Tag Archives: university libraries

‘Til Daddy takes her Tbird away….

One of the activities with which I clutter up my life  now that I have sloughed off the cares of labour and one of reasons why there is less time than I originally hoped for the blog is presenting radio shows. By a series of events that I shall spare you, several years ago  I became part of a group of enthusiasts presenting a weekly folk music programme on the local community radio station (Hermitage FM in case you are bothered which broadcasts on 99.2 FM but only if you are within the licence restricted reception area of North West Leicestershire unless you listen on the net). It is still going strong but as usual with mission creep I also found myself helping out to fill gaps in the day time schedules with the standard diet of pop music; just until they found someone better you understand. That was 6 years ago and I am still doing that two days a week less because they can’t find anyone better more because they can’t find anyone with the time and inclination to sit in a soundproof room talking to themselves desperately hoping that someone, anyone is listening.

So just what exactly has this got to with a blog about libraries?

As a presenter I have access to an enormous database of popular music covering the past 60 or so years and if you asked me to find any library references from that database with two minor but in my case significant exceptions I would fail. I mention this because having explored books films, TV and comic books for references to libraries and librarians to which I could apply my juvenile attempts at humour I had assumed that I had exhausted the possibilities. It never entered my head, therefore, that I would need to explore the world of music for references to libraries and librarians pretty sure that the last place I was ever likely to find references to libraries was in music.

Even Haydn who managed an astonishing 104 symphonies many named after every imaginable thing from hens and  bears to clocks and schoolmasters never managed a Library Symphony and no one not even librarians have been stupid enough to suggest that John Cage’s 4’33”, four and a half minutes of silence, has anything at all to do with libraries. Miles Davis never did a follow up to Kind of Blue entitled Kind of Quiet, and despite the off-the-wall nature of their songs even great humourists such as Tom Lehrer and Flanders and Swann found libraries less of an inspiration than the Periodic Table of the Elements which Lehrer set to music or the antics of a gnu “moving in next to you” which was such a success for the latter.  When Herman’s Hermits sang about “There’s a kind of hush” disappointingly but unsurprisingly it was not a celebration of the life transforming qualities of the nation’s public library system but was actually the sound “of lovers in love”; bless. Even English folk music, obsessed as it was with sailing off to sea, marching to war and the fatal sexual antics of Lady Arnold and Matty Groves did not as far as I know have a single mention of libraries in its entire and extensive canon despite the use it frequently made of the day to day work of ordinary people. Libraries were clearly not as romantic as all those herring fishermen, cunning poachers and Orcadian weavers. So I was astonished to find that I was wrong and in unlikely circumstances which is how I discovered the first of my two exceptions.

And where on earth does he fit in…?

Our management team were looking for good, pithy marketing strap lines to help us imprint the value of the Library on the limited attention span of our student brain  occupied by beer or sex and sometimes beer and sex,  and the even more fleeting attention of the university’s management team. “Come to the Library; we pay the heating bill so you don’t have to” or “Use the Library it’s close to the Union bar” that sort of thing. It is the sort of exercise that is treated as mission critical by University senior management and by most staff on a continuum that runs from complete boredom through barely disguised ridicule to utter contempt leaving the service Directors in the middle to sort out the mess with as much imagination as they can muster. To my amazement one of my colleagues in an otherwise unconnected conversation suggested  “Libraries gave us power” which he explained was taken from a Manic Street Preachers song that had used this slogan as the opening line to one of their songs, Design for Life. Despite my love of just about any genre of music throughout my life the Manics along with all the other artists who appeared and flourished in the 1980’s had completely passed me by as it was from that period in our lives when our entire listening material to which were contractually obliged to sing along comprised an endless repetition of “the wheels on the bus go round and round” to very young daughters. When I pursued this with my much younger colleague he explained that the Manics were very much his era and added that he was glad to be reminded of the track because he hadn’t listened to much music himself recently as his entire current listening material to which he was obliged to sing along comprised an endless repetition of “the wheels on the bus go round and round” to his own very young daughter. And before I move on and to complete the cycle we are now in the phase of our life when my wife and I look after our grandson every week and guess what he likes us to sing with him…endlessly. But I am digressing

