Our Quarterly Magazine

A Sort of Newsletter: A Quarterly Magazine

The Trust publishes a quarterly magazine, each February, May, August and November, titled A Sort of Newsletter (ASON). Friends of the Trust receive free print copies as part of their membership. Each issue contains a rich mix of articles, reviews, correspondence and news. ASON is not intended to be an academic journal; there is something for everyone with an interest in the writer.

Rarely does a month go by without Graham Greene featuring in the news in some form or other. A Sort of Newsletter will keep you bang up to date with information about the latest Greene-related books, films, reviews and associated news from around the world.

The annual Graham Greene International Festival, held in September each year in Berkhamsted is the principal event in the Birthplace Trust’s calendar. Naturally, it features prominently in the pages of the newsletter with information about  forthcoming festival appearing in the May and August issues followed by retrospectives on each event in the November issue.

So, if you are interested in Graham Greene, his life and his books and you are not currently a Friend of the Graham Greene Birthplace Trust, then you are urged to turn to the Members’ page on this website which gives all the details about joining and receiving A Sort of Newsletter.



To give you a flavour of what to expect to find within the pages of the magazine, we are publishing some sample features from recent issues:

Issue 79 August 2019


Book Chat: Graham Greene and the Peter Edwards dust jackets

In 1959 Greene’s publisher Heinemann invited a young artist Peter Edwards to design the dust jackets of a new hardback ‘library’ edition of his works. There had, of course, been several different editions of the novels in the preceding 20 years, but Edwards’ coloured designs were something else.  Unusually, the illustrations cover the whole of the wrapper, not just the front and the spine. Maybe the vivid colours on the spines were to help them stand out on library shelves at a time when wrappers were becoming more attractive. Indeed, it was to the public libraries that most of these new issues went. As a result, most wrappers were soon torn, damaged and eventually discarded. Many good wrappers that did survive have been faded by the sun on the spines over the years. Fine copies have now become very popular with book collectors and are far more scarce than most of the first editions. I first became aware of them as a dealer about 15 years ago, and although a few have passed through my hands, they rarely turn up for sale on Ebay or at book fairs.

I thought I would try and do a bit of research: I Googled Graham Greene and Peter Edwards, and soon discovered a lovely article by Nick Jones which gives far more detail. He established that 13 of the Greene’s books were given these beautiful wrappers and actually illustrates every one of them in full colour for all the world to see. So, Google Greene with Peter Edwards and you can see all the wrappers in their full glory. Peter Edwards (1934–2017) does not warrant a Wikipedia biography. He went on to illustrate the Thomas the Tank Engine series between 1963 and 1972.

Just after I started writing this article, I found a copy of It’s a Battlefield, with possibly the rarest Edwards wrapper, in a Middlesex charity shop with a £1 price sticker solidly stuck to the front cover. What a find, but it was impossible to get the sticker off without damaging the beautiful wrapper!

A few years ago I won on an Ebay auction Graham Greene’s own copy of Brighton Rock with its Peter Edwards wrapper. This book had been acquired from Greene in Antibes before he died by rare book dealer Rick Gekoski, who had provided a letter with it confirming its provenance. The wrapper was a bit chipped and worn. I later sold this at one of the festivals.

Richard Frost


Issue 78 May 2019


Charles Henry Greene

 ASON readers will remember the excellent article Prediction Fulfilled? in our February issue, in which the original Festival Director, Roger Watkins, told us all about the press interest generated by the inaugural event in 1998. One phrase in the article, about Graham Greene’s headmaster father Charles Henry Greene, produced a response from Graham’s nephew and Birthplace Trust Patron Nick Dennys, as follows:

‘I was very surprised to read his comment that Graham’s father was a “deeply unpopular headmaster”. It may be a bit much for a headmaster to be its opposite “popular” let alone “deeply”, but I had never heard such a characterisation of Charles Henry. Greatly respected and sometimes affectionately “the dear old turtle” [a phrase used about him by Peter Quennell] seemed more the mood.’

