CHARLOTTE BINGHAM -           Novelist and Playwright
                                The author hard at work with Henry,
                                         her first beloved pug.

I was eighteen when I started my first published book, CORONET AMONG THE WEEDS, nineteen when I sold it, and twenty when it was published. My parents were both professional writers, so I had the good luck to be encouraged in my efforts. My first book, written at the age of ten was called DEATH'S TICKET. They were sufficiently impressed with the storyline to think that I might go on to make something of my talent. However, by the time I was a teenager the idea of my wafting about the house with a dreamy expression was not encouraged; indeed they were insistent that if I wanted to be a writer I had to be like my father, have a day job, and pick up my pen at night, or at weekends. Naturally I was rather against this. I always thought that wafting and writing were kind of intertwined. (As a matter of fact I still do...) However in defiance of their professional attitudes I made sure to always change into a long velvet robe, not at all popular with the grown ups, but it nevertheless gave me immense satisfaction. As a matter of fact I still like to wear poetic garments when writing (see pic of Henry helping me with DEBUTANTES.) And I never quite agree with their oft repeated stricture 'writing is nothing special, just a job like any other'.
I still think writing is special and exciting, and drifting around the house dreaming about the next chapter is one of life's great pleasures.

A side effect of having to have a normal job, which I duly found at the War Office, was trying to find the hours in which to write. I left our Kensington house at seven thirty in the morning, only arriving back at seven at night - always providing the number nine buses were running. Aside from the evenings, there was, however, the hour and half generously granted by the office for lunch. I at once set about trying to use it for my own devices. Although writers don't need total quiet (later on I met a very successful American novelist who swore he could only write on the subway) nevertheless it does require a bit of elbow room. Elbow room in Mayfair where I was working was not in abundance; worse than that the price of a meal in a coffee bar was out of the question. After some research I found the downstairs Ritz bar was only two and sixpence for a tomato juice, plus unlimited crisps and olives. So there I would rush to scribble CORONET AMONG THE WEEDS, under the benevolent gaze of Laurie the barman, who always made sure I had a whole table to myself. Spoilt or what?
Finally the book was finished. Where to celebrate? The Ritz bar, of course. I remember sauntering down Bond Street on a mild April evening, spring weather, book finished, what could be better? Laurie was surprised to see me of an evening, and then astonished when I ordered a whisky and not a tomato juice. I chose a whisky because having spent too much of my youth going to plays in the West End, and Paris, I had conceived the idea that it was a very grown up drink, and being suffused with the feeling that I might now be on the brink of becoming a proper writer, I thought it was about time I was also a grown up. It was then that I heard a familiar voice behind me saying 'what are you doing drinking whisky on your own in the downstairs Ritz bar, may I ask, Miss Bingham?' The voice belonged to Peter Watt, my father's literary agent. There was a short exchange of light hearted banter while I pretended to enjoy the whisky, before he insisted on my sending him the book I had just finished ~ which was to become CORONET AMONG THE WEEDS ~ to read as he was going away for Easter.

It was because CORONET AMONG THE WEEDS was a comedy written by a teenager that it attracted the attention that it did. This very short book is thought to have started some sort of social upheaval, as well as being vaguely scandalous, which only shows how times have changed. It is quite simply written in the voice of a teenager making fun not just of herself and her friends, but also of life in general. I have to say that I did hope that I would sell it, and when I did I thought my cup was indeed flowing over. What I never envisaged was that it would make me famous, selling in ten countries, taking me all over the world on author tours, and engendering more publicity than could possibly be imagined outside, well, a frothy Hollywood comedy, really..
What happened was that the book was bought by Charles Pick at Heinemann within two days of my father's agent reading it and offering it to him over dinner at the Garrick Club. In fact the publisher Victor Gollancz also wanted to buy it, but since Gollancz was my father's publisher I didn't think it a good idea to be at the same house.

So there I was, with no real previous writing experience, at one moment writing in the Ritz bar during my lunch hour, and at home in the evenings, and the next walking past vast bill boards of my photograph what seemed like a mile high on every street corner. This was because the editor of The People newspaper had decided to serialise the book, and although CORONET AMONG THE WEEDS was, by his own admission, completely wrong for his newspaper, he said he laughed so much when he read it that he decided to pay whatever it took to buy it for his newspaper ~ and besides, 'it was my birthday present to myself!' he told me when we lunched.

However this was just the start of the excitement. Soon I had only to step out of our front door for photographers from all over the world to start snapping - one newspaper even hired a flat opposite the house to get a better shot of this now notorious young author. LIFE MAGAZINE rang and wanted pics. They lit the outside of the house and photographed us all in silhouette. They then shot me in a ball gown and tiara with a host of bowler-hatted young men in attendance. PARIS MATCH photographed me, also in a bowler hat. The Italians changed the tone, making me look more Fellini than David Bailey. America rolled out the red carpet down which I trod with assumed ease. Aside from doing an author tour, I went on live television in a show called TO TELL THE TRUTH (audience across the US and Canada 84 million) Together with Mary Quant I was one of the Women of the Year, and was honoured by Christina Foyle giving a Foyles Literary Luncheon for me at the end of which I had to give a speech. Imagine never having spoken in public before, and just four months out of the typing pool finding yourself sitting surrounded by famous literary people all waiting for you to open your mouth.
I went so white that the press table seated below the top table kept sending me notes saying, in very different ways, 'cheer up it will soon be over!' Happily, due, I always think, to my extreme youth, the speech received a great ovation, and the following day I was sent a bouquet from the press table, which was more than generous, and not at all deserved. Years later when I came to live in Somerset a local shopkeeper said to me 'we've had many more famous than you round here - we had John Steinbeck staying up at Redlynch!' Well, as it happens, John Steinbeck was also honoured with a Foyles Luncheon, but apparently his nerves overcame him so much his agent had to read his speech...Mr Steinbeck, wherever you are in your particular part of heaven - you have my deepest sympathy!

It is always difficult to match a first success, particularly one that takes you all over the world by the age of twenty. Since CORONET AMONG THE WEEDS I have written many books, plays, and television series with Terence Brady, and we have always both been of the same mind, that nothing matches the very first of something. The first burst of laughter at your first comedy show, the first night of a successful play, the first time you top the ratings. So it was with CORONET AMONG THE WEEDS, my first book, my first success - the first time you see the words 'hereinafter called the author' on your first contract. It's a May morning of a moment, the scent of old English roses, dew on the grass felt through sandals - no, it is none of those things. It is your first success!

            Terence Brady and Charlotte Bingham at home in London 1982

                                 Copyright Charlotte Bingham 2012

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