First Lines

In her anthology entitled First Lines (1985) Gemma O’Connor declared that few celebrated writers in English opened their novels and memoirs with arresting first lines. Dickens, Joyce, and Jane Austen were a handful that did, but others, like Hardy and De Quincey, managed to keep the readers’ attention without providing intriguing first lines. Perhaps it’s gift that certain writers of fiction (O’Connor  excludes poets from her anthology) had, regardless of their eminence. Short story writers, like James Stephens and Saki, were masters of this art and indeed most writers of this type of fiction were aware that they needed to start well. Here are some of the most memorable first lines selected by Ms O’Connor. Guessing the authors of them might make an amusing party game.

This book is largely concerned with Hobbits.

J. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings.

I hate to read new books.

William Hazlitt, One Reading Old Books.

It is difficult for a man to speak long of himself without vanity; therefore I shall be short.

David Hume, Life, written by himself.

Let me tell you the story of my life.

Maxim Gorky, A Confession.

Once upon a time, and I very good time it was….

James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.

Ours is essentially a tragic age….

Continue reading

Antiquities in peril at the British Museum: the Portland Sale, the destruction of the Vase and a similar act of vandalism at the Fitzwilliam

As habitués of auctions, we at Jot 101, are always interested in historic ones. It is interesting to note how prices of lots back then compare to recent prices fetched. Were there ‘ sleepers ‘ in past times, as there are now ? 

In Austin Dobson’s A Bookman’s Budget we find the author quoting a passage from  Rosalba’s Journal (1915) on the sale in April 1786 of ‘ The Portland Museum’ , consisting ( in the words of the Skinner and Co., the auctioneers ) of:


‘ shells, corals, minerals, insects, birds’ eggs, agates, crystals, china. snuff boxes, coins, medals, seals, prints, drawings, jewels, and precious stones…’

These and other treasures had been collected by the Duchess of Portland over a long period and were housed at her late dwelling-house in ‘Privy Garden’, where the sale took place. In the words of Rosalba:

‘It occupied about thirty days and included 4,156 lots. One of the buyers was Horace Walpole ‘ who secured a head in basalt of Jupiter Serapis’  and an illuminated Book of Psalms, both of which he forthwith installed in the Beauclerk closet at Strawberry . Another item was a unique set of Hollar’s engravings, in thirteen folio volumes. This fetched £385; but the prices generally were far below what they would have been in our time. Rembrandt’s etchings, for example, went for 28s., Chelsea china ( 28 pieces for 30s. The gem of the sale was the blue and white glass Vase, or Sepulchral Urn, thought to have once held the ashes of Alexander Severus, which had been discovered near Rome in a sarcophagus under the Monte del Grano. Until 1770 this marvel of the ceramic art had remained in the possession of the Barberini family, being subsequently acquired by Sir William Hamilton, British Plenipotentiary at Naples, from whom, through his niece, Miss Hamilton, one of Queen Charlotte’s Ladies in Waiting, the Duchess purchased it for £1,800. Henceforth it became known as the Hamilton or Portland Vase. At the sale it was bought in by the third Duke for £1,029, and deposited by his son in the British Museum. Here it was smashed to pieces in February 1845 by a drunken workman; and was afterwards most ingeniously and successfully pieced together by Mr Thomas Doubleday.’ 

Continue reading

Another helping of misprints and syntactic fatuity from Much too Funny for Words by Denys Parsons ( 1985)

It is generally agreed that human beings acquire sleeping sickness from biting flies

The Pioneer.

It is estimated that about 16 foxes were shot or killed by the hounds

FOR SALE. Baker’s business, good trade, large oven, present owner been in it for seventeen years.

                                           FATHER OF TEN SHOT


                                               MISTAKEN FOR RABBIT

Headline in New York paper.

What is more beautiful for the blonde to wear for formal dances than while tulle? My

Answer—and I’m sure you will agree with me—is ‘ Nothing’.

Worcester ( Massachusetts) Evening Gazette.

Mr Lloyd George, patron saint of the Liberal Party, was a very astute gentleman with both ears glued to the ground. Naturally, he could not see very far ahead.

