Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Magus - 'a bizarre and baffling film' 1970

A contemporary piece about this ill-fated movie, which although often slated, most notably by Woody Allen ('If I had to live my life again, I'd do everything the same, except that I wouldn't see The Magus') has become something of a cult. The article was found in PHOTOPLAY (February 1970) a British film and pop music magazine. The long winding part about the plot has been mostly excised.

The Magus - a bizarre and baffling film which winds through a labyrinth of fantastic happenings. 

What is a Magus? According to the best dictionaries it is "one skilled in Oriental magic and astrology, an ancient magician sorcerer."

And so to our story:

Nicholas (Michael Caine), a young Englishman, arrives on Phraxos, a lonely Greek island, to take up duties as an instructor at a school for boys, which is being modelled on the British system. He is also escaping from a love affair with Anne (Anna Karina), an airline hostess, who has sent him as a memento a glass paperweight, symbolic to her of the core of life.

Nicholas learns that the English instructor who preceded him the year before had committed suicide, but any further questions he asks concerning this are met any further questions he asks concerning this are met with evasive answers. On returning from a bathe, however, he finds a volume of T.S. Eliot's poems mysteriously left on a rock.

Later, in exploratory mood, he finds a villa on top of the cliffs. This is owned by an elderly man named Conchis (Anthony Quinn), about whom there is a strange aura of mystery… an aura which extends not only throughout the villa, but also throughout the rest of the film. Nicholas is not unnaturally confused…

Quite a lot of this strange, baffling film will keep audiences guessing… although there is nothing baffling about the picturesque scenes (actually filmed in Majorca). The very beautiful pictorial qualities are obviously due to the directorial hand of Guy Green,

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

‘There will be no beautiful women on Mars’----and that’s official

Speculation on whether there is life on Mars and what form it might take has been going on since the planet began to be seriously studied. Writers of fiction have let their imaginations run riot, with ludicrous results, but even scientists have been guilty of groundless speculation. Two items from the Peter Haining archive —an incomplete clipping dated 1924 from the Daily Express and a chapter from The Universe in Space and Time of 1935 throw interesting light on the subject.

Back in 1924 the Daily Express published a report by a certain Monsieur Camille Flammarion, ‘the famous French astronomer’, that ‘ the people of the earth will be both shocked and disillusioned if ever they become acquainted with the Martians’. “First of all”, he states, “there will be no beautiful women there. They may be beautiful according to Martian standards, but to us they will probably look frightfully hideous.” It’s all to with the ‘rarer’ atmosphere of the planet, apparently.

Then, in 1935, another scientist, the Dutch astronomer, Professor G. Van den Bergh (pictured), included a chapter entitled ‘A Visit to Mars ‘in his The Universe in Space and Time. In this account, which has weird parallels with the adventures of the Matt Damon character in the recent movie ‘The Martian’,

Earthquake in England

Found in John Thomas's Earthquake in England (Unbelievable but True) -published by Blackwood's in 1938, this press cutting from the late 1970s from an unnamed newspaper.

Quakes can be our worry, too. Peter J. Smith

At 9.18 on the mining of April 22, 1884, Dr Alexander Wallace and his family were in their garden looking across at the roofs and spires of the town near by. Suddenly, with a roll of sound like "passing wagons", the buildings began to sway and chimneys crashed to the ground in clouds of dust. Dr Wallace saw his house rise and fall and heard ornaments hitting the floor. He felt sick and shaken, but the fence he grasped for support was rocking too. Less than six seconds later it was all over.

What Dr Wallace and his family had experienced was an earthquake. But they were not visiting Japan, California, the Mediterranean or any other of the world's known belts of destructive earthquakes. This was Colchester, Essex, where such things were unheard of.

In the town itself more than 400 buildings were damaged... the brunt of the damage was taken by villages closer to the shock centre to the east and south-east of Colchester. At Peldon, for example, no house or cottage escaped and 70 percent of chimney stacks were thrown down. Nobody was killed, but within an area of about 150 square miles more than 1200 buildings required repair.

