Issue # 195

This Week

What you’re all bursting to know is how many times the royal wedding was mentioned in last week’s papers.

You don’t give a toss? That can’t be right, otherwise those worthy charity workers at the Media Standards Trust, who are devoted to protecting the readers from declining levels in the blatts and on TV, would be counting them for no reason.

The answer, apparently, is 867 times. Actually, the figures are pretty meaningless, because they don’t define ‘newspapers’, so we don’t know whether that figure is for the nationals alone, or English rather than British, or whether it includes the regionals and weeklies (but, surely, they don’t buy and read them all… just to count their stories… do they?)

Whatever it is they are scanning, a figure for comparison is that there were 93 articles on Libya and Gaddafi over the same period. And apparently only one mention anywhere of Belgium becoming the second country to ban the burqa

Anyway, we think you probably can’t get enough of it, and start with a rant from Revel Barker, who hasn’t seen a royal wedding in the flesh since 1961 (when the Duke of Kent married another kissable Kate at York Minster). Katherine Worsley was the veritable Yorkshire rose and daughter of the president of the county cricket club, no less. That inspired a spoof headline in the Yorkshire Evening Post – ‘Katherine Worsley opens for Kent’. And the editor warned that heads would roll if word of it ever got outside the building. As far as we know, this is the first time that embargo has been broken.

In all the excitement of royal nuptials, another story that might have been overlooked was the end of the typewriter. (Ker-ching!… Just changing paper.) It prompted Harold Heys – never one to miss a landmark occasion like this – to dust his down, and fiddle with it. That in turn reminded him of probably the best put-down in the history of literature: Capote’s observation on Kerouac’s work: ‘That’s not writing; it’s typing.’

And the old upright’s demise (we’re still talking about typewriters, here) didn’t escape the attention of Neil Marr, either. He’s the guy who has made a couple of our Ranter books accessible on screen. He explains for the Luddites what it’s all about.

For those who yearn for yesteryear, rather than peering into the future (or even into the present), which is probably most of us, Liz Hodgkinson is giving a talk, based on her book Ladies Of The Street, at the Idler Academy. Check the place out. Its website suggests it might be right up the Strasse for many Ranters, although it’s actually in Westbourne Park Road. It describes itself as a ‘bookseller, coffee house and school…’ And it looks like fun. The ‘headmaster’ is Liz’s son Tom, who edits The Idler, a book-shaped magazine devoted to the practice of doing nothing, constructively. And Liz’s book, as you know, is about the contribution of the fairer sex to the success of newspapers. What’s not to enjoy about such a mixture as that?

Still harking back, John Weinthal recalls from Down Under how he got a start in newspapers, proving yet again that it’s not necessarily what you know, but who…

Peter Preston reviews the book that started this how-I-got-started string, The Ideal Occupation by Walter Schwarz, in the Guardian. And he says the shade of William Boot is never far away from this charming memoir by a former colleague.

Then Rudge props up the rest of the page by sending a reporter undercover.

That’s it.


How was it for you?

rbnew By Revel Barker

There are still a few things the Brits do better than anybody in the world, and high among them is pageantry. Who could fail to be impressed by the way that everything – from getting her to the church on time to the totally brilliant (and impossible to rehearse) crowd control in The Mall – was organised?

[And isn’t it wonderful to watch a million people converge on a royal palace to support the people who are inside it, rather than to try to overthrow them?]

The wedding was said to be watched by two billion people, worldwide. And if they were watching our TV cameramen’s work, they were seeing the world’s best exponents of that art.

But if they were listening to our TV commentators, what can one say, except, Oh dear…?

For the most part it was – to use a technical expression – piss-poor.

In broadcast journalism, as in print, there are horses for courses. Some do reporting wonderfully; some do what we used to call ‘descriptive writing’. Some are good at one thing, less good at others. Some are useless, whatever they’re given to do. Royal weddings don’t (thank God) come along very often, but when they do, you wheel out the guys for the job.

In newspapers that used to mean Mulchrone, of course, or Cassandra, Donald Zec, John Knight, John Edwards and yes, even Paul Callan. There’s a reason that I kept collections of writing by Cassandra and Mulchrone in print – simply so that future generations could see how it was done when it was done properly.

