Literary Criticism's Darth Vadar Revealed over Lunch Christina Foyle Told Me Quite Matter of Factly That She Had the Power T O Enter People's Minds

By Kington, Miles | The Independent (London, England), June 21, 1999 | Go to article overview
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Literary Criticism's Darth Vadar Revealed over Lunch Christina Foyle Told Me Quite Matter of Factly That She Had the Power T O Enter People's Minds


Kington, Miles, The Independent (London, England)


IT WAS thanks to Sheridan Morley that I once, and once only, met the late Christina Foyle.

Sheridan and I were colleagues at Punch magazine at the time. I worked up at the top end of the corridor and Sheridan worked down the bottom end. Indeed, Sheridan worked down the bottom end of the corridor while everyone else worked up the top end, in a vain attempt to escape from Sheridan's telephone conversations. Sheridan has a very powerful and carrying voice, which is admirable when you are on stage, but I don't think it had ever occurred to him that the electronic miracles of the telephone allow you, nay, encourage you to drop your voice and still be quite audible. Everyone at Punch could hear what Sheridan was saying to some friend at the other end of a phone line, and we all fancied that his friend could have heard him unaided too....

Sorry. Drifted down memory lane for a moment. Anyway, there came a time twenty or more years ago when Sheridan's wife Margaret wrote a life of Sheridan's father Robert, and Robert had written a book too. And I think even Sheridan may have produced a book (The Collected Telephone Conversations of Sheridan Morley, Volume 1, perhaps), so Christina Foyle was persuaded to dedicate one of her famous Foyle Literary Luncheons to the Morley clan, and to tripartite mass publicity for these three books. Sheridan got me invited to the lunch, perhaps because it would be nice to have someone not called Morley there, and much to my surprise I found myself sitting next to the great Christina Foyle herself. I knew I would have to be on my best behaviour, because Foyle's Bookshop had a very low reputation with people of my generation. We all agreed that it probably had more books on the premises than any comparable bookshop. We also assumed that nobody that worked there had any idea where any of the books were, because Foyle's seemed to like employing cheap labour, often foreign, and never book-trained. I knew someone who had once rung up Foyle's quite seriously to enquire about the cost of a new set of Encyclopaedia Britannica, and the overseas assistant had gone away to find out, then come back to ask: "Um sorry - what did you say Mr Britannica's first name was?" So I didn't talk to Christina Foyle about her shop, but about authors she had met over the years, which was interesting enough, because she could remember people as far back as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

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