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Camden New Journal - One Week with JOHN GULLIVER
Published: 25 October 2007

Alan Coren
Alan Coren’s last laugh in Camden Town

ALAN Coren, the brilliant humourist and broadcaster, who died last Friday aged 69, is, I now discover, alive and well and living not in his beloved Cricklewood but in Camden Town.
That is because his life-long publisher, Jeremy Robson, who has based his new company JR Books in Greenland Street, is posthumously producing his final book, called 69 for 1, next Wednesday.
Robson has published more than 30 of Coren’s tomes, 21 of them aimed to tickle the funny bone of adults, since the first one, The Dog It Was That Died, a collection of rants by Idi Amin that originally appeared in the now lost Punch magazine. And it sold three-quarters of a million copies.
The latest one, the first for five years, is an anthology of Coren’s masterful humour. “Almost the last thing Alan did was to have a conversation with me and say: You will publish it come what may, won’t you?” Robson tells me. “And that was because he was aware he was in a bad way and going to die.”
Indeed, Robson first met Coren at his own wedding reception in 1964 – his family knew Coren’s consultant anaesthetist wife Anne – and published The Dog It Was That Died the following year.
“That Alan ever dreamt we wouldn’t go ahead with his new book is inconceivable,” adds Robson.
“We need a lot of humour in the world today and Alan was a great life force. When he entered a room his wit was like a machine gun. He just talked you off your feet in a phantastic (sic) way. So I am very pleased – and very sad – to be doing this final book.”
He recalled too how Coren, who lived not in Cricklewood but in Ranulf Road, off the Finchley Road, on the old Hampstead/Hendon border, created his own titles and book jackets, the most famous being for his 1975 book Golfing for Cats.
“Alan knew that books about cats and the Third Reich always sold best,” explains Robson. “So Golfing for Cats had a cover with a huge swastika in the middle of it. One obituary said it was the greatest book cover of the century.
“But what the writer didn’t know was that when I put the book up for display at the Frankfurt Book Fair I was forced to take it down – because you are not allowed to display a swastika in Germany. Alan thought that was hilarious.”

Bravo to Bob, for sticking to his guns

WORD reaches me that Bob Doyle, the 92-year-old International Brigade veteran from Tufnell Park, travelled to Ireland the other day to unveil a new plaque in Belfast honouring the Brigaders.
Bob was raised by nuns in Dublin after his mother was committed for ‘religious insanity’. I often run into his granddaughters accompanying him to Brigade events.
His recently published memoirs describe how he joined the IRA as a teenager and his training helped him when he made his own way to Spain to fight Franco in 1937 in what became a civil war. He fought in the two battles of Belchite and Teruel, was eventually taken captured and spent 11 months in prison.
Bob, who was featured in a Sunday Times magazine article this week, made an impassioned speech in Ireland, emphasising how the lessons of the past needed to be heeded.
He said: “Let us not fall into the trap of romanticising the past and isolating it from events today.
“Let us also remember that the same US corporations that supplied the fascists with oil in Spain are today pilfering the oil of the Iraqi people.
“So while we pay our respects to those who fought in the past, let their sacrifice be an inspiration to us today. Let us honour their memory by carrying on the struggle against those who put profit before people, the ongoing fight for the liberation of mankind.”
His energy would put some one half his age to shame.

It was at least this big... and here’s the photo to prove it

NO wonder he looks proud – angler Michael Hickson landed this extraordinary mirror carp on the Hampstead ponds last Wednesday!
Mr Hickson, a painter and decorator who lives in Camden Town, told me he had been fishing all day on the Hampstead ponds without having so much as a bite.
“It was nearly six at night,” he tells me “and I was ready to pack up when I felt the rod go.
“It took me well over 20 minutes to land him. He kept pulling away and I only had an eight-pound line – I was convinced I’d lose him.
“The line kept spinning out as I tried to reel him in. Eventually my mate got on some waders and and helped net him.
“It was astonishing.”
Michael’s super catch, which weighed in at 29 lbs eight ounces, reminded me of a tale of a fisherman angling in the Hampstead Ponds in 1927 when he was greeted by the amazing sight of a seal breaking the surface.
It was reported in the papers at the time, and the story went that the seal had swum up the Thames, through the River Fleet and found its way into the Hampstead ponds via a culvert.
If only there was a photograph to prove it...
In the meantime, I think Mr Hickson’s Mirror Carp can be dubbed the ‘King of the Ponds’ – unless any readers out there would care to bring in documentary evidence of a fish that is bigger...

What has it come to, when the elderly fear the council?

I SPOKE to a severely handicapped elderly woman this week who has become a victim of a politician’s decision.
Afterwards, I thought if politicians were made to pick up the pieces of damaged lives then maybe they’d make different decisions. But I suppose I’m dreaming again.
The 82 year-old woman, who moves about on crutches, had been visited by a young woman who gave her a third-degree grilling to assess whether she was being given too much help by Camden Council.
Well, that isn’t how the politicians would see it, of course. To them, there’s a chance they can claw back enough money to keep council tax low – and that means keeping their votes safe.
After the grilling, in her West Hampstead flat, the victim felt scared and weepy.
She felt as if she had been “kicked.”
Since April, a team of about six investigators have been set loose by our politicians to trawl through the lives of about 2,000 old and disabled residents – each one, no doubt, leaving behind a trail of frightened people, some in the last years of their lives.
While their plight hasn’t made many waves among the political class of the Lib-Dems and Tories at the Town Hall, their misery is real and painful to chronicle.
Defending them is a lively campaigning body, Disabled in Camden, whose secretary, Pat Stack, is harrying councillors to reverse their policy.
Recently, several victims shared their fears with Stack – among them an elderly blind woman in her 80s who had been frightened into signing a form she couldn’t see.
Another man half apologised, saying he had wept while being questioned.
This isn’t the first time the council has tried to economise by squeezing the defenceless. The former Labour administration had a go about four years ago and then gave up because the amount of money saved hardly made the exercise worthwhile.
Ignoring this, the Lib-Demers and Tories are plunging ahead, eyes down, jaws determined. Stack’s only hope to halt this madness lies with Labour, who plan to oppose it at the next council meeting.
When I rang the handicapped woman yesterday (Wednesday) for the second time to ask whether we could photograph her, her voice seemed to seize up.
“Oh, no, I’m afraid of the council, anything could happen – you don’t mind, do you?”, she pleaded.

And another thing, guv’nor

LAST week I wrote about a Hampstead cabbie, Alf Townsend, 72, who has become an established aut­hor with two well-rec­eived books to his credit and another on the way.
When I jumped into his cab and got talking to him he soon enthused about how his first book, The London Cabbie, now reissued in paperback priced at £6.99. Foolishly, I didn’t mention the name of his publishers – Sutton Publishing. His first book, by the way, was the Bad Lads about his days in the RAF as a National Serviceman.

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