Scottish paper

A representative said that people saw in the movement a real big octopus which would put its ring around them and swallow them up.

Essex paper

This criticism is not open, as Britishers would be, and consequently is difficult to nail down, but, lie a snake in the grass, is whispered behind a hand which covers a sneering face.

Letter in Rugeley Mercury

In the first important utterance of the Chairman of the Board, he has, so to say, thrown the Board overboard and ploughed his own canoe.

Ceylonese Paper.

Said a Farnborough shopkeeper, ‘ The Council is pulling the bread and butter from under our feet’.

Farnborough Paper.

The great white elephant which is slowly emerging from the chrysalis at the end of Sepoy Lines has yet to be opened.

Malayan Paper

The rich man’s motor may sow the seed of the class war, but the landlord’s horse yielded the milk of human kindness.

Bradford Paper.

‘Gentlemen, we will have nothing to do with it; it is but the thin end of a white elephant.’

Hampshire Town Councillor.

Speaking at Mablethorpe Council meeting, Councillor P. Thomas said: ‘ This Council is fiddling while Mablethorpe is settling under the pounding hoofs of motorists.’

Local Paper.

Fortunately for the workmen the glass fell perpendicularly, for had it fallen vertically, the accident in all probability would have proved serious.

Continue reading

English etiquette by an Indian Harley Street doctor 

Most books of etiquette published seventy or more years ago. have  comic value .If they were written by foreigners anxious to ‘ educate ‘ their compatriots in  the ways of the English there is a strong likelihood that they will be occasionally hilarious. Such a book is English Etiquette, which was published at St Christopher’s, Letchworth, a radical and culturally significant independent school that had established a printing press by the late 1920s. Its author, a certain  Dr R. U. Hingorani, an Indian who was active from 1928 to 1930, according to the records, and appears to have been a Harley Street practitioner around that time. The booklet’s aim was to familiarise Indian immigrants with the customs of the English.

Here is the good doctor’s advice on :

Personal habits

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Jot-101-English-etiquette-by-an-Indian-pic.jpg

It is a social crime to lick your fingers when turning over the pages of a book. An educated Englishman values his books as part of his personal property—he looks after them and keeps them clean. If he lends them to a friend it is a personal favour and he expects that friend to return the books in the same condition as they were lent. Licking the fingers while turning over the pages, besides being considered a dirty habit, will, if persisted in, soon spoil the appearance of a book, giving it a ‘dog-eared’ look and detract from its value…

You should never overlook another person’s newspaper or book…It is quite in order to ask for a loan of a newspaper or book but you should wait until he owner has completely finished reading and then politely make your wish known…

In England, as in other countries, an attractive personal appearance is a great asset in any walk of life but to attend to one’s toilet in public is a very bad social error. For instance, finger nails must always be kept scrupulously clean—this is a very important point as dirty finger nails are taken as evidence of a person’s bad upbringing—but they must never be cleaned in public. Ears and nose should always be attended to in private and you must never play about with your fingers when talking to another person…

Another bad error is to talk to a lady with your hands in your pockets. This shows that you are not so accustomed to talk with well-bred ladies and that your primary education has been defective…

European and Far Eastern people lend emphasis to their speech when talking with friends and acquaintances by gesticulating with their hands. This is quite incorrect in English eyes. A person who continually uses his hands in conversation is considered to have had an inadequate education…Pointing with the hands should always be avoided as this is considered a very rude habit…

Continue reading

Some little-known scientific and mathematical facts

Jot 101 howlers pic of Cecil HuntA circle is that part of the theatre which has the most expensive seats

Water is turned into a viper when it gets too hot

The logarithm of a given number is the number of times the given number must be squared in order that the given number may be equal to this number.

To collect fumes of sulphur hold a deacon over a flame in a test tube

An eight-sided figure is called an octagon because an octopus has eight legs.

Nitrogen is not found in Ireland because it is not found in a free state.

Chlorine is obtained from common salt by electrocution.

Hydrogen may be obtained by applying a lighted taper to a jar inverted in water.

A therm is a germ that creeps into the gas meter and causes rapid consumption.

The Specific Gravity of a substance is the ratio between the weight of one gram of the substance and the weight of one gram of water.

