Being engaged to be married, 1954 style

Engaged book 1954 cover 001In view of the coming Royal Wedding here’s a glimpse of the conventions regarding engagements that prevailed sixty three years ago. So You’re Engaged, a collection of essays by a motley crew of contributors, containing some ‘big‘ names of the time, such as the cartoonist Marc, Gilbert Harding, Godfrey Winn, John Betjeman, Constance Spry, Peter Ustinov, Elizabeth Arden, Andre Simon and Googie Withers, is undoubtably a period piece, just as today’s guides to healthy living and spiritual wellbeing will be regarded as ‘of their time’ in the future.

The first contributor was ‘What’s My Line’ radio celebrity and confirmed bachelor Gilbert Harding, who injects some clear-headed common sense into the ‘delovely and delicious ‘aspects of being engaged. It’s all very well the groom drinking in all the beauty of his future bride, Harding warns, but this is the time to notice some of her irritating habits. ‘Does she get lipstick on her teeth, comb her hair in public, let her stockings get twisted, let her nail varnish flake?’ Moreover, does the handsome fiancé ‘ talk with his pipe in his mouth, does he use a clothes brush, does he keep his shoes clean and can you bear his friends ?’

There are some wise words too from Gilbert on how to keep the marriage on an even keel. Harding cites five ‘really happy marriages ‘he has known in which the couples have alighted on a winning formula. They behave, Harding suggests, as if they are ‘still engaged’. Continue reading

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What a Grey Day: synaesthesia in 1939

Just two weeks before World War Two broke out John O’ London’s Weekly for August 18th, 1939, published four letters from readers blessed with a form of synaesthesia in which certain words, numbers and letters of the alphabet are associated with particular colours. This uncommon condition has been known about for some time, but until the autistic savant Daniel Tammet (b 1979) published his memoir, Born on a Blue Day (2006), few outside the realms of psychology knew much about it.

Tammet, born Daniel Paul Corney in a Barking council house, was an unremarkable child, although he was later diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. At the age of twelve he suffered an epileptic fit that left him semi-conscious on the kitchen floor. When he came to he gradually discovered that the fit had left him with a remarkable series of skills. Synaesthesia was one of them; others included an astonishing ability to calculate, an amazing gift to acquire foreign languages at speed, and a memory that in time enabled him to memorise packs of cards and to recite the value of pi to 22,514 digits. This array of skills was far more spectacular than those that brought fame to another autistic savant, the American Kim Peck, on whom the ‘Rain Man’ of movie fame was based. Peck, it must be added, was intellectually challenged, whereas Tammet, as befits someone with Asperger’s Syndrome, is clearly, as his books demonstrate, a man of superior intellect.Synaesthesia in 1939 clipping 001

Continue reading

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Rognon de la Flèche and ‘Treasons Bargain’

Treasons BargainFound – an art catalogue from 1990 of an exhibition at the Michael Parkin Gallery in Belgravia, London. Rognon de la Flèche was the name by which Lady Cara Harris was known in her role as an artist. Parkin’s intro explains:
Rognon de la Flèche was the pseudonym of Lady Cara Harris and literally means ’ the tale of the arrow’ or more to the point ‘the sting in the tale’…To mention her name to old friends like John Betjeman, John Sutro, Adrian Daintry, Cecil Beaton and David Herbert would bring forth a knowing smile, almost instantaneous laughter and the inevitable hilarious story. I personally love the one of her daughters wedding date when she forced the somewhat reluctant bride-to-be to accompany her to Harrods to choose some new bath taps..having wasted the Harrod’s assistants time for several hours not to mention her by know somewhat agitated daughter’s – she apologized serenely remarking that she was suffering from the severe problem of ‘bidet fixée.’

