Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The World’s Worst Author makes an enquiry


Here it is in the letters pages of The First Edition (September -October1924) a curious letter from Amanda (McKittrick) Ros, not quite latching on to the idea of collecting or what the magazine was about.

Poor Amanda---blissfully unaware that her books weren’t collected for their literary merit, but for their production of unintended hilarity. At Oxford in the 1920s undergraduates like Evelyn Waugh and John Betjeman were admirers and it is said that the Inklings, whose members included C.S.Lewis and J.R.Tolkien , held competitions to see how much of a novel or poem by Amanda Ros could be recited before the reader began to laugh uncontrollably. Because most of her books were published privately in small editions, copies weren’t easy to come by. They have remained quite scarce ever since, largely due to loyal followers, who eagerly snap them up. However, today, with her star slightly on the wane, copies, including very early editions, can be found on the Net for under £70.


Ros’s work has been anthologised, but some enterprising publisher should reprint all her writings in a large paperback edition.[RH]

Thanks. From our old blog Bookride it is worth adding this:

One of her rarest books is Bayonets of Bastard Sheen ( 50 copies only in 1949). It was culled from letters written between 1927 and 1939 mostly vituperations against critics + a short piece 'Lewis Carroll. A Hasty Evaluation' prompted by the price of £15,400 paid by Dr. Rosenbach for the manuscript. She takes a very dim view of the Carroll book in several letters. Meanwhile here is a list of her synonyms for critics:

Apprentices to the scathing trade 
Auctioneering agents of Satan 
Brain-blighters 
Brain-bruisers 
Character-clipping-combination 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The wrong Winston Churchill

The British prime minister, historian and wartime leader Winston Churchill became Winston S. Churchill to distinguish himself from the now forgotten and somewhat unsaleable U.S. novelist Winston Churchill (no relation.) His friendly and diplomatic letter on the subject  is a model of its kind and has been preserved.**

Winston Churchill - the novelist
Pretty decent thing to do, but at the time (1899) the American novelist was well known and his books selling very well. To add to the confusion the novelist Winston was also a passable painter. Also our own Churchill wrote one novel, Savrola, in 1900. The American Churchill wrote many novels mostly with titles beginning with C - The Celebrity, The Crisis, The Crossing, Coniston etc., They occasional show up on eBay being sold as if by the great politician ( the American Churchill also dabbled in politics). Wikipedia says "...the two are still occasionally confused, mostly by sellers of second-hand books…" - slightly  dismissive, but possibly not untrue.  They are known to have met at least once and also to have corresponded; a signed letter from WSC to WC would be quite a valuable item!

A good WSC oil painting now goes for several hundred thousand pounds, the American Churchill (who appears to have been more than a Sunday painter) cannot be in this league. Must check an art price site…

Winston S Churchill painting at Reid's Hotel, Madeira



**Mr. Winston Churchill presents his compliments to Mr. Winston Churchill, and begs to draw his attention to a matter which concerns them both. He has learnt from the Press notices that Mr. Winston Churchill proposes to bring out

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Talking Beast 3


The final part of Richard Ince's Talking Beast. A candid inquiry into the nature of homo vulgaris. (London: W. Hodge & Co., 1944.) It is a heartfelt and still interesting polemic from the 1940s. Ince acknowledges as his inspiration (and mentor) Archibald Weir, the Buddha of Marley Common:
 "...it might be supposed that I am a disciple of Archibald Weir.. I am a disciple of no one, preferring to seek truth wherever I discern it. In the East they have a saying: "Where there is no Buddha hurry on, and where there is a Buddha, do not linger." The paradox would certainly have been approved by Weir, who wrote: "I do not seek to formulate tenets or to make disciples. The intent of these books would be frustrated entirely if any such success were obtained among their readers. All that I can wish to offer is assistance to earnest minds in the effort to think for themselves...'

Having found a signed and jacketed copy (at a sadly low price) we can reprint the blurb from the inside flap and also a press-cutting pasted to the rear endpaper. This review from The Field leads one to think this may have been Ince's own copy and the book was reviewed by this horsey magazine because it was about an animal...

