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.
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 →
Around 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 →
I had first met the writer and wife of the brilliant architectural photographer Edwin Smith, in 1984 at Saffron Walden Museum, where I was a museum assistant. I was helping her with an exhibition of her late husband’s photographs. I recall that she called everyone ‘ darling ‘, which I saw as suggesting that she had once been in the theatre. I don’t remember anything more about her.
Fast forward to the late 1990’s and I was actually sitting with her in the kitchen of ‘The Orchards ‘, the famous home outside Saffron Walden that she and Edwin had once shared. Having visited various artists’ homes over the past two decades, including that of John and Myfanwy Piper at Fawley Bottom, I should have been prepared for what greeted me there, but I wasn’t. In the sitting room I seem to remember bright modern pictures and sculpture and art books covering every surface, with a lot of wickerwork and hand knitted rugs and potted plants. Rather Bloomsburyish, I thought, but in a nice way. The kitchen was more practically furnished, but in the same rather genteel-arty style. It also had a typically smell about it, an odour of old money artist that I’d noticed about the Pipers’ kitchen. Perhaps it was the drains. But I liked this comforting smell. Continue reading →
Found among the books in the working library of the actor Peter O’Toole (1932 – 2013) his copy of Letters of T.E. Lawrence (Readers Union, 1941.) O’Toole had surprisingly few books on or by Lawrence considering that this was probably his greatest role and the film that made him an international star. In the Reader’s Union edition was loosely inserted a one page wartime broadsheet keeping members of the book club informed about new publications. It was from an address at Wray Common, Reigate. This broadsheet / flier was dated February 1941and has a good piece (“T.E.”) on Lawrence by his friend and bookseller K.W. Marshall.
I have more reason to feel grateful to T.E. Lawrence than most booksellers. When I was unemployed years ago, he loaned me Clouds Hill his Dorset cottage, where I stayed for just over three months. Later, my wife and I spent a honeymoon holiday there. On my first visit I was in “possession” of the cottage, and Lawrence would ask permission to stay the night on the infrequent occasions that he managed to pay a visit. He was very proud of the cottage and spent some considerable effort and time in gradually planning a comfortable retreat for his retirement. Unfortunately, when he died he had not enjoyed Clouds Hill for as long a period as I had; and during his short term of possession he was harassed by news reporters.Continue reading →
Found among the papers of the long defunct literary agency Michael Hayes of Cromwell Road S.W.5 - parts of a manuscript memoir by one L.R. Reeve of Newton Abbot, South Devon. Mr Reeve was attempting to get the book (Among those Present: Very Exceptional People) published, but on the evidence of the unused stamp Hayes never replied and L. R. Reeve published the book himself through the esteemed vanity publisher Stockwell two years later in 1974.
L R Reeve had in a long life met or observed a remarkable selection of famous persons. He presents 'vignettes' of 110 persons from all grades of society (many minor or even unknown) they include Winston Churchill, Dorothy Sayers, H H Asquith, John Buchan, the cricketer Jack Hobbs, J.B. Priestley, H.G. Wells, Marconi, E.M. Forster, Duchess of Atholl, Marie Stopes, Oliver Lodge and Cecil Sharp -- 'it is unnecessary to explain that many I have known have not known me. All of them I have seen, most of them I have heard, and some of them have sought information, even advice from me."
Coming across a copy of a relatively recent booklet entitled The Guide to Bayswater (Sunrise Press) I turned to the page on Artesian wells which accounted for much of the water supply to Bayswater in the early nineteenth century. The next entry was on Artesian Road, which reminded me of a visit to the poet and critic John Heath-Stubbs circa 1994. I think I must have got his address and phone number from Who’s Who.
I knew little about him as a person, apart from the fact that he was blind and had a very large head. I didn’t much enjoy his poetry, but was interested in hearing his views on Geoffrey Grigson, on whom I was writing a biography-- not because either of them had seriously clashed in print or in person, but because Heath-Stubbs was part of the neo-Romantic reaction to Auden and his generation, of which Grigson was a member, and also perhaps because the latter had violently attacked two neo-romantic poets—George Barker and Dylan Thomas, and inter alia their literary mentor, Edith Sitwell.
