Tag Archives: National Library of Scotland

The unmasking of Blunt

I read this today and had to share it. John Betjeman was a friend of Joan’s in her youth, and it was he who after staying at the house in Kalamitsi made the statement that we now recognise about the living room being “one of the rooms of the world.” So I have no hesitation in sharing something a little different. It might make you smile, which has to be a good thing!

By Richard Ingrams in The Spectator’s Books of the year – part two. Ingrams writes:

A book that gave me great enjoyment (for all the wrong reasons) was Harvest Bells: New and Uncollected Poems by John Betjeman (Bloomsbury Continuum, £16.99). The compiler, Kevin J. Gardner, professor of English at Baylor University, Texas, claimed that all the poems in the book had been subjected to his ‘rigorous scrutiny’; yet somehow a spoof Betjeman poem, published in Private Eye after the exposure of Anthony Blunt as a Russian agent in 1979 (for which I was partly responsible), had found its way into the professor’s ragbag of a compendium:

Who’d have guessed it? Blunt a traitor
And a homosexualist,
Carrying on with tar and waiter —
There’s a sight I’m glad I missed.

‘Betjeman,’ Gardner writes, ‘replicates the unmasking of Blunt in the exposure of his own subconscious feelings, which lurk behind a typical Betjemanesque facade of moral and aesthetic superficiality.’ It’s hard not to feel delighted when a pretentious academic (particularly an American one) comes a cropper in such a memorable way. And it’s not hard to imagine Betjeman, who would have hated this book, howling with laughter at the poor man’s discomfiture.

In fact we have our own unpublished Betjeman poem, written on the back of an envelope and now available online in Paddy’s archive at the National Library of Scotland.

Unpublished John Betjeman poem on back of envelope

Before and after: Paddy, Ralph Stockbridge and others in Crete

One thing I must do sometime is to take a trip to Edinburgh to visit Paddy’s archive at the National Library of Scotland. In the meantime I am very lucky to receive emails from time to time from Chris White (co-editor of Abducting a General) and it always pleases me to be able to share these with you. Chris has sent some more before and after photos from Crete.

I was visiting the PLF Archive in April and came across these photos ………..they were taken at a sheepfold called Korakopetra above Anogia – probably in May 1943, and feature – in the group photo – PLF and Ralph Stockbridge (slightly behind PLF on the right, wearing glasses) surrounded by Mihali Xylouris and members of his band. It was at this location at around this time that PLF accidentally killed his great friend Yanni Tsangarakis (described in ‘Abducting A General’ and Artemis’ biography).

Peter and I tracked down the sheepfold last year and I revisited there in May of this year with a Cretan historian called Costas Mamalakis.

Related articles:

Ralph Stockbridge obituary.

Leaving Kastamonitsa for the kidnap – before and after pictures

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Painting the John Murray archive

Buchannan PaddyIn January’s report on the presentation by David McClay, the curator of the John Murray archive at the National Library of Scotland, I mentioned an exhibition of watercolours by Hugh Buchannan which is now moving to the John Martin Gallery in Albemarle Street from 18 September.

Buchannan’s paintings include details from a wide range of author material included within the archive from Byron, Austin, Sir Walter Scott, Irving and of course Paddy’s legacy.

The exhibition runs from 18 September to 10 October 2015 at the John Martin Gallery, 38 Albemarle St, London, W1S 4JG. Further details here.

You can download the catalogue as a pdf here.

Audible

Curating the Patrick Leigh Fermor archive

David McClay, curator of the John Murray archive

David McClay, curator of the John Murray archive

You may be forgiven for thinking that a lecture about curating Paddy’s archive could be a little dry, but for the one hundred and eighty people who attended last night’s event at the Hellenic Society in Paddington it turned out to be nothing of the kind.

