Saturday, 14 April 2012

Julian Clary on St Benedict's

In an interview in the Times Magazine today (behind paywall), Julian Clary has spoken out about his time as a pupil at St Benedict's School.
Like the parents of so many comedians, his too are Catholic. They were delighted when young Julian won a scholarship to St Benedict’s – they wouldn’t have been able to afford it if he hadn’t. The burden of his good fortune weighed on him, however, when life at school began to take an unpleasant turn. “School was very, very tricky.” Years later, he told them what really went on, although the truth could not have escaped them for ever. In 2009, Father David Pearce, the school’s former head, was jailed for eight years for abusing five students. Then, last October, it emerged that the Vatican had ordered an inquiry into similar allegations involving other staff. Father Laurence Soper, the now 80-year-old former Abbot of Ealing Abbey, was arrested, but jumped bail. He is still being sought by police.

Julian Clary lives, he says, “in a village”, but even in his Lexus 4x4 with blacked-out windows it would take ten minutes to reach the nearest pub. Which is fine by him. “I’m not one for mixing and mingling,” he says in his tart, poised, quiet drawl, a soothing voice honed over many months as a young teenager in defiance of some of the monks at St Benedict’s, Ealing Abbey. They used to come after Clary and his best friend, Nick, with canes and miniature cricket bats. “Each one had his weapon of choice,” he says, with quiet disparagement.

His schooldays were horrible. How satisfying it must be to see one of the monks, David Pearce, getting his comeuppance for crimes committed at the school – very serious crimes, of child abuse. We will return to the monks and Clary’s wretched schooldays later. Suffice to say for now that Clary believes the high camp of his act and, more importantly, his urge to succeed, was a retaliation: “It’s my revenge on being bullied at school and on the monks and on that repressive situation [to become] the most outrageous, amusing character, that people actually like.”

“Even though I was only 12 and I was never molested, we knew something funny was going on. We knew there was something strange about this monk [Pearce]. He used to sort of waft around and had this grin on his face. And he was always hanging around outside the boys’ toilets. I’m fascinated that it went on for so long. And the damage that has been done to these boys who are now men is… unforgivable.”

One can imagine that his immunity to all this lay partly in his angry exhibitionism. Quentin Crisp inspired the teenage Julian and his friend Nick to camp up their voices. They became deliberately provocative, effeminate, homosexual; “mincing around. And I quite enjoyed that.” The monks did not, and often said so. Clary’s tutor would frequently take him to one side and utter the ominous phrase, “You bring it on yourself.” “But he would never say what ‘it’ was.” What does Clary think “it” was? With disdain, he replies: “The persecution.”
It is this kind of oppressive atmosphere which provides a cover for the crimes that Pearce and others committed.


  1. Once again Soper's age has risen to '80' - previous posts (in Nov 2011) clarified his age as approx 68. Of course if he really was 80 it would probably not be acceptable to continue to investigate or prosecute him so you have to wonder whether that's why he's so often said to be older than he is. Perhaps 'The Times' can be persuaded to issue a correction. But who is it who constantly arranges for his age to be mistated whenever he's mentioned?

    1. the criminal underworld have it in their best interest to protect their accountant.

  2. Jim Barley OP 1951-196114 April 2012 at 17:59

    @ 09.42 AM - I quite agree re Fr Soper's true age. I was in the same class and set as he during my time at St Benedict's in the late 1950s early 1960's and can confirm his true age is in fact 69, not 80.

  3. Police investigations of child abuse reported in adulthood, and subsequent prosecutions of 'elderly' career paedophiles has changed very significantly in recent years as this article demonstrates.

  4. Yes, Julian Clary and his friend really did face a lot of persecution. ("daffodil" and "daisy", as they were known). Sure, they were pretty camp, but that was an obvious defence mechanism, with hindsight.

    I came across his autobiography a couple of years back, and read the few pages on St. Benedicts's. Other than a few arch assertions that the monks derived sexual pleasure from administering beatings, there was nothing specific in it.

    But his point is correct, the school, in not trying harder to prevent the persecution, did fail them.

    Only 35 years ago, and it feels like a different world.

  5. I had lessons in Gregory Chillman's office while I was at St. Benedict's 6th Form.

    I can very clearly remember seeing Julian Clary's file on Chillman's desk with a small photo of 11 year old Clary paper clipped to it.

    We asked Chillman why the file was out and he said that it was because of media enquiries about Julian Clary at the time because Clary had just made the Norman Lamont joke at the British Comedy Awards.

    Chillman was concerned that this interest in Clary's time at St. Benedict's might hurt the reputation of the school.

    So its ironic but not a surprise that it was in fact Chillman and not Clary who was the one to bring the school and the abbey into serious disrepute.

    The full extent of the sex education that we had at St. Benedict's was Chillman telling us that "life is not all like what you see in James Bond".

    We all thought that 'Satan' (as Chillman was unaffectionately called by the students) had been admiring a few too many Bond girls himself. He was completely disconnected from the real lives of adolescents growing up in the 1980s.

    Chillman's personal hygiene was always appalling. He reeked of body odour, alcohol and cigarettes, he spat when he talked and he had food stains down the front of his habit. He was an 'identikit' creepy monk.

    By the time I was in the 6th form, Chillman's alcoholism was an open secret. His face was disfigured by chronic rosacea, he blathered on and repeated himself constantly in his terribly pompous lessons and he was regularly seen staggering drunk, falling off his stool, in the Abbey's Parish Social Centre bar.

    Yet despite all of this, under Rossiter and Soper he was still the most senior monk teaching in the school and he was even one of the Deputy Heads despite the students all thinking he was a joke and anachronism, he was universally unpopular with the students who were revolted by his general repugnance.

    How could such a slob, such a self-indulgent and weak man, extol the virtues of or be an example of Jesus's teachings?

    How could so many teachers such as the maniacal Abban Murphy treat Chillman with such reverance when he was such an obvious fraud. Murphy not only supported but protected and defended Chillman who was just a dirty old creep.

    Together Murphy and Chillman lived in their own little world at St. Benedict's that was wholly unrelated to the contemporary life of the students and the wider world outside the school.

    St. Benedict's and the Old Priorian Association made terrible mistakes in not condemning Murphy for his close involvement with Chillman for many years of unprofessional behaviour and for proselytising absolute nonsense to impressionable young minds.

    St. Benedict's and the Old Priorians have always taken rugby more seriously than Catholicism. If they had taken their religion as seriously as their rugby, then maybe they might not have employed and protected a series of disgusting and pathetic creeps and paedophiles.