84, Charing Cross Road (Plain Foxed Edition)
  • Pages: 240
  • Format: 110 x 170
  • Publication date: 1 September 2019
  • Producer: Smith Settle
  • Genre: Memoir
  • Binding: Cloth hardback
  • Trimmings: Silk ribbon, head- & tailband; gold blocking to spine
  • NB: Unlimited Plain Foxed Edition
  • ISBN: 9781910898307
  • Preface: Maggie Fergusson
Made in Britain

84, Charing Cross Road (Plain Foxed Edition)

Helene Hanff

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In the drab and traumatized post-war London of 1949, Marks & Co., second-hand and antiquarian booksellers at 84, Charing Cross Road, received an enquiry from a Miss Helene Hanff of New York City. It was not the kind of letter they were accustomed to receiving, and it was one that would make history.

Helene Hanff described herself as ‘a poor writer with an antiquarian taste in books’ which she was unable to satisfy as ‘all the things I want are impossible to get over here except in very expensive rare editions, or grimy, marked-up school copies’. She enclosed a list of her ‘most pressing problems’, one of which was a Latin Bible. Marks & Co.’s polite but formal reply regretted they were unable to supply the particular volume she described, but enquired if she would like them to send ‘a Latin New Testament, also a Greek New Testament, ordinary modern editions in cloth binding’.

When she began writing to Marks & Co., Helene Hanff was in her early thirties, scraping a living as a freelance scriptwriter and journalist. Having dropped out of college, she had decided to take her education into her own hands, and this had already led her down some little-frequented literary pathways which, with the passage of time, became ever more esoteric.

After a while, however, letters between the feisty, eccentric New York writer and the staff of the bookshop in Charing Cross Road began to encompass much more than books. Gradually the distant ‘FDP’ who first signed Marks & Co.’s letters emerged as ‘Frank Doel’, and ‘Faithfully Yours’ gave way to ‘With best wishes’, and eventually simply ‘Love Frank’. Soon the whole office was joining in, slipping in notes about their families, describing life in London, and thanking her for the food parcels she sent from New York.

It was a correspondence that would last for twenty years. By the time Helene Hanff made it to London in 1971, Frank Doel was dead and London was a different place. She never made her fortune as a scriptwriter, but when she finally had the idea of making the letters into a book, it became a bestseller. It’s a gloriously heart-warming read, the account of a friendship – almost a love story – conducted through books that captures the essence of a slower, gentler era.

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Comments & Reviews

  1. The enthusiastically reviewed 84 Charing Cross Road was even more of a hit here than in the US. It won Hanff a huge British fan base and, in the following years, turned into a phenomenon. In 1975 it was adapted for television by the BBC. Then in 1981 James Roose-Evans’s award-winning stage version was a West End hit which ran for 16 months.

    Hanff really hit the jackpot a few years later, when Hollywood came calling. Producer Mel Brooks acquired the property as a star vehicle for his wife, Anne Bancroft. Doel would be played by Anthony Hopkins. Could things get any better? . . .

    We met at Rumpelmayer’s, an elegant old café on Central Park South. In her gravelly, smoker’s voice she regaled me with anecdotes about New York life, and I relished her acerbic wit and self-deprecating humour . . .

    Even when she had money, Hanff had given it away. Sheila Wheeler, Doel’s daughter, who lives in Muswell Hill, north London, tells me the writer made sure they received a share of her royalties following Frank’s death. “We saw her as an American fairy godmother when I was growing up,” she says. “I pictured her as someone tremendously rich and glamorous, looking like Lauren Bacall. It was a shock, when I finally met her in 1971, to see how wrong I had been.” . . .

    The self-effacing Helene would doubtless be astounded that her little 84 is now considered a classic. I can just picture that look of incredulity, and hear that throaty laugh.

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