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3.66 avg rating — 193 ratings — published 2011 — 13 editions
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This was quite an appropriate book to be reading during June 2020, the centenary of Dame Nellie Melba's Daily Mail-sponsored broadcast to the world from Chelmsford two years before the creation of the British Broadcasting Company. The historic moment
This was quite an appropriate book to be reading during June 2020, the centenary of Dame Nellie Melba's Daily Mail-sponsored broadcast to the world from Chelmsford two years before the creation of the British Broadcasting Company. The historic moment was celebrated locally with a re-creation featuring Ann Steiger, but did not garner much national attention – perhaps indicative of how radio, the most ubiquitous mass media, is also the most prone to be taken for granted. Hence also why a very useful primer for the general reader finds itself published by a small specialist press in Tiverton, although Kelly Publications should be commended for a work that is well-produced, well-illustrated and reasonably cheap.
Street's chronological account deftly balances the cultural (highbrow and popular), commercial and technical aspects of radio history in Britain, and each chapter ends with a brief descriptive list of dates, people and "key programmes". Despite the title, the first chapter actually goes back to 1838, when wireless communication was first suggested as a possibility by a German professor of physics named C. A. Steinheil, although electromagnetic waves were not a subject of study until the 1860s. In the 1880s, a music professor "accidentally discovered that a contact of steel and carbon connected to a telephone receiver would create a sound" when a circuit was broken in the contact despite no physical contact, and later in the decade Heinrich Hertz showed how electrical waves "could transmit energy across space" – a revelation that impressed the physics professor Oliver Lodge, who later would become better known for his belief in even more ethereal forms of contact (I've sometimes wondered about the extent to which the discovery of radio may have influenced pseudo-scientific interpretations of spiritual and occult ideas).
Radio broadcasting as a cultural fixture rather than just a novelty of course really begins with the BBC (first as a company, later as a corporation) in 1922, initially based at Savoy Hill off the Strand: early historic broadcasts included a performance by the cellist Beatrice Harrison from her garden at Oxted, at which background birdsong caused a sensation. However, the corporation's monopoly was quickly undermined by English-speaking stations based in France and Luxembourg, assisted by relay companies that boosted their reach across the country. These rivals – which from 1930 included Leonard Plugge's International Broadcasting Company – were particularly in demand on Sundays, on which day of the week BBC's offerings under John Reith consisted of such riveting fare as How to Read an Epistle and Heroes of the Free Church. World War II put an end to the French stations, with one IBC presenter, Roy Plomley, narrowly escaping back to Britain during the fall of France. Later decades saw the "pirate" radio stations, which the Wilson government attempted to suppress by making it illegal to service the ships; regulations were finally relaxed in the 1980s and 1990s.
Radio drama began with A Comedy of Danger, a play by Richard Hughes about some miners trapped in the dark; two years later came Ronald Knox’s Broadcasting from the Barricades, a pseudo-documentary about a riot in London that created a panic. From 1929 the BBC's head of drama was Val Gielgud, brother of the actor, who remained in post until 1963; particularly innovative were the productions of Lance Sieveking, who saw in radio possibilities similar "to the concept of montage in film". Notable productions from the 1940s and 1950s included Louis MacNiece's The Dark Tower, Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood and Samuel Beckett’s All That Fall, while the 1970s saw Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and an epic adaptation of The Lord of the Rings – the rebroadcast of the latter at the turn of the millennium to capitalise on interest in the film trilogy was a great success. Independent radio also produced drama, with Alan Bleasdale writing for Radio City in Liverpool in the 1980s.
The book's endpoint in 2002 covers the rise of independent radio in the UK, digital radio (at that time the sets were still somewhat expensive) and internet services – including the possibility of listening on demand. This last innovation I believe is particularly significant for making radio drama and documentaries accessible.
Of course, such a volume cannot cover everything. Despite acknowledging telephone broadcasting in France as a precursor, there is no mention of Budapest's Telefon Hirmondo from the 1890s, and I was surprised that there was no reference anywhere to Harry Towers, whose first career was with Plugge's IBC – not least because I only became aware of the book after hearing its author being interviewed by Adam Roche for a radio documentary about Towers. On the technical side, we're told about transistors, car radios and portability, but I think some reference could have been made to cassette tapes as a way to capture (and for producers to retail) radio programmes from the later 1970s onwards; a radio with a built-in cassette-recorder used in conjunction with a timer switch served as a fiddly but fairly adequate equivalent of a video-recorder for radio for some decades before on-demand. ...more
Jun 28, 2020 02:06AM · like · see review · preview book
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Preview — A CONCISE HISTORY OF BRITISH RADIO 1922 - 2002 by Sean Street
George Carpozi's output as "biographer to the stars" was prolific and well-regarded. Kitty Kelley, in contrast, is internationally famous for a smaller oeuvre of celebrity biographies that have been denounced by their subjects and repudiated by many
George Carpozi's output as "biographer to the stars" was prolific and well-regarded. Kitty Kelley, in contrast, is internationally famous for a smaller oeuvre of celebrity biographies that have been denounced by their subjects and repudiated by many of the people she claims to have quoted. Carpozi presents Kelley's work as a series of contemptible excesses to be debunked, but one senses that his purpose was not so much putting the record straight as putting an upstart – a "little girl from Spokane", one of many pulpy putdowns – in her place, both on behalf of his celebrity friends and for his publisher, Lyle Stuart, who had published Kelley’s first celebrity biography but then fallen out with her. "She Bashed Frank Sinatra. She trashed Nancy Reagan. Now it’s her turn" is the tagline – hardly taking the moral high ground, and somewhat disproportionate given their respective significance in public life. Was the decision to publish a 350-page hardback book about her really a commercial one?
