March 2022 Books Monthly Review of books and stories magazine - on the web 24 years...
  books monthly
     The back page... The Passion Flower Hotel (and the Pan Giants...)


Previous Back Page features:
DECEMBER 2021 - Enid Blyton's Little Noddy
JANUARY 2022 - The Whiteoaks of Jalna
FEBRUARY 2022 - Leslie Charteris's The Saint

The year is 1964, I've just started work at the Public Library in Stevenage, and everyone is talking about... The Passion Flower Hotel!


...I remember that day as if it was yesterday - I'd written to the librarian at Stevenage Central Library to ask if there were any jobs going, told him what my qualifications were - seven decent O Level passes and a year of A Level study; I'd had an interview and they'd offered me a job as a library assistant, which I'd accepted - of course - it had always been my dream to work in a library, and here I was, the Tuesday after the Easter weekend in 1964, starting my dream job in a huge building absolutely crammed with books! In those days, I think there were about twenty-four staff: the librarian, John NIghtingale, the deputy librarian, Patrick Kelly, the children's librarian, Miss Sullivan, the reference librarian, Melvin, two or three other qualified librarians, and a dozen to fifteen library assistants. Of course we talked endlessly about books, and someone always had a recommendation or a suggestion - this was the era of James Bond books, of Poldark books, of Forsyte saga books, and books that were in some way connected with the new thing everyone was always talking about - television - David Attenborough's Zoo Quest programmes were either based on or spawned books, for example. I was comparatively new to television, of course. In Brockworth we had been "the family who didn't have television", a fact of which I had been immensely proud at the time, but now it was necessary to have a television because it was what people talked about, and as a special treat for Christmas 1963, Dad went next door at the Hyde shopping parade to the Rediffusion shop, and rented us a television. The first programme I remember watching that Christmas was Thunderbirds. Of course I had seen a television before - our next door neighbours in Brockworth, Gloucester, had invited us in to watch the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, although I have to say that with about twenty people crowded around a nine inch set, there wasn't much to see, and I wasn't impressed. Occasionally I went round to Great Aunt Grace's house to watch Robin Hood or the Lone Ranger, but she wasn't a very nice person, and I preferred to be at home with my books.

Now, in the library, I was with people my own age and we nearly always ended up talking about books which suited me just fine. Rosalind Erskine's The Passion Flower Hotel was published in 1962 and the Pan Giant paperback would have followed shortly afterwards. It was an immediate sensation. I had no idea at the time that Rosalind Erskine was actually a man: Roger Erskine Longrigg, but it didn't matter, everyone was talking about it and I grabbed one of the library copies at the earliest opportunity, went home and read it.  My four regular weekly comics as a young teenager were the Lion, the Tiger, the Schoolfriend and the Girls Crystal, the latter two being my sister Jean's, of course, but I was the one who read them avidly. All four comics were peppered with school stories, like the Silent Three in the Schoolfriend, and Sandy Dene in the Lion. I also occasionally bought a Billy Bunter book - he wasn't my favourite character, that was Harry Wharton, the leader of the Famous Five at Greyfriars School. My favourite genre of children's story has always been, for as long as I can remember, the boarding school story. Nowadays, if you were to glance at my bookshelves, you would see a complete set of Enid Blyton's Malory Towers, St Clares and the Naughtiest Girl; an almost complete set of Elinor M Brent-Dyer's Chalet School series, and dozens more 1950s and 1960s children's school story adventures. Now here, in the Stevenage Public Library, was a distinctly adult book set in a girls' boarding school, with adult themes of sex, prostitution etc., and everyone, simply everyone was raving about it. As soon as I could, I bought my own copy, a Pan Giant, with that utterly delightful cover illustration ofGinger Rogers, and how heGin Sarah Callender, the girl behind the planned scheme, to sell sexual favours to the boys from the local boys' boarding school, for money... It's a delicious, delightful romp, written by someone who obviously felt the same way about boarding school stories as I did, and it's remained one of my favourite books of all time - a very thin one, compared with even the shortest book by Stephen King, but nevertheless a tour de force of 1960s morals in the era known as the Swinging Sixties, a brilliant book, a charming book, a legendary book I'm proud to own.

The Passion Flower Hotel, with that stunning cover artwork, is probably my favourite of all the Pan Books I ever owned, or indeed saw, although the Angélique books by Sergeanne Golon (Serge and Anne Golon) come a close second. I doubt if I even thought about paperback cover art in the 1960s, when I was collecting them - I was far more interested in the content! It was only when I started to recollect them in the 1990s (probably the decade in which I started to discover the delights of car boot sales) that I realised just how good they were. In the 1960s there were loads of paperback publishers - Penguin, Pan, Fontana, etc., etc., but it was Pan Books who published far and away the most spectacularly good books with stunning covers. At the top of this page you'll see the cover of A SUMMER PLACE - this was the blockbuster film which introduced me to Sandra Dee, and although the artist has the young couple (Troy Donohue is the boy in the film) walking away, there's no mistaking that it's Sandra Dee in the illustration, and that was enough for me. I don't think there were any other Sandra Dee films that were based on books, or any other books based on her films. I would collect American film magazines with feature articles on the girl I believed was the most beautiful in the world, and the book of A SUMMER PLACE remained a firm favourite of mine. The Angélique books I discovered bny accident whilst reading a copy of the weekly magazine TITBITS, which serialised the first book. I would have been ten years old when I first discovered Angélique - it helped to fuel my growing interest in the opposite sex, and struck me as quite erotic at the time, though comparatively tame nowadays.

The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its 24th year on the web, is published on or slightly before the first day of each month by Paul Norman. You can contact me
here. If you wish to submit something for publication in the magazine, let me remind you there is no payment as I don't make any money from this publication. If you want to send me something to review, contact me via email at and I'll let you know where to send it.

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