Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Dylan Thomas’

Soho in the Eighties ****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 30th September, 2018

Soho in the EightiesIt is widely acknowledged that Soho bohemia had its heyday in the 20-odd years following the Second World War. My old friend Dan Farson (charming when sober, poisonous when drunk) wrote a successful book called Soho in the Fifties that captured the revels of the age, and in the 1990s, at the request of the National Portrait Gallery, I put together a little volume Soho in the Fifties and Sixties, lavishly illustrated with portraits from the gallery’s collection. Now Christopher Howse, the bearded deputy editor of the Daily Telegraph, has taken the story forward a generation, in his new book Soho in the Eighties (Bloomsbury Continuum, £20), which is mainly a collection of stories and reminiscences from his own Soho days and nights during that period. The main venues where the action (or more properly, perhaps, inaction) takes place will be familiar to connoisseurs of Soho’s past, notably the Colony Room, the French pub and the Coach and Horses. In fact, the last-mentioned public house (presided over by the self-proclaimed Rudest Landlord in London, Norman Balon) figures particularly prominently, as Christopher Howse’s favourite drinking-hole. There’s even a convenient sketch map of the Coach’s interior, showing where the regulars often sat. Some of those regulars had been around for decades, leftovers with hangovers from the past, like Jeffrey Bernard, the Spectator‘s “Low Life” columnist, but other characters Howse mentions were new to me. The twin artistic peaks of Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud are still visible on the Soho landscape, though the YBA Damien Hirst and his fellows were starting to take over the Colony Room. Howse’s stories are largely the Soho stable of drink, bitchiness and occasional true wit, but it is telling that many of those he recounts actually date from the earlier, heyday, period, when Muriel Belcher still sat perched on her stool in the Colony Room, ready to pounce on any hapless newcomer, and where people still remembered Dylan Thomas. So although there are some amusing passages in Howse’s book, anecdotes scattered like confetti to mixed effect, overall it comes over as a Requiem for bohemian times past.

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Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 6th November, 2008

An impressive (free) exhibition of photo portraits by young photographers, photography students and gifted amateurs opens today at the National Portrait Gallery in London (where work by the American super-photographer Annie Leibovitz is coincidentally currently on display). There is something about good portrait photographs which I find eerily compelling, as they can give one an entry into the sitter’s soul. Amongst the most treasured volumes in my library are books of black-and-white prints by Bill Brandt, John Deakin and Richard Avedon, and the walls of my study are covered in signed, framed photos of people I have written about, including W H Auden, Christopher Isherwood, Edith Sitwell, Dylan Thomas and Oscar Wilde.

Over 2,500 people entered this year’s Taylor Wessing prize (sponsored by the European law firm of the same name). The winner was Lottie Davies, for her representation of a friend’s nightmare of giving birth to quintuplets, though I have to say I was more struck by Hendrik Kertstens’ ‘Bag’, a witty and evocative potrait of a young Dutch woman with a plastic bag on her head, shaped like a seventeenth-century cap, echoing Vermeer and other old Dutch masters. Kerstens was awarded the second prize. Otherwise, the images which really struck me were not those of beautiful young women (or indeed men), of which there were plenty, but the characterful lined faces of novelist Doris Lessing and sculptor Louise Bourgeois, and a chilling picture of an almost zombie-like Vladimir Putin.

The exhibition runs until 15 February and as often at the NPG, there is an accompanying book (NPG, £12.99), with a forward by Ben Okri and interviews with the prizewinners by Richard McClure.


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