The Umbrella Club

Let no-one accuse Jot 101 of being Londoncentric. We at Jot HQ welcome quirky Jots on provincial goings-on and just to prove it here is one issue of the quarterly house journal of a Coventry-based arts organisation called The Umbrella Club.

The club, which was opened by The Goons in 1956 operated first from humble premises in Little Park Street, bang in the city centre, a three minute walk from the controversial new cathedral. In 1960 it described itself as:

‘an independent, non-political, non profitmaking organisation for encouraging interest in art music, music, literature, the theatre and kindred subjects. It arranges lectures, recitals, dramatic performances and many related activities’ 

Its house journal was a well produced quarterly anthology of poetry, short stories, reviews and art work entitled, rather imaginatively, Umbrella, which by 1960 was already into its second volume. In the Spring issue, editor T.C.Watson, a local English teacher, urges potential contributors to submit material that paints a portrait of life in the Midlands, and which reflect or interpret:

‘such problems as labour relations, race relations, the world of the teenager, the changing patterns of family life in a mobile society and the attitudes of the citizen of today to the established institutions of the past’

An earnest ambition this, at the start of a decade which saw sociology take over from English as the coolest degree option. However, it seems that many of the contributors to Umbrella were English graduates, with a strong bias towards that coolest of all English Universities in the sixties, Keele. Of the wannabe Amises, Drabbles and Larkins who contributed to  two of the 1960 issues, only two names stands out---local wunderkind novelist Susan Hill, then just 18, and Keele graduate Zulfikar Ghose, who handled the magazine’s poetry review pages. Hill, now 72, went on to become a sort of heir to Daphne du Maurier, while Ghose, a little older, is an acclaimed poet now based in the United States.

We should add that Hill, whose first scandalous novel had a theatrical background, was also a budding playwright, and must have attended many a production at the Umbrella Club while a sixth former at Coventry’s Barr’s Hill School, while Philip Larkin who, after all was born in Coventry, had at least one poem published in Umbrella. As a jazz nut he may also have heard some pretty cool notes in Little Park Street.[RH]

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