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Dear London: Notes from the Big City by Irma Kurtz, Fourth Estate pounds 14.99. Why, Irma asks in the 1960s, are London hairdressers the best in the world? "Nothing suits an Englishman better," her English boss explains to her, "than to tender service from behind." And here's another funny thing about the English: Irma used to know one who got up an hour early every day in order to study the Times crossword, "then wait until we were on the train to fill it in, where his performance attracted covert glances of admiration and envy." "That gloriously disguised nitwit, by the by," she adds, "was the Last of My Great Loves."

Irma Kurtz is, of course, best known as Cosmopolitan magazine's splendid agony aunt. But she did lots of other things before that: staff writer on the pioneering hippy-chic Nova magazine in the Sixties, presenter of BBC television's new weekly cinema round-up, Film `72. She hated it, and handed the job on to a lad called Barry Norman. "Celebrities are fixed in the public eye, they cannot grow or experiment," she worries about Barry 25 years on. "The only way a celebrity can stay celebrated is to start imitating his past self ... and that is what freezes the soul and destroys him." And why not? as Barry will next year be asking on Film `98 ...

Young Irma arrived from New York to seek her fortune in London in 1963. She'd already spent a couple of years in Paris, which was why she wore such a stylish overcoat and carried all her belongings in such a groovily Parisian carrier-bag. Each chapter of her memoir is named after a different stopover on her odyssey: Soho, Elephant and Castle, Crouch End. It's a lovely book, sharp-tongued and merry and also surprisingly deep, a bit like the bedsitter stories of Muriel Spark. Any woman who has done that seeking-her-fortune-in-London thing will love it. And, if you're planning to tie up that hanky in the future, Irma has loads of tips on how a woman can seek a fortune for herself in style.

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