Saturday, July 7, 2012

Julian Maclaren-Ross At 100: July 7, 2012

 1. No memoir of metropolitan literary life in the 1940s and 1950s would be complete without a vivid  supporting part for him, invariably one where he wreaks inadvertent havoc on the memoirist's hitherto orderly existence.  No earnest study of London’s artist demi-monde would be complete without quotations from Memoirs of the Forties, his classic paean to the vanished world of the blackout, “buzz-bombs,” and boozy nights with Dylan Thomas.  And no misty-eyed portrait of mid-century Soho would be complete without an appearance from him.  Tall and aloof, he’s more often than not seen standing at the bar of the Wheatsheaf pub  or some shadowy  dive.  Resplendent in his trademark camelhair coat, worn over an immaculate suit, a fresh carnation in his buttonhole, a malacca cane propped beside him, a cigarette holder clenched between his teeth, mirror-sunglasses lending him a gangsterish demeanour at odds with his otherwise dandified costume, he cuts an incongruous figure.  Around him, a gaggle of fawning cronies provide an attentive audience for a relentless, well-rehearsed monologue, declaimed in a distinctively deadpan drawl.


    For Maclaren-Ross, the pubs and clubs offered an atmospherically lit film set on which he could perform.  Immersing himself as thoroughly as any Method actor in the role he’d chosen, he projected an unforgettable persona, part Oscar Wilde, part Hollywood heavy.

2. Back at his flat in Maida Vale, he’d uncap the Hooded Terror, light up the first in a succession of cigarettes, and open one of the notebooks in which he did most of his writing.  The rest of the night would be spent copying out the stories he’d rehearsed earlier in the day, his handwriting as lilliputian and fanatically neat as ever, his faculties apparently unimpaired by the booze he’d consumed.  Only at dawn would he grab a few hours sleep before summoning the taxi that would carry him back to the Wheatsheaf.


To ward off fatigue, he began using benzedrine, a stimulant that could be obtained without a prescription . . . . It wasn’t long before he’d graduated to the vastly more potent methedrine capsules, only available on prescription . . . . These, he explained to Dan Davin, ‘had the useful property of simultaneously pepping you up and calming you down.’

From Paul Willetts, Fear & Loathing In Fitzrovia, The Bizarre Life of Writer, Actor, Soho Raconteur Julian Maclaren-Ross, Stockport, Dewi Lewis Publishing, 2005.

For more Julian Maclaren-Ross on ACravan, please see these links:

1.  Of Love And Hunger (Julian Maclaren- Ross)

2.  Crossed Cheque (A Writer's Life)

3.  From "The Metamorphosis of Peter Brook" (Julian Maclaren-Ross)

4.  A Soldier Dresses (Julian Maclaren-Ross)

5.  Foretold -- Easter Monday (Zeppelin Over Ramsgate)

6.  Respirators Will Be Worn; Mercer's Cafe

7.  The Party For Picasso (Excerpt) -- Julian Maclaren-Ross

8.  Major Minor

9. The Monastery of Information

My friend Gerry Howard introduced me to  Julian Maclaren-Ross' work many years ago, an encounter and discovery that have given me a great deal of pleasure as well as the wonderful autograph letter pictured in second position above (click on photo to enlarge and enjoy), written using the trademark gold-nibbed, black-barreled  "Hooded Terror" Parker fountain pen that originally belonged to his father.    

I would like to offer a 100th birthday salute to the author of Of Love And Hunger, A Bit Of A Smash In Madras and Some Time I Shall Sleep Out.

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