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 86 May 2021


A Cheap Shot

Duplicity was an essential part in both the writing and the life of Graham Greene and nowhere is this more evident than in his first really successful book, Stamboul Train. The duplicity is played out in many ways, through names, social class, race and religion and ultimately through the actions of the characters of the book. Greene creates a world in which nothing or no-one is what or who they seem, as this was the way that he saw humanity. There is no black or white, just an ever changing shade of grey. But the writer is fair to his readers and announces this duplicity early in the story through the voice of one of the characters, Coral Musker: ‘I don’t trouble to remember what a boy calls himself. It’s not the name the post office knows him by.’ Musker, a chorus girl, is a less fully shaded individual and becomes a victim. The simpler characters in Greene stories are always the most vulnerable.

Greene takes the duplicity a stage further in Stamboul Train and uses it to comment on people he knew in the real world, to whom he had taken a dislike. He would have undoubtedly read Cakes and Ale, published in 1930, in which Somerset Maugham had parodied Hugh Walpole as Alroy Kear, and perhaps decided that he would try something similar. He inserted a character, Quin Savory into Stamboul Train who is easily recognisable as J.B. Priestley, an author like Greene, published by Heinemann. Priestley threatened to sue and Greene was forced to change some of his descriptions of the character, yet the published story still shows Quin Savory as extremely unsavoury. Greene paints him vituperatively, as an affected social climber, with an eye for the ladies, and a keen interest in photographing children. He may have been jealous of Priestley’s success and as has been suggested (in Anthony Mockler’s Graham Greene – Three Lives), also taken a dislike to him because of his affair with Peggy Ashcroft, Greene’s friend Rupert Hart-Davis’ wife. Greene’s continuing duplicity is well illustrated by his denial in his 1971 autobiography A Sort of Life, that Priestley was a model for Savory, suggesting instead two unlikely and long dead politicians.

The late W.J. West suggested (in The Quest for Graham Greene) that there were two portraits of leading literary figures, considerably disguised, within Stamboul Train, and identifies Clemence Dane as being a partial inspiration for the lesbian journalist, Mabel Warren. There appears to be little in common between the two apart from that Ms Dane may also have been gay. She was also a strong supporter of Greene and his work so I feel this identification is doubtful and perhaps the reason why West used the words ‘considerably disguised’ as this could certainly not apply to J.B. Priestley – Quin Savory.

Yet West was correct in his assertion that there is a second portrait of a literary figure in the book; he just chose the wrong person. The final chapter, ‘Constantinople’, introduces in a ‘bit part,’ one well drawn new character, that of the hotel clerk, Mr Kalebdjian. This is how Greene describes him: ‘The small lively Armenian, with a flower in his button-hole, answered, in an English as trim and well cut as his morning coat; and on the next page, he was so sweet and pretty they wanted to do something for him’. Later in the chapter he returns to Mr Kalebdjian at the reception counter: ‘with his hands between his knees doing nothing, and another comment emphasizing the limited horizons of the character’s world, trotting down corridors, listening at bathroom doors, back again with nothing to do but turn over in his mind a little sheaf of information, that was Mr Kalebdjian’s life.’

I feel sure that Greene was parodying another famous Heinemann author of the time, Michael Arlen. Arlen’s birth name was Dikran Kouyoumdjian and he was the son of an Armenian merchant family which had fled the persecution of the Ottomans, first to Bulgaria and then to England. He had become a writer and had been advised to change his name, choosing Michael Arlen. He achieved large sales in 1924 with the publication of the book The Green Hat and his fame had become so widespread that by 1927 he featured on the cover of Time magazine, one of the few British authors to do so, a feat Greene himself would replicate in 1951 after the publication of The End of the Affair. Stamboul Train was also not the first book in which Arlen had been used as the model for a fictional character. D.H. Lawrence had imagined him as Michaelis in Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

The hotel clerk Kalebdjian is too similar in name and description for this not to be a pen picture of Arlen. This could be read as Greene at his most unpleasant, putting the ‘foreigner’ who is not really an ‘Englishman’ back into Turkey, the country where he would have been persecuted, as a hotel servant. An alternative explanation might be that Greene disliked Arlen because his ‘public front’ was as an Englishman not his ‘Armenian’ identity which would mirror Greene’s later behaviour in his expressed dislike for Terence Rattigan who hid his homosexual identity. In other words he could be fair to homosexuals and to foreigners who admitted their true identities, but those who hid behind another veneer were fair game. Yet he is also sneering at the fact that Arlen’s best writing days were gone, that he had nothing to do. Greene would also have realised that Arlen was an easy target. The last thing the ethnic Armenian would have wanted to do was draw attention to the cameo and he was far less likely to sue than Priestley. It makes the parody the more cruel and a very cheap shot.