The only daughter of the redoubtable Mabel Batten, known as ‘Ladye’ who was a ‘close friend’ of both Edward VII and Johnnie Radclyffe Hall, author of The Well of Loneliness, Cara Harris was also the mother-in-law of Osbert Lancaster. The art of Rognon de la Flèche 1865 to 1931 (Lady Cara Harris continued until 1952) was first shown in December 1933, at the Warren Gallery, in Bond Street. Now some 57 years we are showing not only repeated this eccentric exhibition but also a collection of homemade dolls whose births, marriages and social activities became regular features in the pages of The Times and Tatler. Also showing during the exhibition will be one of her remarkable films Treasons Bargain (1937). Described as having five acts and 106 scenes it stars an elderly aristocrat (Lady Cara) who successfully outwits the ‘baddie’ Catptain Desmond Sneyke (Osbert Lancaster) and features performances by Lord Berners, Sybil Colefax, Lord Donegal, Victor Cunard, John Betjeman and and Cecil Beaton…’ Continue reading

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G.S.Fraser on George Barker, the purple monkey

fraser : barkerFound on a scrap of paper which looks as if it has been scrunched up into a ball and ironed out flat is this squib on the poet George Barker by G. S. Fraser, the poet and critic.

The item is signed but not dated, but as it refers to Barker’s departure for Japan in 1939 to take up an appointment as Professor English we must infer that it dates from this time. Fraser looks back at Barker’s short but promising literary career, which then consisted of three volumes of verse, the first of which had been published by David Archer ( the David referred to ) at the Parton Press, and a number of contributions to little magazines, including New Verse, which was founded and edited by the gifted poet and highly influential critic Geoffrey Grigson.

For some reason known only to himself Eliot saw enough in Barker to encourage his efforts and it was Eliot who got the semi-educated Barker ( he didn’t even have a degree) his teaching post in Japan. This, however, was bad timing for Barker, as his burgeoning academic career was curtailed due to the outbreak of the Second World War and he was forced to return to England.

The whole tone of the squib strongly suggests that there was no love lost between Fraser, a good minor poet and a sound critic, and the wayward, uneven and often drunken and opinionated Barker, who if one is to believe all the stories about him, seems to have been a sort of Poundland Dylan Thomas, both as a writer and as a professional scrounger. However, on the subject of alcoholic writers, it is valuable to apply Thomas’s own definition of an alcoholic as ‘someone you dislike who drinks as much as you ‘. Continue reading

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Food products named after writers

IMG_4443Spotted in California at De Luxe Foods this American/ Irish cheese named after Oscar Wilde. Aged two years. Probably very decadent. There are not that many commercial foods and beverages named after writers and artists. Plenty of dishes, however, like Omelette Arnold Bennett, Peach Melba, Chateaubriand etc.,- Wikipedia has an extensive list.)  I have also seen a Jack London wine (a Cabernet Sauvignon with a wolf motif  on the label) and a Conradian coffee called ‘Heart of Darkness.’ Back in Europe there is a very more-ish chocolate biscuit called Leibniz, the name taken from the great thinker and mathematician. Jerry Garcia was the inspiration for Benn and Jerry’s ‘Cherry Garcia’ and in France there is a champagne named after the Marquis de Sade- at 35 euros a bottle it is not cruelly expensive.  The Wildean cheese was $6 for just over half a pound. News of any other such products would be welcome. Why isn’t there a small sponge cake with a distinctive shell-like shape named after Proust?  Or a Balzac coffee (did he not sometimes drink 50 cups a day?)

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A working copy

I thought I would record this dogged description of a ‘dog’ (booksellers slang for an unsaleable book.) I have forgotten what the title was but as I recall it was not at all valuable even in decent condition, and certainly not rare.  The best that could be said of it is that it was a ‘working copy.’ Why the seller persisted with his or her description is a mystery. At least they did not end the description ‘else fine.’ Most sellers would put it in the recycling bin, surely  no charity or thrift shop would accept it:

A few library marks…First 2 leaves barely attached. Front inner hinge tender. Green cloth fraying at tips, scuffed. Scattered, light pencil marks mostly to margins. Light spotting to endpapers. Ex-Library. Rebound in modern, library-style binding. Serious tears to 3 of the 4 folding maps, 1 repaired with tape, 1 with careful stitching. Short tear to 4th map. Water stain to lower portion of text block. Foxing throughout.  Twenty-Fifth Thousand. Brown cloth, lightly faded on spine, embossed decoration and gilt in center of front boards. Both volumes have amateur repair to frayed tips and spine ends, spines glued to text blocks, moderate foxing and soil to leaves. Last signature in vol 1 tender. Owners’ names on front endpapers: 16 plates, some starting to detach. 25 short tears to margin of text, some repaired with tape or showing residue from tape. Inner spine tender. Former owner has covered the cloth and front paste-downs with a clear, adhesive backed plastic cover. Green cloth is a bit grubby, spine lettering rubbed.  Folding map has 1 short tear to margin. Scattered foxing. Binding tender. Lower half of backstrip missing. Full spine and board corners reinforced by clear tape. Boards soiled, title page more so. Lacking half-title and frontis. …Volume 2 has a serious chip to top of spine…

Photo below is of some distressed books glimpsed at Warwick Castle.

