My own introduction to the song was the Matt Monro version. Matt was one of the most important crooners of my growing up years and seemed to be the natural successor to the great Bing Crosby who was still going strong. Matt became known as ‘The Man with the Golden Voice’ and during his 30-year career ‘All Music’ was to describe him as being “one of the most underrated pop vocalists of the 60s, who possessed the easiest, most perfect baritone in the business.”
His career included the UK Top Ten Hits: ’Portrait of My Love’: My Kind of Girl’: ‘Softly as I Leave You’: ‘Walk Away’: ‘Yesterday’ (originally recorded by The Beatles). Matt also recorded several film themes such as ‘From Russia with Love’ for the James Bond film of the same name, ‘Born Free’ for the film of the same name and ‘On Days Like These’ for the film ‘The Italian Job’.
This song was released during my 18th year of life. This year probably represented the headiest year in the life of a teenager who thought he was God’s gift to all women; a young man who could turn on his Irish charm with ease, as well as being able to turn every female head in his vicinity by a mere look of interest from him. In fishing terminology, he considered himself the best catch any woman within fifty miles could possibly lay her hands on. Of course, this view of me by myself was over exaggerated, not grossly, but somewhat inflated I’d have to admit.
Apart from my ability to turn the heads of female beauties, I was determined to turn this unfair and unjust world on its head as far as improving the lot of my fellow working-class man and woman, whatever their skin colour or nationality. At the age of 18 years, I was elected Shop Steward of the Mill where I’d worked a couple of years and which employed 400 men and women. I made the national newspapers, being the youngest trade union shop steward in Great Britain. At the time (1960/61), England was a poor example to the rest of the world when it came to racial discrimination. This was a time when no black person could join a union, become a club member of any Working Men’s Club or rent a property. Landlords would place notices in their windows of ‘No Blacks: No Irish: And No Dogs’
Because of my earlier life experiences, I never held these national prejudices. As a 12-year-old, I had a traffic accident that left me with multiple life-threatening injuries, including a damaged spine which suggested that if I lived, I’d never walk again. My life was saved on the operating table by a West African surgeon at ‘Batley Hospital’ (long since closed). The surgeon had saved my life after my trapped body had twisted around the main drive shaft of the vehicle that ran over me; leaving me a mangled mess of broken bones in body torso, arms, legs and chest ribs. Following this experience, I vowed always to highlight and fight against racial prejudice wherever I encountered it.
Within one year of becoming a Shop Steward in a 140-year-old firm that had never previously experienced a worker’s strike, I called the firm’s first strike. I had been given the opportunity of dealing with three issues I thought strongly of at one go. A West African worker had applied for a vacancy but had been refused by the mill owners because of his origin and skin colour. I knew that there would be at least half of the workforce who would never go on strike for this cause, but I also knew that the whole workforce would go on strike for a rise in production rates (that benefitted all male workers) besides halving the pay-gap discrimination level which existed between men and women who operated the same drying machines and did the same job within Harrison Gardners.
By uniting all three causes into one worker’s demand, I eventually secured what I wanted, and so did the 400 plus men and women in the firm. The West African was offered a job but decided to turn it down. This was the issue that received the most media publicity, which at the very least drew the attention of West Yorkshire to the degree of racial prejudice and discrimination that took place daily in their county.
Whenever I hear ‘Portrait of My Love‘ by Matt Monro, my mind is instantly returned to those heady years before I emigrated to Canada in my early twenties. The ‘portrait of my love’ would contain all the beautiful young women in my life for many years thereafter, but it would also be a portrait of positive change in society that I might one day see become a reality. I hope that the day will eventually arrive when England becomes a more socially just society where character is more important than colour of skin, where the able-bodied and the crippled walk hand in hand, where man and woman, girl and boy enjoy equal rights and status and ‘being different’ equals 'individuality' and ‘diversity’ and not something questionable.
Since my 20s onwards, I have worked towards a fairer and juster society in my work, my actions, my writings, my involvement in charitable causes, my raising of awareness in all areas of discrimination; in everything I say and do. Anything good I have done would never have been done by me had that West African surgeon been unable to save my life at the age of 12 years.
In my wife, Sheila, who is more beautiful in face and heart than Mona Lisa herself, I have the most marriageable ‘portrait of my love’. I will, however, never abandon the image of a ‘portrait of my love’ I know I will never see. That portrait is the love by mankind towards all mankind. It is a portrait of love by all towards God’s people, creatures, nature and world. What a beautiful and heavenly image to behold.
Love and peace Bill xxx