Carpozi makes a strong (although hardly ground-breaking) case that Kelley’s work contains many examples of sensationalised dishonesty, including fabrication of quotes. Yet his presentation, driven primarily by irritation (if not outrage), is somewhat diffuse, and there’s a sense that for some passages started in his head with the phrase, "And another thing…". The book’s 30 chapters are untitled, perhaps because a thematic unity is not always clear. This undercuts the book’s reference value, although there is a decent index.
One of the book's more gratuitous intrusions is the information that Kelley's mother was an alcoholic, presented as if this were some moral blemish that reflects on Kelley herself. More pertinent are allegations that Kelley has a history of pilfering – it is claimed that she left the University of Arizona after evidence emerged that she had stolen from dorm-mates, and other people whose houses she stayed in claim that items were afterwards missing. However, in a rare moment of empathy Carpozi appears to recognise this as pathological behaviour: "Is Kitty Kelley a kleptomaniac? I don’t know: I’m not a psychiatrist. Psychiatry says that people steal things because they feel deprived of love."
Kelley’s career in journalism got started by way of politics: she came to Washington at the invitation of Representative Tom Foley, who knew her lawyer father, and Foley introduced her to Robert "Bobby" Baker. Baker found her a job in the office of Eugene McCarthy, but the Baker connection allows Carpozi to digress for a few pages, reminding us that Baker had founded the private Quorum Club establishment, where Ellen Rometsch had worked as a waitress. Carpozi also quotes at some length a 1972 book called The Washington Pay-Off, which had "received scant attention from the press or the public" pre-Watergate. Why does he go off at such a tangent? I wasn’t surprised to discover that the book was published by Lyle Stuart.
From McCarthy, Kelley found journalism work first at the Washington Post and then as a freelancer. Her early work included interviews with politicians, and in 2020 it's of interest to read that in 1973 she caused pain to a recently bereaved politician who as a consequence refused to speak to the press again for the next 15 years. The politician was Joe Biden, and Carpozi jogs our memory of this person by explaining that "people from beyond the outer perimeters of his political bailiwick will recall that Biden made a bid for the 1988 Democratic Presidential nomination… but… had to take his hat out of the ring in embarrassment after he was found to have 'plagiarized' speeches from other political figures". Carpozi does not burden his American target readership with the name of Neil Kinnock.
At the time Carpozi was writing, Kelley was notorious for three muckracking biographies, of Jaqueline Onassis, Frank Sinatra and Nancy Reagan. Carpozi had himself written books on Onassis and Sinatra, and his takedowns are extensive. Carpozi's chronicle here features various personalities involved in mass-market non-fiction book publishing, primarily Lyle Stuart and figures at Bantam and Simon & Schuster such as Michael Korda. Stuart was apparently obliged to pulp the original book jacket of the Onassis biography, while Bantam found itself contending with libel suits. Korda is portrayed as uncomfortable and pained when Kelley presents him with a salacious claim about Nancy Reagan's parentage, but Carpozi's message seems to be that that Kelley is the problem rather than the industry that created her. Given Stuart's interest (and, perhaps, guiding hand), how could it be otherwise?
The only real criticism against the media industry by Carpozi is aimed at the New York Times, for credulously amplifying claims in Kelley’s Reagan biography. One chapter deals with an apparent attempt by Sinatra to prevent her biography of him being published – a move which Carpozi says was "ill-advised" but, he argues, was exaggerated into a prior-restraint free-speech issue when all Sinatra was doing was trying to prevent her from misrepresenting herself as his authorized biographer.
The book also contains some British connections. Peter McKay (oddly promoted by Carpozi to a sometime editor of the Daily Express) was said to be "amused and intrigued by Kitty", and he put her in touch with Michael Thornton for material on Ava Gardner. As part of the wider context here, Carpozi obliges Thornton with an opportunity to sound off about Felicity Green, who had interfered with his copy as (an associate) editor of the Daily Express. In contrast to McKay, a certain Paul Conyers, described as editor of the News of the World (although again this can't be right) told him that "his men" had found her to be "a pretty mangy bimbo" – the last word here a piece misogynist abuse that Carpozi was apparently tempted to use as the book’s title. But if Carpozi's picture of Kelly is generally accurate, she would have been right at home at a British tabloid. ...more
In the popular imagination, false memory is regarded as something exotic and pathological – a "syndrome" brought about by specific techniques of suggestion employed by therapists. Meredith Maran's account of how she came to make a false allegation of
In the popular imagination, false memory is regarded as something exotic and pathological – a "syndrome" brought about by specific techniques of suggestion employed by therapists. Meredith Maran's account of how she came to make a false allegation of child sex abuse against her father in the 1980s makes more ordinary the mental processes of self-persuasion (or self-delusion) by which someone re-writes their past, in this case (as in so many others) bestowing herself with the identity and status of abuse "survivor" based on the supposed "recovery" of repressed memories.
