William Pryor

then and now

Freshly improvised William Pryor is served on a bed of crisp dysfunctional dynastic privilege, with roast writings and memories of heroin addiction in a cheeky velouté of entrepreneurism and a side order of tentative film-making.

He was born in 1945 in Farnborough where his landed-gentry entomologist father was sticking Mosquito aircraft together with the epoxy resin glue he invented, the better to trounce Jerry. As soon as the war was over the family moved back to Cambridge so his father could return to academe once more. William’s mother is a daughter of Gwen Raverat, the wood cut artist and author, whose grandfather was Charles Darwin.

Growing up in Cambridge in the midst of these cultural and scientific elites was ridden with uncomfortable paradox, only amplified by being sent away to Eton – as was the Pryor tradition – at the age of 12. Four dissonant years later William’s rebellion sprung him from that prison and, in 1963, already a fledgling dope-smoking beat, he went up to Trinity, his father’s college, to read Moral Sciences as philosophy was quaintly called.

It was the sixties. Beckett, Coltrane, Ferlinghetti, Ornette, Camus, Burroughs, Mingus, Ginsberg and Dada-ism were at the centre of William’s life. The bourgeois privilege, the squareness and greyness all around became the enemy, giving shape to the disquiet at his core. Town and gown fertilised each other in that Cambridge. The group of trainee beatniks of which William became a member met at El Patio, the Criterion, the Old Mill, Millers Jazz Club and in furtive college rooms. Nigel Lesmoir-Gordon got William reading his poems. Together with Andrew Rawlinson they did happenings. Syd Barrett floated about with his guitar.

Several months in a garret in Paris treading the coattails of Burroughs and Beckett in a mist of Morning Glory hallucinogens convinced him he was a genius. When William’s disquiet was met first by opium and then heroin, he found release, he could be himself. Heroin addiction, satisfied by the then liberal NHS, was the result and eventually got him sacked from Trinity. It lasted 12 years. He came close to death several times and fell under the sway of professional junky and Britain’s answer to William Burroughs, Alexander Trocchi, before finally getting straight in 1975.

Eventually a new William began to emerge, deciding to be an entrepreneur. He founded Airlift Book Company, a £7 million turnover market leader in the distribution of US books in Europe; the Green Catalogue, Europe’s first environmental goods mail order business; Arq Web developers; Floot.com pioneered the concept of niche aggregation of music on the Web; and Clear Press, a publisher of non-fiction. After two books of poetry published in the 70s and 80s, William published a memoir of his addictions in 2003, The Survival of the Coolest, which he has adapted into a fictional screenplay, The Survival of Cool, which is in development. He edited and annotated the collection of letters between his grandparents and one of the icons of British 20th Century writing, Virginia Woolf and the Raverats, published in 2004. He has been a regular speaker at seminars and conventions, in particular at the addiction conference he established in 2006, Unhooked Thinking. His current entrepreneurial interest is fully absorbed in Eclector.co.uk.


 
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