The Greatest Invention since the Alphabet

Word and Idea Chart 001In an advert which caught my eye in the January 19th 1951 issue of John O’London’s Weekly is a description of ‘The Greatest Invention since the Alphabet ‘, the ‘Idea and Word Chart’ which ‘ gives the right word at a glance ‘. It bears the recommendation of no less an authority that ‘famous author‘ Gilbert Frankau, who declared it ‘ the best adjunct that I have so far discovered –it is not going to leave my desk.’

Unfortunately, like so many ‘adjuncts‘ this piece of kit wasn’t available to examine in shops. So aspiring authors had to send away for a ‘ free specimen… embodied in a descriptive brochure ‘.

In what way ‘ The Idea and Word Chart ‘ differed in its function from the excellent and best-selling Thesaurus of Dr Roget we are not told. We are offered a rather feint and distinctly unhelpful image of an octagon- shaped piece of card in which a pensive-looking man—possibly Mr Frankau—is depicted at the vortex of a whorl of words and concepts that includes the unfortunate juxtaposition of ‘ passageways ‘ and ‘desires’. Continue reading

It’s fun finding out… about Chapman Pincher

fun finding out title page retry 001

Discovered in a box of books is this copy of It’s Fun Finding Out, putatively by Bernard Wicksteed, but actually written with Chapman Pincher, the man who was to become a true legend among spy-hunters.

Back in 1947, when the book was published by the Daily Express, Wicksteed, an RAF war hero, was an ex sub-editor who had published his first book, Father’s Heinkel in 1944. Pincher was an ex physics teacher who had recently joined the Express as a science correspondent. One day Express editor Arthur Christiansen had the bright idea of bringing the two men together to compile an exploration of weird facts something along the lines of the American Ripley Believe It Or Not books. The result was It’s Fun Finding Out.

Structured so as to reveal facts while on visits to several places, including a Zoo, the seaside, a farm, a wood at night, a river bank, the country in Autumn, a grouse moor, an art gallery and the Science Museum, the book also considers facts relating to social history, philately, the amazing physical toughness of Winston Churchill, the French view of the English and vice versa, and guppies, among many other topics. Continue reading

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I once met…Eric Korn

Eric in Red Square (from ABA Newsletter )

Eric Korn (1933-2014) seems to have been a much admired man, if all the many recent tributes in the Letters pages of the TLS to the polymath, ex-marine biologist, bookseller and brain-box star of Round Britain Quiz, are any indication.  All these encomia remind me of a visit I paid to his home over fourteen years ago.

Having been impressed for years by his performances on Round Britain Quiz on which the current less demanding TV show  Only Connect  is loosely based, and having some notion of his special areas as a book dealer, I was curious to discover how he had become so well read in so many disparate subjects. Locating him was easy enough. Like so many dealers nowadays, his home was also his shop, and this turned out to be a rather conventional looking Edwardian terraced house in Muswell Hill. I’ve interviewed a few booksellers in my time but not one of them  answered the door wearing scruffy jeans and a T shirt. I took to him immediately.

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