Their talent was not in telling us what we saw yesterday, so much as telling us things we didn’t see, or didn’t notice. Might one of them have mentioned that, as the Spitfire, Lancaster and Hurricane flew overhead, all the engines on the ground were made in Germany or Japan? There wasn’t much evidence of that sort of thing in Saturday’s blatts, although I was grateful for Peter Hitchens, in the Daily Mail:

On the way back, the Life Guards (trained killers to a man) for some reason had to be escorted down the road by mounted police. Even Majesty must now be governed and pestered by the twin menaces of ‘security’ and ‘health and safety’.

I don’t know who their broadcasting equivalents might be, these days. I assume they have the people, but if they do, they must have been given the day off.

I was reminded of my old dad, moaning about some dreary-sounding radio announcer. ‘I wouldn’t want them to fire him,’ he said. ‘But they should keep him in reserve, for announcing abdications.’

Look, I’ve never done it, but I’ve watched a lot of it, and it occurs to me that there are three parts of covering state occasions on TV.

There’s the commentary, which needs a voice of authority, explaining the bits that are not obvious. I don’t need anybody to point out which is Elton John; I can recognise my queens, but there were 1,800 faces in the Abbey that I didn’t recognise and – if anybody knew who they were – it might have been interesting if they were identified. Cassandra wouldn’t have agreed, but my guess is that most people over, say, 60, must watch all of these occasions and wish they could have dug up Richard Dimbleby, or his worthy successor Tom Fleming, for the job. There’s a world of difference between commentary and cue-cards.

When there’s a lull, when we’re waiting for the bride to arrive, I don’t mind being told which of his many uniforms the Duke is wearing, and why, and what his medals are, and how he earned them. When the Guards are marching, I don’t object to being reminded how to distinguish between the different regiments. What I object to is seeing Kate on the back seat of a car, smiling, and being told nothing more than that I am seeing her on the back seat of a car, smiling. It’s telly, not radio: on the small screen silence is often golden.

The second bit is the set-piece interview and of course it’s necessary on these occasions to get the expert view on The Dress, and the other dresses (and especially, on this occasion, The Sister’s Dress). But, a tip here: don’t ask presenters to do interviews; that’s a reporter’s job. Presenters read stuff off paper, like actors; they don’t do thinking, and don’t understand anything that’s not written down.

Fiona Bruce had lined up Kate’s former headmaster, bravo. ‘I’m told the Beckhams have just arrived,’ said Huw Edwards. Heave-oh. Oh, and talking of pageantry, as I was at the top, Mr. Edwards used that p-word word more than once in every minute. I started counting, then thought of something better to do (switch channels).

And the third part is the vox-pop. And here, oh dearie, is where it all sank to pass-the-sick-bag proportions on all channels.

I don’t know where they found the people they sent out into the crowds; my guess is they came from pre-entry level for a media studies course in Somalia. To describe the questions as inane would be to flatter them. A troupe of Butlin’s redcoats would have done a better job.

‘What was the best part, for you…?’

And the inevitable ‘How did you feel, when…?’

Even – and being less charitable than my Dad I sincerely hope the culprit has been fired by now – ‘Do you think their marriage will last?’

There’s a simple trick to this (perhaps it’s no longer taught, and they’re not bright enough to see it for themselves), which is that you work out what you want people to say, then you frame your question in a way calculated to get them to say it. The men and women in the street don’t know what they think, or what they’re supposed to think, so they need guidance. And the interviewer (the poor sod who’s lumbered with the joyless task) has to try to make their answers interesting.

Fearne Cotton was nearly an excellent example of how to do it. ‘I can’t believe I’ve got this close to the palace,’ one beaming flag-waving celebrant told her. Next question from Fearne, quick as a flash: ‘Can you believe you’ve got this close to the palace?’

Mmm. A bit late, pet, and in the wrong order, but you’re getting the drift.

If people are laughing and cheering and waving flags, let’s watch them laugh and cheer and wave flags. We know how they feel; you don’t need to ask them. And if you ask them, they can’t describe it. They’re not bloody feature writers.

Ian Skidmore tells the story of falling asleep while doing a radio interview. The interviewee just rattled on, uninterrupted. Skiddy thought he’d get the sack, but a postbag full of letters praised him for allowing the subject to talk without inane interjections.

There’s a lesson there.

If you’ve got nothing to say, do us all a favour and STFU.


Clackety-clack, don’t look back

By Harold Heys

Right then. Hands up all of you who have portable typewriters gathering dust in the attic or under the stairs. Can’t bear to part with them, can you?

