Tuesday, 30 August 2016


For a long time, I had it in my head that Douglas Jay, once MP for Battersea, Gaitskellite democratic socialist, europhobe and a thorn in the side of Harold Wilson, was the son of radio and theatre actor Ernest Jay.  However, as the obituaries of the writer and producer Sir Antony Jay pointed out, I was confusing two lineages.

For those of a certain generation, Ernest Jay will be for ever Dennis the Dachshund in the Toytown series by SG Hulme Beaman. It must have been Sir Antony who I heard recount one of his father's ploys. When you are in the rehearsal room, he said, look around. The morose individual sitting apart will be the writer. Ernest made a point of cultivating writers in order to improve whatever part he was playing.

Conservative opponents made great play with Nick Clegg's family links with the Netherlands, but were clearly ignorant of the Dutch heritage of one of their heroes. Sir Antony's grandfather's real surname was Alberge, son Ernest clearly believing that the snappier "Jay" was better for a career on the stage. (The Coronation Street actress Betty Alberge is seemingly not directly related, though perhaps there was a flight of the Jewish Alberges from the Netherlands in the 19th century, some settling in the East End, some in Lancashire.)

The other Jays were a much longer established family. I had not realised until I looked up their ancestry what a privileged background Douglas Jay had. His father was a barrister, travel writer and politician with a connection to the aristocracy. Douglas's brother Michael became a pillar of the establishment. It must have contributed to son Peter's sense of entitlement.

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