Monthly Archives: September 2021

Bio of Fr Johnson


Absolutely stunning!

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!

A parish

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.


The Millennium

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.”

Dress sense

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.

7 year old tales


My school was playing against the other school; St Anthony. We wore blue and everyone chanted ”come on you blues.” The other team was in red.
Right before kickoff I had a butterfly stomach. The referee blew his whistle and we played. It was so exciting. But I was just a bit slow for the game. The other team had the ball most of the time. We tackled them but kept losing the ball. We slid in the mud and fell.
The others scored and again. Half time came. We were two nil down. Our coach gave us a pep talk as we had oranges. We changed some of our players.
After half time something clicked. This time every pass got through. Every tackle worked. We scored and scored one more. 
It was almost the final whistle. Would it be a draw. Abdul from out team shot. But the goalie saved the ball. The ball bounced off his gloves and landed near my feet. I was right in front of goal. I did not have time to be nervous. I just kicked it right in. I had scored. I felt great!
Seconds later we heard the final whistle. Yes! We won!



My favourite teacher is Mr Black. He was my teacher in 3rd form. The first time I saw Mr Black he told all of forms 1, 2 and 3 that we had to do our best. He seemed strict and a bit scary. Although he was firm Mr Black was also nice and funny. He told us lots of jokes. He kept us listening and set us important work. We would have done anything for that man.

Mr Black was tall and slim. He had grey hair and was clean shaven. He always wore a suit and was dressed tidily. He had a lively voice but it was not too deep. He had engaging brown eyes and a sallow skin tone.

In the classroom Mr Black held our attention. He corrected us gently. If we needed to go out to the loo he always said yes.

We all respected Mr Black because he had won an Olympic gold medal for swimming. But he was modest. He never showed off about it. He also coached us for rugby. He inspired us and gave us great advice.

I shall always remember him as a fantastic teacher.



My granny’s real name is Lydia but I never call her that. She has black hair with some streaks of grey. She is medium height and slim. Granny usually wears glasses. She likes to wear woolly jumpers especially in the winter. I stay at granny’s house sometimes. I like it when she drives me to the playground. I like her house because there is a dog, a rabbit and some birds there.

Granny is very nice to me. She never gets angry with me even when I am bad. Granny has a soft and gentle voice. She made a cake one Sunday. She was going to serve it later. I just put my face into it and started eating. She told me off for that.

Granny really likes gardening. She goes to church a lot.

German unification


German unification

The Zollverein helped to unite Germany. This forged a sense of economic unity.

The Prussian Finance Minister, Count von Bulow, had the idea for the Zollverein. There was a customs union in 1818 in Prussia. Prior to that there had been tariffs within Prussia.

The Zollverein reduced tariff barriers and protectionism. Raw materials and manufactures became cheaper and more easily available.

It became cheaper to buy, sell and transport goods.

The Rhineland, the Saar and the Ruhr valleys became centres of industrial growth.

The inland states joined Zollverein sooner. That was because coastal states: they could trade by sea. They traded with other countries more than within Germany.

By 1836 all states south of Prussia had joined Zollverein except Austria.

Coastal states had tariff free access to international commerce. They did not wish to burder consumers and producers with import taxes. They would have to pay these if they were in the Zollverein.

Hanover had a steuerverein – tax union – in 1834 with Brunswick. Oldenburg then joined. External tariffs on incomplete goods and overseas raw materials were under the rates of the Zollverein.

Brunswick joined the Zollverein in 1842. Hanover and Oldenburg in 1854.

In 1866 Schlwesig, Holstein and Lauenburg were absorbed into Prussia.


In the early 19th century the roads were in a parlous state. People said the roads were terrible. They had been kept in decent condition in the Napoleonic Wars so the army could use them.

After the 1820s road improvements began. Prussia increased its hard road surfaces from 3 400 km to 16 600 km by 1852.

Heinrich von Gagern said that the roads were ”the veins and arteries of the body politic.”

Travel meant people came into contact with other Germans. This stimulated trade. People met at inns, restaurants, markets and stations. Symposia and conferences became more common. It became easier to have musicians, actors and writers travel.

Baden Baden became more important as a spa. Water transport ameliorated. There had been blockades on the Rhine. These were removed under Napoleon.

By the 1820s steam engines were on the rivers. Previously there had been barges. Men and horses had towed boats.

In 1846 there were over 180 paddle steamers on German rivers and lakes.

Canals were built in the 19th century. These linked to the rivers Danube, Weser and Elbe.

Some boats had to unload goods so they could be taxed, reload the goods and then unload against a few kilometres down the river to be taxed again. This was very time consuming. The Zollverein put an end to this.

The railway was vital. The train was invented in 1835 in the UK.

The German economist Friedrich List said that railways and thw Zollverein were Siamese twins,.

August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben composed a poem extolling the Zollverein.

The poet said that commodities had done more to build German unity than politics or diplomacy.

Some said that railways made the stated united.

The novelist Wilhelm Raabe wrote, ”the German empire was founded by the construction of the railway.”

Not everybody liked trains. They ruined coachmen. Some people were Luddites. Some said that trains were noisy, filthy, dangerous and unnatural. Some called trains ”iron monsters”.

King Frederick William III of Prussia said that there was no point in taking the train even though it was faster than a coach.

Prince Metternich (the Austrian Chancellor) said he would never take the train.

Nikolaus Lenau wrote a poem in 1838 called Tp Spring. In it he said that railways had ruined the placidity of the wilderness.

