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Aleister MacAlpine: Ataturk Crowley: Randall Gair: Count Charles Edward D'Arquires (1937-2002)
In 1934, in the course of the celebrated 'Laughing Torso' libel case, the 58 year old occultist Aleister Crowley was introduced to a 19 year old from Newlyn, Cornwall, named Patricia Doherty. Three years later, on May 2nd 1937 in Newcastle, she gave birth to the boy Crowley considered his son and heir, Randall Gair - nicknamed Aleister Ataturk. Ataturk was educated in Scotland and in the early sixties, visited Kenneth Anger in the US, but West Cornwall was his family home and he lived there for several years.
Writer Des Hannigan describes his own memories.
Aleister was the son of Aleister Crowley and Deidre Patricia MacLellan (nee Doherty). He was associated with the Crowley 'legend' throughout an often difficult life, yet he was a distinctive personality in his own right. He was certainly 'eccentric', but I do not think Aleister displayed any of the more perverse characteristics of his notorious father. I was glad to have known him, albeit briefly.
When I first met Aleister he was living with his mother, Deidre, at the house called Wheal Betsy at the top of Chywoone Hill above the fishing village of Newlyn. Aleister lived in a caravan in the grounds. Wheal Betsy(picture below) was an Arts & Craft house that was built in 1910 by Deidre's grandfather, the Pre-Raphaelite painter, Thomas Cooper Gotch.
Next to Wheal Betsy was the building site for a number of bungalows that were the antithesis of Gotch's house. The site was known as the Pink Estate, because of the hideous colours of the rendered walls. Throughout one hungry winter in the late 1960's, I worked as a labourer there along with the artist, Russ Hedges. Aleister Ataturk turned up as a fellow labourer one day. The developers decided to suspend work over the winter and laid off most of the work force. Since Aleister lived next door and was considered the most reliable (he referred to Russ and me as 'The Ruffians'), they appointed him as 'winter watchman' and gang boss of our team of three.
We were left to look after the site, and we worked hard in often lousy weather. A contract team of asphalters had breezed in to lay out the estate roads. They were long gone before we found that they had 'accidentally' buried the unconnected ends of the service pipes to the houses. Our job was to dig cross ditches until we found the buried ends.
Aleister was very conscientious. He was a kind and likeable man beneath his rather formidable exterior - tall and powerfully built and with a great Crowley head and cropped black hair; he usually wore dark glasses when out socialising and dressed eccentrically; jodhpurs and riding boots often featured. Aleister had great physical presence, but, if you recognised and understood his vulnerability, he was unthreatening. His size and his demeanour, plus a touch of showmanship, belied this of course. I took him into the old Wimpy Bar in Penzance's Market Jew Street one Saturday morning and I swear the place emptied in seconds. There was definitely something of the natural performance artist about Aleister.
He was a touch prim and righteous although he had a sense of humour and, surprisingly, a sense of irony. He nagged Russ and me, alleging that all we were interested in was 'drink and women'. (Outrageous suggestion, Aleister!) He despaired also of our alleged 'left-wing' views. We teased him relentlessly about the coming Revolution. He had a well developed sense of privilege. Ultimately, Aleister made it very clear that he considered us to be his intellectual inferiors. We didn't mind a bit. He was certainly a fairly harmless fantasist.
Stories trickled out concerning his achievements. He told us that he was an accomplished pianist and had been the star of several performances in Russian concert halls. For some unexplained reason he claimed that he was not 'permitted' to perform in England; a fairly watertight insurance against our good natured scepticism. We were invited round for tea to Wheal Betsy once or twice. Inside, the house seemed pleasingly chaotic, and it contained a lot of valuable paintings and heirlooms. Aleister himself had an impressive collection of swords and rapiers. He served tea very formally; dainty china cups and teapot. Once he played the piano for us - rather badly, I' m afraid.
When the site was up and running a 'show house' was opened and Pat Phoenix - Elsie Tanner of Coronation Street fame, was guest of honour at the opening (she and Bob Monkhouse, I think, bought houses on the Pink Estate.) It was all very formal, with Elsie cutting a ribbon, and lots of local dignitaries getting very excited. The work squad - about twenty of us when the full site was active - were kept at a safe distance. However, once the official group got started on the booze and canapés, Elsie, bless her, sent over two bottles of Scotch 'for the boys', (she would, wouldn't she...). Aleister was deeply disapproving. Then, as various councillors staggered off - I think the Mayor of the time fell down the show house steps, rather spectacularly, and was carted off to hospital - a message came from Elsie for 'the boys' to join her. We all traipsed into the fancily furnished show house and celebrated with Elsie, who was in fine form by then - signing her autograph on brawny biceps - and on one brawny buttock I seem to remember. Aleister refused to join us, but after half an hour he wandered in sheepishly and became even more sheepish when Elsie sat on his knee. She thought he was marvellous.