Looking back over twenty years, all I can recall of our conversation was the fact that Heath-Stubbs defended the poetic aesthetic of Sitwell, which I had decried, and that he showed a degree of irritation with the more extreme manifestations of neo-romanticism. He also urged me to read his recently published autobiography, Hindsights, which alas, I had failed to do.
But what impressed me the most about this very remarkable man, whose head was indeed enormous, was the way he coped with his blindness. I had never before interviewed a blind man—indeed I had never been inside the home of one. Something I did find bizarre was the fact that as someone who had been totally blind for nearly forty years, he had pictures on his wall.Unless these had been hung when he had had some residual vision, their presence seemed pointless. I was also appalled by the large and obviously dangerous holes in his carpets. Why had no-one urged him to install brand new ones? These might have incurred some expense, but tripping up on a threadbare carpet could have killed or seriously injured the poet. It then occurred to me that as a blind man it was in his interest to know where all the potential dangers in his home were located, and these included holes in carpets. I was also impressed by the ease with he made me a cup of coffee, although the mug was left balancing precariously on the edge of a table. I later learnt that he often cooked for his guests—and did it well—so for him making a coffee must have been a simple task. I also noticed, as so many others had done, before and since, the evidence of spilt food and drink on his clothes.
Just before I left, a much younger man let himself into the house. He was clutching some books, I seem to recall, and I assumed that this was his friend and housekeeper, the legendary Eddie Linden, who was in the habit of reading to him.
Found in the papers of L.R. Reeve (see A.J. Balfour for background on him) this piece on the British astronomer, physicist, and mathematician Sir Arthur Eddington (1882 - 1944.) He did his greatest work in astrophysics and also wrote books on philosophy and popular science. L.R. Reeve actually met him and gives an amusing account of the slightness of this encounter but has good information on Eddington's appearance and his lecturing style. He ends with quite a good joke, relatively speaking…Some may remember that David Tennant played him in the BBC/HBO film Einstein and Eddington (2008.)
A. S. EDDINGTON
For several years I expressed my homage to Semprini, the pianist of genius; then when I heard him declare on the radio that if he were on a desert island his choice of a book would be The Nature of the Physical World by Sir Arthur Eddington, O.M., F.R.S., my obeisance was beyond all description, for I look upon Eddington as the greatest astronomer of my era. Continue reading →
Found in the papers of L.R. Reeve (see A.J. Balfour for background on him) this piece about the Australian writer and educationalist Sir Fred Schonell. He was also the author of several books aimed at teaching children to write and spell. The site Old School Reading Books suggests that some of these have become collectable. Reeve, having met the great man, had presentation copies of some of these...
SIR FRED SCHONELL
Professor Hamley once stated that the late Sir Fred Schonell was the best secretary the education section of the British Psychological Society had ever had. How right he was. Hamley, like Schonell, was an Australian, but there was no exaggeration in his assertion, for although Schonell’s unruffled manner was rather deceptive I also, whose knowledge of earlier secretaries is possibly greater than Hamley's, can announce that he was nearly perfect, and his professional career is a record of almost unbroken success. Moreover, although he and I were mutual members of three societies in London and frequently used to have a chat, I have to admit that until I read an obituary appreciation in The Times I was unaware of a great deal of his unusual career. I knew he was born in Perth, but it was news to me that he was one of the first graduates of the University of Western Australia to achieve a Hackett overseas scholarship. Continue reading →
A good piece from the papers of *L.R. Reeve on A.J. Balfour, as a former U.K. Prime Minister he is the highest ranking subject so far (along with Lloyd George.) As usual Reeve is good on his subject's voice and oratorical skills. Reeve's frequent presence at congresses and symposiums of 'leaders of thought' shows him as an almost Zelig-like figure...He ends on a joke, that if not true, ought to be.
Despite his deceptively ornamental appearance, the late Earl Balfour was a worker. Although his attractive manner was unperturbed and casual, he must have experienced periods of unremitting labour through many months; otherwise he could never have written so many theses and philosophical books, added to political publications, parliamentary labours, constituency engagements and university visits.
