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I once met….Bryan Forbes

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]

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11 thoughts on “I once met….Bryan Forbes

  1. Luke Honey

    Big fan of the urbane Mr Forbes, and the lovely Nanette. Great shame you didn't meet her, sure she would have been charming. Think at some point he ran an art gallery near his house. Once dropped by- not really my sort of thing at all, although it had, possibly, by then changed hands.

    I was surprised that he re-bound all his books in red Morocco- that Sotheran's catalogue lists many of them. Didn't Dennis Wheatley do the same thing? Which makes me think. Did Bryan have his own bookplate?

    Reply
    1. Luke Honey

      I dug up my Sotheran's catalogue last night and had another look- he rebound almost all of the books on sale in red Morocco. Many modern firsts. They're all signed by the author, with dedictations. I had forgotten about his bookplate.It does, indeed, exist- Seven Pines, his monogram and a Napoleonic bee.

      Reply
  2. Anonymous

    He was truly the film world's most underrated director, and I envy your having spent time with him. "Whistle Down the Wind" and "Séance on a Wet Afternoon" are, to my mind, two of the most beautiful films ever made, with "The L-Shaped Room" another gem; yet when Forbes died the New York Times headline dismissed him as the "'Stepford Wives' Director."

    Reply
  3. Post Mortem Books

    I, too, visited Forbes Towers in the early 80's where I DID espy the lovely NN -up to her elbows in suds at the kitchen sink (what luck was that!) – and Bryan sold me a set of Fleming/Bond titles (minus Casino Royale). His shop which was mostly new titles was managed by a good fellow called Patrick Glasheen who went on to run his own secondhand bookshop in Chertsey. The VW bookshop had some well-monied customers which helped it to survive long after many similar independents dropped by the wayside..

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  4. admin Post author

    Thanks Ralph — I too visited Forbes Towers in the 90s. Possibly Nanette was washing up but that may be a false memory ('Memory is Imagination' J Joyce) and he sold me quite a good lot of books inc a signed set of Roald Dahl. I remember he was trying to get a movie off the ground and kept taking calls. He told me most comedians he had met were very sad men desperate for a laugh and that movies made on the water were almost all financial failures (this must have been just after Waterworld and before Titanic.) A nice guy and a serious collector…

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  5. Anonymous

    I knew Bryan well, and I loved him for his kindness and generosity. I just loved him.
    I knew Guinness, Gielgud, Richardson – most of the greats, and in Hollywood, Astaire etc and no one was ever comparable. I miss you Bryan. R.I.P.

    Reply
    1. Hassan Yunisa

      The problem is that I don't live in the UK and it will be hard to get a hard copy here in Nigeria. Read The Endless Game Like three times…since then I ve been looking for the rest. Preferably PDF. Thanks

      Reply
    2. Hassan Yunisa

      The problem is that I don't live in the UK and it will be hard to get a hard copy here in Nigeria. Read The Endless Game Like three times…since then I ve been looking for the rest. Preferably PDF. Thanks

      Reply

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