Tuesday, 10 February 2015

The Missing Plaques of Old #London Town (And, er, Surrounding Environs, By Which We Mean #NYC) No.5: Helene Hanff

We all know and love London’s plaques – blue or otherwise. They pop up on our London Walks like cultural buttons waiting to be pressed by our London Walks guides.

Regular Daily Constitutionalists will know that we have already rounded up 100 of ‘em for our Plaque of the Week series (search “Plaque of the Week” in the top left corner of this window).

London Walkers often ask about them. Why are some blue and some green? How do property owners feel about them? How can one “qualify” for a plaque?

Our mission in this, our occasional series, is to extend this conversation… by issuing our own plaques to those who have been left out. You may have a thing or two to say on such matters. As usual, get in touch via email or on Twitter @londonwalks.

The Daily Constitutional's Special Correspondent David has been throwing plaques around again…

This is 14 East 95th Street. In New York City… 

The American author Helene Hanff lived here. And, as you can see, I've just awarded her a plaque. here it is close up…

It was from her flat in this building on the Upper East Side that she carried out her 20-year-long correspondence with Frank Doel, the chief buyer for the London bookshop Marks & Co., located at 84 Charing Cross Road. And the rest is literary history. Literary history crystallised in that London street address 84 Charing Cross Road, which became of course the title of her best-selling book that set out that warm, quirky, funny, book-loving, two-peoples-separated-by-the-same-language, two decades-long, trans-Atlantic, “special relationship” correspondence. And of course went on to become a stage play and a film.

It’s easy to see why. As this taster makes clear.

                                                                                              14 East 95th St.
                                                                                               New York City
                                                                                               November 3, 1949
Marks & Co.
84, Charing Cross Road
London, W.C. 2


     The books arrived safely, the Stevenson is so fine it embarrasses my orange-crate bookshelves, I’m almost afraid to handle such soft vellum and heavy cream-colorer pages. Being used to the dead-white paper and stiff cardboardy covers of American books, I never knew a book could be such a joy to the touch.
     A Britisher whose girl lives upstairs translated the £1/17/6 for me and says I owe you $5.30 for the two books. I hope he got it right. I enclose a $5 bill and a single, please use the 70c toward the price of the New Testaments, both of which I want.
     Will you please translate your prices hereafter? I don’t add too well in plain American, I haven’t a prayer of ever mastering bilingual arithmetic.


                                                                         Helene Hanff

I hope ‘madam’ doesn’t mean over there what it does here.

 And while we're about it, here's her plaque on the Charing Cross Road here in London…

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