One of the wisest things I ever heard was in the Cinema Bookshop in London. I always like to go there whenever I’m down — come to think of it, haven’t been in YEARS — and on this occasion I was there with Fiona and producer Nigel Smith. I was trying to decide whether to buy a pricey coffee-table type volume about Sergio Leone. I had been amazed at finding it, having never seen a copy or even having heard of it, and this was before Sir Christopher Frayling’s mammoth biography, so there was a sparsity of Leone literature around. And yet, there was the price.
Nigel said, “If you want to buy it, buy it NOW.” He was right — I’ve never seen a copy of that book for sale since. It probably helped sway me that the Cinema Shop had been the site of one major deferred purchase I’ve always regretted.
I’d found a copy of Dan Leno: Hys Booke, written by himself, A volume of frivolities, etc. A slender volume at a high price, it was really beyond my financial limits at the time. And yet I bet it was a bargain. Leno had nothing to do with cinema, he was a Victorian music hall star — and a fascinating figure. His book seemed very funny, but I can’t remember any of what I read. I can only remember a joke I saw quoted by comedy expert Roy Hudd on TV: “I found myself washed up on a desert island. Discovering a piece of fruitcake, I noticed that all the currants had been removed, and I rejoiced at this sign of civilisation.”
Hys Booke, as the title suggests, was crazy with wordplay, like a mid-period Spike Milligan novel, which made sense given Leno’s eventual insanity — incessant punning can be a feature of mania. At any rate, I’ve always regretted not picking it up.
The other book I really really regret not buying wasn’t even expensive, I just couldn’t decide if I neededit or not. A couple of days later I returned to Till’s Bookshop in Edinburgh, and dealt with the art of Charles Altamont Doyle, father of the more famous son of Edinburgh, Arthur Conan Doyle. Doyle Snr suffered from depression, alcoholism and eventually, complete insanity, having failed to earn a living by his drawing and painting. But it’s wondrous stuff, and touched with madness from the get-go. Like his brother Richard, Charles Doyle painted scenes of Fairyland, with less skill but with more eccentricity — and eccentricity is essential in lifting Victorian fairy art out of the realms of the twee and back into the scary world of Celtic and Old English mythology where it rightfully belongs.
One ilustration, entitled Kissing the Sphinx, seemed to me gloriously perverse and erotic, though perhaps mainly for its title. Illustration-wise it’s admittedly trumped by THIS BEAUTY by Franz Von Stuck.
Again, I’ve never seen the Doyle book for sale anywhere since.
HAPPY ENDING — I was forgetting, this is the Age of the Internet (how can I forget it when I’m ON it?) — the book, The Doyle Diary, is readily available secondhand on Amazon! Ordered — for 1 penny!
Dan Leno, His Booke, is likewise available, but even more expensive that it was in the Cinema Shop… I’ll have to delay that one until I’m rich.
Nevertheless, I think Nigel’s general point holds true.