Maran, who resides in California, was seeing a therapist at the time she made her allegation, but this was less decisive than other factors: her social and professional circumstances during a time of general heightened awareness of the reality of incestuous sex abuse (the films Something About Amelia and The Color Purple are mentioned); the ongoing moral panic of the "Satanism scare"; and the influence of books promoting the idea of "repressed memory", most notably The Courage to Heal but also older works such as the 1973 Sybil. Maran gives a sense of this wider zeitgeist with news clippings about the McMartin Preschool case and other relevant developments scattered throughout her novelistic memoir.
Maran’s allegation was triggered by dreams and "flashbacks" that occurred while her professional work as a journalist was already immersing her in incest; her work included interviewing psychologists such as Henry "Hank" Giarretto, sitting in on fraught family therapy sessions and attending Gary Ramona's lawsuit against his daughter's therapists. Meanwhile, following a divorce, her social circle was largely radical feminists, and she had entered into her first same-sex relationship. Maran’s partner believed she had been abused by a Satanic cult, and many of their friends had similar stories. As she writes, she was living on "Planet Incest".
In due course, the details of the Ramona case and the increasingly obvious implausibility of her partner's claims led to doubt, and with news that her father had been taken ill Maran entered into a process she calls "deprogramming". As a journalist she was in a position not only to self-reflect on what she had done, but also to seek advice and feedback from experts. The book includes her accounts of interviewing Pamela Freyd of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (as of 2020 recently disbanded, to the joy of "repressed memory" proponents), as well as Elizabeth Loftus and neurologists such as Robert Burton, who explained certainty in terms of "involuntary mental sensations" rather than "rational deliberate conclusion"”. This could come across as looking for excuses rather than answers, but Maran acknowledges this and takes responsibility for her actions even as she sheds light on a malign social phenomenon with antecedents that go back to the Puritan witch-accusations.
Maran's allegation was too old to have become a police matter, and although her father's wife considered leaving him, she stuck by him and it seems Maran's family never quite believed her story. Things could have gone worse. However, Maran caused a painful rift within the family, and even her father started to wonder if he had done what he was accused of and repressed it. Maran retracted while there was still time to make amends, before her father became lost in Alzheimer’s disease. One wonders how many others there are out there who know deep down that they have told and lived a lie, but have gained so much from it in terms of self-image and rewards that they would rather die with it on their conscience than put right an injustice. ...more
Unlike “Harper” or “Doubleday”, the surname “Doran” has not survived the consolidation of American publishing houses into media conglomerates. Yet between 1908 and 1927 the George H. Doran Company was one of the most significant presences in American
Unlike “Harper” or “Doubleday”, the surname “Doran” has not survived the consolidation of American publishing houses into media conglomerates. Yet between 1908 and 1927 the George H. Doran Company was one of the most significant presences in American book publishing, and a merger with Doubleday created the largest publishing house in the English-speaking world. The man himself, whose career in publishing began with the unpromising Toronto Willard Tract Depository Limited at the age of 14, was an associate of literary figures, journalists, politicians and public intellectuals on both sides of the Atlantic, and his pro-British propaganda efforts during the Great War were a significant factor in bringing the USA into the conflict. In old age, Doran was a celebrity in his own right, “the last of the impresario publishers”.
Doran’s chronicle (the name “Barabbas” refers to an incident when Lord Byron inscribed a copy of the Bible to amend Barabbas’s profession to “publisher”) is only partly an autobiography: the outline of his business career and private life are largely dispensed in fifty pages, and most of the (short) chapters that follow are anecdotal pen-portraits of those he published for or with whom he had some other professional association. Some names are still current while others have since become obscure, but a proper appreciation of the 1930s literary landscape is well served by a time-capsule from the period.
Doran was a particular friend of Arnold Bennett, and there is a detailed account of Bennett’s visit to the USA; other literary writers given chapters to themselves include William Somerset Maugham, H.G. Wells, Frank Swinnerton, E.V. Lucas, Michael Arlen and High Walpole. Doran is generally generous in his appraisals, and in the case of his near-relative Mary Robert Rinehart (his son-in-law’s mother) positively gushing. However, his insight is not always penetrating, and it’s difficult not to smile at his clueless assessment of Walpole: “I have watched the unavailing attacks of fair maidens on the citadel but so far as I have able to judge, the work of writing is Walpole’s mistress”. If Doran ever read Rupert Hart-Davis’s 1952 biography of Walpole, one wonders if he would have grasped the import of Hart-Davis’s arch reference to Walpole’s love of Turkish baths for “providing informal opportunities for meeting interesting strangers”. Some of those he writes about he seems to be observing from afar, while others were confidants.
Beyond authors of fiction, Doran came into contact with public figures ranging from Theodore Roosevelt to Oliver Lodge, and there are chapters on “The Presidents”, the “The Ambassadors” and “The Prime Ministers”. Two chapters are given over to very brief sketches, divided into “men” and “women”; the women include Rebecca West, Margot Asquith and Dame Nellie Melba. Projects that didn’t come off included a plan to publish Woodrow Wilson’s letters to Mary Peck (scuppered by copyright), and there was a difficult interview in Esher with Queen Marie of Roumania (sic) after Zoe Beckley had given Doran the false impression that she might be amenable to the publication of her diaries.
The book is also useful as a source on print culture more broadly. One chapter deals with what he calls “one of the most romantic adventures in publishing”, undertaken by the Belford, Clarke Company. This company was responsible for the novel approach of selling books in clothing stores (“the forerunner of book-sections in department-stores”), and its co-founder James Clarke hit upon the idea of popularizing the Encyclopaedia Britannica via subscription in alliance with the London Times . This in turn led to the plan of new (11th) edition, sponsored by Cambridge University. Doran is no more than an observer in this particular story, but his narrative reflects his professional appreciation for innovative publishing strategies.
