Sir Max’s Birthday Party

maximilian birthday prgramme 001Found—a programme for the seventieth birthday party of Sir Max Beerbohm (1872 – 1956), the well known caricaturist, parodist and all-round wit.

It was held on August 24th 1942 and organised by the Players Theatre, which during the war had moved to a ‘basement ‘ in Albemarle Street. The seventy-strong Maximilian Society, had been created especially for the event, and it was decided that a new member would be added each subsequent year that ‘ the incomparable Max ‘celebrated his birthday. The chairman was ‘Sir’ Desmond MacCarthy, the Bloomsburyite literary critic.

All we can gather from the programme is that much of the entertainment comprised seven Music Hall singing acts who trilled such raffish ditties as‘ Milly’s Cigar Divan ‘, ‘ Sweethearts and Wives’, and ‘ Driving in the Park’ . Beerbohm, who began his career in the 1890’s at the height of the Music Hall era, would have known these songs, and might even have chosen them.

Some of the performers were big names themselves. The actor Frith Banbury ( 1912 – 2008) would star in the classic film ‘The Life and Times of Colonel Blimp’ the following year. Hedli Anderson (1907 – 90), the singer and actress, was associated with the Group Theatre and had previously starred in plays by Auden, Isherwood and MacNeice, whom she married that same year. In fact, ‘Funeral Blues ‘was specially written for her by Auden and put to music by Britten for the Group Theatre’s production of ‘The Ascent of F6’. As we all know, the poem later became the star turn in ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’. Continue reading

Beresford Egan on Beardsley

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          ‘Fleurs du Mal’ (1927)

Found in Beresford Egan’s Epitaph, a Double-Bedside Book for Singular People (Fortune Press 1943) this piece by him on Aubrey Beardsley. Beresford Egan was always compared to Beardsley and was probably a little fed up with it. In appearance and temperament he was nothing like the 1890s aesthete. His technique was also somewhat different, as he explains. Apart  from his illustrations and books he also worked as a film actor and he can be glimpsed in Powell and Pressberger’s masterpiece A Canterbury Tale.

Beresford writes:

But poor, dear Aubrey! What of him? His shadow has overcast my life, as it has overcast the lives of others in the realm of black and white. Aubrey Beardsley died in the “arms of the church” and fell into the claws of the literary vultures. His bones have been picked bare, but his legendary spirit will continue to haunt us, until a critic is born who can see further than ‘The Yellow Book’.

Beardsley – that name has become a critical cliche. Who, among the black ink brotherhood, has not been compared with him? – except, of course, the followers of the “crosshatch” school still performing in ‘Punch’. There appears to be no overshadowing master of this technique: not even Tenniel, Charles Keene, nor Lindley Sambourne. The “crosshatchers” are never charged with plagiarism, although I have seen many an exponent whom one might justifiably accuse of being cast in the Harry Furniss (forgive the pun). Continue reading

Thomas Bewick tracks a package…

bew2Found -in a reprint copy of Bewick’s A History of British Birds (Newcastle, 1809) a  handwritten note pasted at the front endpapers from George Gulliver (anatomist 1804- 1882) stating that the book contains ‘.. 9 proofs of wood cuts of birds, an illustrated receipt, and an autograph letter of Thomas Bewick, dated April 14, 1823 (Newcastle) to Mr L .Edmonston: all inserted at the end of this volume.’ He continues- ‘They were given to me by Mrs Edmonston. Her husband, Dr Laurence Edmondston, has now (1862) been a medical practitioner upwards of 40 years at Bolton Sound, Shetland, which place he is a native. He knew and corresponded with Bewick about birds and the cuts were sent at different times by Bewick to Dr Evanston with the writing on them. George Gulliver. Bewick’s letter is present and reads:

