An Insight into: Ted Booth

Who is Ted Booth you are asking?  This month’s Insight is a bit different. Instead of interviewing a local business owner, WHL sat down to have a chat with Ted Booth, who is the current writer-in-residence for the Friends of West Hampstead Library. Ted’s a very cool guy but wouldn’t consider himself as such – he’s far too modest for that. He is retired and his last job was lecturer in creative writing in the art faculty at Middlesex University. He said it was ‘terrific fun’ as he was working with art students on writing; they would discuss diaries, poetry, short stories, postcards and occasionally lyrics.

Ted’s been writer-in-residence at the library since June 2016. He was suppose to finish his stint in June this year, but was asked to stay on until September because as Friends’ chair Simon Inglis, put it – we are looking for ‘someone younger’. Ted will end his stint with another evening of poems with Cllr Flick Rea in September. I really enjoyed the last one, so watch out for that. And if you can’ t wait you can also read his blog here.

Ted at his desk

Ted at his desk

Before his library post, Ted was artist-in-residence for the Friends of Fortune Green (2013/14), where he started writing a poem for National Poetry Day, on a different theme each year. Last year, the FoFG gave away more than 500 copies of this poem to passing commuters (and you can also see the poems of other years on the FOFG website). Look out for this year’s poem, which will be published on September 28th. Ted really does bring a touch of poetry to West Hampstead.

What brought you to West Hampstead?

“Simple, my wife Janet’s work brought us here as she started the Mulberry House school. We moved from Leytonstone. People used to say ‘where’s that?’ but now it’s a bit more on the map.”

What is your earliest memory of the area?

“It was seeing this house. The estate agents showed us three houses, a couple on Burrard Road and this one. I soon as I stepped through the door, I thought “wow'”.”

Just a small part of Ted's poetry collection

Just a small part of Ted’s poetry collection

How has West Hampstead changed?

“I’ve noticed the rapid turnover of retailers on West End Lane and here up at Fortune Green.  There’s hardly anything left that was here when we arrived. Although the wonderful West End Lane Books had just opened then and that is still here.” Ted and I discussed a nearby corner shop which has been in turn a wine merchants, wooden flooring shop, motorbike showroom and now a skiwear shop and also the long-standing scuba shop in Child’s Hill. London is certainly full of odd shops we agreed.

What’s for lunch?

Ted surprised me. “I’m very fond  of Café Plus”. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s the greasy spoon café on Mill Lane, near Tiffin Tin.  “I also like the Bridge Café opposite the Overground station”.  He says Café Plus offer quick cheap and tasty food, “It’s always very welcoming and run by immigrants making a living.”

Otherwise – and Ted has many facets – he likes the Nigel Slater mid-week dinner which he cooks for himself and Janet.

Describe West Hampstead in three words

Happy, peaceful and enjoyable


Full house for Downton star’s romp through an illustrious career

Jim Carter. Photo by Eugene Regis

Jim Carter. Photo by Eugene Regis

Local actor Jim Carter, best known for playing Carson the butler in Downton Abbey, broke all records at West Hampstead Library on Wednesday night by drawing the biggest crowd for a Friends of West Hampstead Library event since Stephen Fry in 2001. The “house full” notice went up at 7.30pm, just as the event started.

The evening, hosted by FoWHL Chair Simon Inglis, began with Jim playing a guessing game with the audience based on key elements of his acting career. With typical generosity he handed a bottle of champagne to the winner.

With Simon as a foil, the two of them made a fine comedy turn as Jim embarked on a riot of anecdotes, starting with his story of how he abandoned a university degree in English for a career in street theatre in Brighton. One early performance for kids, he recalled, was interrupted by an invasion of Mods and Rockers. Punch and Judy ended up in the sea while Jim, dressed head-to-toe as a thistle, ended up being chased along the beach by a psychopath in a leather jacket. An unusual seaside memory.

He then took us on a tour of America. His first visit was to enrol with a circus school. He then returned with the legendary Ken Campbell and his surreal roadshow. All he needed at that time, he said, was a rucksack and a pub. Then it was back for the National Theatre’s triumphant run of Guys and Dolls and a meeting with fellow actor, Imelda Staunton. They married a year or so later.

Clearly Jim is a proud resident of West Hampstead, with a long record of community and charitable work. He spoke with particular pride of his six years as president of Hampstead Cricket Club in Lymington Road – especially the setting up of a women’s team – also of the fundraising evenings he is putting on at, and for, the Tricycle Theatre. (Note, Jim’s event with Maggie Smith and Judi Dench is sold out, but there are still tickets available for Danny Boyle on March 26).

A packed house. Photo by Eugene Regis

A packed house. Photo by Eugene Regis

Finally, as no doubt many in the packed audience were hoping for (one fan had reportedly come over from Germany especially for the evening), the conversation arrived at Downton Abbey. Jim entertained us all with stories of life upstairs and downstairs (for the actors as much as the characters), and a recollection of George Clooney’s visit to the set. Apparently after he kissed Maggie Smith’s outstretched hand she affected a theatrical swoon and fell off her settee. Asked if a Downton movie is on the cards, he revealed that the actors were all in favour – they had all enjoyed working together – but that the script would have to be good.

The evening was an hour of theatre, full of nostalgic generosity and Falstaffian humour. It’s a long way from his roots in Harrogate to West Hampstead, but Jim Carter took us with him every step of the way. And to cap it all, Simon was able to announce at the conclusion that Jim had kindly consented to follow in Stephen Fry’s footsteps by becoming a patron of the Friends group.

The author is FoWHL writer in residence