I knocked Aleister head first into a muddy ditch once, by accident, while driving our brakeless dumper truck. He rose with the wrath of Zeus upon his great shaven skull and for a brief moment I braced myself for a paternal thunderbolt at the very least, but actually he was something of a peacekeeper - particularly at Wheal Betsy. Every now and then all hell broke loose as Deidre's enormous and varied flock - adopted children and several remarkable daughters, all with long black hair with dyed white streaks - broke into eldritch shrieks and squabbles. Aleister would look increasingly pained as the racket increased and would then trudge off wearily to the house. A few seconds passed; and then the screeching would stop, abruptly. Aleister had arrived! He would come back shaking his head and would apologise to us. Russ and I thought it was great fun.
I lost touch with Aleister soon after and heard only vague rumours and reports. A year or so later, I was at a party at Doug Cook's house on the moors above the village of Madron. It was packed with a crowd of art students and poseurs, all pretension and face paint, a fad that had just come in. They were dancing around like dingbats when, suddenly, the crowd parted, the dingbats all fell back in awe and adoration, and there - like a vision from central casting's villains' wardrobe - was Aleister, in riding boots, jodhpurs, white polo neck, Fair Isle sweater, dark glasses and an SS officer's cap, plus riding crop in hand. Referencing Indiana Jones years before its time. The crowd worship was potent. Aleister preened outrageously. Then he caught sight of me just as I said, with good-natured scorn; 'Aleister! What the **** are you playing at..! 'The crowd shrank back in horror. Aleister stared for a few seconds and then said; 'Oh bugger! It's you Hannigan!' then turned tail and disappeared rapidly back into the crowd with his acolytes wailing in his wake and giving me furious, hate-filled looks.
It was several years before I saw Aleister again. He was living in the old Madron Workhouse, a remarkable granite building with some grand features, the nearest that Aleister could get to full Scottish Baronial, I expect. Much of the building's finest stonework had been pillaged from the Iron Age site of Chun Castle above Morvah. Its provenance was just right for Aleister - misty Iron Age primitif from Heath Stubbs' archetypal 'hideous and wicked country' of Penwith's high moorland. (When the Madron workhouse was eventually demolished, I managed to get hold of a finely cut lintel to incorporate into an extension on my house back in Morvah. I have always hoped it was part of Chun Castle returned home).
When he lived at Madron, Aleister had a family (including two young children) but had declined sadly, into very delusional ways. He styled himself Count Charles Edward D'Arquires (Darquies in some accounts), a title bestowed on him by his father at an early age (see article below). He had set up a 'Supreme Council of Great Britain' with himself as the 'Adjudicator'. His Acting Private Secretary, Peter Bishop, believed that we should all sit at the bottom of mine shafts and be transformed into super beings when a shaft of sunlight struck us. (This was nothing new for Cornwall. During his stay at Zennor, D H Lawrence had friends who were said to lower themselves down a nearby mine shaft where they sat naked in an underground stream, unquestionably glowing in irradiated ecstasy).
I was walking down Madron Hill one day when Aleister stopped in a fairly smart car. I had been fishing out of Newlyn for a number of years by then. I was delighted to see him although he had become very pompous and even more otherworldly. He gave me a lift into town and right there and then offered me the job of Fisheries Minister in his 'Government'. 'You would be ideal, Hannigan,' he said 'not just because of your fishing background but because you have the right appearance. Blond hair and blue eyes...'.I decided that Aleister, who was always right of centre to say the least, had tipped over into the Mosley mindset. I declined the exalted position - with huge reluctance, of course.
Aleister was very serious about taking over the governance of the UK - by persuasion. Harold Wilson was PM at the time. Eventually (1976), Aleister hired a posh limousine, complete with Supreme Council pennants and, with Bishop, was chauffeur-driven to London. They went in their finery; Aleister in his dress uniform jacket with gold trimmings, epaulettes and velvet cape. They tried to get into Downing Street for an audience with Wilson in order to persuade him to join the Supreme Council. The message was delivered to Wilson who, unsportingly, declined the offer.
I never saw Aleister again. Sadly, life treated him badly in his later years. He had mental health problems for most of his life and there are harrowing reports of his later decline. He died in a car crash in 2002.
My most enduring memory of Aleister is of the moment I came across the Great Ataturk at that party on the Cornish moors, in his pomp and commanding adoration from the throng. When he recognised me as his old muddy mate from the Pink Estate building site, the faintest of ironic smiles flitted across his face - a shared acknowledgement of the rather cheerful time we'd spent together digging ditches in the real world of Cornish winter wind and rain.
He knew the game was up, but he wasn't going to stop playing it. Sadly the game overwhelmed him in the end.
The photographs above include Ataturk with Aleister Crowley on a beach in Cornwall in the 40's (reproduced in Ithell Colquhoun's Living Stones), together with a portrait of Ataturk in his Supreme Council regalia in 1980 (with separate photos of that regalia). Below is an article from the Cornishman newspaper (1976) and the text of a letter written to Ataturk by his father.
Do what thou wilt
shall be the whole of the Law.
Now, my dear son, I
will close this long letter in the eager hope you will follow my advice
in all respects.
Your affectionate father.