TV versus the movies in fifties America

In recent years much has been predicted concerning the demise of movie theatres as a result of the popularity of streaming. Why, it is argued, would cinemagoers make the effort and pay money to visit a movie theatre when they could sit at home and watch the film on their TV screen through something like a Netflix subscription ?

Microwave repeater station

Back in fifties America, long before the Internet was even thought of  and movies weren’t available to hire or buy, our man in America, Alistair Cooke, was voicing  the fears of many movie makers who saw TV as their most dangerous rival. In a broadcast dated 10th June 1954 and afterwards published in the Listener, Cooke pointed out that since 1950:

’… the paying audience for movies has been going steadily —at first violently– down. It is now down by about thirty per cent….fewer and fewer people are going to the movies. This in as four year period in which the national income is higher, the number of people in jobs greater, than at any period in American history…’

The effect on Hollywood, according to Cooke, was devastating. The fifty or sixty big-time stars remained unaffected, but the bit players and others employed in the movie industry were certainly victims of the down turn:   

‘…  Feature players who have been doing nicely for ten, or even twenty, years suddenly do not appear any more. There is a lot of doubling up of casts, and economical commuting of actors between studios. About fifty per cent of the writers on long-term contracts have been fired, and there had been a general paring-down of technical crews, and rehearsal time , and costs….’

Movie makers were loathe to  admit that TV was the villain of the piece, but everyone in the industry knew the truth. And everyone who drove around the States could identify how the landscape was changing due to the mushrooming of the new medium.

Continue reading

Sayings of Good Hope

When the Morning Post —a newspaper to which Coleridge had contributed in the early nineteenth century—began publishing ‘ heartening sayings’ in 1927 under the title ‘The Trivet of Great Thoughts’ ( taking this title from a medieval book reputed to be in the library of St.Victoire in Paris ) and paying half a guinea to readers whose contributions it published– it’s unlikely that any at the Post believed that this feature would prove as popular as it did. Yet six years later five anthologies had been published, including this second pocket edition of 1933, which we at Jot HQ found in the archives.

 Screen Shot 2022-11-18 at 7.03.45 PM

The Morning Post was the leading Tory newspaper of its day ( in 1937 it was gobbled up by The Daily Telegraph).and was edited by the notorious Tory troublemaker , H. A. Gwynne . Geoffrey Grigson—a socialist —called it  a ‘ gentlemanly Fascist paper .and was possibly persuaded to join its staff as the putative Literary Editor when an offer came from one of its journalists, partly by the generous salary offered and partly because of  Coleridge, who was then one of the ‘heroes ‘ of his pantheon. The editor of the five anthologies, who called himself ‘Peter Piper’, was possibly E.B. Osborn, who though nominally the Literary Editor, was old and lazy and apparently did little or anything in this role, leaving all the work to Grigson. Incidentally, no copy of Osborn’s autobiography, E.B.O., which according to William Matthews was published in 1937, can be found anywhere in global public collections, the only feasible explanation being  that all copies of it were destroyed in a fire. If any in the Jottosphere can find a copy would they please contact Jot 101 urgently? Continue reading

‘Socially Significant People ‘, according to Tatler in 1992 How they have risen…or fallen (2)



Mark Thatcher.


Ex-Harrovian, ex racing driver and Texan resident now runs a consultancy company in Dallas called Grantham—a homage to his mother Maggie’s home town. The consultancy’s interests include an ostrich farm and two security companies. Maggie’s decision to request a baronetcy for Denis was seem by many as a method of paving Mark’s future for him.


And those ‘ many’ were probably right. Most journalists ( and not just journalists ) visibly bridle when they are obliged to use Mark Thatcher’s, totally unearned  aristocratic arrested at his home in Constantia, Cape Town ( see Darius Guppy in previous Jot) title. Since 1992 he has been on the front pages for all the wrong reasons. In 2004 he was and charged with contravening two sections of the country’s Foreign Military Assistance Act which bans South African residents from any foreign military activity. Ultimately, in a plea-bargaining arrangement, Thatcher pleaded guilty to being involved in setting up a coup. He was fined R3m and given a four-year suspended prison sentence. As a result of this conviction he was refused entry to the U.S. and Switzerland and told to leave Monaco, where he had been holed up.


