The inscription by Sir John Betjeman to his friend John McGlashan in an group sold for £440 at John Nicholson’s.

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When the noted cinematographer John McGlashan died aged 86 in 2021, he left behind him a body of work spanning 60 years and encompassing major dramas, TV shows and documentaries.

As resident cameraman on the long-running arts programme Monitor, he worked with directors such as Ken Russell, John Schlesinger and Ken Loach, and shot classics as varied as the landmark documentary The Ascent of Man (1973) and TV shows such as Porridge and Doctor Who.

His family consigned personal gifts from one of his favourite TV personalities, the late Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman, to the January 23 book sale at John Nicholsons (25% buyers premium) of Fernhurst.

Estimated at £300-500, a group of presentation copies sold for £440.

Firm friends


Inscription by Sir John Betjeman to his friend John McGlashan in an group sold for £440 at John Nicholson’s.

The pair became friends when they worked together on some of the poet’s documentaries, famed for their gentle whimsy and personal approach: Metro-Land (1973), A Passion for Churches (1974) and the poet’s childhood autobiography in verse Summoned by Bells (1976).

The strength of that friendship can be seen in the inscriptions written by Sir John in the copies of his works that he presented to the BAFTA-nominated McGlashan, offered for sale for the first time.

Sir John’s self-deprecating charm is evident in a signed and annotated cover for the audio reading of his verse collection Banana Blush. Inscribed Oh that I had more hair!, it follows a series of arrows to a photograph of the poet on which he has added a spiky hairdo to his bald pate.

A copy of the Collins Guide to English Parish Churches, edited by Sir John, carries an inscription dated to 1972, on a hot July day at Waddesdon, Bucks. Page 103 of the book carries a typically farcical Betjeman addition: a circular stain annotated: Gin spilt by John Betjeman… Waddesdon 6/7/72. The poet’s spidery handwriting was notoriously difficult to read and part of the remaining inscription is indecipherable.

The men’s shared humour is further evident in an inscription on a copy of a first edition of Betjeman’s book Londons Historic Railway Stations, in which he writes: John McGlashan Horn Captain, for good service to the Horn, John Betjeman 1972 Front Row Shoot. Betjeman has added his City of London address for Cloth Fair and phone number.

The facing inside cover carries the poet’s elaborate bookplate for FourEssays on West Country Churches.

The Betjeman lot featured various other signed and inscribed copies of the poet’s works all presented as personal gifts to McGlashan, while other items consigned from the same source included signed and inscribed works by Dame Freya Stark, Molly Keane, Sir Laurens van der Post, Jacob Bronowski (with whom he made The Ascent of Man) and Betjeman’s wife, Penelope Chetwode.

Another lot comprised a signed and inscribed copy of Rabbit is Rich, a novel from the famous series by John Updike, who died on December 30. Updike writes: For John McGlashan my very own cameraman with esteem and warm regards, John Updike.

Six of the McGlashan items offered individually but unconnected to Betjeman took £35-55 each, but the signed and inscribed copy of Stark’s A Peak in Darien made £280, as did Himalayas. Abode of Light, 1947, by Nicholas Roerich.

“This cache of books with very personal tributes to John McGlashan is a treasure trove of friendships made during the making of some of the most remarkable programmes of the past 50 years and more,” said Ian Marr, books specialist at John Nicholson’s.

Dickens on song


First-issue copy of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, £5500 at John Nicholson’s.

A four-figure highlight at the auction came in the form of an 1843 first edition of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

The novella was originally published by Chapman & Hall under the longer title of A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. First published on December 19, 1843, just six weeks after Dickens began writing it, the book had sold out by Christmas Eve and had been through 13 editions by the end of 1844.

Estimated at £600-1000, this copy in the original gilt and blind stamped brown cloth binding, with some damage – to the spine, for example – made £5500.

Marr said: “This was a strong price for such a landmark work, bearing in mind the wear and tear.”

It was sold together with a later issue (with yellow end papers not green, ‘Stave I’ corrected to ‘Stave One’ and three plates only, not four).

In January 2021 Freeman’s of Philadelphia sold a first-issue copy of A Christmas Carol for $16,000 (£14,545), while another first-issue copy sold for £8500 in November 18 that year in Forum’s sale of books from the Rugby School Library.

Three have brought six-figure bids. In October 2010 at Sotheby’s, a copy that Dickens inscribed for his great friend, the actor and stage manager William Macready, made a record £150,000.