The slogan that the Manics employed is adapted from the inscription above one of the doors of a branch library in their home town of Newport, South Wales. The actual phrase is “Knowledge is Power” originally coined by Francis Bacon. Not the C20th painter who always seemed to clumsily smudge his paintings but from a much earlier Francis Bacon, the philosopher, Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626) who is also definitely not to be confused with Ken Morley better known as Reg Holdsworth former star of Coronation Street who chose “Knowledge is Power” as the title for his autobiography because it was a phrase he used a lot apparently. You will know better than me because the last time I watched Coronation Street Ena Sharples was still a pinup! The quote inspired the band to write Design for Life and seems to have come to their attention because bassist Nicky Wire’s wife was working for Newport Libraries at the time. It is rather bleak song that links the proud aspiration of working class learning that has always been a major part of public library history with the emptiness of the lives of some modern day young people who “don’t talk about love we only want to get drunk”. Borrowing inspiration from libraries is something they are unlikely to do again though as for their pains the band were roped into perform the official opening of Cardiff’s new Central Library where the lyric  “libraries gave us power” has been inscribed on a plaque at Cardiff’s new £15m library. This inevitably involved making all sorts of positive quotes about the value of libraries  which I am sure were very genuine but I can’t help wondering what Keith Moon the late drummer of the Who would have made of it? His claim to fame was driving his Rolls Royce into his swimming pool! Now that’s rock and roll!

This chance encounter as usual led to another. You wait years to find a song that mentions libraries and then several come along all at once. A few weeks after discovering Design for Life, I was inattentively listening to one or other of the Radio 2 programmes that act as aural wallpaper on my drive into work when John Humphries had become just so unbearably bombastic on the Today programme on Radio 4 that you would rather listen to the snivelling insincere and poorly briefed politicians than have him in interrupt again before they have got two syllables out in response to a his rambling question that was loaded with malice aforethought. I found myself singing along to a Beach Boys classic, Fun Fun Fun, about the poor little Californian rich girl driving round in Daddy’s Thunderbird and for once actually heard what they said about “she forgot all about the Library that she told he old man yeah” How come after listening to this track on and off for donkey’s years had I not heard the mention of the Library or at least the mention had not registered with me. Of course it was the classic teenage kids ploy “Just off to the Library Daddy, can I borrow the car please”, “Sure Honey, study hard” And off she goes to a clandestine assignation with the boy of whom Daddy disapproves but the mention of the Library is enough to deflect any parental concern. After all what could possibly happen in a Library?

It is exactly the same across cultures. One of my former PAs, a Muslim assured me that the reason why we had so many Asian students in the library was not because they were a particularly studious lot determined to make the most of the privilege of a place at university, although many were that as well, but because it was the place where parents would trust their youngsters to go without them messing around with the opposite sex which was what they wished to strictly control.  What Mum and Dad didn’t know and as we discovered every day in my own university library was that as soon as their daughter got to the library they went straight to the Ladies toilet put on their makeup changed into a shorter skirt and then spent all the rest of the day flirting with all the blokes who had driven up in their smart cars and spent all day in the library without a single book or notepad because their intention wasn’t studying either! In the evening the makeup would come of the skirt was changed and off they went home truthfully telling everyone that they had had a good day in the Library.

There was even a poster on exactly that theme on my office wall many years ago, which I have since lost, showing the back of a sofa, several naked arms and legs and random underwear strewn about with the caption “If Mom calls tell her I’m at the library” which has even been hijacked as the strap line for a London bar adjacent apparently to Barnet College cleverly called The Library. So I think we are beginning to see a trend here which as we shall see will feature prominently in this chapter.

These two quite unexpected encounters with libraries in pop and rock music set me off on the trail of other musical references that I might have missed or simply knew nothing about. After all if headliner bands such as Manic Street Preachers and The Beach Boys have used the library motif then who knows what lurked in the dense undergrowth of the music that rarely gets air time on national or local radio from performers hoping to make it big, bands who never will and the largest sector, acts that don’t care whether they make it or not but are just happy to keep on making their kind of music for their kind of fans. What I discovered will keep us occupied and I hope interested for the next few posts.