Trinny Woodall


Pencil-thin Trinny is the ex-girlfriend of Constantine Niarchos. She is a perennially glamorous, vivacious girl-about-town who is said to make men faint with desire.

 Still slimmish, still ( at 58) glamorous. Not sure she still makes men ‘ faint with desire ‘, but perhaps she doesn’t need to make rich men want her as she is a lot richer than shewas in 1992 thanks to her almost overnight success on TV as the co-host ( with Susannah Constantine) of ‘What Not to Wear ‘, which ran from 2002 to 2005. She subsequently co-wrote a number of best seller spin offs from the programme. She seems to have inherited business acumen from her father, a banker, and her grandfather, Sir John Duncanson, who was head honcho of the British Iron and Steel Federation.


Julie Burchill


Joined the NME as a teenager. At the age of 31 she was earning $110,000 a year for airing her controversial views each week with the Mail on Sunday. She has written several collections of essays and a bestselling novel, Ambition, which is now being made into a film. Has a son, Bobby Kennedy, by first husband journalist Tony Parsons, and another by second husband, journalist Cosmo Landesman. She communicates only by fax. Continue reading

The BBC Christmas Schedules for 1932

9-1932-Dec-23--500x643Following on from a recent Jot exploring what the BBC were offering as TV entertainment for Christmas 1932 — half an hour from 11 pm onwards showing either a singer crooning into a microphone, female dancers prancing about in special costumes, or a short poem or play – we at Jot HQ thought it might be interesting to examine what listeners could expect to enjoy throughout the rest of the festive season.

First, we should explain that in the ‘thirties the Radio Times, though ostensibly a guide to radio schedules, was also a kind of feature magazine in which along with the programme information  could be found other entertainment in the form of short stories or feature articles. In this particular issue we find material by well-known authors which, in most cases, had little or anything to do with the actual programmes. For instance, in this special Christmas number we find a tale by Compton Mackenzie entitled ‘ New Lamps for Old ‘, a new Lord Peter Wimsey story  from Dorothy L. Sayers called ‘ The Queen’s Square, a satirical skit by Winifred Holtby entitled ‘ Mr Ming Escapes Christmas’, a memoir from popular travel writer S. P. B. Mais , a comic confection by D. B. Wyndham Lewis and a rather tiresome  faux medieval dramatic piece by Eleanor and Herbert Farjeon. There were also a couple of ‘poems ‘and some similarly light features by a handful of lesser known writers.

It must be said that while the writing sometimes fails to impress, the illustrations that accompany it are usually charming in the best traditions of the Radio Times. For instance the cover ( see earlier Jot ) of the magazine is  characteristic art work from book illustrator Edward Ardizonne, while some superb illustrations from the gifted illustrator John Austen , who was to become a favourite of the Radio Times, decorated the borders of the Farjeon piece. Other notable illustrators included Mervyn Wilson,  Roland Pym and Clixby Watson. It goes without saying too that the adverts ( some full page) are no less captivating, most notably the wonderful back cover colour advert for Bovril by Alfred Lees featuring the ghost of Jacob Marley. Continue reading

Richard Hoggart and the Culture Wars of the sixties

I just missed being taught by Richard Hoggart at my University, which is a pity, since I was very
impressed by his arguments in The Uses of Literacyand would have enjoyed listening to him discussing some of the ramifications of his book in lectures and seminars. Never mind.

Jot 101 Richard Hoggart pic

Today the hot subjects of the chattering classes are the Culture Wars, especially those   being played out on social media. Hardly a day goes by without some academic or TV presenter being arraigned on Twitter for his or her remarks on cancel culture or identity issues. Back in 1961, however, there were different sort of Culture Wars raging in the columns of newspapers and magazines and Hoggart was one of the commentators whose words carried weight.


