Autograph collecting (some notes)

There is a story behind every autograph. Idly fossicking about online I have retrieved a few such stories and added some of my own. It needs courage to be an autograph hound so much respect to those who have hunted down celebs and obtained signatures. The best collection I ever bought (about 2000+ inc Walt Disney, Ian Fleming, Bogart and Bacall, the Dalai Lama, Frankie Lyman (and the Teenagers) Tony Hancock and Lester Piggot) was from a very minor celebrity who was able to get into receptions and first nights etc., He had written jokes for the likes of Bob Monkhouse. The greatest groupies and name droppers are often slightly famous themselves and a minor name will often have accumulated a few major names. The most common type of autograph story usually ends ‘and he was a really nice guy…we had a good chat’. It seems to come as a surprise that celebrities are not monsters, although great scorn is reserved for those who refuse autographs. A star cannot disappoint his fans. Graham Greene had a good line when refusing to autograph a book–something along the lines of ” I would like to but it would devalue those I have already done and I don’t want that to happen, sorry.’

Rudyard Kipling received a note from a fan saying ‘…I hear you get paid $5 for every word you write. Enclosed is $5, please send me one word. Kipling replied with the one word “Thanks.” It is hard to imagine now how besieged Kipling was by autograph collectors–in this age only JK Rowling comes near to his fame.

George Bernard Shaw was more generous (and wittier). To fans writing to ask for his autograph he would often reply “Certainly not! George Bernard Shaw.”

The painter Utrillo could, after a few free drinks. be induced to sign canvasses that he had not painted. Caveat emptor!

Damien Hirst sometimes signs things (books, tee shirts) as David Hockney. They still have value as he is known to do this and, in its way, it is quite witty.

James Ellroy (above) signed every one of 65,000 first-edition copies of his 1996 memoir My Dark Places. You can buy a copy on ABE for $5, where there are over 180 signed copies for sale with a few over $100. As the signing progressed his signature degenerated to an unreadable, minimalist scrawl. One optimistic dude manages to make a virtue of this: “…wildly scrawled signature, as frantic and vigorous as the author’s crackling prose. £45”

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More gems from Scorn with Extra Bile edited by Matthew Parris (1998)

Pop music

This man has child-bearing lips

Joan Rivers on Mick Jagger

You have Van Gogh’s ear for music

Billy Wilder on Cliff Osmond

Wood Green shopping centre has been committed to vinyl

New Musical Express on the pop group Five Star

Bambi with testosterone

Owen Gleiberman on Prince in Entertainment Weekly.

Television and movies

A vacuum with nipples

Otto Preminger on Marilyn Monroe

It’s like kissing Hitler

Tony Curtin on kissing Marilyn Monroe

The face to launch a thousand dredgers

Jack de Manio on Glenda Jackson in Women in Love

As wholesome as a bowl of cornflakes, and at least as sexy.

Dwight Macdonald on Doris Day

This was Doris Day’s first picture; before she became a virgin

Oscar Levant on Doris Day in Romance on the High Seas.

A face unclouded by thought

Lillian Hellman on Norma Shearer

Continue reading

Association copies

Hedda Hopper

Having pre-booked an event on ‘ association copies ‘ at a book fair, not knowing exactly what this would entail, I was looking forward to a scholarly disquisition on the subject ranging over the centuries, from the sixteenth to the twentieth. Perhaps I’d be shown association copies containing comments and marginalia by genuinely important figures such as Charles Darwin or Samuel Johnson, or perhaps J.M.W Turner or Oscar Wilde. So imagine my disappointment when I discovered that the event would consist of one of the dealers visiting three of the stalls at the Fair, including his own, and picking out a book from each of the stalls  to illustrate the three type of ‘association’ copies. O, well, I thought, the three young people who had also booked looked excited by the prospect, so perhaps I’d wait to see what might happen.

The first type of association copy, we were told, was when a book bore the signature of a famous person, plain and simple. No presentation and no annotations, just the signature on a flyleaf, or whatever. In this case it was the signature of the future George V on a book about the monarchy. So far, so boring. Our guide moved on .The next type of association copy, we were told, was one containing an inscription  presented by someone associated with the book in question . In this case it was the illustrator Arthur Rackham inscribing a book he had illustrated to someone close to him. I can’t remember who this was. The third and last type, and in theory, the most appealing, was a book containing a comment of great interest by its author on someone to whom it had been presented. In this case it turned out to be a very barbed comment by the bitchy Republican showbiz ‘ celebrity gossip’ and failed actress  Hedda Hopper ( aka Elda Furry ) on her arch enemy, the  liberally-minded  Democrat and gifted actress Olivia de Havilland .I cannot recall the actual words used by Mrs Hopper, but they undoubtedly elevated the art of sarcasm to a new level of bitchiness. Unlike the other two association copies, I did find this particular one appealing, in a rather perverse way, but was less impressed by the four figure price attached to it, especially as both protagonists are rather forgotten figures today.  

