Sunday 27 July 2014

An Original Page of Dave Gibbons Doctor Who Art (From A Story With a Rather Famous Fan...)

In issue 57 of Doctor Who Monthly, a letter appeared from a reader who wanted to praise the comic strip from a couple of issues back: 

‘I simply must comment on The End of The Line. I’ve always concentrated more on the articles than the comic strip, but this was outstanding. The ending was surprising, if not shocking and very moving indeed, and gave us a very different perspective on the travels of the Doctor.'

The name of the letter writer? A certain Russell Davies, from West Glamorgan.

So, listed the same weekend as the San Diego Comic Con, and Doctor Who Comics Day, Withnail Books is eBaying a chance to own an original page from the story which so impressed the man who later - with an added T. to his name - brought the Doctor so triumphantly back to TV. (Watching the cannibals in his episode 'Utopia', it's easy to see some direct influences from this strip, too...)

Any reader of DWM back in 1981 would have been pulled up short by this story (summarised here), and this page, with its big splash panel, is the one the really packs the main punch of the narrative: there's nowhere to escape to! Indeed, long before the 'dark' stories of the post 2005 TV series, here's a tale, brilliantly written by Steve Parkhouse, where the Doctor comprehensively loses, and fails to save anyone.

The art is inks over pencils, with Letraset for the Doctor's coat, and the odd bit of Tippex here and there, as part of the art. It's on thin artboard, approx 19 x 13in. An added bonus of course with Dave Gibbons' art is that he was his own letterer, so there are no faded sticky speech balloons on the art here: all the lettering is inked directly onto the board. A few years ago I had the chance to show Dave (a lovely gent) the page. He remembered it fondly, and added "You know how I got that textured effect on the railway bridge? Dabbed it with an old tea towel!" So there you go.

As you can see from the photos, the detail on this page is really phenomenal, and there's more than a hint of the Watchmen cityscapes to come...

I've set the Buy It Now price at what I think is reasonable for this key bit of British comics and Doctor Who history (it's certainly more affordable than the £10,000+ any page of Watchmen is going to set you back...).

UPDATE: Before I had a chance to post this blog, it sold. It will be off to its new home in Australia next week...

Sunday 20 July 2014

How To Open A Secondhand Bookshop By Mistake: ONE YEAR ON

So, the Little Shop 'officially' opened a year ago tomorrow. Last July I blogged about how it all came to be. One year on, Withnail Books is ticking away quite nicely, 'washing its face' as they say. It's true that selling secondhand books is a lifestyle choice rather than an empire-building exercise, but when that lifestyle means you live in the Lake District and surround yourself with old books all day, then it's a choice I'm very happy to have made. The shop already has its regulars, and now the summer season has started in earnest, I've started noticing holidaymakers coming back in again after finding us last year. A lot of this has to do with Other Adam's hard work developing The Brunswick Yard, where the Little Shop is, into the kind of place which causes visitors to tell him, quite unbidden, on a daily basis, how amazing it is.

I'm still a baby bookdealer of course, learning the trade. I must say that any and all of the other dealers I've met, either when they have dropped by the shop, or at the book fairs I've pitched out at, have been unfailingly friendly and happy to chat about the business. That makes sense though, as selling books is as much about who you know as what you know: you might not have a customer for a certain book, but with any luck you'll know a dealer who does...

Withnail Books has a few little specialist areas (a certain film of course, graphic novels, a bit of T. E. Lawrence and some Lakeland books) but it's mainly about being able to wander in and find something 'interesting', usually for under a tenner. That's the answer I always give to the question "What sort of books do you buy?" "Interesting ones." It's not a particularly useful answer, but it's the most honest one I can give.

One skill that I have honed quite a bit in the last year (and it's just as well) is being able to tell whether a book is one that will likely:

i) sell very quickly
ii) have to wait a while for the right person to come along, but will go eventually
iii) haunt the shelves forever and day.

There are some books that I just know when I put them out will not last the week, and they never do. Which books? Well, interesting ones...

Anyway, a hearty thank you to everyone who has visited the shop, or simply followed it via this blog, or on Facebook or Twitter. Chin chin!

Finally, I will leave you with the inaugural winner of the (drum roll...)

Withnail Books Bonkers But 100% True Customer Quote of the Year Award:

"I need a book with photographs of meat!"