The Colchester earthquake of 1884 was the most destructive ever known in Britain and was felt as far away as Exeter in the west and beyond York in the north. But it was not the first British earthquake; nor, contrary to popular belief, are such events uncommon.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Liberty League---a campaign against Bolshevism

This interesting cutting from the Haining archive tells some of the story of the short-lived Liberty League. Less than three years after the Russian Revolution had erupted, leading figures in public life, alarmed by the progress of its ideas in the West, got together to initiate a counter campaign that would challenge Bolshevism in the UK and throughout the empire. The new force for good was ‘The Liberty League’ and on 3rd March 1920 an open letter declaring its objectives and signed by H. Rider Haggard, Rudyard Kipling, Lord Sydenham, H. Bax-Ironside, John Hanbury Williams, Algernon Maudslay and  Lt –Col G Maitland- Edwards, was published in the Times. The signatories began by defining Bolshevism and its aims.

Bolshevism is the reverse of what mankind has built up of good by nearly two thousand years of effort. It is the Sermon of the Mount writ backward. It has led to bloodshed and torture, rapine and destruction. It repudiated God and would build its own throne upon the basest passions of mankind.
There are some misguided people of righteous instincts in this country who believe in Bolshevism; there are others who have been influenced by secret funds;
there are many who hope to fish in its bloodstained waters…If it is allowed to conquer it will mean in the end the destruction  of individual rights, the family, the nation, and the whole British Commonwealth, together wit the handing over of all we hold sacred into the power of those who stand behind and perhaps have fashioned this monstrous organization…

If this evil is to be beaten, the signatories argued, it would require 'counter organisation' and funding:

The first we hope to be able to supply; the second we ask you to help us obtain. We desire in a clean and open fashion to fight what we believe to be a great and terrible evil,

John Steinbeck and 'The Wizard of Maine'

Found among a collection of modern first edition catalogues this offering from Bradford Morrow in a catalogue entitled John Steinbeck: A Collection of Books and Manuscripts, Formed by Harry Valentine of Pacific Grove, California (Bradford Morrow Bookseller: Catalogue 8/1980). Morrow has subsequently become a distinguished novelist.  Hopefully this was  bought by a library but it could also have gone to a wealthy private collector. It does not appear to have ever been published. Many such items, especially letters and association copies sometimes disappear completely, and the only record of the item is a catalogue entry…

Manuscript of Unpublished Novella

289. 'The Wizard of Maine'. Original holograph manuscript written on 30 folio leaves and laid into original three-quarter cloth and marbled paper binder, of an unpublished novella by Steinbeck. Each sheet is written on recto only

Thursday, November 19, 2015

An ‘innocent hoax’ played on Frank Kermode

The late Frank Kermode is best known today as the most prominent Romantic critic in twentieth century English letters---a more intelligent version of Herbert Read. Among rare book traders he is also notorious as the man who, in 1996, lost most of his collection, which included some valuable first editions, to the refuse collectors of Cambridge City Council, who, mistaking them for rubbish, disposed of them in the city tip. It seems that Mr Kermode was prone to absent mindedness where books were concerned. In an article of October 1973 from the Haining archive that appeared in The Daily Telegraph he recounts how he somehow lost his ‘whole collection, including The Darkening Ecliptic ‘on his trip home from Australia in 1945.

The loss of The Darkening Ecliptic must have been particularly irksome to Kermode

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Princess Alice paddle steamer disaster of 1878----why was the death toll so high?

The late Peter Haining
was one of many writers fascinated by the terrible events of the evening of 3rd September 1878, when the paddle steamer ‘Princess Alice’, laden with over 800 day trippers returning from an excursion to Margate, was rammed by the collier Bywell Castle close to North Woolwich. Over 630 men, women and children perished in the disaster, which remains the worst in the history of river navigation—not just in the UK, but in the world.

Hoping to publish a book on the subject, Peter Haining kept clippings both from the centenary coverage of the disaster in 1978 and from August 1989,when a much smaller vessel, the ‘Marchioness’, sank further upstream in the Thames. He also researched a similar Victorian sinking in 1875, when the’ Deutschland’ went down off the Kentish coast, carrying among its passengers,   five German  nuns--- a disaster which  prompted Gerard Manly Hopkins to compose his famous poem The Wreck of the Deutschland.

