It was in the summer of 1999 that the actor, screenwriter, director (Stepford Wives, Whistle Down the Wind, Séance on a wet Afternoon), turned crime writer, who died last May, had asked me to meet him at his second hand bookshop in Virginia Water.
It was an odd sort of shop—not the type one would come across in most provincial towns or indeed most parts of London. Here were no grubby leather-bound tomes in tottering piles, or cabinet of curiosities. I think it sold new as well as second books and indeed most volumes seemed to be of the twentieth century. I glanced around expecting to find rare books on golf or lawn tennis, classic American hard boiled thrillers or collections of recipes for cocktails.
But there no time to look further as Forbes appeared in person and we were soon speeding along in what was probably his Aston Martin to his home on the ultra- exclusive Wentworth estate. I only caught a glance of its exterior, but it seemed to be a huge and classic twenties film-star mansion, which it was, in the sense that Forbes later told me that as a young budding film star in the fifties he had bought it as a total wreck and had spent many thousands of pounds doing it up. Something to admire, I thought.
I wanted to meet his wife Nannette 'Fairy Liquid' Newman, but Forbes told me that she had injured her back and was lying prostrate upstairs. We made ourselves comfortable and Forbes lit up a fag almost immediately and continued smoking throughout the interview. I asked him how he had begun to collect books and what his particular tastes were. He told me that he was mentored in his initial forays into bibliophilia by a well known 'book man'. He had become a great admirer of limited editions, though I kept quiet when he mentioned the Folio Society. He was also, it transpired, an avid admirer of Napoleon and he had managed to collect a fine library of books on him, all of which he had uniformly re-bound in crimson morocco. Something less admirable, I thought.
There were some showbiz anecdotes. I particularly remember the sad story of Dame Edith Evans in her final years being cheated of some irreplaceable signed books (one of which had been presented to her by George Bernard Shaw) by some unscrupulous knocker, who had offered her a fraction of their worth.
Before I left, Forbes gave me a signed copy of some poems his daughter had published. Ten years later, in my local auction, I saw a throne-like French armchair emblazoned with the letter ‘N ‘ for Napoleon. I phoned Forbes to see if he wanted to me to bid for it, but he politely declined the offer.[RH]