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“I’ve had it with libraries, they are full of wierdos”

From this week I have decided to change the blog a bit because the posts were frankly getting a bit long and presumably tedious for followers given our modern digital attention span. So the posts will be a bit shorter in future which I hope will meet with the approval of all of you with busy lives including those of you who think I should go and get any sort of life at all instead of doing this. Also for those of you bored now with librarians in film we will turn our jaundiced attention to how librarians have fared on television.

UK Television has been far less liberal in its depiction of librarians than Hollywood but you will still over the next couple of weeks find Inspector Morse, Miss Marple, The Two Ronnies, Fry and Laurie, Doctor Who, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Tony Hancock and even the Cookie monster featuring in libraries. There are even fewer appearances of libraries on TV but then there is no British equivalent  of that magnificent icon The New York Public Library but libraries do have their moments on British TV even if

The Library at Keele University which masqueraded as the Vice Chancellor's Suite in A Very Peculiar Practice. For any real VC's reading this a Library is the heart of academic life; its that big building full of books computers and students that you keep meaning to visit

The Library at Keele University which masqueraded as the Vice Chancellor’s Suite in A Very Peculiar Practice. For any real VC’s reading this a Library is the heart of academic life; its that big building full of books computers and students that you keep meaning to visit

sometimes they are incognito. The excellent TV series A Very Peculiar Practice was an enormously enjoyable black comedy from the second half of the 1980’s set in the medical practice of a modern UK university and featured an idealistic but naive young doctor, a self-important doctor with no absooutely no self-awareness and a cynical and wasted old doctor and if all that sounds familiar it could indeed be a template for Father Ted  with the important difference that the woman who makes up the cast is not as in the Irish classic a witless housekeeper but a worldly doctor whose brazen bisexual appetite would make Mrs Doyle drop her tea tray and reaching for her rosary beads in horror.

Anyway the only reason for mentioning this at all is because the imposing building with its Italianate steps and impressive clock tower that features prominently in the series is not as you are led to believe the Vice Chancellor’s residence but actually the unattributed library at Keele University. Probably the nearest most Vice Chancellors will ever get to a library.

The London Library is a public subscription library that in its own was is perhaps as well known in certain circles as the NYPL but for all its wonderful collections it lacks the magnificence of the NY building as it is tucked, slightly apologetically  into a corner of St James Square but it did feature in a 2011 edition of BBC’s New Tricks. The light drama where three retired cops are invited to re-examine case only they are old enough to remember and solve them mainly by bickering amongst themselves, features in one episode a cold case of a dead academic in a modern university. Someone has apparently jumped off the university library roof and an open verdict was returned but suicide was the most likely suspect.  Now new evidence has emerged that suggests he may not have jumped in desperate frustration at the fact that like many libraries the lifts weren’t working again but he may have been pushed. Our heroes uncover a sorry tale of academic skulduggery in which we meet a familiar cast of academic characters; the oleaginous but ruthless Vice Chancellor, a handyman who might as well wear a big sign saying “Dodgy Character” as soon as he reveals his Eastern European accent and a couple of instantly untrustworthy researchers. They are all after a very rare book worth millions and certainly worth enough to throw someone off the library roof and make it look as if he couldn’t wait for the lift engineer.  The clue that sets our team bickering towards a solution are found when the cerebral one from the geriatric detective trio follows up a lead in the London Library. Brian has already had a run in with libraries at beginning of the show being escorted from his local branch library after screaming “SILENCE” at the now familiar lively noise of the modern library.