In a postscript to the story, a few years later in 1937, Wills Cigarettes produced a series of cards featuring ‘Great British Authors.’ The set featured both J.B. Priestley and Michael Arlen, together with another that Greene would pillory, Beverley Nichols. Graham Greene was noticeably absent. How he must have seethed!

   © Edward Stringer 2021


Issue 85 February 2021


David Hawksworth lives in Germany and has recently become a Friend of the Birthplace Trust. He has a seriously good collection of Greene books, including a large number of first editions. Here he tells us about one of them.

Ways of Escape

I bought the first edition with dust cover of Ways of Escape for £20 in Chipping Campden at Draycott Books on Thursday 21 December 2006. I had flown to Birmingham from Munich and had travelled down to Chipping Campden with my sister. I collect Graham Greene’s books and wanted to see where he lived or at least the small market town when he wrote Stamboul Train. While I was in the bookshop I had a conversation with the owner about my interest in Graham Greene and he very kindly gave me a copy of Hamptons International sale notice for ‘Little Orchard’ together with a newspaper cutting from The Journal dated April 18, 1991 about the then current occupant. I did note with interest that the address was given as Hoo Lane, Chipping Campden, whereas in The Life of Graham Greene, Volume 1 1904-1939, in the chapter ‘Down and Out at Chipping Campden’, Norman Sherry states ‘Little Orchard was up a short street called Mud Lane, at the end of the High Street’. We set off to find the house and I had my photo taken at the garden gate holding my recent purchase.

To complete a memorable morning we had a drink at ‘The Kings’ which was previously ‘The Kings Arm’ and may have been the hotel where Greene went for a drink during his time in Chipping Campden.

 David Hawksworth


Still on first editions of Greene’s books, here is an exchange between Cedric Watts and Jon Wise:

A Problem for Collectors of First Editions of Greene’s Works

The Christmas 2020 catalogue issued by Peter Harrington, the London bookselling firm, raises a tricky problem for individuals who hope to collect first editions of Graham Greene’s works. The catalogue offers a UK first edition of A Burnt-Out Case, inscribed by the author and in the original dust jacket, for £2,500. The description includes the following observations:

In common with other Greene titles of this period, the Swedish, Norwegian, and French translations of A Burnt-Out Case were all published prior to the English edition, in 1960. The Swedish edition Utbränd was translated directly from Greene’s manuscript and is accepted as being the true first edition. The present UK edition was published in January 1961; the first US edition followed in February 1961.

The excellent bibliography by Jon Wise and Mike Hill indeed specifies the Swedish version as the first edition. A collector might well ask, however, ‘Can a foreign translation of an English work really count as its “true first edition”? This novel was written in English by a British author, so surely it is the first UK publication that counts?’ Hundreds – perhaps thousands – of pounds might depend on the answers to these two questions. Arguably the Swedish version is the first edition only of the work in translation. (The problem would have been even more difficult if Greene had been the translator.) Incidentally, Mike Hill reports to me the theory that Greene was denied the Nobel Prize because his style did not translate well into Swedish.

Postscript: Amazon currently offers for sale several copies of Graham Greene’s The Shipwrecked, 1968: an unfamiliar title. But this turns out to be an American reprint of England Made Me, 1935.

Cedric Watts

Graham Greene’s non-UK First Editions

 Cedric Watts raises an interesting point. For the absolute purist, the first edition, identified by date of publication, is the true ‘first’. It gets more complicated than that, of course, and I would refer readers to www.biblio.com/book-collecting/basics/how-to-identify-first-editions/ for further bibliographical information on the subject.

Therefore, specialist collectors, simply of first editions, might choose to disregard the fact that the Swedish version of A Burnt-Out Case, Utbränd, the Danish Udbraendt and the Norwegian Utbrent, are works in translation and use as evidence the fact that they were all three published on 10 November 1960 ahead of the UK first publication of A Burnt-Out Case on 16 January 1961. No doubt the fact that the translators worked directly from manuscript copies of the novel adds a measure of integrity to the argument.

Interestingly, Utbränd was not the first Greene work to be published in Sweden by P.A Norstedt & Söner in advance of the English first edition. A precedent was set in 1952 when Greene wrote to Ragnar Svanström, literary advisor to Norstedts, stating that he hoped that a Swedish production of his first play The Living Room might take place one day. This hope was unexpectedly realised when the English West End premiere was unexpectedly postponed until the following year allowing the first performance of I Sista Rumet (The Last Room) to take place in Stockholm on 31 October 1952. The Swedish playscript, together with the Norwegian one, issued to coincide with this world premiere are, therefore, true first editions.