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Tribute to Balzac / Balzac Mania

Found – this handsomely printed card (in its original envelope) with a poem addressed to Balzac’s American bibliographer William H. Royce by a minor American poet Alfred Antoine Furman. Furman is unknown to Wikipedia but produced a small body of poetry including, in 1918, some American poems on World War 1. Royce worked for the well known New York book dealer Gabriel Wells in the 1920s. Wells was a major player in rare books and manuscripts at the time at the time.  Wells and Royce shared a deep interest in Balzac (it was Wells who saved Balzac’s house at Passy from destruction), and during this time the firm became the centre of the sale of Balzaciana. Royce himself assembled a major collection of Balzac material. His Balzac library was sold and his papers were donated by his daughters  to Syracuse University.  Balzac collecting was at its height at the time and lavish editions of his work (in English) were produced. Furman’s poem has Balzac as the greatest author ever ‘…the figure of a genius so supreme/ The ages show no equal.’ It is hard to imagine an American rare book dealer paying for the preservation of a European writer’s house in our time..although a few could afford it. The poem reads:

 

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Balzac is still held in high esteem as a writer, although he has been surpassed in renown by Proust and possibly Hugo. Few people now plough through all 90 volumes of his Comédie Humaine. One great fan was the playwright (and artist ) August Strindberg, himself a writer of world class – he described reading La Comédie Humaine as like living a second life, the highest praise. He credited Balzac with giving him ‘..a kind of religion – which I would like to call non dogmatic Christianity.’

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The manuscripts of George Bernard Shaw

3e5c4065586acf3e602e984d11e6506f--george-bernard-shaw-vintage-surfIn The Book Handbook for 1947 F.E.Lowenstein, the biographer of G. Bernard Shaw, quotes from an article published in The Daily Sketch of 3rd November 1941 which recounted how in 1928 American bookseller Frank Glenn headed a syndicate of dealers which bid in London for some Shaw MSS.

“…Shaw unblushingly mentioned £5,000 at first with the remark that ‘you cannot buy the writings of a genius for a farthing ‘ . But eventually he must have come down, for the group obtained some manuscripts for £400. Now a single item has been sold for £500.”

This notice caused Bernard Shaw to write a letter to the paper, which was duly printed in the issue of 12th November. Here is an extract:

“ Allow me to warn Mr Glenn and all who it may concern that I have never sold a manuscript in my life, nor autographed an edition for sale, nor even a single copy to be auctioned at a bazaar.

“…The transaction to which Glenn refers no doubt arose out of the enterprise of somebody who, having obtained specimens of my handwriting from some correspondence on which he had engaged me, imitated it as best he could in pages from my published works, had photostats made of them and sold them as Shaw manuscripts.

“No such manuscripts had ever existed, as I write for the Press in Pitman’s phonetic script (without reporting contractions) which is then translettred on the typewriter by another hand and sent to the printer.

I have presented a few pages of the Pitman script to public libraries with a fancy for such relics ( I kept ten pages of St Joan picked at random for this purpose ), but the rest have been ruthlessly torn up and are not available even for the waste paper war salvage”. Continue reading

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Over tipping

67b5291fbdca5a7d5b5b028fe3673abeA few brief notes on tipping. Tipping is a controversial business – in some cultures it is deemed insulting, in others almost obligatory. Are wealthy people  expected to give larger tips? I spoke to a taxi driver who drove Ringo to Liverpool from London in the 1970s and the great drummer gave him a £100 tip, the best he had ever had. There is the story of the rich man who was so impressed by the service of a waiter that he bought the restaurant and gave it as a tip – in some versions of this tale the waiter is said to be the hotelier Cesar Ritz. In  one of  John Le Carré’s novels  a character suggests that people (like him) who over-tip are held in contempt by waiters etc., The idea is that the over-tipper is a sad, inadequate person trying to be liked, or at very least, showing off his wealth..