An obtuse angle has no sides equal.

Distilled water is water that has been filtered or put through blotting paper to keep the dirt out. Continue reading

Outwitting Murphy / Thoughts on Sod’s Law

Wikipedia defines Murphy’s Law (aka Sod’s Law) thus: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” In some formulations (Murphy 2), it is extended to – “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong, and at the worst possible time.” An example: a man arrives on time for a bus that invariably leaves late but finds that this one time it has left early and/ moreover it was vital that he caught it as it was going to take him to an interview for a job he badly needed… in an extreme case (Murphy 2) when he tells his partner that he is not going to get the job she leaves him etc.

He could only have defeated this by arriving very early and not assuming that the bus would always leave late. It is very difficult to outwit Murphy except by taking tiresome, almost infinite precautions or so I thought…

This example of outwitting Murphy’s law is based on our experience of selling books online. It is compelling but very site specific. Many of our books are kept at a warehouse 15 miles away from our sorting office. Quite often customers want pictures of a book before buying it. You can either bring the book from the warehouse to the office and take the photos there, then wait for the customer to order the book. If they do not buy the book (very likely– only 20% who want photos do) you have to take the book back to the warehouse. You can also  take the photos at the warehouse, leave the book there and pick it up when ordered. Both methods are about equal in terms of time and effort – as we go to the warehouse quite often. We discovered that if you photographed the book at the warehouse and left it there it was much more likely to be ordered. If you took the book to the office, eagerly expecting a sale, it was noticeably less likely to happen…The esoteric, wu-wu explanation is that Murphy had been outwitted and thought he was putting you to greater effort by making the book still at the warehouse sell and the book you had optimistically bought to the office fail to sell… Murphy’s law deniers (among them Richard Dawkins) would say ‘bollocks’…although they are usually talking about Murphy giving malign power to inanimate objects (their cussedness etc.,) which is, at the very least, fanciful..

Continue reading

Some eccentrics and hermits

hitchin-mad-lucas-hermit small

( Initially from J. D. Mortimer, An Anthology of the Home Counties 1947), but including commentaries from other sources.


The Hermit of Ickenham ( lived c 1655)


Roger Crabb, an eccentric character, of whom there is a curious account in a very rare pamphlet, entitled ‘The English Hermit, or the Wonder of the Age (1655), lived  many years in a cottage at Ickenham, where he subsisted on three farthings a week, his food being bran, mallows, dock leaves, grass and the produce of a small garden; his drink water; for he esteemed it a sin to eat any living creature, or use any other beverage. Towards the latter part of his life he removed to Bethnall Green, where he died in 1680, and was buried at Stepney.


Daniel Lysons, The Environs of London


Actually, Mr Crabb seems to have lived on a rather healthy vegan diet from the age of twenty, when he was a soldier on the parliamentary side during the English Civil War. He later became a haberdasher in Chesham, Bucks and afterwards retired to Ickenham, where he became a pacifist and a proto-Anarchist. He was an anti-Sabbatarian, arguing that Sunday was not a special day. He inveighed against the evils of property, the Church and the Universities. According to one source, he ate potatoes and carrots as part of his vegan diet, but towards the end of his life subsisted mainly on bran, dock leaves (Rumex) and parsnips. Bran is full of vitamins, as are dock leaves, but the latter also contains oxalates, which can induce kidney stones if eaten to excess. All parts of the common mallow are nutritious, however. The leaves can be boiled and made into a soup, and the roots can be candied.


The Frimley Hermit ( 17th century)


At the end of this Hundred, I must not forget my noble friend, Mr Charles Howard’s Cottage of Retirement( which he called his Castle) which lay in the middle of a vast healthy country, far from any Road or Village in the hope of a healthy Mountain, where, in the troublesome times he withdrew from the wicked World, and enjoyed himself here, where he had only one Floor, his little Dining Room, a Kitchen, a Chapel, and a Laboratory. His utensils were all of Wood or Earth; near him were half a Dozen Cottages more, on whom he shew’d much compassion and charity.


