Monday, 28 February 2011

Absolutely beguiling

Talking of Peter Blake…. I love this book cover by the man himself and feel privileged to have been given this beautifully yellowed 1964 copy of the excellent Colin MacInnes novel, ‘Absolute Beginners’ which I treasure. As a child I used to love that pristine-ness of a brand new book, the way the pages were hard to open (which added to the excitement), the smell of the paper and the perfection of the binding – now funnily enough I really love faded, old, creased and discoloured books.  There’s probably something subconscious in there about getting old and a bit creased oneself…

So… if you don’t already know it, this is a compelling and entertaining read as well as being historically educational in its own way - it really does evoke something of the time in which it was set.  Apart from portraying the more overt aspects of racism leading to the Notting Hill riots of 1958, it also captures very well that sense of being an ‘outsider’, which anyone who has ever been into any sort of vaguely underground scene, or has ever felt marginalised by any kind of prejudice, would understand, I’m sure.

Linguistically it’s really fascinating too – the book’s highly likeable narrator (or, as described on the back cover blurb: ‘our guide on this conducted tour of London’s teenage sub-groups’) has a very natural, engaging style which makes it feel as if he’s speaking to you and it’s full of colloquialisms of the time; words such as ‘hip’, ‘cat’, ‘man’, ‘dig’ and ‘junkie’ make several appearances as examples of teenage speak (I’d always wrongly believed that some of those words didn’t appear until later, but the proof is here.)

Rather endearingly my 1964 edition has been censored; expletives are shown as ‘f—k’ and ‘a—e’, there’s even a ‘f—t’ in there (would have thought that might have passed) and you can also find ‘c—t’.    I’m guessing that this was some kind of compromise (?) on the part of Penguin Books, following their trial under the Obscene Publications Act of 1959 over ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’, as D H Lawrence’s 1928 novel was published in its unexpurgated totality in 1960 (including the expletives I’ve mentioned above), only after the jury at the trial returned a verdict of ‘not guilty’.  Apparently the 1959 act had allowed the possibility for publishers not to be convicted for obscenity if a work was decided to be of ‘literary merit’ -  and Lawrence’s was.  Presumably the expletives in ‘Absolute Beginners’ in this edition were only allowed through in this censored form, which seems a bit daft to me considering that you’re going to read them in your head as the full word anyway…(and if you didn’t know what ‘f—k’ stood for, you probably wouldn’t be the type to read the book in the first place…)  Would love to know more about how the degrees of censorship changed in books over the years if anyone has any more info, as I know f—k-all about it…

Anyway…today’s song has a fairly tenuous link: just that it’s from 1959, the year of the book’s publication, nothing else. (Yes, I’m avoiding the obvious again, no Bowie or Jam.)  But Johnny Kidd and the Pirates ‘Please Don’t Touch’ is just so good and I like to think it might have been playing on a jukebox in a coffee bar as the book’s un-named narrator makes his way through Soho.  And of course the song is also memorable for being covered so well by Motorhead & Girlschool.


  1. I love 60's Penguin covers. I have "City Of Spades" at home (packed up sadly awaiting a new home that affords more book space) with a similar style of drawing. I never once thought to see who did it let alone be aware that it was by the great Peter Blake! I'm throughly enjoying your blog on a variety of topics, most of which I can relate to and fully appreciate!

  2. Oh, that's great you've got that, I was recently given a lovely 60s copy of 'Mr Love and Justice' also with Peter Blake cover, nearly finished reading it (loving it) so will post something when I have.
    Thanks for kind comment - much appreciated, and I feel just the same about Anorak Thing!

  3. I had an 80's printing of "Absolute Beginners" then went with "The London Novels" a few years back that included it and added "City" and "Mr. Love..". I enjoyed them all, I've yet to read any of his other stuff though. Many thanks for the kudos on Anorak Thing, right back atcha!


Please come in, the door is open

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...