To most historians the most intriguing aspect of the ‘Princess Alice’ sinking wasn’t the circumstances, which are familiar to most people, but the aftermath.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Obscure Victorian magazines---number 3—The Pantile Papers

If we hadn’t found this letter among a pile of other manuscripts it is unlikely that anyone else would have written anything useful on E.S.Littleton or his short-lived literary magazine, The Pantile Papers. Having said that, at least one book dealer has recorded that this was a ‘very rare’ periodical. However, two examples are currently in the market---one single issue priced at £120; the other a complete run for £350. So perhaps it’s not so rare—but interesting at least.

According to a very brief notice in George Hull’s The Poets of Blackburn  Edward  Littleton was born in Blackburn, Lancashire, the son of a minister. In 1877 he published a slim volume entitled Hamand and other Poems and not long afterwards moved to Tunbridge Wells to set up a new ‘Monthly Literary Magazine and Review ‘which he christened The Pantile Papers in honour of the towns’s famous street, The Pantiles. Confusingly, the magazine’s editorial address appears on our featured letter  as 11, Stationer’s Hall Court, London EC, which could suggest that Littleton felt an address in the City might attract more contributors and readers.

The opening issue was published in February 1878, but by September Littleton does seem to be struggling to find the quality material he covets.

The Beatles - Where do they go from here? (1965)

Found in Photoplay from April 1965 this speculative article about The Beatles by Anne Hooper -'Where do they go from here?' Some now slightly forgotten names are mentioned -Pete Murray, Ray Noble, David Jacobs, Maureen Cleave and also the unfortunately not forgotten Jimmy Savile ('that crazy, way-out disc jockey') who claims (surely falsely?) that  he worked at Liverpool  docks with the lads...

What is to happen to our golden boys? How along will they last? What will they be doing in , say five years time? These are among the dozens of questions that are asked today about the phenomenal Beatles.

Rumours of splits and break-ups are often heard. Fierce competition from groups like 'The Rolling Stones' has had the fans shaking their heads and saying, "Well, they've had it good, but can't last." But it has, though. The Beatle's last single "I Feel Fine" proved that the boys were still very much on top. They haven't been eclipsed by the Stones and, with their second film about to be produced, they're not likely to be by anyone...

Monday, November 9, 2015

Accolades for Elvis, King of Rock

Found in an amusing slim music trivia paperback Rock's Follies: Soundbites from the world of rock this collection of (mostly) eulogistic quotes about Elvis Presley, oddly titled 'The father of us all?' The book was given away with the April 1996 issue of  men's lifestyle magazine Maxim. Amongst the quotes were these (1-11) and we were inspired to find a few more (12-22)  by this excellent book (illustrated  by the late, great Ray Lowry, R.I.P.) The last entry by Nik Cohn would probably end up in Pseud's Corner in the cynical U.K. but it addresses the King's spiritual side.

The father of us all?

1. Without Elvis, none of us could have made it. - Buddy Holly

2. I didn't think he was as good as the Everly Brothers the first time I ever laid eyes on him. - Chuck Berry.

3. It took people like Elvis to open the door for this kind of music, and I thank God for Elvis Presley. - Little Richard.

4. Gosh, he's so great. You have no idea how great he is, really you don't. You have no comprehension - it's absolutely impossible. I can't tell you why he's so great, but he is. He's sensational. He can so anything with his voice. He can sing anything you want him to, anyway you tell him. The unquestionable King of rock 'n' roll. - Phil Spector.

5.When I first heard Elvis' voice I just knew that I wasn't going to work for anybody; and nobody was going to be my boss. Hearing him for the first time was like busting out of jail. - Bob Dylan.

English translation howlers

From Funny or Die site (thanks)
From the Peter Haining Archive. These are taken from a collection compiled by Thomas Cook employees in Nottingham during the period 1987 – 95:

‘You are invited to take advantage of the chambermaid ‘
Notice in Japanese hotel

‘Ladies are requested not to have children in the bar’
Announcement in Norwegian cocktail lounge.

‘The lift is being fixed. During that time we regret you will be unbearable’
Notice in a Bucharest hotel lobby.

‘The flattening of underwear with pleasure is the job of the chambermaid’
Notice in a Yugoslav hotel.