His career as a statesman, philosopher and eminent speaker, is too well known to need emphasizing in great detail, but a few outstanding phenomena regarding his life should never be forgotten. In appearance he was probably the most aristocratic representative of his period, and was the greatest asset to the perpetuators of the class system. When in his seventieth year he was the leader of a mission to America in 1917, he was one of the most popular visitors England could have sent at any time, because he increased our prestige and disarmed criticism. I mention "perpetuators". Let me make it clear I am not suggesting that Balfour was a determined fighter to maintain the contemporary status quo. He seemed to be fully aware that in this world of fluctuations, there must be modifications of the class system, and an acknowledgement that injustices should be eliminated until the rights of all people are recognized. Continue reading →
Found among the Reeve* papers this short memoir of Lord Haldane - i.e. Richard Burdon Haldane, 1st Viscount Haldane KT, OM, PC, KC, FRS, FBA, FSA (1856 – 1928) an influential British Liberal Imperialist and later Labour politician, lawyer and philosopher. As with many of Reeve's pieces he had never met the man but had seen him give speeches at congresses and describes his speaking style well. He writes '...many have known have not known me. All of them I have seen, most of them I have heard, and some of them have sought information, even advice from me." For Reeve the unifying qualification all these people have is '… some subtle emanation of personality we call leadership, and which can inspire people to actions unlikely to be undertaken unless prompted by a stronger will.'
When one begins to delve into the pages of great books of reference, such as the Encyclopaedia Britannica, there are times one stops at a certain page and reads with an increasing sense of wonder and respect. I was looking for Haldane, and as I read the wonder grew. So this was the man treated so contemptuously by most of us during the First World War! Continue reading →
Another jotting from the L.R. Reeve collection on the educationalist the Reverend John Scott Lidgett (1854-1953). A marvellous man, described here as a 'little packet of dynamite,' and author of 15 books. Reeve has a good story also about "the best-dressed woman in Rotherhithe…"
JOHN SCOTT LIDGETT
Where did I get the news that the late Dr Scott Lidgett was chairman of the centre for Psychotherapy, Epsom, at the age of ninety-six? All I remember is that I found the information jotted down in one of my scrapbooks. It may be true because he lived to the age of ninety-nine, and at ninety when a young journalist from the Kentish Mercury called at his home for an interview and congratulations, he was certainly in full command of his mental powers. At the end of the visit the young newsman expressed the hope that he might call again when the veteran reached his century. "It could be”, retorted the eminent divine, "you look as if you might live another ten years". The remark was typical, for Dr Lidgett, one of the most distinguished nonconformists of his generation, a little packet of dynamite, was a decidedly witty man; and every time I saw him, his expression never showed a trace of emotion, for his self-control was so significant to any observer of human nature that one felt that no situation would make him lose his colossal nerve. Moreover, as some of his minor duties were to be a manager of several schools, stories galore were told of his visits. Two remain in my memory: at one school on Prize Day the headmaster, during his report, declared that the year's successes were not due to himself but to his staff. His face dropped when Scott Lidgett, presenter of prizes, said he accepted the headmaster' s announcement. Continue reading →
From the Reeve* collection this study of Sir Frederick Mander (1883 -1964) headmaster and trade unionist and the General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) from 1931 to 1947. He was an important figure in British educational history but there is no photo of him available. He may be in this photo of members of the National Association of Head Teachers taken in Leamington Spa in the 1950s. Teachers are not movie stars and most searches bring up a British moustachioed character actor called Miles Mander who was born in 1884…Reeve is good on detail, especially speaking style - it is useful to know that occasionally Sir Fred 'murmured at the end of a sentence.'
SIR FRED MANDER
The late Sir Fred Mander was at one time a highly successful headmaster in Luton. During that period of his life he was popular with children, staff and parents; the school was throbbing with life and happiness, and when he resigned to labour in a wider sphere, Luton lost a splendid headmaster, although he still continued to exert a great influence in other branches of life in his own town. Continue reading →
From the L.R. Reeve collection - this worthy piece about Caroline Graveson of Goldsmiths’ College. She is commemorated at their library site which is where the photo comes from (with much thanks). Her dates are not given but she started there in 1905. Reeve, as usual addresses the subjects speaking skills ('…her elocution was perfect…majestic'.)
