diamond geezer

 Sunday, May 08, 2011

If you'd been standing by the bus stop opposite Bow Church yesterday afternoon, you might have spotted a larger than normal car pulling up between two bendy buses. You might then have noticed four people getting out, one of them an 85 year old woman. You'd have seen she was dressed impeccably, in a navy jacket with cream slacks, and that her hair was a lightly sculpted grey. You'd have noted that she was a little unsteady on her feet as she walked, supported, to the nearby pedestrian crossing. You might have watched her party cross the road and enter the churchyard gates, then walk down the long path to St Mary's door. And you might well have thought "hang on, I'm sure I recognise that face from somewhere... but was it from the golden age of Hollywood, or was it just some actress who did daytime TV?" And unless you knew what was going on, you'd probably have wandered off none the wiser. But yes, there really was a celebrity in E3's midst on Saturday - none other than screen legend Angela Lansbury.

Never fear, Angela wasn't here in Bow in her role as Jessica Fletcher, so there was no sudden unexpected outbreak of murders for her keen eye to investigate. Instead she'd flown over specially from Los Angeles to attend a memorial service for her grandfather, George Lansbury, who died on this day in 1940. The East End adored George, who became Poplar's Mayor, its local MP and ultimately the leader of the Labour Party. He never quite made it to be Prime Minister because Stanley Baldwin got the nod instead, and was edged out of politics in the late 1930s when his pacifism failed to capture the national mood. And he worshipped weekly at St Mary's, hence the special service this weekend, and its very special guest.

This is just the sort of event that Bow's latest rector loved to organise, and he'll have been instrumental in inviting Angela across the Atlantic to unveil a plaque in her grandfather's memory. Alas the Reverend Michael Peet died last month, following a recurrence of cancer, and his funeral was held at the church two days before George's memorial service. He'll be a hard act to follow - one of nature's natural campaigners, founder member of the Lesbian and Gay Christian MoveĀ­ment and for two decades a much-loved community priest [obituary]. St Mary's is celebrating its 700th anniversary this November, and Michael had a whole series of special events planned which will go ahead in his honour. But hereabouts 2011 is more likely to be remembered for the two commemorations of the first week of May. From Hollywood to Bow, they will not be forgotten.

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