New Tricks's investigator Brian decides libraries are not for him after the Vice Chancellor tries to kill him

New Tricks’s investigator Brian decides libraries are not for him after the Vice Chancellor tries to kill him

He welcomes the chance to sample a research library naively anticipating a peaceful and reflective world where researchers are all virtuously absorbed in their esoteric study only to discover to his cost when he is mugged and almost killed in the library what everyone in academia already knows that the best researchers are the most cynical and ruthless . Eventually though they get their man…and woman. Satisfyingly for anyone who has ever worked in higher education or indeed libraries it is the slippery and arrogant Vice Chancellor who wants to do away with the library who dunnit with help from the female librarian whom you just knew was up to no good looking that attractive. And Brian well he now understands libraries a lot better. “I’ve had it with libraries he says. They are full of wierdos”

Whilst we are talking about policemen blundering around in libraries we can’t ignore the ITV series Morse featuring the lugubrious eponymous Chief Inspector which ran for 33 episodes so it is unsurprising that libraries should feature in the Oxford set series as the city is virtually one big university. Surprisingly though libraries  only featured in a few episodes although shots of the Radcliffe Camera, part of the Bodleian Library and Oxford’s most iconic building is often used as the stock anchor shot to just to make sure you know where you are.

The Radcliffe Camera, part of the Bodleian Library used to remind the cast that they are supposed to be in Oxford despite the fct that the filming is done in St Albans

The Radcliffe Camera, part of the Bodleian Library but mainly used to remind the cast of Morse that they are supposed to be in Oxford despite the fact that the filming is done in St Albans

You may recall that this sort of opening shot was a staple of series like The Saint whose trip to Paris always started with a shot of the Arc de Triomphe and he could never go to Rome without a quick car trip past the Coliseum specially included to sell it to an American audience surprised to discover so many countries beyond Idaho. The Bodleian is used for research and a little light flirting and possibly much more in The Wench is Dead and there is a library scene in Twilight of the Gods where a Library is used as a convenient vantage point for an attempted assassination completely unrelated to the Bodleian’s draconian overdue book fines policy . Finally the Bodleian also featured in the  follow up to Morse named after his former Sergeant Lewis, in an episode that actually did feature a body in the Library (well in the basement anyway) but the series was so unmemorable I couldn’t be bothered to watch it.

There is also of course the obligatory body in the library in episodes of the glossy Agatha Christie adaptations for television. The makers of the Miss Marple series featuring a roll call of differently excellent actors in the title role have tried to stay more faithful to the books than Margaret Rutherford’s early big screen versions even if Rutherford does have a librarian for a sidekick that had nothing whatever to do with Christie. But you are still stuck with those creaking plots. So in the denouement to The Body in the Library, Miss Marple points to scratch marks on the floor which she alone has spotted and deduced they must be where the secret door swings open to lead to a secret passage as she reveals the solution to the  library murder riddle. The solution is greeted with general astonishment by the cast but for regular Christie readers and watchers this was already so blindingly obvious you might just as well have put up a sign reading SECRET PASSAGE –Only to be used when all other plausible explanations have been exhausted.

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“A short step from the jackboot to the book-jacket”

Having given you a break whilst I was away ( very nice thank you since you ask!) its time to conclude our look at famous librarians with an unapologetically prurient look at the the personal life of a librarian. By his own estimation Philip Larkin was no leading man summing up his appeal in one of his letters to Monica Jones. “Youth…” he exclaimed “Why didn’t I have one. I’ve always been aged 65”  sto how did someone looking like a stereotypical librarian from central casting manage to keep a string of women dancing in attendance for most of his adult life?

The courtship rituals of people in western society have been established for centuries. At a certain age we start taking an interest in other people with a view to creating some form of family unit for the purposes of companionship, procreation and mutual happiness, after, we hope a brief period of rampant sex of course. We may try a few people out for size as part of this process before we settle on a permanent lifelong partner of our dreams after finding that there wasn’t much beyond the sex or that the sex wasn’t up to much anyway. We might also when we discover that when the sex wanes we need a third party as well as the partner to get through life or we may need a couple of goes at finding the right partner when we realise that lifelong companionship with TV remote permanently attached to a barely conscious blob in on the sofa wasn’t what they were selling in all those teen magazines. Larkin’s life wasn’t at all like that containing as it did at least two life long loves co-existing uneasily in parallel, a series of affairs involving neither of these, other attempted affairs, at least one instantly regretted proposal of marriage and a number of other apparently platonc relationships with other women. And yes all this whilst a practising librarian. It is, as they say, complicated so pay attention.