Francis King wrote of  his time escorting  extremely wealthy fellow author Somerset Maugham around Japan is the early 1960s – “..in a restaurant he gave a vast tip to two charming and attentive waitresses. Seeing that I was astonished he told me: ‘Never believe the idiots  who tell you that people despise those who overtip. That’s a fiction put about by the miserly. On the contrary, people are always delighted if you give them more than they expect.’

One wonders whether Henry James was an over-tipper. His advice  was: ‘Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.’

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More bargains from Birmingham in 1913

Baker bargains from BrumEdward Baker, a bookseller from John Bright Street, Birmingham, frequently placed full page adverts in the Bookman magazine during the early years of the twentieth century. In previous jots we have looked at deleted items that a hundred or more years later were listed in Abebooks with large ( sometimes eye-watering )prices attached to them. This time we feature a selection of ‘ first and scarce editions ‘ taken from an advert of October 1913. Current Abebook prices are listed next to them. All books are first editions unless otherwise stated.

Oliver Goldsmith, Vicar of Wakefield, 2 vols 1766. £4 4s (£4 20p)

Today @ £4,000 – £5,000

Rudyard Kipling, Plain Tales from the Hills, £6 6s (£6 30p)

Today @ £695.

Rudyard Kipling, Soldiers Three, 1888, £8 8s (£8 40p)

Today @ £2,800

Lord Alfred Douglas, City of the Soul, 1899. 15s (75p)

Today @ £488.

Francis Bacon, Sylva Sylvarum, fo., 1627. £6 6s (£6 30p)

Today a 1635 ed. @ £325

The Scourge, with 18 coloured plates by Cruikshank, 2 vols.,1811 -12. £3 3s (£3 60p)

Today 11 volumes @ £7,500

Southey & Coleridge, St Joan, 2nd ed inscribed, 1798. £21

Today same ed. inscribed to Chas. Lamb @ £4,800

Thos. Hughes, Tom Brown at Oxford, 1859. £6 6s (£6 30p)

Today @ £395

Capt. Dickinson, Narrative of the Operations for the Recovery of the Public Stores and Treasure Sunk in H.M.S. “Thetis“, 1836. Very rare. 10s 6d ( 52p)

Today this guide to the whereabouts of sunken treasure is yours for £500 !

Lady Caroline Lamb, Glenarvon, 1816. £7 10s (£7 50p)

Today this ‘mad, bad, and difficult to read ‘novel is yours for a mere £1,250. Continue reading

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Are Novels Deteriorating ?

 

Discovered in a copy of the November 1927 issue of Good Housekeeping, a book-sized magazine with a middlebrow literary flavour ( Arnold Bennett, W.J.Locke, Frank Swinnerton, and St John Irvine contributed to it ), is this feature by G.H.Grubb, the London chief of Putnam’s.

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As we can see, Grubb regrets the thousands of manuscripts that he and his fellow editors have to deal with every year, ninety-eight per cent of which are ‘wasted efforts …inconsequential manuscripts written by inconsequential people ‘.He expresses barely disguised disdain for the lack of trouble taken by new novelists, who see in the novel only opportunities for fame and celebrity, rather than the practice of a ‘high art ‘. But, he admits that like every other publisher, he is obliged to continue his task of sifting in the tiny hope that ‘the real thing of merit’ will appear. Indeed, he feels that in the slight decline of what he calls the ‘ sex novel’ ( later to be labelled ‘ bodice rippers ) that the future looks promising for the emergence of a ‘ clean novel, rightly admixed with sentiment, true in its life realisms, and big and broad enough to find a place for a little humour and a modicum of religion ‘. Continue reading

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Robert Lenkiewicz—one of the great eccentrics of our time

 

Lenkiewicz picFound, a page torn from a copy of the Bookdealer dated 13th November 2003 previewing the forthcoming sale at Sotheby’s of the collection formed by the artist and book collector Robert Lenkiewicz.

