84, Charing Cross Road

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First edition cover

84, Charing Cross Road is a 1970 book by Helene Hanff, later made into a stage play, television play and film, about the twenty-year correspondence between her and Frank Doel, chief buyer of Marks & Co, antiquarian booksellers located at the eponymous address in London, England.

Hanff, in search of obscure classics and British literature titles she had been unable to find in New York City, noticed an ad in the Saturday Review of Literature and first contacted the shop in 1949, and it fell to Doel to fulfill her requests. In time, a long-distance friendship evolved, not only between the two, but between Hanff and other staff members as well, with an exchange of Christmas packages, birthday gifts, and food parcels to compensate for post-World War II food shortages in Britain. Their letters included discussions about topics as diverse as the sermons of John Donne, how to make Yorkshire Pudding, the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the coronation of Elizabeth II.

Hanff postponed visiting her English friends until too late; Doel died in December 1968 from peritonitis from a burst appendix, and the bookshop eventually closed. Hanff did finally visit Charing Cross Road and the empty but still standing shop in the summer of 1971, a trip recorded in her 1973 book The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street. A circular brass plaque on the building that now stands on the shop's former site acknowledges the story.

The building's site today[edit]

The five-story building where Marks & Co. was located during the novel's action still exists, and has a small round gold-coloured plaque mentioning the novel on a pillar of the outer wall. It housed a music and CD store in the early 1990s, and later other retail outlets. It housed a Med Kitchen restaurant as late as 2009.[1][2] It now houses a Belgian restaurant.

Bibliography[edit]

Partial list of the books Helene Hanff ordered from Marks & Co. and mentioned in 84 Charing Cross Road (alphabetic order):

Adaptations[edit]

Hugh Whitemore adapted 84 Charing Cross Road for the BBC's Play for Today, a television anthology series. Starring Frank Finlay and Anne Jackson, it was first broadcast on 4 November 1975.

In 1981, James Roose-Evans adapted it for the stage in a two-character version first produced at the Salisbury Playhouse. With Rosemary Leach and David Swift, it transferred to the West End, where it opened to universally ecstatic reviews.

After fifteen previews, the Broadway production opened on 7 December 1982 at the Nederlander Theatre with Ellen Burstyn and Joseph Maher. Due perhaps in part to a mediocre review [3] by Frank Rich in the New York Times, it ran for just 96 performances.

Whitemore returned to the project to write the screenplay for the 1987 film adaptation starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins. The dramatis personae were expanded to include Hanff's Manhattan friends, the bookshop staff, and Doel's wife Nora, played by Judi Dench. Bancroft won a BAFTA Award as Best Actress; Whitemore and Dench were nominated for direction and supporting performance.

Roose-Evans adapted the play again for a 2007 radio production starring Gillian Anderson and Denis Lawson, broadcast on Christmas Day on BBC Radio 4. [1]

References[edit]

External links[edit]