Daily Mail columnist Tom Utley stirred a few memories recently with a piece about the last manufacturer of manual typewriters ‘shutting up its production line – almost certainly for good.’

It doesn’t need much of a peg for an experienced columnist to rattle off 1,500 sparklers. Liz Jones can dash off a thousand words on a bird nesting in a tree or the newest shade of mascara. But this particular Utley peg was a bit thin.

Conglomerate Godrej & Boyce of Bombay (I’m far too old to think of it as Mumbai) actually stopped the production of typewriters a couple of years ago. It seems as though they had a few dozen machines to flog off so they floated the ‘Goodbye’ tale in the Indian media and papers such as the Financial Times picked it up.

Clackety-clack! Ping! Kerrrunch! Thud! Ah, how much more satisfying than lightly-fingered flutterings over crunch-free keys.

I must admit I didn’t think much of the giant Remingtons and Underwoods that slumbered menacingly in the offices where I used to work. But my battered, pre-war LC Smith & Corona portable was probably the best present I was every given. Ahead of a boxer puppy (when I was 10), a second-hand snooker cue (16) and a large box of oil paints (21). Since then it’s been racing books and memorabilia and ties.

I was about 12 when my parents bought me the old Smith & Corona from a Blackburn philatelist called Harold Stroud. It cost £12 and that was a lot of money in 1953. I’ve just dug it out of the loft and I’m looking at it now. And smiling. Black and silver and very stylish. Yes, the slight drop on the P and the weak l/c E are just as I remembered them.

It did sterling service over 40 years before I bought my first Mac. I’m an avid Mac fan but the new world of near-silent keyboards is a long way from Clackety-clack! Ping! Kerrrunch! Thud! My poor young wife, back in the mid-60s, did her best to sleep through my rattling out evening council meeting reports well into the early hours ready to hit ‘copy’ a few hours later. She can sleep through anything now.

Godrej & Boyce confirmed that they wouldn’t be making any more manual typewriters (as opposed to stopping production – a subtle difference) at the factory that once churned out 50,000 machines a year in several languages and dialects. It has been revamped into a refrigeration plant.

The announcement created more than a stir of interest on the Internet, a lot of it by youngsters who didn’t really know what they were yattering about. Yes, there’s a firm in New Jersey still manufacturing typewriters but they are the electronic jobs so beloved by PAs in the days when they were known as ‘secretaries’. No Crash-bang-wallop Ping! about those insipid stealth machines.

Biggest problem keeping our old portables serviceable – just in case? Yes, the ribbons. Twenty-odd years of inactivity will have dried them out so you will be lucky to make much of an impression if you decide to give the grandchildren a demonstration. I searched for years before I finally found some new ones – in a little shop in Prague. I bought a dozen. God knows why.

Not a thing went wrong with my Smith-Corona in many years of severe punishment. I never had to have it mended – and I never lost a single story. It never suddenly stopped working. I never had to wade through an inch-thick manual to work out what the problem was; because there was never a problem. I didn’t have to call ‘Frank’ or ‘Philip’ in Hyderabad to ask why my keying was suddenly going from right to left in what looked like Danish.

I spilled coffee over it more than once; crop-sprayed fag ash on it. I splattered it with brandy, dropped it, lost things for ever in its hidden depths, tripped over it and once I threw up over it. And it still smiled back and kept going. Bloody magnificent! Of course if anything did go wrong you just whipped open the top and you’d soon spot the trouble – perhaps a spring had come loose. Fixed in moments! You can’t do that today.

And where would Sherlock Holmes and his sleuth pals be these days without being able to tell at a glance that the blackmail or death-threat letter had been typed on a particular machine. ‘Look Watson: The lower-case ‘e’ has a slight nick in the bar and the ‘h’ key drops slightly. The letter was clearly written on this machine!’ Amazing, Holmes! Piece of piss, Watson.

This sort of technology was used in several important police investigations including the Leopold and Loeb murder case in 1920s America. Police dragged a beat-up Underwood portable from Jackson Park Harbor on Chicago’s South Side and proved that the ransom note had been written on it. They’d struggle these days!

So then, would I – would we – go back to the happy days of manual typewriters? Back to the days when journalists had to be able to spell, just with the occasional help of a handy dictionary, instead of relying on the awful spell-checkers that lull today’s kids into a false sense of expertise and safety?

Back to the days when the news editor stood over you menacingly and ripped each separate par out of your machine? Back to the days when hard-pressed reporters could mop their brows and smash the legend ‘E N D’ with a final flourish?

