The Author

The Author Neil HallWhen Neil asked me, his American wife of some 45 years, to write a bio for this website, my immediate reaction was – ‘But your Bio is An English Baby Boomer – My Life and Times.  The book is about you and your life’.

We agreed that any further biographical material might spoil the readers’ anticipation when not presented with all the amusing stories – some about the famous and not so famous – jokes, quirky anecdotes, quotes, poetry, nostalgia, popular history (both political and social) contained in this remarkable and charming book.

A different angle was required!  What story might initially reveal some of Neil’s own, but very English character?  How about our first date!

The date took place in 1968.  Neil and I met via mutual friends, one of whom was the genius Film and TV Animator, Richard Williams (A Christmas Carol and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?).  He and his  wife, Kathy, needed an au pair and I needed a work permit.  They offered me a room in their St John’s Wood house in exchange for a few hours each day. My finances were also augmented by taking in typing.  Having heard about my skills, Neil appeared at the Williams’ door with reams of handwritten travel notes.  In the sunshine, standing nervously before me, was a very courteous and respectful, tallish young man sporting an unkempt ’60’s hairstyle.  He was thin, wearing spectacles, shy, but at the same time, oddly self-assured.

‘What kind of creature is this?’ I mused. ‘The English are an odd bunch’. His bright salmon coloured trousers and blue shirt shouted, ‘I am my own man’ and his accent gave away that he had been to ‘a good school’.  Several days later, Neil retrieved his manuscript and, surprisingly, he asked me out to dinner.

Arriving later to collect me in his two tone Austin Mini, we drove to the famous and jolly Luba’s Bistro in Knightsbridge.  I immediately felt at ease in his company.  Considerate and polite, he was conservative by nature, but not at all opinionated or extreme.  He laughed when I haughtily affirmed that I had lived in Paris and that French cuisine was far superior to that of the English.  ‘Do you mean snails, brains and horsemeat’, he quipped.  His many English friends – the English are a big tribe, really – came from all races, classes and creeds – even middle class Americans like me!

Sailing was a beloved past-time, as well as travelling; he loved music; he could play the piano and the organ; he loved gardens and gardening, the National Trust, the countryside and all its pursuits; London parks, flowers and greenery of all kinds.  Able to draw well, he came from an artistic family and had a flair for colour, design and photography.  He was running his own show, his own business which, as a Yank, I much admired.  We ate; we laughed; we chatted about almost everything under the sun including philosophical ideas which interested us both.  His sense of irony, sense of humour and enthusiasm were infectious.

After dinner, Neil took me to see the window displays at Harrods – an odd thing to do on a first date, I thought.  Then following ’60’s habits, we spent an hour jumping up and down in a discotheque.  Finally, heading back to North London, famous sites were pointed out with zest and pride.  London was in his blood and bones!  However, reaching Dorset Square, Neil’s mini began to spew out steam and thick black smoke.

family‘This car is going to blow’, I thought.  I am going to die in Dorset Square.’   I tried to escape, but was thwarted by an oddly shaped door handle which moved upwards!  My inclination was to pull downwards!  I was getting hysterical.  Neil, on the contrary, remained calm and gently opened the door for me.  Was it the fan belt or something more ominous?

‘Well, there is nothing for it but to try your stockings.  Take them off, please’.  ‘What’, I replied, ‘my stockings’.  Pulling as discretely as possible, Neil then tied the stockings around where the fan belt had been, but the car failed to start.  It was something more ominous. He had tried to muddle through, but we realised he would have to abandon the car overnight.  As onlookers on the pavement commiserated, we promised to meet up again soon. Neil hailed a taxi, generously giving me money for my fare and off I sped back to St John’s Wood.

What does this story say about Neil; about his Englishness?  Perhaps, this quote will help:-

‘Crossing the sea, they destroyed the civilisation and religion of their conquered territory and transformed themselves in to a nation of explorers, scientists, dreamers and businessmen, mysteriously absorbing most of the original inhabitants.  These people – The English — describe their new island homeland in terms which defy geographical fact.  They claim the right to devise their own religion, but adopt – then adapt – almost anything, spiritual, moral or material – from anywhere they like.  Their love of continuity and tradition, for instance, is based on something deeper than what can be seen, felt or touched.’*

Resonances of the above are peppered throughout Neil’s book.  Everyone’s life is worth a book, but few people have the ability and/or the determination to write it all down. Neil has achieved this momentously well.  A true English polymath, he can now add — ‘writer’ — to his list of achievements.

And are there more books to come?  I think so.

*Darkest England, Idries Shah, Octagon Press.



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