The 1971 Bookbang—a damp squib?

The_Sacred_Mushroom_and_the_Cross_coverHalfway through its run Guardian journalist Alex Hamilton visited the much vaunted Book Bang (see earlier jot)  in Bedford Square and discovered many disappointed people . One of these ( presumably a writer ) had scrawled on a litter-bin: ‘ Publishers are rich, writers poor, people poorer’. A bookshop owner called Eddie Pond complained about paying good money to be bombarded with promotional shows. There was much else to complain about, according to Hamilton:

‘You can’t see work from the private presses, because their shows start elsewhere on Monday. You can’t be drawn by Felix Topolski for £3 because he has now gone back to his studio under the arches. You can’t see underground gigs because the Bedford Settled Estate would not permit a concrete base to be sunk in their turf…You can’t smoke in the tents. You can’t drink till six, because the square businessmen objected to the echoes of saturnalia they caught on the breeze…You can’t see many heads of the publishing industry, because they have bigger fish to fry, and didn’t all want the Bookbang in the first place…’

In fact, so lukewarm were the bigger publishers that two of them underwrote the Bookbang to a derisory extent—Penguin and Weidenfeld both donated a measly £250. Nor did the book industry help much with staffing. Those few staffers who did arrive were grossly overworked. A frustrated Bookbang supreme Martyn Goff was quite willing to admit to Hamilton that ‘of all the publishers who promised me help, only one turned up’.

But it was possible to discover much about the world of books. For example, the Gordon & Gotch computer (probably the size of a wardrobe and using the sort of reels that used to feature on seventies Sci Fi shows) coughed up some amazing statistics, including the average sales figures since 1935 of 6,250 for a Penguin paperback. Moreover, in a ‘polite exchange ‘ between the New Statesman and veteran author V.S.Pritchett, punters could find out how a book got reviewed.

Yet despite all these deficiencies, there were genuine success for the 4,000 or so visitors to enjoy. Coco the Clown, Sooty and Sweep, other puppets, and an assortment of children’s entertainers all turned up, as did the promised authors promoting their books. And although in the real circus tent that housed the 75 events dubbed ‘ Bigtopia ‘, Spike Milligan attracted a big crowd and while Julian Symons showed slides alongside his talk on ‘The Detective as Hero ‘, two leading Sci Fi writers only played to ‘ huddles of 30 to 50 people’.

All in all, as Hamilton probably would have agreed, with additional authors like Angus Wilson, Clive James, the combative Al Alvarez, controversial figures like John ‘ Sacred Mushroom ‘ Allegro and sexologist Martin Cole, entertaining the punters, it was 50p well spent. [R.M.Healey]


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