Caught by the River

Perry Eliot 1941-2016: My Personal Lament

22nd July 2016


By Richard Worthy

We met on a football field in 1972 – Footsbarn Theatre v St.Germans Village.

Perry was not good at football and his team’s stars were heard to yell in broad Cornish accents “bloody kick it up the field, m’Lord” He arrived on a powerful Dresda motorbike with a 750cc Norton engine and disappeared after the game in a roar of rubber and exhaust.

Next I was hired to play guitar for a singer from Montserrat that Perry’s father enjoyed as she sung the Piaf song ”Mi Lord”. The gig went badly wrong when I gave her the key to start and she launched off in another pitch while Perry’s Dad was talking to his gamekeeper about pheasants and they were both rather put out at the discordant intrusion. Perry was very calm and explained that his father hardly ever came to England being resident in Morocco as the Tangerine Earl and had an awfully bad back that weekend.

After this I was often invited to Port Eliot in its “heyday” as the late 60’s and early 70’s groovy Stately Home. There I met all sorts of interesting folks from aristos to championship boxers, theatre producers, painters and poets.

Perry knew whom he liked and would not put up with fakes. A small remark of inconsistent thought or pretentious piety would be met with a sharp response and a volley of abuse so toxic that we had to laugh at the sheer golden vocabulary and liquid flow of disgust at the poor fellow who had dared to utter such specious bollocks.

It was an intoxicating mixture. John the butler bringing champagne then claret for dinner followed by other assorted delights all surrounded by Venetian furniture from the early sixteenth century, French sideboards from Louis XIV and priceless pictures from goodness knows what age while The Stones played Sticky Fingers on the gramophone.

We grew to know and like each other more after I became a tenant on the Estate and he was kind enough to get me involved as a producer at the Elephant Fayre and all its happenings. This was an eye opener for me and set the tone for future shows that now live on as The Port Eliot Festival.

He always wanted to be a showman and initially regretted that he had to manage a large estate with all the consequent worries of taxes, inheritance, buildings falling down, people thieving – it took its toll, no doubt. But he found he was good at getting the right kind of people to come and contribute their skill and artistry. The Festival today is the shining result of his vision and liberal way of making things happen set in the dreamland that is Port Eliot.

My feeling is that there’s something extraordinary somewhere in the earth, the rocks, the water and the magnetic forces that seem to flow there. It can be a place of other worldy beauty but then seems able to bring despair, loss and sadness on a dramatic scale. Having lived on the Estate for thirty years I have witnessed this first hand – I have now moved away.

The pleasures have always outlived the sadnesses and Perry’s almost limitless generosity and lifetime’s work to bring the experience to others will live on since he worked so hard and with such keen judgement to make sure it would.

Unique is a terribly over used word but with Perry Eliot it is the only one that can describe his life and what he has left for us all in both place and consciousness.

His art was in the giving and sharing of what he loved the most.

Richard Worthy
July 2016