Spending a penny: For Your Convenience – A Classic 1930’s Guide to London Loos

Muswell Press has just published For Your Convenience, a guide to London’s public toilets which first appeared in 1937, and is now re-issued in their new LGBTQI list. Matt Bates, who is curating the list, told us more.

Can you describe For Your  Convenience? 

It’s an absolutely charming classic, a curious and eccentric little book that was first published in 1937. Whilst it can be read simply as a guide to London’s conveniences of the time, reading between the lines offers a queer dimension to the text for where a gentleman may find ‘relief’ in the metropolis after ‘three cups of tea’.  

Who wrote the book and who first published it? 

The book is written by Paul Pry, a pseudonym for Thomas Burke (1886-1945). Born in Clapham and raised in Poplar, Burke considered himself a true Londoner by birth and in spirit. He was a keen observer and recorder of city life, and particularly of its working classes. His most famous work, published in 1916, was Limehouse Nights. The book was published by George Routledge & Sons, a reputable publisher that was established in 1836 and still publishes today. I have no idea whether they realised what exactly they were publishing, but if they did, then good on them! 

Can you tell us about some of the entries you found particularly interesting? 

Aside from the encyclopaedic knowledge of every London district and its attendant lavatory, the book also alludes to the possible dangers that the visitor might encounter. Pry tells us that, “they set watchers on an ill-served spot (and) note the number of pedestrians passing.” These veiled references to the perils of cottaging highlight the very real difficulties in negotiating sex for gay men in the past.  

I doubt whether many of the cottages mentioned remain in existence, do they? 

Whilst I haven’t conducted a full tour of the guide, there are definitely some still in existence, most notably the one on Broadwick Street in Soho, where, Pry tells us one can “find full service,” and I believe is still thriving today!  

Can you tell us more about the new LGBTQI list from Muswell Press? 

There are two strands to the list – the first is to re-issue queer classics, such as For Your Convenience, that still have resonance today, and the second is to publish queer writing from either established or debut novelists. Queer writing is woefully under-published and I’m keen to read and publish quality writing from all queer backgrounds, especially stories that consider what it means to be queer today. In that way, both strands of the publishing programme work together – I like the idea of queer literature from both past and present working synchronously with each other. 

You’ve had quite a career in selling books, including LGBT titles, can you tell us about that? 

I worked for many years as the Fiction Buyer for WH Smith Travel which primarily consisted of selecting all the new and backlist fiction for the Airport and Railway stores across the UK. I’m most proud of the ‘Fresh Talent’ promotion that I curated for the company. Each quarter I would select twelve debut or emerging writers and promote their books heavily in store. In every selection there were always some fabulous queer titles, including Guapa (Saleem Haddad), The Wicked Cometh (Laura Carlin), What Belongs To You (Garth Greenwell), The House of Impossible Beauties (Joseph Cassara), and My Cat Yugoslavia by Pajtim Statovci. I’m proud to have promoted and sold thousands of copies of these novels that elsewhere may not have received such exposure. 

Can you tell us more about the new title The Lure by Felice Picano? 

Felice Picano was one of the original and founding members of The Violet Quill, the foremost post-Stonewall gay writing movement, whose other members included Edmund White (‘A Boy’s Own Story’) and Andrew Holleran (‘Dancer from the Dance’). The Lure was first published in 1979 and was a huge success, particularly in the States. It’s a gritty and powerful gay thriller which has lost none of its razor-edge today. Muswell Press are both proud and delighted to be re-issuing the novel and acknowledging Felice’s contribution to gay literature. 

And next April you have a new title The Ministry of Guidance by Golnoosh Nour about life for gay Iranians? 

This is a hugely exciting book for Muswell Press: a bold, fresh and disruptive series of stories that chart the queer experience through a culturally diverse lens. Noor is an acute observer of how the human spirit fights repressions. The tone is wry and often darkly humorous. She is definitely a writer to watch! 

For Your Convenience by Paul Pry (£7.99) from Muswell Press.

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