Charity & social welfare
Kent, Bruce (3 of 6) National Life Stories: General
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2009-08-31, 2009-09-05, 2009-09-24, 2009-10-06, 2009-10-29
Interviewee's home, London
Kent, Bruce (1929-) (speaker, male)
Brodie, Louise (speaker, female)
Part 3: [Session 2: 5 September 2009] BK’s father’s family were all in Montreal. They were friendly, but not really close. Protestant, golfers. They did not appear to mind the Catholic connection. There were some connections in previous generations with London. BK’s mother was more influential for him. His father could be dominant and frightening. Later on he became a bit senile and dependent on BK. BK was never very close to his brother. After he died BK realised how much appreciated he had been by his pupils at school in Cambridge. [8:14] Armistice Day in Golders Green was dramatic with cars and buses stopped and people silent and unmoving. You heard the guns going off in Hyde Park. They also had tradesmen, the muffin man coming round to Meadway. Story of the coal horses. BK’s bike trip was important to him for the independence it gave him. He was old enough to break out of the nest. B found his army training completely unreflective. He remembers being told to shoot in a riot (which he never had to do). He learnt their obedience. [14:30] BK got a scholarship interview for Oxford. He got a place anyway. He went to Brasenose, and met friends immediately. He got involved with the Newman Society quickly. Academically, it was not very hard work. He found the free air training marvellous, a joy, playing with the clouds, with the whole world below you. The Newman Society had its own social and intellectual sections. Canon Valentine Elwes was in charge. BK got celebrities to come and speak. Gilbert Harding refused, and Evelyn Waugh was very rude, but he sent a book to BK as a thank you. In the third year he had to work very hard in order to get a second class degree, which he did. [22:06] When BK was in the army he came back to the Easter retreat at Stonyhurst, and Joe Christie fired him up to be a Jesuit. His father was very upset, and BK agreed to go to Oxford and decide afterwards. There he discovered about secular clergy. Details of training for the Jesuits who were considered to be the elite corps. BK still feels that he had the call to be a priest. The seminary he went to for secular priests was reactionary and not up to much. They did not even have tutorials till the third year. BK was a beekeeper and ran boys camps. He remembers the television for the coronation in 1953, and realised that they were connected to the outside world. BK felt strongly that he could be a leader of people. The book the Power and the Glory was a big influence, as the main character was flawed. Graham Greene wrote movingly. The training has changed now. Then, you never learnt about social commitment. They had a hundred men there. In BK’s class 9 got ordained out of the 20 who started. They had to leave without saying goodbye, just disappeared. [31:53] In the holidays BK would get jobs. The bees were special, BK obtained lots of honey. It made an excuse for missing lectures. Manual work was included in the regime. They really learnt nothing about modern philosophy. At Oxford it was AJ Ayer. He remembers sitting in his first scripture class, and hearing that the Bible was not strictly true, which has given him a free reign in later life. It has impressed BK that the church changes, but normally over centuries, the problem today is that it changes so quickly with modern communication. For BK there is still a golden thread. He felt he was being trained for a really useful job. [39:48] He didn’t really like preaching. Story. They would go to schools and visit old folks which he enjoyed. The intake to the seminary was very mixed. They would do drama, and present good plays. Story. You had to find plays which had lots of male characters. [45:21] Things have changed now, but then you became a deacon first. BK was bored by discussion of vestments, chalices and the liturgy. A newly ordained priest was special. The image and respect they received has changed now. Then it was a passport to anything. In the parishes they could work with Anglicans and Methodists. The ordination itself took hours. Then you did the first blessing in the hall and had a lunch with the Cardinal, (Godfrey). At the meal you found out where you had to go for your first job. [53:17] BK was sent to Our Lady of Victories in Kensington. His father now accepted the situation and his mother was delighted, and got some status. The parish was wonderful (1958-61). They had masses all day on Sunday. The congregations were mixed, students from the Overseas Visitors League, posh people from Phillimore Gardens, diplomats. They were called out to St Mary Abbots hospital. He was there at the beginning of the race riots. He had the youth club activities. It was a busy time. They had five priests. Description of house and people. Canon Bagshawe was warm hearted and human. Stories. There were converts. Marriages and mixed marriages. Incidents. Services were all in Latin, they always had prayers for Russia, (which Catholics thought of as the home of diabolical communism). [1:01:37] BK got into trouble for doing a baptism in English ahead of this new situation being agreed. BK is totally in favour of using the English. No-one questioned birth control publicly. BK always veered on the side on flexibility. He thought the documentation required by the church was absurd, things like Letters of Freedom, which was a symptom of village life being transposed to the urban situation. [1:7:25] Apart from the Canon in the parish, one of the other priests was authoritarian, Jo Eldridge. A convert Tommy Bassett went into the Air Force eventually. Then the Czech, Francis Rokler, who was quite contrary. The race riots were a shock to BK. When BK finished mass he made a point of meeting people in the congregation. It was a very mixed group, rich and poor, immigrants. Very friendly to BK. It was a new church building as the old one had been bombed.
Life story interview with Bruce Kent (1929-), Vice-president of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.