What a daft question…


Electric books, shock, horror?

By Neil Marr

Confronted with his first fax machine, an old-stager I knew at the Daily Mail in Glasgow discovered, well within a month, that he didn’t really need to stick first-class postage stamps on his London-bound copy.

Those of us long enough in the tooth to remember ‘new’ technology will also recall how easily we adapted. So why do electric books hit us like a high-voltage shock?

Readers switched from clay tablets to papyrus, to scrolls, to hand-copied codex, took to Gutenberg’s idea when he knocked an old wine press into a primitive flat-bed in his cellar six centuries ago, and even survived the advent of cheap, mass-run paperback when even our granddads were young fellers. As tale-spinners, we coped with web-offset and photo-comp.

The world’s last standing typewriter factory (Godrej and Boyce in India) closed last week. We no longer sit-up-and-beg to write. And when was the last time you swapped insults with a bored copy-taker while his tea went cold at around take-three?

In the beginning, we’re assured, was the Word. And how the Word is presented is about as significant as whether a good pint is hand-pumped into a straight glass or into a dimpled mug with a handle on it.

But with no expenses to fritter any more, surely the price of content is a consideration. One point for ebooks. And you’re already screen readers… or how else would you be seeing this week’s GentlemenRanters? Point two scored.

Many of Ranters hack-lit authors agree. Notably Ian Skidmore, who adopted the ebook in his majestic eighties. He wears a handlebar moustache that once put Jimmy Edwards to shame (Prof Jim cheated in the contest), a bow-tie the size of a kite, a Black Watch tartan three-piece suit innocent of volume controls, and he carries a Kindle ebook reader in his pocket – with the capacity to tote a virtual library that’s even greater than that housed in the East Wing of Castle Skiddy itself.

So Ranters first venture into ebooks was with the enthusiastic approval of Skiddy, and Forgive Us Our Press Passes went digital… a faithful reproduction of the revised and extended paperback edition:

Next on board was Anthony Delano. His Slip-Up was released in all ebook formats and at all major and minor ebook stores last week. His Manacled Mormon (the naughty Joyce McKinney yarn) will go electric in June.

We see others from his growing hack-lit catalogue being offered in ebook form fairly regularly from here in. The books are identical to the paper editions… only the means of presentation and the target market has changed.

The hacks and hackettes who wrote these books possess the knack of enthralling the general reader, by the million and day-by-day. So why should their books not appeal just as generally and as widely? Why ‘books by journalists FOR journalists’?

Ebooks make them international and as exciting to the man at the bus stop as they are to us. Some sushi chef in Tokyo might well be reading Slip-Up right now… on a mobile phone while he waits on a railway platform to be shoe-horned onto the bullet train to work. Some jolly swagman is chuckling over Skiddy’s exploits, while sitting beside a billabong under the shade of a coolibah tree (knowing he has 7,000 pages of battery life in his Sony, so she’ll be right).

When lunches, liquids, lurches and life caught up with me in the nineties, I could no longer hack the trains and boats and planes that on-the-move journalism involved and had to quickly learn how to fly a desk. First I authored and ghosted books (for everyone from Random House to more obscure small press), then I became an editor (mostly of fiction – no surprise), and then a small-time publisher in 2000.

From the start, I insisted on ebook cover of every paperback released by BeWrite Books. I’m one of your original ebook evangelists. My wee team has seen over two hundred new and exclusive titles published internationally in the past eleven years. Now BB is so well ahead of the ebook game that, last year, we withdrew all ebook titles from Ingram – the biggest book distributor on the planet – and soon found we had even greater reach than they have.

So Revel took notice and – with a handshake over a virtual bar-top – decided to give ebooks a whirl in cahoots with BeWrite Books. Apart from one recent release (also by an old Fleet Street pal), RBP Hack-lit is our only ebook-only venture.

Downloading and reading an ebook is as simple as falling off a high bar stool, ol’ chums. So here goes…

*Although to enjoy the experience fully, anywhere, anytime, you should lay hands on an ebook-dedicated reading device (there are about 100 on the market; from Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, Sony, Kobo, Apple’s iPad to lesser known gizmos) you can read an ebook on your PC, laptop or netbook… as well as on your Blackberry, smart phone, iPod or even TV screen if you know how.

