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The radical John Calder

Former New Journal contributor ran bookshop near the Young Vic theatre

30 August, 2018 — By John Calder

John Calder, who has died aged 91

I WAS surprised to find that after the poet Dannie Abse had read one of his poems in a tiny hall in Kentish Town one evening, the next poet to perform was a heavy-jowelled man, with a saturnine look in a three-piece suit, looking every inch a clerk. I thought of TS Eliot sitting behind his office desk.

After the evening event I walked back to Kentish Town tube station with the three-piece suit man, John Calder, and though in his mid-70s, could hardly keep up with his brisk trot. We soon struck up a friendship which resulted in visits to his famous radical Calder bookshop – opposite the Young Vic – and later specially penned pieces for the New Journal by the great man.

I wish I had known John Calder, who has recently died, in his younger days when he was an enfant terrible of the publishing world, who had introduced Samuel Beckett to this country, and was prosecuted for obscenity in 1967 after producing Last Exit for Brooklyn.

Dannie Abse

The case became a lengthy court battle, and virtually ended book censorship in Britain. Who wasn’t he involved with in the literary world? He was a friend of Kenneth Tynan, Henry Miller and William Burroughs.

When I knew him he was flitting between his London flat and his home in Paris but as active as ever he produced a very good book of poems and an autobiography that ran to 340,000 words. As inventive as ever he dramatised – singularly well – parts of his memoir on a little stage in a hall behind his bookshop.

Eventually, he sold his bookshop, though it has still carried on his tradition of selling radical books as well as staging experimental plays at the rear.

He died in Paris at 91.


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