By Tom Sawford

David McClay is the National Library of Scotland’s curator of the John Murray archive. He had travelled down to London to give the inaugural lecture of the Patrick Leigh Fermor Society and it was a great success for both. David led a large team of activists, technicians and photographers who have spent the best part of a year cataloguing and itemising Paddy’s extensive personal collection, and over 6,000 of Joan’s photographs.

We were given a glimpse of some of the material which includes over 10,000 letters and postcards as well as numerous corrected drafts of Paddy’s manuscripts, and surviving journals of his post-war journeys around Greece and other beloved places. The collection takes up over 16 metres of shelving and the catalogue is eighty one pages long. Fortunately Paddy gave David and the team some assistance with his various boxes labelled “Detailed Oddments” or “Not very important oddments” and so forth.

The story of the acquisition is interesting itself. The John Murray archive was donated to the museum in the 1980s and includes material from the authors published by the house including of course Lord Byron, Jane Austen, Charles Darwin and John Betjeman. The catalogue extends to over one million items and may have a value in excess of £100 million. When offered the PLF archive, the decision to purchase was not an instant yes as Paddy had no obvious relationship with Scotland. The decision to go ahead was based upon the relationship with John Murray, in particular John “Jock” Murray VI, and of course the recognition that Paddy’s work was unique and important in 20th century English literature.

Given Paddy’s long life, his varied career, and the circle of friends that he had, many of whom were significant figures in their own right, David McClay’s view is that there is a lot to be uncovered and the material could provide the basis for further biographies. He cited as an example Paddy’s friendship with Greek artist Nikos Ghika; he believes that their correspondence is worthy of publication. Many of the letters include drawings and small paintings by Ghika. The propensity to illustrate letters was common (as we have seen in the letters to Debo Devonshire – see In Tearing Haste), and other examples include those from John Craxton to Paddy: one of Craxton’s letters includes a sketch of the harbour view from his house in Crete. Likewise the guest book from Kardamyli is full of wonderful material and colourful illustrations.

Joan Fermor’s work should not be ignored. David McClay told us that she was a successful architectural photographer with an ability to bring her subjects to life which included many archaeological subjects. As we know she also took brilliant images of their friends.

For the student, biographer, or even just the casual visitor, there are other delightful inclusions such as a copy of Paddy’s beloved friend Xan Fielding’s post-war CV which ran to about 15 lines and included a list of his skills and talents which were:

Fishing with dynamite
Bull fighting
Skiing
Witchcraft
Sailing
Swimming

Clearly a man with all the vital talents to make him employable anywhere!

One of the most important messages to bring to you all, dear readers, is David’s view that this is “your archive”: it is freely available for you to visit whether you be a professional writer, academic or merely just wanting to hold, touch and read the ephemera of Paddy’s life. You are encouraged to visit Edinburgh and can request information. Soon much more will be available online for you to use or just to browse and amuse yourself. This positive drive towards public accessibility was very encouraging, and whilst every care has been taken to ensure that the materials will survive – storage in proper archival folders in acid free environments – the archive is a living entity and to be of any value it must be accessed. McClay made a special appeal for people to come forward with ideas about the origins of certain pictures, including who may have taken them, where and when. Much work still needs to be done and you, his friends and fans, may be able to help.

As well as the storage of the material and the process of digitisation of some items, the Library has plans to publicly display as much material as possible. I will keep you posted about events but David anticipates exhibitions in Edinburgh and then on tour to London. The renowned water colourist Hugh Buchannan has made some paintings of material from the archive which will feature in an exhibition of the Esterhazy Archive. These works will be on display at the NLS in the summer of 2015 and will move to London to be shown at the John Martin gallery in, of all places, Albemarle Street just up the road from John Murray.

It didn’t take long during the Q&A session for the subject of “the house” to come up. Charles Arnold, the leading light behind the PLF Society handled this one. It appears that the Society has engaged a leading law firm as well as accountants KPMG to work with the Benaki to establish a structure for the proper and transparent use of any funds that the Society may donate for the upkeep and renovation of the house at Kardamyli. We wish them luck with that!

