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Savoy Books 
A Tea Dance at Savoy

Robert Meadley


2003

b/w illustrated

240mm x 158mm

Hard covers

First publication

288pp

ISBN 0 86130 112 9

A Tea Dance at Savoy

 

 

From Antioch to the Twilight Zone, from Saddleworth Moor to the caves of Tora-Bora, black ink spills from the pen of a great unsung British essayist. The Savoy ship's philosophical rat—coming from an odd angle out of time and space...

Robert "Phil" Meadley had been coming into the Savoy office for twenty-five years, and had partcipated in some of our more off-the-wall scenarios. He watched the goings-on with a clinical eye, and here records his insights into our Marx Brothers-meets-Schopenhauer shenanigans. Up the rickety stairs to a Savoy office that is now deceased, he has recorded the world of all our yesterdays.

Phil captures the madness of the events, the fervid atmosphere of being stuck in an office with a hundred years of Manchester history boiling in its bricks. He catches the pirate ship of Savoy at a moment of transition between the Old World of the seedy end of Deansgate and our subsequent move to the bright New World of Withington, almost turning us into an up-market cruise ship.

Events—now just hazy memories—that seemed life and death at the time, reduced to farce. Phil has used them as jumping off points to write about the big themes and big events of his book.

On Horror, real and imagined:

    "There, but for the Grace of God go I." said a Catholic prelate watching a Protestant burn. He did. The Protestants burned him a few years later. Well, that's one way to get your bon mot in the language. He wasn't the only one to die but the others didn't die with irony.

On Diana's funeral:

    They called her 'a loose cannon' and the shade of Tommy Cooper stalked the land.

On the Moors Murderers:

    I doubt if there's a square mile of the inhabited world that hasn't soaked up the ephemeral juices of some act of violent selfishness. I don't believe in abstract evil. It's just a metaphor we use as an excuse.

On the Holocaust:

    The black hole has a core. Its name is Mengele. His spider's web is made of railway lines.

On Hombres, Hopalongs and Mysterious Dave Mather:

    Fantasy is both a touchstone and a talisman in a world overhung with monstrous tyrannies of all sorts and sizes.

On a voyage to the end of the world, with pirates and philosophers:

    "I've been thinking," says Bob. "If algebra is the language of philosophy, then you could express the substance of the universe as 'w squared times d equals R', where the elements of the equation are (w)eirdness, (d)odginess and (R)eality."

On September 11th, 2001:

    You have to give it to Osama Bin Laden, no-one else has managed to piss-off, collectively and simultaneously, the Americans, the Europeans, the Russians, the Chinese and the majority of Islamic governments.

Designed to death by John Coulthart and lavishly illustrated with a copious selection of rare, eclectic and downright bizarre drawings and photographs, this could only be a Savoy book!


    "For those tired of the lazy after-dinner displays of Sunday supplement journo-personalities, Robert Meadley offers substance and originality. What you'll find here is the work of a sharp, idiosyncratic, independent and wonderfully educated, observant mind. They are literary excursions in some ways more reminiscent of the great 18th century eccentrics than more modern essayists and as such they carry a certain post-modern atmosphere. Give this book your generosity and your time and it's very likely you'll never see life quite the same again."

Michael Moorcock in his introduction


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Reviews

"Exquisitely lavish design work here, upping the ante on the publisher's ongoing 'cult classics' series with exquisite attention to detail on each page and a great cover, all by the inimitable Coulthart, as Michael Moorcock aptly puts it in the introduction. The text comprises a series of essays by Robert Meadley, one-time New Worlds contributor and master plumber, most dealing with various facets of the Savoy universe and (narrowly) related issues, from the Moors murderers to September 11 via Diana's funeral. The essays have a lazy, rambling style that often suits the material well—a private view around the meanderings of an insightful mind. The pieces that work best are those not dealing explicitly with Savoy products, in particular the Moors murderers and Diana's funeral, which both have the virtue of never straying too far from their central themes. Meadley is now set to write a book on Satanic landlord Nicholas van Hoogstraten, which is likely to be more entertaining than the John Blake biography also in the pipeline. A paean to the Spencer clan is the improbable highlight in this very readable collection—I read it in one sitting, as did Ian Brady, who later replied to the publishers answering Meadley's query about his teenage literary tastes, in what is probably a fairly typical piece of Savoy office correspondence.

