Shortly after the death of David Webb
, I received a phone call from his executor, a mutual acquaintance, who said basically that if I wished I could meet him in Chelsea and help myself to whatever of his personal possessions I wanted prior to the apartment being cleared.
I've always felt this sort of thing is a bit ghoulish but when he said I would find a large number of books and stuff, I decided it could do no harm, especially as he offered to pay my train fare and throw in a meal with it. I ended up making several visits, as did my colleague Mark Taha
When a man dies and his property is dispersed, it will in general realise far less on paper than he paid for it, but David Webb's flat at 68 Flood Street was an Aladdin's cave of treasures that money can't buy.
I knew of course that he was an actor, but I didn't realise he ate, drank, slept and breathed the theatre. He had a massive collection of literally hundreds of theatre programmes for plays, musicals and related stuff. A lifelong Royalist, he also had an impressive collection of material dating to the 1940s of souvenir brochures and so forth.
Having been born, grown up and attended school in Luton, he had a large collection relating to his hometown and school. He travelled fairly widely in both the UK and abroad, including the USA, collecting maps and guide books as he went. He was a political animal, and had a large collection of pamphlets and things mostly on censorship and related issues. And he never threw anything away.
I am still in the process of inventorying this material, some of which will probably find its way onto ebay at some point, but my main concern was and is to see that as far as possible, the rare stuff finds its way into an archive where it will be preserved forever, or at least until the end of the world, which on my reckoning will be sometime before the end of the 21st Century
Having been a reader since 1988, my first port of call was the British Library, which has been more selective than I thought it would be, but two publications have already found their way into its catalogue, these are two institutional biographies:
Rhubard & custard: Luton Modern School & Luton Grammar School for Boys
by James Dyer, and Crimson and gold: Luton Modern School, Luton High School for Girls and Luton Technical School
by Anne Allsopp.
Published in 2004, although separate books, they constitute a two volume history of the school; the name David Webb appears more than once in the index to the first. They should have been claimed under Legal Deposit
but appear to have slipped through the net.
I will be delivering some more of the late David Webb's ephemera to the British Library Wednesday next week, and in due course other publications from that collection will appear in its catalogue. After that, I have a couple of other archives to chase.
Publications from bygone ages are increasingly being digitised at an impressive rate, so it may be if my prediction about the end of the world turns out to be wrong, that a future generation of students the world over will be grateful for the squirrel-like mentality of a jobbing actor who once played a villain in an early episode of Coronation Street