Inside d/w flap reads:

Our present world is not, for many, a pleasant place in which to live. The conditions force even the least thoughtful to consider why they are here. People ask: Has western civilisation failed? Has Christianity failed? Is there hope in the Churches? In religion? And, if so, of what kind? Only a fool or a knave could be satisfied with things as they are. Only a fool or a knave could imagine that outbreaks of hatred and the competitive spirit could bring peace or satisfaction. This book by an author who has thought deeply and experienced deeply looks without prejudice or ready-made opinion on the content of our consciousness as it exists today. He has attained a philosophy which brings order out of chaos and a measure of peace out of strife and muddle. 
If you are not satisfied with the world as it appears to you and believe there are better possibilities for every one, you should read TALKING BEAST. It will help you to face bedrock facts, no matter how ugly, with courage and cheerfulness. 

The press-cutting reads:

International Press-Cutting Bureau - London. THE FIELD.
11 November 1944.


'Talking Beast' by Richard Ince.

This is a book, as arresting as its title, which is better read twice than once. It will produce both acceptance and antagonism, according to the reader's mental progress from talking beast to mature human.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The year 1975 in prophecy




If you ignore the boils, this could be a scene from any number of war zones around the world today. But it isn’t. It’s the vision of destruction that Mad Magazine cartoonist Max Wolverton has conjured up after having read the blistering anti-technology rant of American Radio evangelist Herbert W Armstrong entitled 1975 in Prophecy. 

This pamphlet of some 32 pages contains other examples of Wolverton’s artwork, including a rather chilling reminder of 9/11 in which bodies are shown falling from a cliff to their deaths. There are also photographs of the technological miracle that was post-war West Germany—all to show how the 'fantastic push button world' brought to us by scientists and technologists was likely to turn us into a 'western world of soft degenerates, irresponsible, immoral, sick of mind and diseased of body’  prey to a take-over by Communism, and even, more absurdly, Neonazism.

Armstrong, founder of the Worldwide Church of God, argues that the Almighty  doesn’t really approve of all this progress nonsense and will take his retribution in 1975 (a handy borrowing by Armstrong of the number- switching method by which Orwell turned 1948 to 1984), bringing plagues, earthquakes, flooding, etc to a world that was too obsessed with bringing about a life of leisure to care much about worshipping the Creator.

If we think this hysteria was over the top consider the date 1956—it was the height of the Cold War, Stalin’s salt mines and death camps were still around, and then ramifications of McCarthysim were still rife in Hollywood. In the 1951 film The Day the World Stood Still, where a robot from another world arrives to warn of a threat to Mankind, the anti-Communist, anti-technology message is more nuanced, but powerful all the same.

Armstrong was playing on these fears, but it is impossible to say whether or not he truly believed his own dire prophecies. What we do know, however, is that his Radio Church of God grew rich on the donations sent in by not very bright listeners.

And though he was way out on most of his speculations on future technology -- private helicopters taking the place of cars for many, baths where ‘supersonic waves took the place of water, and air passengers travelling by rocket--Armstrong proved prescient on a few things. When he predicts that 'food is to be cooked by heat waves' he looks forward to microwave ovens; and the telephones that he claims will show an image of the person being called have existed for a number of years.

Rosemary for Remembrance

Found in an old herbal by the great botanist, apothecary and herbalist John Parkinson (1567 - 1650) a 'sovereign balsam' - a recipe for a curative oil made from rosemary, probably the most prolific of all herbs in Britain. The title of this splendid folio is: Paradisi in sole paradisus terrestris : Or a garden of all sorts of pleasant flowers which our English ayre will permit to be noursed up: with a kitchen garden of all manner of herbes, rootes, and fruites, for meate or sause used with us, and an orchard of all sort of fruit-bearing trees and shrubbes fit for our land: together with the right ordering, planting, and preserving of them; and their uses and vertues. Collected by Iohn Parkinson Apothecary of London. Printed by Humfrey Lownes and Robert Young at the Signe of the Starre on Bread-Street Hill, London 1629. True to Ophelia's sad words in Hamlet ('There's rosemary. That's for remembrance. Pray you,love, remember...')  the herb was long associated with preserving and invigorating the memory. The remedy calls for a fortnight's immersion in warm horse dung. As not many now have immediate access to  hot horse manure, an airing cupboard might do for brewing the potion or the warm part of  maturing compost. The 'strong glasse' could be replaced by a Kilner jar...