‘Newcastle 14 April 1823.  Dear Sir, I received your kind letter of the 10th and have ever since been in anxious expectation of receiving the Ivory Gull, as it’s not yet come to hand. I fear the box may have been detained or else forwarded to Newcastle under Line by mistake as Wednesday is the date which you have limited me for its return. I thought it necessary to apprize you of its non arrival, that an enquiry if necessary might be set on foot without further delay– I have only to thank you for your very great kindness and attention endeavouring to procure from me so many specimens of rare birds which will always be most acceptable to me.I am dear sir your obliged and obedient Thomas Bewick.’  Continue reading

Cicely Mary Barker

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A Fairy Orchestra*

Found in the Peter Haining archives this long piece from 1995 about the great Flower Fairy illustrator Cicely Mary Barker. It is likely to be the fruit of research by PH's good friend the amazing W.O.G. 'Bill' Lofts. Cicely Mary Barker's beautiful illustrations are still much loved and have become something of an industry. She also produced some deeply religious illustrations which are also of very high quality.

CICELY MARY BARKER

Wander into almost any stationers', gift or book shop, and you will see them - on cards and calendars, notelets and writing pads, diaries and address books, pencil tins and wrapping paper - even on tins of tea and Wedgwood china collectors' plates! The Flower Fairies suddenly seem to be everywhere.

They never really went away, of course - since they first appeared over 70 years ago, they have continued to work their magic on generations of children and adults alike. If all at once they seem more popular than ever before, it is because 1995 marks the 100th anniversary of the birthday of their creator, Cicely Mary Barker. To celebrate the centenary in June, and hand-in-hand with a big marketing campaign, Warnes are due to publish the first ever study of the artist: “Cicely Mary Barker and her Art” by Jane Laing. This superbly produced book, lavishly illustrated with colour plates of the artist's work and family photographs, is an absolute "must" for any collector of Barker's work, and guaranteed to add to her ever-increasing circle of admirers world-wide.

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The Eric Parker Story

From the files of Peter Haining this draft of a piece by W.O.G. ('Bill') Lofts on the great Sexton Blake illustrator Eric Parker (1898 - 1974). It was published in the early 1980s in the Australian magazine Collector's Digest.

The Eric Parker Story.

By W.O.G. Lofts.

For over twenty years, it was my good fortune and privilege to meet many Directors, Editors, sub-editors, authors, and artists, not only down Fleet Street, but in the home of it all at Fleetway House in Farringdon Street, the home of the mighty Amalgamated Press. I use the expression 'fortune' in the sense, that living in London, it was quite easy for me to make these short trips.

Always firmly believing in sharing information with others not so fortunate, I used to write up many of these events in the various magazines circulating at the time. Nearly all personalities I'm glad to say, freely gave me information not only about themselves, but about the papers they were connected with in pre-war days. Papers that gave so much pleasure to us, as they do even today in some cases over a half a century later. Indeed, in time by so many meetings, many became good friends, when they probably gave me real inside information, that they would not have revealed to the ordinary interviewer. The very sad fact today, is that with all of them considerably older than myself-practically the majority of them have now passed on.

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Arthur Wragg ‘These Thy Gods’ (1949)

Found in the Jimmy Kanga hoard These Thy Gods (Longman, Green and Co., London, 1949) by William Purcell, illustrated by Arthur Wragg. The artist and illustrator Arthur Wragg is slightly  forgotten, although there was a good art book on him by Judith Brook a former pupil Arthur Wragg: Twentieth-century Prophet and Jester (Sansom 2001). He was collected by Jimmy Kanga and also another eccentric hoarder the great Baron Corvo scholar Donald Weeks. Wragg's style is stark, apocalyptic and symbolic. The frontispiece and d/w image neatly sums up the addictive 'Gods' of the time with a sort of totem pole. It appears to depict - (from the top) -- Television, jet travel (war?) sex/ entertainment/ parties/glamour then gambling, smoking, drinking, money, work (the thumbs?) and drugs and medicine. The 'blurb' on the back panel of the jacket reads:

A struggle for survival now challenges the people of the United Kingdom, a struggle only to be won by stern qualities of personal morale. Are these qualities being produced? Is there a solution to the urgent problems of our uneasy peace? 'These Thy Gods' ruthlessly anatomises life today and points towards a firm and practical Christianity as our final chance.