(He went away happy.)

A first birthday present from friend of the shop Martyn Watson: T. E. Meerkat of Arabia.
So very, very wrong, it's right.
(As another friend pointed out, at least an Arabian meerkat is more believable than a Russian one!)

Sunday 13 July 2014

Before Uncle Monty: A Glimpse At The History of Sleddale Hall

Seeing as last week's blog about the Picnic Cinema screening of Withnail & I at Uncle Monty's cottage proved rather popular, here are a few more photos which might be of interest.

Back in 2009, when the "horrible little shack" went under the hammer, the Telegraph talked to a former resident, and ran a few of her snaps of Sleddale Hall, aka Crow Crag, back in the 1950s...

Sitting on the step of the door used in the film. Ferrets almost certainly in that shed at the back.

Yes, he is the farmer.

Sleddale Hall, taken from the rear.

The article in the Telegraph ran as follows:


More than two decades before it featured in the film Withnail & I, Sleddale Hall was home to the Harrison family. "My father farmed the valley but when the damn was built to make the reservoir we moved away," says Margaret Kuchczynski (Harrison). That was in 1965 - no one has lived there since.

Sleddale Hall was Margaret's parents first home. There was no electricity, and they got about by horse and cart. "We had two horses, both called Piggy," says Margaret. Groceries were delivered as far as Thorney Bank (Margaret's aunt and uncle's farm), over a mile away. "We collected them by pony and cart or Uncle Henry brought them up by tractor and trailer," says Margaret.

Their mother cooked on a big range, but also used a calor gas cooker and did the washing in a Calor gas fired tub with mechanised paddles to wash the clothes. "I can remember being taken to bed by oil lamp and my parents using candles too," says Margaret.

Over the past few years Margaret and her sister Heather have taken their own children back to Sleddale Hall, to see where their mothers were born. "It should be a family home again," says Margaret. "It would be such a shame if it was turned into a museum, after all it was a farm from 1722 until 1965 (over 240 years), and a film set for only one summer in the 1980s. We wish we could afford to buy it."


The Harrison family, I'm guessing, were the ones who used to keep ferrets in the barn (see last week's blog). No doubt Margaret is happy to know that it is a home once again, albeit one that has several hundred rather drunk guests hanging around outside in the yard for one weekend a year...

For more information on the history of the house, plus lots of photos of the interior (taken back when it was in its semi-derelict state) this site is well worth a visit.

Monday 7 July 2014

Watching Withnail at Uncle Monty's: A Night at Crow Crag, aka Sleddale Hall

It may only be in its third year, but the Picnic Cinema screening of Withnail & I at Sleddale Hall, the house used as the location for Uncle Monty's cottage, has already become a beloved institution.

There were three nights this year, all quickly sold out, each with 100 lucky fans coming on holiday by mistake for the evening, to watch the film, drink fine wines, and then be forced to camp in the farmer's field next door.

Arrival at Crow Crag. This shot got one of the loudest cheers of the night.

Crow Crag on Saturday evening, from (nearly) the same angle.

We were there for the Saturday, which after a damp Thursday and a full-on Withnail-authentic hurricane on the Friday, was a dry and fine evening, thank god. A wonderful time was had by all, and massive thanks are due to Adrian and the Picnic Cinema team for organising it all so brilliantly, The Foundry in Penrith for a very yummy barbecue, and especially to Sleddale Hall's owner, Tim, for allowing the hordes to descend.

Sleddale Hall has not been lived in properly since the 1960s. When Withnail filmed there, it was semi-derelict, and the production actually had to do it up a bit to make it look as uninhabitable as it did on screen! As well as the exteriors, which are seen from several angles, the interior of the house was used for all the ground floor rooms (only the bedroom scenes were shot elsewhere), so Sleddale Hall really is a 'character' in the film. Tim has been lovingly restoring the house and its outbuildings in the five years he's owned it, and though he's still got a ways to go, the results are already fantastic. It's very much a labour of love, and it was great to meet him and chat about it all on Saturday. More power to your elbow, sir! (I should add that the house is of course private property, so please don't try to visit uninvited!)

Anyway, here's a blow-by-blow 'Photo Essay' (or, some pictures what I took on my phone) of our delightful weekend in the country.

