Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Reviews of Lord of Strange Deaths

Apparently reviews of Lord of Strange Deaths are in the pipelines  of various prestigious publications.

At the moment I'm perfectly content with this one from William Patrick Maynard at Black Gate.

Here's another from this week's Spectator.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Censorship Ain't Wot It Used T'Be

Reading a short book by Frank Norman Why Fings Went West about the London theatrical scene in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the letter reprinted in its entirety (pp.66-68) from the Lord Chamberlain's Office amused me.  It may seem strange to many that the Lord Chamberlain was able to censor plays from 1737 up until the Theatres Act of 1968.  Frank Norman had an interesting life of real struggle (it's unlikely he would manage to escape from the precariat these days) and was part of that whole Soho scene chronicled by Dan Farson in his highly entertaining books.  Norman was co-author with Jeffrey Bernard of one of the definitive works of that genre Soho Night and Day (I only have the paperback, the hardback is an expensive collector's item).

Incidentally, during the summer we spent a week staying at a cottage in the Devon village of Georgeham.  One morning I went for a wander, as I tend to do, around the village church and churchyard; I came across a gravestone for Negley Farson, which nagged at me, as I was sure I'd heard the name somewhere.  It was only later that I realised that he was Dan Farson's father and had once been a well known author and correspondent.  Apparently Dan inherited his father's alcoholism and both men died in the house at Georgeham.

The Norman book was one of a series called Time Rembered issued in the 1970s by Lemon Tree Press, based in Bedfordbury and named after the still-popular pub nearby.  The press owner Allen Synge sounds like another of those admirable small publishers of the period.

Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be was a successful musical with music by Lionel Bart, recently revived - interesting that The Guardian review also mentions the camp interior decorator.

The Licensee
Garrick Theatre.

7th February 1961

Dear Sir,

The Lord Chamberlain has received numerous complaints against the play 'Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be', in consequence of which he arranged for an inspection of the Garrick Theatre to be made on 1st February last.

It is reported to his Lordship that numerous unauthorised amendments to the allowed manuscript have been made, and I am to require you to revert to it at once, submitting for approval any alteration which you wish to make before continuing them in use.

In particular I am to draw your attention to the undernoted, none of which would have been allowed had they been submitted, and which I am to ask you to confirm by return of post have been removed from the play.

Act I
Indecent business of Rosie putting her hand up Red Hot's bottom.

The dialogue between Rosie and Bettie.  'You've got a cast iron stomach.' 'You've got to have in our business.'

The interior decorator is not to be played as a homosexual and his remark '...Excuse me dear, red plush, that's very camp, that is,' to be omitted, as is the remark, 'I've strained meself.'

The builder's labourer is not to carry the plank of wood in the erotic place and at the erotic angle that he does, and the Lord Chamberlain wishes to be informed of the manner in which the plank is in future to be carried.

Act II
The reference to the Duchess of Argyll is to be omitted.  Tosher, when examining Red Hot's bag, is not to put his hand on Rose's bottom with finger aligned as he does at the moment.

The remark, 'Don't drink that stuff, it will rot your drawers,' is to be omitted.

Tosher is not to push Rosie backwards against the table when dancing in such a manner that her legs appear through his open legs in a manner indicative of copulation.

Yours faithfully

The Lord Chamberlain's Office,
St James's Palace, SW1

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Talk at Putney Library

I shall be talking about Secret Tunnels of England: Folklore and Fact at Putney Library on Thursday 10th December 7 to 8pm.

Also a talk for the London Fortean Society at Conway Hall, Holborn in March next year.  Details to follow.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Shops selling Secret Tunnels of England

Together with Sounds That Swing in Camden Town Secret Tunnels of England: Folklore and Fact is also available from the following London shops:

Atlantis, 49a Museum Street, WC1

Hatchard's, 187 Piccadilly, W1

London Review Bookshop, 14 Bury Place, WC1A

Treadwell's, 33 Store Street, WC1

Watkins Books, 19-21 Cecil Court, WC2

In Nottingham:

Five Leaves Bookshop, 14a Long Row

More to be added...

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Nottingham Readers' Day 2015

I shall be returning to Nottingham next month to give a talk at 2:00 in the afternoon at the 12th Readers' Day on Saturday 7 November.  Events will be held in County Hall, West Bridgford.  Author Linda Grant is the main attraction at the end of the day, but if I get there early enough I'd like to hear the talk about literary impostures.