Indifference, selfishness, materialism and cynicism are shown here as they actually appear in people's lives. From the man who believes in nothing, the worker who "couldn't care less" to the girl with the film-world's scale of values and the couple lost like babies in the matrimonial wood, the people in this book are all types we know - types in whom we may recognise ourselves. This book is to help us to judge, and to care while there is yet time.

Some of these short essays with their illustrations were originally published in the magazine 'John Bull', where they attracted considerable attention. The Rev. W. E. Purcell will be known to many for articles written in an easy style, free from pedantry and "pulpit terminology", and he also rites successful short stories under a pseudonym. The brilliant illustrations, designed to add to rather than repeat the text, recall Storm Jameson's remark about Arthur Wragg's earlier drawings for 'Jesus Wept', "I wish every comfortable person in the country had a copy put into their hands".

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Pulp fiction art

This original artwork was one of three covers created for a number of 1940s pulp magazines published by a British company. The series was called the ‘Headline series’ because each story was built around a newspaper headline-- to be found sketchily depicted at the bottom left hand corner of each cover. The other two pieces of artwork were for Road to Nowhere and Road to Revenge—both stories by someone called Max Foster. There seem to have been at least 20 tales in this particular series.

In the ultimately futile three hundred year old debate that has raged regarding ‘high ‘ and ‘ low art’, such ‘ low’ art as these pulp fiction covers, is often derided for the poor quality of the  draughtsmanship, whereas the simple truth is that for pure draughtsmanship, as opposed to piercing originality or ‘ vision’, this art is often more impressive than that of many ‘ high’ artists. Next time you visit Tate Britain wander around the many rooms devoted to Turner and study the groups of figures that inhabit the foregrounds of his huge oil landscapes. You might be surprised at how inept our greatest painter could be at depicting the human figure.

Then return to the work of ‘low’ book illustrators and marvel at how well most of them could draw. [RMH]

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Hector Whistler

Co-editors Anthony Dickins and Tambimuttu, who Geoffrey Grigson appropriately nicknamed ‘Tutti-Frutti’, made an unusual choice when they asked the thirty-four old Hector Whistler to illustrate the debut issue of Poetry early in 1939. Trained at the Slade and the Architectural Association schools, the multi-talented Whistler, who was related to American genius James McNeill Whistler and was cousin to both Rex and Laurence, was better known as a muralist, having, five years earlier, executed some rather unusual wall paintings at the council-owned Aero Café on the Marine Esplanade in Ramsgate.

Alas, the murals, which were supposed to be temporary anyway, were obliterated along with the whole Lido complex on Ramsgate’s waterfront, some time ago, and unlike the more celebrated Vorticist wall decorations by Wyndham Lewis in La Tour Eiffel restaurant, off the Tottenham Court Road, which also disappeared, there doesn’t seem to be any record of what they looked like. The curious art lover will just have to look up Whistler’s other decorations for books to imagine what holidaymakers and the residents of Thanet lost when the despoilers moved in. [RMH]

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Horror in the Night by Richard Macgregor (aka MacGregor Urquhart )

A local dealer has this graphic artist's illustration for a lurid book cover. He thinks he may have bought it from someone selling a quantity of book cover illustrations on card (gouache, watercolour etc.,) by the railings on Bayswater Road about 30 years ago. Art (now mostly kitsch and worse) is still sold there every Sunday. Often these illustrations  have lettering so you can see the title, but not in this case, and no artist had signed either.

