It took me a lot of years to realise my name was generally synonymous with people, one in particular, who had not done good in life. Obviously, I’m not referring to my first name here, but my surname.
I was 14 when my grandad Fred died and we were sorting through his possessions when I came across a battered old shortbread tin — why did people always keep letters, bills, documents etc in these tins? — which contained a number of photographs and newspaper cuttings, several featuring a moustachioed man performing a stiff right-armed gesture. Who was he waving to?
An accompanying newspaper article told me the man, Sir Oswald Mosley, whose fame has recently been resurrected by the TV series Peaky Blinders, was actually delivering a Nazi salute. Why did grandad have these? My dad didn’t answer the question. He just took the pictures from me and, I think, threw them away.
As I got older that memory came back to me. Quite a lot.
At school, as people studied history and learned about Baronet Oswald Ernold Mosley, they would ask if I was related to him and shout “Oi, Oswald” at me.
Not The Nine O’Clock News (a then popular TV sketch show) featured a song about the man himself, which brought him back to the attention of my school “pals”.
I was about 19 when a band, The Men They Couldn’t Hang, in a song called The Ghosts of Cable Street, about a collision between Mosley’s Brownshirts and anti-fascist protesters, belted out the line: “Jack Spot burst through with a chair leg made of lead, Brought down a crashing blow on Mosley’s head.” Friends of mine enlightened enough to listen to John Peel — one of the few DJs to play songs by the band — took great delight in recreating the scene.
Oswald returned to haunt me (not literally) again around 20 years ago when I was working on a magazine called Devon Today and went to interview an artist called Xanthe Mosley. Her husband Ivo, an author, appeared and asked if I was related to Sir Oswald. I said I didn’t think so and asked him the same question. “Unfortunately, yes I am,” he said. He was his grandson and I have since learned has regularly written about the “evil legacy” of fascism. They were and probably still are a lovely couple. It looked as if the connection weighed heavily upon him.
I probably still get asked at least once a year if I am part of the family and the answer is, I’m almost certain, no — though I would probably be a whole lot wealthier were I to be — and the other name-related question put to me is usually “Are you related to Max Mosley?”
The formula Formula One racing driver and son of Ozzy, whose right wing Union Movement he campaigned for before becoming a controversial donor to the Labour Party, is an altogether different kind of unlikeable.
The answer to the question is, again, I sincerely hope not.