Christopher Logue was a poet, screenwriter, actor and playwright. Born in Portsmouth in 1926 he served briefly in the Black Watch during and immediately after the Second World War, before spending sixteen months in a military prison. In 1952 he went to Paris where he worked on Merlin, the magazine which published Beckett. He funded his own poetry by writing pornography under the name Count Palmiro Vicarion. Back in London in the ’60s he wrote plays for the Royal Court, scripts for Ken Russell, including Savage Messiah and songs for Peter Cook’s Establishment Club. He acted in several films, including Russell’s The Devils and went to prison again in 1961 with Bertrand Russell and others for his support of CND. On his release he began his ‘True Stories’ column for Private Eye. He was responsible for some of the first poetry posters and was a life-long advocate of performance verse. In 1959 he recorded Red Bird, with the musician and composer Tony Kinsey, a combination of jazz with Logue’s versions of poems by Pablo Neruda.
Logue said once that he liked to have a guide in his writing and on another occasion that he was essentially ‘a rewrite man – like Shakespeare.’ His best-known work was a retelling of the Iliad, begun in 1959 and published in several volumes which came to be known collectively as War Music. He had no Greek and based his work on literal translations, many provided by Donald Carne-Ross, who commissioned the first part of War Music for the Third Programme (Radio Three). The question for Logue was not fidelity to the original but the creation of a viable poem in English. He recorded and performed it often, notably with Alan Howard. War Music remained incomplete at his death.
Among his other work his most popular poems include ‘I shall vote Labour’, ‘Come to the edge’ (often misattributed to Apollinaire) and ‘Be not too hard’, later set to music by Donovan. His Selected Poems, edited by Christopher Reid, was published in 1996. In 1985 he married the writer and historian Rosemary Hill and moved to Camberwell, where he lived until his death.
He believed in the power of poetry as a form of experience independent of other knowledge.
‘Shakespeare never went to Venice, Homer never went to Troy, Dante never went to Hell.’