John Aubrey: Perambulation of Surrey
Continue reading

A prophecy of War in Europe: Cyril Joad on writing, speaking and the fatal perils of muddled thinking

Jot 101 Joad thinking and writing cover 001Found in the Jot 101 archive, is a pocket-sized book of 320 closely printed pages, bound in Rexene with a dust jacket and published by Odhams, which is entitled How to Write, Think and Speak Correctly. Undated, it appears to date from the late nineteen thirties, possibly 1939, and is edited by C. E. M. Joad, otherwise known as Cyril Joad.


Joad, who was professor of philosophy at Birkbeck College at the time, was arguably at the height of his fame, though he had yet to become that ‘ controversial ‘ member of the BBC ‘Brains Trust’ programme whose most famous riposte to any philosophical point was ‘ It depends what you mean by…’ Joad’s first book appeared in 1907, but by 1939 he was averaging two books a year on subjects ranging from ethics, rationalism, socialism, pacifism and psychology, with departures into more exotic areas such as ESP and the Paranormal.


Joad was what we today might call a ‘popular ‘philosopher—a category into which we could place such writers of our own time as A. C. Grayling and Alain de Botton. If pushed he would have described himself as a Rationalist, but his range of interests would seem to suggest that he saw himself as a bit of a political and philosophical maverick. His Wikipedia entry is so crammed with detail regarding his various volte-faces and intellectual re-inventions of himself that it is hard sometimes to pin him down. Here was a Rationalist who wrote on the Paranormal, a one-time pacifist who supported the war effort against Hitler, an agnostic who eventually embraced Christianity, a one-time Socialist and admirer of G. Bernard  Shaw who supported Mosley’s New Party for a short while, a writer on ethics who blithely admitted a desire to defraud the railway companies. Eventually, as we all know, he came a cropper by being discovered holding a third class ticket in a first class carriage. This come-uppance, which was reported gleefully in all the papers, resulted in his expulsion from the BBC and Birkbeck. And though publishers continued to publish Joad’s  books until his death five years later, his public career was effectively over. Continue reading

Lewis Hastings

In his ‘ family memoir’ Did You Really Throw it at the Television, renowned war correspondent and military historian Max Hastings has this to say of his eccentric great uncle, Major Lewis Hastings, whose swashbuckling life in South Africa in the early years of the twentieth century was in marked contrast to that of so many members of his family at that time:


‘He adopted a lifestyle so remote from those of his forebears as to deny any notion of inherited values. It was as if set out to compensate for generations of stiff collared family respectability and piety by cramming a century’s misdeeds and extravagances into a single lifetime. He was also writing verse…Lewis possessed real literary gifts, not least a talent for verse. When he exercise his brain and pen, the results were sometimes remarkable. His accomplishments were much slighter than they might have been because he always chose to please himself, to forswear discipline, to pursue whatever overhead star momentarily seized his imagination…To my father and later myself, when we read of the Hastingses of the nineteenth century, they seemed respectable, hard-working, decent Christian people…Lewis by contrast was more fun than the chaps who got made head of house at school or lived blameless lives…’


In a typewritten poem entitled ‘PLAIN PRAYER’ and inscribed in pencil ‘ by Lewis Hastings ‘ which we found in the Jot 101 Archive recently ( the provenance is unknown) , the former Rhodesian MP, South African farmer and all-purpose adventurer and maverick expresses his contempt for all those people and their values that Hastings writes about in his tribute.


Jot 101 Lewis Hastings portrait 001

PLAIN PRAYER ( To be recited only at Regimental Dinners, Old Boys Reunions and meetings of the Virgin Uplift Society). Continue reading

Topic—-a scarce twentieth century magazine

Found among the Joseph O’Donoghue archive at Jot HQ is this copy (pictured) of Topic: 3—a 16 page miscellany dated May 1960 which was possibly aimed at sixth-formers interested in current affairs. It was produced by the husband and wife team who began the still flourishing Mathematical Piemagazine back in 1950.

Why sixth-formers? Well, Mathematical Pie  was the brain child of Richard Collins, a Maths teacher at the Gateway School, Leicester, and his wife, and was distributed for a time by the staff of the Mathematics department at the school. Appearing approximately four times a year, it was an entertaining compilation of highly visual mathematical puzzles designed to appeal to children in their early to mid teens. Many of the problems seemed to focus on contemporary issues, such as aviation and space-travel, but clearly the puzzle setters, who included academics as well as schoolteachers, intended to cover as wide a range of subjects as possible.