Because of his reclusiveness, little was known about Lenkiewicz before he died in 2002 aged just 60. A media frenzy then broke out. There are so few genuine eccentrics in the art world that the press can hardly afford to ignore such a prime example as Lenkiewicz. Here is a passage from the preview:

‘Here we have a man who faked his own death some years before he died …and lived for a few days in hiding at the Cornish home of one of his patrons, the Earl of St Germans. He was notorious for befriending and patronising vagrants and tramps, in particular one Edwin McKenzie, who lived in a concrete tube on a rubbish dump and preferred to be known as Diogenes. Since Diogenes’ death in the 1980s the whereabouts of his bodily bits were a mystery, until his embalmed remains were discovered in a secret drawer in a bookcase at Lenkiewicz’s Barbican library. ‘

‘If you remain unimpressed there were other discoveries including what was left of the condemned 16th –century witch, Ursula Kemp. Her skeletal remains, which had been nailed to the coffin, are believed to have been disinterred in Victorian times. This find nicely compliments his great book collection, illustrating as it does Lenkiewicz’s obsessive curiosity with life and death’. Continue reading

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David Watson—the British evangelist who filled churches


David watson pamphlet 001
Found among a pile of ephemera at Jot HQ, a clipping from the Cambridge Evening News, dated 24th May 1980, plus a printed sermon entitled ‘I know where I’m going ‘ by The Rev David Watson, vicar of St Mary-le-Belfry Church, York. As a true evangelist Watson wanted to get his message across, so not only was his sermon broadcast on Radio 4, but printed copies of it were obtainable from his own home from 20 copies for 40p (plus postage) up to 240 copies for a very reasonable 240p (plus postage).

Watson also wanted to fill churches, and indeed marquees. In May 1980 he and a group of five young devotees were to be seen touring the UK delivering the message of Jesus to packed venues. In the first week of June, 1980, we learn from the newspaper clipping, he was due to address a crowd in the 3,000 seater ‘ Supertent ‘on Midsummer Common in Cambridge. Amazingly, ‘ over 200 churches of all denominations in the Cambridge area ‘ had come together to stage the festival. It is not known how many attended this free event, but we can be sure that there would have been plenty of printed sermons in that Supertent together with piles of his new book, My God is Real.

We in the UK are used to hearing about American evangelists of all sects broadcasting on radio, filling venues, publicly baptising new converts, speaking in tongues and wrestling with rattlesnakes, but twentieth century Britain has no great tradition of Anglican evangelism. So David Watson seems to have been a maverick. Nonetheless, he was seen by others as the answer to the spiritual malaise that was afflicting the Anglican church at that time. Continue reading

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I once met…Olive Cook

Olive Cook photoI had first met the writer and wife of the brilliant architectural photographer Edwin Smith, in 1984 at Saffron Walden Museum, where I was a museum assistant. I was helping her with an exhibition of her late husband’s photographs. I recall that she called everyone ‘ darling ‘, which I saw as suggesting that she had once been in the theatre. I don’t remember anything more about her.

Fast forward to the late 1990’s and I was actually sitting with her in the kitchen of ‘The Orchards ‘, the famous home outside Saffron Walden that she and Edwin had once shared. Having visited various artists’ homes over the past two decades, including that of John and Myfanwy Piper at Fawley Bottom, I should have been prepared for what greeted me there, but I wasn’t. In the sitting room I seem to remember bright modern pictures and sculpture and art books covering every surface, with a lot of wickerwork and hand knitted rugs and potted plants. Rather Bloomsburyish, I thought, but in a nice way. The kitchen was more practically furnished, but in the same rather genteel-arty style. It also had a typically smell about it, an odour of old money artist that I’d noticed about the Pipers’ kitchen. Perhaps it was the drains. But I liked this comforting smell. Continue reading

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Bookfairs –the price of speaking out against them

 

Peddle book fair ban pic 001All collectors and dealers love book fairs, don’t they? Well, up to a point. They can be good places to see what other dealers are up to— what treasures they are selling and how well they are doing. And even if they don’t buy anything, fairs can be good places for collectors to value their own collections. On the down side, fairs can be intimidating for collectors who only want to chat to dealers about books. There is often a tangible sense that dealers are only interested in talking to you about books if you show an interest in buying one of their items.

