The funeral service for Carole Blake, held yesterday at Golder’s Green Crematorium, was as eclectic as the woman in whose loving memory everyone had gathered. It was a secular service, the only references to religion contained in music by Mozart, Faure and Handel, and the tributes recalled Blake as sister, aunt, besotted great aunt (despite a marked intolerance of children), friend, colleague and of course agent.
Many who came to bid farewell sported something purple, Blake’s favourite colour, amethysts her favourite stone. And a many-faceted amethyst, polished to perfection, became a metaphor for Blake’s remarkable and passion-filled life. Her assistant, Hattie Grunewald, read Jenny Joseph’s poem “Warning” but, like its narrator, Blake didn’t wait until she was old to wear purple. Indeed, the colour purple was what drew her to the attention of David Urbani, her first husband and childhood sweetheart: he’d clocked her on the school playing fields wearing purple, though it was against the rules.
Olga Vezeris, a friend for over 30 years since they met when she was working for Simon & Schuster, had flown in from New York for the funeral. She talked tearfully of “the unique bond of female friendship” which had led them to share so much. “Carole was a generous spirit. She cared for you for the right reasons.” Their many trips together, including a leisurely progress through Italy this summer to mark their shared seventieth birthdays, were planned with “military precision” and every day included sightseeing, restaurants, shops and churches. When Blake moved home in 2008, it was Vezeris who helped her unpack 300 boxes of books. For her, “each book held magic”.
Peter James, arguably her most successful client, recalled his 16 years with Blake, “a total hedonist” who held fast to the great tradition of “the long and boozy client lunch”. He wondered how many in the trade today could remember “a publishing world before Carole Blake” and said it had been “impossible not to be consistently proud of her”. A sudden death was “the only way Carole could go” and she would remain “a dazzling star forever bright in the publishing firmament”.
Isobel Dixon, who joined Blake Friedmann some 20 years ago, recalled Blake’s dictum that life should be about “fun, friendship, loyalty and love” and for her it was. “If I died now I just think I’ve had the most fabulous life,” she’d told her, when the diagnosis of cancer only hours old. Whatever she said publicly, Blake knew she was up against it but she was “in full flight and full flow to the end,” Dixon continued, before reading “The Jewel”, a poem in honour of her friend and mentor’s remarkable life.
“The labour was all love and chattels/aren’t the legacy”, she wrote, noting “Your clarity and force/your pleasure in the great bazaar of life/the splendour and clamour of it all.”
The final farewell, as Blake’s flower-bedecked coffin disappeared from view, was Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings”. Like all the music, it was taken from a list of “desert island discs” that Blake had begun compiling.
Carole Rae Blake, 29th September 1946 – 25th October 2016.