Published online by Cambridge University Press: 09 April 2021
I SURELY DESERVED a break after my non-stop Hollywood summer but my diary (which I soon abandoned once I was back in Europe) tells me that Christina and I were on a plane to Naples within five hours of my touching down from Los Angeles. A quick hug from the children, a hand-over of Bowl party snaps and we were off to Capri, where the Italians were hosting the annual Premio Italia; my modest European TV music group was meeting in the margin of the annual television festival with myself as chairman. It seems incredible to me now that I was in that much of a hurry to return to the world of television and I confess that I made time, later in the week, to take my favourite sea trip: the catamaran hydrofoil across the Bay of Naples from Capri to the island of Ischia, where we could chill out around her pool with Susana Walton at La Mortella, the unforgettable home and garden she and her husband William had created out of the side of a hill back in the 1960s. We had become regular visitors after I filmed a big interview with him about his First Symphony for Omnibus (marking his seventy-fifth birthday).
Sir William had died in March 1983, aged eighty. I flew out to represent the BBC at his funeral. Walton had inherited from his mother a deep suspicion of the Catholic church (‘Papists’, she called them scornfully) and as a consequence stipulated that he should be cremated. It transpired there were only two crematoria in all Italy, the nearer to Ischia being located on a hillside in Fiesole, just north of Florence.
We were a very small group of mourners that morning. Susana, in black mink, had travelled up the previous day from the island. Tony Palmer drove from Rome at crack of dawn. Gillian Widdicombe, supposedly Walton's biographer, was there too. (She never finished her biography of Walton, her labour of love.)
Walton's corpse had been transported from Ischia in a tin coffin. Gillian asked to have it opened so we could have a glimpse of Walton and pay our last respects.