The choice of subject for this first PLF Society event was a good one. It covered all aspects of Paddy’s life and reassured us that this valuable and fascinating material will be accessible by all. If you would like to find out more about the work of curating the archive or to help David McClay and his colleagues in the ongoing identification process you are encouraged to get in touch. Likewise if you have material – items received from Paddy – that you may wish to donate (or in some cases sell) you can contact David at d.mcclay[at]nls.uk

Lecture: Curating the Paddy Leigh Fermor archive

General archive itemsThe inaugural lecture of the Patrick Leigh Fermor Society will take place on Monday 19 January 2015 at 7.15pm.

David McClay Curator of the PLF archive (and those of Joan Leigh Fermor and Xan Fielding) at the National Library of Scotland will present the Library’s recent acquisition of Paddy’s extensive and outstanding archives, including their recent activities and future plans at the Hellenic Centre, 16-18 Paddington Street, Marylebone, London W1U 5AS.

All are welcome to attend but for the sake of crowd control please RSVP (and enquiries) as follows:

tel: 020 7563 9835
fax: 020 7486 4254
e-mail: press@helleniccentre.org OR info@patrickleighfermorsociety.org

Patrick Leigh Fermor’s archive acquired by the National Library of Scotland

From a National Library of Scotland press release dated today.

The archive of one of the most important travel writers of the 20th century and a war hero whose exploits were made into a major film has been acquired by the National Library of Scotland (NLS).

Sir Patrick (Paddy) Leigh Fermor, who died last year at the age of 96, is regarded as a central figure in understanding and appreciating mid-20th century culture.

To describe his life as colourful does scant justice to the reality. At the age of 18 he set off to walk from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul , a year long journey described in his books A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. The Independent described the former as “rightly considered to be among the most beautiful travel books in the language.”

His war record is equally impressive. After the fall of Crete in 1941, he was sent back to the island to organise guerrilla operations against the occupying Nazis. He spent much of this time disguised as a Cretan shepherd, living in freezing mountains caves.

In 1944 Leigh Fermor organised one of the most daring feats of the war when he kidnapped the commander of the German garrison on Crete . This was made into a film Ill Met by Moonlight in 1956 starring Dirk Bogarde.

The archive consists of literary manuscripts and typescripts, correspondence with leading figures including the poet Sir John Betjeman, photographs, passports, portrait sketches and personal papers including visitor books and various honours awarded to Leigh Fermor. One of the star items is the only surviving notebook from his youthful trek across Europe .

It offers an unrivalled insight into his life and writings and adds to the wealth of travel literature at NLS. Acquisition of this archive is seen as helping to establish NLS at the forefront of 20th century travel literature research collections

“This is a fantastic collection which will be made available at NLS,” said David McClay, Manuscripts Curator. “We hope it will excite people who know of Paddy and introduce him to a whole new generation of people who may not be aware of his work.”

Its arrival at NLS comes just before a new biography of Leigh Fermor by the British writer and family friend Artemis Cooper is to be published.

Leigh Fermor died before he could complete the third volume in his travel trilogy. Artemis Cooper has worked on the uncompleted manuscript and this third volume – entitled The Broken Road – is expected to be published in 2013. This will all add to the interest in Leigh Fermor’s life and in the NLS archive.

The archive has been bought with a grant from the John R Murray Charitable Trust which assists NLS in the care and promotion of access to the Library’s John Murray Archive. Leigh Fermor was published by the Murray family.

The connection with the Murray publishing house was one of the reasons NLS was chosen by Leigh Fermor’s executors as the home for his archive. He also knew the Library, having donated his wife’s photographic collection to NLS just before he died.

NLS has also taken possession of the personal archive of Leigh Fermor’s close friend Xan Fielding, an author, translator and traveller who also fought in Crete . This has been donated to the Library by Fielding’s family.