So Hoggart’s review of Richard Wollheim’s Fabian pamphlet Socialism and Culture (1961) in the New Statesman, though seemingly passé in today’s overheated political climate remains a perceptive commentary on a raging issue of the time which has implications today for the qualities of intellectual debate in newspapers, on social media and the inherent values ( or non-values) of those producing TV. It is also interesting as being, probably, the last critique on cultural life in which those horrible terms ‘ high brow’ and ‘low brow’ are used, in this case,  in a derogatory way.


Hoggart takes issue with the crude, unintelligent and lazy discrimination used by some commentators on social culture in the past that identified ‘ lowbrow ‘ culture with that enjoyed by the ‘ lower orders ‘ ( presumably the working class ) and ‘ mass culture ‘ with that enjoyed by the ‘ 80 per cent who have not been to a grammar school’ ( presumably most of the working class plus a section of the lower middle class).


‘ The crucial distinctions to-day are not those between The News of the World and The Observer, between the Third Programme and the Light Programme, between sex-and-violence  paperbacks and ‘ egghead ‘ paperbacks, between Bootsie and Snudge and the Alan Taylor lectures, between the Billy Cotton Band Show and the Brains Trust, between the Top Ten and a celebrity concert, or between ‘ skiffle ‘ and chamber music. The distinctions we should be making are those between the News of the World and the Sunday Pictorial, between ‘ skiffle ‘ and the Top Ten; and for ‘ highbrows’ between The Observer and the Sunday Times, or in ‘ egghead ‘paperbacks, between Raymond Williams and Vance Packard.
Continue reading

A Christmas number of the Radio Times

Christmas Radio Times 1932 cover 001 

Next year the BBC will be a hundred years old. To celebrate this momentous anniversary Jot 101 is looking at the Christmas 1932 number of the Radio Times,which can be found in your Jotter’s private collection.


The issue in question is the ‘ Southern edition ‘,which gives a flavour of the Corporation’s output, although it seems to exclude Northern England and Scotland.


Obviously, the festive period was a chance for the BBC to broadcast some of its best wireless programmes, but the magazine is also significant in that it tells us about the latest development of the period, which was Television. In the UK (other countries seem to have been more advanced in this area) the BBC were committed to the Baird system of ‘ low definition ‘ Television. This used a rather primitive method of revolving discs to scan an image of performers standing between two sets of photo-electric cells. Because the apparatus was comparatively rudimentary the result was a distinctly blurred image. The performers also needed to apply heavy make up and adopt a certain costume in order to convey their presence across the ether. Television broadcasting using this basic system began in August 1932, essentially as an experiment. Radio was king at the time and Television was relegated to a mere half hour of ‘ entertainment ‘ tagged on to the end of the day’s programmes at around 11 pm.


The TV fare offered by the BBC for this half hour was pretty basic and usually consisted ( in late 1932 at least) of a short dramatic reading and some singing or dancing. On December 27th, for instance, viewers were treated to a ‘Christmas Puppet Play ‘ entitled ‘Robinson Crusoe’ in which a certain Nell St John Montague was accompanied by a dancer called Priscilla Sarsfield. On the following evening ‘Donald Peers, Collins and Annette ( a Song and Dance Trio)’ did their thing accompanied by the dancer Rosemary Reynolds. Continue reading

Gilbert Harding—-the ‘rudest man in Britain ‘?

Gilbert Harding manners cover 001The recent sudden fall from grace of Tudor historian and broadcaster David Starkey over his remarks on the Black Lives Matter campaign recalls to mind another broadcaster of an earlier decade whose detractors also dubbed him ‘ the rudest man in Britain’—Gilbert Harding. This shared reputation comes to mind as we discovered a copy at Jot HQ of the very funny and often wise treatise on good behaviour, Gilbert Harding’s Book of Manners(1956).

