Thursday, 20 March 2008

Billy Willy

Since I and a perceptive commentator have been going on about how this Penguin book jacket has achieved iconic status in our lives, I thought I'd better get it out and show it off. For those whose cogniscant lives didn't start until 1976, this is a brilliant, and accurate, pastiche (designed by Tony Meeuwissen) of a Wills Woodbine cigarette packet, at least until it was deemed necessary to make it look like a bus side. Billy Liar is an exceptionally funny novel, very well worthwhile reading, and the source material for an equally great film directed by the late and sadly missed John Schlesinger. (Far from the Madding Crowd, Marathon Man.) The film has a bravado performance by Tom Courtenay, and a fledgling appearance by the trouser-enlarging (for me at any rate) Julie Christie. For a sixties teenager like me, the book was a signpost to a life, or at least an attitude, outside my first job in a public library. In Billy Liar's case it was perhaps half a rite of passage to a life beyond the undertakers he worked for, stuffing calendars he should have posted (having pocketed the money) down the office toilet whilst his erstwhile colleague Stamp mouths obscenities through the door. These formative, life-enhancing experiences should never be ignored. Bring 'em on.


Fred Fibonacci said...


On closer inspection I note the crease across the top right hand corner of the cover, and a water mark too. Did you hurriedly shove the book into a flapping trenchcoat pocket as you saw your Routemaster looming out of the rain and spray on the Tottenham Court Road? It would have been late November, 1968, evening, and very cold. You had had a difficult day at the library (someone found fast asleep in 'Biographies', an argument over a late return of 'The Carpet Baggers'; the usual). You hop onto the bus and climb the stairs, enveloped in the unmistakable and welcome fug of the double decker. You take the only available seat, next to an attractive women, almost certainly nearing fifty, but striking nonetheless. Very quickly, you are deep in conversation, telling her about the novel you're enjoying so much. Dripping wet, you reach into the pocket of your soaking coat to retrieve the paper-back and show it off to your new companion.
'Oh bugger. I've creased the cover.'
'Never mind, it's the words inside that counts' says she.
Ting ting!
'Camden High Road. Camden High Road, anyone for Camden High Road?'
'This is me, very nice to have met you, and I'll look out for that book myself. I like a good read'
'May I ask; what's your name?'
'Me? Oh, Lily, like the flower. 'bye love, must dash'
Ting ting, ting ting..

Diplomat said...

Spot on Fred - Nothing to add realy.

Diplomat said...

Ooh - I probably ought to briefly mention (again) the game of tennis I had with Ms Christie, June '75. Lemonade, short skirts, cucumber sandwiches etc.

Z said...

It's quite wonderful. I have a collection of books that I bought for the fantastic covers.

Peter Ashley said...

Fred: I wish it had been like that. How wonderful. Instead it was the Pork Pie library in Southfields, Leicester and I read it in the Reading Room where old First War soldiers coughed their lungs out whilst reading the Daily Herald. The paper that was re-named and re-launched as The Sun in the year I was there.

Diplo: You never told me about that.

Z: I do exactly the same thing. What's the best book you've bought for the cover and never read?

teninchwheeler said...

Billy Liar was filmed in Bradford, just as they were pulling down the magnificent Victorian centre and replacing it with the mini-Birmingham locals enjoy to this day. The site of Billy's employer, Shadrack And Duxbury ("That's councillor Duxbury, lad. You wouldn't call Lord Harewood mister") is still there as a carpet shop. There's some nice ghost signs nearby: 'Whitehead and Sons Fireclay Works', 'Samuel Hinchliffe & Sons Ltd - inc Asquith & Berry Ltd', 'Goods Delivery & Travellers Entrance' and this beauty:

(I hope the link works)

Peter Ashley said...

Thankyou for that picture Teninchwheeler (can we just call you Ten Inch?).Lettering and signs of extinct businesses and products are indeed the ghosts of commerce.

Fred Fibonacci said...

Time to find a copy of book and film through the use of the scarily powerful World Wide Web.

Incidentally, Cindy et al, been a bit of a week for people popping off. Can't turn round for obits.

Peter. Feel free to adopt rain-soaked encounter with the much younger Lily if you so wish. The true story's evocative enough. The Sun! Phwoar. The great leap forward to making sections of our Press a laughing stock the world over. And those poor old soldiers; they did all that and what do we do? Look at naked women.

Anyone for ranting?

Peter Ashley said...

Yes, what did we do? But I bet those Tommies that survived that mud-drenched hell looked at a few naked women when they got back to Blighty.

Obits. You wait for one and then three come along together. But Anthony Minghella, that's a bastard. What a good bloke.

Fred Fibonacci said...

Yes. It's the associated and escalating hunger for inconsequential froth that's so galling. When Willie Donaldson was dying he apparently told a much younger friend: 'You know, I envy you; you get to know what happened to Charlotte Church'.

Ps Mr Diplomat: Julie Christie. Bathsheba! Lara! Lara's Theme. David Lean. Lawrence of Arabia, Laurens van der Post. Prince Charles. Charlotte Church. Hallaton Bottle Kicking.

Time for a nap.

Toby Savage said...

Hold on! We're not probing enough into Diplo's 'the game of tennis I had with Ms Christie, June '75. ' Julie Christie was, and still is, one of the most beautiful women to grace this planet. How, on earth, did you end up playing tennis with her? Any photos?

Peter Ashley said...

Yes come on Diplo. It doesn't matter if you make something up, so long as it's good 'n' spicy.