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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.

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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
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I once met…Desmond Morris

A book dealer I knew mentioned in passing that the author of The Naked Ape and Manwatching was a passionate collector. But no-one had prepared me for what I encountered when I rang his doorbell in leafy North Oxford.

This zoologist was not a collector—he was a bibliomaniac! He admitted to visiting book fairs, second-hand bookshops, junk shops and auctions. At one time he mistakenly bought copies of books he already owned, but remedied this error by always carrying around a laptop containing a disk that listed  all the books in his library. And what a library ! He had had it built as an annexe to his large Victorian house and it was absolutely crammed with books, floor to ceiling, and a few of his own paintings were also displayed. He, of course, was a sort of Abstract Surrealist, strongly influenced by Miro. There was a lot of ethnographical art too—mainly pots and animal inspired pieces.

We talked for over three hours—some of the conversation was off the record. He told me that he came from a village near Swindon and as a youth had gone out with Diana Dors, whose real name was Diana Fluck. Books were part of his DNA. Morris’s great great grandfather had been a bookseller in old-town Swindon, while his great-grandfather, one William Morris, was a well known local historian and naturalist in Wiltshire. It was a book, Grew’s Comparative Anatomy of Stomach and Guts, which the zoologist later inherited from his library, that inspired him to study animals. From such an eclectic pedigree of learning arose  Morris’s extraordinary range of knowledge—which encompasses a range of art-related disciplines, of which Surrealism and ethnography was two, and a variety of scientific subjects, the most prominent being zoology. Whole stacks were devoted to two main interests—dogs and primates, but human psychology was strongly represented too. There was also a fair-sized section on English poetry and here Morris revealed that in the late 1940s he had met Dylan Thomas, who had shown a strong interest in one of the younger man’s own paintings that he happened to be carrying. Thomas offered to strike a deal. He would swap a manuscript of a poem he had recently written for this painting. It must have been a good painting (or a poor poem), because Morris declined the deal. Thomas died just a few years later at the height of his fame and Morris told me that he has regretted that mistake ever since.[RR]

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I once met….. William Rees Mogg

Sent in by a Jot regular - this moving account. In the rare book trade he was renowned for having returned an expensive book he had bought from another bookseller, saying 'I did not find it as saleable as I had hoped.' Only someone as eminent as the ex-editor of The Times could get away with such an excuse. The shot below is of him with Mick Jagger at a TV discussion in 1967 after William Rees Mogg's 'Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel' editorial condemning a jail term handed to Mick for dope offences. At the time he was 10 years older than the great Stone.

This was after he’d left the editorial chair of The Times and was running the very posh Pickering and Chatto antiquarian bookshop in Pall Mall. Before I arranged to interview him I had mugged up on his tastes by reading the guide to book collecting that  he’d published a few years earlier. I must admit that I was a little intimidated by his reputation—not just as a high Tory patrician figure from the higher reaches of journalism—but also as someone whose refined tastes in Augustan literature were likely to show up my own thin knowledge of this area.

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