However, 20 years ago, it would seem that alongside these perennial complaints about dealers there was something more sinister going on behind the scenes. A clipping from the Watford Observer dated August 15th 1997 told the story of a local dealer who had had the temerity to challenge the book fair establishment and had paid a high price for doing so. Vince Peddle, co-owner of the imaginatively named Peddle Books, and publisher of the info-sheet Book News, had recently published a front page article in this magazine complaining that the over abundance of fairs was putting some dealers out of business. Continue reading

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The Yellow Peril ?

Anyone recall that classic episode of Father Ted in which Ted is accused of racism after he is unwittingly caught making fun of the small Chinese community on Craggy Island? Only a decade or so earlier it had been acceptable to call the Chinese ‘chinks ‘ or ‘slitty-eyed’ and remark on their skin colour and droopy moustaches. Further back still, Sax Rohmer became a best-selling author with his tales of the criminal Dr Fu Manchu and Music hall artistes made jokes about opium dens, Chinese laundries and the white slave trade.

One of these artistes was Billy Bennett, who worked the halls from 1919 until his death in 1942. One of his specialities was to recite ‘ burlesque monologues ‘ –not only on the stage but also on radio—and some of the texts of these were published in booklet form for use, presumably, to keep up morale during the early years of the Second World War. These monologues were liberally laden with double entendre and barely disguised racist slurs that would prevent them from being performed today. Continue reading

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Eliza Lynn Linton —the first salaried female journalist

Eliza Lynn Linton letter 001Found—a letter dated February 22nd 1889 from the journalist and novelist Eliza Lynn Linton (1822 – 98). Before she arrived on the scene in the 1840s women who wrote for magazines and newspapers were freelancers. E.L.L., as she became known, was the first salaried female journalist in Britain, and perhaps the world—and one of the best paid, at one time receiving an annual salary which today would be the equivalent of over £50,000.

Lynn came from a conventional middle class background in Crosthwaite, Cumberland. Her father was a parson and her grandfather Bishop of Carlisle. Attractive and gregarious, she might have married into one of the professions, but instead educated herself in the ancient and modern languages and literature ( her father was too ‘ indolent ‘ to do so himself, she later wrote) and in her early twenties left her comfortable home for London, determined to make a name as a novelist. Her first two novels failed to impress, but undaunted in 1848 she turned to journalism, joining the staff of the highly respected Morning Chronicle. She continued to write short stories and novels and eventually found a degree of success. However, her reputation in literary circles was founded less on her novels and more on her popular journalism, which appeared in All The Year Round, the Monthly Review and the Saturday Review. In perhaps another gesture of defiance she married the woodcut artist, writer and Chartist W. J. Linton , and moved into his ramshackle Lake District house named Brantwood, later to become the home of John Ruskin. The marriage failed and Linton returned to London, where her home became a sort of literary salon. Continue reading

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John Osborne and Billy Bennett

John Osborne picFound, a letter dated 6th December 1990 from someone called Rudi to the playwright John Osborne, whom he addresses as ‘ Colonel’, presumably a reference to Colonel Redl, the protagonist of Osborne’s controversial play A Patriot For Me (1965).

The letter accompanies a copy of Billy Bennett’s Third Budget of Burlesque Monologues (c1940), which Rudi had sent Osborne as a sixty-first birthday present. The Music Hall star Bennett ( 1887 – 1942), a unique comic presence on the stage and on radio from 1919, was a great favourite of Osborne’s, as indeed he was of Tommy Cooper, Ken Dodd and Eric Morecambe. Bennett’s billing as ‘ almost a gentleman ‘ was used by the playwright as the title of his second volume of memoirs. Here is the letter in full: Continue reading

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Visiting London to see the cars

In London recently buying a small collection of books near Palace Gate I spotted three Bentley Bentaygas parked casually along the neighborhood streets. The one pictured can reach 190 mph and will leave little change from £150K. The ultimate SUV, 4 by 4,  ‘Chelsea tractor.’ On showing this photo to a colleague, something of a ‘petrol head’,IMG_4096he informed me that there were certain areas of London that (young) tourists visit just to see rare and expensive supercars in the flesh – Mayfair, Chelsea, Belgravia mainly. He said that the visitors sometimes encourage the owners, often young Middle Eastern guys, to rev them up. In one instance the driver forgot he was in gear and shot forward into another supercar wrecking both. I blame Jeremy Clarkson..

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