Our memories of John Berger

Posted on: 04 January 2017

Written by: Charlie Marshall

On 2 January, Booker prize-winning novelist, writer and art critic John Berger died at the age of 90. In 2005 Cardboard Citizens had the privilege to cross paths with him. Here are some words from our Artistic Director and Founder Adrian Jackson.

About a decade ago, we were invited to take part in a London-wide event celebrating John Berger's 80th birthday. We made a dramatisation of his anonymously published novel KING, which we presented at a squatted theatre on the Holloway Road.

John’s son Yves came on the first night and then persuaded his father to come on the second night. KING tells the story of a squatter camp somewhere in Europe in an imagined future or present – the narrator is a dog (it transpires). So we prefaced the event with a film made by a dog belonging to a Cardboard Citizen, David Bailey. With a camera attached to his head, the dog (whose name I have forgotten) filmed the interactions of city folk with David sitting as a beggar.

There were many beautiful things in the show, which had a cast of 20 or so, the eponymous dog played by Wilbur Moen. There was also a guy whose eight year old son was in the show, partly because he had been excluded from school and his dad had to take care of him – so we gave him a part, which he discharged with panache.

After the show John signed some programmes, including one for the little lad, who I introduced to him, explaining how he came to be there. John cradled the boy’s face in his hands and told him: you are not excluded from anything that matters. The boy’s face lit up, and he walked away with a glow, as if he had been blessed, which he sort of had; John Berger’s power and humanity came through in his voice and his aura, it was palpable.

Sadly, a year or so later, Wilbur Moen died, in unfortunate circumstances. John kindly wrote a short poem, which were read at Wilbur’s commemoration:

For Wilbur

King is barking in the dark
Calling you
King is running on the earth
Searching for you
King is still alive
Loving you

We have lost a great human being.

Adrian Jackson