Up to About Brian
After the main speeches, the microphone was passed around and people made tributes to and shared their memories of Brian.
Michael Jennings (via video)
…very soon after I came to London in 2002 and [Brian] introduced me to all kinds of interesting people and interesting ideas. And almost all of my friends [in London] can in some way be traced back to having known him. He is very generous with his ideas and very generous with his friendships. This has been a fine, fine thing.
Syed Kamal (hosting)
…please do not feel co-erced in any way … please do not feel like you have to say something. The fact that you are here [pleases] Brian, but if you want to say a few words about how Brian has inspired you put your hands up … let’s start with Tom over here.
Well, first of all I want to stress that I haven’t been co-erced. … I met Brian in 1985, when you were working in the Alternative Bookshop. I came across this little bookshop by one of those small forks in the road that we take, and we look back and think, my god, here am I sitting in a room in Westminster in 2021, and it goes back to a tiny advertisment in the back of the Spectator advertising London’s only anti-Marxist bookshop.
It was a hot day. It was July, I was at Brighton Polytechnic, that august educational establishment, and I was becoming frustrated with [what] I was being asked to read by my college tutors. I went to the bookshop and I went back three or four times. I remember one evening George […] the American writers, sort of champion of supply side economics was holding forth, and I had a very good evening. As I left to get the last train home, I got nobbled by Brian who I would describe as a sort of ninja bookshop worker.
He said, “you’ve been here several times.” And in the sort of classic Brian bluntness he said, “I’m going to get you to write for the Libertarian Alliance. Here are some pamphlets. Study the form. I think you’ve got something inside you.” And he pressed me and cajoled me into setting my ideas out in print. And several of the pamphlets … I wrote them. I can remember right now the pride I had in writing them, and more to the point all the feedback I got from Brian about how to craft things better.
I’m now a journalist. I’ve been a journalist for three decades. And I can’t tell you how important it is at the early stages of your career, to have people like Brian and Chris and others to give you the confidence to set about putting your views in print. And as Tim has said, there is no college tutor who is better than this man at giving this kind of high-altitude advice.
And these things work out in funny ways. In 2003 I had my first or second date with my wife sitting next to me, and she told me later that she did a Google search on me to check me out (this is the world we live in, chaps), … and she said I did a search on Tom Burroughs and loads of things came up including a piece about “The joy of shooting, in defense of the posession of firearms”, and she obviously worked out that I was some kind of weird eccentric. And discovered the complete archives of the Libertarian Alliance, at least the ones that I had written. And so one of the consequences of writing for Brian and his colleages over the years is that my wife has come to understand what a strange piece of work I am.
Brian, it’s been a pleasure to be your friend for more than 32 years. All I can say is thank-you very much indeed for all of the guidance, support and friendship you’ve given me over the years, it’s been greatly inspiring. Thank-you.
Hello, Brian. I’m going to keep it short. I’m really glad Simon reminded me how we met because I was trying to think about it and I just kind of assumed that you magically appeared in my life somehow. I wasn’t quite sure how it happened but I’m really thankful that Simon reminded me.
We’ve talked on email briefly since your diagnosis, but one of the things I’d like to touch upon is that a few years ago now we went to [Simon’s] wedding and we also went to Richard’s wedding and I learnt two things about you at those weddings. One is your love for photography, and your interesting in taking pictures of people taking pictures. I went through my Dropbox account looking for my old pictures and I did find a picture of me taking a picture of Richard and Naomi while you were taking a picture of me. Which I thought was great.
But one of the key things I think I learnt about you at those weddings was you have an incredible ability to engage with anyone. And to communicate with anyone. I regard myself as a reasonable communicator but you are an incredible communicator and you are incredibly engaging with people. You engage with anyone from any background, wherever they’re from and you can engage with them on lots of topics. At these weddings we weren’t at some sort of libertarian conference, we were at, like, a wedding where normal people go.
And you were able to engage with these people and have nice conversations and endear yourself to those people. And I think to some degree that explains tonight the reason there are so many people here from many different backgrounds and walks of life. They’re here because you have engaged with them. And you have an incredible ability to engage with anyone. And I just think that’s a testament to your ability generally, along with all the other things people have touched upon.
