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Obituary: Bernard Stone

Publisher, writer and proprietor of the Turret Bookshop
BERNARD STONE was one of the colourful figures of literary London, a bookseller who liked people as much as his wares and spent more time talking about books and authors than selling them.

His Turret Bookshop started its odyssey in Church Walk, just off Kensington Church Street, where poets, novelists and bibliomanes could meet, pore over and occasionally buy fine editions and selected new titles. Always standing in a corner, tweed-suited, was a realistic waxwork dummy of Sigmund Freud, deep in thought. Freud followed Stone as the Turret Bookshop moved around London over the years.

Born in Nottingham of an immigrant Jewish family from the Ukraine, Bernard Stone moved to London and, after some experience as a street trader, set up a bookstall at poetry readings and similar gatherings to sell books and little magazines, getting to know the rising poets of the Fifties who became friends and turned his first bookshop into a club where one could meet Lawrence Durrell, Christopher Logue, Stephen Spender, Reginald Bosanquet, Jeff Nuttall, George MacBeth, Edward Lucie-Smith and hordes of others.

When his lease ended he moved to Floral Street in Covent Garden, almost behind the opera house, where new customers discovered him. Those were the days when American universities were avid for first editions and writers' archives, and Stone negotiated many deals that helped both writers and himself. Ralph Steadman, the artist and cartoonist, was a regular, and with Stone produced and had published a series of little books about the exploits of an adventurous mouse with equal appeal to children and adults: after Emergency Mouse (1978) came Inspector Mouse (1980) and Quasimodo Mouse (1984), while The Charge of the Mouse Brigade (1979) and The Tale of Admiral Mouse (1981) were illustrated by Tony Ross.

Small editions were also published by the bookshop, poetry, essays, anything that appealed to Stone, especially where he had a connection with the author, always produced in handsome, collectable editions. Sometimes he made a deal with a commercial publisher for a small special issue, as with Cape for Christopher Logue's New Numbers (1969), under their joint imprint. There were many parties at all his bookshops, but Stone nearly always had a glass of white wine in his hand during the day and was generous with it to visitors. In a sense, every day was a party.

In the Seventies Bernard moved to Lamb's Conduit Street in Bloomsbury and, although his friends followed him, it was a less accessible address and the Thatcher era was not good for bookshops: fewer young people were discovering good literature at school and interested in collecting books, and the American market had dried up. He moved back to Covent Garden, this time to Great Queen Street, to large premises surrounded by expensive restaurants, but the rent was high and the recession deepening, with not enough browsers buying fine or well-illustrated editions to cover the overhead.

Stone, always cheerful in public, still giving parties, became deeply worried, and shortly after his 70th birthday, lavishly celebrated and following the publication of a handsome illustrated Festschrift, The Shelf Life of Bernard Stone, put together by his friends (Dannie Abse, Ruth Fainlight, Edward Lucie-Smith, Roger McGough, Brain Patten, Alan Sillitoe, Ralph Steadman and others), he collapsed on the premises, just as the bookshop was about to do the same. While in hospital, his assistant did what she could to sell off the stock to other bookdealers, while the signed photographs that had decorated the shop and the rarest editions went for auction at a small estimate of their real worth.

Friends still visited Bernard Stone in his involuntary retirement in his small flat in Bloomsbury. Always an optimist and to all appearances in no way changed, his mind as agile as ever, he stoically accepted that the age of the individualist in the book world was over.

Bernard Stone, bookseller, publisher and writer: born Nottingham 23 April 1924; died London 4 February 2005.