Obituary: George Sims

THE SON of a successful shoe importer and wholesaler, the bookseller and writer George Sims was proud of his grandfather's more plebeian role as a policeman on the beat in a tough London district.

Born in Hammersmith in 1923, and educated at the John Lyons School in Harrow, Sims was in his last year there when he met Beryl Simcock, the girl he married in 1943 and who later worked with him in his bookselling business. After a brief apprenticeship in Fleet Street, part of it with Reuter's, he was called up and served in the Intelligence Corps for the latter part of the Second World War. Even 50 years after, he scrupulously observed the provisions of the Official Secrets Act and revealed scarcely a thing about what he did at Bletchley Park, though it was known that he was liasing with a Phantom Signals unit which was behind enemy lines.

On demobilisation he wanted to be a bookseller, not a journalist, and went to work at Len Westwood's bookshop in Harrow before starting a business on his own account from a room in his father's house nearby, whence - as G.F. Sims - he issued the first of his always readable and highly informative catalogues. Then as later they were devoted to first editions, letters and manuscripts by writers of the last hundred years, especially some of the more recondite authors about whom and about whose books he could weave stories that sold the items under review. In 1952 he moved to Peacocks, a 1603 black-and-white cottage on the outskirts of the village of Hurst, between Wokingham and Twyford, which was to remain his home until he died.

Although Sims had many friends, especially among writers and his fellow booksellers, he was essentially a private and reclusive man. He had an offbeat sense of humour and could be a devastating mimic of mutual acquaintances. He did not suffer fools gladly: indeed it has been said of him that he refused to suffer them at all. One American dealer, constantly rebuffed whenever he tried to arrange to pay a second visit to Peacocks, once asked in exasperation, "How many times a year can Sims be having his bookroom painted?"

Sims put the well-being of his family first, second and third, and if this occasionally caused him to cut corners that was too bad. For example, for many years he kept a manuscript album in which visitors were asked - even pressed - to record their likes and dislikes. Then in 1981, without asking permission or giving a thought to questions of copyright, he produced Likes & Dislikes, a small edition of selections from it. Contributors who thought they were making private statements suddenly found their prejudices trumpeted abroad. Not all were best pleased.

As a writer Sims published several collections of poems and a dozen novels, the sales of the latter arguably suffering because the books were not easy to categorise. It was simple to dismiss them as thrillers, but they actually offered much more. Some won high praise from such excellent judges as H.R.F. Keating, Maurice Richardson, Roy Fuller (a friend) and even Evelyn Waugh. Common to a number of them were heroes, plots and backgrounds based on the world of rare books. Indeed his first novel, The Terrible Door (1964), was virtually a roman-a-clef, various characters being based on adaptations or amalgams of well-known book-trade figures of the day.

Sims researched his geographical backgrounds meticulously and his travels, whether for business or for pleasure, were carefully recycled in his novels, trips to Majorca, Grenada and California, as well as expeditions to less glamorous places such as waste processing plants, all serving their purpose in his fiction. When hearing of his next holiday destination his friends used to nudge one another and lay bets on the setting of the next novel.

He could convey scenes of menace very effectively. When one of his heroes was trapped in a blind alley by a bruiser representing the book's Mr Big, the heavy pulls on an old glove and says in a low, gravelly voice, "I'm going to hurt you, sonny."

Sims could write with a lighter touch too, a particularly funny piece being an exercise in wishful thinking about a typical day in an antiquarian bookseller's life as the bookseller might like it to be. He brushes off approaches from glamorous movie stars wanting him to build book collections for them regardless of expense, and then buys and sells two or three legendary rarities, all before going to lunch. Again, in "A Collector's Piece" (published in No 16 of The Saturday Book), the ultimate naive collector begins his boastful account of his assemblage of unrecognised forgeries and fabrications with the words, "I bought my first Shakespeare letter on July 1st 1954."

Also successful were Sims's four volumes of memoirs, beginning with The Rare Book Game (1985) and ending with A Life in Catalogues (1994; Sims was primarily a mail-order bookseller). The series was based on a lifetime spent hunting for rare books and manuscripts in out-of-the-way places. It chronicles his good fortune in stumbling on manuscripts by such writers as A.C. Benson and F.W. Rolfe (self-styled Baron Corvo); his dealings with various members of the Powys family and their circle; his visits to Richard Aldington in Montpellier, and to Eric Gill's widow and daughters.

His work and his enjoyment were closely bound up. Thus he loved taking long walks over the Dorset cliffs near the cottage of Alyse Gregory, surviving partner of Llewellyn Powys. Julian Symons became a friend after Sims bought from him papers of his brother, A.J.A. Symons. To a large degree the kinds of books he traded in were the kinds of books he read and reread for pleasure. He was interested in the lyrics of popular songs and would sometimes argue that Lorenz Hart was the folk poet of the 20th century. He was a serious student of the cinema and once planned a book about William Holden.

On his first visit to Dublin, James Walsh, of the booksellers Falkner, Grierson, asked him if he had been to Trinity College to see the Chester Beatty manuscripts. Apparently finding Walsh's well-meant advice patronising, Sims pretended to be a Philistine: "I didn't know they were for sale," he quipped.

George Frederick Sims, antiquarian bookseller and writer: born London 3 August 1923; married 1943 Beryl Simcock (two sons, one daughter); died Reading 4 November 1999.

Arts and Entertainment
Jude Law in Black Sea


In Black Seahe is as audiences have never seen him before

Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops


Arts and Entertainment
Full circle: Wu-Tang’s Method Man Getty

Music review

Arts and Entertainment
When he was king: Muhammad Ali training in 'I Am Ali'
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game