The Bavarian Ludwig Railway was the first railway in Germany. It was built between Nuremberg and Furth in 1835. It ws 6 km long and rain only in daytime. It was a hit. It expanded to 144 km within 3 years.

By 1840 there were 141 km of track.

by 1860 there were 11 000 km of track.

The railways were in webs. There was no capital of Germany so interconnectedness was limited. Railways served regions rather than the whole country.

Rail made it cheaper to transport goods and people. It also helped forged national unity despite the shortcomings of the unco-ordinated system.

Timetables meant that Germany had to all have the same time. Previously town clocks were set by the sun.

The cost of transporting a ton by rail fell from 18 pfennigs in 1840 to 5 in 1870.

Ran materials could travel faster. Transport was no longer stopped by flooded or frozen rivers.

There was a new demand for wood and coal. Commodities were transported faster and more affordably.

In 1850 inland shipping transported 3 times more freight than railways. By 1870 it was the other way around.

Cities were rebuilt to accommodate railways.

By the 1890s the railways had reached every market town in the country.


Travel became quicker.

The Borthers Grimm wrote their dictionary known as the Grimm. It compiled oral literature. They noted that many of the same stories existed throughout Germany but were told in different versions.

Karl Baedeker wrote guide books to German and foreign cities. He wrote a history and description of all notable buildings. He also provided transport and accommodation info.

Hoffman von Fallersleben said that geography mattered as much as language. He wrote the Song of the Germans which became the national anthem. He wanted everyone to unite.

Watch on the Rhine was another famous nationalistic song. It cites German characteristics. He disputed France’s claim that the Rhine was France’s eastern boundary.

Nickolaus Becker wrote the Rhine Song saying that Germans must defend Germany.

People had their identity formed by the landscape, ancient castles and historic places.


Austria and Prussia were police states. They censored a lot.

The period before 1848 was later called the pre-March.

Nationalism and liberalism began to spread. Nationalists usually wanted unification on a liberal basis – with greater rights. They wanted German unity because most people wanted it. They believed in giving people what they want.

Liberals wanted elected legislatures. They wanted votes for the upper class and middle class.


iN 1832 a festival was held in the ruins of Hambach Castle. 32 000 Nationalists students and intellectuals paraded there. Women attended as well as men. They bore aloft a banner which later became the German Flag. They formed the Burschenschaft – a nationalist secret organisation.

Popular sovereignty is the notion that ordinary people have the right to decide the future of the nation such as whether Germany should unite or not. The notion of unity was fairly popular.

Hambach was presented as a fair. Those who took part promoted fraternity, liberty and unity. They gathered in the Bavarian town of Hambach. There were musical events and a march. There were orations by nationalist thinkers. Some were radical, some liberal and a few conservative.

The German nationalist wanted to educate their people. Literacy in Germany was high. But Germans needed to be taught to think of themselves as German first and foremost.

The authorities were suspicious. To them Hambach smacked of France 1789. France had had another revolution in 1830. Therefore, hereditary rulers were jittery. Despite the presence of a few conservatives at Hambach, the preponderance of conservatives were hostile to the festival and its goals. Conservatives tended to emphasise state identity. They were negative about major changes.

At Hambach, speakers underscored that German unity was to be accomplished peacefully. They wanted a union of hearts and minds before political union was perfected.

Austria was the arch-conservative force in Germany. Vienna felt menaced by nationalism. It could lead to the breakup of the empire and the downfall of the monarchy.

The Chancellor of Austria, Metternich, was perturbed by Hambach. Prince Clemens von Metternich was a reactionary. Although he was Austrian Chancellor he was from the Rhineland. That did not make him sympathetic to German nationalism though. He used Hambach as a justification for the Six Articles: these were proclamations about the inviolability of the monarchy, the integrity of the Austrian Empire, the privileged position of the Catholic Church and so forth.

In July 1832 the Diet at Frankfurt voted for another 10 articles. These repeated that censorship would be exercised on publications or public speeches that caused disharmonious relations. The rules limiting political organisations were also reaffirmed. The states said that they would dispatch soldiers to any state that faced an insurrection.

Prince Wrede commanded half the Bavarian Army in marching to the Palatinate. He wanted to dissuade people there from any demonstrations. Some of those who had orated at Hambach were arrested. They were charged with sedition. One speaker, Heinrich Bruggemann, was sentenced to death. His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment but released several years later. Several others received lenghty terms of incarceration.


The Carlsbad Decrees deprived people of free expression were ridiculed by liberals.

There were a multitude of factors concerning nationalism. There were asperities between the states in the German Confederation. Austria and Prussia had fought against each other many times. Austria had often been an all of France. if there was to be a united Germany who was to lead it? Would it be Germany or Austria? Could both be accommodated? The idea of having both in Germany was called Grossdeustchland.

There was business competition between the states. Industry and agricultures viewed each other as almost enemies. Cottage industries disliked factories. Handicrafts were going out of business because they could not compete with the low costs and standardisation of manufactured goods.

The Zollverein created losers as well as winners. Some people went bankrupt due to it. Taxes on incomes had to rise as import taxes were scrapped.

Landowners felt threatened by the new found wealth of factory owners and the mercantile class.

There was drought in the 1830s. This caused serious hardship.

In 1840 potato blight struck Germany.

There was considerable internal migration. As agriculture became more efficient and it needed fewer workers. Countryside people moved to cities where they found jobs in factories, coal mines, railways and the service sector.