[Syed Kamal reads a message from someone unable to be at the event. I hope to obtain a copy of this message.]
Hello everyone, my name’s Dominic Frisby for those of you who don’t know me. I have a weird double-life as a financial writer and a stand-up comedian. A career, by the way, which has been encouraged by Brian. And in the world of comedy - we tend to associate comedy with, you know, some famous guy doing his act on the telly: a Netflix special, a panel game, a big sitcom, something like that. But in the sort of comedy eco-structure by far and away the most important area, without which comedy wouldn’t function, is the new material night where you go out and you try some new material. And it’s essential in that environment that you have some kind of free speech; that you’re able to say whatever you like and know that you won’t be castigated for it. And you intentions won’t be misinterpreted. Because without that you can’t experiment and find new ideas, or anything like that.
And so that is the key part of the comedy eco-structure. And I think, Brian, your world … of freedom, of liberianism, you have been … you have been open spot night, you have been new material night, you’ve been the person that gets people started. And in my own case I remember once upon a time I had this idea for a stand-up show about tax. And I thought no, there’s no way I can go and try that out in a regular comedy club and Brian said, “try my front room”.
And we did a stand-up show about taxation in Brian’s front room and it became a sell-out show at the Edinburgh Festival and it became a very successful book endorsed by none other than Mark Littlewood of the IEA. And you know it all began on one of those Friday nights.
Another time I said, I’ve got this idea for a game show about finance. It’s a finance game show and again Brian said, come and do it in my front room. And we did the whole show on one of those Friday nights.
And I think I’m repeating what everyone else has said but through this other lens that Brian’s role has been this incredible… you know in footballing terms he’s the guy that’s training the players at grass-roots level and getting them all started and encouraging them. And that is way more important than the guy who puts on the […] gigs. So thank-you, Brian.
I remember the first time I met you, which was when I came down to the alternative bookshop in Longacre in Covent Garden. I met you and Chris Tame there. And I seriously think that was one of the most significant and transformative moments of my life. Because what I did then, I not only discovered you as a friend and an intellectiual interlocutor, but also I think you did various things for me then and subsequently. One of them was that, as Tom has said, you encouraged me to write. You encouraged me to take the crazy ideas I had and put them down into words.
But also you challenged me. I was constantly having conversations with you there in Covent Garden in which you would say something which would challenge some idea I had or you would say something which I thought: I’m sure that’s not right. And either I would come to agree with you or I would still disagree but I would know why. And so I thought that played an enormously important part in clarifying my thinking by leading me into exploring some things that otherwise I would not have done.
But also I remember one of those Fridays at your flat in Esterbrooke Street and being absolutely staggered by the sheer amount of CDs of classical music you have on your walls. And also the interesting shelving system you have with planks of wood held up by used Nescafe jars.
…and through you I met an amazing amount of people. And I have to say, Brian, I looked at the attendance list for this event I was thinking good lord, look at all of these people I know, and I know all of them through you. And I think that that network building and bringing people together is an enormous kind of legacy. And I think all of us here share that with you.
I was glad also I was able to invite you up to my own place in Manchester and I don’t know if you remember but you did say to me afterwards that the experience of being at my family dinner table was like being in a live Coronation Street episode. … I can tell you my wife and my daughter still remember it vividly. It was a wonderful experience. But I can only say that I’m enormously grateful I met you had an enormous impression on my life and I’m sure upon the lives of everybody here. And that indeed is your legacy.
Lots of us have known you for a long time. I actually go back 60 years or so. Brian Micklethwait: The early years. Instead of the single minded man here now: a bit of a contrarian. We met when we arrived at school together at 13. We were in the same […] house. We did get to know each other quite well. At the end of the summer term I invited you back home on bicycles. We were at boarding school and my home was 200 miles away. And we did cycle the 200 miles. How many parents would let 14-year-olds do the length of Wales and end up in Cheshire?
Anyway, we’ve kept in touch and we’ve had several interesting converstaions. But I do remember thinking of you, going back to those early years, as a contrarian. Because you had a reputation of being a sort of a sparky mathematician in the early days, and when the mathematics got really interesting and the exams started getting a bit closer and things, actually, you [became] deep, deep into architecture. Whatever you were meant to be doing, you were doing something else.
