This is the biography of a man who is hardly known now. Why bother?
For a start, he was a pioneer in every field he entered. The way he lived and the way he did his journalism were equally ultra-modern.
Silvester Mazzarella has written a very insightful and rather lovely book about a complicated and fascinating writer. I am thrilled to be getting the work of Filson and Silvester out there into the ether (as FY might have called it), or the blogosphere (as we know it).
It is fitting to publish a biography of such a man on the web. Filson Young wrote on so many subjects and met so many people that putting this material online means that readers and researchers on many topics will now brush against our hero as they Google their own interests. Besides, FY was the first to grasp new media technologies.
There’s a twist. Silvester’s mission was as quixotic as anything attempted by FY (and a lot less motivated by money). Silvester started this book over thirty years ago, and many of his interviewees – associates and friends of his quarry – were on their last legs. So this is a book which hops, skips and jumps its way back to the Victorian and Edwardian periods via our own late Eizabethan times.
This is a poignant story. Some of his work is remembered in specialist circles, but the man and his huge sweep are forgotten. That is what happens to many journalists who are useful because they lightly touch so many – too many – subjects.
Filson was perfectly-designed to go out of fashion. The self-consciously stripped-down and functional 1940s and 1950s had no place for such a baroque figure with his “fine writing”. But we can now benefit from a longer perspective and see the modern lurking in what people would, after WW2, have thought windy.
Besides, he was a surprisingly sympathetic figure. Filson Young may have been grand, even boorishly so, but he knew social mobility alright. Born in Ulster, he grew up in a cultured but impoverished Manchester family whose children were forced to leave school at fifteen to find work. He was not always lovable, generous or pleasant, and a multiplicity of talents and the constant need to make a living left him too little time to excel consistently in any one field.
However, he impressed many who knew him. He was surprisingly successful in love. His second wife married three men, and declared FY the best of the bunch. His work with the BBC was acknowldeged as valuable by the Corporation’s historian, Asa Briggs. His Titanic holds water even now.
This man was never negligible and is well worth attention as we start a century, just as he started one.