The countryside and the city were not separate from each other. City dwellers often returned to their birth villages in the countryside on the weekend.

Governments were disturbed by growing discontent. They believed that seditionists were making people unhappy. Government feared a revolution.

Agitators were punished with fines and prison terms. Sometimes they were exiled to other states.

The intelligentisa was ever more alienated from the status quo. Undergraduates, professors, teachers, lawyers, architects, doctors, engineers, accountants and sometimes even clergy were becoming dissatisfied with the authoritarian nature of most German states. The highly educated people travelled the country the most and corresponded with each other. They had often studied in states other than their own. The intelligentsia had a more pronounced German identity than any other class.

Businessmen tended to travel to. Some of them were starting to have a distinct German identity and perceive the benefits that a united Germany would bring in its train.

Some of the aristocracy was attracted to German nationalism. They too had the time and money to travel. However, most of them saw the perils attendant on unification. It could be accompanied by revolution and that would threaten the position of the aristocracy. What would Poles in East Prussia say? They would wanted a united and independent Poland if there was a united and independent Germany.


In 1817 there had been the Wartburg rally in 1817. This had been the first public call for unification. It has prefigured Hambach.

At Hamback the varying views of the speakers had proved that there was no coherent nationalist movement. Nationalists had very different visions of a united Germany. They disagreed sharply on how to achieve a united Germany. They placed their faith in educating or indoctrinating the common people into nationalism. This was condescending. Some highly educated people were totally opposed to nationalism.

High flown rhetoric achieved little. Flaunting flags was no substitues for action nor was a banquet for nationalist windbags. Some proposed writing a German Constitution. But before 1848 no one did it.


In February 1848 a revolution broke out in Paris. King Louis Philippe was overthrown. That was the end of the Orleanist dynasty in France.

In Vienna, Prince Metternich was aghast. He opposed any upset to the Congress of Vienna settlement that he had painstakingly set up in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars. Metternich saw Austria as the policeman of Europe. He therefore decided that military action was needed to quell the French Revolution and put the King of the French back on his throne. If revolution was not nipped in the bud then it would spread – that was Metternich’s reasoning.

In Austria taxes were raised to fund a war. Austria called on other states in Europe to join the counter revolutionary cause. Austrians were horrified that they were going to be taxed more. It also seemed like another unnecessary war against France. Austria had had over 20 years of those at enormous cost. Many people went to the banks to withdraw all their money. They feared that the government would simply confiscate money from banks as a way of taxing people.

Queues at banks turned into rowdy demonstrations. The situation grew so alarming that the Hasburgs fled to Innsbruck. Crowds demanded that Metternich be sacked. The emperor dismissed Metternich. He then moved to London.

The revolution spread to Hungary, Ireland, Venezuela, Poland and other countries.

The Frankfurt Parliament met at St Paul’s Church. They decided that a proper national parliament needed to be elected. Radicals wanted every man to be able to vote. Liberals wanted educational and property qualifications in order to vote.

The German Revolution was intended to bring about unification and a constitution. Revolutionaries were not that revolutionary at first. They petitioned the states to allow an elected assembly for the whole of Germany. The revolutionaries thought that relatively liberal states in the Rhineland might agree.

Some revolutionaries thought that the King of Prussia ought to be the German head of state. It stood to reason. Prussia was the largest mainly German state. Prussia had done more to beat France than any other state. Prussia was not as hostile to German nationalism as Austria was.

There was some debate just how integrated a united Germany should be. How much autonomy should states retain.

Prussia had a three class voting system. Those who paid a third of the tax elected a third of the deputies to the landtag (parliament). The richest 5% therefore had 33% of the representation. The next richest 20% had a third and the rest had another third. Every man in Prussia could vote but not on an equal basis.

For the first time German nationalism spread out of the upper middle class. Significant numbers of working class people became excited by the idea of unification. It was a very dangerous moment for reactionaries.

In March 1849 the Frankfurt Parliament passed the Constitution. It offered the emperorship of Germany to Frederick William IV. The King of Prussia declined scornfully. He would only accept such an offer from the heads of states. Prussia knew that if its king had accepted the crown from the Frankfurt Parliament the other states including Austria would have declared war. Even Russia might have stepped in. A united Germany would be too mighty; It would be perceive as an existential threat by its neighbours.

The Frankfurt Parliament proposed kleindeutschland – i.e. Germany excluding Austria. This disappointed many. Some Austrians were German nationalists. Though the Austrian Government was adamantine in its opposition to nationalism not all Austrians were against it.

Some German states were amenable to unification. They negotiated with the Frankfurt Parliament. A few even encouraged it. This was a mixture of genuine conviction and a belief that unification was happening anyway so it was wise to be on the winning side.

The defeat of all the other revolutions (except the French one) demoralised the Frankfurt Parliament.


Liberals in Frankfurt failed to accomplish nationalism their way. Therefore it fell to conservatives to do it their way. That is one viewpoint. The liberals had also made perhaps too many concession to land owners.

Germany is said to have followed the sonderweg (separate path) in its historical development after 1848.

People say that the failure of 1848 led to Germany being an authoritarian satte when it eventually united. Some said this ultimately led to Nazism.

Some German bourgeois wanted to be upper class. The failure of 1848 was largely a middle class failure. They began to believe that only the upper class could accomplished what the middle class could not.