Rosemary is almost of as great use as Bayes, or any other herbe both for inward and outward remedies, and as well for civill as physicall purposes. Inwardly for the head and heart; outwardly for the sinewes and joynts: for civill uses, as all doe know, at weddings, funerals, &c. to bestow among friends : and the physicall are so many, that you might bee as well tyred in the reading, as I in the writing, if I should set down all that might be faid of it. I will therefore onely give you a taste of some, desiring you will be content therewith. There is an excellent oyle drawne from the flowers aloneby the heate of the Sunne, availeable for many diseases both inward and outward, and accounted a soueraigne Balsame:it is also good to helpe dimnesses of sight, and to take away spots, markes and scarres from the skin ; and is made in this manner. Take a quantitie of the flowers of Rosemary, according to your owne will eyther more or lesse, put them into a strong glasse close stopped, let them in hot horse dung to digest for fourteene dayes, which then being taken forth of the dung, and unstoppcd, tye a fine linnen cloth over the mouth, and turne downe the mouth thereof into the mouth of another strong glasse, which being let in the hot Sun, an oyle will distill downe into the lower glasse ; which preserve as precious for the uses before recited, and many more, as experience by practice may enforme divers,  viz. for the heart, rheumaticke braines, and to strengthen the memory, whereof many of good judgement have had  experience.


The Umbrella Club

Let no-one accuse Jot 101 of being Londoncentric. We at Jot HQ welcome quirky Jots on provincial goings-on and just to prove it here is one issue of the quarterly house journal of a Coventry-based arts organisation called The Umbrella Club.

The club, which was opened by The Goons in 1956 operated first from humble premises in Little Park Street, bang in the city centre, a three minute walk from the controversial new cathedral. In 1960 it described itself as:

‘an independent, non-political, non profitmaking organisation for encouraging interest in art music, music, literature, the theatre and kindred subjects. It arranges lectures, recitals, dramatic performances and many related activities’ 

Its house journal was a well produced quarterly anthology of poetry, short stories, reviews and art work entitled, rather imaginatively, Umbrella, which by 1960 was already into its second volume. In the Spring issue, editor T.C.Watson, a local English teacher, urges potential contributors to submit material that paints a portrait of life in the Midlands, and which reflect or interpret:

‘such problems as labour relations, race relations, the world of the teenager, the changing patterns of family life in a mobile society and the attitudes of the citizen of today to the established institutions of the past’

An earnest ambition this, at the start of a decade which saw sociology take over from English as the coolest degree option. However, it seems that many of the contributors to Umbrella were English graduates, with a strong bias towards that coolest of all English Universities in the sixties, Keele. Of the wannabe Amises, Drabbles and Larkins who contributed to  two of the 1960 issues, only two names stands out---local wunderkind novelist Susan Hill, then just 18, and Keele graduate Zulfikar Ghose, who handled the magazine’s poetry review pages. Hill, now 72, went on to become a sort of heir to Daphne du Maurier, while Ghose, a little older, is an acclaimed poet now based in the United States.

We should add that Hill, whose first scandalous novel had a theatrical background, was also a budding playwright, and must have attended many a production at the Umbrella Club while a sixth former at Coventry’s Barr’s Hill School, while Philip Larkin who, after all was born in Coventry, had at least one poem published in Umbrella. As a jazz nut he may also have heard some pretty cool notes in Little Park Street.[RH]

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Canon John Vaughan, forgotten botanist

