Thursday, 1 November 2012


My trips to London, to contact people who might further my career as an author, bore fruit when I signed on with a new literary agent who claimed he would make me a household name within two years providing I concentrated on works of non fiction rather than novels. 'Publishers do not like taking risks on fantasy and make their money from reality,' he said and, to this end, straight away got me a contract to write a history of air disasters which plunged me into weeks of depressing research and months of doom and gloom at the typewriter. However, he also got me to be interviewed on radio and television which led to me broadcasting regularly for a while.   
 My first small-screen appearance was on an early evening programme for Southern Television to promote my book on luxury foods. On arriving at the studios I expected to have a chat with the interviewer before the programme to map out what we would discuss, but everything was done in a terrible rush. I was taken to the make up room where a very nice girl pampered me with cosmetics to make me look healthier, I was then more or less frog-marched to the studio itself where the host sat me down at a mock restaurant table laid out with silver cutlery, crystal glasses, porcelain plates, flowers and candles.
 'We’re on live, you know that,' he whispered sitting down opposite me. The floor manager counted five backwards on his fingers and the show was on.
 My interviewer asked me a number of banal questions relating to the book, giving me the impression he hadn’t read it, after which a waitress appeared with a bottle of red wine and poured me some in a glass to taste.
 'What is your opinion of this vintage?' I was asked, to prove, I suppose, that I was a connoisseur, though I had only written a very small section on the subject.
 I went through the routine of sniffing, twirling and studying the colour, took a sip and gulped, astonished.
 'I think it’s watered down Ribena,' I declared with a smile.
 Some of the technicians laughed, my host was not amused and the programme came to a rather abrupt end.
 That night I was rung up by my new agent who told me never to do that again and the following week I appeared on television in London, the North, East Anglia and in the Midlands, having learned that I should help the host with the questions rather than the other way round as they seldom did their homework.
 In Bristol, closer to home, I was interviewed on BBC radio and things were very different. 
 The producer and interrogator, Brian Skilton, was a serious, intensely professional young man who had read the book carefully and talked me through the programme well in advance. The broadcast was therefore a success and afterwards he invited me to a coffee.    
 'That went very well,' he said 'specially the anecdote about attempting to breed snails in Somerset for the french market though it's not true. I’d like you to do a humorous series about your life as a townie in the West Country for our breakfast programmes. Would you send me some ideas?'
 During the following week I submitted a few ideas, met Brian to tidy them up, then regularly set off to Bristol at the crack of dawn once a week to do a piece into a microphone, returning home for lunch always curious to know what Eve had thought of my performance.
 After the fourth time on air I suspected that she hadn’t actually listened to the broadcast.  After the fifth I came to the conclusion that she was not really interested in any of my creative activities and was, in fact, rather irritated by them. 
 She had lost her desire to paint, was bored now that both boys were going to school, smoking far too much and seemed to have lost what little energy she had. Was it the country life? Did she miss London? Apparently not. She just had nothing to interest her till I suggested we convert our empty chapel into an antique shop. She’d enjoyed going to auctions when we were furnishing the house, there was no competition in any of the neighbouring villages, we could probably fill the place quickly with second hand furniture and a few good antiques and, overnight, Eve found her enthusiasm for life again.
 It was going to be a serious business, so we invested in it. The old chapel was repaired, decorated and a sign hung outside proclaiming  ‘The Gallery  - Antiques’ . We bought a van, advertised the shop and within a month Eve was going to sales and returning with walnut bureaus, spindle backed chairs, countless pieces of porcelain, pottery and  glassware which she sold for a small profit to dealers and private collectors. During suppers the gossip from the various characters that came to The Gallery was discussed and the day’s takings excitedly counted. I learned with great interest that Mrs Evelyn Waugh had bought a Royal Worcester teapot - the author and family lived in Combe Florey three miles away - and that a small, white haired old lady from just round the corner who was interested in musical boxes was Arthur C.Clarke’s mother.
 One day a young man from London, with long hair, wearing a colourful shirt and flared jeans, bought the brass bed which Eve used as a display unit. 'I’ll buy as many of these as you can get me,' he said and handed her the address of his decor boutique in Carnaby Street. Brass beds were the rage apparently, attics in the West Country were full of them but he didn’t have the time to search. 
 Between writing about Boeing 707s crashing, going to the BBC in Bristol for the morning broadcasts and collecting brass beds from distant auctions, I drove to London with the heavy pieces tied to the roof rack of the van and delivered them to the wonderland that was Carnaby Street.
  It was in the young man’s decor boutique, an Aladin's cave heavily scented by smouldering joss sticks and crowded with anything from pine cupboards to colourful kaftans draped over Victorian papier maché screens, that I met the young actress who was to lead me astray. On learning that I was an author and broadcaster and wrongly assuming that I might be of some use to her, she handed me a free ticket to the Shaftesbury Theatre where she was appearing in the new musical Hair.
 That evening I sat in the stalls happily watching her sing and dance as a dizzy hippy in the nude. Afterwards, I invited her out to dinner.

Photo from 'Historic Air Disasters'
The Gallery - Antiques

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