The two men had a number of other things in common. Both were from humble backgrounds and both were graduates of Cambridge University. Starkey came from Kendal, where his Quaker father worked as a factory foreman and his mother was once a cotton spinner. Harding was born in Hereford, where his mother and father were the ‘matron’ and ‘master’ of an orphanage in the city. When his father died aged thirty the young Gilbert was sent to a charitable educational institution. In contrast, Starkey, who considered studying science before opting for the humanities, had a somewhat easier path to academic distinction, though he had a breakdown at age 13. Starkey is openly gay, whereas Harding had to hide his sexuality at a time when homosexuality was illegal.

Both men became broadcasters, almost by accident. While teaching at the LSE Starkey, having obtained his Ph D on the household of Henry VIII, became a panel member of BBC Radio’s ‘Moral Maze ‘, which is where he obtained his reputation for plain speaking. By this time Harding had been dead for over twenty years, but it possible that the young Starkey might have been impressed enough by the broadcaster’s irascible performances on ‘What’s My Line ‘in the fifties to have thought about modelling himself on him at some future time. Harding had entered the BBC in his late twenties after short spells as a schoolteacher, policeman and foreign correspondent. Continue reading

The Cinema Serial —-early twentieth century verse in praise of a silent film


Jot cinema very early scottish cinemaFound interleaved in an exercise book inscribed ‘ Recitations ‘, which contains a variety of both original material and copies in different hands of extracts from published recitations that were the staple of Music Hall acts from the late Victorian period to around the time of the First World War, is this piece of doggerel entitled ‘The Cinema Serial’.

The piece, which is probably original, describes the experience of viewing the ninety–third episode of an imaginary  thriller entitled ‘ Philip’s Phantom Quest’ in a ‘large suburban’ picture palace, probably in Scotland. The whole item is of interest to historians of the Cinema, not only because the film’s subject matter  reflects the contemporary panic surrounding the ‘ Yellow Peril ‘, but also because the preamble to the filmic action tells us something about the experience of visiting a cinema in the  early twentieth century:

‘ In a large suburban palace with the

Latest films portrayed,

Where in darkness hands are clasped

And cupid’s hits are often made

Fair maids their heads on manly shoulders

Ceased awhile to lean

For the title of the next film

Has appeared upon the screen

There’s a buzz of approbation

From the young folks one & all

In excitement one wee laddie

Swallows half a butter ball.

Love’s whisperings subside

As folks prepare to gaze with zest

For ‘tis Episode the ninety-third

Of Philip’s Phantom Quest…’

The verse continues with an account of Philip’s enemy, a Chinaman humorously named Ah Choo, whose ‘average of weekly murders stands at four point three’. This villain is evidently modelled on the protagonist of Sax Rohmer’s famous novel The Mystery of Fu Manchu, which had been published in 1913. Continue reading

A survey of homosexuality in the theatre

Encore magazine cover 001Six years before homosexual acts between consenting adults were legalised Encore, the ‘little magazine’ devoted to contemporary theatre, published in Jan-Feb 1961, a perceptive item by ‘Roger Gellert’ entitled ‘A Survey of the Treatment of the Homosexual in some plays’. Gellert was the pseudonym of the one-time Third Programme announcer John Holmstrom, who left the BBC to become a playwright and theatre critic, only to return as an announcer on Radio Three and a contributor to Test Match Special.

Encorewas just the sort of publication that you might expect to find such a radical item. It advertised itself as ‘ the voice of vital theatre ‘ and was edited by Clive Goodwin (1932 – 78 ), who in the previous year  had also published essays on Arden, Pinter, Arthur Miller, Ionesco, Wesker, Negro Theatre and ‘ Billy Liar’. Goodwin, incidentally, was an actor and writer who was married for a short while to the tragic pioneer of Pop art, Pauline Boty.

