The web page of the Albion Beatnik Bookstore in Oxford, now closed (as usual) for business: muses and misspills on books, jazz, poetry, stuff like false flags and smoke screen: was randomly decrepit and proven to be more than neo-bankrupt: it was so analogue it was anal and now deceased.
PATRICK HAMILTON’s father was a barrister, but an inheritance altered his perspective – drink, travel and mistresses then took precedence, his wife and three children ignored. When Patrick was twelve, his mother left with the children and they took up residence in the first of a series of boarding houses. He spent a year at Westminster School and left when fifteen: his brother-in-law had found him a job as assistant stage manager and actor at a theatre. His first novel Monday Morning, published in 1925, was Dickensian in style, followed by Craven House, which records the stories of inmates at a boarding house. Many of his books touch on his own experiences and feelings: The Midnight Bell (1929) was based upon Hamilton’s passionate love of a prostitute, and together with The Siege of Pleasure (1932) and The Plains of Cement (1934) was later published as the semi-autobiographical trilogy 20,000 Streets Under The Sky. Hangover Square (1941) takes place in his by then home ground of Earl’s Court, and features a prostitute and drink: his stories are not for those who want a light, fluffy read. He did much to advance the London Novel genre, with atmospheric writing and a flair for the local spoken word.
His theatrical successes, Rope (1929) and Gaslight (1938), were also made into successful films, but he remained successfully broke – an apartment off Piccadilly Circus and heavy drinking are inclined to drain resources. Hamilton was not destined for a glamorous, easy life. In 1932, when all should have been on top of the world, he was accidentally badly fractured by a car, and even plastic surgery could not erase his facial injuries. Even so, he married twice, and for the last few years when he was dying with liver and kidney failure, both of his wives nursed him.
Iain Sinclair, Peter Ackroyd, Grahame Greene and J.B. Priestley all praised his work, and John Betjeman referred to him as “…one of the best English novelists…”
BOOKS IN PRINT:
Craven House “Dickens with a touch of E.F. Benson.”- ANTHONY POWELL
The Slaves of Solitude “We are spared nothing: and nothing is sentimentalised.” – MICHAEL HOLROYD
Hangover Square London, 1939, and in the grimy publands of Earls Court, George Harvey Bones pursues the cool and contemptuous Netta.
The Gorse Trilogy Ernest Ralph Gorse is one of the most captivating anti-hero, whose heartlessness and lack of scruple are matched by the inventiveness and panache with which he swindles his victims.
20,000 Streets Under the Sky A semi-autobiographical tale of obsession and betrayal set in a seedy pub in run-down London: a brilliant portrayal of city working-class life.
JULIAN MacLAREN-ROSS (1912-1964) was born to a father of mixed Scottish and Cuban origin, and a mother of Anglo-Indian descent. Educated in the South of France, he went on to become one of the key figures in the Fitzrovian set, and was largely responsible for defining the sleazy bohemian allure of post-war Soho. This he achieved through a series of amusing and significant short stories as well as his classic Memoirs of the Forties (1965), which features memorable sketches of Dylan Thomas, Graham Greene and others. Typically to be found in the saloon bar of the Wheatsheaf on Rathbone Place, his contemporaries included Quentin Crisp, Joan Wyndham, Aleister Crowley, Augustus John, Robert Colquhoun, Dylan Thomas and others. To ensure that he stood out amongst such a flamboyant crowd he was rarely without his aviator sunglasses and cigarette holder, and completed this theatrical garb by draping his sharp suits with a teddy-bear coat.
Although attending school in France, he spent much of his childhood in a Bournemouth suburb, and his memoir The Weeping and the Laughter (1953) deals mostly with these experiences. In 1943 a spell in the army came to an abrupt end when he was discharged for being ‘absent without leave’ – he was discovered at home with a female friend.
A regular contributor to both London Magazine and Horizon, he was considered to be a supporter of the Labour movement and the social depravation of the time is a feature of his writing.
BOOKS IN PRINT:
Bitten By The Tarantula Short stories of wartime London and Bohemian life.
Of Love and Hunger Harsh, vivid, louche and slangy.
Selected Stories Mordant, humorous asides are unable to hide the melancholy.
Collected Memoirs England’s rejoinder to the hard-living American Beat poets.
Selected Letters Gleeful accounts of a love life, and despair at poverty.
COLIN MacINNES (1914-1976) was the earliest writer to identify both the rise of the teenage generation and an emergent multicultural London. He was openly gay at a time when homosexuality was still an illegal taboo, he wrote about the urban decay, racial conflict, bisexuality, anarchy and drugs that permeated Notting Hill in the 1950s, the scene of race riots in 1958. This melting pot of youth and black immigrant culture is the backdrop to his early classics, City of Spades (1957), Absolute Beginners (1959), and Mr Love and Justice (1960).
Born in London, he moved to Australia in 1920 with his parents, novelist Angela Thirkell and singer James Campbell McInnes. He returned to Europe in 1930 and worked for five years in Brussels before studying painting. During the war he served with the British Intelligence Corps and his first novel, To the Victors the Spoils, followed his post-war work in occupied Germany. Upon his return to England he took a job with BBC Radio until he was able to support with his writing.
BOOKS IN PRINT:
Absolute Beginners The definitive account of teenage London life in the 1950s.
City of Spades 1957, Victoria Station: an assistant welfare officer meets Johnny Fortune from Lagos.
Mr Love and Justice Seedy London corruption.
SAMUEL SELVON (1923-1994) was born and educated in South Trinidad; his father was Indian and his mother Indian-Scottish. He served in the Royal Navy reserve during World War Two, and there began writing fiction and poetry. After the war he became fiction editor of the Trinity Guardian‘s literary magazine. In 1950 he travelled to Britain.
In London he found a measure of success; his short stories and poetry were published in various journals and newspapers. He did much work with the BBC during the 1960 and 1970s, producing and writing for both radio and television.
His first book, A Brighter Sun (1952), was for the mainly written when he arrived in England, followed by An Island is a World (1955) and The Lonely Londoners (1956), written not in Standard English but in patois, adding a great deal to the atmosphere. Ways of Sunlight (1957), Turn Again Tiger (1958), I Hear Thunder (1963), The Housing Lark (1965), The Plains of Caroni (1970) and Those Who Eat the Cascadura (1972) followed. Moses Ascending (1975) and Moses Migrating (1983) completed the Moses Trilogy.
Selvon held a series of university appointments and received many awards. He moved to Canada in 1978, and died during a visit to Trinidad in 1994.
BOOKS IN PRINT:
The Lonely Londoners Old-hand Moses and unfolding immigrant tales of coming to terms with London life.
OTHER WRITERS of London’s metropolitan life included the versatile GERALD KERSH (1911-1968) who settled in America (where he had gained some success). His novels are set against a fluorescent West End backdrop, involving spivs and streetwalkers, cut-throat razors and back-street drinking clubs. Night and the City (1938), whose anti-hero Harry Fabian wishes to become London’s leading boxing promoter, and Fowlers End (1957) are impressive books. After his death in 1968, Kersh’s literary star fell from grace; but the revival of interest in British gangsters (popular film fodder) has led to a rediscovery of this seminal British gangster novelist. NORMAN COLLINS‘ Belongs To Me (1945) deals with ordinary life and characters, tenants of a large terraced house anticipating war in 1938.
BOOKS IN PRINT:
London Belongs To Me
Fowlers End Kersh’s take on the peculiar underworld of Cockney theatre (with a Cockney glossary).
Night and the City A morally reprehensible spiv is determined to become London’s top wrestling promoter).