More recent scholarship has rejected this idea, claiming that Germany did not have an actual “distinctive path” any more than any other nation, a historiographic idea known as exceptionalism.[52] Instead, modern historians claim 1848 saw specific achievements by the liberal politicians. Many of their ideas and programs were later incorporated into Bismarck’s social programs (e.g., social insurance, education programs, and wider definitions of suffrage). In addition, the notion of a distinctive path relies upon the underlying assumption that some other nation’s path (in this case, the United Kingdom’s) is the accepted norm.[53] This new argument further challenges the norms of the British-centric model of development: studies of national development in Britain and other “normal” states (e.g., France or the United States) have suggested that even in these cases, the modern nation-state did not develop evenly. Nor did it develop particularly early, being rather a largely mid-to-late-19th-century phenomenon.[54] Since the end of the 1990s, this view has become widely accepted, although some historians still find the Sonderweg analysis helpful in understanding the period of National Socialism.[55][56]

Problem of spheres of influence: The Erfurt Union and the Punctation of Olmütz[edit]

This depiction of Germania, also by Philipp Veit, was created to hide the organ of the Paul’s Church in Frankfurt, during the meeting of the Parliament there, March 1848–49. The sword was intended to symbolize the Word of God and to mark the renewal of the people and their triumphant spirit.

After the Frankfurt Parliament disbanded, Frederick William IV, under the influence of General Joseph Maria von Radowitz, supported the establishment of the Erfurt Union—a federation of German states, excluding Austria—by the free agreement of the German princes. This limited union under Prussia would have almost entirely eliminated Austrian influence on the other German states. Combined diplomatic pressure from Austria and Russia (a guarantor of the 1815 agreements that established European spheres of influence) forced Prussia to relinquish the idea of the Erfurt Union at a meeting in the small town of Olmütz in Moravia. In November 1850, the Prussians—specifically Radowitz and Frederick William—agreed to the restoration of the German Confederation under Austrian leadership. This became known as the Punctation of Olmütz, but among Prussians it was known as the “Humiliation of Olmütz.”[57]

Although seemingly minor events, the Erfurt Union proposal and the Punctation of Olmütz brought the problems of influence in the German states into sharp focus. The question became not a matter of if but rather when unification would occur, and when was contingent upon strength. One of the former Frankfurt Parliament members, Johann Gustav Droysen, summed up the problem:

We cannot conceal the fact that the whole German question is a simple alternative between Prussia and Austria. In these states, German life has its positive and negative poles—in the former, all the interests [that] are national and reformative, in the latter, all that are dynastic and destructive. The German question is not a constitutional question but a question of power; and the Prussian monarchy is now wholly German, while that of Austria cannot be.[58]

Unification under these conditions raised a basic diplomatic problem. The possibility of German (or Italian) unification would overturn the overlapping spheres of influence system created in 1815 at the Congress of Vienna. The principal architects of this convention, MetternichCastlereagh, and Tsar Alexander (with his foreign secretary Count Karl Nesselrode), had conceived of and organized a Europe balanced and guaranteed by four “great powers“: Great Britain, France, Russia, and Austria, with each power having a geographic sphere of influence. France’s sphere included the Iberian Peninsula and a share of influence in the Italian states. Russia’s included the eastern regions of Central Europe and a balancing influence in the Balkans. Austria’s sphere expanded throughout much of the Central European territories formerly held by the Holy Roman Empire. Britain’s sphere was the rest of the world, especially the seas.[59]

This sphere of influence system depended upon the fragmentation of the German and Italian states, not their consolidation. Consequently, a German nation united under one banner presented significant questions. There was no readily applicable definition for who the German people would be or how far the borders of a German nation would stretch. There was also uncertainty as to who would best lead and defend “Germany”, however it was defined. Different groups offered different solutions to this problem. In the Kleindeutschland (“Lesser Germany”) solution, the German states would be united under the leadership of the Prussian Hohenzollerns; in the Grossdeutschland (“Greater Germany”) solution, the German states would be united under the leadership of the Austrian Habsburgs. This controversy, the latest phase of the German dualism debate that had dominated the politics of the German states and Austro-Prussian diplomacy since the 1701 creation of the Kingdom of Prussia, would come to a head during the following twenty years.[60]

External expectations of a unified Germany[edit]

Other nationalists had high hopes for the German unification movement, and the frustration with lasting German unification after 1850 seemed to set the national movement back. Revolutionaries associated national unification with progress. As Giuseppe Garibaldi wrote to German revolutionary Karl Blind on 10 April 1865, “The progress of humanity seems to have come to a halt, and you with your superior intelligence will know why. The reason is that the world lacks a nation [that] possesses true leadership. Such leadership, of course, is required not to dominate other peoples but to lead them along the path of duty, to lead them toward the brotherhood of nations where all the barriers erected by egoism will be destroyed.” Garibaldi looked to Germany for the “kind of leadership [that], in the true tradition of medieval chivalry, would devote itself to redressing wrongs, supporting the weak, sacrificing momentary gains and material advantage for the much finer and more satisfying achievement of relieving the suffering of our fellow men. We need a nation courageous enough to give us a lead in this direction. It would rally to its cause all those who are suffering wrong or who aspire to a better life and all those who are now enduring foreign oppression.” [61]

German unification had also been viewed as a prerequisite for the creation of a European federation, which Giuseppe Mazzini and other European patriots had been promoting for more than three decades:

In the spring of 1834, while at Berne, Mazzini and a dozen refugees from Italy, Poland and Germany founded a new association with the grandiose name of Young Europe. Its basic, and equally grandiose idea, was that, as the French Revolution of 1789 had enlarged the concept of individual liberty, another revolution would now be needed for national liberty; and his vision went further because he hoped that in the no doubt distant future free nations might combine to form a loosely federal Europe with some kind of federal assembly to regulate their common interests. […] His intention was nothing less than to overturn the European settlement agreed [to] in 1815 by the Congress of Vienna, which had reestablished an oppressive hegemony of a few great powers and blocked the emergence of smaller nations. […] Mazzini hoped, but without much confidence, that his vision of a league or society of independent nations would be realized in his own lifetime. In practice Young Europe lacked the money and popular support for more than a short-term existence. Nevertheless he always remained faithful to the ideal of a united continent for which the creation of individual nations would be an indispensable preliminary.[62]

Prussia’s growing strength: Realpolitik[edit]

Further information: Helmuth von Moltke the Elder § Moltke’s Theory of WarThe convergence of leadership in politics and diplomacy by Bismarck, left, reorganization of the army and its training techniques by Albrecht von Roon (center), and the redesign of operational and strategic principles by Helmuth von Moltke (right) placed Prussia among the most powerful states in European affairs after the 1860s.

King Frederick William IV suffered a stroke in 1857 and could no longer rule. This led to his brother William becoming Prince Regent of the Kingdom of Prussia in 1858. Meanwhile, Helmuth von Moltke had become chief of the Prussian General Staff in 1857, and Albrecht von Roon would become Prussian Minister of War in 1859.[63] This shuffling of authority within the Prussian military establishment would have important consequences. Von Roon and William (who took an active interest in military structures) began reorganizing the Prussian army, while Moltke redesigned the strategic defense of Prussia by streamlining operational command. Prussian army reforms (especially how to pay for them) caused a constitutional crisis beginning in 1860 because both parliament and William—via his minister of war—wanted control over the military budget. William, crowned King Wilhelm I in 1861, appointed Otto von Bismarck to the position of Minister-President of Prussia in 1862. Bismarck resolved the crisis in favor of the war minister.[64]

The Crimean War of 1854–55 and the Italian War of 1859 disrupted relations among Great Britain, France, Austria, and Russia. In the aftermath of this disarray, the convergence of von Moltke’s operational redesign, von Roon and Wilhelm’s army restructure, and Bismarck’s diplomacy influenced the realignment of the European balance of power. Their combined agendas established Prussia as the leading German power through a combination of foreign diplomatic triumphs—backed up by the possible use of Prussian military might—and an internal conservatism tempered by pragmatism, which came to be known as Realpolitik.[65]

Bismarck expressed the essence of Realpolitik in his subsequently famous “Blood and Iron” speech to the Budget Committee of the Prussian Chamber of Deputies on 30 September 1862, shortly after he became Minister President: “The great questions of the time will not be resolved by speeches and majority decisions—that was the great mistake of 1848 and 1849—but by iron and blood.”[66] Bismarck’s words, “iron and blood” (or “blood and iron”, as often attributed), have often been misappropriated as evidence of a German lust for blood and power.[67] First, the phrase from his speech “the great questions of time will not be resolved by speeches and majority decisions” is often interpreted as a repudiation of the political process—a repudiation Bismarck did not himself advocate.[68] Second, his emphasis on blood and iron did not imply simply the unrivaled military might of the Prussian army but rather two important aspects: the ability of the assorted German states to produce iron and other related war materials and the willingness to use those war materials if necessary.[69]

Founding a unified state[edit]

There is, in political geography, no Germany proper to speak of. There are Kingdoms and Grand Duchies, and Duchies and Principalities, inhabited by Germans, and each [is] separately ruled by an independent sovereign with all the machinery of State. Yet there is a natural undercurrent tending to a national feeling and toward a union of the Germans into one great nation, ruled by one common head as a national unit.

—article from The New York Times published on July 1, 1866[70]

By 1862, when Bismarck made his speech, the idea of a German nation-state in the peaceful spirit of Pan-Germanism had shifted from the liberal and democratic character of 1848 to accommodate Bismarck’s more conservative Realpolitik. Bismarck sought to link a unified state to the Hohenzollern dynasty, which for some historians remains one of Bismarck’s primary contributions to the creation of the German Empire in 1871.[71] While the conditions of the treaties binding the various German states to one another prohibited Bismarck from taking unilateral action, the politician and diplomat in him realized the impracticality of this.[72] To get the German states to unify, Bismarck needed a single, outside enemy that would declare war on one of the German states first, thus providing a casus belli to rally all Germans behind. This opportunity arose with the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. Historians have long debated Bismarck’s role in the events leading up to the war. The traditional view, promulgated in large part by late 19th- and early 20th-century pro-Prussian historians, maintains that Bismarck’s intent was always German unification. Post-1945 historians, however, see more short-term opportunism and cynicism in Bismarck’s manipulation of the circumstances to create a war, rather than a grand scheme to unify a nation-state.[73] Regardless of motivation, by manipulating events of 1866 and 1870, Bismarck demonstrated the political and diplomatic skill that had caused Wilhelm to turn to him in 1862.[74]From north to south: The Danish part of Jutland in purple and terracotta, Schleswig in red and brown, and Holstein in lime yellow. The Schleswig-Holstein Question was about the status of those territories.