Early in 1954 Collins and his wife moved to Doncaster—probably to a new school. They continued with Mathematical Pie, but in the late fifties decided to start another magazine with a similar format but this time devoted to teaching a slightly older readership about current affairs. The reasons for this new venture could be many, but judging from the content of Topic: 3, the couple were possibly concerned about the implications of the Cold War, tensions in the Middle East and, perhaps more of interest to schoolchildren, the Space Race, which had become a hot topic by 1960.It is possible that while Collins continued to edit his mathematics magazine, Mrs Collins played a major role in the new venture. We don’t really know, as Topic: 3 doesn’t mention the name of an editor.Jot 101 Topic 3 front cover 001

The reason why this particular copy of Topic:3 was found among the O’Donoghue archive can be found on page ten, where an article entitled ‘ Angry Young Men ‘ bears O’Donoghue’s name. By this time the author would have been around 30 years old ( we don’t know exactly when he was born). It would seem that after having been awarded his post-graduate teaching qualification (see earlier Jot) he had begun to teach English, although we don’t know if he was still a schoolteacher in 1960. His analysis of the Angry Young Man trend in contemporary drama and the novel is an astute and well-written appraisal of such writers as Kingsley Amis, John Wain, John Osborne, Richard Hoggart, Raymond Williams Colin Wilson and Arnold Wesker. From an examination of the newspaper clippings found in his archive at his death, it is very obvious that O’Donoghue was passionately interested in the movement and shared some of the beliefs held by its protagonists.   Continue reading

Oddities of London

Jot 101 Oddities of London Golden Boy picAbstracted from The Good Time Guide to London(1951)


The statue of George IV in Trafalgar Square shows the king, without boots or spurs, riding a horse without saddle or stirrups.


True. Incidentally,  Sir Francis Chantrey’s bronze of 1829 was originally made for Marble Arch.


On the floor of the entrance hall of the National Gallery is a mosaic of Great Garbo.


True .The Bloomsbury set mosaic artist Boris Anrep was commissioned to provide a number of art works for the Gallery based on specific themes and featuring a number of contemporary figures. On the half-way landing the actress Great Garbo appears as Melpomeme in ‘ The Awakening of the Muses ‘. 


On October 23rd, 1843, a few days before the statue of Nelson was erected, 14 persons ate a rump steak dinner on the top of Nelson’s column


True .Doubtless Punch ( founded 1841) would have had something witty to say about this matter. Continue reading

Selhurst—The Public School that never was


Jot 101 Selhurst Humphry Berkeley pic

Hoaxes, if done well, often fool people—even those who are generally regarded as reasonably intelligent. One that caught out some Oxbridge educated people who ought to have known better, was the piece of tom foolery dreamt up in 1948 by a  twenty-two year old Cambridge undergraduate who later became an MP. His name was Humphry Berkeley and he invented a public school called Selhurst whose head was a certain H. Rochester Sneath.


Berkeley tried an experiment with any undergraduates he came across. Steering the conversation towards the subject of where he went to school, Berkeley, when asked would reply: ‘Well, as a matter of fact I went to a school called Selhurst. The name was brilliant chosen. It had a plausibility about it, unless, of course, you knew that Selhurst Park was the home of Crystal Palace football club. Had you this knowledge you may have asked some probing questions, but doubtless in 1948 most Oxbridge undergraduates would not have been football fans. Anyway, Richard Boston takes up the story:


‘ Registering his questioner’s non-recognition of the name he would follow up with ‘ Haven’t you hard of Selhurst?’ Anxious not to cause offence his acquaintance would reply,’ Of course I’ve heard of it my dear fellow.’ After various such successful experiments Berkeley knew that he had found the perfect name for what he calls a minor public school of ‘ the third degree’.


The next move was to have some letter headings printed with words at the top reading ‘Selhurst School, Near Petworth, Sussex. From the Headmaster H. Rochester Sneath.’ At small expense but with considerable ingenuity, Berkeley was able to make a forwarding arrangement with the Post Office.  ( Another ruse was to pretend that he was on staying holiday with an imaginary sister to whom letters should be sent .) Now he was in business.