*You can buy ebooks in many digital formats. Mobi is especially for Kindle, ePub is pretty well industry standard and will present well on most machines. PDF is, in essence, a for-print digital file, but it is also ideal for PCs, laptops and netbooks. Good for tablet computers like iPad and Galaxy, too.

*You can buy ebooks from scores of ebook stores. The Kindle store will offer only Amazon’s proprietary Mobi format for its Kindle machines. Other stores will offer you a choice of download options.

*With a device that has internet access, you can download direct to your ebook-reader. If your device doesn’t have this wi-fi facility, no problem; you simply save your ebook to your PC or laptop desktop and read it there or upload it to your reading device in seconds using a USB cable (price of a packet of crisps). My advice is to download the free and superb Calibre Library software ( This will store and catalogue your virtual library of tens of thousands of books. It will even automatically convert from one digital format to another at the touch of a key.

*All Ranters hack-lit ebooks will be priced at the local equivalent of $5.95 (as are all BeWrite Books digital editions). That’s less than the cost of two pints in real money. If you’re not US-based, you might find an Amazon loading of $2 (UK) or even $4 (elsewhere) on Kindle editions. This is not true of other stores. And at BeWrite Books own bookstore ( the price is fixed at $5.95 and you’re offered the full range of digital options… as well as a link to ours and Ranter’s paperbacks.

*Most stores will also link to book notes and reviews. If you go direct to BeWrite Books, you get this, plus author bio, pix, fuller reviews and also a free download of a generous extract to sample.

*Then you read and have fun.

There are a few tricks and shortcuts and, in the early stages, you might even hit a hitch or two (remember the first time you came to the end of a typewriter ribbon and had to call for help?). If so, just drop me an email and I’ll talk you through.

Pretty well the only things you can’t do with an ebook that you can do with a newspaper is wrap fish and chips in it or strip its pages and hang them for use in the privy.

Edinburgh-born Neil Marr kicked off on evening newspapers in the mid-60s and was a staff reporter and freelance in Manchester, Glasgow and Fleet Street. He freelanced around Europe and the USA before opening Riviera Media Services in France in the late 80s. When ill health forced him off the road, he took to books, and has headed the editorial team of BeWrite Books for the past ten years, working from a home office in Menton.


The law of contacts

weinthal By John Weinthal

As the eldest son of a string of eldest sons going back at least five generations, it was hardly surprising that I set my sights on continuing a male-line family tradition – a life in the Law.

Oddly, my father teetered between neutral support and discouragement.

His argument made some sense in spite of his having made a tidy fortune by age 45 through his country town soliciting and a golden-touch investment nous.

Essentially he averred that while one could become richish, and be a big fish in small pond – that was about it.

He reckoned that achieving and retaining a successful legal practise curtailed world-wide rambling or even easy relocation in one’s own land. Success was built on reputation and that took a goodly number of years of some hardship to build. And nor was knowing everybody’s secrets an easy small-town burden.

To hell with this. I had little imagination and had always assumed I would be a lawyer. There followed a couple of years as an articled clerk – during which Dad dropped dead at 48 leaving Mum with 6 kids ranging from me at 18 to a 3 year old and a three-monther.

I soon decided that the Law was indeed not for me, and told Mum so.

Firmly informed that I would remain in articles at least until I was otherwise gainfully employed, I bussed the 60 miles from our northern NSW home to Brisbane, the capital of Queensland. There I bought The Courier Mail, (to this day ‘The’ with a capital T), the major daily, and studied the jobs columns. Plenty there, but all seemed to require serious effort … not my strong point.

So I retired to my childless Aunt Bett – a sort of Aunty Mame to various nieces and nephews – while waiting for a bus home and back to articles.

Not so fast, John. Aunt Bett had a friend over. Said friend went on and on about her son Jackie who was chief sub editor of The Courier Mail. She made it sound like a great life. I was hooked.

Until that morning had I even thought about newspapers I’d have reckoned they were some sort of creative effort between god and newsagent who lobbed the product fresh on our lawn in the early morn from a Mini Moke. It never occurred to me that real people actually sat, phoned or drove around to chat up people, attend their favourite sports, shows, concerts and movies to turn out all those thousands of words and dozens of pictures each day… What a life!

Jackie’s Mum said he had even spent a couple of years in the Courier offices in London and New York.

