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Hugo Williams: a poem

Tara Browne and Hugo Williams

i.m. Tara Browne (1945 – 1966)

I read the news today, oh boy,

about a lucky man who made the grade.

He blew his mind out in a car.

He didn’t notice that the lights had changed.

- The Beatles, "A Day in the Life"

If you'd apologised just once

for green shirts and amethyst cufflinks

you might have survived,

but who would have believed

that Irish-ironical "Sahrry, sahrry"’

as you fell about laughing?

You were only fifteen

when we followed you across Paris

after midnight, trying to keep up.

If our money ran out

you pretended to find a dix mille note

lying in the gutter – our student grant

for the further study of Bloody Marys and rock'n'roll.

You had the latest American singles

under your coat

in case the clubs weren't cool.

"Cut Across Shorty" by Eddie Cochran

was your signature tune

when you rubber-legged it across the floor

of the Club de l’Etoile,

smoking a Salem. After hours

we took your portable singles player

to the Aérogare des Invalides,

its photomat and coffee machine,

dancing for the cleaners:

"Summertime Blues", "C'mon Everybody".

Our faces of children

are squashed together fighting

in the faded photo-strips.

We were still dancing

when Eddie flew through the windscreen

of a British taxi, followed to heaven

by his precious flame-coloured Gretsch.

We all came home from the party

safe and sound, but you didn't come home.

You went on into the night,

dancing your crazy doodle-step

on the pedals of your turquoise Lotus Elan,

till the music stopped

in the middle of Redcliffe Gardens,

at midnight, December 17th, 1966.

It was the midway point

of a broken-backed decade.

Before it, the mini-skirt, the twist,

"I Wanna Hold Your Hand". After it,

long hair, old clothes, "A Day in the Life".

Tara, the day you died

your friends went out of date.

Now there's a thought

you would definitely have agreed with.


London had barely started

when you blew into town

with your charmed existence,

your cursed Lotus Elan.

You asked me once if I wanted to drive

and we changed places for a moment.

"Come on, Hugo, put your foot down!"

I touched the accelerator

and the thing took off like a bird

down the Kings Road.

I don't know where we were going

because I got out and walked.

You entered the 1964

Mercantile Credit Trophy, Formula Three,

but officials found fault

with your windscreen,

which wasn't laminated.

You knocked it through with your elbow

and turned your jacket back to front

to counter the headwind.

You won by three seconds,

"The sensation of the meeting" (Autosport).

It was the first lap

of a race to oblivion.

For a couple of multi-coloured years,

while "Help" turned into "Revolver",

life got in the way.

Your friend Brian Jones,

of Their Satanic Majesties,

was the prophet of your fate.

With identical blond pageboy

and Cheshire cat grin,

he was your pint-sized twin in negative.

He even rolled his E-type

and managed to escape

with his sickly glow intact.

From "Out of Our Heads" to "Aftermath"’,

you parked your pretty cars

outside the Scotch or Ad Lib club,

while the world dished out its favours

to a lucky few

who could dance all night

and sleep it off next day.

You danced on the accelerator.

You didn't notice that the lights had changed,

but spun the car around

to protect your girlfriend

and went to face the music on your own.

Hugo Williams worked at London Magazine from 1961 to 1970 and has also edited poetry for the New Statesman. He is the author of more than a dozen collections of poetry, including West End Final (2009), Collected Poems (2002), Billy’s Rain (1999), which won the T.S. Eliot Prize, and his Eric Gregory Award–winning debut, Symptoms of Loss (1965). A selection of his freelance writing appears in the essay collection Freelancing: Adventures of a Poet (1995). His additional honours include the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, and the Cholmondeley Award.

1 comment

1 Comment

Peter Roe
Peter Roe
May 14, 2021

Absolutely stunning...

Gives a perfect image of time and place.

’dancing in the accelerator’

...Live fast, die young!

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