Wednesday, November 28, 2018

About Harry Leslie Smith

Harry Leslie Smith has died. Well, the real, meat-and-mucus Harry Leslie Smith, the war veteran and political campaigner, has died in a Canadian hospital at the age of 95, but the Harry Leslie Smith known from the @Harryslaststand Twitter account transcends such banal considerations.

Most of us are aware that lots of celebrities’ social media accounts are in fact run by PR acolytes who churn out the sort of things we expect said celebrities to say, just as “their” autobiographies and other books are ghosted by people who can actually write. We only point and laugh when it becomes obvious that the celeb in question hasn't even bothered to read the bloody thing.

The problem comes when a celebrity’s USP is his or her “authenticity”. @Harryslaststand rather blurred the distinction, as most people were aware that Harry’s son John was doing the heavy lifting on the account, although it generally represented Harry’s views. There were rumours that certain political entities – dear old Momentum was the main suspect – had more influence than might have been clear from “Harry”’s impassioned jeremiads against austerity and the like. But we bumbled along, not willing to interrogate any apparent anomalies, because the guy was 95 and still quite feisty, a sort of lefty David Attenborough, and it would have seemed mean.

Of course, in his last few days, when the whole point of him was that he was dying in hospital and really not up to explaining why Trump was such a bastard, the pretence was unsustainable. Smith Jr came into his own, taking advantage of the sad circumstances to cue up some jibes against the effect of austerity policies on health services in the UK and Ontario. It was a bit like the reveal in a late Ian McEwan novel, when the real author lifts off the mask and mutters that s/he would have got away with it if it weren’t for you pesky Booker judges. 

Unfortunately, the other thing that came to mind as Harry slid to his inevitable end in full view of us all, was the protracted demise of another figure whose relationship to reality was fuzzy at best (and whose socio-political views were similarly forthright), the lamented Jade Goody.

What a pity Harry never launched his own perfume range.

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