You too can folloe in larkin's footsteps. Its a lot easier than tracking his love life

You too can follow in Larkin’s footsteps. Its a lot easier than tracking his love life

After some frustrating and humiliating experiences at Oxford Larkin found his first real relationship with one of his younger borrowers at Wellington Library, Ruth Bowman to whom he became very close and eventually fell in love. Larkin and Ruth were a typical courting couple sharing lengthy discussions about their range of common interests as well as meals, holidays and of course sex. In private though Larkin was already falling prey to the indecision and anxiety that was to come to characterise his life Larkin confided his fears that this developing relationship might clip his wings especially as in the same letter he talked through the pros and cons of trying to get one of Ruth’s friends into bed. Despite all of his vacillation and his private priapic fantansies, when he went to Leicester Larkin remained very close to Ruth despite the fact that she was now studying in London. His confused emotions did not prevent Larkin becoming engaged to Ruth though it was on the clear understanding that it would not necessarily lead to marriage straight away or indeed any time soon thank you very much. Part of this confusion was because, engagement notwithstanding, he was now developing an interest in another woman, Monica Jones a lecturer at Leicester University. He found an intellectual relationship with Monica that he could never share with Ruth but he was not brave enough to end his relationship with her. Then, just as Ruth moved to be nearer Larkin, Larkin like many men faced with a difficult choice between women decided that the most adult and honourable way to solve the problem was to run away, to Belfast. As always of course it only made matters worse. Realising the enormity of the implications of his engagement he withdrew the offer by letter, the contemporary equivalent of dumping someone by text message. Ruth decided that she had enough of his ambivalent attitude to her, returned the ring and got on with her life.

In Belfast, free of the suffocating committment to Ruth, Larkin still had the consolation of a developing relationship with Monica Jones. The fact that she was still in Leicester, rather than being a barrier to a successful relationship as it would be for many of us, was just how Larkin liked it and would continue to like it for the rest of his life and he found himself attracted to a completely new cast of women in Belfast. There were several women colleagues who seemed to welcome him if for no other reason than he was the only presentable male on the staff. Larkin also found their company enjoyable and became particularly close to Winifred Arnott alhough, or perhaps because, she was already in a relationship with someone else to whom she eventually became engaged making her unavailable. This didn’t stop Larkin dropping heavy hints about his ambitions towards her. Whilst this relationship was flourishing Larkin still continued to visit Monica in Leicester who may or may not have been aware of his interest in Winfred and as Monica did visit Northern Ireland to spend time with Larkin as far as she was concerned this confirmed that she had a particular place in his affections.

Larkin’s idea of such a commitment was to begin an affair with another woman, Patsy Strang, undeterred by the fact that she was the wife of one of his close friends. This was apparently a passionate affair and Patsy did offer to leave her husband and support Larkin whilst he wrote but again Larkin found the idea of commitment a bit tricky. So just to recap then in case this is getting a bit confusing and before we move on; Ruth, to whom he became engaged and then broke it off, has gone and so too has her best friend Jane whom I mentioned Larkin also attempted to bed, but Monica, who was around at the same time as Ruth, is still there and under the impression that she is the only one in his affections, but unfortunately there is now also Winifred in Belfast who has been joined by Patsy as well. Oh and I almost forgot Larkin has also started another entirely platonic relationship with another married friend from Belfast, Judy Egerton, with whom he corresponded very candidly for the rest of his life. Its complicated isn’t it but I hope you are keeping up because there is still more to come. If we had the space we could do one of those maps of the country with brightly coloured pins showing the location of the women and sweeping arrows showing the complex relationships between them all as newspapers do when they try to illuminate one of their “web of deceit” stories, or track the route of your flight home compared to that of your luggage! But we haven’t the space or the time so you will just have to pay attention.