Gellert’s approach to a subject that was still a ‘ problem ‘ for theatregoers in Western culture was to emphasise that to the ‘ bisexual ‘ Shakespeare, to Marlowe and the Restoration dramatists, homosexuality was regarded as something to be accepted and laughed at, rather than condemned as immoral. Then, after two hundred or more years of ‘ silence’ on the subject, the whole issue, according to Gellert, was resurrected with the staging of Mordaunt Shairp’s play of 1933, The Green Bay Tree, in which the audience is invited to laugh once more, this time at the extraordinary camp utterances of the gay protagonist, Mr Dulcimer, a sort of aesthete of the Oscar Wilde type, who grooms an innocent  boy for his own amusement , but is shot dead as punishment for his decadence.

As Gellert argues, The Green Bay Treeis a shallow ‘entertainment ‘rather than a serious comment on the plight of homosexuals in society. That more sympathetic attitude emerged in the post war years with such plays as William Douglas Home’s Now, Barabbas, in which a rather pathetic ex-schoolmaster serving time for sex crimes pesters a young prisoner. Gellert also credits Arthur Miller’s View from the Bridge,Philip King’s Serious Charge, Lilian Hellman’s The Children’s Hourand Robert Anderson’s Tea and Sympathy, for airing serious issues around homo sexuality, though he accuses the latter of doing so at a ‘ very shallow level’. Continue reading

Movie trivia

Anthony Perkins was not on the set when the famous shower scene was filmed in Psycho. The director, Alfred Hitchcock, went into the shower to deal the fatal blow.

Jot 101 Movie trivia cover 001

Peter Sellers produced a film at a cost of £6,000 starring Britt Ekland, Lord Snowdon and Princess Margaret ( as Queen Victoria) and presented it to the Queen on her thirty-ninth birthday in 1965.


  1. C. Fields once sold a story line which he had written on the back of an envelope for $25,000.


The first public appearance of a movie was at the ‘Koster and Bials’ Music Hall in New York on 23 April 1896.


The first animated film was Gertie the Dinosaur(1909), drawn by Winsor McCay.


Robert Mitchum could read and write by the age of three.


Warren Beatty was once a rat-catcher


Dirk Bogarde’s father was art correspondent for The Times.


In Emma Hamilton, a film set in 1804, Big Ben manages to strike, although it wasn’t built for another fifty years.


The first person to appear naked on the screen was Hedy Lamarr


The first film with a story was The Great Train Robberyin 1903. Continue reading

Laurence Olivier’s Stage Fright


Laurence Olivier_with Joan_Plowright in ‘The Entertainer’

Sorting papers recently I found an EPCA Newsletter (European Personal Constructs Association - PC Psychology deals with personality and attitude change) from 1998.  It had a book review quoting Laurence Olivier on his stage fright.

"With each succeeding minute,  it became less possible to resist the terror.  My cue came, and I went in to that stage where I knew with grim certainty I would not be capable of remaining more than a few minutes ...".

The book itself  The Person Behind the Mask: a Guide to Performing Arts Psychology  (London, Ablex 1997)  was written by Linda H. Hamilton.  She had been a ballet dancer from age 8 to 26, then became a Clinical Psychologist.  Her book cites research conducted over one year at the University of California's Health Program for Performing Artists, when 25% of patients had psychological problems including "severe anxiety and/or depression, personality disorders somataform disorders, psychoses and suicidal behaviour (p84)".  The reviewer goes on to say that the book "deals in some detail with the characteristic problems of public self-display e.g. unrealistic weight requirements, debilitating injuries which hamper performance or prevent it altogether, and stage fright and points out that it is time the professions themselves woke up to the need to pay attention to their own occupational realities".

