As we write this, towards the end of April, we are still in total lockdown because of the coronavirus. In these difficult times, we’d like to say how very touched we’ve been by all the extra efforts you’ve been making to support us, writing to us, extending your subscriptions and buying more books. It’s something we’ll never forget.
We must confess that most evenings these days we both escape to Ambridge, the setting for our shared addiction The Archers, BBC Radio 4’s venerable 70-year-old soap set in a rural community somewhere in the heart of England, which so far remains blissfully unaffected by grim events in the outside world. As those of you who have opted to receive our regular email newsletter will know, we’re keeping you in touch with what’s happening here via an additional weekly diary. Many of you have told us, however, what a relief it is to escape to other times and places by opening Slightly Foxed, so we’ve decided that from now on we’ll take our cue from The Archers and keep SF itself and our editorials, like Ambridge, coronavirus-free.
Ironically in the spring issue we mentioned that the number of Brits who bought a print book last year had increased as compared to 2018. Soon after came another bit of cheering news – that after decades of decline, the number of independent bookshops is on the up. Now of course these small businesses, like so many others, are taking a terrible hit. If your local bookshop is still managing to take phone and online orders, please, if you can, support them. They are such a precious resource in this increasingly impersonal digitized world.
On a much more cheerful note, our new Slightly Foxed Edition, The Empress of Ireland by Christopher Robbins (see p.13), is a perfect relaxing summer read. It’s subtitled ‘The chronicle of an unusual friendship’ and it’s difficult to imagine a more unlikely relationship than that between the 80-year-old gay Irish film director Brian Desmond Hurst and the very English and very innocent straight young journalist Robbins. One key thing they had in common was that they were both broke, though this was not immediately obvious to Robbins when, to his surprise, he was taken on as scriptwriter for the great religious epic that was, apparently, to crown Hurst’s career – a commission for which he was spectacularly ill-suited. His account of what followed as together they lived out this fantasy is both a comic masterpiece and a glorious portrait of an unapologetic but irresistible old rogue.
This month we’re also reissuing one of our favourite SFEs in a Plain Foxed Edition, Christabel Bielenberg’s riveting The Past Is Myself, a story of a very different kind. Christabel, from an influential AngloIrish family, met the liberal young lawyer Peter Bielenberg in Hamburg where she was studying singing and they married in 1934. They moved to Berlin and in 1942, when Allied bombing made the city too dangerous, Christabel fled to a remote village in the German countryside with their three small sons. Her book gives an unexpected picture of their wartime life in a Germany where there were few shortages, friendly German neighbours and little sympathy for the Nazi Party. She also describes her own daring confrontation with the Gestapo after Peter was arrested for his connection with Adam von Trott, one of the conspirators in the failed plot to assassinate Hitler.
And finally a piece of happy SF news, the arrival of Blythe Harrison Bunning, born earlier this year to our dear Jennie and her husband Tom. Though we’ve both of us become grandparents in the decades since we started SF, she is the first baby born to a full-time member of our office staff – the first true Slightly Foxed cub.