Thursday, 22 February 2018


In the American Connection blog that I posted last month - Part Five - I explained that the material for the blog had come from my Mailchimp newsletter for December. This blog - The American Connection - Part Six - is based on material from the January Mailchimp newsletter. Mailchimp readers get the stories first! If you want a free subscription so you can read on March 1, 2018, the latest news about 'Jago', my biography of Jago Stone, the burglar-turned prize-winning artist, press the link here. 

And now, the story of an American FIII fighter-pilot called Bob Pahl and what happened when he met the remarkable artist, Jago Stone, back in the mid-1970s:

"Last month I reported on the latest upsurge in interest in Jago across the Pond. This month I continue with that theme, focussing on one American in particular and his collection of Jago Stone paintings. First, though, a reminder of what Jago himself wrote in 'The Burglar's Bedside Companion':

"A large number of the personnel (at USAF Upper Heyford) take home my paintings of the Cotswolds when their tour of duty ends. There are innumerable Jago Stone works of art in Texas, Alabama, California, New Mexico, Washington - and there are even a couple of pictures of Banbury Cross on Sunset Boulevard. It seems like a joke, but I can lay claim to being an international artist." (P.118)

And this month the American in the spotlight is Bob Pahl. I can best tell this story through using extracts from the second draft of Chapter Seven: 'The American Connection' in the biography 'Jago'. Giving my Newsletter readers a taster of the book seems a good idea.

Jago and the Americans from their USAF base – they went together like a horse and carriage. A kind of marriage. During the Cold War (1946-1991) between the forces of capitalism and communism, the USA and NATO countries squared up against the USSR and its allies in the Warsaw Pact. In 1950, permanent United States Air Force (USAF) bases in Britain were approved. American Strategic Air Command were worried about the vulnerability of their bases in the east of England and established four more bases to the west, at Upper Heyford, Brize Norton, Fairford and Greenham Common.  Between 1951 and 1953, the RAF Upper Heyford air base was given new runways, aprons and hard-standings as well as new purpose-built structures to allow maintenance on the new generation of bombers designed for the age of the nuclear bomb. By 1971, Upper Heyford was probably the largest fighter base in Europe. From the late 1970s, over fifty hardened aircraft shelters were constructed including those in the Quick Reaction alert area in which planes armed with a nuclear bomb could take off within three minutes.

It was into this concentration of focused threat and retaliatory power that Jago found his way. What he made of the politics of it all, I don’t know – but those magnificent feats of engineering – the aircraft – would have thrilled him and the men who flew them he would have admired. Many became his patrons as his brush strokes captured the likeness of their English homes. He would have loved the fact that some of the new aircraft shelters were painted by the air crew – one with tigers and stripes, another with a red dragon. Today, Upper Heyford has more wall art than arguably anywhere else in Britain. Maybe, Jago inspired some of it, even added his own touches. And English Heritage has declared the Upper Heyford air base site Britain’s best-preserved relic of the Cold War, comparable to Hadrian’s Wall in its significance as a military structure.

And so we come to the Bob Pahl connection. Bob was an American pilot, one of the elite flying crew who - with their families - were billeted in the villages around the air base. His tour at Upper Heyford was from 1974 to 76 and all the paintings whose images are shown in this Newsletter were commissioned or bought by Bob and went back with the Pahl family to the United States. I am very grateful to Bob for his kindness in giving me permission to show them in this way. 

Here is Bob's story and how it touches Jago's. I have placed it in the context of last month's extracts from Chapter Seven so you will recognise the opening section:

In mid-November 2017, one Saturday tea-time, I contacted the three websites on Facebook created and used by those – mostly American veterans - who had served on or had some contact with the Upper Heyford air base. I explained that I was writing the biography of Jago Stone and re-posted my first American Connection blog with its picture of Becky Bender’s English home, painted by Jago in 1983.  By midnight, that re-posted blog had had 168 views. The views for Sunday, the next day, were 511. Truly a gold-rush in cyber-space!

I had asked for memories of Jago, stories and images of paintings. They came in their scores.

From C L Kolodny, now living in Premont, Texas, there was this story:
“Lived in Merton, near Bicester in an old stone cottage near to the Plough, a free house owned and operated by Lou Bevan. One day I was there drinking pints of Hooky when a phantom with a small entourage flew in. I thought I had gone back in time and encountered Oscar Wilde. This guy was a real character. We drank and talked for a couple of hours and he departed never to be seen again. This chance encounter was so electric and mystical that I have thought about it many times over the years. It was a Sunday afternoon in 1980 0r 1981.”

