book log: John, Duke of Bedford — How to Run a Stately Home

Rather than doing my book log in strict chronological order, I’m going to go straight to some recent reads while I can still remember them. I ordered this one a couple of weeks ago on the strength of Stevie Carroll’s comment about it last month, and now I wish to share the love.

Back in 1955, the then Duke of Bedford was one of the first members of the aristocracy to open his stately home to the public as a means of raising funds to cover the running costs. He published this book in 1971, ostensibly as a “how to” manual for his (literal) peers who might be considering doing the same.

It is, in fact, packed full of genuine and useful advice for the would-be stately home entrepreneur, or indeed anyone in a service or tourism business. It’s also a highly entertaining read for the public at large. The duke was a sharp observer of human behaviour and had a bone-dry sense of humour. He combined this with what reads as a genuine appreciation of and gratitude for his customers, and a delight in sharing his possessions with other people who enjoyed them.

The book was written in collaboration with George Mikes of “How to be an alien” fame. It’s hard to tell exactly what blend of ghost-writing, co-writing and editing was going on here, but the duke was certainly capable of writing well on his own account, as he’d had a career as a journalist. It’s clear that the general observations and much of the humour came from the duke — and that the two men shared a wryly funny view of the foibles of the English. The original hardback edition is set off with illustrations by ffolkes, including a rather splendid colour illustration on the dustjacket.

It’s a short book, only 125 pages, but it had me smiling on nearly every page, and left me feeling that I would have liked to meet the duke. Very much recommended if you like this sort of book.

It’s long since out of print, but readily available online at reading copy price.

hardback at Amazon UK
paperback at Amazon UK
Amazon US

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