Humble Boy Poster

Humble Boy Poster

Eventually this potentially tricky situation with various women was resolved by the simple expedient of Winfred marrying her fiancee and Patsy, despite her offer to Larkin, following her husband to Newcastle. Suddenly left with only the ever persistent and astonishingly faithful Monica still hanging in there Larkin now in his 30’s thought that Monica might be a good bet for settling down so of course it was also time then to meet yet another colleague to whom he is irresistably attracted and who appears to reciprocate his feelings. I told you to pay attention.

Maeve Brennan had worked with Larkin for five years at Hull before they started to become close and she soon became a serious rival to Monica. Part of her mystique was that as a fervent Roman Catholic she was firmly against sex before marriage which must have been some kind of new challenge to Larkin for whom at times sex seemed the only reason for a relationship. Once Larkin and Maeve became close for the rest of his life Monica and Maeve co-existed in full knowledge of each others existence and they ebbed and flowed for supremacy in Larkin’s affection showing remarkable loyalty in the face of both his frequent displays of cruelty and neglect to both of them and his all consuming selfishness towards both. And in the face of his terminal inability to choose between them. Eventually after a break in their relationship Maeve did sleep with Larkin and he professed his passionate love for her even though he had been telling Monica that the relationship was over.

Larkin’s letters to Monica Jones provided a fascinating glimpse of the emotional contortions he appears to have gone through during this period of his life. Maeve Brennan appears merely as “Ms Brennan” in a 1955 letter but in February 1962 her presence in Larkin’s life has clearly upset Monica and he attempts to deflect any suggestion of a close relationship referring to her dismissively as “old Charity Boots”. Eventually however he does have to go into full damage limitation mode in 1964 when Monica discovers his affair and he has to grovelling admit how ashamed he is of the pain he has caused her as he attempts to expiate his guilty admitting he is“infantile & cowardly and selfish” and his inability to settle for one woman or the other “perhaps too fond of you perhaps not fond enough of her perhaps just too cowardly all round”. Unfortunately this awareness isn’t enough to prevent Larkin thinking that it is perfectly all right then to share with Monica his feelings for Maeve and using her as if she was just a close mate and not as he so frequently claims something significantly more. If you or I were having an affair, even if our regular partner were aware of it, we might well avoid any mention of the third party in letters home but not Larkin. In one letter he shares with Monica how upset Maeve gets when he is away on holiday with Monica, presumably expecting her to be understanding and sympathetic. It is perhaps as well that this was done by letter because if he had done it face to face across the dining table for example he may well have been surprised at how painful it can be when both hands have been pinned to the table by kitchen knives and your partner is attacking your head with a blunt instrument. I am sure she was just as understanding when Larkin explains how he tries hard to keep the balance between the two of them in his life. I am sure she found that very comforting and must have been even more touched when he adds that he recognises the sacrifice she has made for him and how lucky he is that she has not “frogmarched him to the altar”.

Perhaps her forbearance wasn’t quite as noble as it seems as their sex life appears to have been less than wonderful not helped by Larkin’s own admission of his rather inept lovemaking which gets more than a couple of mentions in his letters. Despite my best intentions to stick to library matters for some reason I found myself drawn to his letter of 9 August 1958 as I caught sight of the sentence beginning “I’m sorry our lovemaking fizzled out in Devon, as you rightly noticed” and he continues “And of course qualify it how I may I am not a highly sexed person or if I am not in a way that demand constant physical intercourse with other people. I tire very easily & and always more prepared for sex in the morning than at night.” Elsewhere he laments their “love making that hadn’t been concluded”. Adding intriguingly “I was a fool to bring those pants – I can’t think where to hide them – the cleaner will think I am robbing clothes lines.” Yes I know this is book is supposed to about libraries and librarians but I am trying to show how interesting librarians can really be so bear with me here.

Perhaps also there is a hint that Larkin was intimidated by the women in his life and that would explain why each of them was reduced in correspondence to a cuddly pet name; Monica was a rabbit and habitually addressed as “bun” in his letters, Maeve became “Mouse” a name Larkin borrowed from her previous relationship, Ruth had been a cat and Patsy a honey bear. A desire for life in a pet shop was clearly buried somewhere deep in his subconscious.