The same thing happened in 1955 when Norstedts published Den Stillsame Amerikanen (The Quiet American) in November, a month ahead of the UK, employing the same Swedish translator, Jane Lundblad. Greene sought permission of A.S. Frere for Norstedts to publish both Den Stillsame Amerikanen and Utbränd in advance of the English editions. Apparently, Heinemann’s chairman did not mind the Swedish editions preceding the UK one. In the case of A Burnt-Out Case, Frere thought that as very few English people could read Swedish, no-one would notice.

Norman Sherry, in the last volume of The Life of Graham Greene, argues that the early Swedish publication of Utbränd was all about Greene’s candidacy for the Nobel Prize for Literature. He states that Frere was opposed to Norstedts pressing to publish early and that it was solely motivated by the publicity it would engender in Sweden to advance the author’s case for being awarded the prize. However, this contradicts what Greene wrote to Svanström in March 1960, that Frere’s intention to publish in January 1961 was ‘an experiment’. Quite what was meant by that is unclear and it is quite possible that Greene was being duplicitous in the matter. On the other hand, precedents had been set already with Den Stillsame Amerikanen and I Sista Rumet.

There are other examples of non-UK first editions. The Canadian editions of Ways of Escape (1980) and The Captain and the Enemy (1987) were first published by the Toronto-based company Lester & Orpen Dennys. This was in recognition of the help provided by Louise Dennys, his niece. According to Richard Greene‘s Graham Greene: A Life in Letters, Louise had assisted her uncle with the compilation of his second volume of autobiography and clearly the preferential treatment her company was afforded was by way of thanks. Greene wrote warmly to her in June 1980, describing her as a ‘wonderful publisher’ in whom he had ‘absolute trust’.

Finally, the US edition of The Potting Shed (1957) appeared in print a year ahead of the UK, but for a very different reason. The US production of the play was performed in Broadway in 1957 whereas the UK West End version took place in 1958. Again, the publication of the script in America would have coincided with the first performance date.

Curiously, there appears to be a market for these true first editions of A Burnt-Out Case. An internet search will reveal that both Utbränd and Udbraendt (but curiously not Utbrent) command unusually high prices in comparison with the other non-UK first edition titles mentioned above. Why is this? Perhaps the subject matter of this novel appeals more to the mind-set of Swedish and Danish Graham Greene aficionados than other of his works or maybe there are a greater number of true first edition ‘purists’ around than one might imagine.

Jon Wise


Issue 84 November 2020


The Problematic Chronology of Greene’s ‘The Basement Room’

 In the essay entitled ‘The Fallen Idol: From Story to Screen’ in Studies in Victorian and Modern Literature: A Tribute to John Sutherland, ed. William Baker (London: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press and Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2015), pp. 275-81, Professor David Lodge claims that there is a radical flaw in the chronology of the story ‘The Basement Room’ (which evolved into the excellent film, The Fallen Idol). In the story, the young protagonist is called Philip. David Lodge says:

In describing Philip on his deathbed, sixty years after the main action, the narrator is not prophesying, but reporting. Because the story was first published in 1936, the character cannot have died at a later date; therefore, the main action, when Philip was seven years old, must be taking place no later than 1869. In fact, it is represented as taking place well into the twentieth century – there are references to motor-cars and airplanes [sic], and to the Artillery Memorial at Hyde Part Corner (erected in 1925) – and in the absence of any contrary indication one assumes that it is set in the mid-1930s. I am not aware that this anomaly has ever been commented on before… [p. 278,]

Lodge says that the story was first published in 1936. Certainly ‘1936’ is the date appended to the tale in Graham Greene’s Complete Short Stories: see p. 131 of the volume published by Penguin in 2005. In fact, the tale was first published in ‘The Basement Room’ and Other Stories (London: Cresset Press) in 1935, a year earlier; and this is the text I quote below. Certainly, the London described seems to be the London of 1935. There are references not only to the cars, aeroplanes and the Memorial mentioned by Lodge, but also to fish-and-chip shops, celluloid collars, the Daily Mail for a penny, and a cinema with a commissionaire; and the presence of a policewoman at the police station is regarded as normal. Philip knows Emil and the Detectives, which was first published in 1929. The butler, Baines, refers to a time when, at the Coast in Africa, he commanded forty indigenous men. This is probably a memory of service in the Great War in the British Gold Coast (subsequently Ghana). Baines now seems to be about 45, his wife about 50, and Philip is certainly said to be seven years old.