Another interesting theme is Doran’s “emergence” from evangelical publishing. Doran maintained a religious faith throughout his life, but there is a subtle cynicism in his reflections on this particular interface between religion and business. His employer at the Willard Tract Depository, one S.R. Briggs, is not remembered with fondness: Doran describes him as a “zealot” and a “martinet”, and the hours were long and demanding. Following Briggs’s death Doran found work with the Fleming H. Revell company across the border in Chicago and took American citizenship. His work brought him into contact with Revell’s brother-in-law Dwight L. Moody, and at one point Doran was discomforted to find himself on stage with the evangelist.
In due course, Doran set out on his own path in New York. However, religious publishing remained a part of his world due to an arrangement he had made with the British publisher Hodder & Stoughton. The tensions are encapsulated in an amusing anecdote about Michael Arlen:
At last the little storm broke when we had successfully published The Green Hat by Michael Arlen almost simultaneously with the joint publication by Hodder & Stoughton and ourselves of Professor James Moffatt's translation of the New Testament. It may have been this coincidence or it may be that a Canadian publisher stimulated Sir Ernest's rebellion. I had occasion to go to Toronto to conclude an important deal with the vice-president and general manager of one of Canada's leading publishers. After we had concluded a large and mutually satisfactory piece of business, we relaxed in his cosy office before a glowing grate fire and our talk became reminiscent and general. Finally out of the blue he said, "Mr. Doran, you publish Michael Arlen's The Green Hat, do you not?" "Yes," I responded. "Do you think it a book suited to the Christian home?" "Well," said I, "that really must be a matter for personal decision." "But," he continued, "do you not think it a positively harmful book?" I countered, "You could scarcely expect Michael Arlen's publisher to share that view." "Yes, yes," said he, "but you must have your own personal convictions." Committing him solemnly to secrecy strictly within four walls as it were I conceded somewhat ironically that at times I might feel the slightest shade of embarrassment in going forth with Michael Aden's The Green Hat in one hand and Moffatt’s New Testament in the other. I had the precedent of his own Empire going to China with the opium of India in one hand and the products of the British and Foreign Bible Society in the other.However, the impression of Doran’s broadmindedness here is only by comparison. Doran objected to D.H. Lawrence on moral grounds, and he notoriously censored passages from John Dos Passos’s Three Soldiers. And despite his obliviousness about Hugh Walpole, Doran was well aware of homosexuality: he devotes a chapter to “The Exotics”, whom he Pooterishly refers to as “indigenous to the Land of Sodom and the Island of Lesbos”. His proposed solution to the supposed “problem” of such “degenerates” (a term that even makes it into the index!) was that they should be confined to “sanitoriums”, which he probably imagined was a progressive attitude. Despite himself, though, Doran accepts that some are “brilliant” writers, and although he disliked Lawrence’s writing he also says he followed it closely.
Also concerning are various references to Doran’s pride in the “Anglo-Saxon race”. Here, the immediate contrast is with the “Teutonic” Germans in the context of the First World War, but one wonders if something more unpleasant was going on. Despite his wide-ranging interests and ruminations, the issue of race in America does not appear anywhere in his book, and his enthusiasm for the Kentucky humourist Irwin S. Cobb is troubling, particularly when Doran refers to him complacently as a “clansman”. Recounting how the owners of a London theatre had cancelled an Edgar Wallace play, Doran asks us to “guess their race”, which can only be taken as an anti-Semitic insinuation.
In terms of a personal legacy in publishing, his son-in-law Stanley Rinehart’s own surname was also that of a publishing imprint for some decades after, and that of John Farrar, who got his editorial start with Doran, lives on in Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ...more
Richard Bartholomew rated a book it was ok
Neil Oram's sequence of plays collectively known as The Warp is famous as the longest play ever performed, and the original production, overseen by the legendary Ken Campbell, featured noted performers such as Jim Broadbent and Bill Nighy. The script
Neil Oram's sequence of plays collectively known as The Warp is famous as the longest play ever performed, and the original production, overseen by the legendary Ken Campbell, featured noted performers such as Jim Broadbent and Bill Nighy. The script has never been published, but Oram novelised his decathlon into a trilogy, of which this volume covers the first three plays. The Sphere Books blurb describes the work as being in "the bestselling psychedelic tradition of ILLUMINATUS!", referring to Campbell's previous adaptation (with Chris Langham) of Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson’s 1975 tour de force.
Alas, however, there are obvious reasons why ILLUIMINUS! (reviewed here) remains an influential underground classic while the Warp – despite periodic theatrical revival – has never been reprinted. The text is impenetrable, interminable, and without much evidence of any editorial hand (there's at least one passage where quotemarks-within-quotemarks ends in a muddle). While ILLUMINATUS! sparkles with imaginative flair and assimilates all kinds of cultural and historical threads, this novel spends much of its time plodding through what the blurb optimistically calls "the vortex of the Bohemian scene" in London, but which mostly means some tedious travails running a café and art venue (the Krays get a reference). The main similarly with the ILLUMINATUS! trilogy is actually an aspect that is a flaw in the American forebear: a series of crude, tasteless and objectifying sex scenes. The last part of the work is a bit more engaging, as the main character (Philip Masters – a stand-in for the author and sometimes presented in first-person, at other points in third-person) heads off on a trip to India, but even there we have the annoyance of the repeated use of the word "swarthy" to describe foreigners.