Most of the other pieces deal with David Britton and the Lord Horror universe, and their appeal will probably depend on how interested the reader is in the books or, to a lesser degree, Nazism and the Holocaust. Some of these pieces meander a little too much—do we really need such a long explication of Hombre, book and film, in an essay on Lord Horror and genre?—and others seem to reinforce the idea of the Holocaust as a uniquely terrible event of the twentieth century, the work of a malign other, an idea to which I'd always thought the Lord Horror books opposed.

The tone will at times be a little too indulgent, too self-congratulatory, for some tastes, although if Savoy's output over the past few years isn't just cause for self-congratulation, I don't know what is. As for indulgence, as Meadley himself states towards the end:

the sense of everything spilling into everything else… [is] the Savoy way

The essays are fascinating throughout, and the whiff of elitism is probably to be encouraged in an era of aggressive mediocrity. This probably isn't the best place to start for the Savoy novice, but for those interested in the inner workings of this exceptional publishing house, it's indispensable. And any book featuring Ononoes—in both their original Tarzan and subsequent Lord Horror manifestations—gets my vote."

JAMES MARRIOTT, Headpress

 

"At the end of the 1970s, among innovative, idiosyncratic fictions by the likes of JG Ballard and Barrington J Bayley, the literary journal New Worlds included a handful of mysterious, highly accomplished pieces by one RG Meadley. Some were short stories; others illustrative collages, oddly captioned, like Victorian broadsheets issued from some parallel universe.

For the remainder of the century, as far as the literary arts were concerned R.G. Meadley might have vanished into one. This first volume of his writing is not so much long-awaited as a total surprise.

Such a book, had we thought of it at all, we might have hoped would collect that early work. Nothing so straightforward. Gorgeously designed, lavishly illustrated, A Tea Dance at Savoy is a collection, true, but of—of something. Gonzo journalism? Hallucinatory rhapsody? Cris de coeur? A 'stew', its author calls it at one point, and so it is: a paranoiac-critical gallimaufry.

One recurring theme is the accomplishments of its own publisher. Under the aegis of its enigmatic patron Robert (now Lord) Holland, since 1976 the self-proclaimed 'Most Banned Publishing Company in Britain' has fought the British legal system tooth and nail for the right of art to confront, disturb and destabilize. Having served two prison sentences for obscenity, Savoy's publisher and principal author David Britton told Index on Censorship that establishing incarceration as the price of publication might help stem the ever-swelling flux of unnecessary novels.

Britton's most notorious title, the brilliantly vile Lord Horror, became the first book to be banned in Britain since Last Exit to Brooklyn. Defended at the bar in 1992 by Geoffrey Robertson, Q.C., Britton's Meng and Ecker comics still languish under prohibition. Their illustrator Kris Guidio describes Britton as a Mancunian Lautréamont. Fair enough. But since Meadley decides to approach Lord Horror via Flanders and Passchendaele ('In Dave's universe, monstrosity is the only alternative to meanness'), perhaps an even more closely comparable French blasphemist might be the Marquis de Sade.

'There are still nightmares', says Meadley, 'to negotiate.' He wants to talk about Dachau. He wants to talk about Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. Meadley knows people who went to school with Myra Hindley. It says much for the scope of this collection that a measure of light relief is provided by the title chapter, a weird and utterly compelling reading of the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, as a primitive ritual of blood and love, 'an eerie suburban Woodstock'.

Undismayed, on the whole, by his compulsion to truffle through the sump of the popular psyche, making fun of his own impulses, Meadley comes on like an intoxicated Iain Sinclair; a situationist WG Sebald. 'It could have been cars or shoes or orchids,' he avers, quite unconvincingly, 'or ballroom dancing or cosmetic surgery or colour co-ordinated bedrooms. It happens to be understanding.' However bizarre his ideas, he sees them perpetually overwhelmed "with some new absurdity". In the inevitable chapter on Osama bin Laden ('the Old Man of the Mountains'), he manages to relate the attacks on New York and the Pentagon to not only Harry Potter but also The Lord of the Rings. 'The yin and yang of humour are comfort and unease,' he says. 'Unease is crucial.'"

COLIN GREENLAND, The Independent

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