Thursday, 25 June 2009
A cotton man through and through, Edward Teague repeatedly cut his cloth to suit a variety of sometimes simultaneous careers which straddled the commercial, scientific and artistic lives of Manchester and elsewhere, including a stint as a United Nations advisor to North Korea. He became best known, however, in his sixties, as Postman Patel or Lord Patel, one of the best and most original voices on the British blogosphere and regularly consulted by many a Fleet Street commentator.
Born into a family of Manchester cotton merchants, Teague played rugby at Altrincham Grammar School for Boys before going to Leicester University to study botany from 1961 to 1964. Further research in this, at Edinburgh, was curtailed by being hauled back to run the family firm.
Leicester had been a brand-new redbrick, famous as the inspiration for Lucky Jim. Edward throve in a university which then had fewer than a thousand students, and he made lifelong friends among those studying disparate subjects. He relished hearing what they said about their enthusiasms, and these often became his own. As the only fellow undergraduate with a car, he and I traced the lost railways of Leicestershire or, rather more wickedly, sniggered at Monica Jones, the lover of Philip Larkin, as she distractedly wandered the small campus.
Back in Manchester at the family firm, he met and married Lesley Holmes in 1969; she was with him throughout his varied occupations. He was a regular at the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society which met in the Portico Library – a relic of the quest for learning which existed alongside the search for profit which characterised Manchester in its heyday. The Manchester Stock Exchange was a particular interest and he was especially proud to be associated with the Royal Exchange Theatre, created inside the Exchange buildings when, in one era of an eclectic career, he served as Drama and Literature Officer for North West Arts.
He had previously spent time working for Saatchi and Saatchi as an advertising copywriter, owning a bookshop with the typically sardonic name of "Books" and as director of a private art gallery, where he refused to hold L.S. Lowry on the grounds that he was a better artist himself. This was almost true: his cartoons of Sydney the Spider were adored by all the children who received postcards with his illustrations.
Always at the forefront of understanding and appreciating the changing industrial and commercial world (to the extent of establishing a software company which developed programs for textile manufacturers), he was also adept enough to become a constant thorn in the side of government as he witnessed the collapse of the industry and the futile attempts to pour money into factories which were soon to be shipped wholesale to India.
Edward Teague had a love of the North-west and knew, for example, where to find the old charcoal pits beside the M62 in the Pennines. He could readily, and engagingly, explain the workings of the pneumatic/hydraulic system which existed in the warehouses alongside the Bridgewater Canal in Manchester (these explanations recur in his blog). He never tired of the region's industrial archaeology and could name all the mills which still dominate a few of the towns to the north of Manchester.
Never a political activist in the traditional sense, he was a genuine libertarian with no time for the humbug and rhetoric of the left and right. The blog he ran as Postman Patel/Lord Patel became a port of call for anyone seeking to unravel what was really going on behind the headlines. His scientific training made him ask questions, and seek answers, where others feared to tread. Never daunted, though sometimes dismayed, by a changing world, he throve upon challenge, to which he brought a perspective which spanned two centuries and drew upon many contacts – whether he was discussing the De Menezes shooting, the fact that the US brought greater firepower upon Libya in 1986 than the English had done in the Falklands, and the embarrassing photographic evidence held by MI5 about Anthony Blunt, among others.
In one of his last blogs, he declared, "apart from making my arm ache reaching for my gun when I hear the phrase 'Two Cultures', it has been evident since Queen Victoria died and the little incident in Sarajevo that the Rolls Royce minds of the upper echelons have always regarded scientists as an unpleasant luxury, like a water flushing closet".
Teague soon found the internet a natural outlet for his wide-ranging talents – the very emblem of fast-moving, post-industrial society. It is a profound regret that he died so soon into this latest incarnation of a pleasingly eclectic life. Would that more politicians themselves were of his maverick spirit. He hoped his blog would continue beyond his lost struggle against cancer, and there are those in that blogosphere who may attempt it. However, it is doubtful that any one person can bridge C.P. Snow's Two Cultures in the way that Lord Patel did during that personal, idiosyncratic foray in the global village.