The first letter was to the Master of Marlborough College. H. Rochester Sneath announced that the three–hundreth anniversary of the foundation of Selhurst was coming up , and that he was anxious to have the opportunity of entertaining Their Majesties on the occasion. ‘Perhaps you would be kind enough to let me know how you managed to engineer a visit recently from   the King and Queen’. He also asked for any helpful tips about how to treat royalty. Continue reading

Did you know that…about writers ?

Jot 101 Did you know Tennyson picAdvances


Barbara Taylor Bradford received a £17 million advance from Harper Collins in 1992 for her next three novels


Stephen King was offered an advance of £26 million for a three-book deal in 1989


Tom Clancy received $75 million for a two-book deal with Penguin




Edgar Allan Poe was offered $14 for Eureka towards the end of his life, with the proviso that if the book didn’t earn that amount, he had to make up the difference to the publisher. In 1846 he offered to sell the copyright of a collection of his short stories for as little as $50. The offer was rejected.


Thomas Wolfe received only $500 for his massive work Look Homeward, Angel, which works out at about 1 of your English pennies for every 100 words.


Jack London got a $2,000 flat fee for The Call of the Wild in 1903. The book sold so well that he lost upwards of $100,000 by giving up the royalties.


Burnt books


After his death Gerard Manly Hopkins’ final poems were burned on the instructions of his religious order


Copies of John Milton’s books were burned publicly in 1660 because he was critical of Charles II. He went on, of course, to write Paradise Lost, but after he died his widow sold the copyright of it for £8.


When Moliere was in the process of translating Lucretius’s On the Nature of Things, one of his servants casually picked up some of the pages and used them as curl papers for Moliere’s wig. So enraged was Moliere that he threw the rest of the manuscript into the fire. 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

Some literary curiosities inspired by Aubrey Dillon Malone’s  Stranger than Fiction (1999)


James Allen, an American  robber, left orders that after he died a copy of his autobiography, which had appeared in 1837,  be bound in his own skin and presented to one of his victims, John A. Fenno, as a sign of his remorse. After his death Fenno’s family bequeathed it to the Boston Athenaeum, where it can now be viewed.


The first poem published under the name of Dylan Thomas ( ‘His Requiem’) wasn’t his own but was copied from The Boys Own Paper. It was only after Thomas had become famous that this plagiarism was reprinted as a curiosity piece.


Mark Twain reviewed his own book, The Innocents Abroad, anonymously in 1869.


The smallest book ever printed was the 1985 reprint of the children’s story ‘Old King Cole’ by the Gleniffer Press of Paisley in Scotland. It measures 0. 9 cm high and the pages can only be turned by a needle. Eighty-five copies were printed, one of which can be bought through Abebooks for $1,045.


The eccentric French novelist George Perec (1936 – 82) wrote a book called La Disparition ( The Disappearance) in 1969 which didn’t use the letter ‘e’.  The English writer Gilbert Adair translated the text as A Void in 1995, replicating the non-‘e’ format.  Perec also wrote a novel which contains no other vowels except‘ e’. The first edition of La Disparitionis hard to find, but there is a copy of the 1979 edition in Abebooks priced at a very reasonable £205 !!


The bibliophile Maurice Hamonneau has bound a copy of  Hitler’s Mein Kampf in, appropriately enough, skunk skin. He also has a copy of All Quiet on the Western Frontbound in a First World War uniform.


In 1996 a book by a joker called Richard Ferguson called WhatMen Know About Women appeared which consisted of 200 blank pages.


Richard Templeton’s novelty item, The Quick Brown Fox (1945 ) contains 33 sentences all of which contain 26 letters of the alphabet. A copy of this very short book can be had online for a mere $10.


Jerzy Andrzejewski’s The Gates of Paradise (1960 ) has no full stops until the very last page of the book, which contains 40,000 words.


