The Library in Knightsbridge

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‘Oh, Miss Jones, don’t forget we’re moving into Claridge’s while Cook’s away.’ The somewhat flustered lady spoke sharply to her assistant, eager to make sure her copy of Agatha Christie’s Hallowe’en Party, due to be published the following week, arrived safely. For this was Harrods Library at the end of the 1960s, and it was my first day there as Controller.

Forty or so years ago, Harrods was still a place of considerable eccentricity. The Lending Library, with its attached Secondhand Book Department, hardly fitted with the high mark-up merchandise in the rest of this gargantuan store. However, the Harrods mantra that it could supply anything from a pin to an elephant allowed for the existence of the Library until its demise, in much reduced form, in 1989.

My memory of the Library in that late ’60s period is of a clubbable atmosphere in various shades of Harrods green. The carpet, the furnishings, the rather nasty nylon overalls the Library assistants had to wear – all were green. Even the books, many of which were posted to distant climes, were wrapped in a double layer of green Kraft paper. Green is a peaceful colour, and if you took the busy escalators to the third floor and penetrated a seemingly endless row of luxury bedding, you reached the calm oasis of the Library. If you had entered this hushed environment at that time, you would have found me, seated at a leather-topped knee-hole desk, probably desperately copying out parts of jacket blurbs to compile one of the elegant little lists of recently published titles that helped Library users make up their minds as to what they might read next.

Nearby, seated on one of the green-covered chairs, chatting with a Library assistant, you might have come across the unmistakable figure of Cecil Beaton in his broad-brimmed hat, or Christopher Lee, speaking in that distinctively rich voice and dressed in a long, dark coat – so much the epitome of the vampire Count i

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About the contributor

Andrew Brownlie has worked for a number of bookshops including Bowes & Bowes, Penguin and Truslove & Hanson, sadly all now book-trade history. In retirement he undertakes projects for the cathedral library at York Minster, where the nearest thing to a best-seller is Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.

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