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Gilbert Harding’s Treasury of Insult

Gilbert Harding

When we last discussed the late great broadcasting personality Gilbert Harding we focused on how his studied rudeness was in most cases utterly defensible. He ensured that those people who annoyed him and were duly given the treatment they deserved, were the same kind of people that were likely to annoy most other thinking people. Thus he became a sort of hero to many who could only fantasise about emulating  Harding’s rudeness. 

There is a general perception today that Harding  reserved this brutal honesty for TV and radio appearances, but like so many ‘ celebrities ‘ of our own times, he added to his earnings by bringing out books that encapsulated the Harding personality. In a previous Jot we looked at a book of his musings on the inanities of everyday life. This time we are going to pick some of the best bits from Harding’s Treasury of Insult (1953), which is not so much an anthology of invective as  a distinctly superior miscellany of quotations and anecdotes from the sixteenth century to the nineteen  fifties. .

Some of the extracts are prefaced by a piece of Harding scorn. Others need no such introduction. We will begin with what we now call the ‘ hospitality sector’. Harding’s love of dining out and his attraction to pubs was almost wholly responsible for his corpulence, which led to his suddenly death in a taxi aged just 54 ?

We could start with Dr Tobias Smollett, the eighteenth century novelist:

‘The bread I eat in London is a deleterious paste, mixed up with chalk, alum and bone ashes; insipid to the taste and destructive to the constitution. The good people are not ignorant of this adulteration; but they prefer it to wholesome bread because it  is whiter than the meal of corn; thus they sacrifice their taste and their health, and the lives of their tender infants to a most absurd gratification…I shall conclude this catalogue of London dainties, with that table-beer, guiltless of hops and malt, vapid and nauseous; much fitter to facilitate the operation of a vomit, than to quench thirst and promote digestion…’

As Smollett pointed out, shoppers and diners knew about adulteration, but it took a German chemist, Dr Frederic Accum, to tell the whole shocking story in his classic expose, Death in the Pot (1820). Nowadays, of course, we much prefer wholemeal bread to the white loaves made by the infamous Chorleywood process that gave us ‘Mother’s Pride ‘, which though it contained none of the deleterious additives detailed by Smollett and Accum, doubtless tasted little better than eighteenth century white bread. 

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John Langdon-Davies: poet, Conscientous Objector, pro-Anarchist (1897 – 19 71)

The Complete Self-Educator (nd. but c1939), a copy of which we found in the archives at Jot HQ the other day,  was one of those doorstep self-help books that Odhams brought out in the late thirties. We have already discussed various aspects of a companion volume in previous Jots. The Complete Self-Educator, however, is a different kind of multi-author book altogether and a much more challenging one. It sought to give the average intelligent reader a grounding in the principles of a number of important academic disciplines, including biology, medicine, physics, chemistry, economics, psychology, philosophy and logic.

Some of the writers were prominent experts in their field—people like Professor Erich Roll( psychology) and Max Black ( philosophy). Others, like Stephen Swingler, who later become a Labour minister, were relative newcomers who had published work in areas not altogether related to the subjects on which they were invited to write. One of these tyros was John Langdon- Davies, who had published books on Spain and women in society, but whose topic for the Complete Self- Educator was ‘The English Common People’.

Among the rather conventional fellow contributors Langdon-Davies stood out as a bit of a maverick. Born in Zululand, when it was part of South Africa, he came to England as a young boy and went on to attend Tonbridge School, which he hated. He was not, it must be said, officer cadet material. When he was called up in 1917 he declared himself a Conscientious Objector and as such served a short prison sentence. Declared unfit for military service, he lost two of the three scholarships for St John’s College Cambridge that he had gained at school. At Cambridge he tried to live off the remaining scholarship, but was obliged to abandon his studies. As a result, he switched his attention to the fields of archaeology and anthropology and ended up with diplomas in these disciplines. While an undergraduate Langdon-Davies did, however, manage to publish a volume of poems, The Dream Splendid, which received some favourable reviews. 

After the War Langdon-Davies embraced leftish politics, promoting the cause of women with his book A Short History of Women and embracing the anarchist cause in the Spanish Civil War with Behind the Spanish Barricades. His opposition to Nazism, fascism and ‘scientific racism’ can be gleaned from the opening paragraph of ‘The Story of the Common People’.

‘…English history is what it is because geography and geology made England what it is. We can go further than this, and say that geography and geology have made the Englishman himself what he is…’

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The Complete Philanderer

Jot 101 Rex Stout picPart one

We have seen in a recent Jot how that great Sci-Fi pioneer and social satirist, Philip Wylie, was at base a misogynist. Here is the detective writer  Rex Stout (1886 – 1975) writing in the same Bedroom Companion offering tips on how a young tyro amorist could  achieve a series of notches on his bedpost.

