Isherwood’s Final Journey


img437It was a Friday. A sunny Friday when Isherwood – flamboyant, eccentric, wild and sad – went on his final journey.
Everyone in Wigan knew the Isherwood family and James Lawrence Isherwood. Jim was the artist who, during his lifetime, captured the headlines.
On that summer Friday, he would be awarded one more – in a report in the Wigan Observer with the headline: “Colourful man in a grey world.”
Reports that Isherwood had died in Billinge Hospital began to circulate – and his death was mentioned on the regional TV news. An obituary of nationally famous Jim Isherwood appeared first in the Wigan Observer and later in The Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Independent. The last three were a sign of his importance.
On that Friday, the town centre around the Wigan Parish Church was as ever busy and bustling. But at the fingers of the church lock went towards 3, the churchyard with its towering cenotaph was eerily quiet. The cortège arrived – the coffin of the artist carried by the men from the undertakers. Immediately behind, brother Gordon, sister-in-law Molly and nephew Clive. Then a thin mix of perhaps 15 or 20, including Mrs Pat White from Neston on the Wirral who had been Jim’s partner, but not, as they had told the world, his wife. She wore dark glasses and carried a bunch of red roses.
Gordon Isherwood (Jim’s brother) was to say later that he and the members of the family were bitterly disappointed at the poor turn out for Jim’s funeral.
“We thought the church would have been packed” he said. “But as Jim used to say…’life’s a funny business.’.”
One mourner said: “Jim Isherwood deserved better.”
The dark oak coffin was placed just before the altar. The organ music faded away and the Rector, Canon Malcolm Forrest, said prayers. In a eulogy he said: “Today we say farewell to a colourful man in a grey world at a grey time. I recall as a youth my attention being drawn to the reports in the Wigan Observer of a colourful artist with an unorthodox approach to pictures and life.
“Isherwood helped shape the future and break the mould of a town not too concerned with aesthetic values. Or art. I must not pretend that the artist was a pillar of the church and had conventional Christian mortality. He would not have approved had I tried to.”
The Rector told how Isherwood married at Wigan Parish Church, knew the church but lived his life “out there in the community.” And set out to deliberately provoke responses.
Canon Forrest continued: “However inconvenient, he did not hide his God-given talent. And I’d like to think that those of us here are celebrating the life which was rumbustious. His whole life revolved around his art. His conversation was art. In a society in which art, travel and beauty are given low priorities, Isherwood was unique.”
The artist was buried with his father and mother in Gidlow Cemetery, Wigan.