Nick followed this up with these observations about Graham’s father:

‘One memoirist said there was only one occasion when he saw him chastise a boy, who he clipped around the head in front of the school. The boy was then summoned to his study full of trepidation only to find himself being profusely apologised to. He had a reputation as a liberal headmaster. This included abolishing the right of senior boys to cane other boys. Quite unusual for the time. Though after he left it was probably reinstated fairly quickly and they were still caning when I was a boy there in the 1960s. Certainly there was never a whiff of habitual anger mentioned in the family.’

So, Nick enquired, what was the source of the phrase? Roger responded as follows:

‘This phrase occurs in the article by David Prest in The Independent newspaper of 28 September 1998.  The full paragraph in which it occurs reads as follows:

‘ “The guide text for the Greene walking tour [of Berkhamsted] is the first volume of his autobiography A Sort of Life.  The early chapters give an insight into what it was like growing up as the son of the deeply unpopular headmaster of Berkhamsted School, being cold shouldered and ignored by other boys and making several inept attempts at suicide before running away from school. This alienation and resentment of institutions stayed with Greene for the rest of his life, and inspired many of his characters, from the teenage thugs in Brighton Rock to the authoritarians of The Ministry of Fear.”’

The paragraph produced a reaction from Nick, who believed that Prest was fundamentally wrong in his judgements. Here are Nick’s fascinating thoughts on Prest’s idea:

‘Apart from anything else it alters the nature of Graham’s conflict. As he himself presented it, he was caught between the world of the Headmaster and his family on one side, beyond the green baize door, and the boys on the other side i.e. he was close to both. This led to novels where he found grounds for empathy in opposing places and viewpoints. This was certainly a deep embarrassment, but it enlarged his sympathies.

‘One where he was despised by boys but had to share their view of the “deeply unpopular” headmaster would have been a completely different balance of feeling. It would have produced much more bitter novels I suspect!’

Moreover, Nick later added,

‘One of the things that has always seemed indicative to me, is that we all knew Graham was rapidly responsive, both in comprehension and emotionally, to situations and people. He felt things markedly. Both his younger brother Hugh and older, Raymond, no slouches themselves, were at Berkhamsted also and, though Hugh, I seem to remember, didn’t like being at school, neither of them experienced it as hellish nor even remarked much on the situation of being the headmaster’s son. They seem to have both been confident students – “successful students” someone called them. It was only Graham who felt the divide of the green baize door markedly. It gave him divided loyalties and so [he was] bullyable, as it were, by Carter, and perhaps a nervous breakdown, whatever that means. For Graham much began in Berkhamsted and he quoted Conrad for the epigram of The Human Factor, certainly about divided loyalty, “I only know that he who forms a tie is lost. The germ of corruption has entered into his soul”. My understanding is that it never had anything much to do with the character of Charles Henry. It was a situation that Graham was sensitive to in a way that the others were less so, it seems. He felt a tie, perhaps, on both sides of the green baize door.’

Fundamentally, Nick knew from his ‘own recollection from the family’ that Prest was wrong, and believed that Prest had misinterpreted Greene’s own writing in A Sort of Life:

‘There is nothing in A Sort of Life from my recollection other than a certain wariness of Graham towards a father he only understood later when he was one himself. I think David Prest must have just had a blip and interpreted the intimate bullying of Carter towards Graham as caused by the character of CH rather than by the character of Carter.’

To substantiate his view of Prest’s misreading of A Sort of Life, Nick offered examples from the book giving insights into Charles Greene’s character, and his son’s relationship to him. For readers who wish to follow up the full references, I have included Nick’s own page references:

‘(p.43) The story of the gardener who let the heater die in the greenhouse and destroyed the orchids and Greene’s response.

‘(p.46) GG’s comment that his father, unlike his mother, was “quite without social prejudice”.

‘(p.72) His reason for not siding with the boys against his father and brother Raymond, by then head of house, was the desire not to betray them. It was a balanced conflict not a one-sided one against authority.

‘(p.90) After being brought home from his flight to the common, “…. my father sitting on the bed and interrogating me seriously and tenderly,..”