Programme and booking here.

I shall have copies of the new book (and maybe some older ones) to sell there.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Secret Tunnels of England

The book will be now out on Friday 9th October.  Apart from the copies I'll have with me to sell at talks (at a reduced price) the other main outlet is:

Sounds That Swing
88 Parkway
Camden Town
London NW1 7AN

Telephone: 020 7267 4682

email: nohit.records@yahoo.co.uk

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Lord of Strange Deaths

It would appear that the much-delayed Lord of Strange Deaths, which I co-edited with Phil Baker (in case everyone's forgotten, it's about Sax Rohmer and amongst other things his most famous/notorious creation Fu Manchu) will emerge from the printer on the same day at the end of this month as Secret Tunnels of England, a rather bizarre coincidence that will mark the culmination of three years' work.  Available from Strange Attractor - I'm hoping to have a few copies to sell on my promotional travels, but we shall see.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Secret Tunnels of England: Folklore and Fact

Published early October 2015 (the cover is proving problematical for the printers and has delayed publication by a few days)

Foreword by Bradley L Garrett and Afterword by Gary Lachman

Available from Sounds That Swing Parkway, Camden Town, London and at my talks.

A talk on 22 October in London.

I am hoping to promote the book around England over the next few months:

There will be a talk at York Central Library (should be on their website soon) at 3pm on Sunday 25 October.

Another will takes place in the independent bookshop Five Leaves in Nottingham on Wednesday 28 October.

Some more talks in London and elsewhere will follow in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Boleskine House

On a first visit to Loch Ness in the spring I just had to go to Boleskine House on the side of the loch.  Still quite remote and a long way down a far less busy road than the one thronged with coaches on the opposite side it was pretty atmospheric - the cemetery opposite is also worth visiting.  As I didn't want to trespass I couldn't get a full view of the house - as it is you have to stand on the front wall and avoid the barbed wire.  Better photos by those who had no such qualms can be found online, for example here.  Photos below are taken by me, apart from the pic of Jimmy Page, who hardly spent any time there when he owned it, as he was rather busy at the time.

The golden ram of Satan

Another reason for visiting Warminster was as research for a small part of my new publication on secret tunnels.  In one of his increasingly bonkers books Warnings from Flying Friends Arthur Shuttlewood mentions the burial in a secret tunnel near Warminster of a 'talisman of the Devil' (although a talisman is actually intended to ward off evil).
Extract below that follows on from folklore accounts of the burial of a 'golden calf', often in a tunnel, which are surprisingly common around England:

"A darker alternative form of the golden calf tale, was recounted by journalist Arthur Shuttlewood, an eccentric writer on ufology who enjoyed some fleeting renown for publicizing the so-called ‘Warminster Thing’ in the 1960s.  In one of a series of increasingly bizarre and credulity-stretching books he claimed to have been told the tale of the burial locally of the ‘golden ram of Satan’ when researching local ghost folklore concerned with the Royal Oak pub in Corsley Heath, a village about four miles (6.4 km) west of Warminster.  According to Shuttlewood the building had once been a monks’ refectory that formed part of thirteenth-century Longleat Priory, on the site now occupied by Longleat House and was haunted by the ghost of a monk in a brown habit.  The Royal Oak’s landlord had also told him that a ‘triangle of passages and tunnels’ led from the pub to Cley Hill – a prominent landmark to the west of Warminster, with evidence of an Iron Age hill fort on its summit – and a nearby farmhouse at Whitbourne. 

Some weeks after the story was published in ‘a leading evening newspaper’ Shuttlewood was contacted by the landlord who said he had been visited by ‘a tall thin man with fanatical dark eyes who claimed that the [tunnels] held the most precious secret or earthly relic of the Devil.’  After his request to visit the cellars was granted the young man then asked about demolishing the cellar wall that was said to separate the inn from one of the tunnels.  When the landlord refused permission his mysterious visitor ‘confided his firm belief that the talisman of the Devil, the golden ram of Satan, lay buried in the earthen walls of the tunnel, probably interred under Cley Hill itself.’"

We visited the Royal Oak (my photo), a very friendly pub, and had a nice lunch in the beer garden.  I asked the landlady if she knew anything about Shuttlewood's extraordinary story but, not surprisingly she, and some of the older regulars, had never heard of it.  One middle-aged man did say there was supposed to be a tunnel to nearby Cley Hill, so that part of the tale is still based in local folklore.