Stout divides his advice into four categories: Equipment, Method, Raw Material, and Keeping Score.

As for equipment, the first rule is, travel light. Keeping your baggage at a minimum increases your mobility, helps to maintain financial solvency, and prevents your abanding valuable stores and ammunition to the enemy in case of emergency evacuation…I knew one fellow, a Lithuanian who operated on the Grand Street sector, otherwise a sound technician, who went so far as to advocate carrying one’s own mattress….and a man out west somewhere ( I never met him) who suggested an air mattress was obviously an impractical dreamer. Had he ever, I wonder, outraged his lungs—indeed his entire diaphragm—by inflating an air mattress to the required buoyancy? If he had, what was he good for then? He might reply that he also carried an automobile tire pump. I retort, what are we, gallants or garage mechanics?.

After stipulating the quality and colour of the amorist’s clothing ( a suit in grey, a shirt of whatever colour  and shoe laces that don’t have food spilt on them) Stout then suggests that no hat be born, though if the wearer does take one it must on no account bear the amorist’s initials. Rings are also strictly forbidden. Continue reading

Roy Miles – the Man who introduced Russian Paintings to the West

Jot 101 roy Miles

Discovered in a July 1991 copy of Boardroom Magazine, a glossy brochure covering ‘News, Views & a Taste of the Good Life ‘ is a large feature on the celebrity art dealer Roy Miles, then at the height of his fame ( or notoriety ).

Interleaved with the profile of Miles by one Alison Becket are a number of promotional items, including an invitation to attend Mr Miles’s ‘ Russian Summer Show ‘ at his gallery in Bruton Street, Mayfair, a mocked up page from the Mail on Sunday of October 1990 advertising a show by the Russian expressionist painter Sergei Chepik and other reproduced pages from the Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Times promoting Chepik and highlighting the fact that such famous people as Mrs Thatcher ( who was given a painting by Chepik) and Eddy Shah ( remember him?) had come to see works by the ‘ Russian genius’.

On the front cover of the magazine we are shown a photograph by Lord Snowdon no less of Mr Miles resplendent in dark suit, spotted tie and slicked back hair staring straight at the camera. Above this image we find the description that firmly nailed the dealer in the eyes of a certain type of wealthy art collector as ‘the Man Who Introduced Russian Paintings to the West ‘. By ‘ Russian Paintings ‘ of course, we are not talking about Malevich, Tatlin and the Suprematists. They would not have appealed at all to the former Prime Minister whose favourite poem was ‘Elegy in a Country Churchyard’, and probably not to Mr Miles’s other clientele. No, the Russian paintings that Miles brought over to the UK were firstly Soviet Social Realism and then as a total contrast, the subversive and sometimes nightmarish depictions of torture and oppression that Chepik began painting as an exile in Paris from 1988 as his protest towards the Soviet regime.

Born in 1935 to a prosperous , art-loving middle-class family in Liverpool, he appreciated art and indeed won a prize for a watercolour aged ten. At the same time he was making money by selling Dinky Toys to his fellow schoolboys. He had arrived in London by the late fifties and for a short time worked for an antique dealer. Continue reading

More anecdotes of famous writers and two others

Jot 101 howlers pic of Cecil Hunt

( extracted from Fun with the Famous by H. Cecil Hunt (1928)

 

Sir James Barrie

 When asked to give his recipe for successful writing, his  reply was typical of the man, and, of course, it was scribbled on a crumpled sheet of tobacco wrapping:

 

Journalism: 2 pipes      = 1 hour

2 hours      = 1 idea

1 idea        = 3 paragraphs

3 pars         = I leader.

 

Fiction:      8 pipes         = 1 ounce

7 ounces       = 1 week

2 weeks        = 1 chapter

20 chapters   = 1 nib

2 nibs            = I novel

 

Winston Churchill (the novelist)

 

Mr Churchill has a namesake, an American novelist who is his senior by a few years. It is said that when the American writer first published a novel he received a notes from the British Winston Churchill protesting against the unwarranted use of his distinguished and uncommon name. To this protest came this amusing reply:

“Dear Sir, How interesting ! Is there really another Winston Churchill ? Yours truly, Winston Churchill.”

 

Dr Samuel Johnson

 

A characteristic but little known Johnson story must be included, because Johnson means so much in British humour. At a dinner party in London the little man held the table by his brilliant talk and ready wit. During a pause in the conversation he took a rather generous mouthful of hot potato, which he rapidly returned to his plate by the quickest, if not the most polite method. Without a moment’s hesitation he looked round at the circle of somewhat startled countenances, and said quite calmly:

“A fool would have swallowed that “. Continue reading

 Some celebs of thirty years ago

Things you didn’t know, or perhaps had forgotten, about people once in the news, Jot 101 Tatler cover 001and perhaps still newsworthy, according to Tatler’s Thousand  Most Socially Significant People in 1992.