‘(p.111-114) There is a rather nice description of his father’s teaching by GG, Cockburn and Quennell from CH’s habit of talking while lying on his back with his mortarboard over his eyes. Their shared love of Browning, GG’s favourite poet.’

To give further substance to his argument, Nick then quoted from several other sources on Charles Henry Greene:

From Richard Greene, A Life in Letters:

‘(p. 121) GG to his mother on CH’s death: “I can’t write about how sorry and sad I feel: he was a very good person in a way we don’t seem to be able to produce in our generation…”

‘(p.123) Letter to Raymond on CH’s death “… his rather noble old liberalism was always inclined to make one bring out one’s cynicism stronger than need have been.”

‘(p.386) Letter to Road Dahl on reading the horrors of school reported in Boy: “I was shocked too by all the beatings and I realize now even more what an advanced man my father was as Headmaster of Berkhamsted. No prefects or fagging there.”’ Nick re-emphasises, on this point: ‘Charles got rid of these on taking over but these practices were immediately restored by the next headmaster in 1927 and fagging and beatings by prefects were still in place when I was there from 1963 to 1969.’

From Michael Tracey, A Variety of Lives:

‘(p.10): Cecil Parrott on Berkhamsted School – criticising CH’s unworldly innocence (also commented on by Raymond), “It was supposed to be an extremely clean school – the whole atmosphere was a very gentle one. The tone of the school was extremely good compared with other public schools and in a way I do not think one was encouraged to wake up to the facts of life … at least I was not.” ’

From Jeremy Lewis, Shades of Greene:

‘(p.35) Reports Hugh’s recollection of a misunderstanding which was the only occasion his father, “a kind and liberal though often, I think, bewildered man, ever beat me.”

‘Chapter 4 gives a wonderful view of the character of CH and several views by Cockburn (there is a fuller picture of CH in Cockburn’s autobiography I Claud), Quennell and others and is perhaps the clearest antidote to the view that he was “deeply unpopular”.

‘Lewis’s anthology of views is on the powerful idiosyncrasy of CH is corroborated by the Patrick Cockburn piece [referred to in ASON 77, February 2019, with a link on the Trust website].’

Finally, Nick refers to A History of Berkhamsted School by Basil Garnons Williams (Nick’s own headmaster when he was there) and its ’thorough chapter on Greene’:

‘There is no hint of the “deeply unpopular” and his summary of the years of the 1st WW is: “… he emerged from the nightmare years with enhanced reputation. No one thought of him now as Fry’s hardly adequate successor. He was very much in charge of things, an object to many of affection, to everybody of respect”. He quotes an ex-schoolboy’s memoir that “liberalism was his outstanding characteristic …. His conception of government in a school was to reduce regulations to a minimum – to rule by personality, example, and the creation of ‘tone’.” ’

Williams’s summary of Charles Greene at the end of the chapter is, Nick pointed out, ‘incompatible with a deeply unpopular figure’:

‘ “He was a competent administrator; … he was an effective leader; … but as a teacher he was much more. He was inspiring and inspired … R.S. Stanier [a former pupil under CH] remarked … ‘Through his learning, taste, insight and enthusiasm he opened doors to us, and invited, not compelled us to pass through.’ ” ’

Many thanks to Nick Dennys for getting in touch, for his insights, and for his conscientious research on Charles Henry Greene.


Issue 77 February 2019


Graham Greene’s The Third Man has over the years generated many spin-offs, and we have one such here. Hollins College in Virginia (now called Hollins University) published the following literary spoof in its magazine The Hollins Critic in March 1975. Many thanks to Hollins for granting permission to reprint it here, and to the children of Lewis O. Thompson for permission to include the original illustration. Thanks too to Colin Garrett for drawing the article to my (Magazine Editor) attention.