Found - an illuminating pencilled note by one Christopher Bell in the front of  The Wild-Flowers of Selborne: and other Papers, by John Vaughan (London, John Lane, 1906.) It has more information than has been currently available on Canon Vaughan (1855 - 1922) - a distinguished botanist and writer on natural history, unknown to the DNB and Wikipedia. COPAC record 10 books by him including: A short memoir of Mary Sumner: founder of the Mothers' Union / A short history of Portchester Castle (his first work from 1894) Lighter studies of a country rector / The music of wild flowers (his last work from 1920) A mirror of the soul, short studies in the Psalter /Winchester Cathedral close: its historical and literary associations.  Bell writes:

I knew John Vaughan and worked with him as my fellow curate (and senior) in the Parish of Alton. He was then (1884) considered the best botanist in all Hampshire and had a fine herbarium (pp 62, 85). He generally had bog bean and other plants in his room and was a very interesting preacher. I got hints from him and started collecting plants for a herbarium after his example. I went to Selborne and found Monotropa on the Hanger. In 1909 - after 25years - I met him at Walberswick Church at H. C. AV 8. AM. He said he knew me at once. He always had a charm of language - a literary style with a touch of magniloquence (as on page 115 may be seen) that contrasted with his modest and somewhat reserved sort of manner. He married the vicar's daughter - Miss Whyley. [1911]

The magniloquent ('high flown, fancy, flowery') passage referred to on page 115 reads thus:

When prehistoric man reared his barrows to tumuli over the remains of his distinguished dead, there is no reason to doubt that then, as now, the frog-orchis blossomed on Old Winchester Hill, and the autumnal gentian was abundant on Crawley Down. When the Druid priest, clothed in white raiment and bearing a golden sickle, went forth to cut the mistletoe, the Selago flourished on the heath, and the Samolus by the running stream. When the Romans made their straight road from Portchester to Winchester, through the dense forest of Anderida, the dogwood and the spindle tree fell before their axes, and the wild daffodil was trampled under their feet. When the black boats of the Northmen made their way up the Hamble River, the marsh sapphire covered the muddy banks, and the sea holly blossomed on the shore. Unnoticed and uncared for, the wild flowers, then as now, each in their own season throughout the changing year, "wasted their sweetness on the desert air".

Huckleberry Pudding

From "As We Like it" Recipes by Famous People edited  by Kenneth Downey  (Arthur Barker, London 1950.) Famous people included Joyce Grenfell, Georgette Heyer, Leslie Charteris, Douglas Fairbanks, Christopher Fry, Celia Johnson Vivian Leigh, Richard Mason, Charles Morgan, Ivor Novello Laurence Olivier, Wilfred Pickles, Freya Stark, Richard Rogers, Eleanor Roosevelt ,Katherine Hepburn, Enid Blyton and Clementina Churchill. The book has a forward by Edwina Mountbatten of Burma and she writes that every penny from the sale of the book will go to the funds of the Returned Prisoners of War Association.

There is much mention of rationing and tinned food but in this recipe from America's first lady whipped cream is called for with the huckleberries. The recipe is very similar to the British one for Summer Pudding - made with blackberries, black and red currants, raspberries etc., In that the soaking tends to be overnight and a good weight on top is advised. The bread should not be completely juice sodden, and a piebald appearance is favoured.

HUCKLEBERRY PUDDING

Cut crusts from slices of white bread. Line bottom and sides of casserole or china bowl (size and quantity dependent on number to be served). Pour in cooked and sweetened huckleberries to cover bottom, then add another slice of bread and more huckleberries, alternating until the dish is filled. Put in ice-box for several hours so berry juice will soak through bread. Serve with plain or whipped cream. 
Eleanor Roosevelt.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The return of the Italian Restaurants 1961

From 'Minder' circa 1982 - Arthur Dailey leaving Otello's
Found in The Good Food Guide 1961-1962, this review of an Italian restaurant in Soho. It shows  how restaurants reflect London's recent history, and although this was the beginning of the swinging 60s it was written only 15 years after WW2 ('war wounds are healing.'). Otello Scipioni died recently aged 91 and the restaurant is now called Zilli. He also owned the grander Italian restaurant Villa dei Cesari near the Tate Gallery.  As the 60s progressed the Italians came to dominate the catering scene - Italian trattorias being a great hangout for the beautiful, the rich and the famous. Fortunes were made. Note the GFG's feedback system -- the names at bottom being unpaid food enthusiasts who had written in - the bit about singing waiters is probably a quote from one of them them. Longo Intervallo = long gap.