Michael Portillo ( b 1953)

Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Portillo is occasionally tipped to become Prime Minister. Shrewd, direct, with, as Private Eye puts it, the eyes of an assassin, lips of a tyrant, he gets his hair cut and we all have to read about it. His recreational interests include opera, Trollope and the Michelin Guide, said to be his Bible. He was part of the Omega project ( a blueprint of right wing policy) and backed a bill for hanging.

 

Private Eye doesn’t seem interested in him, now that he has abandoned active politics. Today he earns a living by going on train journeys around the UK and Europe clutching his trusty Bradshaw and a Baedeker. An avuncular figure who looks as if he might be the kind of chap you’d have a pint (or glass of red) with down the pub. One wonders as if he is still pro-hanging. The subject hasn’t yet come up, though while touring Spain he did dilate on the life of his father, a revolutionary during the Spanish Civil War.

Timothy Clifford, former Director of the Scottish National Gallery (b 1946)

‘Dynamic fogey who looks like an arty merchant banker. Rosy-cheeked and Regency clad, he has a ridiculously posh voice and is very well-connected.’ Continue reading

I once met…Bamber Gascoigne 

I considered interviewing quizmaster and TV presenter Bamber Gascoigne, who has died aged 87, sometime in 2000 when I was contributing features for Book and Magazine Collector.I had read somewhere that he was very interested in colour prints and had written a book about identifying prints of all kinds.Bamber_Gascoigne

I approached him and he was happy to meet me, so we arranged a date. Unfortunately, it had decided to rain heavily that day, so when I knocked on the front door of his beautiful Georgian terraced house on the Thames at Richmond I was soaked to the skin. I seem to recall that I actually asked for a towel to dry my hair and not only did he oblige, but he also thrust a bottle of beer into my hand, which was equally welcome in the circumstances. For a keen quizzer like myself, meeting the former presenter of ‘University Challenge’, could possibly have become the sort of ordeal that appearing on ‘Brain of Britain’ and ‘Mastermind’ had  been a few years earlier ( I had failed to get on ‘University Challenge’ while at University). Continue reading

Conscious and unconscious erotica

Mark twain pic

Some writers knowingly produced erotica; others unknowingly published smutty material. Here are a few examples

Conscious

Pietro Aretino (1492 – 1556), Sonnetti Lussuriosi(1524)

The Sonnetti Lussuriosiof this poet, gossip and writer of witty plays was a collection of verses and erotic drawings that, like the Kama Sutra, demonstrated positions for sexual intercourse. Though the book proved very popular, it earned the wrath of the Pope, an erstwhile patron of Aretino, along with Emperor Charles V. Aretino lost his papal patronage, but he also was taken to task by the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, Dr John Donne, who objected that some of the sexual positions were missing.

Norman Douglas (1868 – 1952), Some Limericks(1928)

The author of Old Calabria and South Wind, also compiled Venus in the Kitchen, a collection of aphrodisiac recipes, and the privately printed Some Limericks. The latter, which has been described as ‘ irreverent, scatological and erotic ‘ , was accompanied by ‘ scholarly ‘ notes that sent up the sort of po-faced critical apparatus so beloved of Ph D candidates.

W S. Gilbert ( 1836-1911) and Arthur Sullivan ( 1842 – 1900) . ‘ The Sod’s Opera’.

The humorous double act that gave us so many wonderful operettas also composed The Sod’s Opera , among the characters of which are Count Tostoff and the Brothers Bollox ( a pair of hangers on) and Scrotum, a wrinkled old retainer. Oddly, there are no records of a public performance, though it would be refreshing if some village Opera society put on their version of it.

 

Anais Nin ( 1903 -77 ) The Delta of Venus.

The friend of pornographer Henry Miller got together with Nin and an army of hard up writers to form a sort of porn factory which turned out several erotic works, some commissioned by an anonymous tycoon. Ms Nin was also a novelist and a prolific diarist.

Felix Salten aka Siegmund Salzmann ( 1869 – 1949) Josefine Mutzenbacher.