‘The Critic’ has been publishing continuously and can be found on this websitehttps://www.hollins.edu/who-we-are/news-media/hollins-critic/


The Fictions of Holly Martins

Holly Martins has at last delivered himself of his long-awaited ‘big book,’ and a truly big book it is too. Over 250,000 words in length, more than 500 pages in extent, fully 8” by 15” in size, in excess of seven inches in width, more than twelve dollars in price, The Abilene Snake-Charmer is by every major critical standard a huge work. It is more. It is an enormous work, a monument to the imagination, a monolith of American literature, a monograph on American history – it is all these and still more.

Surely by now, to every truly literate reader – I mean, that is, every truly literate reader, or at least every truly literate reader – the name of Holly Martins must be as familiar as those of Grey or Ernest Haycox as one of the major influences which have transformed the once despised and enormously popular ‘pulp’ western into a respectable genre of literature enjoying the same high degree of respect and attention as other contemporary American literature. Millions of readers read the cheap softcover editions of his three novels, The Oklahoma Kid (1941), Death at Double-X Ranch (1941), and The Lone Rider of Santa Fe (1941), as nothing more than thrilling adventure stories, which, of course, they were. But to those few discerning readers who possess one of the precious remaining copies of the early Martins (the publisher, Wow Publications of Lompoc, Cal., unforgivably shredded its entire unsold stock of Martins in 1967 when it shifted its focus to hard-core pornography) have found in them a gripping allegory of American history and morals. That Martins intended to stress these themes – lost innocence, conflict with the self, the closing of the range, the dangers of smoking loco weed – is demonstrated by the fact that all three novels tell the same story: the story of a man who hunts down a corrupt sheriff victimizing his best friend.

The point is even more strongly made by the fact that in all three novels Martins employs the same characters and settings. Perhaps his most subtle and inventive trick was the device of employing in all three novels, with insignificant typographical variations, the same wording throughout. And though some obtuse critics have protested that the result is simply the same novel under three different names (notably Norman Podhoretz, in his essay, ‘What Kind of Dumb Ripoff is Going on Here, Anyway?’ Commentary), truly discerning readers have in recent years come to see that the result is actually a trilogy which expands our perception of fiction by showing that the same story, printed in different typefaces and with different margin widths, can be an entirely different experience.

The Abilene Snake-Charmer (Tarzana, Zip Publications, 537pp., $12.95) carries on Martins’ earlier experiments in point of view. The book tells the story of the last day on earth of an itinerant herpetologist and pistolero named Cigarro Garcia y Vega, who is unjustly hanged as a horsethief by a vigilante group in Abilene on a hot Sunday in 1877. A detailed plot summary is impossible. Suffice it to say that in the tortured, feeble brain of Cigarro as he mounts the scaffold, we are given a panorama of the American people and land at the end of the era of westward exploration.

The book includes a number of vivid vignettes illustrating the personalities of leading figures of American history at the time, including James G. Blaine, General Lew Wallace, P.T. Barnum, Booker T. Washington, Abner Doubleday, and many others. These segments in particular show the results of Martins’ painstaking research, for, since they are imagined by Cigarro, who has never met any of them, they are inaccurate in every detail. I, for one, will often think of the outlaw’s imagined meeting with the great Samuel J. Tilden, in which the famous Democrat appears in a green moustache and pince-nez, and intones in a sepulchral voice, ‘Labor, like His road, has many sorrows. Its women weep for their fallen, and they lament for the future of the children of the race. It ill behooves one who has supped at Labor’s table, and who has been sheltered in Labor’s house, to curse with equal fervor and fine impartiality, both Labor and its adversary when they become locked in deadly embrace.’

Though the landscape drawn by Martins is a bleak one, it is not without the promise of grace and redemption. These themes are contained in the description of Dr. Harry Lime, a flamboyant, semi-miraculous patent medicine peddler who, like God himself, may or may not be a product of Cigarro’s wishful thinking. Lime, who travels with a raven and a four-hundred pound Samoan attorney named Dr. Gonzo, neatly exemplifies the central religious, social, and literary concerns of the American imagination. These themes are brilliantly summed up in his brief appearance, in a dream or vision which Cigarro experiences during his pre-lynching siesta: ‘Call me Fishmeal. Call me Rosebud. Call me irresponsible, but don’t call me late for dinner. The Gods look down at us and laugh. This would be a better world for children if the parents had to eat the spinach. If I owned hell and Texas, I’d rent out Texas and live in hell. Honk if you know Jesus. I’ll stay a week or two, I’ll stay the summer through, but I am telling you I must be going.’