Approaching Wet Sleddale, just off the M6 about 12 miles South of Penrith, where Sleddale Hall is to be found, a couple of miles up a farm track. It's not called Wet Sleddale for nowt. The sky here is not usually this clear, believe me.

Shut that gate!!

Fans drove from all around the country, presumably not immediately after consuming a few ales.

The final approach is on foot. We brought wheelbarrows for all our camping gear. *smugface*

The view from the campsite, of Wet Sleddale reservoir. In the film, Marwood emerges from the house to see another lake entirely: the slightly more photogenic Haweswater. Yes, they cheated.

Sitting down to enjoy my holiday. As you can see, the 'campsite' is actually just a field, kindly provided by the farmer, which is on a rather steep angle. Later, this made sleeping in the tent interesting.

Walking up the hill towards Crow Crag.

No need to check out the fuel and wood situation, or buy eggs and things off the farmer: the food is already sorted.

... as is, more importantly, the booze.

The screen had been set up at the end of the courtyard.

"Those are the kind of windows faces look in at." That's the door used in the film, and the other side of those windows is the room with the range, where the chicken/boots are cooked.

The 'proper' front door is not used in the film, but the other side of those ground floor windows is the parlour where the late luncheon is eaten. Thanks to Sleddale Hall's owner Tim, the door and windows now have new, local sandstone surrounds.

Eden Brewery's Withnail-inspired beers were very much in evidence.

Here's the view behind the screen. A customer in the Little Shop last year, an old fellow who had never heard of the film, but knew the house well because his Uncle used to live there, assured me that ferrets used to be kept in this barn.

As the sky began to bruise, the audience arrived...

The back of the house, where Jake the Poacher is seen walking away, was also visited by most of the filmgoers.

Are you the farmer? Of course he's the fucking farmer.
Jeff Wode was also spotted in attendance.

The pre-film entertainment included the Picnic Cinema crew playing a couple of tunes. Here they are singing Psycho Killer.

There was also a quiz, which rather embarrassingly went down to a tiebreak which the Withnail Books team won. We shared the fine wines prize with the fellow tiebreaker teams, but held on to the other prizes...

By about 10.30pm it was finally dark enough to fire up the projector, starting off with some vintage cinema ads...

... before moving on to the main feature.

"My thumbs have gone weird!"

"Then the fucker will rue the day..."

"Chin chin!"

"I will never. Play. The Dane."


The first glimpse of Sleddale Hall.

Emerging the next morning. That cornicing on the wall to the left of the statue is actually plaster of Paris, and was added by the production. It was still there years later.

Walking through the archway to see the (false) view of Haweswater. I nipped through there during the film to have slash, but I don't think anyone noticed. That's the alleged Ferret Shed at the bottom of the yard.

Finding a raw potato. There's a patch of rhubarb there now (see photo below).

"Penrith. Penrith!!!" (It isn't, it's the other side of Bampton, several miles away, on the way to Haweswater.)

The red phone box is still there, a must-visit for every Withnail pilgrim.

"A crack at the Mick! These shall be my pleasure."

"A pair of blues." Though this sequence is set in Penrith, it was actually filmed in the Buckinghamshire village of Stony Stratford (now referred to apparently un-ironically on its own website as 'the jewel of Milton Keynes').

"Alright here?"
I said this earlier to the Picnic Cinema person as we were parking up in the farmyard. How we laughed.

A gratuitous Sleddale Hall shot.

... and another.

The van which will shortly be gottenintothebackof.

"This will tend to make you very high."

"I'll miss you Withnail."

THE END. A wonderful screening, in a none-more-perfect venue.

View from the tent door the next morning. We awoke at midge o'clock. They were *furious*, and ate us campers alive. Not what I'd been given to expect from the H. E. Bates novel I'd read. (This blog post is almost finished, honest.)

Where once Withnail found a potato, there's now rhubarb.

Sorry, that became a bit epic, but it was an occasion worth documenting for future generations I feel. Mind you, it will all be happening again next year, and one hopes for many years to come.

At the root of all this is a film made by Bruce Robinson and a bunch of dedicated people over 25 years ago, which is still loved by fans all over the world today. I don't know how many times I've seen it now, but each time, something different jumps out. This time around it was one of Danny the Dealer's lines. I'm not sure exactly what it means, but it's *deep*...

"Why trust one drug and not the other? That's politics innit?"