The "psychedelic" colour promised by the blurb, meanwhile, refers to ponderous spiritual ruminations that appear scattered throughout the work, with certain words and concepts portentously presented in all-caps. Much of this is derived from Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, and the main character encounters Krishnamurti in Paris. The book, then, may be of some interest to anyone interested in the reception of alternative spirituality within counter-cultural currents.
The next installment promises UFOs and Aleister Crowley, but I doubt I’ll be up for it for a long time. ...more
In 1967 Éditions Julliard published a book called L'Or de Rennes, by a left-wing aristocrat named Gérard de Sède. The work was in part based on claims by a restaurateur named Noël Corbu, who alleged that François-Bérenger Saunière, a priest who had l
In 1967 Éditions Julliard published a book called L'Or de Rennes, by a left-wing aristocrat named Gérard de Sède. The work was in part based on claims by a restaurateur named Noël Corbu, who alleged that François-Bérenger Saunière, a priest who had lived in his Languedoc village of Rennes-le-Château some decades previously, had profited from documents pertaining to ancient treasure hidden somewhere in the vicinity. This was not the first time a version of Corbu's story had been aired publicly, though, and de Sède’s telling also incorporated a hoax concocted by one Pierre Plantard concerning his supposed lineage going back to King Dagobert II and a secret society called the "Priory of Sion".
A short time later, de Sède's opus came to the attention of Henry Lincoln, a British writer (credits include some stories for Troughton-era Doctor Who) who afterwards brought the supposed "mystery" of Rennes-le-Château to the attention of British television audiences via documentaries for the BBC. In the early 1980s Lincoln co-wrote The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, a notorious farrago that linked the story to further speculations about a secret bloodline of Jesus Christ (the book was denounced by the Anglican Bishop of Birmingham "as amateurish, ignorant and grotesque" – an assessment that Corgi decided to appropriate as a blurb for the paperback edition). Some aspects of Holy Blood were in turn later borrowed by Dan Brown, although a copyright case brought by Lincoln’s co-authors Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh (Lincoln was uninvolved) failed in the high court.
Consequently, Rennes-le-Château is today a very familiar name to anyone who is interested in conspiracy theories and crypto-history. There is an entire industry of books, fanzines, lectures and specialist tourism focusing on the village, as well as a "Saunière Society". Long-time enthusiasts include a man named John Miller, whose son is a punk rock musician known to the British public as "Rat Scabies". In the early 2000s Scabies was living in Brentford opposite an underemployed music journalist named Christopher Dawes, and the two men decided to probe the story for themselves. The result is an amusing gonzo exploration of the whole Rennes "scene", with Dawes starting out as an ironic and detached observer but slowly being drawn into the milieu.
Dawes and Scabies first visit Rennes-le-Château with a French friend, and a later return as part of a tour group led Henry Lincoln himself, described as having "the genial enthusiasm of an esoteric Michael Palin" – one odd detail is that due to some neurological condition, Henry is apparently obliged to forego footwear. Dawes describes visiting various caves and churches in area, and there’s an incident where they and Hugo Soskin (Henry's son - Lincoln is a pen-name) narrowly avoid being arrested for trespassing while creeping around Saunière’s garden by night on a quest to have a smoke on the roof of a pseudo-medieval tour the priest had built. Various characters they meet include the singer-songwriter Alain Féral, who used to illustrate Rennes-le-Château fanzines and who moved to the village in the 1980s, and in Paris there is an encounter with the cult rare book dealer and guitarist Martin Stone (aka "Mad Dog").
Part of the Rennes myth involves the Knights Templar, and there is a significant spin-off to the "mystery" involving Scotland, which used to host a Templar headquarters in what is now the village of Temple. According to the story, persecuted Templars allegedly fled to Scotland and put themselves at the disposal of Robert the Bruce, and this background has inspired extravagant interpretations of the ornate and curious sculptures that adorn Rosslyn Chapel near Edinburgh. A nearby conference centre called Newbattle Abbey is a favoured destination for Saunière Society events and modern Templar cosplayers, and Dawes and Scabies witness a ceremony in which Henry Lincoln is made an honorary member of the Scottish Knights Templars, the first since Michael Bentine ten years previously. Scabies can’t resist whispering a Two Ronnies reference as four candles are lit.
A more tenuous association is made at the end of the book, with a trip Syon House in west London – this manor house has no link to the Rennes-le-Château story, but Scabies thought the name was suggestive and Dawes appreciated the irony that a tourist spot a bus ride away from home might be important to their investigations. However, he confesses that "I wasn’t sure what we achieved by our visit" – an assessment that I think sums up the whole adventure. ...more
Rupert Hart-Davis was the embodiment of the "gentleman publisher", facilitating literary culture both as a judicious editor and through his own writings, which included a celebrated biography of Hugh Walpole and an extended correspondence with George
Rupert Hart-Davis was the embodiment of the "gentleman publisher", facilitating literary culture both as a judicious editor and through his own writings, which included a celebrated biography of Hugh Walpole and an extended correspondence with George Lyttelton (one of his old teachers at Eton) that he collected into several volumes. Although willing to walk away when his own terms of employment at Jonathan Cape were unsatisfactory, commercial considerations were often secondary or even a vexation, with unhappy consequences for the publishing house he established under his own name – the company ended its days as an unprofitable prestige imprint at Sidney Bernstein's Granada group.