The apparently wholesome author of Bambi(1929), a children’s story which recounted the struggle of an orphaned deer, which was later immortalized by Walt Disney, also penned an extremely well received erotic novel that painted a very accurate picture of  the life of a prostitute among the petit bourgeoisie in fin de siecleVienna. Today it is regarded as equal in status in the German-speaking word to our own Fanny Hill. Continue reading

I once met…Craig Brown

Jot 101 Craig Brown pic 001Around 2002 I was interviewing celebs on their book collection for Book and Magazine Collector while also researching the life of acclaimed poet and critic Geoffrey Grigson. One day I read an interview with the famous parodist Craig Brown, whose brilliant contributions to  Private Eye  had always had me in stitches. Judging from the interview, Brown’s library was dominated by biographies and especially memoirs of living figures in all fields, but with an emphasis on show biz. Interviewing him, I felt, would be a change from talking to rather dour politicians and academics on their first editions. And so it turned out.

 

I discovered that at the time he lived in north Wilts, but when I saw the address I gasped. ‘Broad Town Farmhouse ‘,I read, open mouthed. He only lived in the house that Geoffrey Grigson had bought back in 1945 and where he had died forty years later. I knew that house; I had met Grigson on his death bed in October 1985, just a few weeks before he had died ( see earlier ‘ The Day I Met ‘ on Jane Grigson).

 

I seemed to remember that I got to Broad Town around midday by bus from Swindon. Brown greeted me and looked exactly like the photographs of him —a huge head atop a slim, slight frame. A fitting look for a mischievous gnome of a satirist. When we began to explore his collection he told me that it was not composed of rare tomes bound in leather, but was essentially a working library of mainly twentieth century books that he constantly turned to for inspiration when assembling his parodies. He revealed that his ‘ Diary ‘ pieces for Private Eyewere built around actual quotations from the memoirs of celebs to which he added his own parodic take on their writing style and the personalities they projected in the media. It was obviously a winning formula for such a topical magazine as Private Eye. Perhaps I should have asked him if he was also drawn to parodying authors from the past—literary figures especially—but somehow it seemed churlish to question whether he was equally adept at ridiculing Wordsworth or Dr Johnson.

 

Brown’s shelves  certainly groaned with  memoirs—of current novelist, poets, actors, footballers, TV stars and politicians—but he was also proud of his small collection of self-help books, including titles on cookery by celebs, and works on etiquette. He was particularly fond of a guide to proper conduct which provided advice on what to do if one of your dinner guests dropped dead at the table. Continue reading

The Monocle Club

 

Jot 101 SPB Mais and The Monocle Club 1950s pic

Wearing a monocle is out of fashion at the moment, though, like the wearing of waistcoats, the trend could make a comeback. The idea of a single lens that could correct defective sight in one eye began with the late eighteenth century quizzing glass; in the late nineteenth century this developed into the monocle that we know today. The list of men and women who over the years wore monocles is short, though it includes some big or biggish names. Comparatively recently we have seen the TV astronomer Sir Patrick Moore, boxer Chris Eubank and wine-lover Johnnie Cradock wear them, but when they were more fashionable we find that the list of wearers includes poet W. B. Yeats, film directors Fritz Lang and Erich von Stroheim, Surrealist Tristram Tzara, Kaiser Wilhelm, Joseph Chamberlain, and earlier in the nineteenth century, Dr Karl Marx and Lord Tennyson. Lesbians who wore monocles, possibly for a certain effect, include Una Lady Troubridge and novelist Radclyffe Hall.

 

One of the wearers who featured in a list drawn up by the travel writer and broadcaster S.P.B. Mais on a page torn out of a pocket diary for 7thJuly 1936, that we at Jot HQ discovered interleaved in a copy of The Toast by the Sette of Odd Volumes ‘Verbalist ‘, Harold Williams, was actor Leslie Banks, who possibly used a monocle to disguise a serious injury to his eye socket caused by a bomb during the First World War. Mais’ list was headed ‘The Monocle Club ‘.  How it got into Williams’ booklet is not known, but it is likely that Mais owned this item and was inspired by the aims of the Sette of Odd Volumes, which was essentially a dining  club composed of like-minded members, to set up something similar for all those who happened to wear monocles. It is also possible that this project never got off the ground, for the Internet, which tells us much about the all-lesbian Monocle night club in ‘ twenties Paris, remains silent regarding what the traditionalist Mais probably envisaged as an all-male outfit. We just don’t know.

 

Of the eleven names drawn up by Mais, only seven are legible; these are David Jamieson, Mais himself, actors Laidman Brown and  Leslie Banks, Grant Richards, Eddie Marsh, and James Agate . To the names of a gentleman whose surname was Moir Mais has added that he was president of the Sette of Odd Volumes, which adds credence to the theory that Mais intended this club to be the model for the Monocle Club. Continue reading

Patience Strong

Jot 101 Patience Strong Calendat pic 001Found amongst a pile of books at Jot HQ, the pocket-sized ‘Patience Strong ‘Quiet Corner ‘calendar for 1955 with its sepia photographs of ‘ picturesque ‘ spots in England. We had almost forgotten that publishers still used sepia photographs as late as this, but then remembered the lifeless and dispiriting photographs of landscapes and empty streets in Arthur Mee’s ‘King’s England’ series of county guide books. No wonder the county   guides  published by Shell from 1934 were regarded as such a welcome change from these  dreary volumes. Mee’s totally predictable descriptions of towns and villages in each county were matched by Strong’s trite and cliché-ridden verse formatted as prose in her calendar and exemplified  in ‘ The Sunlit Way ‘which accompanied a traffic-free photo of a ‘ quiet corner of old Warwick ‘ on the page for January 1955.