It did work because Cambridge did pick you up to study architecture. At the time my college was quite close to the school of architecture and you used to turn up with a gaggle of your architectural student friends. But actually by then architecture had slightly lost its lustre.
But anyway the school of architecture threw you out after a year and you found yourself in Essex. [Brian: I went to Essex.] You went to Essex! You went to Essex by choice. … Except of course by the time you got to Essex, there was nothing more fascinating than am-dram. And am-dram totally absorbed your life. Somehow you survived all of this but you didn’t quite land up with a qualification for any job that you would have been prepared to take on. … Brian is very good at driving a van, and for some time he was delivering [number plates] the length and breadth of Britain.
The Brian Micklethwait then was very logical, and he thought that the problem with the world was that there wasn’t any central control. …and I do have some of these writings! He thought at great length about world government. Those number plate delivery trips were so long that you had so long to think about world government, you actually could see some of the problems associated with [Steptoe’s?] thinking, and bit by bit, you became the Brian that we know today.
Brian Micklethwait the early years. I enjoyed the early years. I’ve been in touch sporadically. I haven’t been to that many of the last Fridays. We don’t quite agree on all matters. I believe firmly in the hidden hand, or whatever it is, pointing in the right direction but I’m quite happy to let wise people decide the speed at which we should go in some of these directions.
But anyway, Brian, it has always been… […] I don’t know. You just mention something with Brian and before you know it you’re into an intellectual discussion, and you’re deeper into it than you imagined and it’s always fascinating. Many thanks, Brian.
Hi Brian. I met you for the first time ten years ago but twelve years ago I first moved to London. I didn’t really know anybody except for Tim Evans … But I had shared all of your Libertarian Alliance pamphlets with all seven Irish libertarians … you were basically the Saul Alinsky of our world. You talked about tactics, you talked about persuasion and organisation. It was so interesting. There were some science fiction elements. The Danger [Menace] of the Apocalyptic Individual was one that I remember; and there were tangible elements about how you actually do things.
And when I met you, you were interested in me. And I was just a little … young guy. You described me as, in a Samizdata post you mentioned me, as a cherubic boy band child-man.
I felt that you were interested in what I had to say and what I thought, and I think probably everybody here feels the same way that you are interested in people for who they are and not what their rank is or what their job is or anything like that. I’ve always been incredibly grateful to you and I’ve always been incredibly grateful for having met you and for having gone to some of the Fridays, and spoken at one of the Fridays. Thank-you very much.
I’m Nick [C?]. I first met Brian in 2006. Some of you may recall New Labour banned the production of humorous anecdotes in 2003 and were still kind of enforcing it around then. So unfortunately I haven’t got one. But it was at the National Liberal Club, it was one of the Libertarian Alliance conferences and it was quite transformative. And in absence of anecdotes I’ll just say three things that Brian has taught me.
I know they’re all themes that have been discussed already but I think the first thing is the importance of scribbling. Keep scribbling. Don’t let the enemy determine your momentum: push your ideas out there. The second one is hospitality. The importance of having a place where like-minded people, or perhaps not quite so like-minded, will meet and discuss ideas and be that kind of focal point.
And the third is a willingness to get almost anywhere quickly. If there are six or so libertarian-inclined students who might be willing to speak to you as Brian did on many occasions. One time when he came down to Oxford to speak to just a small audience of potential libertarians there.
So thank-you, Brian. Thank-you for being here tonight. I don’t think this is a selfish move on your part at all. It’s actually very generous of you to take time out now to allow us to say these to you. It’s actually very valuable for us. It’s so great that you can be here now for us.
For me you’re a sort of updated cis-male version of Madame de Staël the great salonniere, a completely unique figure, a historical figure … At one of your salons I met the Lord Kamal as he must now be referred to … The second thing I’m going to mention, you’re obviously a great prophelytiser for the movement, a great intellectual of the movement, but there’s one pamphlet, which provided me with a sort of later-life security blanket about thirty years ago entitled … I am a Libertarian Because. And it’s not just a brilliant encapsulation … it also captures Brian’s incredible wit. Let me just give you a couple of examples.
“I am a libertarian because I honestly and truly don’t care what other people do to each other in bed,” … and this is the bit that I like, “where I am not regularly present.”