By sheer chance he found the actual book that had used the illustration - in a box of SF, fantasy and horror paperbacks.  The book was Horror in the Night, a short story collection by Richard Macgregor published by Digit in London in 1963. Not a lot is known about Macgregor, these were 5 short horror stories and he seems to have written 5 other books between 1963 and 1964 for Digit. Titles like The Deadly Sun, Creeping Plague, The Day a Village Died --- a category that came to be known as Doom Watch fiction, possibly post apocalyptic in content. A further book Taste of the Temptress came out in Sydney in the mid 1960s published by Eclipse, so he could have been Australian -this was also published by Digit so possibly not (also it seems he was from Essex - see the excellent Bear Alley.) As for the artist it could be one R.A. Osborne (1923 - 1973) art director of Digit at the time and responsible for many of their covers including Macgregor's Day a Village Died, the story of a village plagued by killer ants.

This piece first appeared at our old site Bookride and since then new information has come to light via dealer Cold Tonnage and the IMDB database. It seems that his real name was MacGregor Urquhart. IMDB's short biography says he 'was a writer and actor, known for The Powder Monkey (1951), John of the Fair (1951) and The Malory Secret (1951). He died on March 17, 1967.' His first work of fiction appeared in the early 1960s  so it seems that his writing career followed his spell in movies. Further investigation shows he was also a playwright with at least one published play Investigation. A Pay in Three Acts (Evans, London 1958.)

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Jacynth Parsons, W.B. Yeats and ‘The Songs of Innocence’

WB Yeats' preface to an illustrated edition of William Blake's Songs of Innocence (Medici Society 1927.) The illustrator was a young English girl called Jacynth Parsons*. It is an interesting piece about the illustrator but also about the Ireland of the time. The joke of doing the thing you are refusing to do (i.e. write a preface) is reminiscent of another Irish writer -George Bernard Shaw. GBS would reply to requests for his signature with notes such as 'Sir, I never give autographs! George Bernard Shaw.' There is very little about Jacynth Parsons online and no Wikipedia page.

Prefatory Letter
To the Medici Society.

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The Physiognomy of the Oligarch

Found in a small book from 1831 this analysis of 'The Oligarch.' The word has now come to signify 'Russian billionaire' but there are (and were) other resonances. The Characters of Theophrastus Illustrated by Physiognomical Sketches to Which Are Subjoined Hints on the Individual Varieties of Human Nature (A J Valpy, London, 1831.) The ancient Greek classic of psychology and character study, updated  to incorporate the findings of modern science, (including the new science of phrenology, although it is not named as such.) The plates are in the vein of Hogarth, Hieronymus Bosch, and the grotesque drawings in the Notebooks of da Vinci.

THE OLIGARCH: OR, THE ADVOCATE OF DESPOTISM 

An arrogant desire to dominate over his fellows, appears in the opinions, the conduct, and the manners of this partisan of despotism. When the people are about to elect colleagues to the Archons for the direction of some public solemnity, he stands up to maintain that the magistracy should on no occasion be shared. And when others are voting for ten, his voice is heard exclaiming 'One is enough.' Of all Homer's verses, he seems to have learned only this:

"…think not here allow'd/ That worst of tyrants, an usurping crowd.

He is often heard using expressions of this sort: 'It is advisable that we should withdraw to consult upon this business. Let us separate ourselves from the mob, and from these popular meetings. This access of the populace to the magistracy should be barred.' If he meets with any personal affront, he exclaims 'That they and I should live within the same walls is insufferable.' 

At noon he stalks abroad, sprucely dressed and trimmed, and he drives the world before him with haughty defiances, as if he could not think the city habitable until the mass of the people should be expelled from it. He loudly complains of  the outrages sustained by the higher classes from  the crowd of litigants in the courts of justice;and he tells of his having been put to confusion in the assembly of the people, by the contact of a squalid, shabby fellow, who placed himself beside him. He inveighs against the popular leaders; whom he professes to hate heartily: 'It was Theseus', he adds, 'who was the author of all these evils in the State.' Such is the discourse which he holds with foreigners, and with the few citizens whose temper is like his own.