Interesting Activist Obituary
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Tue Feb 13 08:55:07 MST 2001
Radical bibliophile devoted to the worlds of poetry and protest
Tuesday February 13, 2001
The Guardian (UK)
Detained at Bow Street police station for sitting down in Parliament Square
during a CND demonstration in the 1980s, Judith Radstone found herself in
the company of some of Britain's respected literary figures. Most of them
were old friends with whom she passed a convivial night of chat and jokes in
a haze of cigarette smoke. It was an occasion on which her two spheres of
books and politics were happily conjoined.
Judith, who has died aged 75, was a bibliophile, bookseller and political
activist, and a well-known figure in the poetry world: Carol Anne Duffy's
Warming Her Pearls was dedicated to her, inspired by a conversation with
Judith about the practice of ladies' maids increasing the lustre of their
mistresses' pearls by secreting them beneath their clothes to be warmed by
their skin. She was also a close friend of Quentin Crisp, Eduardo Paolozzi
and the painter Frank Welby, with whom she lived for a time.
Judith was was born at Hadley Mill, near Ombersley, Worcester, and left
school at 14 to work as a milliner's assistant. During the second world war
she joined her father, a Chelsea policeman, in London. She was already
developing her thirst for music, art and literature and, after the war,
found her milieu in the bohemian atmosphere of the Bar-B-Q café restaurant
in the King's Road, and the Patisserie Valerie in Soho. Her visits to Welby,
after he moved to Paris, engendered her fondness for French art and
In 1953, Judith married a struggling singer, Morris Radstone, now an art
dealer, and devoted herself to her two daughters. Following her divorce in
the late 1960s, she started working fulltime in the book trade, at Claude
Gill and later as poetry buyer in Words And Music in the Charing Cross Road.
In 1979, she moved to Bernard Stone's Turret Bookshop in Covent Garden,
where she organised events and readings. Thus began her long associations
with poets and writers, among them Gavin Ewart, Kit Wright, Eddie Linden and
the publisher John Calder, whom she met in the late 1960s.
In April 1981 Judith organised Poets Against The Bomb, a CND fund-raising
event at Chelsea town hall. Ralph Steadman designed the poster, and Harold
Pinter, Judith Kazantzis, Gavin Ewart, Adrian Henri, Brian Patten and Ivor
Cutler were among those who took part.
Judith's life was also closely interwoven with the Poetry Society, for which
she worked tirelessly as both a reader and part-organiser of its annual
national poetry competition. Proud of her working-class origins, she was an
inspiration to many, with a generosity of spirit and a gift for nurturing
and guiding youthful artistic talent.
She was as passionate about politics and the venality of the powerful as she
was about words on the page. A lifelong socialist, she supported the women
of Greenham Common, and, through the 1980s and 90s, was still active on
protest marches, most recently during the Nato bombing of Kosovo in 1999.
Although contemporary in her thinking, Judith was a defiant technophobe who
deplored the arrival of the microchip. At home, she proudly wielded ancient
flat irons and eschewed clocks. She detested computers and faxes, and
recoiled at answerphones. Her extensive multi-lingual library was augmented
by purchases from charity shops; books spilled out of the crammed shelves
and flowed down the stairs to her front door.
In her last years, her life became more solitary, partly because of her less
robust health. Although she still pursued the "nice things" with passion,
her life was mostly concentrated on her family. She is survived by her
daughters, Susannah, an academic and writer, and Sara, a ceramicist.
Judith Radstone, bibliophile and bookseller, born August 23 1925; died
January 13 2001
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