Posted by: billpurdue | May 5, 2009

53 The Victorians, humour and book towns

The Victorians and their artists

victoriansI really enjoyed Jeremy Paxman’s short series of documentaries on the Victorians and how their lives are portrayed through the paintings of the age. If I enjoy a documentary series, I’m always on the look out for the book – the so called TV Tie-in. Unlike some tie-ins, The Victorians; Britain through the Paintings of the Age [BBC £25 9781846077432] stands perfectly well on its own. Jeremy Paxman doesn’t mince words and his style is witty and entertaining. He begins by saying that Victorian art is certainly not fashionable today and that quite a lot of it isn’t very good, but it is the way life in the Victorian era is portrayed by the painters and some photographers of the age that is the real point of this book. Not only do we look at Victorian life through its paintings, but we also find out a little about the lives of the artists and the methods they used – Gustav Doré, for instance, who had a photographic memory and didn’t like to be seen sketching in public so lurked in dark corners making notes and sketches.

I hesitate to use the phrase “lavishly illustrated”, but that phrase accurately describes this book. So, when you’ve read the text, you can still come back to the book time after time for the many paintings reproduced in its pages – if you like that kind of art, that is. The period of the industrial revolution is certainly one of my favourite periods in British history, so I’m putting this book on my “wants” list. Read the Guardian review here

In memory of Humph

lytteltonIt’s hard to believe that it’s over a year since the death of Humphrey Lyttelton, well known jazz musician and, more importantly for me, host of the popular Radio 4 panel game “I’m sorry I haven’t a Clue”. At the beginning of each show, Humph would read out a short comic history of the town in which the show was being recorded. These scripts, by Iain Pattinson, are funny just to read in a book, but Humph’s delivery made them hilarious. Of course the best way to relive those joyous moments is to listen to some of the shows again, but this collection of scripts of the introductory talks, Lyttelton’s Britain [Preface £14.99 9781848091078], is a close second. Here’s just a short excerpt from the piece about Nottingham : “The greatest bare-knuckle fighter of the Victorian age was born in Nottingham, one William ‘Bend-e-goes’ Thompson, probably the most famous British boxer until Frank ‘Down-he-goes’ Bruno.

National Year of Reading becomes Reading for Life

The National Year of Reading (NYR) has now finished and it has been hailed a success: it’s claimed that there has been a significant increase in library membership amongst certain socio-economic groups and an increase in library membership nationally – in fact 2.3 million new library members were recruited between April and December 2008. We’re not given the figures for the same period the corresponding period in 2007 however.

Be that as it may, the NYR has now rebranded itself as Reading for Life  and has a new website ( aimed at the general public as well as teachers, librarians and other interested professionals. They are also going to promote the value of reading using “media and brand partners”, so watch out for Where’s Wally promotions on milk cartons and a Horrid Henry promotion in Iceland stores amongst other schemes.

Found on the Internet..

If you are keen on second hand and antiquarian books then you might already know about The Book Guide. It lists secondhand and antiquarian booksellers in the UK, has a calendar of book fairs and auctions and offers advice on looking after your own books as well as a directory of bookbinders.

Have you ever been to a “book town”? Hay on Wye isn’t the only book town in the UK, but it is probably the best known. A recent article in the Independent offers a guide to book towns, such as Atherstone in Warwickshire and Wigtown in Scotland, but it doesn’t mention a book village (not big enough to be a town) called Burnham Market in Norfolk. Well, at least when I was there last, there were at least 3 bookshops: perhaps there’s only one left now (according to the Book Guide website)



  1. Another Book Town is Sedbergh – just 5 miles from Kendal. When I visited at Christmas there were a staggering 9 sellers listed in the leaflet – including one with the wonderful name of ‘Sleepy Elephant’! I only managed to visit 3 – but they were fantastic, and well worth a return visit.

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