Simon Callow shares his support for the Give a Book campaign
“The day I learned, I ran up to my mother and excitedly said, ‘I can read, I can read,’” he recalls, after meeting in one of his favorite bookstores, Bryars & Bryars, in London’s Covent Garden.
“She replied: ‘Now you have a key with which you can open the wonders of the world.’ And I’ve always felt that’s been true ever since. Reading is the key to understanding and always has been for me. It is an absolutely central part of my life.”
Nearly seven decades later, one of the wonders Simon remembers most fondly is the world of Rupert Bear, the lovable Daily Express comic book character, who celebrates his 122nd birthday this month.
Still appearing daily in this newspaper as well as best-selling Christmas yearbooks, Rupert’s illustrated adventures helped shape Simon’s childhood.
“I learned a lot of important moral lessons from reading those stories,” he reveals. “They showed this innocent bear that was sometimes threatened by malevolent forces.
“But he and his friends always somehow survived because they weren’t afraid.
adventurers He and his friends also felt like my friends because books take you to another world.”
As a self-confessed bibliomaniac (someone who loves to collect books), Simon urges Daily Express readers to dig deeper into our Give A Book Christmas appeal.
Simon Callow joins the Express Books campaign
He has been working with the charity, whose aim is to promote books and the joy of reading in the hardest-to-reach places of the UK.
In addition to seeing his efforts in distributing books to underprivileged schools and children, and building libraries in schools, Simon has witnessed firsthand the transformative effect of Give A Book’s work in prisons, such as Wormwood Scrubs.
In 2017, with Give A Book (and partner charity, Prison Reading Groups), he presented a version of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, cleverly titled Scrooge in the Scrubs, inside West London’s Category B jail, with inmates as cast. and crew.
“It was extraordinarily creepy, the first time I was in a prison,” he tells me.
“But I didn’t experience any hostility at all. They put a sign on the wall asking the prisoners to write their names if they wanted to participate. There was a great acceptance. We had about 80 people.
“Of course, it’s a story about redemption, about somebody, Scrooge, trying to get his life back on track again, and, in a prison, that rang every bell possible. They spoke freely and very emotionally, very movingly about it. And that moved me fantastically.
“They were incredibly pleased to be doing something that would take them far. They became another person.
“It was liberating for them as it is for us as actors. That’s one of the reasons we do it, we don’t have to be ourselves anymore, we can be someone else.”
In addition to winning a prestigious Screen Actors Guild Award and being nominated twice for a Bafta for his work on film and television, Simon’s love of reading has also led him to become a successful writer, penning nearly 20 books as well. like countless articles. for newspapers and magazines.
So, I ask you, what did you want to be first, actor or writer?
“Oh, a writer absolutely, that was my first and great ambition, to write books. I typed in torrents, hammering away at a cheap plastic typewriter I had managed to acquire.
“I wrote huge amounts, extensive treatises, and of course, everything about myself! But even I could see that this was a topic of somewhat limited interest to the world at large.
“However, I really didn’t know what else to write about. Then later, when I became an actor, I suddenly thought, ‘My God, what an interesting job this is,’ so I started writing about it. And, in 1984, it became my first book, Being an Actor.
Callow believes that reading aloud is a great way for children to love words.
When asked to name his favorite authors, Simon replies: “Shakespeare is what I always come back to, and Dickens of course. I started reading them quite early, long before I really understood them. I just liked their sound and read them out loud.”
He believes that reading aloud is a good way for children, or those who don’t find it easy to speak, to cultivate a love of words.
“My recommendation to anyone reading something like Dickens for the first time is to read it out loud because that’s what
it happened back then,” he says.
“The stories were published as weekly episodes and read aloud to the family by the head of the household. So he speaks the words and listen to them. Dickens can look a bit daunting on the page at times, but just read it out loud and you’ll feel the life force of him surging through you.”
Simon is currently reading Death in Venice author Thomas Mann’s collection of short stories, but says Christopher Isherwood is, as a writer, one of his all-time heroes: “I thought his prose was exquisite and I loved his stories and the world it described. .
“I once had occasion to telephone Isherwood because he was writing a book about his neighbor, the actor Charles Laughton, with whom he had also worked.
“I asked Isherwood if he would tell me about Laughton and he refused.
“But it turned out that I had my first book Being an Actor with me, so I went to his house and dropped it in the mailbox, signed with an inscription for him.
“A few months passed, but still nothing came of it. And then he died.
“When I returned to Los Angeles some time later to do a documentary on Laughton, I called the same number again and Isherwood’s partner, Don Bachardy, answered the phone.
“I said, ‘Hi, I’m an actor. My name is Simon Callow…’ but Don stopped me there and said ‘I know exactly who you are. Christopher was reading his book for the second time when he died.
“For me, as a writer, to hear those magic words, ‘for the second time,’ can you imagine how proud I felt?” Simon smiles, happily turning the memory over in his mind, then adds with a self-deprecating laugh, “Maybe it didn’t make sense the first time, though!”
Whether reading or writing them, Simon says he can’t imagine a life without books.
“I pick up books all the time,” he says. “I love the whole notion of history, of narrative. And no matter how ambitious or experimental, there is always the feeling of bringing order to the world. Sometimes a kind of challenging order, but always order.”
Callow says Rupert the Bear helped him read
It is not hard to see why helping prisoners to read benefits the whole of society.
In addition to the sense of order it provides, the self-improvement gained from reading provides greater employment opportunities, which reduces the likelihood of recidivism.
According to the Ministry of Justice, 57 percent of adults in prison have literacy skills below those expected of an 11-year-old.
As Simon correctly points out: “That is why Give A Book is of great benefit to all of us in this country.
“There are many ways in which people, and not just prisoners, feel excluded from society. The idea that some people don’t have access to books is just a terrible thought.”
He pauses, then adds: “Christmas is a great opportunity to give away books.”
Whether it’s Rupert Bear or Charles Dickens, a book can be, as Simon says, “a key that unlocks the world, if only in your mind.” And what better Christmas
present could anyone wish that?
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