It would be very unlikely to hear of even one ex-student, trained at Goldsmiths’ College, London, when Miss Graveson was the Vice-Principal, who would speak disparagingly of one of the most gracious educationalists of her long era and an illustrious member of the Training College Association. For Miss Graveson was one of those exceptional women whose integrity, judgment, fairness, and dignity were suggested immediately one met her, and one always felt that any of her interpretations was likely to be the right one. Continue reading →
I first encountered Ian Hamilton (1938 – 2001), poet, critic and famously combative editor of The Review, via Geoffrey Grigson. That is, I discovered that he’d once done an interview with Grigson and that this wonderful piece of barbed writing had been reproduced in Grigson’s The Contrary View.
I never expected to meet the man himself. I assumed that he might be difficult to pin down to a time and place, and so I left it at that. After all, I had the printed interview, which was probably all I needed. Then it occurred to me that as he lived in London I could at least write to him and see if he was willing to meet me. I think I got as far as finding his address in Wimbledon. I duly wrote. He replied, but no date was fixed…
Time passed, but around late 1994 I was glancing through the newspaper and I found a photograph of someone ( I forget his name ) who was the spitting image of Ossie Ardiles, the Argentinian mid-fielder who was then managing Spurs. A bit of lateral thinking led me to an extraordinary decision. Ian Hamilton was a fanatical Spurs supporter. I would go to his address and present him with this newspaper clipping. It would be an ice-breaker and hopefully might lead to a formal interview.
So, after a few weeks I did just that. I made my way to Hamilton’s rather comfortable Edwardian house in Wimbledon and gazed through the window. There he was, sitting around the dining table with a number of people, including a woman of Asian appearance who I later found out was his second wife, Ahdaf Soueif, an Egyptian novelist. I boldly marched up to the door with my clipping of ‘Ossie Ardiles’ and rang the bell. I seem to recall that Hamilton himself answered, but I can’t be sure. Anyway, I announced myself and, with the minimal explanation, handed over the clipping. He did smile. He might even have laughed. It was all over in two minutes. He told me that he had dinner guests, but asked me to phone or write with a view to an interview. I never did write. Sadly, he died a few years later. [RMH]
From the L.R. Reeve* collection of short sketches of people he had met - this affectionate piece about psychologist C.W. Valentine (1879-1964). He wrote many books on psychology and was the editor of The British Journal of Educational Psychology for its first 25 years. Wikipedia (so far) knows him not.. Reeve saw him lecture several times...
Professor C. W. Valentine
Forty years ago I used to believe that Professor C. W. Valentine was one of the most reliable psychologists in England. Time has never changed my opinion, for on the many occasions when I have listened to him, or read about him he has always left me with the same impression of steadiness and sense of proportion so that one always felt that any declaration from him was the result of an objective mind which had arrived at a conclusion after exhaustive study.
I can, however, express a decided opinion on one of his books: an early volume on intelligence tests. Years ago an elderly colleague of mine was pestered by his newly qualified daughter to advise her on the best intelligence tests. He came to me. I took Valentine's book to school. We went into a huddle. He gave the tests according to instructions. Because I didn't know his boys I marked and assessed the results. A few days later he came to me beaming. "I have known every boy for at least six months and your marks are perfect." Salutations to Professor Valentine. And if the book in question is now out of print so much the worse for intelligence tests and education in general. No doubt the usual gibe 'old-fashioned' will be objected by superficial minds. Well, eating, drinking, breathing, speech and many other things are of ancient custom; when, therefore, the phrase ‘old-fashioned, is presented one can usually suspect a feeble argument, something like a lawyer's dictum, "When you have a weak case attack the man." Continue reading →
From the L.R. Reeve* collection of short sketches of people he had met - this affectionate piece about psychologist May Smith O.B.E (1868-1968). There is a very brief entry at Wikipedia but a lot more in an article on early women industrial and experimental psychologists which details sleep privation tests she performed on herself in her study of fatigue amongst workers. Our photo is from the Science Museum and is of a Dotting Machine made by Edgar Schuster. It was used for testing accident-proneness in industrial workers by May Smith and her fellow psychologist Millais Culpin while she was at the Industrial Fatigue Research Board. This was a body originally set up to study the health of munitions workers during World War I. As often with L.R. Reeve, an assiduous attender of lectures, he evaluates oratorical style - in her case 'compulsive' and '..much more unassuming than she ought to have been.'
