Book extract: Julian Maclaren-Ross: Selected Letters, edited by Paul Willetts

The book reveals the life of an impoverished bohemian writer in 1940s London

Sunday 23 October 2011 02:19

To: Jonathan Cape

3 Queen St
London W1

Dear Mr Cape,

Since the second impression of The Stuff to Give the Troops appears to be sold out in the bookshops and only obtainable direct from you, I wonder if you could see your way to advancing me whatever sum of money is due on this edition? I am aware that under the terms of our contract, the royalties are not due to be paid out until September, but the difference of three months would make all the difference to me at the present moment; and, I am sure, none to you.

I feel certain you will oblige me in this matter. Any cheque should be made payable to me personally and not to Messrs Curtis Brown, who are no longer acting as my agents.

Yours sincerely,

J Maclaren-Ross

To: John Lehmann

3 Queen St
London W1

Dear Lehmann,

In reply to your secretary's letter dated 19th September, my story "The Swag, the Spy and the Soldier'' is not in any way libellous; as to the paragraphs which the solicitors have mentioned, l do not consider that the words used could possibly lead to a prosecution for obscenity. These words have all been used before in magazines and periodicals and in my own book about the army without any such result. In my opinion it would be a pity to alter them to euphemisms or to delete them altogether. While I fully realise the difficulties with which the solicitors are faced, I feel, personally, that one should do nothing to encourage a similar kind of puritanism to that which prevailed after the last war, and which caused a fine book like Death of a Hero to be presented to the public in a mutilated form.

Yours sincerely,

J Maclaren-Ross

[The controversial words included "fuck it" and "bugger". "Fuck it" ended up being amended to "fog it".]

To: The BBC

The Bedford Hotel
Bognor Regis

Dear Sir,

In reply to yours of 17th January.

It seems to me that a considerable mistake, to put it politely, has been made. It was "mistakes" of this sort that caused me to tell Mr David Thomson when he first approached me to write a radio-play about Captain Kidd, that I was unwilling to undertake further work for the BBC owing to their slipshod methods of payment.

This script was only undertaken on the understanding that payment for my work would be prompt and expeditious. I returned your form to you only on completion and delivery of the script. No money was forthcoming under the terms of the contract.

On Friday last I made a special journey to Rothwell House to see the producer, who wanted some alterations made and one scene added. He assured me that if this was done the play would be definitely accepted. Mr David Thomson was present throughout the interview and will corroborate my statement.

But in view of the manner in which the matter of payment has been handled, I must be firm in requesting full payment (30 guineas) by Thursday next, or my permission to broadcast will be withheld. Of course half the fee will be forthcoming as repayment for my time and trouble. Please do not worry me with further correspondence – except a cheque for the sum stated as I'm a busy man and detest writing letters.

Why, by the way, was your letter addressed to Bayswater Road when my telegram explicitly specified above address? Please rectify this additional error when replying to me, by cheque, this time.

Yours very truly,

J Maclaren-Ross

To: Anthony Powell

County Hotel
Upper Woburn Place
London WC1
March 1947

Dear Tony,

I've hesitated a long time before writing this letter to you, but the fact is things are absolutely desperate with us: in fact we've been living for the last few days selling books, pawning clothes, and only getting a limited number of shillings in the process of these activities. Now my laundry has been impounded because I couldn't raise the requisite number of shillings, and the hotel bill itself impends.

I know things aren't so hot with you either, but I wonder if you could help us out. Monica could give you a postdated cheque (March 1st) for her next month's salary (£30) if you could manage to advance us this sum; in the meantime I have several irons in the fire which will have been withdrawn red-hot by then. At the moment I can't raise a penny by any other means than the mortgaging of her salary – this month's is already mortgaged, I fear, and the money gone long ago. I enclose the cheque herewith in case you can. If so, will you draw the cash out and send it to me so I get it Saturday morning: these people are just about to make our lives unpleasanter than they are already.

If you can't, never mind. You know I would not attempt to borrow from a fellow writer unless there was absolutely no other way.

Meanwhile I hope your own troubles clear up and Violet gets well again rapidly. Please give her our very best wishes,

Yours ever,


To: Dan Davin

County Hotel
Upper Woburn
London WC1

Dear Dan,

Look I'm in a mess. Can't pay the bill, danger of being kicked out, clothes etc seized. No possibility of dough till next Thursday. But BBC (Campbell) is taking story, reading it myself; fee (£20) payable after broadcast (Feb 23).

Can you lend me 15. If you can, will save life. Will repay without fail from BBC cheque. More money in by then. Will you wire money order Easton PO – and phone wire MUS 2897 telling me when it's there. Hope you liked my review of you in TLS. Got book specially. Walter doing you good one too. No more now: pen running out.

Love to all,


When are you coming up? Make it soon.

© 2008 the estate of Julian Maclaren-Ross

Julian Maclaren-Ross: Selected Letters, edited by Paul Willetts, is published by Black Spring at £9.95

About the author

Julian Maclaren-Ross wrote numerous short stories, a memoir, novels and translations, and was a colourful denizen of Soho in the 1950s. He was immortalised as the character X Trapnel in Anthony Powell's 'A Dance to the Music of Time'.

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