Bob Andrews

Dealer in mystery and detective fiction

Robert George Harry Andrews, teacher and bookseller: born London 10 January 1926; married 1952 June Hill (died 1996; one son, one daughter); died Winchcombe, Gloucestershire 6 August 2003.

Bob Andrews was one of the last of the "old-style" specialist booksellers. His speciality was mystery and detective fiction and up to the time of his final illness (a long-drawn-out affair he endured with stoical fortitude) he was sending out a catalogue per month: 10 A4 pages, neatly typed out (for many years using a distinctive blue ribbon), an average of 700 or so titles a time at prices not calculated to make that much of a dent in the current account. He was, in these days of gobblingly greedy internet book grabbers (who know about as much as our dog about books, and even less about values), startlingly cheap.

Andrews was an old-style bookseller in the sense that he was by no means computer-literate. Thus all of his book-seeking was not done by staring pop-eyed at a screen for hours on the trot, but out and about, in wind and weather, prowling through small-town charity shops, digging into junk-shop boxes, scouring the contents of dusty tea-chests at country auctions, turfing through the detritus of what few - what very few! - second-hand bookshops still remain open.

He was not that fussed if books were first editions or umpteenth reprints - except when it came to his own collection: he was an avid seeker-out of firsts by the American master of the "Impossible Crime", John Dickson Carr. But his instinct was for titles, since he knew that, in the main, his clientele simply wanted decent reading copies of books they were after, at an affordable price. This kind of material he hoovered up and sent forth by the month, and then, when stocks were low, it was out on the rummage again.

Robert Andrews was born in Poplar, east London, in 1926. His education came to a sudden, explosive end in 1940 when his secondary school (St Thomas's, Poplar) was blown up in the Blitz. Thereafter, in the chaos of war-torn London, he helped his father (a shipping clerk at the Port of London) and mother, before joining up when he reached 16, in 1944. Attracted to education, he ended up in the Army's Education Corps, progressing from warrant officer to captain. After he left the Army, he took external degrees during the 1950s at Durham University, gaining a BA in English, and a Master of Education.

A fan of wrestling, he joined a friend who had launched the weekly The Wrestler, for which Andrews wrote bout-reports, hiking all over London and Essex to the seediest of venues, and casually inventing names for the various as yet uncodified holds in the grip-and-grapple game ("'Mick the Greek cracked in with a double-crab chestlock, but The Puma ducked into the hold, sunk his opponent with a weasand-chopping larynx-smash and then, as the Greek gamely staggered to his feet, felled him with a triple-flying heel-jab, then neck-scissoring him to the canvas").

Andrews's day-job was rather less strenuous, since he was teaching English in various primary and secondary schools in east London. In 1952 he met and married his wife June, and during the 1970s attained the headships of, successively, Sandringham School and Little Ilford School.

But in 1980, tired of teaching, he took early retirement and concentrated on what had been occupying both his and his wife's spare time for some years: bookselling by post. He and June moved to Gloucestershire, and soon discovered their home had become just one of a number of must-visit book-sites his customers, especially American and Japanese collectors in the summer months, now marked in red in their diaries.

Jack Adrian

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