84 Charing Cross Road

written by

Helene Hanff and James Roose-Evans

directed by

Val Foskett

performed at

Putney and Wimbledon Libraries

March 2000

84 Charing Cross Road Poster

Why in a library?

This is a departure from the Carlton's normal productions. We usually use local theatres for our performances. For this production we chose to use local libraries - so why did we do this ?

In her book Q's Legacy, Helene Hanff describes the beginning of her love affair with literature. She couldn't afford to go to college, so decided she would instead study with the best teacher she could find in the public library. The book she chose was On the art of writing, by Arthur Quiller-Couch ('Q'), and she set herself to work through it, reading the books Q recommended.

She grew to love these authors - Newman, Donne, Hazlitt etc. - so much that she wanted to own her own copies, and to have a link with England, where they lived and worked. Thus began her 20-year correspondence with Marks and Co., the second-hand bookshop at 84, Charing Cross Road.

Pile of books

Public libraries, now in their 150th year in Britain, still offer access to the works of great writers to those who may not be able to afford them, second-hand or new, either for serious study or for light entertainment. Many also have books on tape, music and videos, and increasing numbers offer access to the new learning via the Internet. It is fitting that the audience was watching this play, a celebration of books, reading and learning, in the place where the story started - a public library.

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"...the Charing Cross Road bookshops are all quite small..."

There are still a number of small second-hand bookshops in Charing Cross Road, and in Cecil Court and other small turnings off it between Cambridge Circus and Trafalgar Square, although many of these are now facing closure, owing to substantial rent rises demanded by their landlords.

Number 84 was situated on the northern side of Cambridge Circus, facing Romilly Street and the Palace Theatre. The building still stands, but the shop has been incorporated with others into a branch of All Bar One wine bar. However there is still a plaque on the wall commemorating the address Helene Hanff made famous.

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Other books by Helene Hanff

The Duchess of Bloomsbury describes Helene's trip to England to promote 84 Charing Cross Road and to meet Frank's wife Nora and her family.

Q's legacy, describes Helene's early life until her success with 84 Charing Cross Road.

Apple of my eye: her love affair with New York.

Letters from New York: short pieces originally broadcast on BBC Radio.

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The Kitchen Front

Ration Book

In the first half of the story of 84 Charing Cross Road post-war rationing is very much to the forefront, with Helene Hanff sending over gifts of meat, eggs and even nylon stockings that today we would think nothing of going round to the supermarket and buying straight off the shelf. In post-war times, supplies were scarce and such commodities - even a box of eggs - was a luxury, as the following quotes from contemporary adverts, radio programmes and news reports bear testimony

"Wanted: egg timer, sentimental reasons, also egg, same reason". - Newspaper small ad.

"Carrot flan: reminds you of apricot flan - but has a deliciousness all its own." - Ministry of Food ad. 1941

A Staines housewife baked a cake that contained so few of the usual ingredients that she christened it The Nothing Cake. It consisted mainly of flour, custard powder and dried egg.

"Wishing you a Happy Birthday and lots of presents. I did hear of a lucky girl the other day who was given some onions, but we can't all expect a lovely present like that." - Radio 'Aunt' on BBC Children's Hour.

"Shell eggs are five-sixths water: Why import water?" - Ministry of Food ad. 1942.

A Rotherhithe woman turned out at 6 a.m. to queue for three hours outside the greengrocer's. Her prize was three apples or a pound of rhubarb.

"If I got some liver, I ran home as happy as if I had won a fortune." - Deptford housewife.

The outstanding buy was generally agreed to be the large tin of American sausage meat which cost a whole sixteen points, but besides providing enough meat for several main meals contained a thick layer of nearly half a pound of fat, invaluable for cooking.

"It's not clever to get more than your share" - Ministry of Food ad.

(quotes from "How we lived then", by Norman Longmate.)

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The Cast

Helene Hanff ~ Kathie Arundell
Frank Doel ~ Adam Cain
Cecily Farr ~ Kristen Bowditch
Megan Wells ~ Annette Piper
Bill Humphries ~ Jeff Graves
Joan Todd ~ Frances Allen
Sandra ~ Cindy Graves
Maxine ~ Kate Rogers
Pilot ~ Ian Burfoot

The Crew

Stage Management ~ Cindy Graves
Claire Marseille
Producer ~ Mike Tierney
Poster Design ~ Russell Thompson
Music Advisor ~ Terry Day
Sound and Lighting ~ Simon Harris
Costumes ~ Carshalton Pantomime Co.
Programme Design ~ Simon Harris
Programme Text ~ Val Foskett
Publicity ~ James Derbyshire
Kristen Bowditch
Front of House ~ Penny Stone
Ruth Brooks
and friends
Director ~ Val Foskett

Photographs of the cast

If you would like to see larger versions, click on each of the thumbnail images below. Then click 'Back' to return here.

The Americans...

Photo - helene Helene Hanff, played by Kathie Arundell
Photo - maxine Maxine, played by Kate Rogers

The English...

Photo - frank_and_farr Frank Doel, played by Adam Cain, and Cecily Farr, played by Kristen Bowditch
Photo - farr_and_bill Cecily Farr and Bill Humphries, played by Jeff Graves
Photo - megan Megan Wells, played by Annette Piper
Photo - bill_and_sandra Bill Humphries and Sandra, played by Cindy Graves
Photo - frank_and_sandra Frank Doel and Sandra

Thanks to Claire Marseille for the photographs

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