The Sunlit Way

‘May the way that lies ahead be lit with sunny gleams—and prove to be the road to the fulfilment of your dream…And may it lead you to the place where lost hopes are restored—where love is true and life is good and faith has its reward.’

Tumpty-tum …tumpety tum

England’s Treasures (October)

‘All along the roads of England treasures can be seen. Little old world villages with church and pond and green . Gems of beauty—cherish them and guard them jealously—and let no vandal touch the sacred scenes of history.’

Not sure about the scansion there, Patience.

 

The Glorious Month (May)

May is the month of bloom and blossom.

     May is the month of song and light.

Of tulips by the garden path

      And hawthorn hedges, snowy white.

May brings the bluebells to the wood

      And paints the cowslips by the stream.

May makes this sad old bad old world

      As lovely as a poet’s dream.

 

Which poet would that be?
Continue reading

The world’s greatest bigheads

Jot 101 Bigheads book cover 001

Taken from The Bedside Book of Bigheads by William Cole (1995)

 I think I ought to have the O.M….They gave Hardy the O.M. and I think I am the greatest living writer in English, and they ought to give it to me.

Somerset Maugham.

 

I know everything. One has to, to write decently.

Henry James

 

Roots is obviously great, ranking with the Bible and Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey

Alex Haley

 

I want to be remembered as the greatest writer of this century. I’ve been compared to Plato.

Colin Wilson

 

I‘m perhaps the most gifted actor of my generation.

David Carradine

 

Yes, the Jews have produced only three original geniuses: Christ, Spinoza and myself

Gertrude Stein

 

I’ve given up reading books. I find it takes my mind off myself.

Oscar Levant.

 

With the single exception of Homer, there is no eminent writer, not even Sir Walter Scott, whom I can despise so entirely as I despise Shakespeare when I measure my mind against his….

Bernard Shaw.

 

 

I have astounded the whole world…I triumph not only over the moderns, but over the old masters as well

Gustave Courbet

 

FRIEND: There are only two great painters; you and Velazquez.

WHISTLER: Why drag in Velazquez?

Whistler.

Continue reading

Autograph Collecting hints

Unknown [Found at Bookride 2010 -our first site, this wise piece about autographs.] Try to avoid forgeries! To my mind the ‘blink’ test is a good start in testing for authenticity. If on very first seeing it the autograph doesn’t feel right don’t touch it. As Malcolm Gladwell details in over 300 pages of his book Blink. The Power of Thinking Without Thinking the unconscious mind often delivers a better answer than more deliberate and protracted ways of thinking. If the seller doesn’t pass the blink test either, drop it like a hot brick. Kenneth Rendell, purveyor of manuscripts to the great and the good, advises avoiding the kind of dealer who brushes you off when probed, he adds: “The real expert will bore you with answers.” I also like what he says about how forgers often fail to get the feel of a signature right -the “flying starts and endings of the pen”.

Avoid signatures that look more like a drawing than writing and ones that seem to have stops and starts. Also signatures in cheap editions of books can be suspect, most forgers will not risk screwing up a signature in a four figure book. Forgers often stick to a plain signature so a date or sentiment is useful (belying the tiresome ‘flat signed’ schtick.) Also beware the desirable signature that is seriously underpriced, you may be lucky but it is often a sign of a grifter at work. If it is very cheap, of course, it may be real but unrated or unrecognised. Age is no guarantee of authenticity, forgers have been around since Heraclitus stood in the river. Ebay is a minefield. Bad Salinger forgeries appeared there after the writer’s death and usually made a few hundred dollars. Like the curate’s egg they were ‘good in parts’ but if it is wrong it’s worthless, if it’s right it’s a few thousand. In one of the online signatures Salinger appeared to have misspelled his own name…a bad start. Continue reading

Snobs in the Arts

Portrait of Margaret, Duchess of Argyll circa 1931 Gerald Leslie Brockhurst 1890-1978 Presented by Tate Patrons 2009 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T12796

Portrait of Margaret, Duchess of Argyll circa 1931 Gerald Leslie Brockhurst 1890-1978 (Tate Patrons 2009)

Here are some more selections from Jeremy Beadle’s own copy of The Book of Total Snobbery (1989) by Lynne and Graham Jones. The quotes bearing asterisks were marked in ink by Beadle.

