Some Background to The Book Cat

The Book Cat is an ENTIRELY true story!

well…

It might be. I can’t say for certain that the kitten evacuation happened exactly as I tell it in the book. And I have had to make some educated guesses about what a night out at The Cat’s Pyjamas felt and sounded like. But for the curious, here’s a few extra snippets that I discovered when researching Morgan’s story:

Morgan WAS a real stray cat who turned up at Faber and Faber out of the blue in 1943 and used to help the staff keep fire watch during bombing raids. Here’s what my grandfather, Geoffrey Faber wrote in a letter in 1945.

“Interruption at this point by Morgan. You don’t know anything about Morgan. He is a very large, black, heavy, and affectionate CAT, who fastened himself on this establishment about 2 years ago. Uncle Tom*, who has just come in, maliciously introduced him into my room; & I have spent about ¼ hour in nicely getting rid of him!”

(* = the poet TS Eliot, who wrote the first history of Morgan in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats)

The War Fair with banana auction in Russell Square was also a real event which took place in 1943. Here are some pictures of it in action from The Imperial War Museum:

WAR FAIR: HOLIDAYS AT HOME AT A FETE IN RUSSELL SQUARE, LONDON, 1943 (D 14682) A member of the Red Cross supervises as a young boy attempts to drive a nail into Hitler’s coffin at the Russell Square fete. According to the original caption, the aim was to get the nail in within three swipes, although young children were given a head start! Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205200139

WAR FAIR: HOLIDAYS AT HOME AT A FETE IN RUSSELL SQUARE, LONDON, 1943 (D 14684) Members of the Home Guard challenge a smiling young woman and two children to a ‘horse race’ at the Russell Square fete. The children were given a half the distance of the course as a head start. Members of the public crowd around them to watch the action. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205200141
WAR FAIR: HOLIDAYS AT HOME AT A FETE IN RUSSELL SQUARE, LONDON, 1943 (D 14678) Film and stage actor Derek de Marnay stands at a microphone and holds aloft the very small, very green, banana being auctioned as part of the festivities in Russell Square. Many of the children pictured here will not have seen a banana before, due to the scarcity of this fruit in wartime. According to the original caption, the banana fetched £5. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205200135

£5 for a banana was a fortune – the equivalent of about £230 now! It doesn’t even look it would be a very tasty one does it?

And on the 23rd June 1945, a V1 pilotless rocket DID fall on Russell Square and cause damage to the Faber and Faber offices. Here is Geoffrey Faber’s diary account:

“Stewart rang up about 10.30 to say that a flying bomb landed in the night in Russell Square, so we went up by the 12.2 from Haslemere. The thing fell bang in the exact middle of the square, about 3 a.m. The square covered with green leaves, the trees stripped and no doubt killed. All the houses stripped of doors and windows, but no really serious damage at 23 & 24. Ceilings down in many rooms and a bad mess. If I had stayed up and been asleep I should have been more or less badly hurt. Since the ceiling came down on my bed. Flat uninhabitable, at least for some weeks. No one hurt; but Mrs. Lister unable to stand any more. So brought her and the twins back to Minsted, at any rate for the week-end. Louise Cochrane (Morley) came back with us for the weekend. Our train just escaped being hit by another of the “doodlebugs”

As for the incontrovertible benefits of living with a well trained Book Cat, Alan and Babs make sure I am never in any doubt about those…

Have you ever thought of a story after learning about a real event?