Three episodes proved fundamental to the unification of Germany. First, the death without male heirs of Frederick VII of Denmark led to the Second War of Schleswig in 1864. Second, the unification of Italy provided Prussia an ally against Austria in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. Finally, France—fearing Hohenzollern encirclement—declared war on Prussia in 1870, resulting in the Franco-Prussian War. Through a combination of Bismarck’s diplomacy and political leadership, von Roon‘s military reorganization, and von Moltke‘s military strategy, Prussia demonstrated that none of the European signatories of the 1815 peace treaty could guarantee Austria’s sphere of influence in Central Europe, thus achieving Prussian hegemony in Germany and ending the dualism debate.[75]

The Schleswig-Holstein Question[edit]

Main article: Second Schleswig War

The first episode in the saga of German unification under Bismarck came with the Schleswig-Holstein Question. On 15 November 1863, Christian IX became king of Denmark and duke of SchleswigHolstein, and Lauenburg, which the Danish king held in personal union. On 18 November 1863, he signed the Danish November Constitution which replaced The Law of Sjælland and The Law of Jutland, which meant the new constitution applied to the Duchy of Schleswig. The German Confederation saw this act as a violation of the London Protocol of 1852, which emphasized the status of the Kingdom of Denmark as distinct from the three independent duchies. The German Confederation could use the ethnicities of the area as a rallying cry: Holstein and Lauenburg were largely of German origin and spoke German in everyday life, while Schleswig had a significant Danish population and history. Diplomatic attempts to have the November Constitution repealed collapsed, and fighting began when Prussian and Austrian troops crossed the Eider river on 1 February 1864.

Initially, the Danes attempted to defend their country using an ancient earthen wall known as the Danevirke, but this proved futile. The Danes were no match for the combined Prussian and Austrian forces and their modern armaments. The needle gun, one of the first bolt action rifles to be used in conflict, aided the Prussians in both this war and the Austro-Prussian War two years later. The rifle enabled a Prussian soldier to fire five shots while lying prone, while its muzzle-loading counterpart could only fire one shot and had to be reloaded while standing. The Second Schleswig War resulted in victory for the combined armies of Prussia and Austria, and the two countries won control of Schleswig and Holstein in the concluding peace of Vienna, signed on 30 October 1864.[76]

War between Austria and Prussia, 1866[edit]

Main article: Austro-Prussian WarSituation at the time of the outbreak of the war:  Prussia  Austria  Austria’s allies  Prussia’s allies  Neutral  Under joint administration (Schleswig-Holstein)

The second episode in Bismarck’s unification efforts occurred in 1866. In concert with the newly formed Italy, Bismarck created a diplomatic environment in which Austria declared war on Prussia. The dramatic prelude to the war occurred largely in Frankfurt, where the two powers claimed to speak for all the German states in the parliament. In April 1866, the Prussian representative in Florence signed a secret agreement with the Italian government, committing each state to assist the other in a war against Austria. The next day, the Prussian delegate to the Frankfurt assembly presented a plan calling for a national constitution, a directly elected national Diet, and universal suffrage. German liberals were justifiably skeptical of this plan, having witnessed Bismarck’s difficult and ambiguous relationship with the Prussian Landtag (State Parliament), a relationship characterized by Bismarck’s cajoling and riding roughshod over the representatives. These skeptics saw the proposal as a ploy to enhance Prussian power rather than a progressive agenda of reform.[77]

Choosing sides[edit]

The debate over the proposed national constitution became moot when news of Italian troop movements in Tyrol and near the Venetian border reached Vienna in April 1866. The Austrian government ordered partial mobilization in the southern regions; the Italians responded by ordering full mobilization. Despite calls for rational thought and action, Italy, Prussia, and Austria continued to rush toward armed conflict. On 1 May, Wilhelm gave von Moltke command over the Prussian armed forces, and the next day he began full-scale mobilization.[78]

In the Diet, the group of middle-sized states, known as Mittelstaaten (BavariaWürttemberg, the grand duchies of Baden and Hesse, and the duchies of Saxony–WeimarSaxony–MeiningenSaxony–Coburg, and Nassau), supported complete demobilization within the Confederation. These individual governments rejected the potent combination of enticing promises and subtle (or outright) threats Bismarck used to try to gain their support against the Habsburgs. The Prussian war cabinet understood that its only supporters among the German states against the Habsburgs were two small principalities bordering on Brandenburg that had little military strength or political clout: the Grand Duchies of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Mecklenburg-Strelitz. They also understood that Prussia’s only ally abroad was Italy.[79]

Opposition to Prussia’s strong-armed tactics surfaced in other social and political groups. Throughout the German states, city councils, liberal parliamentary members who favored a unified state, and chambers of commerce—which would see great benefits from unification—opposed any war between Prussia and Austria. They believed any such conflict would only serve the interests of royal dynasties. Their own interests, which they understood as “civil” or “bourgeois”, seemed irrelevant. Public opinion also opposed Prussian domination. Catholic populations along the Rhine—especially in such cosmopolitan regions as Cologne and in the heavily populated Ruhr Valley—continued to support Austria. By late spring, most important states opposed Berlin’s effort to reorganize the German states by force. The Prussian cabinet saw German unity as an issue of power and a question of who had the strength and will to wield that power. Meanwhile, the liberals in the Frankfurt assembly saw German unity as a process of negotiation that would lead to the distribution of power among the many parties.[80]

Austria isolated[edit]

Prussian Prince Friedrich Carl ordering his enthusiastic troops to attack at the Battle of Königgrätz

Although several German states initially sided with Austria, they stayed on the defensive and failed to take effective initiatives against Prussian troops. The Austrian army therefore faced the technologically superior Prussian army with support only from Saxony. France promised aid, but it came late and was insufficient.[81] Complicating the situation for Austria, the Italian mobilization on Austria’s southern border required a diversion of forces away from battle with Prussia to fight the Third Italian War of Independence on a second front in Venetia and on the Adriatic sea.[82]Aftermath of the war:  Prussia  Territories annexed by Prussia  Prussia’s allies  Austria  Austria’s allies  Neutral members of the German Confederation

In the day-long Battle of Königgrätz, near the village of SadováFriedrich Carl and his troops arrived late, and in the wrong place. Once he arrived, however, he ordered his troops immediately into the fray. The battle was a decisive victory for Prussia and forced the Habsburgs to end the war,[83] laying the groundwork for the Kleindeutschland (little Germany) solution, or “Germany without Austria.”