TRATTORIA DA OTELLO
41 Dean Street, London W.1. 
REGent 3924

The gastronomic map of Britain or at any rate of London, reflects longo intervallo – after a decade or so to be more definite – the political history of our country, and even its campaigns. Before the war, there were a number of French restaurants in London, but Italians dominated; after Mussolini had shown what Italian Fascism thought of us, the Greek restaurateurs drove the Italians from Soho street by street. Cypriots, those unquestionably Empire citizens, reaped the richest harvest. Now, it may be because of Eoka, or just because war wounds are healing, but for whatever reason, authentic Italian trattorie are springing up, and among the best is this, run by Otello Scipioni, who spearheaded the return of the legionaries. 




It has none of the nonsense of 'special uniforms' and so on ('though sometimes a waiter may burst into song') and it does pay attention to the cooking.

All prices are à la carte. Order these dishes: Lasagne Reale (4/6), fritto mist della mare, risotto allaoVastese (3/6), osso buco or kidneys, and consider also the mozzarella in carozza and the scaloppini Don Camillo. Full license: 11/6 carafes of red, white and pink wine from Signor Otello's family vineyard (2/6 a glass) and 24 other Italian wines from 15/6 to 23/-; other countries' wine treated with explicable disdain. Open every day except Christmas and Boxing Day lunch, 12-3 and 6 - 11.30. (App. Dudley Collard; Oswald Gill; V.Gordon;Maurice Elvey; Margit Owen; M.D.P. Webb)

Recommendations cannot be accepted from anyone connected with the hotels concerned.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Talking Beast 2

Beast of the Earth (Falnama: Book of Omens, circa 1580)

Three more chapters from  the complete text of Richard Ince's 1944 polemic Talking Beast. It was subtitled 'A Candid look into the Nature of Homo Vulgaris.' The title comes from Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia 'This Man, this Talking Beast, this Walking Tree.' There is some element in it of Oprah's favourite guru Eckhart Tolle and it is also a sort of prequel to British philosopher John Gray's 2002 classic  Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals.

Ince's mentor, also hailing from Marley Common near Haslemere, was the Stoic writer on philosophy and religion Archibald Weir - an early 20th Century follower of Marcus Aurelius. Weir's eldest grandson Nigel Weir, author of Verses of a Fighter Pilot had recently perished in the Battle of Britain and the book is dedicated to the Weir family, especially Archibald.


CHAPTER IV

FROM TALKING BEAST TO COMPLETE MAN

  When we consider the matter it becomes obvious that creation is not an act in time but a process in consciousness. The creator is still creating. Past, present and future have no relevance except as a measure used by space-time consciousness. This thin, tenuous, animal consciousness, evolved out of the unconscious background, enables the living organism to function in conditions known as incarnation. Having no experience or memory of any other conditions, it has to be content to remain a logically-arranged receiving apparatus for sense-perceptions  and messages from the unconscious.
  If we would understand better the relationship between this animal consciousness and the unconscious through which the creator creates, we should study evolution. From amoeba to man we see an extraordinary change.

Stephen Long bookplate

This modest bookplate pasted into a copy of The New Forget Me Not (1929), a miscellany of entertaining short pieces by contemporary authors, including Belloc, Beerbohm, Harold Nicholson, J.C.Squire, Vita Sackville West and Hugh Walpole, with superb decorations by Rex Whistler, came from the estate of the interior designer and antiques dealer Stephen Long, who died in his eighties in 2012.

From all that has been said about him since his death Long, a specialist in early nineteenth century china, whose eclectic shop in the Fulham Road was for decades a Mecca for lovers of the unusual  and 'shabby-chic', seems to have almost single-handedly invented the modern taste for interiors of painted furniture, naïve artifacts and stylish, if sometimes distressed ceramics. Indeed, a profile of his shop featured in the very first issue of The World of Interiors.

