A renowned TV scriptwriter, whose work included The Prisoner, Dr Who and Crossroads, Lewis Greifer was a true lover of Hampstead Heath, not just because of its beauty, but also because, according to his son Josh, it belongs to the people. ‘My father was municipally minded, a committed socialist.’
For the last fifteen years of his life Lewis had a bad leg and lungs, and couldn’t walk far without sitting and resting. On walks near Kenwood House, the family would often hear him say, as he stood leaning on his cane, catching his breath, ‘they could do with a bench here’, ‘a sotto voce suggestion to the Parks Authority’, as Josh succinctly puts it.
‘I felt it was the best way to remember him,’ says his widow Nan, 81, who is Polish. ‘He didn’t want a stone somewhere and to be buried among strangers. I was offered this spot by the authorities, which was overgrown with brambles, so I came over with my gardening bits and cleared it in an afternoon. I was very excited: this is exactly the place he would have liked. We meet here regularly but on the anniversary we drink vodka, we celebrate. He loved life.’
Greifer was interested in the way that lives were told in the incredibly succinct line on a bench. ‘One in particular,’ says Josh. “To our son B. Patel, B.Sc B”, clearly from parents proud of their young man’s academic achievement, even if his life was tragically cut short.’
‘I have a small tradition,’ says Nan later. ‘Lewis died on the 18th of the month so every 18th I visit the bench. Sometimes I think of a very sad Verdi opera we once watched together. Lewis wasn’t emotional –we were both very private people – but that one occasion we were sitting there crying, and that’s how I remember him, because it was the end of his life. Two weeks later he died. It was the only time in nearly 50 years that I saw him cry.’
‘You know what?’ she says, ‘I just thought of that again now.’
Words: Stephen Emms
A longer version of this article first appeared in The Times Magazine in 2007.