Monday, January 20, 2020
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The Midweek Hymn: Lord of All Hopefulness

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TODAY the funeral of George Layton, 78, the father of TCW commenter Tina (Tee2), is being held at Horsham St Faith crematorium in Norfolk. Tina will be with her partner, TCW writer Michael Fahey, known to many of you as 39 Pontiac Dream.

George was a roof tiler for many years in the days before health and safety, when he had to scale a rickety ladder with half a ton of tiles over his shoulder in all weathers. 

Michael says: ‘He was warm, generous, had the loveliest smile and a mischievous nature. He was an all-round good egg.’ 

One of the hymns Tina has chosen is Lord of All Hopefulness and I thought it would make a good Midweek Hymn.

Lord of All Hopefulness was written by Joyce Anstruther (1901-1953). She was born into a well-to-do family. Her father Henry was a Liberal Unionist MP who was knighted; her mother Eva was a writer who was made a Dame for organising the shipment of millions of books to troops during the First World War. It was not a happy marriage and the couple divorced in 1915.

Joyce attended Miss Ironside’s School, a private establishment in Kensington. (This has a diverse list of old girls, including IRA militant Rose Dugdale, Nicolette Fame, former wife of the 9th Marquis of Londonderry and subsequently of musician Georgie Fame, Sally Croker-Poole, who married and divorced Aga Khan IV, Jane Birkin, the actress behind the Birkin bag, and Teresa Hayter, member of the International Marxists.)

Joyce became a part-time secretary and a debutante, marrying Anthony Maxtone Graham, of the Scottish landed gentry, in 1923. They had three children.

In the 1930s she started to write for Punch magazine, shortening her name to Jan Struther to avoid confusion with her mother. By 1936, her marriage was deteriorating. It was at about this time that Peter Fleming, brother of writer Ian and leader-writer for the Times, asked her to write occasional stories about a fictitious woman to liven up the Court Page of the paper. Struther asked what kind of woman, and Fleming replied, ‘Oh, I don’t know – just an ordinary sort of woman, who leads an ordinary sort of life. Rather like yourself.’ Struther created Mrs Miniver, calling on her father’s interest in heraldry for the distinctive name, a miniver being a ceremonial fur. The pieces, signed ‘From a correspondent’, dealt with the life of an independent upper-middle-class woman, happily married with three children, living comfortably in London, spending weekends in Kent  and summers in Scotland. After the second instalment, publishers were bidding for a book.

This was published in 1939, shortly after the outbreak of war. By now Struther’s character in the Times had switched to first-person letters in which she described the discomforts and anxieties of war. In one of the more memorable pieces the Minivers get gas masks. In the London Review of Books, David Reynolds wrote: ‘During Munich week in September 1938, and again in September 1939, when three million people fled London in the first days of the war, many really did anticipate the end of civilisation. “Back to normal”, Mrs Miniver’s post-Munich piece about life, cherished possessions and “the value of dullness”, spoke to millions.’

Not everyone was a fan. Rosamond Lehmann said in the Spectator that waiting for the next Mrs Miniver column was like being locked up in Borstal while anticipating a visit from a particularly condescending Lady Bountiful.

The book was a huge hit in the US, and with the encouragement of her husband she took her younger two children there to promote it. At that time the US was leaning away from involvement in the war. In November 1940, Struther sold film rights to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and the sentimental 1942 movie version of the book starring Greer Garson became an immediate success, winning five Oscars. The New York Times described it as ‘an exalting tribute to the British’. It is worth reading the full review here. In 1943 Struther was invited to stay at the White House, where President Roosevelt told her that ‘Mrs Miniver had considerably hastened American entry into the war.’ Churchill was quoted as saying that the book (and later the film) was worth ‘six divisions of war effort’.

Here is the trailer:

And here is the last scene:

Struther’s sojourn in America was convenient in another way because in 1939 she had fallen in love with Adolf Placzek, a penniless architectural historian and a refugee from Vienna 16 years her junior, who had already got a visa to go to America.

Meanwhile Anthony Maxtone Graham served in the Scots Guards, being taken prisoner in Libya in 1942.

Struther returned to England in 1945 with her children. She and her husband divorced two years later. She returned to New York and married Placzek in in 1948. However Struther was now prey to crippling depression which at its worst involved a five-month stay in a psychiatric sanatorium. She died five years after her marriage from a brain tumour, aged 52.

Struther wrote Lord of All Hopefulness towards the beginning of her career. Her London neighbour was Canon Percy Dearmer of Westminster Abbey. In 1929 he was preparing a new edition of Songs of Praise, and he asked her if she could write a hymn to fit the Irish folk tune Slane. Although she had little interest in Christianity, she produced this hymn and 11 others for the hymnal, which was published in 1931. It was quite daring in its day with its reference to God as ‘You’ rather than ‘Thou’. It was originally called All-Day Hymn as it moves from waking, through working hours to evening and to sleep. These are the words:

Lord of all hopefulness,
Lord of all joy,
Whose trust, ever child-like,
No cares could destroy,
Be there at our waking,
And give us, we pray,
Your bliss in our hearts, Lord,
At the break of the day.

Lord of all eagerness, Lord of all faith,
Whose strong hands were skilled
At the plane and the lathe,
Be there at our labours,
And give us, we pray,
Your strength in our hearts, Lord,
At the noon of the day.

Lord of all kindliness, Lord of all grace,
Your hands swift to welcome,
Your arms to embrace,
Be there at our homing,
And give us, we pray,
Your love in our hearts, Lord,
At the eve of the day.

Lord of all gentleness, Lord of all calm,
Whose voice is contentment,
Whose presence is balm,
Be there at our sleeping,
And give us, we pray,
Your peace in our hearts, Lord,
At the end of the day.

The tune is named Slane after the place where it was collected. The Hill of Slane in County Meath is where, according to legend, in AD 433 St Patrick lit an Easter fire in defiance of the pagan king, Lóegaire. Slane is also used as the tune to the hymn Be Thou My Vision.

I chose this version by the Palestrina Choir of St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, because I couldn’t resist the faces of the choirboys on the cover.

Here is a lovely version arranged by brass band player Andi Cook for his wedding in 2014 and played by an all-star group of his banding friends.

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Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth is a retired national newspaper journalist. She runs the Subbing Clinic in a hopeless attempt to keep up standards, and co-runs A & M Records where she indulges her passion for 60s pop.

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