Realpolitik and the North German Confederation[edit]

Further information: North German Confederation

A quick peace was essential to keep Russia from entering the conflict on Austria’s side.[84] Prussia annexed HanoverHesse-KasselNassau, and the city of FrankfurtHesse Darmstadt lost some territory but not its sovereignty. The states south of the Main River (Baden, Württemberg, and Bavaria) signed separate treaties requiring them to pay indemnities and to form alliances bringing them into Prussia’s sphere of influence. Austria, and most of its allies, were excluded from the North German Confederation.[85]

The end of Austrian dominance of the German states shifted Austria’s attention to the Balkans. In 1867, the Austrian emperor Franz Joseph accepted a settlement (the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867) in which he gave his Hungarian holdings equal status with his Austrian domains, creating the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary.[86] The Peace of Prague (1866) offered lenient terms to Austria, in which Austria’s relationship with the new nation-state of Italy underwent major restructuring; although the Austrians were far more successful in the military field against Italian troops, the monarchy lost the important province of Venetia. The Habsburgs ceded Venetia to France, which then formally transferred control to Italy.[87] The French public resented the Prussian victory and demanded Revanche pour Sadová (“Revenge for Sadova”), illustrating anti-Prussian sentiment in France—a problem that would accelerate in the months leading up to the Franco-Prussian War.[88] The Austro-Prussian War also damaged relations with the French government. At a meeting in Biarritz in September 1865 with Napoleon III, Bismarck had let it be understood (or Napoleon had thought he understood) that France might annex parts of Belgium and Luxembourg in exchange for its neutrality in the war. These annexations did not happen, resulting in animosity from Napoleon towards Bismarck.

The reality of defeat for Austria caused a reevaluation of internal divisions, local autonomy, and liberalism.[89] The new North German Confederation had its own constitution, flag, and governmental and administrative structures. Through military victory, Prussia under Bismarck’s influence had overcome Austria’s active resistance to the idea of a unified Germany. Austria’s influence over the German states may have been broken, but the war also splintered the spirit of pan-German unity: most of the German states resented Prussian power politics.[90]

War with France[edit]

Further information: Causes of the Franco-Prussian War

By 1870 three of the important lessons of the Austro-Prussian war had become apparent. The first lesson was that, through force of arms, a powerful state could challenge the old alliances and spheres of influence established in 1815. Second, through diplomatic maneuvering, a skillful leader could create an environment in which a rival state would declare war first, thus forcing states allied with the “victim” of external aggression to come to the leader’s aid. Finally, as Prussian military capacity far exceeded that of Austria, Prussia was clearly the only state within the Confederation (or among the German states generally) capable of protecting all of them from potential interference or aggression. In 1866, most mid-sized German states had opposed Prussia, but by 1870 these states had been coerced and coaxed into mutually protective alliances with Prussia. In the event that a European state declared war on one of their members, they all would come to the defense of the attacked state. With skillful manipulation of European politics, Bismarck created a situation in which France would play the role of aggressor in German affairs, while Prussia would play that of the protector of German rights and liberties.[91]

Spheres of influence fall apart in Spain[edit]

At the Congress of Vienna in 1815, Metternich and his conservative allies had reestablished the Spanish monarchy under King Ferdinand VII. Over the following forty years, the great powers supported the Spanish monarchy, but events in 1868 would further test the old system. A revolution in Spain overthrew Queen Isabella II, and the throne remained empty while Isabella lived in sumptuous exile in Paris. The Spanish, looking for a suitable Catholic successor, had offered the post to three European princes, each of whom was rejected by Napoleon III, who served as regional power-broker. Finally, in 1870 the Regency offered the crown to Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, a prince of the Catholic cadet Hohenzollern line. The ensuing furor has been dubbed by historians as the Hohenzollern candidature.[92]

Over the next few weeks, the Spanish offer turned into the talk of Europe. Bismarck encouraged Leopold to accept the offer.[93] A successful installment of a Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen king in Spain would mean that two countries on either side of France would both have German kings of Hohenzollern descent. This may have been a pleasing prospect for Bismarck, but it was unacceptable to either Napoleon III or to Agenor, duc de Gramont, his minister of foreign affairs. Gramont wrote a sharply formulated ultimatum to Wilhelm, as head of the Hohenzollern family, stating that if any Hohenzollern prince should accept the crown of Spain, the French government would respond—although he left ambiguous the nature of such response. The prince withdrew as a candidate, thus defusing the crisis, but the French ambassador to Berlin would not let the issue lie.[94] He approached the Prussian king directly while Wilhelm was vacationing in Ems Spa, demanding that the King release a statement saying he would never support the installation of a Hohenzollern on the throne of Spain. Wilhelm refused to give such an encompassing statement, and he sent Bismarck a dispatch by telegram describing the French demands. Bismarck used the king’s telegram, called the Ems Dispatch, as a template for a short statement to the press. With its wording shortened and sharpened by Bismarck—and further alterations made in the course of its translation by the French agency Havas—the Ems Dispatch raised an angry furor in France. The French public, still aggravated over the defeat at Sadová, demanded war.[95]

Military operations[edit]

Further information: Franco-Prussian WarEmperor Napoleon III (left) at Sedan, on 2 September 1870, seated next to Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, holding Napoleon’s surrendered sword. The defeat of the French army destabilized Napoleon’s regime; a revolution in Paris established the Third French Republic, and the war continued.

