Window cleaner steals literary greats' letters from Booker judge


Sanchez Manning
Monday 10 October 2011 16:23

A treasure trove of gossip-laden letters written by some of the greatest literary figures of the past 100 years were stolen from a Man Booker Prize judge by his window cleaner.

Tyrone Somers, 41, of Clapham, South London, worked for Dr Rick Gekoski, a member of the judging panel for the 2005 Man Booker Prize and this year's Man Booker International Prize. Yesterday he was jailed for 30 months after pleading guilty to theft.

The stolen documents included private correspondences by Kingsley Amis, TS Eliot, Cecil Beaton, Ted Hughes, Henry Moore, Gore Vidal and Virginia Woolf. Dr Gekoski, a US-born academic and rare bookseller, had given Mr Somers the keys to his north-west London home.

The handyman told police he entered the house on 23 July this year at around 5am intending to carry out maintenance work. However, once inside, he stole a binder full of historic papers, a laptop and £100 in cash.

Dr Gekoski admitted he was initially devastated by the theft, but he has since forgiven his former employee because after a few weeks Somers had a change of heart and returned the manuscripts to the police.

"He thought better of what he'd done," said Dr Gekoski. "I was very sorry to lose all of them and of course I was relieved to have them back."

Among items taken by Somers was a letter written by TS Eliot, dated December 1960, where he discusses the aftermath of the Lady Chatterley's Lover's obscenity trial.

While condemning 'immoral' literature such as Lolita, he praises D H Lawrence, who he says "at least had a very serious and laudible (sic) intention... though I am sure I should not have liked the man."

In another letter, photographer Cecil Beaton discusses his stay in Tangiers, Morocco, and makes some revealing comments about American Playwright Tennessee Williams

He writes: "T. Williams didn't come over from Paris for the first night and hasn't bothered to get in touch with his family who are here... Mama with pince nez, young brother, and grandad aged 92 who a year ago was had up for some unsavoury sex offence."

And a letter from Ted Hughes to Ian Hamilton, biographer of poet Robert Lowell, reveals Lowell's response to a remark that Hughes had made about his poetry.

"What stunned me, apart from his rage, was to realise that I'd done the very thing I like least about literary commentary... he'd written the note the night before he went back into hospital, and had been in a hypersensitive state – which only made me feel that I'd probably helped to drive him back there," Hughes wrote.

The other items taken included three typed letters from Kingsley Amis and some original reviews of James Joyce's masterpiece Ulysses dating back to 1921, in which the book is panned as being "intensely dull."

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