Actor Michael Hordern on Glyndebourne
*There’s not the quality of audience today. The stalls should be in dinner jackets or tails, and they’re in singlets and bomber jackets. Quite awful! They come from places like Milton Keynes…
Sir Michael Hordern, Sunday Express Magazine.

Socialite Margaret, Duchess of Argyle. on opera singer Luciano Pavarotti
*Would you ever invite to your party people who weren’t “society”, but stars from another world—Luciano Pavarotti, say?
‘—Oh you wouldn’t ask a dancer. I mean, he can contribute nothing. All he can do is dance…’
Margaret, Duchess of Argyle, Sunday Express Magazine.

And on novelist Graham Greene.
‘Graham Greene? But he’s just a writer, isn’t he?’
Margaret, Duchess of Argyll.

Howard Jacobson on himself.
‘I’m not talking about Tom Sharpe or David Lodge. I’m talking about Shakespeare. That’s the kind of writer I should be compared with.’
Novelist Howard Jacobson, interviewed by Cherwell.

*Actor Robert Morley on Bertolt Brecht.
‘Brecht has not only never had an original thought, he takes twice as long as the average playgoer to have any thought at all.’

* Gore Vidal on Truman Capote.
‘A republican housewife from Kansas with all the prejudices’.

*Thomas Carlyle on John Keats.
‘His poetry is the fricassee of a dead dog. ‘

*Oscar Wilde on George Meredith.
‘As a writer he has mastered everything except language; as a novelist, he can do everything except tell a story; as an artist, he is everything except articulate.’

*George Orwell on Jean Paul Sartre
‘A bag of wind.’

T.S.Eliot on Arnold Bennett
When Bennett joined Eliot’s circle at a Bloomsbury party he left for another part of the room, bristling at the novelist’s “ lower middle-class accent “.

Janet Street-Porter on her TV image.
‘I hate being this “Cheery Janet” character on the Six O’Clock News. It wasn’t me at all. I don’t shop down the street market and I’m not riveted by the price of bloody fish. I go to the opera. My friends are artists. I live in a big house.
Janet Street-Porter, Q Magazine

Radio personality Gilbert Harding at an engagement in Hounslow in 1953.
‘I have been dragged along to this third- rate place for a third- rate dinner for third-rate people’.

[R.M.Healey]

Harold Murray—-the life of a jobbing journalist in the early twentieth century

Kaleiposcope cover 001Found in a pile of books here at Jot HQ a battered, library copy ( ‘ with all the stamps ‘, as the abebook dealers say ) from Exeter City Library  of Kaleidoscope , an old journalist’s snapshots (Exeter, nd but c 1947) by Harold Murray. Printed in Exeter by W. Chudley & Son, it would seem to be self-published, but unlike most books of this type, it is actually worth reading.

 

Wikipedia, alas, has no information on Murray. He claimed to be of ‘ Scottish origin’, and was born in an ‘ old parsonage in the Fen country ‘ (possibly near Peterborough).   As for his year of birth, recollections of having seen in 1884 a zoetrope at a bazaar and of being a cub reporter at the time of the Boer War, suggests that he first saw the light of day sometime in the eighteen-seventies. As for his published works, abebooks does feature Kaleidoscopealongside the author’s biographies of two nonconformist preachers, Dinsdale T.Young and Campbell Morgan, along with a collection of Murray’s stories for Boys’ Own Paperand a life of the famous evangelist preacher Rodney ‘Gypsy’ Smith (1860 – 1947). The ‘ by the same author ‘ panel in Kaleidoscope suggests that Murray ‘s main interest was religious evangelism, though this doesn’t come across strongly in Kaleidoscope, which is essentially a hotchpotch of anecdotes about all the many famous, and not so famous, people and places  he had encountered in his rather hectic career as a jobbing journalist.

 

It isn’t easy to establish if Murray was attached to particular newspapers for any length of time, if he was a freelance for much of his life, or if he did other things when he wasn’t writing. He seems to have been enchanted by the idea of writing for a living from his earliest days. FromKaleidoscope it seems obvious that he wished to be seen as  someone who was, in the words of Wyndham Lewis,  ‘ not for sale ‘ and it doesn’t appear that he was ever troubled by the insecurity of the freelancer’s life. At one point he remarks that he liked writing about hotels because, until twenty years ago, he had spent so much of his life living in them. This might suggest that for a while he was married, with a house and perhaps a family, and that a divorce or separation obliged him to return to living in hotels and boarding houses. But it might equally suggest that Murray, like Gipsy Smith, preferred the life of a wanderer from place to place. He certainly got around.