I attended the memorable sale at which  the contents of Long’s shop and flat were dispersed ,and as with other sales of iconic figures in the world of design and lifestyle—Andy Warhol and Elizabeth David come to mind—the prices paid by many punters (dealers included)for cracked pots and framed prints--  seemed to be greatly inflated. I was not tempted by most of the lots, but did buy some books, among which was this Forget-Me-Not.

There is no doubt that this dealer of the ‘old school’ possessed an extraordinary ‘eye’. I wish I’d met him. [RMH]

Monday, July 14, 2014

I once met... Anna Pavlova (and Adolf Hitler)

Found in Words Etc.,: A Miscellany (Wordspress, Haslemere 1973) this piece by author, art teacher, botanist and curator Wilfrid Jasper Walter Blunt (1901 - 1987). His meeting with Hitler is admittedly fleeting, his meeting with Pavlova slightly  more substantial, but he tells both anecdotes well..

My Friendships with the Famous

Name-dropping is a pleasant and a fairly innocuous pastime, indulged in even by Shakespeare's Hipolyta: "I was with Hercules and Cadmus once…". At a party, when conversation is flagging, I sometimes like to electrify the company by saying, quite casually, "The first time I met Hitler was…". Then, before I can be subjected to an embarrassing interrogation, I change the subject.

No publisher has ever shown the slightest eagerness to publish a full-length book on my relationship with the Führer; yet I feel that the world ought no longer to be deprived of some account of my first (and alas! last) unforgettable meeting with him. I cannot, unfortunately, remember the exact date but it was some time in the year 1929. I had gone with a German friend to the Café Hecht, in the Hofgarten in Munich; Hecht means "pike", but little did I guess how big a fish I was about to land. At the table next to ours six people were sitting - three men and three women - and on that table was a funny little flag with a swastika on it; I assumed that they were adherents of some esoteric oriental religious cult. The men were dressed in brown (like our Capuchins), and one of them sported a ridiculous little moustache.



"Who on earth are those types?" I asked my friend - in impeccable German, of course.
"That one with the moustache", she replied, "is a man called Adolf Hitler. He has some kind of a political party here in Munich."
"Oh really?" I had never even heard the name that I was soon to hear only too often.
At that moment one of the women wanted to light a cigarette but had no match; nor, apparently, had any of the others. So the Moustache turned round to me

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Talking Beast. A Candid Enquiry..Part 1


Found - a fascinating book by a forgotten writer, Richard Ince (1881 to circa 1960). Although the author of 20+ books he has no Wikipedia page and there is not a lot about him on the web. He mainly looks up through his sister Gertrude's fortunate marriage into the engineering/ industrial dynasty De Ferranti. With her he edited her late husband's papers - The Life and Letters of Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti (Williams & Norgate London, 1934). He wrote novels,humorous works, biographies etc., One of his books, a collection of stories from 1926 At the Sign of Sagittarius, makes into Bleiler's Checklist of Science Fiction and Supernatural Fiction. The work we have scanned Talking Beast (Hodge & Co, London 1944) is a sort of self-help slightly ranting philosophical/ religious polemic, of its time with some ideas now unpalatable but a bold, fresh  work. The title comes from Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia 'This Man, this Talking Beast, this Walking Tree.' Here are the first 3 chapters...


TALKING BEAST

A CANDID INQUIRY INTO THE NATURE

OF

HOMO VULGARIS

BY

RICHARD INCE

"A shop of shame, a book where blots be rife
   This body is . . .    
   This Man, this Talking Beast, this Walking Tree"
-Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia

"To thine own Self be true

And it must follow as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man"
–Hamlet (1, 3, 78)


LONDON          EDINBURGH          GLASCOW
WILLIAM HODGE AND COMPANY LIMITED
1944


DEDICATION
To the memory of Archibald Weir,
to whose life and writings I owe so
much; in the hope that I have not
in this collaboration too seriously
misinterpreted the essence of his vital
message