“I am a libertarian because an armed society is a polite society.”
“…because there isn’t enough sex and violence on television.”
“…because newspapers should be allowed to publish lies, filth, nonsense and tastelessness. Even the Guardian should be allowed.”
“…because I’m the editorial director of the Libertarian Alliance and stopping being a libertarian would be inconvenient.”
I first met Brian during my second year at the University of York. … I put together a conference …
…Brian pretty much refereed it, and over the years … he volunteered to do conferences and events around the country for us. And you were brilliant.
But what really struck me was doing the pamphleteering because you immortalised me by [publishing] my pamphlets, Brian.
…book references are really important for the next generation. … it’s been referenced throughout the world in phD dissertations and so on.
I want to say thank you Brian … for pushing the right things to do and helping us immortalise ourselves in other people’s work, and getting those ideas out.
So thank-you so much, Brian for all your efforts.
Thank-you. It’s very difficult to add anything to the very many things that have been said. But a couple of … spring to mind that I think you’d like to hear.
So many of you have said how you sought Brian out. I first met Brian unwillingly rather. I was a Tory boy like very much the same story as Tim told, and was dragged along to one of Brian’s Fridays by I think a friend of [???] actually from York. A chap called Andrew; I can’t remember his [last] name.
As soon as I was in that room I realised I was in a dangerous place with dangerous people. Any chance that I was going to have - delusions I had then of a political career were not going to survive being known to associate with such people and being touched by their ideas. And lo and behold I quickly gave up on foolish ideas of politics and started being infected with all the ideas that I learnt at Brian’s Fridays.
It may have destroyed my ideas of a career in retrospect, but ultimately I ended up in some small way in the world of ideas, working for trade associations and things where I adopted some of Brian’s other advice, which is that you can actually achieve an awful lot - I know this has been said before but Brian was the one who told me - that you can achieve an awful lot if you let someone else have the credit. And that’s very good advice to anyone working for trade associations.
And it may seem counterintuitive at the moment and maybe to those who … as modesty. Because when it comes down to it, Brian has been there not building up his own career and his own fame and his own aggrandisment. He’s been out there pushing us to learn more and to think more clearly and to go on and do things.
And that is actually a … modesty which is rather at odds with the appearance of being quite happy to have everyone say, what a good job.
It was a good job, Brian. Well done.
Brian, I’m going to add to the number of people you’ve been compared to this evening because I consider you a kind of libertarian Dumbledore.
I can’t pinpoint when you arrived in my life, I think probably a few years ago and magically in Dumbledore style. I [would] often take you to Costa Coffee and ply you with coffee and croissants and talk through everything from Field Marshall Montgomery to … house building to relationships - Brian’s actually quite a good relationship guru …
You’ve been very much an intellectual troubleshooter for me as well. Someone I could go to for wisdom and advice. A couple of years ago I was offered a couple of [lectures?] for the Chinese government. I was toying it thinking I’m not sure, the money’s good, but they’re probably scum so what can you do?
I sat with Brian and said I’m not sure what to do. I’m thinking of turning it down. He said, you never know who’s going to hear what you say. They can’t unhear what you’ve heard. And you never know how high they could rise within the Communist government there, and they may then take your ideas forward and change things within their state. You never know how far those ripples will go out.
So thank-you so much Brian, and to be honest I’m gutted that I don’t get to have any more of those coffees with you. It’s been a great privilege and honour.
Brian I first met you in about 2008 through Perry de Haviland …
A little word for pamphlets: your name was very familiar to me. Because 35 years ago I was living in the back of beyond in deepest darkest Suffolk. And I didn’t know anybody. I read a few books and maybe like Tom, maybe the same advertisment, I saw an advertisment for the Alternative Bookshop in the Spectator. And I ordered some stuff by mail order. … And among those things that I ordered was …
…a set of pamphlets by Brian Micklethwait. So your name had been very very familiar. They didn’t persuade me of anything, necessarily. As you know I tend to make my own mind up about things. But you did persuade me that maybe I wasn’t mad. And if I was mad, that I wasn’t alone.
Just to bring formal proceedings to an end we’re going to ask Brian to say a few words.
Well, very few words. Basically I came here to wallow in …
It’s greatly appreciated.