There are several references to Philip’s death sixty years later. On learning from Philip that Mr Baines is spending the night with a young woman, Mrs Baines tells Philip that if he promises not to reveal her knowledge, she will give him a Meccano set. The narrator comments:

He was only anxious to forget. He had already received a larger dose of life than he had bargained for, and he was scared. ‘A 2A Meccano set, Master Philip.’ He never opened his Meccano set again, never built anything, never created anything, died, the old dilettante, sixty years later with nothing to show rather than preserve the memory of Mrs. Baines’ malicious voice saying good-night, her soft determined footfalls on the stairs to the basement, going down, going down. [p. 23]

Mrs Baines goes downstairs to intercept her husband and his partner; Philip shouts a warning; Baines and his wife tussle on the stairs; and Mrs Baines falls to her death in the hallway. Philip hurries outside. In the garden, he reflects:

Let grown-up people keep to their world and he would keep to his, safe in the small garden between the plane trees. ‘In the lost childhood of Judas Christ was betrayed’: you could almost see the small unformed face hardening into the deep dilettante selfishness of age. [p. 38]

(The passage of poetry by George William Russell, from ‘Germinal’, is correctly ‘In the lost boyhood of Judas / Christ was betray’d’: i.e., a marred childhood mars the man.) As a result of remarks by Philip, Baines’s attempt to depict the death as an accident is foiled, and later Baines will presumably be hanged for murder or given a long prison-sentence for manslaughter. When Philip is on his deathbed, the only watcher is his secretary (p. 52). We realise that Philip was so traumatised by his early encounter with adulterous passion, jealousy and the resultant death that his subsequent life has been characterised by retreat from the world of passion, of commitments. That recurrent word ‘dilettante’ suggests that he has been a mere dabbler in life. There is no wife, lover or offspring at his bedside as he dies.

That death takes place in 1995, sixty years after the main action described. And why not? David Lodge says of Philip that ‘the character cannot have died at a later date’ than the date of publication of the tale. To which I reply, ‘There is no such rule!’ No rule forbids, in a fictional work, the description of an event which takes place after the time of publication of that work. In a science-fiction novel, Wells’s The Time Machine, the setting is more-or-less the time of publication, 1895; the hero travels to times in the distant future; and on a second attempted journey, he apparently dies. In the last paragraph of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, we are told of Scrooge, ‘He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived on the Total-Abstinence-Principle ever afterwards’. As the main action of the Christmas Carol is set in approximately the time of publication (1843), that glimpse of Scrooge ‘ever afterwards’ must surely take us decades into the future. Dickens’ Hard Times (1854) has a concluding section in which the narrator tells us of the futures of various characters – including Josiah Bounderby, who, ‘five years to come’, dies in the street. And, once again, I ask, ‘Why not?’. In ‘The Basement Room’, Greene has exploited the chronological flexibility available to all fiction-writers, and it is strange that David Lodge, himself a brilliant fiction-writer, has forgotten this law of permissive flexibility.

Cedric Watts


Issue 83 August 2020


ASON Editor writes:

Luis Poirot was a photographer who accompanied Graham Greene on part of his tour of Chile in 1971. Here he writes of that time. Many thanks to Luis Poirot for allowing this memoir to be reprinted, and to Professor Richard Greene for drawing my attention to it and putting me in touch with him.

The socialist Salvador Allende won the Chilean presidential election in September 1970 and became President in November. He was ousted from power in a coup in September 1973. Graham Greene’s article ‘Chile: The Dangerous Edge’ appeared in the Observer on 2 January 1972, and in Harper’s Magazine in March the same year.

Mike Hill

Graham Greene in Chile

September has always been my favorite month. Winter is over and it seems that everything is getting better, days are longer and the sky is always blue. It is the month we celebrate the independence from the Spanish and it is always commemorated with many official acts and popular festivals.

It was 1971 and Salvador Allende’s government was commemorating its first anniversary, besieged from the beginning by Nixon’s government and the Chilean conservatives. Intellectuals, especially Europeans, visited our country drawn by this socialism and experience of freedom.

La Moneda, a colonial building and symbol of our democracy that houses the presidency, was also a public square and a road that was freely used to shorten the path between two streets. One of its yards, called Los Naranjos, was usually a meeting place for friends and lovers.

