James Roose-Evans' tribute article in The Independent, 14th April 1997

For the first half of this article, click HERE.

It was the book's publication in England by Andre Deutsch which brought her to England for the first time, only to find that Marks & Co had closed. This, and subsequent visits, led to her writing a sequel, The Duchess of Bloomsbuiy Street (1976). Soon she was giving regular monthly talks for Woman's Hour on BBC entitled "Letter From New York". Other books followed, including The Apple of My Eye (1978), a quirky look at New York, and Q's Legacy (1985) - about the work of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, whose essays found in a library first ignited her passionate love of English literature - and still the letters kept arriving from all over the world.

As a writer Helene Hanff is no Jane Austen or George Eliot. Being a lover of what she once described as "I was there" books, she is at her best when writing about her own experiences. And the six books which she published provide an almost ongoing autobiography. Unmarried, she lived alone; but, although there had been romances, as she once confided to the American actress Olympia Dukakis, who is to play Helene Hanff in a revival of the play, she was not prepared to write about the more private side of her life.

Perhaps the central irony of that life is that having always dreamed of being a playwright the only thing of hers that was staged was an adaptation of her book. When she was young she had entered and won a play writing competition sponsored by the prestigious Theater Guild of New York. Summoned to New York, she met the formidable Therese Helburn, co-director of the Guild, who told her: "Your plays are terrible, just terrible. But never mind. You have talent." She was given ajob in the publicity department of the Guild and once a week studied the craft of writing plays with Miss Helburn. But although options were taken on a number of the plays, none was ever produced.

When 84 Charing Cross Road opened in the West End (on Thanksgiving Day, of all days, she complained), the audience rose to its feet as she appeared at the end to embrace the stage Helene Hanff played by Rosemary Leach. The next day, in The Times, Irving Wardle wrote, "The sight of Helene Hanff on the set of the bookshop she made famous, and blinking under the applause of the town she could never afford to visit, made last night's opening into the end of a fairytale: obscure affection crowned with public acclaim."

Although the bookshop itself is long gone, on the spot where it once stood, is a brass plaque which states simply to every passerby:
84 Charing Cross Road
The booksellers Marks and Co
Were on this site which became world renowned
Through the book by Helene Hanff.


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angelagarry@yahoo.ie ! www.helenehanff.com
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"I was there" books...
Please select and click an author name to read the piece...
Anne Bancroft - Introduction to the 25th Anniversary edition of 84 Charing Cross Road
The Guardian - April 11, 1997
The Independent - April 14, 1997
Mark Shivas - Tribute article, April 11, 1997
James Roose-Evans - Tribute article April 14, 1997
The Guardian - April 11, 1997
The Guardian - April 11, 1997
The Guardian - April 11, 1997
The Independent - April 14, 1997