Disappointment for Anthony Burgess Blue Plaque Bid
Decision not to mark his Glebe Street home to be debated at Book Festival
There has been surprise and disappointment that the bid to have a blue plaque placed at the former Chiswick home of author Anthony Burgess has been declined again.
It was the second application made to English Heritage to have the Glebe Street house marked as an important site in the writer’s life. Burgess, best known for his dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange, lived at 24 Glebe Street between 1963 and 1968, and wrote several of his most important novels there.
Professor Andrew Biswell, director of the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, said, “Anthony Burgess was one of the major British writers of the 20th century, but his achievements have gone largely unrecognised in the country of his birth. When English Heritage turned down our first application in 2015, they said we could re-nominate him after five years, rather than the usual ten. His international reputation has grown since then, so we are very surprised and disappointed.”
In a letter to the Foundation, the curatorial director of English Heritage, Anna Eavis, wrote that its Blue Plaques Panel felt “the durability and extent of (Burgess’s) literary impact was not sufficiently clear” and that “much of his career was spent outside London”.
The former literary editor of the Sunday Times and director of the Cheltenham Literature Festival, John Walsh, described the first rejection in 2015 as “bone-headed”. Writing in the Independent, he said: “If Anthony Burgess doesn’t merit a blue plaque, few do.”
Following the decision a debate is to be held at the Chiswick Book Festival entitled “Anthony Burgess: Why No Blue Plaque in Chiswick? And if not him – who?”
Walsh will debate the decision at the Chiswick Book Festival this Sunday, 12 September 12, alongside Anna Eavis, who will explain how the blue plaque system works, ways in which English Heritage is encouraging greater diversity, and how the public can put forward names.
Ahead of the session, the Festival is inviting the public to suggest authors they would nominate for a blue plaque, in not more than 30 words. The best entry will win a vintage edition of a Burgess novel from Foster Books, which sells rare books in Chiswick High Road.
The latest bid for a Burgess plaque was supported by academics, historians, local residents and the director of the Chiswick Book Festival, Torin Douglas. He said, “One reason English Heritage objects to Burgess is that much of his career was spent outside London, yet it has awarded a plaque to Gerald Durrell’s house in Dulwich, where he lived at the age of three. And with the new blue plaque for The Muppets creator Jim Henson, there will be plenty to debate!”
A portrait of Burgess by photographer Jane Bown is being auctioned on Tuesday afternoon at Chiswick Auctions . The 1992 photograph is Lot 241 in the 19th and 20th Century Photography sale at Chiswick Auctions, starting at 2pm.
A spokesperson for English Heritage said, "We receive up to 100 suggestions for blue plaques every year and can only install around 12 plaques annually, making the shortlisting process highly competitive. This is particularly true of the field of literature, in which many nominations are received. For many authors, a consensus about their lasting appeal and influence is difficult to find; in such cases, the Blue Plaques Panel has to err on the side of caution."
Burgess is one of several Chiswick authors being highlighted at this week’s Festival. Nancy Mitford is the focus of the opening event at Chiswick House, local celebrity Clare Balding will speak on Friday, and 20 writers will talk for two minutes each at the Waterstones Local Authors Party this Tuesday evening, Tuesday 7 September. Tickets are on sale here.
September 7, 2021