Forty years on ... looking back on my life in the profession that chose me ...
Upper left: The 1980s ... the seventh floor attic at Fielding House, Mayfair, opposite the Shah's London mansion and Cecil Beaton's flat, where, when things literary became seriously professional, I installed my tiny writer's eyrie. The draughty windows looked out over the rooftops of London, a row of ancient mews stables, and -- six floors down -- a chattering restaurant ... they also blew in a bout of Bell's Palsy.
Here, I began to collect the vast amount of material (hidden, off right) which was to become the British Musical Theatre Collection, and here I wrote the whole of the two volumes of The British Musical Theatre. On that little typewriter. I loved those Warners curtains. They later became cushions before they died of old age. I see my desk held its once pristine, now battered copy of Florian Bruyas, a postcard of Billee Taylor, a photo of my father on skis .. I see I had hair, a tiny waistline ...
Then, three stages of the 1990s. My shelf-lined study at the back of Les Arabanes, St Paul de Vence. Away from the stunning view of the perched village at the front of the house. Progress from Amstrad to Apple, arrival of Microfilm machine, vast enlargement of the source material shelves which latterly spilled over into the hallway, then the living room ... here was written the bulk of The Encyclopaedia of the Musical Theatre. I remember the dreadful day when the floppy disc containing the whole of Letter "M" crashed. And the even more dreadful day when dear Ian had his first little stroke ... It was time to go back to base. And there was no way those rows and rows and shelves and shelves and boxes, gathered from all round the world, could go too. I sold the whole huge collection, and our home, and we set out for Australasia. 'Home'.
The early 2000s were spent in our new home in Canterbury, NZ, where preoccupations other than writing took over. Well, writing for publication, anyway. But in between my times as a nurse and a horse farmer, I managed to complete my vast biography of Emily Soldene, and the less vast ones of Lydia Thompson and Willie B Gill. Then, after Ian's death in 2006, I set out to travel the world. I'd had my time as an author, hadn't I? I'd said all I had to say about the musical theatre, hadn't I? I was 'old hat'. Gone the days when the BBC called on me when they needed an 'expert', when Radio NZ promoted me in a 26-part series, when I got my photo in Woman's Weekly as a pin-up boy. Anyway, the world of publishing had sadly changed since the 1980s ... and the Internet? What was that ...?
The 2010s: It is probably because of the Internet that I have had a second coming. A boy has to do something when he's not travelling or reviewing or gallivanting or gourmandising. The Internet was rather like having a portable library, so I could spend my time dipping and delving into the past wherever I was, without my dear, (largely) departed library. My cosy 'Winter Palace' at the Cove, Yamba, New South Wales (above) doesn't have a book in sight: yet, I I can write just as I did in the '80s.
My 'Summer Palace', on the farm at Gerolstein, New Zealand, is not totally bookless. I will never give up my complete Meilhac and Halévy, my complete Planché extravaganzas, my Gore Vidals, my Hungarian Theatre Encyclopaedia ... but that is largely because they are old, memory-filled friends. And they look nice around the walls of my seriously shrunken study where, nowadays, a bit incapacitated, I spend most of my days. Sans teeth, sans hair, sans waist-line, sans much hearing, but thankfully not sans wits. Forty years on from that photo in the Hill Street attic ...
And the result of the work (and play) of all those years?
No, it's not quite all mine, I'm the bottom two shelves. Shelf three is brother, John Gallas, on the left, late husband, Ian Bevan, on the right, plus father's wee mountaineering manuals, and a couple of the many books published by the great-uncles Rosenbaum in Vienna, something like a century ago.
One slight problem. John's prolificity and my renaissance mean that in the next 12-18 months there will be half a shelf's-worth of new books to fit in ... ah, well, I'll face that situation when I get to it!