Driff Field, also known as drif field, driffield, dryfeld or simply Drif was a figure in the British book-dealing world during the 1980s and 1990s.
Drif started as a bookseller in the 1960s and later made a living partly as a "runner" or booksearcher, obtaining titles to order for private customers. In 1984 he began producing a self-published guide to All The Secondhand and Antiquarian Bookshops in Britain. Hugely successful for its wit and wide coverage of the field, the guide was nonetheless chaotic, idiosyncratic and often sarcastic, with entries such as: "the b[oo]ks are slowly transforming themselves back into rags"; "judging by body temp, shop seems to have expired in 1930"; "I could smell a bargain, pity was I had a cold that day"; "owner has been unwell recently with bad back (possibly caused by turning on the customers once too often)".
Drif also launched a periodical called Driffs: The Antiquarian and Secondhand Fortnightly, although the magazine was rarely published as frequently as that and folded in 1986 after 22 issues. Drif claimed to have debts of some £50,000 arising from the venture.
The guide went through at least seven editions, dated 1984, 1985, 1987, 1991, 1992, 1994 and 1995. In the third he seemed to refer to a spell of mental illness after the publication of the second, though Francis Wheen thought this an intentionally misleading reference.
Name and identity
Although photos exist of the man (he fancied he resembled Raymond Carver) little is known about him or his current whereabouts, or even if he is still alive. Some sources cite his name as "B.C.M. Driffield" (probably by confusion with a post-office-box name) and others as "David Richard Ian Frederick Field", though Ian Sinclair implies that his real name has no direct relation to the word "Driffield", which was a name "found on a Yorkshire or Gloucestershire road sign". He is believed to have been brought up near Portsmouth and attended school in Newbury, England. In 1991 Francis Wheen considered that he "seems to be in his forties". Rumours persist of his being a spy, a criminal, a lunatic, a confidence trickster, a transvestite (he is depicted in drag in one edition of his Guide, and claims to have been treated in a "transvestite clinic"), a dandy, a fascist and a pedestrian (who claimed to have visited more than 1000 bookshops by public transport, bycicle and on foot). Most of these rumours are believed to originate from Drif himself.
In Pop Culture
Drif appears as a character in Iain Sinclair's novel White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings (1987). He took part at some point in The Cardinal And The Corpse, an occult documentary made by Chris Petit for Channel 4 and also featuring Alan Moore and Iain Sinclair.
'Driffield, or The Man Who Thought He Looked Like Raymond Carver', an article by Iain Sinclair published in the UK Independent on Sunday Talk of the Town magazine (17 August 2003). 'A guide to Drif', an interview with Drif by Francis Wheen, with a photograph by Michael Woods, appeared in The Independent magazine (19 October 1991, pp. 50-53). A short, but largely obscure, biography of the author is to be found in Ian Sinclair's London: city of disappearances (Penguin, 2012, pp. 112-127).
- Hay on Wye, a town of second hand bookshops
- Francis Wheen, "A guide to Drif", The Independent magazine (19 October 1991), pp. 50-53, at p. 50.
- Wheen, op. cit. p. 51.
- Wheen, op. cit. p. 50.
- Wheen, op. cit.p. 50.
- Ian Sinclair, London: city of disappearances (Penguin, 2012), p. 121.
- Wheen, op. cit. p. 50.
- Sinclair, op. cit., p. 122. Sinclair notes that Drif was offered a publishing deal for his Guide but "pocketed the cheque and vanished".