Mr Alec Rodger M.A., of Birkbeck College, London, has recently contributed, in a Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, a well-deserved tribute to the late Miss May Smith, O.B.E., whom for many years I considered to be among the dozen ablest psychologists in this country; and to this day my opinion has never changed. Moreover, Mr Rodger's survey of her career strengthens my previous conviction of her wide outlook, for although I saw her, heard her unruffled, steady speeches, read accounts of diligent research, such as studying, with Dr Millais Culpin, 1,000 people in all walks of life to find 60 per cent showing some sign of mental ill-health, I never knew of her close knowledge of so many of our eminent pioneers in psychology. I knew that she had been associated with William McDougall, Millais Culpin and Cyril Burt; but the fact that she had been influenced by the eminent Samuel Alexander, Lord D'Abernon, Lord Woolton and the steady, clear-thinking Eric Farmer was news to me;and Mr Rodger’s account of her early days emphasises once again how frequently we meet people for years and suddenly learn that we have both lived in the same locality for a long period, and experienced a human environment of similar interest. Miss Smith and I both knew some of Manchester's leading figures and eminent learned men. Continue reading →
From the Reeves* collection, this study of the slightly neglected writer L.P.Jacks (Lawrence Pearsall Jacks 1860-1955). His best known book was probably Mad Shepherds and Other Human Studies from which the drawing of 'Snarley Bob' comes (below.) There is an excellent article on him in Dictionary of Unitarian & Universalist Biography and Gutenberg have the entire text of Mad Shepherds.
A potential distinction was presented unknowingly to the citizens of Nottingham in 1860, the year when the eminent Lawrence Pearsall Jacks was born. I have a notion that he was a delicate child and frequently a trial to his parents; but I am sure that I am one among thousands to whom he has given hours of delight, either in speeches or in his fascinating literature. Indeed I sometimes feel that he would have been much better known to the general public had he been nothing but a professional journalist, instead of one of the leading Unitarians of his long career; for his reminiscences are so well written and so fascinating that I often pay him the compliment of a second or third reading. I browse among his memoirs as frequently as those of Harold Nicolson's letters and diaries and Frank Swinnerton's autobiographies; for there is a touch of magic and intensity in his recollections which keep many a mesmerized reader fighting against sleep on numerous occasions. His was the vivid phrase, the unmistakable meaning, the frank opinion, the distilled wisdom of a long life among some of the most brilliant men of his era, and anyone who could claim him for a friend must have been a very privileged adult. Continue reading →
From the Reeve collection.* This is a fascinating character (especially from a bowling point of view) and although manager for Team England (as it was not known then) for the 1958 Cardiff Commonwealth Games bowls team and a superb and noted player of the game he is unknown to Wikipedia and turns up online mostly in club lists. But all has changed, changed utterly, thanks to fellow Devonian L.R. Reeve's writings…
English Team, Commonwealth Games 1958
F. H. SHAPLAND
I have met a good many busy men in my long life, but cannot believe anyone could be more active than Harold Shapland. Yet he seems to thrive on his multitudinous commitments, and to the world he appears to be one of the happiest men alive, with his ready wit, ready smile and readiness to chat with any bowler who happens to be near him when watching a thrilling encounter. Continue reading →
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.
How and where does one begin when describing such an exceptionally experienced public woman as the Duchess of Atholl? I* might do worse than start at a meeting held in Essex Hall, Strand, when she was Parliamentary Secretary to the old Board of Education. Appointed by the Prime Minister, Mr Stanley Baldwin, and under the leadership of Lord Eustace Percy who, she said, was no shirker, she admits to feeIing honoured to be the second woman in English history to be a Minister, and she soon made it evident in her public life that she was never afraid to join the ranks of a minority group of people.
I had better not mention the number of years of my regular attendance at meetings at Essex Hall. I spoke there at a conference; I made reports there monthly during one period; I witnessed many exciting arguments; but never was any other meeting in that historic building so memorable to me as one at which the Duchess delivered one of her steady, thoughtful orations. She was no tub thumper, no rabble rouser, no player to the gallery, no provider of cheap wisecracks. She simply forced her head to take control of her emotions and just gave us facts, combined with ideals, very hard to challenge. There is| no need to add that after the meeting there was some animated discussion among groups in the corridor and in the Strand teashops.