Hart-Davis entered publishing with the same Etonian effortlessness with which he got into professional acting after dropping out of university – during this first career in early adulthood he befriended the likes of Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud and formed a romantic attachment with Celia Johnson, before embarking on a disastrous and short-lived first marriage to Peggy Ashcroft. His literary tastes were generally conservative, rejecting both modernism and anything "vulgar", but Ziegler takes issue with the assessment that he was "middle-brow"; his editing of the letters of Oscar Wilde was a particularly important contribution to literary scholarship and biography. His canonical mainstream focus was not narrow, either: for a time he enjoyed reviewing thrillers, and despite being less interested American literature he appreciated Ray Bradbury, who was wooed with a promise of hardback editions of his works.
Ziegler nicely balances Hart-Davis the actor, publisher and "man of letters" with Hart-Davis the private individual. Born in 1907, Rupert did not have good relations with his stockbroker father, and the Oedipal cliché was clinched by his remarkable intimacy with his mother Sybil (the sister of Duff Cooper). Sybil's male friends included Augustus John and the Conservative politician Gervase Beckett – Hart-Davis bore a striking physical resemblance to Beckett, and drew comfort and amusement from the obvious conclusion. His second marriage, to Comfort Borden-Turner, established a media dynasty of Hart-Davises, but for a long time it was a marriage in name only while he conducted an affair with Ruth Simon, who became his third wife following his second divorce (Ziegler perhaps identifies too strongly with his subject's self-interest here, dwelling on Comfort's decline and the health consequences of chain-smoking cigarettes).
Ruth's sudden death – she collapsed in front of him shortly before he was knighted – was a trauma, and it prompted him put aside his religious scepticism (at least temporarily) and consult the medium Ena Twigg. However, despite his devotion to Ruth (indeed, perhaps because of this passionate side of his outwardly staid and betweeded persona) he within months had married June Williams (née Clifford), a widow who had formerly been a secretary at his company. By this time Hart-Davis was living in Marske in Yorkshire, where he became increasingly reclusive before his death in late 1999 – "he would not have wished to see the new millennium" is Ziegler's fair assessment.
Of course, a book of this sort has an extensive supporting cast of familiar names – authors like Robert Graves and Arthur Ransome, as well as historians and political figures; one family friend who is quoted throughout is Joyce Grenfell. His partners when he founded his own firm were the Bloomsbury figure David Garnett and Teddy Young, the latter remembered as the creator of the Penguin logo – a naval man, his colleagues "delighted in getting him drunk and persuading him to produce variants… his masterpiece was said to be a pair of lesbian penguins." The explorer Peter Fleming was an old school friend who married Celia Johnson after she had been dropped by Hart-Davis, and Rupert arranged for his travel books to be published by Jonathan Cape. In due course this in turn brought Cape a series of "preposterously profitable" thrillers by Peter's brother Ian.
One amusing detail concerns a time when Hart-Davies was tasked with sending Winston Churchill some proofs of preface he had written, only to be told that the great man was too busy to attend to them. The date of his request was 4 September 1939. ...more
The strange title of this book refers to the paperback industry that sprung up in London and other parts of Britain after the war to fill an appetite for mass-market consumer fiction. Moore’s survey (based in part on personal correspondence with some
The strange title of this book refers to the paperback industry that sprung up in London and other parts of Britain after the war to fill an appetite for mass-market consumer fiction. Moore’s survey (based in part on personal correspondence with some of the figures involved) includes the publishers and printers, the authors – who churned out westerns, crime and gangster stories, romances and science-fiction at an astonishing rate, in one instance allegedly as a semi-prisoner out of an office basement in Kensington – and the cover artists, whose lurid, titillating and sometimes surreal visions are reproduced throughout the volume.
Paperbacks, of course, were established in Britain in the 1930s, and pioneers such as Allen Lane remain hallowed by the literary minded. However, the “mushroom publishers” of the post-war years are less appreciated – the imprints no longer exist, many of the authors used house pseudonyms, and the myriad titles are often generic and arbitrary – but this is part of the context out which some of the better-known later paperback imprints emerged (in particular, the likes of Pan Books and Panther Books). There are also some other important links with broader historical memory: we all know about Penguin and the celebrated “Lady Chatterley” trial of 1960, but part of the backstory here must be the pulp obscenity trials of the previous decade, to which Moore devotes a chapter (Christmas Humphreys makes an appearance here, representing the defence).
Moore introduces many remarkable characters: these include Gerald Swan, a market bookseller turned publisher whose authors included the prolific Norman Firth; Binyimin Zeev Immanuel, a Latvian immigrant whose business was one of several publishing ventures operating out of 37a Kensington High Street; and Julius Reiter, a German anti-Nazi and book distributor who, along with the publisher Reginald Carter, were imprisoned for obscenity in 1954 as part of the anti-pulp crackdown (writers were also held liable for obscenity, although in this instance the author Steve Frances – a former communist who had written for the Daily Worker – avoided conviction). Dail Amber, an ex-journalist who had actually lived in Hollywood, produced a crime novel a week for Immanuel’s Scion Ltd, is a rare female author mentioned (Moore feels the need to describe her as “pretty, blonde”), although several of the publishers discussed by Moore appear to have been husband-and-wife partnerships.