It was September 17, 1971 around noon and I was returning home located on the urban edge of that Santiago, after running some errands in the city center. It was already warm and my car was parked a couple of blocks from La Moneda. Upon entering the first patio, the one with the cannons, I saw Payita (Miriam) Contreras, Salvador Allende’s private secretary, come down from the presidential offices.

Payita: ‘Hi Lucho, do you have anything to do right now?’ she said in a shaky voice. ‘Could you go to the airport to receive the writer Graham Greene who will arrive in an hour from Buenos Aires?’

Me: ‘But Payita, I am an anonymous citizen who doesn’t hold any position in the government.’ 

Payita: ‘It doesn’t matter, all the Foreign Relations officials are busy with the diplomatic delegations that have come to the Independence celebrations and only now did we know about his arrival. You will be the president’s personal representative and would welcome him on his behalf, then you will take him to the Hotel Carrera where we have made reservations. That’s where your assignment ends.’ 

I left to the airport in my mother-in-law’s red Austin Mini. The Ambassador’s Aston Martin and his driver were already there, at the illustrious visitors’ sector of the track. My English has never been very fluent and since Graham Greene had been living in France for years, I welcomed him in French, which is almost my native language. Already in his room and while I was waiting for Payita’s call to free me, he opened his suitcase and took out an old teddy bear that he placed in the middle of the bed, and a bottle of whiskey that he put on the nightstand. Although I did not have a camera, I mentally took a picture of the moment, which remains in my memory until today.

Me: ‘Why are there so few portraits of you?’  

It was the beginning of the dialogue.

Graham Greene (G.G): ‘I don’t like photography and portraits even less. I never recognise myself in that image, I see myself different. I also don’t like children; I think they are very noisy.’

All of this was said in a soft, polite voice. Fortunately, I had not revealed my true profession and the attraction that portraits had for me, I only spoke vaguely of my career as theater director, which was not a lie, but rather concealment of an important part of my life. After an hour of pleasant conversation, rather an interrogation to which he submitted me about the situation in the country, Payita’s call came, but not to free me.

Payita: ‘Lucho, could you please cross the street and come with him to La Moneda? Allende wants to greet him now.’

I went to La Moneda and became a French interpreter in the conversation that Graham Greene and Salvador Allende (pictured left) had, that lasted more than one hour and of which I don’t remember a thing. I felt that the conversation did not concern me, just like a couple of years later in Paris I had to translate the conversation between Carlos Altamirano [Chilean lawyer and socialist politician] and François Mitterrand. At the end, Allende commissioned me to take him to the Cathedral the next day to attend the Te Deum ceremony, where members of the State and all religious believers attended, and added that the following day I must take him to the Military Parade, which was supposed to represent the obedience of the arm services to the civil power and where the celebrations would finally end.

And there I was, on September 18 a national holiday, at the Cathedral in front of the president and authorities, with a borrowed tie that made me uncomfortable, answering the writer’s questions. I will not forget the observation he made about the president of the Senate Patricio Aylwin.  He said: ‘I do not like this man, he is not to be trusted.’

After the ceremony, the place was quickly empty, we were left alone and I did not know where to take him.

Me: ‘Mr Greene, you must be tired of eating in hotels and restaurants. Would you like to have lunch at my house and learn a little about daily life in our country?’

GG: ‘I would be delighted’ was his immediate response.

September 18 at noon in Santiago was tricky, there were no taxis and there was no other alternative than, like most regular citizens, take the public bus (micro) that was always crowded. Graham seemed to be having a great time, and after a half an hour’s ride we reached my house. After the initial surprise, my family welcomed him without further ceremony. After coffee he took a book from the shelf, the Spanish edition of The Living Room and wrote a note thanking me for making his visit ‘friendly and not official’.

Surrounded by official black cars we arrived at the Parade the next day in the little Red Mini, from which he got out, not without difficulty. I did not ask him what he thought about all the Prussian ceremonial and military uniforms during that long and hot afternoon. The next day, a deputy was appointed to accompany him on his tour to the copper mines in the north and the coal mines in the south. Later I would read his three extensive chronicles in The Observer, where he affectionately referred to those miners with whom he had taken down the pikes. He also talked about the distrust of the Christian Democrats and made an enigmatic final comment in which he expressed that our experience of socialism with a human face had a ‘sporting chance to win’. In 1973 we spoke briefly on the phone as I came to Paris in exile and he was living in the south. I don’t have paper photos of his stay, but have that image in my head: the hotel, the teddy bear and a Cutty Sark bottle.

Luis Poirot                          (Quarantined in Bucalemu, Chile, April 2020)