PREFACE

  This book, written during the years of war seems to me have a pertinent bearing on the conditions of our time. It does not deal directly with reconstruction in the political, or religious spheres, although, I imagine, the unprejudiced reader will come from its disquieting awareness of what is and what be. • It is not concerned with any rearrangement of goods in the market place. It is surely the men and women who stand behind the booths that should claim attention. Getting and spending we lay waste our powers, wrote Wordsworth. Life is larger than any religion, any philosophy, any science. And the only experience we can have of life is that which our own consciousness, feeble and flickering, brings to us. All I ask

I once met….Sir Felix Dennis

The sad recent death of amateur poet, multimillionaire media mogul, and manic tree planter reminds me of the day I interviewed him back in 2008. Preparation is everything and knowing that this most eligible bachelor was rather fond of attractive young ladies, my magazine sent me to meet him with a pretty Dutch photographer in her twenties whose dress of choice was a very clinging all-leather cat suit. I can’t for the world think why she chose this particular outfit, but there you are.

In the Forest of Dennis

With Oz defendants Neville and Dexter
Anyway, we arrived for the interview at the office below his penthouse flat off Carnaby Street, which he still rented after four or more decades. While I sat on a huge couch next to an aquarium, which seemed to take up most of one side of the large but rather dingy room, the photographer was shown upstairs to take pictures of Dennis’s superb  library of mainly modern firsts. When the great man arrived late from a generous lunch he was clearly in a good mood, as you might say. This was confirmed when, after adjourning to his office, I prepared for the interview by dropping my tape recorder and allowing all the batteries to fall out. ‘Hah! Hah! Hah! he gleefully exclaimed, ‘Another technophobe’ . I wasn’t, of course, but I knew that he was. I’d been warned that despite the fact that he owned several high-tech magazines, he wasn’t online and had no mobile phone. Nor, despite publishing for car-mad young men, did he drive. I also suspected that he had health problems when he soon after reached for several small bottles in his desk and swallowed a handful of pills.

The interview went remarkably well. There was to be a lot more raucous laughing from his direction and eye-popping amazement from me. We were there principally to discuss his latest book, How to Become Rich, but, of course, I was much more interested in his early hedonistic lifestyle and book collection. On the latter topics he did not disappoint. It appeared that long before the OZ trial one of his principal ambitions had been to defy the mores of his middle class childhood in Kingston on Thames. He dropped out

Friday, July 11, 2014

Heffers---a life in books


Everyone who has ever lived or studied at Cambridge knows Heffers. It’s the big cheese bookseller in the city and is an international brand too. Around 1996 the company, which then employed around 300 people, issued a brief history, which has been useful in compiling this profile.

The Heffer family originally came from Grantchester, celebrated by Rupert Brooke and now the home of well-known storyteller Jeffery Archer. In 1876 William Heffer opened up a stationery shop in Fitzroy Street, just east of the city centre, where his success with a sideline of hymn books, bibles and general school books, convinced him that he ought to focus more on bookselling. Further success resulting from 25% discounts for cash and an expansion into academic and general titles, made it possible for Heffers to relocate to the city centre in Petty Cury.


Heffer then became a printer—and books printed by the company from the early twentieth century until 1987, when a management buy-out created the Black Bear Press-- can often be found, especially locally. Following William’s death in 1928 the company, with its three distinct areas of operation, was steered forward by son Ernest, and grandson Reuben, who became an influential figure in University and city life. Further success, especially internationally, followed the appointment as General Manager in 1964 of Cambridge graduate John Welch, who had no experience of bookselling and was not even a family member.

Heffers remained in Petty Cury until the late 1960s, by which time the decision of the City Council to redevelop the street, and the continuing expansion of Heffers as a business, made it necessary for the company to relocate once again. This time the decision was made easier by the offer by Trinity College of premises in Trinity Street once occupied by a grocer. The site was redeveloped from scratch and today, the design of the shop that has been called ‘one of the first and largest custom-built bookshops in the country’ is admired internationally for its bold simplicity.


Doubtless over the decades many students have supplemented their grants by working the odd Saturday at Trinity Street, but few have gone on to achieve the success of children’s writer Pippa Goodhart,