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

Applying for the Garrick Club 1954

IMG_5579Found among the papers of Ifan Kyrle Fletcher writer, expert on the history of theatre and bookseller, a bunch of correspondence from 1954 relating to his application for membership of the London club, the Garrick. One member writes that he has just posted his proposal and reminds him to get the ‘seconder’s letter from Carter as soon as convenient.’ Another writes that he is delighted to write to the Commissioner of the Garrick and also to arrange for his name to be placed in IFK’s page in the candidate’s book. Another letter says that Carter (John) is in America and  ‘his name will be entered as your seconder by proxy as long as he writes the necessary letter.’   One correspondent – St.Vincent Troubridge writes: ‘I rather fear the tendency by publisher members to knife a bookseller. Now this voodoo seems to have been lifted by the recent election of Peter Murray Hill, so I have no doubt you will now balloon in. In my view you have been wise to wait a little and let someone else break what ice there may have been about.’ Are ‘balloon’ and ‘knife’  still current clubland jargon?  Another member notes:

I hope you’re not expecting to find a very large number of theatrical members, because, if so, you may be disappointed…about a third of the total are publishers, another third are connected with the law, while the remaining third covers all the arts, other professions and riff-raff like myself. Incidentally lawyers and barristers are, I find, much more interesting people than actors. In the main the latter have only one topic of conversation, namely themselves. Today you have nine names to your credit which is a good start. Would you like to lunch with me one day to meet more members for greater support?

Things change slowly in London’s clubland, so many of these procedures may still be in place. Not sure if IFK ever became a member. He certainly would have known more about the actor David Garrick (after whom the club was named) than almost any member. In 1938 he issued a catalogue devoted to ‘Garrickana’  commemorating the 160th anniversary of Garrick’s death…

Burgess the Grunter

Anthony Burgess picIn a follow-up to an earlier Jot on the inspiration behind the film ‘Quest for Fire’ we found a clipping from The Observerof 9thNovember 1980 reporting on how  novelist Anthony  Burgess and zoologist Desmond ‘ Naked Ape’ Morris were called in by the producers of the film to advise on how Stone Age man might have communicated.

Morris was consulted on the non-verbal aspects of communication, while the ‘dialogue’, which consisted totally of grunts and shrieks, was the work of Burgess, who was probably chosen because of the fake language he had devised for the protagonists in A Clockwork Orange, which had been filmed using his screenplay. He seems to have found the task of creating grunts irksome: ‘Hell of a lot of work creating a language on basic principles’, he told the Observerreporter. He added that the original choice of Iceland for a location might have been better than Aviemore in Scotland, which was chosen in its place when the expense and logistic complications of shipping fourteen elephants to the island became an obstacle, along with the fact that an erupting volcano had destroyed the chosen location there. So Aviemore was felt to be a safer and cheaper alternative. However, Burgess still maintained that ‘The light’s good in ‘Iceland’.

On the Wednesday following the Observer report the whole 80 strong team, minus the elephants, who had been disguised as woolly mammoths, flew off to Kenya, where the remainder of the film was shot. The movie was eventually released to general acclaim. Excerpts can be seen online, so that viewers may judge the authenticity of Burgess’s grunts. [R.M.H. ]


La Guerre du Feu ( The Quest for Fire)

Quest for fire cover 1967La Guerre du Feu, an early fantasy novel, probably written by Joseph Henri Honore Boex (1856 – 1940), one of two Belgian brothers who often wrote fiction together under the pseudonym J.H Rosny-Aine. was published in 1911 by the Bibliotheque-Charpentier in Paris. It is said to have been first translated into English by Harold Talbott in 1967. If this is true, it is odd that the acclaimed journalist and translator Eric Mosbacher in his note of 8.5.1979 ( shown) stated that this ‘ remarkably uninspired story’ was ‘ totally undeserving of translation ‘ and that the Souvenir Press should decline it. It is possible, of course, that a translation into a language other than English was proposed. Mosbacher translated from French, Italian and German.

Mosbacher’s description of the original novel reflects his utter disdain for it; the final line of his summary: ‘the caste (sic) also includes mammoths, tigers, etc’ says it all. Nevertheless, the producer of the movie, set in palaeolithic Europe, and based on the translation, seems to have been happy with the story, and ‘The Quest for Fire’ , with a budget of $12m, a director in Jean-Jacques Arnaud, and a cast that included the facially challenged Ron Perlman in his debut role and Rae Dawn Chong as the love interest, was released in 1981. It made $40m at the box office, gave Chong a well deserved award for her performance and garnered an Academy Award for make –up. Not bad, considering that the dialogue was restricted to grunts and shrieks. It launched the movie careers of both Chong and Perlman, with the latter starring as the deformed, simian-like creature Salvatore in The Name of the Rose.