American Lord Timothy Dexter’s A Pickle for the Knowing Ones(1802) has no punctuation whatsoever. However, in 1838 he added a page onto the book which contained various grammatical appendages, such as colons, semi-colons, commas, exclamation marks etc. These, he suggested were for readers to scatter throughout the book. No copies of the first or 1838 editions of this rarity can currently be found for sale online. Continue reading

Visionary Speech by Earl Russell (part 2)

This small folding pamphlet illustrated by Ralph Steadman and published in London by IMG_1869Open Head Press about 1980 at 50p has the full text of Earl Russell’s 1978 maiden speech to the House of Lords. John Conrad Russell was the son of Bertrand Russell. After the speech he left the House of Lords and was prevented from re-entering it by ushers. It is said to be the only speech given  in the Lords that is not fully recorded by Hansard. His proposal to give three quarters of the nation’s wealth to teenage girls had some coverage in the papers the next day. This is the second part of 3 and we have found it  is actually in Hansard. The next part, coming soon, after the interruption by Lord Wells Psestell (who apparently only ever spoke in the Lords about model railways) has never appeared apart from in this rare pamphlet –  found by us un ths collection of Dutch poet and radical Simon Vinkenoog.

The full prospects of industrial civilisation ought to he realised: it is a boon, it should be called a boon, it should be used as a boon. The free spirit in school should be preserved, so that Sir Isaac Newton returns to us. Sweden and France have modernised themselves; all other nations in Europe, including Britain, should follow their example. A nation with industrial power should use it for benefit. There are other points in which a modernising nation modernising itself could improve its administration. For instance, lunatics could he looked after individually, and it could be found out what is missing from them, and the world which is missing from them could be 277 restored. The madness of the Cold War could also be removed by the whole human race, since it is quite evident that neither Communist not American exists, but only persons. What makes it abundantly clear is the saying of “little Audrey”, who laughed and laughed because she knew that only God could make a tree. Mr. Brezhnev and Mr. Carter are really the same person: one lunatic certifiable, or, in American terms, one nation, indivisible, with prisonment and lunacy for all.

In a word, the entire human race can banish the Cold War, with one word, by simply saying: “You don’t exist.” This fact ought to be recognised in practice, with logical recognition by the statement concerned, so that the aims of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament can be realised, and there can be disarmament throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Insight into the truth of this statement must be acknowledged, so that logic may take hold of the mind.

The CIA should be banished from Western Europe, and Euro-communism should be substituted for the present bosses of the Common Market as the prevailing social and economic system in Europe. The Portuguese Revolution should be defended and emulated throughout Western Europe. President Carter should be brought to a full halt in his “Fulton Speech” programme for Europe, in which he mentioned Paris, Rome and Lisbon by name. There should be revolutions throughout Latin America, in accordance with the wish of His Holiness the Pope; and the CIA should be driven out from every nation of Latin America. The original Indian nation should be restored to sovereignty. It goes without saying that all prisoners throughout all these areas would be released and are released from prison and are no longer whipped and tortured. Continue reading

Visionary Speech by Earl Russell (part 1)

Found – a small folding pamphlet illustrated by Ralph Steadman and published in London by IMG_1869Open Head Press about 1980 at 50p. It has the full text of Earl Russell’s 1978 maiden speech to the House of Lords. John Conrad Russell was the son of Bertrand Russell. After the speech he left the House of Lords and was prevented from re-entering it by ushers. It is said to be the only speech given  in the Lords that is not fully recorded by Hansard. His poposal to give three quarters of the nation’s wealth to teenage girls had some coverage in the papers the next day, but the speech is rather forgotten (until now). Here is the first part. More to follow.

My Lords, I rise to raise the question of penal law and lawbreakers as such and question whether a modern society is wise to speak in terms of lawbreakers at all. A modern nation looks after everybody and never punishes them. If it has a police force at all, the police force is the Salvation Army and gives hungry and thirsty people cups of tea. If a man takes diamonds from a shop in Hatton Garden, you simply give him another bag of diamonds to take with him. I am not joking. Such is the proper social order for modern Western Europe, and all prisons ought to be abolished throughout its territories. Of course the Soviet Union and the United States could include themselves in these reforms too. Kindness and helping people is better than punitiveness and punishing them, a constructive endeavour is better than a destructive spirit. If anybody is in need, you help him, you do not punish him. Putting children into care and other forms of spiritual disinheritance ought to be stopped. Borstal ought to be stopped and the workings of the Mental Health Act which empowers seizure of people by the police when they are acting in a way likely be harmful to themselves or others or to be looked into.


