These two novels, the only known works of a remarkable writer Roland Camberton (real name Henry Cohen) have recently been republished by Five Leaves Publishing.
I have the artist Don Ramos to thank. He alerted me to them. Both his father and mother knew Henry Cohen. His mother’s portrait of Cohen sits in ‘Scamp’s frontispiece.
‘Scamp’ has an introductory essay by Ian Sinclair in which he seeks to track down the story of Henry Cohen, who disappeared from view, adopted a nom de plume and also changed his name in real life. He died at the age of 44 and no-one knows where he is buried.
He finds one of Cohen’s best friends, Douglas Lyne, and meets Henry’s daughter. There’s talk of a lost tape recording made with William Burroughs and a lost manuscript of a third book - ‘Tango – the journal of a hitch-hiking odyssey around Britain, an English ‘On The Road’.
Sinclair writes: ‘Camberton laid out his plans in a letter to The Jewish Chronicle. ‘My intention is to make two journeys: one partly on foot, through Europe…and the second to North America.’ Tango was rejected by his publisher and has not resurfaced.’
It seems Cohen craved anonymity. ‘Scamp’ won the Somerset Maugham Award in 1951, beating out Kingsley Amis’ ‘Lucky Jim’. He writes his second ‘Rain on the Pavement’. ‘Then’ , says Sinclair, ‘he vanishes, nothing is heard of him again.’
Both book covers were done for the original editions by the artist John Minton. Sinclair believes the figure in the front of ‘Scamp’ is Henry Cohen: ‘A balding man, left hand in pocket, right hand gripping a furtive typescript, slouches down the cobbles, past the pub, our of the frame, into the wilderness.’
‘Scamp’ is one of the great books on Soho life. The main protagonist Ivan Ginsberg, a writer living in a rat-infested flat, lays plans to produce the literary magazine of the title. He wanders through Soho and Fitzrovia, meeting a strange range of eccentric characters in bars and clubs, cafes and dives, in his search for funding and contributions.
Cohen has a remarkable gift for characters. They jump off the page into three-dimensions – vivid, lifelike. Many or most of them are based on real-life people – Julian Maclaren-Ross has been formally identified as the ‘former commercial traveller Angus Sternforth Simms’.
There are two marvellous chapters in which Ginsberg takes a night walk with an extraordinary Greek miser, Kagaranias, visiting a series of late-night and all-night eateries. The whole atmosphere of post war London in the late 40s is here.
‘Rain on the Pavement’ is the coming-of-age story of David, who lives and grows up in the Jewish community of Hackney and surrounds. Again it is chock full of vivid people and incidents, mad relatives, eccentric teachers. There are some classic accounts of David’s explorations into the underworld of communist, anarchist and Labour group meetings, against the backdrop of the Mosley fascist marches. David and friends roam across the city, hitch-hike around the country, search out beatnik clubs in Soho, discover girls. Its delightful.
Five Leaves Left have done Henry Cole/Roland Camberton proud in bringing these classic lost novels back into circulation in such fine editions. A whole new generation can now discover his forgotten world and words
Five Leaves ‘is a small publisher based in Nottingham, publishing 15 or so books a year. 'Our roots are radical and literary. These days our main areas of interest are fiction and poetry, social history, Jewish secular culture, with side orders of Romani, young adult, Catalan and crime fiction titles.’ Order your copies directly from them.
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