 

All journalists need to have good memories, but Murray’s was more powerful than most. Kaleidoscopeis a wealth of wonderful anecdotes going back to the 1890s. In fact there are so many that one must be selective. The more interesting recollections from the point of view of the history of popular entertainment relate to music hall and early cinema: Continue reading

An intriguing  letter from an unidentified  friend of W.H.Davies to Ivor Brown

Betjeman mentioned letter 001Found in a pile of papers around a year ago at Jot HQ is this draft of a barely decipherable ( hence the gaps and possible misreadings of words ) and incomplete letter written in pencil on the back of a typed Roneoed page headed ‘ The Association of British Chambers of Commerce/5thOctober, 1942/Parliamentary Bulletin No 462A/Information by question and answer. The draft letter is addressed to ( Ivor ) Brown, author of A Word in your Ear( 1942), a book that explores the history of certain words. The writer cannot be identified from any clues in the letter , though what clues there are might open up paths for Jot fans who are familiar with Cheltenham and the Cotswolds. Any with information are welcome to write in.

 

Dear Mr Brown,

Allow one old Cheltonian some 15 years your senior to thank you for the pleasure I have got from A Word in your Ear  in addition to the pleasure  from many similar examples  of lexical intercourse. There is much I should like to refer to, one; the fact that Nesh is a not uncommon word amongst the poor country people. As to clout too, my father, a Cotswolder from Daglingworth & like my son, an old Cheltonian , never spoke of Cleeve Hill, but always of Cleeve Court. I much enjoyed the quotation from Betjeman, but have never come across Silver ( ? ). Cheltenham has however produced one fellow poet (  ).Frederick Myers is much underrated for his poetry which is swamped by his Psychical fame. It should be remembered, if only for the lines originally on a grave at Grindelwald , but also on the memorial in Wasdale churchyard on the four men killed on Scafell Pinnacle some 30 years ago:-

 

           On moment stood they as the angels stand

           High in the stainless imminence of air;

           The next they were not, to their fatherland

           Translated unaware.

 

I do not see my book & my son’s as a classic to rank near him, being myself too ( ?  ) in verse to be under any illusion. If you can spare a moment with them you may amused by my ( ?   ) jingle & by The Dear Inn, which laments the closing of the great coaching inn above Naunton on the Cheltn. – Stow road, done, so it was said, by the squire of Guiting, who disliked his farm labourers frequenting it. My son’s little book was written originally as a Gunner before he got his commission in the R.A. He was my partner here & is now in Egypt. You may like my poem to our dear old friend W. H. Davies, the Welsh poet & ‘Super-tramp’. (I had to do most of his affairs & attended his cremation) as we saw him so often sitting surrounded by his beloved pictures– mainly portraits of himself & his magnificent Epstein hair.
Continue reading

A month in the life of a RADA student in 1934: The journal of Nancy Seabrooke

 

Diary of Miss Seabrooke 1934 001Nancy Clara Seabrooke (1914 – 1998) does not figure hugely in the history of the British theatre and TV. Her biggest claim to fame was  being the most patient understudy in the annals of British theatre– shadowing the role of ‘Mrs Boyle’  in Agatha Christie’s record-breaking Mousetrapfor 15 years (6,240 performances), and actually appearing as her for a fraction of these performances, before retiring in 1994. On TV she was a bit part player, appearing in single episodes of Danger Man, The Grove Family, Maigret and  No Hiding Place. Double Exit(1950) was her first TV movie. She was Deputy Stage Manager of the play ‘The Irrregular Verb to Love’ (1961), which starred fellow RADA student Joan Greenwood. There is no record of any appearance by Seabrooke on the silver screen.

 

Her journal, which covers the period April 18thto May 19th1934 while she was a twenty-year-old final year student at RADA, occupies the whole of a slim exercise book, and is written in a large, round, artistic hand in fountain pen and pencil. At the outset Seabrooke confesses that she had decided to begin it after acquiring a Victorian example in a second–hand shop. She says nothing about whether she plans to continue her journal well beyond the month. For all we know, it may have been part of a series, though no evidence of this has come to light.

 

At the time in which she began her journal Seabrooke was commuting to London from her home not far from the small village of Newdigate, south of Dorking, Surrey, and the events she describes are concerned as much with her home life in the country as they are with her other, more glamorous,  existence as a RADA student. Several things emerge from the journal. She seems to have been fascinated by Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, particularly Ben Jonson and John Webster (she even named her cats Beaumont and Fletcher), was an avid playgoer in London, notably at The Old Vic, and was in awe of many leading actors, especially John Geilgud, to whom she writes a fan letter. She also seems to have been the editor ( or assistant editor ) of the news-sheet The Rada News  and was writing a ‘ satire ‘ and some ’sonnets’. Having at the outset vowed that she would steer away from introspection, she devotes a good deal of her journal to tormenting herself over a certain Joseph, on whom she clearly had a crush, although the affection seems to have been one-way. Continue reading