Burgess Memories: Martin Hatter
I first began reading Burgess in my teens, in the late 70s, picking up paperbacks of The Doctor is Sick and Honey for the Bears and then became mildly obsessed with him over the next ten years or so. I collected as many of his books as I could and even kept a scrapbook of his reviews, the majority of these were from the Observer. Although I still have the books, I didn’t keep the cuttings. With the publication of Homage to Qwert Yuiop, it didn’t seem necessary as I had them then in book form. I also used to record his appearances on BBC Radio and Television, he was particularly good on the Book Programme presented by Robert Robinson where authors were asked to guess which books certain readings were from. There was also a radio programme he did with Russell Harty where Harty would play a piece of music and the guest would play one back and they would talk about them. Harty I remember chose, as one of his, ‘She’s Leaving Home’ by the Beatles which Burgess, always slightly sniffy about pop culture, was quite complimentary about and said of the line ‘meeting a man from the motor trade’ that ‘you can almost see his sheepskin coat’. Sadly, I no longer have these recordings.
I was lucky enough to meet Burgess in 1992. He was promoting A Mouthful of Air and did a short talk in George’s bookshop in Bristol (now Jamie’s Italian restaurant). He then took questions from the small audience of, I would guess, approximately 20/25 people. I asked a question and then, afterwards, he kindly agreed to have a photograph taken with me which my first wife took. I spoke to her recently about the evening but her only recollection of it was how excited I was to actually meet him!
The question I asked him was slightly cheeky: how much of the material in A Mouthful of Air had already appeared in Language Made Plain? Have you just republished some of the same material? He nodded and said in that rich voice of his ‘no, no, no… there are similarities but it’s a different book. It’s new stuff.’ I thanked him and told him I looked forward to reading it, to which he said: ‘you’ll enjoy it.’ And I did.
He wrote inside the book, ‘To Martin from Anthony Burgess…’ with the date and then let me stand next to him for the photograph. That was the extent of my meeting. It was thrilling to meet him and, although he seemed and I suppose was, quite elderly and tired, he was still engaging and fascinating.
I would very much like to hear The Blooms of Dublin again. I think it one of the finest things he wrote and, although not the masterpiece that Earthly Powers is, it does seem to be unfairly neglected.
Martin Hatter is a Friend of the Burgess Foundation and an enthusiast for Burgess’s writing. We are very interested to hear about your own meetings with Anthony Burgess, whether you met him at a book signing or in some other context. We would like to add these reminiscences to the Burgess Memories Project, along with any photographs or other items related to Burgess you may have in your possession. You can send your memories to Graham Foster at firstname.lastname@example.org