At a country-house auction when he was outbid on the zoetrope that was his reason for attending, John Hadfield, The Saturday Book’s second editor, took some consolation from picking up an unexpected bargain – a pair of peafowl. They had caught his eye surveying the buyers quizzically from the gables. On being informed by the auctioneer that they were to be shot, Hadfield immediately made an offer. But Extra Lot 378 was much easier to buy than to catch.
One was cornered in a ruined belvedere after being stalked for only eight hours. It took us 15 days of coaxing, wheedling, casting down of bread, throwing of nets, setting of snares, crawling through nettle-beds and scrambling over coach-house roofs before the other bird yielded to our pleas and a handful of currants cooked in rum, and staggered, crestfallen, into our arms.
Thus was the accession of the ‘editorial peacock’ recorded in Volume 14, 1954. It is a revealing detail of The Saturday Book, an annual illustrated miscellany, that it had such an elegant mascot. Like the fan base enjoyed by a regimental goat, regular enquiries after the well-being of the birds came from all over the world. The following bulletin appeared in Volume 19, 1959:
His first wife was taken by a fox, [he] married again, has a chick in Worcestershire, and is still as ornamental, amiable and otherwise purposeless as The Saturday Book itself.
‘Minority interest’ is generally a suicidal category for a publishing venture. Not so with The Saturday Book. This scintillating all-sorts of new essays, stories, portraits, critical studies, country notes and photo-essays acquired a cult following during an impressively long run (1941–75). Where the Luftwaffe failed to interrupt production, a crisis in the British economy succeeded, so that 1974 was the only year when n
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