I asked if there were any other specifics that he remembered.

“… (Just) the flamboyant dress, intense facial expressions, rapid intellectual mainly one-way conversation …”

All this, from “a brief encounter leaving a real memory”.

And from Marie Mazy Cooper, now resident in Sarasota in Florida, came this comment:
“My husband and I were stationed at our RAF Heyford and lived in Wardington. Jago knocked on our door one night in 1975 to ask to paint the Vicarage we lived in. We were told he was a thief and not to allow him in and that had stolen from churches and spent time in prison …  But we did and became friends … he had such great stories and we have 2 beautiful paintings of our beautiful Vicarage. Afterwards, we introduced him to a number of friends stationed with us to have their homes painted … he was a character you could never forget.”

A few days later, in response to my question: “What stories did he tell?”, Marie added:
“Jago had so many wonderful stories about his life as a thief stealing from the churches … he met many Air Force members and painted all their homes.”

Bob Pahl, from Holly Springs in Georgia, whetted my appetite with these words:
“I still have a host of his paintings and have some great stories. I met Jago during my tour at Heyford, and specifically when living in a 450- year-old manor house in Hampton Poole, just north of Oxford, from July 1974 to July 1976. We had many an occasion where he would show unannounced and asked to paint for a minimal fee. Also we were invited to his wedding reception.”

At the start of 2018, Bob sent me images of the six water-colours that he had bought from Jago and still hang in Bob’s house in Holly Springs. He explained:

“Two of the paintings (both undated) – ‘England’s smallest bar’ in Godmanstone, Dorset and the 15th century ‘Victoria and Albert’ pub in Netherhampton, Wiltshire - he just showed up with and sold for a few pounds”.

Three paintings in the collection, all dated 1976, depict idyllic English settings: the courtyard at ‘Poyle Court’, a 16th century Grade II listed building in the village of Hampton Gay and Poyle, just north-west of Oxford; cottages and church in the village of Welford-on-Avon in Warwickshire, near Stratford-upon-Avon; and the ‘Old Crown’ pub at Chiddingfold in Surrey, a one-time 13th century rest-house for monks.

And then there is Jago’s water-colour interior of the living room of the 16th century manor house that Bob and his family lived in during their two-year tour. Yes, as you might have guessed, the Pahl family lived in the very same ‘Poyle Court’ as described above. Bob wrote that when Jago heard about the house they were living in ‘he became extremely interested in painting it’.

That painting now hangs in the home of Bob’s younger son. Poyle Court was owned and rented out by a retired American brain surgeon who had worked at the Radcliffe hospital in Oxford and was now was living in Scotland. The American government and its defence department knew the value of looking after its elite flying crew at home and abroad. Nothing but the best for the best.

Bob Pahl’s service history is extraordinary with four tours in the UK between 1968 and 1990 that included seventeen years flying F111s. These tours were interspersed with reassignments flying F-100s in Vietnam, flight testing in Rome in the state of New York, service at Ramstein air base in Germany, and two years as Test Pilot at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas followed by five years in New Mexico flying F111s.

Bob took to Jago because of the man’s talent as an artist and his eccentric character. Jago, I imagine, would have taken to Bob because the American was young and skilled and flew those magnificent aircraft behind the perimeter fence at Upper Heyford - exquisitely engineered birds, soaring upwards to freedom. Jago would have loved the company of another freedom-finder. 

I hope you have enjoyed the Bob Pahl gifts and story. The year, remember, is 1976 - the American bicentennial year of celebration for the nation's declaration of independence from British imperialism in 1776. Jago gifted his painting of George Washington's ancestral home, Sulgrave Manor House, to the American president, Gerald Ford, and the peoples of America in 1976. It was also the year he got married. He also in 1976 painted a palette-knife painting that I only discovered this autumn.

I thought that Jago had ceased to paint with the palette-knife by1972 - I had no evidence of any such work after that date. How wrong I was. The story of that painting and its discovery I hope to give you next month in the March Newsletter. Meanwhile, if any of you readers out there can re-educate me further on Jago's palette-knife painting history I am your willing student. Artists are worth remembering for several reasons - knowledge of their best work is a very important one.

I promised in the title an update on progress to publication. Having secured my copy of the 2018 edition of the 'Writers' and Artists' Year Book' and read the relevant sections, I now realise I need to complete the biography before seeking an agent. My aim is to finish by mid-March."  

 I hope that has whetted your appetite for the Mailchimp Newsletter and for the book itself.