"Murray is the best kind of literary biographer" – The Financial Times.
For more information about the books of Nicholas Murray
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Winner of the 2015 Basil Bunting Award for poetry

Monday, 30 July 2018

Bloomsbury Festival: Harold Monro and The Poetry Bookshop Celebrated 18 and 20 October

Bloomsbury Festival Event 18 & 20 October 2018

Tickets available from the Bloomsbury Festival Box Office

A Poetic Revolution: 
The Poetry Bookshop in Bloomsbury

A scripted programme of readings and music celebrating the famous 
Poetry Bookshop which opened in Bloomsbury in 1913 and helped to define a radical new poetry in the opening decades of the 20th Century.

The Music Room, 49 Great Ormond Street, London WC1

Wednesday 18th and Saturday 20th October 2018


With live music from the pianist Mihaly Berecz who plays Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin which was started in 1914, the year after the Poetry Bookshop opened.
Readers: Jean Woollard, Mark Unwin, Sarah Chatwin, Nicholas Murray, Michèle Roberts


A Note on the Poetry Bookshop

The Poetry Bookshop opened at 35 Devonshire Street, WC1 (now Boswell Street) in January 1913 and in 1926 when the lease expired the shop moved to new premises at 38 Great Russell Street opposite the British Museum. It finally closed in 1935 three years after Harold Monro's death.
The best account of the Bookshop remains Joy Grant's Harold Monro and the Poetry Bookshop (1967). See also The Poetry Bookshop 1912-1935: a Bibliography (1988) by J. Howard Woolmer which reproduces many title pages and Poetry Bookshop posters, some in colour.  Charlotte Mew and Her Friends (1984) by Penelope Fitzgerald and Val Warner's Virago edition of Charlotte Mew: Collected Poems and Prose (1982) are invaluable. The opening chapter ("The West End Front") of Nicholas Murray's The Red Sweet Wine of Youth: British Poets of the First World War (2011) gives an account of the literary background to the shop's opening.

Monday, 12 March 2018

R.I.P. Doddy

From the chapter ‘The Meaning of Scouse’ in my book So Spirited a Town: Visions and Versions of Liverpool (Liverpool University Press, 2007)

One summer I took a job as a horticultural labourer.  Each morning the small gang of three labourers would muster in the yard to find out where the boss – a well-meaning Quaker with an awed reverence for The Guardian  – was going to take us that day.  One sunny morning he announced that we were off to trim the lawns and tidy the flower beds at an old people's home in Knotty Ash.  We all erupted into spontaneous laughter.  For Knotty Ash is both the home and focal point of the humour of the city's most famous comedian, Ken Dodd – "the face that launched a thousand quips" as his website informs us.

Born on 8 November 1927 in Knotty Ash, Ken Dodd is an interesting phenomenon in the history of British popular entertainment.  Starting out as a traditional end-of-the-pier variety entertainer he seized the opportunity provided by television.  His career flourished and still appears to be flourishing as he approaches 80.  He has even appeared at the Hay on Wye Festival of Literature.  He took off as a professional performer in the mid-1950s and6, topping the bill there in 1958 at the Central Pier.  This led to appearances at the London Palladium and on television.  He had his own TV series such as The Ken Dodd Show and Doddy's Music Box and in the 1960s he developed an additional career as a singer of romantic ballads.  The titles of some of his recordings say it all: Love is Like A Violin (1960), Happiness (1964) I Can't Seem to Say Goodbye to You (1966).  This was the sort of stuff that the explosion of the Merseybeat and the whole Beatles phenomenon was supposed to have relegated to the dustbin of light entertainment but Doddy wowed them throughout the sixties with these schmaltzy ballads.  His 1965 single Tears spent four weeks at the top of the Hit Parade which could not be matched at the time by the Beatles, The Hollies or the Rolling Stones.  Moreover he kept it up for ten years.

But it is the comedy that counts.  Dodd represents the softer side of Liverpool comic surrealism.  He is no Alexei Sayle. His repertoire of comic characters from Knotty Ash is drawn from the tribe of Diddymen which he invented originally to appeal to children in the audience. ‘Diddy’ is Scouse for ‘little’. Dicky Mint, Mick the Marmaliser, Evan, Hamish McDiddy, and Nigel Ponsonby Smallpiece (check the familiar ethnic and class stereotypes) worked at the Jam Butty Mines in Knotty Ash. In panto the Diddy Men are played by children in costume but for his stage act Dodd used just a puppet of Dicky Mint with whom he did a ventriloquist routine.  Another of his properties is the tickling stick which looks a bit like a feather duster.  The jokes are Liverpool jokes.  At the Liverpool Empire he looks up at the people in the Gods and announces: "It's a privilege to be asked to play here tonight on what is a very special anniversary.  It’s a hundred years to the night since that balcony collapsed."  The asides to the audience, the women addressed always as "Missus", the daft routines, the puns, the old jokes (he famously keeps copious notebooks of jokes classified according to what will work where) the cracks about the Inland Revenue with whom he had a famous confrontation and court case ("Self-assessement - they stole the idea from me."), add up to a style of comedy that is almost certainly on its way out and that is utterly removed from the patter you hear in the comedy clubs listed in Time Out.  There's a common quip you hear in Liverpool after some possibly less than Wildean witticism: "Well it made me laugh."  This is impossible to translate but means something like: "This may not be regarded as funny by anyone applying strict canons of criticism, especially people who live south of Watford, but I have decided it's funny and that's all that matters as far as I am concerned. Don't think you or anyone else can lecture me about what is or is not funny. You's be wasting your breath.  It's my freedom to laugh at whatever I like."

Ken Dodd has occasionally made me laugh.


Wednesday, 24 January 2018

My new poetry pamphlet The Museum of Truth is published on 14th February and can be ordered in advance now from Melos Press.