Monday, June 27, 2005

RIP: William Donaldson, alias Henry Root

William Donaldson, who died on June 22nd, was an ironist, impresario, serial bankrupt and adulterer, and founder of The Ordinary Folk Against the Rising Tide of Filth in Our Society Situation, best known for his alter ego, Henry Root.

Root, a retired wet fish merchant, gulled many famous people and politicians with his deadpan letters of admonishment and encouragement. Writing to the judge of the Thorpe trial after Thorpe was aquitted, Root wrote, "You tipped the jury the right way and some of your jokes were first class! Well done! You never looked to me like the sort of man who'd send an old Etonian to the pokey."

As with all true ironists, Donaldson's irony was less satirical than sincere, a distinction quite lost on his victims. He wrote to Nigel Dempster, a gossip columnist, "Some folk deride sycophantic gossip about one's social superiors as a lot of snobbish nonsense, but I am not of their number."

Kenneth Tynan said of him that he was "an old Wykehamist who ended up as a moderately successful Chelsea pimp," referring to Donaldson's stint in the Elm Park Mansions brothel run by his ex-secretary, whom he claimed to have "tipped onto the game".

"I am much happier in the company of thieves and prostitutes than of literary people," he said.

At Winchester, Donaldson lost out in the stupidest-boy-in-the-school competition when his nearest competitor, an unnamed Earl, was advised to "try Eton" instead. Donaldson pioneered "positive bullying" whereby junior boys would confront prefects.

Donaldson inherited a tidy sum from his shipowner father whilst up at Magdalene and used the money to finance literary publications (he was the first to publish Ted Hughes' poetry) and put on shows. This led to his first notable successes, co-producing Beyond the Fringe (the producers were on 2000 pounds a week, the performers on 75) and promoting Bob Dylan ("He was sitting in my office when I came back from lunch," Donaldson recalled. "I couldn't get rid of the f**ker.").

Donaldson, married three times, was a serial seducer, with enough charm and wit to make Carly Simon, one of his jilted fiancees, say afterwards that he was "wonderful, wonderful: the funniest man I have ever met."

The link is to the Telegraph's obituary:Telegraph News William Donaldson

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