‘Our wines leave you with nothing to hope for ‘.
Swiss restaurant menu.

‘Ladies may have fit upstairs’
Outside a Hong Kong tailors

‘Special today—no ice cream’
Swiss mountain inn

‘Order your summer suit. Because of big rush we will execute customers in strict rotation’
In a Rhodes tailors.

‘We take your bag and send it in all directions’
Copenhagen airline ticket

‘Teeth extracted by the latest Methodists’

Hong Kong dentist 


Sunday, November 8, 2015

Point It Out: The Picture Speech For All Nations

Found - a handy little book Point It Out: The Picture Speech For All Nations by one Walter Sefton. It was published 'by authority of the War Office Welfare Department' (Leicester, 1944.) The title page notes that the book was '…designed to make help all men and women of the Allied Services in making their needs easily understood in foreign countries - a guide and comfort and friend when in any difficulty.' This type of book is still published (The Wordless Travel Book and the Point it Traveller's Language Kit),and there may even be an app - although now people probably just find an image on their phones and show it to a helpful foreigner..

The page shown is for use on board a steamship, possibly to answer requests such as 'Where is my car?' and 'Can I smoke in the bar?' 'I need a rug for sitting on the deck chair' and 'Where is the ship's library?'

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Occupation: Female Companion

Joan Fontaine in 'Rebecca'
Found in  The Fingerpost: A Guide to Professions for Educated Women, with Information as to Necessary Training (Central Bureau for the Employment of Women,1906) an article about getting work as a female companion. It suggests that the occupation, often found in thrillers and novels up to the late 1930s, hardly existed even in 1906. Vere Cochran, the writer of this piece, says that the profession was at its height in early Victorian times when 'semi invalidism' was a
prevailing fashion. 'Who (now) can afford the doubtful luxury of a paid companion?' One of the most notable companions in fiction is the unnamed narrator of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca (1938) While working as the companion to a wealthy American woman on holiday in Monte Carlo she meets the rich and troubled widower Max de Winter who whisks her off to his country mansion Manderley...

"Companion, Housekeeper, or any position of trust - I could undertake work of this kind". 

If the many seekers after work who open their campaign with these words could gauge their true import, or the effect which they produce, they would not so lightly use them. Few words could more clearly display their ignorance with regard to the conditions of the labour market;

Friday, November 6, 2015

John Thomas Smith as Hamlet

‘The Keeper of the prints showing A.E.C. how the Balcony scene should be performed' (Pen and ink drawing by Edward Chalon)

One of the most famous Keepers of Prints at the British Museum was John Thomas Smith (1760 - 1833), who was also a gifted amateur artist, an antiquary, and a writer on art and artists, whose two most acclaimed books were the scurrilous Nollekens and his Times (1828) and the exceedingly scarce and sought after Vagabondiana (1817), which contains forty or more etchings of well known mendicants in the metropolis based on his own sketches.

But in his early days Smith had hopes of becoming an actor, and in 1787 was promised an engagement with the Royalty Theatre in London. Unfortunately, this fell through and he set up as a drawing master instead. But if the portraitist Alfred Edward Chalon (1780 – 1860) is to be believed, Smith retained an interest in performing throughout his life. Here we have a pen and ink drawing

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Yellow Perils - Yokohama F.C. (1909)

'The idea of Japs playing football ----in the English Cup too- struck them as being intensely amusing …'

So wrote the sports writer William Pollock of the fans and players before the match in his short story 'The Yellow Perils' which appeared in the  January 28th 1909 number of Pearson’s Weekly. It’s also unlikely that these same sceptics would have backed a Japanese rugby team to beat the South Africans in the 2015 World Cup in England.

'The Yellow Perils' is a fictional account of the exploits of a visiting soccer team, Yokohama F.C. in pursuit of The English Cup, where their extraordinary success in trouncing not only a few lowly London teams, such as Hammersmith Rovers and Shepherd’s Bush, but also such League One titans as Chelsea, Aston Villa, Newcastle United, Tottenham Hotspur, and Manchester City, astounded everyone who witnessed them play.

To those who watched the humbling of such a famous team as Chelsea,