A couple of authors whose names I did recognise are E.C. Tubb and Lionel Fanthorpe, and Moore makes a special reference to a novelisation of The Creature from the Black Lagoon by John Russell Fearn, writing as Vargo Statten. Moore notes that “the circumstances of its publication by such a small publisher [Dragon Books] means that few film buffs will know of its existence”. Fearn was one of the first British authors to provide science-fiction for US pulp magazines, and the name of Vargo Statten also provided the title for a British science-fiction magazine that turned down a story from Brian Aldiss because the publisher wanted material accessible for younger readers.
The author defends the output of the “mushroom publishers” against literary disdain, although he admits that many titles are collectable today primarily for their cover art. The production process often left little or no time for redrafting and editing, and one publisher was said to deal with manuscripts that were too long by arbitrarily removing a chunk from the middle. Stories of the Old West and Chicago gangsters were imagined by writers with no first-hand experience of America, and the science content of science-fiction works published by a publisher called John Spencer & Co. (later Badger) was frequently risible: “planets became stars, galaxies became universes, etc”. Moore singles out one effort, Pirates of Cerebus attributed to “Bengo Mistral”, as “the worst single piece of fiction ever published” for nonsensical terms such as “atomic molecules”, an underwhelming spaceship that travels “five times the speed of sound”, and the appearance of a wizard, among much else.
On the other hand, though, some publishers had quality control: in particular, Moore describes Gordon Landsborough at Hamilton & Co. as an “excellent editor”, whose efforts led to the company attracting “authors of some quality”. Hamilton’s eventually established the Panther reprint imprint, producing paperback editions of bestselling authors from either side of the Atlantic: “The works of Hans Habe and Nicholas Monsarrat mingled with popular science fiction writers Isaac Asimov and A.E. Van Vogt, the gangster novels of James Hadley Chase… and the novels of John O’Hara and Sinclair Lewis” (Moore could have added Ian Fleming to the list). A Manchester publisher called World Distributors established a reprint brand in London that evolved into Consul Books and published both reprints and new books, including collectable TV tie-in novels for series such as The Avengers. Meanwhile, company called Brown Watson (actually run by a family called Babini) changed their name to Digit Books and their reprint policy “would bring Harold Robbins, Henry Miller and William Burroughs to the UK before they became famous”.
Moore’s work is a labour of love, and the reproduction of numerous pulp covers brings the “mushroom world” to life in livid colour. However, the presentation of the text could have done with more attention – there are too many typos, and some vexing block quotes that are not set out at such (“why is the author suddenly writing in first person?”, I found myself asking). The cursory index is also a disappointment, given the reference value of the work. ...more
Opaque, allusive and digressive, this is a text where the reader may be better off going with the flow rather than attempting to unravel its many obscurities with a close reading. Plot and characters are only dimly perceptible through complex chains
Opaque, allusive and digressive, this is a text where the reader may be better off going with the flow rather than attempting to unravel its many obscurities with a close reading. Plot and characters are only dimly perceptible through complex chains of (carefully constructed, although made to look free) association that are variously intriguing, clever or simply baffling. One of the book’s eccentricities is that a story paying homage to East London and the A13 route into Essex is somehow also centred on Hastings, which sits on the English Channel in East Sussex rather than the Thames Estuary. Presumably this is one of the many “doublings” of character and place in the story – a device so confusing that the reviewer in the Scotsman erroneously wrote of “the A13, the road which runs from Hackney to Hastings”.
It is unlikely that anyone but Sinclair himself will “get” all or even most of the hundreds of asides that run through the fractured protagonist’s head (heads?), and that make up the tangled and frequently broken threads of what passes for the story. These range from the literary and cinematic canon (“Orson Welles and Graham Greene arguing over the provenance of a wisecrack about cuckoo clocks” is a typical example) through to (mostly male) cult authors (Alan Moore and Michael Moorcock; Alexander Baron and Stewart Horne; J.G. Ballard), assorted (mostly male) “characters” (the “mythic book-runner” Dryfeld; David Litvinoff; David Rodinsky) and criminals (the Krays and Lambrianous; Kenny Noye and the Brinks Mat robbery). Some name-checks are ephemeral: the controversial seaside property owner Marcel Sulc gets a reference I suspect purely because of a 2002 exposé in the Observer (the national paper, not the Hastings one). Many of these individuals are off-stage, although Howard Marks and Allen Ginsberg put in appearances. And not everything that is present is correct – Eadweard Muybridge (horses in the air, feet on the ground – Philip Glass not on the radar, apparently) is posthumously libelled as having killed his wife, rather than her lover.
And that’s before we get onto the local colour. Perhaps inevitably, given Sinclair’s interest in the occult, the ultimate “alternative” Hastings cliché of Alistair Crowley looms large, but there’s also William Le Queux, Fred Judge and Keith Baynes (and, for a more contemporary angle, Christopher Priest, Storm Constantine and the late Roy Porter). Those familiar with the town during the time the book was written will remember the elderly lady pushing around a doll in a pushchair, and the curry house that advertised itself via a faded photo of Lord Londford at a window seat. The restaurant (now gone) was in one of the units on the ground floor of Marine Court, the 1930s liner-inspired apartment block that appears on the cover of the book, and which is renamed “Cunard Court” in the text (hacks of a certain age may know it as the former home of the Westminster Press Training School, later the Editorial Centre). Sinclair’s observations about the town are still largely valid for today, despite a bit of DFL gentrification and regeneration: “Regency terraces (restored at front, decayed at rear) … charity shops that clustered around the station, preying on incomers”.
