely sane. 50 years of alcohol abuse cannot have been good for his brain. Being a dotant did nothing to improve his condition. It is a tristful tale.
David’s prodigious gifts had been squandered. It is a shame he did not go on reality TV. He was just the sort of exhibitionist freak they were looking for.
In March 2020 he was cognizant that he was near his hour of dissolution. He asked Fr Marcus Walker to administer the last rites. David received this. He will have needed absolution. He was struggling to speak or swallow. Yet the Fr Johnson was mentally unimpaired.
Through much of his life he was unrepentant. He said ”never explain, never apologise.” Did he go impenitent to his Maker? Hypocrite, toady and inebriate – he was going to need some forgiving. If he was shriven perhaps he shall have less to answer for.
For the last few weeks of his life David drank very little water and no food. It is unclear if he was purposively starving himself. If famishment did not kill him, it is possible that dehydration did. It is the supreme irony that a man notorious for his drinking may well have died of thirst. His immune system will have been very frail. He expired at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. It is not thought that he succumbed to that disease.
On 22 April 2020 David was called to his reward. It will have been a matter of irritation to him that he did not manage to expire two days earlier: on Hitler’s birthday.
Fr Johnson was by turns; bitchy, mean-spirited, sharp tongued, entertaining, quick witted, irascible, infuriating, egotistical, perverted, disreputable, self-serving and outrageous but never, ever, ever dull. David lived his life to the full. He was bon vivant par excellence. From his louche lifestyle to his insatiable thirst to his jaw dropping candour he was unapologetically his own man. In that sense at least he is a model to us all. Though I was the target of his cruel comments this perverted popinjay enriched my life. I am very glad I knew such a unique and colourful character. He was worth 100 of those forgettably milksop priests who people the parishes. I miss the filthy old bastard. The decrepit, despicable pervert would not mind me calling him that. For him anything but mindless good taste.
Rev Johnson was a concatenation of contradictions: parsimony and profligacy; effeminacy and misogyny; traditionalism and mocking it; sociability and sociopathy; Anglo-Catholicism yet despising Anglicanism and Catholicism; craving friends but alienating those who were friendly to him; homosexuality yet eschewing sex; dressiness but sometimes looking like a tramp.
David would have been elated to have been the subject of an obituary in the Daily Telegraph, the Times as well as other broadsheets. The Times called him ‘colourful, quixotic and mischievous.’ Coronavirus was on and there was little else in the news. The Telegraph opined, ”some saw him as an institution and others thought he should be confined to one.” As a publicity hunter he would have considered an obit in his favourite newspaper to be Elysian. The newspaper correctly surmised that he was a clergyman the like of which the world shall never see again. The Torygraph wrote with masterful British understatement that Jono ”patronised his local pub assiduously.” He was also remembered in the Church Times: the publication he once lampooned. The Church Times commented on his ‘unquenchable taste for self-destruction.’ It also remarked ‘He could not bear to be alone’. The obituary signed off: may he now find peace.
How will we remember him? He was a model of egocentricity, insobriety, self-indulgence, and ghoulish schadenfreude. To some he was a hobgoblin of spite, hypocrisy and bigotry. I shall remember him carousing the pubs of Oxford and camping it up. Others will remember his moments of decency and concern for the welfare of others. In my experience these were few and far between. He was the Lord of Misrule and indeed the Queen of Vice. David was a seriously silly man.
They don’t make them like that anymore! The Almighty broke the mould once David was fashioned. David is now there in that great big pub in the sky holding forth with tart gossip, playing racism for laughs and indulging in high camp playacting. I do not know if he is wearing a silken scarlet soutane or Selwyn summer dress. But I do know that he has a Guinness extra cold in each hand!
Coronavirus necessitated a burial with only a handful of mourners. He was laid to rest in Cogenhoe his quondam Northamptonshire parish. A full memorial service is planned for a few months hence. There we shall partake of copious vinous glassfuls in memory of this devout votary of Bacchus and offer him a libation. It is what he would have wanted. What should his epitaph be? I drink therefore I am.