It is not known whether Mosbacher ever saw the movie (unlikely) or that he regretted not accepting the invitation to translate it, if indeed the job had been offered to him. He and his wife, Gwenda David, also a translator and who incidentally I visited in her Hampstead home years later, continue to work together until his death in 1997. [R.M.Healey]


Mosbacher unfavourable verdict on translation 001

Rognon de la Flèche and ‘Treasons Bargain’

Treasons BargainFound – an art catalogue from 1990 of an exhibition at the Michael Parkin Gallery in Belgravia, London. Rognon de la Flèche was the name by which Lady Cara Harris was known in her role as an artist. Parkin’s intro explains:
Rognon de la Flèche was the pseudonym of Lady Cara Harris and literally means ’ the tale of the arrow’ or more to the point ‘the sting in the tale’…To mention her name to old friends like John Betjeman, John Sutro, Adrian Daintry, Cecil Beaton and David Herbert would bring forth a knowing smile, almost instantaneous laughter and the inevitable hilarious story. I personally love the one of her daughters wedding date when she forced the somewhat reluctant bride-to-be to accompany her to Harrods to choose some new bath taps..having wasted the Harrod’s assistants time for several hours not to mention her by know somewhat agitated daughter’s – she apologized serenely remarking that she was suffering from the severe problem of ‘bidet fixée.’

The only daughter of the redoubtable Mabel Batten, known as ‘Ladye’ who was a ‘close friend’ of both Edward VII and Johnnie Radclyffe Hall, author of The Well of Loneliness, Cara Harris was also the mother-in-law of Osbert Lancaster. The art of Rognon de la Flèche 1865 to 1931 (Lady Cara Harris continued until 1952) was first shown in December 1933, at the Warren Gallery, in Bond Street. Now some 57 years we are showing not only repeated this eccentric exhibition but also a collection of homemade dolls whose births, marriages and social activities became regular features in the pages of The Times and Tatler. Also showing during the exhibition will be one of her remarkable films Treasons Bargain (1937). Described as having five acts and 106 scenes it stars an elderly aristocrat (Lady Cara) who successfully outwits the ‘baddie’ Catptain Desmond Sneyke (Osbert Lancaster) and features performances by Lord Berners, Sybil Colefax, Lord Donegal, Victor Cunard, John Betjeman and and Cecil Beaton…’ Continue reading

John Osborne and Billy Bennett

John Osborne picFound, a letter dated 6th December 1990 from someone called Rudi to the playwright John Osborne, whom he addresses as ‘ Colonel’, presumably a reference to Colonel Redl, the protagonist of Osborne’s controversial play A Patriot For Me (1965).

The letter accompanies a copy of Billy Bennett’s Third Budget of Burlesque Monologues (c1940), which Rudi had sent Osborne as a sixty-first birthday present. The Music Hall star Bennett ( 1887 – 1942), a unique comic presence on the stage and on radio from 1919, was a great favourite of Osborne’s, as indeed he was of Tommy Cooper, Ken Dodd and Eric Morecambe. Bennett’s billing as ‘ almost a gentleman ‘ was used by the playwright as the title of his second volume of memoirs. Here is the letter in full: Continue reading

Product placement in 1908


Samtogen,_King_of_TonicsRemember the moral furore when Fay Weldom included references to Bulgari watches in her novel The Bulgari Connection ? She admitted being paid wheelbarrows of money for this blatant puff. But product placement in fiction is not new. Warreniana , the bestseller published in 1824 by the novelist, parodist and short story writer William Frederick Deacon (1799 – 1845), purports to be a collection of prose and verse by contemporary writers in praise of Warren’s Blacking– the boot polish bottled by the young Charles Dickens in the early 1820s. It is not known whether Deacon received a bung, but as the first edition appears to have been quite large, it is possible that the publishers were financially rewarded by Warren for printing an unusually large number of copies.