Napoleon III had tried to secure territorial concessions from both sides before and after the Austro-Prussian War, but despite his role as mediator during the peace negotiations, he ended up with nothing. He then hoped that Austria would join in a war of revenge and that its former allies—particularly the southern German states of Baden, Württemberg, and Bavaria—would join in the cause. This hope would prove futile since the 1866 treaty came into effect and united all German states militarily—if not happily—to fight against France. Instead of a war of revenge against Prussia, supported by various German allies, France engaged in a war against all of the German states without any allies of its own.[96] The reorganization of the military by von Roon and the operational strategy of Moltke combined against France to great effect. The speed of Prussian mobilization astonished the French, and the Prussian ability to concentrate power at specific points—reminiscent of Napoleon I’s strategies seventy years earlier—overwhelmed French mobilization. Utilizing their efficiently laid rail grid, Prussian troops were delivered to battle areas rested and prepared to fight, whereas French troops had to march for considerable distances to reach combat zones. After a number of battles, notably SpicherenWörthMars la Tour, and Gravelotte, the Prussians defeated the main French armies and advanced on the primary city of Metz and the French capital of Paris. They captured Napoleon III and took an entire army as prisoners at Sedan on 1 September 1870.[97]

Proclamation of the German Empire[edit]

Further information: Proclamation of the German Empire

The humiliating capture of the French emperor and the loss of the French army itself, which marched into captivity at a makeshift camp in the Saarland (“Camp Misery”), threw the French government into turmoil; Napoleon’s energetic opponents overthrew his government and proclaimed the Third Republic.[98] “In the days after Sedan, Prussian envoys met with the French and demanded a large cash indemnity as well as the cession of Alsace and Lorraine. All parties in France rejected the terms, insisting that any armistice be forged “on the basis of territorial integrity.” France, in other words, would pay reparations for starting the war, but would, in Jules Favre’s famous phrase, “cede neither a clod of our earth nor a stone of our fortresses”.[99] The German High Command expected an overture of peace from the French, but the new republic refused to surrender. The Prussian army invested Paris and held it under siege until mid-January, with the city being “ineffectually bombarded”.[100] Nevertheless, in January, the Germans fired some 12,000 shells, 300–400 grenades daily into the city.[101] On 18 January 1871, the German princes and senior military commanders proclaimed Wilhelm “German Emperor” in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles.[102] Under the subsequent Treaty of Frankfurt, France relinquished most of its traditionally German regions (Alsace and the German-speaking part of Lorraine); paid an indemnity, calculated (on the basis of population) as the precise equivalent of the indemnity that Napoleon Bonaparte imposed on Prussia in 1807;[103] and accepted German administration of Paris and most of northern France, with “German troops to be withdrawn stage by stage with each installment of the indemnity payment”.[104]

Importance in the unification process[edit]

18 January 1871: The proclamation of the German Empire in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of VersaillesBismarck appears in white. The Grand Duke of Baden stands beside Wilhelm, leading the cheers. Crown Prince Friedrich, later Friedrich III, stands on his father’s right. Painting by Anton von Werner

Victory in the Franco-Prussian War proved the capstone of the nationalist issue. In the first half of the 1860s, Austria and Prussia both contended to speak for the German states; both maintained they could support German interests abroad and protect German interests at home. In responding to the Schleswig-Holstein Question, they both proved equally diligent in doing so. After the victory over Austria in 1866, Prussia began internally asserting its authority to speak for the German states and defend German interests, while Austria began directing more and more of its attention to possessions in the Balkans. The victory over France in 1871 expanded Prussian hegemony in the German states (aside from Austria) to the international level. With the proclamation of Wilhelm as Kaiser, Prussia assumed the leadership of the new empire. The southern states became officially incorporated into a unified Germany at the Treaty of Versailles of 1871 (signed 26 February 1871; later ratified in the Treaty of Frankfurt of 10 May 1871), which formally ended the war.[105] Although Bismarck had led the transformation of Germany from a loose confederation into a federal nation state, he had not done it alone. Unification was achieved by building on a tradition of legal collaboration under the Holy Roman Empire and economic collaboration through the Zollverein. The difficulties of the Vormärz, the impact of the 1848 liberals, the importance of von Roon’s military reorganization, and von Moltke’s strategic brilliance all played a part in political unification.[106] “Einheit – unity – was achieved at the expense of Freiheit – freedom. The German Empire became, in Karl Marx’s words, “a military despotism cloaked in parliamentary forms with a feudal ingredient, influenced by the bourgeoisie, festooned with bureaucrats and guarded by police.”11 Indeed many historians would see Germany’s “escape into war” in 1914 as a flight from all of the internal-political contradictions forged by Bismarck at Versailles in the fall of 1870.[107]