I’ve Read This Before

There must be very few celebrity biographies that are of great literary merit.

George Brown001

which I finished reading today, isn’t one of them.

No doubt good journalism, the book focuses on the political life, quarrels, gaffes and embarrassments of its subject, a leading, but desperately flawed Labour politician of my formative years. Undoubtedly hard-working, charismatic and energetic, Lord George-Brown intrigued me at the time when he changed his surname by deed poll to the hyphenated version, because he wanted to enter the upper chamber with the name by which he had been recognised all his life. He didn’t want to be addressed as Lord Brown.

The phrase ‘tired and emotional’ is a chiefly British euphemism for drunkenness. It was popularised by the satirical magazine Private Eye in 1967 after being used in a spoof diplomatic memo to describe the state of George Brown, who was invariably inebriated.

Paterson makes much of the Cabinet Minister’s class consciousness and the chip on his shoulder about university education; all this rather incongruous for a boy who progressed from a childhood in Southwark’s Peabody Buildings to a seat in the House of Lords.


Peabody Estates were the product of  ‘The Trust (was) founded in 1862 by London-based American banker George Peabody, who in the 1850s had developed a great affection for London, and determined to make a charitable gift to benefit it. His initial ideas included a system of drinking fountains (comparable to theMetropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association scheme actually set up by Samuel Gurney and Edward Thomas Wakefield in 1859), or a contribution to the “ragged schools” of the Earl of Shaftesbury. In March 1859, however, he settled on establishing a model dwellings company. Three years later, in a letter to The Times on 26 March 1862, he launched the Peabody Donation Fund, with an initial gift of £150,000. The aim of the organisation, he said, would be to “ameliorate the condition of the poor and needy of this great metropolis, and to promote their comfort and happiness”. The paper reported, “We have today to announce an act of beneficence unexampled in its largeness and in the time and manner of the gift”.[2] Shortly before his death in 1869, Peabody increased his gift to a munificent £500,000.[3]

The Peabody Trust was later constituted by Act of Parliament, stipulating its objectives to work solely within London for the relief of poverty. This was to be expressed through the provision of model dwellings for the capital’s poor.’ (Wikipedia).

The trust continues to this day. Brown is an example of the potential for upward mobility even in those times.

Maybe it is because I lived through the 1960s that I did not, until reaching page 233 realise that I had read Paterson’s work before.

Ticket in book001

In my post Bookmarks I speak of my habit of leaving them in books I read. This has the additional purpose of reminding me that I have turned the pages in the past. Thus, this afternoon I learned that I had read the 1993 publication twenty years ago.  Maybe I should leave my markers nearer the beginning of the books.


  1. A Catholic high school in Peabody, Massachusetts (named after George) was the scene of my first job as a teacher…..and I do like that “tired and emotional” euphemism; I had not heard it before!

  2. I really was expecting to hear he was overwrought – over tired – exhausted – from all his wonderful efforts to right the wrongs. 🙂 Gotta love these English euphemisms! Great book review and review of your reading habits. Such a good idea to leave that ticket in there!

  3. That reminds me that we Aussies have an undeserved (perhaps) reputation for being stingy – all the great philanthropists are apparently in the USA. Australians are supposed to be the world’s worse tippers. Let it be known that we have a thing called the minimum wage, something that workers can more or less live on. In San Francisco we were told by the pianist, when requesting a tune, that he ‘only play for tips’. In other words, he was not paid by the establishment; a fancy restaurant – who’s being stingy? Mind, if our pretend ‘liberal’ government has its way, our rich will be just as generous and the rest of us will be able to live on tips.

    1. Thank you, Mary. Interestingly, here it is Scots who are meant to be stingy, yet some of the American philanthropists have, I believe, Scots ancestry. Good grief, is our government ‘liberal’?

  4. Tired and emotional. Wow, what a euphemism. And here I thought maybe the guy was tired and emotional (or maybe just aggravating). I’ll have to remember that one.

  5. I remember reading a history of the Labour Party the other year which touched upon the first G. Brown. A talent lost to the bottle I think was the broad argument. Thanks for an interesting post !

  6. Oh oh… you had to get all the way to page 233! It says something about the book if it held your attention that long or about your tenacity as a reader.
    “Brown is an example of the potential for upward mobility even in those times.” Did the ‘chip’ on his shoulder become smaller?
    I like the idea of your bookmarks. Yes, move them to the beginning for books you may not want to read again 🙂

    1. Thank you, Timi. Good advice. I have to confess that when I found the train ticket, I did skim-read the rest. The book does not suggest that the chip ever became a French fry.

  7. Very interesting, indeed! I was caught by the term “ragged schools.” And too funny that you didn’t realize you had already read the book until you found your bookmark. Sounds like something I might do.

  8. I’ll have to remember “Tired and Emotional” very easy way of saying, way too much to drink. You have quite the memory Derrick ~

  9. Glancing down the sample page suggests the impact of the story might be lost in a sea of excess words – so good on you for persevering with it twice! Every time I started to drift off into purple prose, my unpaid editor friend would say kindly “you have gone all Jane Austen again!” Another euphemism that packed a punch 🙂

  10. Excellent reading, thoroughly enjoyed it, George Peabody seems to have implemented ideas, the same time Dickens was writing of similar subjects.
    As for your reference Tired and Emotional, I think many of our leaders fit that title quite easily these days.

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