Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Wonderful Mr Wilson

When I was a lowly bookseller in the early 1990s, I noticed a rather aristocratic-looking woman in her 60s, striding around the shop as if she owned it. She stopped, took a book from the shelf and shouted "Antonio! Antonio!" A few seconds later, a slightly disheveled man in a tweed jacket shuffled across the carpet, saying "What? Oh yes...Er...Hmphh..."

It was Anthony Burgess. I recognised him immediately, from his many appearances on chat shows.

Burgess was the polar opposite of Sallinger*; maddeningly prolific and seemingly incapable of turning down an opportunity to appear on television or write a newspaper article. But, as this appearance on the Dick Cavett Show demonstrates, you can see why the offers kept coming in:



* I've been corrected on my spelling of Salinger. My apologies. My wife is always telling me off for not proof-reading what I've written.

11 comments:

Stephen Mitchelmore said...

JD might have felt the need to appear on TV to shout "One L in Salinger!".

Usually it's "Hemmingway", so this is novel. Thanks!

Steerforth said...

I don't know who you're talking about, but I was referring to Etienne Sallinger, the author of La Vie Est Trop Courte Pour la P├ędanterie, a retiring man who only published one novel.

George said...

The local used book sale yielded a copy of Little Wilson and Big God a while back, which like most Burgess is very readable. I did not much like what I believe was his final novel, The End of the World News, but I did enjoy the preface, which I recall as saying that it wasn't worth the trouble of writing good books any more.

J.D. Salinger published more than the double-ell Frenchman, at least one novel, two novellas, and a book of short stories. But he long outlived his last publication date.

Annabel (gaskella) said...

Burgess certainly is great value (despite his mop of hair) - I chuckled all the way through that clip - thanks for finding it. It also reminds me that I have his Shakespeare book 'Nothing like the sun' on my shelves to read ...

Canadian Chickadee said...

What a fun post. Love your reply, Steerforth. xoxo

MikeP said...

Elderly publisher anecdote: for a while in the 80s I was Burgess's paperback publisher (Abacus) - The Kingdom of the Wicked, notably.

I only met him once, in London, in a hotel somewhere in Bayswater where he was staying with his rather fearsome wife. We had nothing much to talk about, it was merely a courtesy call, and I took along a Sphere/Abacus catalogue, mostly so he could see the company he was keeping, which included Primo Levi.

After the briefest glance at the Abacus list he moved on to the mass-market stuff on the Sphere list, particularly SF and crime. 'Haven't read that...haven't read that...could I have a copy of that...?' he was soon saying, to the point where I gave him a pen and asked him to mark the titles.

I ended up sending a sizeable box of freebies to his house in Monaco. Knowing his voracious reading habits, I have no doubt he read all of them, too. He was a bit of an old rogue, inclined to self-importance, but a true renaissance man - we won't see his like again.

joan.kyler said...

I thought it was interesting that he almost never met anyone's eyes. I'm not sure why that attracted my attention, but it did.

Nota Bene said...

Mr Burgess' comments at the beginning...about London being a Utopia so there's nothing to write about, where as American is a very interesting place had me laughing until I nearly fell off my seat...

Steerforth said...

George - I ended up with a free copy of Little Wilson and Big God and found it entertaining but exhausting. I wouldn't want to be stuck on a Greyhound bus with Burgess for longer than two hours.

Annabel - He's entertaining and there's a dry sense of humour behind the eccentric facade, but he does go on.

Carol - Thanks. I hope you explore the works of Etienne when you have a chance.

Mike - I agree. He was an extraordinary man, frustrated that he never achieved his true vocation of composing (although his music's pretty awful). I used to wonder why he appeared on Wogan, which was always slightly embarrassing for him and Terry.

Joan - Perhaps it's all scripted and he's reading an autocue ;)

Nota Bene - Yes, that was hilarious - ten years before the riots. He was living in Italy at the time and I suspect that his visits to London didn't expose him to the livelier districts of the city.

Anne said...

"And it's just been published by Kernopff". I never knew that's how to pronounce it.

Jot101 said...

Thanks for this amazing post. I was once in a phone box in France with a book dealer who had his phone number and some sort of introduction. We phoned his Monte Carlo number and got short shrift. He did not want to sell a single book.