Of particular fascination to Sinclair is the murder and dismemberment of a local vicar in 2001, here fictionalised as “Reverend Freestone”. In Sinclair’s version, the murderer committed suicide on remand, although the real-life story is more interesting: some years after the book was published, the killer’s explanation that the vicar had made a sexual advance was deemed sufficient grounds in post-Savile Britain for his release from prison. He found a second local victim not long after. ...more
Bram Stoker’s preface to the Icelandic edition of Dracula first appeared in English in 1986, in a "Bram Stoker Omnibus" containing the text of Dracula and The Liar of the White Worm and notable for its slightly naff dust-jacket featuring a photo of a
Bram Stoker’s preface to the Icelandic edition of Dracula first appeared in English in 1986, in a "Bram Stoker Omnibus" containing the text of Dracula and The Liar of the White Worm and notable for its slightly naff dust-jacket featuring a photo of a becaped model in "new Romantic" pop-singer make-up. The text (as back-translated by Richard Dalby) mentions "a series of crimes" that "created as much repugnance in people everywhere as the murders of Jack the Ripper", and makes an enigmatic reference to a "remarkable group of foreigners who for many seasons together played a dazzling part in the life of the aristocracy here in London" before suddenly disappearing.
These details do not quite align with Stoker’s novel, but it was not until nearly three decades later that the world of Dracula scholarship realised that the Icelandic "translation" of the novel by Valdimir Ásmundsson – serialised in his magazine Fjallkonan in 1900 and 1901 and then incompletely collected into what is now a very rare book – was in fact a radical re-working of the story. Although we can’t be sure to what extent Stoker approved or guided Valdimir’s version (referring to him as "Valdimir" rather than "Ásmundsson" is more in line with Icelandic usages), the existence of the preface seems to indicate collaboration or perhaps even direction – there are similarities with details in Stoker’s notes that did not make it into the English-language Dracula (such as the count having a deaf and mute housekeeper), and in his foreword, Dacre Stoker suggests that the text may have been based on an earlier version of the story, which is one reason why it comes with a different title: Makt Myrkranna, or Powers of Darkness.
Dacre also argues that direct links between Bram and Iceland are not such a remote proposition as one might think: as well as a general enthusiasm for Icelandic literature among the likes of Sabine Baring-Gould and William Morris, Stoker’s friend (and the dedicee of Dracula) Thomas Hall Caine had visited the country and partially set one of his own novels there. In his introduction, Hans C. de Roos speculates that Caine may come into contact with Valdimir, and he notes that stories by Mark Twain, who was another friend of Stoker, had been published in Icelandic in a magazine run by three friends of the Icelandic publisher. Another possible link was via the Society for Psychical Research – Stoker was friends with several prominent members, and in 1890 a whole front-page of Fjallkonan had been given over to the work of the SPR. De Roos suggests that Stoker may have been made aware of this while lodging with Frederic Myers along with Lord Dufferin, author of a bestselling travelogue about Iceland.
De Roos’s introduction also prepares us for the text, noting the most significant divergencies from the 1897 novel. In particular, the majority of Icelandic work is set inside Dracula’s castle, with the action in Whitby and London reduced to a truncated third-person summary with a rather abrupt denouement. Among other details: instead of three "brides" at Dracula’s castle there is a single alluring woman introduced by Dracula as his "niece"; the count discourses on social Darwinism and shows knowledge of the works of Arthur Conan Doyle; and Harker (here named as Thomas Harker) discovers Dracula is in correspondence with various important people in Europe. In one striking episode, Harker chances on Dracula performing a sacrificial ritual in the basement with a horde of semi-human ape-like beings.
These are all fascinating new threads leading out from the familiar story, some of which curiously prefigure some of the horror film sequels to the novel. Alas, however, despite the best efforts of de Roos and his team of assistants (generously profiled at the back of the book) to generate curiosity, the text itself is dull reading. The prose is colourless; much local detail that makes Stoker’s novel not just entertaining but also informative is lost; and most of the supporting characters are reduced to little more than names without motivation or individuality (although we are told that Seward went mad). Harker’s peregrinations around Dracula’s castle become interminable – reading it came to feel like being trapped in a 1980s computer text adventure game in which all attempts to progress end up instead going around in circles. This took up a whole year of the serialisation.
Despite this, though, de Roos does an admirable job providing informative annotations, many of which explain Icelandic idioms and draw attention to the use of phrases that evoke Iceland’s literary heritage. De Roos also assembles details of Harker’s movements around the castle into a coherent floorplan (properly an appendix, although presented before the text).
The most important question, of course, is whether the book is closer to what actually happened. Leslie Klinger, in his 2008 annotated edition of Dracula (reviewed here), shows how Stoker must have amended the Harker Papers, probably to obscure various details and protect the reputations of the protagonists – certainly, Harker’s erotic fascination with Dracula’s "niece" (who appears to still be at large at the end of the story) would be something he and Mina might have wanted toning down for publication, even though their real names remain unknown. Klinger also speculates that the count himself may have directed some of Stoker’s changes. The Dracula of Powers of Darkness is involved in an international conspiracy; Carfax in "Parfleet" (sic) is the scene of a mysterious gathering that includes the likes of "Prince Koromezzo", "Madame Saint Amand" and the "Marquis Caroman Rubiano". The French ambassador is mentioned. If Stoker was editing under duress, might he have decided to leak some of the true story in a location and language in which it would be less dangerous to make the information public? ...more