Patrick Mills remembered

I was deeply saddened to learn that Patrick Mills had died in December last year. A delightful man who taught me all I know about music cataloguing.

This little memoir really begins in 1976 (yes, that summer) when I joined the staff, fresh out of library school, of what was then the British Library Bibliographic Services Division based in Store Street as a member of the Descriptive Cataloguing Team preparing MARC records for the British National Bibliography. One of BNB’s sister publications was the British Catalogue of Music for which, Eric Coates had been asked to develop its faceted classification system, published in 1960. It was Patrick who subsequently developed the system which was used up until 1982 before being superseded by Dewey.

In about 1979 or 1980 after I had served my apprenticeship on the various aspects of record creation and maintenance and could tell my 240s from my 245s and the difference between 100 and 700, I was invited to work with Patrick on a proposed Cumulative Edition of BCM [which didn’t actually happen until many years later]. ‘This could be fun,’ I thought, ‘an opportunity to marry my musical knowledge with my bibliographic skills.’ Well, it certainly was fun, but not quite in the way I had expected.

The work was to proof-read miles and miles of ‘diagnostic printout’ (remember that large-format green-and-white-striped computer printout paper?) of the putative edition and mark it up accordingly. All pretty routine. However, Patrick being Patrick decided that rewards and incentives were an important factor to spur me on. So, each time I completed a letter of the alphabet he bought me lunch – no arguments. Again, Patrick being Patrick and managing his life so that decision-making was, as far as possible, absent or based on a simple set of criteria, proposed a plan for our alphabetical lunches. We would start at the bottom south-west corner of Charlotte Street (I should explain: the south end of the street is renowned for its restaurants and Store Street is but a hop, skip and a jump away), work our way north, cross over at an appropriate point and then work south down the east side.  We were not allowed to miss out any establishment, so progress from simple Greek taverna, to Michelin starred haute cuisine, to Italian trattoria and more Michelin stars was what we did.

It was the most extraordinarily generous gesture and typical of him: we had some wonderful musical conversations – my word his knowledge of music was wide, deep and profound. And we had some delightfully quirky conversations as well – he had an acute sense of humour and I rapidly came to realise that behind the somewhat haphazard appearance and the seeming absent-mindedness, lay the most penetrating intellect. I also came to understand how important structure in life at all levels was to Patrick. Two, deeply endearing examples stick in my mind: additions to his extensive collection of LPs were acquired not by a wish to have another recording of a particular work, but by manufacturer’s number – so whatever was next on the list was purchased (HMV1106, HMV1107, etc) and the number duly ticked off on the list in an exercise book. Outings with his beloved wife Eileen were similarly structured: each Saturday they would take a ride on a London bus – it would be the next number on the list, starting at the beginning of the route and on reaching the end of the route they would either have supper at an Indian restaurant or go to the cinema, whichever was nearest the bus stop. Canal boat holidays together (another favourite) were similarly organised in A – Z order of the inland waterway system. He was way ahead of his time in the fashion stakes too – often wearing ‘odd’ socks and even ‘odd’ shoes at times.  It was only a year I spent with Patrick, but it was a year whose memory I treasure – a privilege to work with a remarkable man who is sorely missed.

Susi Woodhouse