So the two women in his life coexisted uncomfortably for several years each striving for ascendancy but each at least aware of who and what the competition was. It would have been fascinating to be there when they each discovered that despite all of this; the intimate attentions of two women and his enjoyment of it; the pain he clearly realised he was inflicting on each of them; his self loathing guilt about this and his love hate relationship with sex, it hadn’t prevent him from beginning a deliberately planned and carefully conducted affair Betty Mackreth a relationship about which Maeve and Monica were blissfully unaware. Unlike Orson Welles’s Third Man the third woman was not skulking in a dark alleyway to avoid detection but right there in plain view in the office next to him every working day. Betty was his Secretary of the past 17 years and no one knew about Larkin and Betty until Andrew Motion’s autobiography of Larkin several years after Larkin’s death. You see I told you it would get more complicated.

Ben Brown’s play Larkin with Women tells the story of these relationships much better than I ever could and so if you want to follow up this intriguing menage then you might like to track down a copy of his play or find a revival when one comes along. In her very even-handed and generous review of Larkin with Women Maeve Brennan confirms that the play is a pretty good reconstruction of at least parts of those relationships although she wished that the author had shown “more of the tenderness and vulnerability which were present in such good measure in the man I knew”. Nor did she recognise the Larkin that that emerged after his death.
After his death of course and the subsequent biography and release of some of his letters Larkin’s reputation as the quiet avuncular poetic genius took quite a battering with accusations variously of racism, misyogny, misanthropy, a love of pornography and the frequent examples in his letters of what he called his “boiling rages” which led him to say of his Deputy that he would like to “bash his head in” or refer to his librarian colleagues at their annual conference as ”jolly ladies with hearing aids, awful seedy looking men with side whiskers and wet teeth who look as if they ought to be employed ghosting hack biographies of royal mistresses in the B.M., and thin young men in new chocolate brown suits & Brylcreem who resemble engineering apprentices.” Larkin had died long before I reached the same level as he did and earned the right to attend those same conferences and of course times change. For a start no-one still uses Brylcreem, but, actually, thinking about it apart from that, they hadn’t changed much. I don’t want to dwell on all that stuff, though, as it has been well documented elsewhere but I did want to mention just one critical essay about the revelations from someone who I would have thought knew better.

Alan Bennett gave voice to his feelings on the posthumous relevations in his 1993 review of Larkin’s biography in the London Review of Books. In the review entitled Alas Deceived. Bennett expresses his “disappointment” following the relevations saying that he feels he has lost a friend even though he never knew Larkin and although he is dispassionate enough to acknowledge that Larkin’s work just about emerges unscathed from its association with such a perverse character Larkin himself and his chosen professions don’t fare quite so well. Bennett is convinced that Larkin was always tarred with the brush of his father’s Nazi sympathies  but youcan’t help thinking he goes just a little too far when he spitefully suggests that his decision to go into libraries was an obvious one because “if you cannot be a gauletier then a librarian’s the next best thing“, adding just to sure you get his meaning that “It’s a short step from the jackboot to the book-jacket.” Which is a bit harsh really and as far as I can recall not even academically accurate. Although I have only a hazy recollection of the various projects and other tests that were required to achieve my professional accreditation as a librarian I am pretty sure I would vividly remember the practical exam in Formation Goosestepping, for the boots if nothing else.

When he died in 1984 the shy, stammering unprepossessing librarian had three women all of whom shared some of Larkin’s affection, all aware of his inadequacies, his neuroses and his utter selfishness and his frequent cruelty, all painfully aware that as Monica Jones put it they would never be able to make him want them enough, but all totally devoted to him. Not bad for a librarian who could write a bit of poetry as well. It is perhaps all best summed up by the word Monica speaks to Larkin in Brown’s play, as he is dying “Oh well. I guess you must have some redeeming qualities. Otherwise we wouldn’t stick by you, would we?”

And that concludes our look at all those famous people who you never knew were librarians together with our look at library history we have a common base from which we can now explore the many incidents of libraries and librarians on the world of literature, film and television and even music. All that will be coming up in future posts.

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