What are you? Soulless robots? Schoolmasters who are harsh with schoolboys who later as a result burn down the schoolhouse ought to be more human. Schoolboys in any case are present treated with indescribable severity which crushes their spirits and leaves them unnourished. The police ought to be totally prevented from ever molesting young people at all or ever putting them into jails and raping them, and putting them into brothels or sending them out to serve other people sexually against their wills.

The spirit ought to be left free, and chaining it has injured the creative power of the nation. The young unemployed are not in any way to have become separate from governmental power, but ought to have been given enough to live on out of the national wealth to look after themselves and never ask themselves even to think  of working while there is no work to be had. Continue reading

Snobs in the Arts

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

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’.


Harold Wilson’s playlist for Desert Island Discs

Found – Harold Wilson’s handwritten  playlist for Desert Island Discs from about 1969. In the end  never appeared on the show, although his wife Mary did..Only the list remains. Bought at Hansons Auctions in May 2019 in a large sale of books, papers and objects from his estate. These included some of his pipes and a novelty HP Sauce bottle. It was in the news.  No real shocks here, certainly no rock or pop and not even a crooner.. The Stanley Holloway Yorkshire Pudding piece (‘a poem in a batter’) is an amusing recitation of just less than 3 minutes that they might have played in its entirety. It is possible that the whole thing could be recreated using the actor Jason Watkins currently playing Harold Wilson in the Crown. But who would play Roy Plomley?

Huddersfield Choral Philharmonic ‘Behold I tell you a mystery..’
followed by ‘The Trumpet Shall Sound
40 Years On sung by anyone
First movement Italian Symphony
Tchaikovsky Symphony number five second side i.e. 3rd movement (part of it anyway)
Schubert Symphony (crossed out)
Radetzky March Last night of the proms or Black Dyke
I’ll see you again George Metaxa (name crossed out)
Stanley Holloway – How the first Yorkshire pudding was made
England arise the long long night is over
This is my lovely day George Metaxa and… (all crossed out)
Danny Kaye: Candy Kisses
Mine eyes have seen the glory ( Not Mormon Tabernacle Choir)
Poor wandering One: Pirates of Penzance D’Oyly Carte version
Liddel’s Abide with me Clara B.. (crossed out)
The Day thou gavest, Lord is ended
RESERVES: As time goes by and Dvorak 8th Slavonic dance


Edith Allonby—-the novelist who had to commit suicide to get published

‘I have found another way… ‘So wrote fantasy novelist Edith Allonby (1875 – 1905) in a note Edith Allonby photographfound on her lap following her suicide, aged just thirty, in December 1905. When discovered she was sitting in a comfortable chair dressed in a silk evening gown with fresh flowers in her hair. By her side was an empty bottle of phenol (carbolic acid), the poison of choice (bleach was another) for many suicides in the UK at that time, due to its availability and quick, but painful, action.

For Allonby, a schoolmistress from Cartmel, Lancashire whose two previous works of ‘ satirical fantasy ‘, Jewel Sowers (1903) and Marigold 
(1905),  both set on the imaginary planet of Lucifram, had not sold well, there seemed little choice. In her suicide note she explained that after four years of labour on her latest book , a spiritual fantasy about life and death that she claimed had been given to her by God, her publisher Greening had rejected the manuscript, as had other publishers. ‘I have tried in vain ‘, she wrote,’ …yet shall The Fulfilment reach the people to whom I appeal, for I have found another way…’

That way was an act that would make her posthumous book a sensation at the time, for Greening did change their minds about its publication once the author was dead. It came out in a limited edition, which makes it and her previous two novels, scarce and valuable items today. It is possible that originally all the publishers to whom it was shown simply found the subject matter of The Fulfilmenttoo difficult to deal with. The author herself admitted that her book contained ‘either truth or page upon page of blasphemy ‘. Today, we are more open minded on spiritual matters.  [R.M.Healey]

Edith Allonby The Fulfillment 1905 cover