Home again, and immediately I wrote a letter of self-sale to the editor. Incredibly I got a positive reply and a date. But that could have been the start and finish of my journalistic ambitions. I clearly knew nothing about the processes. Writing of any kind had never been my dream. And living in another state I had rarely seen a Courier Mail, much less read the editorial. Editor Ted – much later Sir Theodore – Bray was less than impressed, I sensed. Worst of all, I also sensed, was my negative response to his ‘Who do you know here?’

The thanks but no thanks letter came as no surprise.

However, Aunt Bett was aghast. How could that rag improve if it turned down such a golden opportunity so cavalierly?

‘Wait,’ she told me. ‘I believe Felix (her doting but rather distant-to-children husband) went to school with some chappie who is rather high up there now.’

And so it was that I found myself summoned again a few days later to be chatted up by chief-of-staff Alan – he of the independently suspended eyes – Cummins. ‘Ah… Yes, Felix and I were chums at Hutchins School in Tasmania’ (modestly described on its latest website as ‘one of Australia’s oldest and most distinguished schools‘). His uncle was Governor I recall.

‘Could you start on Monday?’

And so I was on the journalistic path. Right place, right time, right names etc. What a life!

I am sure Dad would have approved, especially as it allowed me 18 glorious years in London from where I saw a fair chunk of the world at others’ expense. And way later I find myself in impecunious-but-who-cares retirement in Malaysia.


The Ideal Occupation

By Peter Preston

Walter Schwarz is a specialist in self-deprecation studies. ‘I never became a roving commentator, free from the pressure of news,’ he confesses, almost insouciantly. ‘I never won a prize and was not promoted to the Washington office. I have written comment pieces, but never became a pundit.’ So how would the Guardian‘s former correspondent in Nigeria, Israel, India, France and Germany define his talent? ‘Notebook in hand, I was a good listener.’ And – oh yes! – he generally had a wonderful time in the jobs of which he had always dreamed.

ideal occup front proof Readers of this relaxed, pleasantly meandering memoir will have a pretty entertaining time themselves. It doesn’t aspire to pomp or circumstance. Indeed, it often seems an idiosyncratic little stew of family reminiscences and moments of history. You follow the family Schwarz from Vienna to Manchester, as Hitler spreads his menace. You watch the young Walter get a place at Oxford (too young) and then learn about life on national service in Malaysia. He’s a reporter on the Oxford Mail, a hack on the Evening Standard Londoner’s Diary, a freelance in Jerusalem, a failed publisher in Lagos: the shade of William Boot is never too far away. But you also know he’s much cleverer than he lets on because he quotes at length from many of the tales he wrote from far away. In prison or out, during the Biafra breakaway, he was brave and shrewd and eloquent, the best man in the thick of it. He should have had a prize for that.

And he didn’t get that long, tough list of foreign postings by luck either. He won them because he could do all the things that mattered – news, analysis, features – with a pinch of something extra. What was it he had, and still has, that others couldn’t match? A certain enthusiastic quirkiness, a sideways slant on newspaper life that served him well when he finally came home to write about religion and the environment. He’s an original.

Who (a question that Walter might not think of asking for himself) is the audience for this book? It’s a long list. Students of journalism who want to see how the digital rush has changed everything (including time to think). Students of foreign affairs who want to have old crises brought back to life. Guardian readers who want to explore the pleasures of the past. Anyone who wants a glimpse of a different, more private world. This isn’t just the story of reporter Schwarz, it’s a domestic comedy, and tragedy, featuring his five children – and starring the dynamic Dorothy, Mrs. Schwarz: beautiful, clever, passionate keeper of horses, writer of what her husband calls ‘a gruesome, unpublished novella’ and undefeated champion of memorable marital rows. There’s a Peter Mayle touch to their years in France as the caravan moves from one château (in need of renovation) to another. There’s a sitcom script writing itself when a kitchen fire in Château Two means hunting for the next slightly decrepit pile. There’s a gurgle of joy later on when, back in Essex, Dorothy starts keeping parrots instead. And there’s terrible sadness over the death of a beautiful daughter.

What happened to the 60s’ hippy generation, Schwarz asks himself. His autobiography is answer enough. He, and Dorothy and the kids, had a rare old time. Sometimes they found money and were rich enough to pay the bills. Sometimes they were on their uppers. Often Schwarz found a story that fired his imagination: sometimes the bloody kitchen was on fire again. But always, through laughter and pain, he was gentle and listening and somehow wise, a round peg in a round but vanishing hole, an ideal man in an ideal occupation.






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