What more can be said about this rollicking huge masterpiece? Very little. Buy it if you must, rent it if you choose, steal it if you can, but read Holly Martins. Only thus can a great new addition to our heritage be saved from the shredder.

Z.B.D. James    


ISSUE 76  November 2018


Sarah Rainsford

Our Woman in Havana: Reporting Castro’s Cuba; London, Oneworld Publications, 2018.

ISBN: 9781786073990


The job title ‘BBC Foreign Correspondent’ still evokes a romantic yet totally outdated image: a crackling voice intermittently audible over the ether as a world-changing event unfolds in a far distant corner of the globe. The 21st Century reality of instant communication is quite different, of course. But the joys and frustrations of distilling both the important and the trivial to give those at home a flavour of a very different culture in the course of a ten minute report or even shorter ‘soundbite’ must have remained unaltered.

As Sarah Rainsford was about to make her first broadcast from Cuba, her continuity presenter announced, ‘Now it’s over to Sarah Rainsford, Our Woman in Havana’ – and apparently, ‘the label stuck’. The reference to Graham Greene’s 1958 novel establishes an important theme in this account of the correspondent’s four year tenure on the island between 2011-2014 and her subsequent research visits to Cuba. Rainsford claims that she was ‘guided’ by Greene’s novel as she sought to discover what had changed in the intervening six decades since Our Man in Havana was first published.

Rainsford covers a host of different aspects of Cuban society in her quest to portray the effects of Fidel Castro’s lengthy socialist experiment carried out in the face of intense economic and political pressure from its giant capitalist neighbour just ninety miles away across the Florida Straits. Her findings, for supporters of the Communist ideal, are often depressingly negative. Rainsford recounts the poverty, the decaying infrastructure, the scramble to leave the island, the shortage of essential goods and the constant fear of speaking out against the regime. Against that, she rightly balances the high standard of education, the health service and the underlying equality within Cuban society. Above all, there is the unquenchable joie de vivre of the islanders which has remained uncrushed down the years, typified by a love of music and dance. This spirit shines through, as does the insistence of the older generation who have stayed the course that life is so much better than under the cruelly repressive dictator Fulgencio Batista who the revolutionaries finally ousted in 1959.

Greene first knew Havana in its hedonistic, pre-revolutionary days when it was the playground for a principally American clientele drawn by the tropical sun, the daiquiris and a city where ‘every vice was permissible’. The writer always claimed that the setting of Our Man in Havana was inconsequential and it is accepted that the novel is principally a ‘sly dig’ at his old employers, the Special Intelligence Service. Nevertheless, his unswerving eye for detail and factual accuracy are still evident as Rainsford traces his footsteps with the aid of his novel and his unpublished journals. She makes significant discoveries: the site of Wormold’s shop and Milly’s school (she even finds a nun who was educated there), as well those bars and hotels which featured in the novel and in the film and have survived.

The 1959 film was shot shortly after the successful revolution and Rainsford recounts that although the presence of heavily armed, bearded revolutionaries added a piquancy, the filming was allowed to proceed without interruption in those liberal, early years of the revolution when Castro sought cooperation rather than confrontation with a suspicious Capitalist world.

Sarah Rainsford’s narrative, gleaned from her personal notebooks, is delivered in a distinctly journalistic style. Indeed, her economy of language and acute powers of description are mindful of Greene himself. Her research on the writer is both thorough and exemplary. The way in which she weaves references to the novel with her own observations of modern-day life makes Our Woman in Cuba immensely readable. Despite being a thoroughly objective and professional account of a bureaucratic, contradictory and often secretive society, one detects a deep affection for this tragic yet comedic island and its long-suffering and beguiling people. One can see why Graham Greene was drawn to it.

Jon Wise