Deacon was primarily a comic writer. Few, if any, serious nineteenth century writers would ever consider augmenting their incomes from writing by referencing a commercial product. One that did, however, was American journalist, novelist and short story writer Charles Stokes Wayne, who under the pseudonym Henry Hazeltine decided to see what would happen if he mentioned the restorative effects of Sanatogen in his Confession of a Neurasthenic (1908). Continue reading

Television—1930s style

TV set 1936

Many thanks TVHistory.Tv

We have noticed in an earlier Jot that one of the first—or indeed the first– mention of the word ‘television’ in poetry was in Poems by Michael Roberts (1936). But in the October 1936 issue of the literary miscellany Medley can be found a remark by the playwright and Punch humourist A.P.Herbert taken from The Listener.

‘This latest miracle (television) fills me with odd, inconsequent thoughts. For example, will it be possible, I wonder, to switch off the sound and retain the sight? This would enhance the wicked satisfaction of cutting off what one dislikes. One could continue to gaze at the golden girl who will sing sharp, without having to listen to her.’

This is an interesting observation in that the first regular high definition broadcasts from Alexander Palace began on November 2nd 1936. As Mr Herbert was writing in the Listener a month or several months before this time, he based his observations on the period when the Baird system was operating alternatively with the high definition electronic system. It was then decided by the BBC that the high definition system supplied the superior picture and therefore should prevail, and that essentially is the system that we have today.

With the victory of the high definition system came a renewed demand for TV receivers—and a number of companies that had gained a reputation for producing radio receivers competed in this new market. Although these TV sets seem to have been basically superannuated radios that supplied the wavelength for the TV broadcasts, it should have been possible to turn the sound down and retain the picture. [R.M.Healey]


The Old Codgers

s-l400Found – a cheap paperback called The Daily Mirror Old Codgers Little Black Book (Wolfe, London 1975.)  The book is billed as ‘100s of funny, curious and strange facts from the world famous Live Letters column…’ The Old Codgers  column, where readers wrote in to get answers on all manner of things, had begun in 1936, apparently the idea of the newspaper’s  proprietor Hugh (later Lord) Cudlipp. It finished in 1990 by which time The Mirror’s thrusting new editor Roy Greenslade considered its old fashioned and said it was “putting off the younger readers we are trying to attract.”

An article at the time in one of the broadsheets said that while the world went through ‘convulsive’ changes the Codgers remained in ‘a pre-war era redolent of flat caps, allotments,racing pigeons and Woodbine cigarettes…’ There was a bit of protest when it was axed but considering that the Codgers were receiving a 100 letters a day it was fairly muted. They often referred to their legendary Little Black Book that  claimed to contain ‘all information known to man.’ In the days of the web most of the questions that readers sent it could now be very quickly answered. Google is now ‘the little black book.’  The questions were often sent it to settle arguments ‘down the pub’. The most common question in the latter period of the Codgers was whether Stan Laurel was Clint Eastwood’s father. The Codgers research showed he was not. Below are two fairly typical Codgers answers to questions on  ‘Slippery Wednesday’ and the origin of the phrase ‘Mad as a hatter.’

‘Slippery Wednesday’ is another day that has stuck in older memories because of its dire conditions. A former horse carman recalled how he had to put sacks on his horses hooves and his own feet to get about, and that pedestrians were ‘going down like ninepins’, because of the ice. But he couldn’t remember the exact date, only that it was a Wednesday in the 1920s. We were able to tell him that it was December 21, 1927 when severe frost on overnight rain caused chaos in London and other parts of the country, resulting in thousands of street accidents.

‘Mad as a hatter’ dates from the days when hats were made of felt which was processed by having mercury rubbed over it. The unfortunate men who did the job got mercury poisoning which caused their limbs to shake and contorted their features so that they looked crazy.