Dr. Bedrich Belohlavek (1902 – 1991)
DR. BEDRICH BELOHLAVEK
My father was born in Czechoslovakia, in 1902.
His parents, Bedrich and Ruzena, were innkeepers from Pisek in southern Bohemia.
When my father was two years old, the family moved to Pribram, about fifty miles away from Prague. Pribram was then a prosperous mining town, its fortune built on silver.
My father’s parents ran a small hotel, and also the café and restaurant attached to the town’s railway station.
My father showed a rather precocious talent for music, and learnt to play the piano, entertaining the café and restaurant customers with popular tunes at mealtimes. He later studied the piano and composition at Prague Conservatoire, but instead of taking up music as a career became the music and film critic of Rude Pravo – a leading Czech daily newspaper, based in Prague.
In 1924, he set up Dobra Edice, a small publishing house, specialising in poetry, essays, and belles letters. The books were produced with superb attention to detail, and were classic examples of European graphic design of the period. The last publication appeared in 1934.
In 1937, my father married for the first time. His bride was Frantiska Ungerova, a native of Prague, who had been brought up inVienna. Their wedding took place in Bulgaria, in Sofia Cathedral.
With the coming of the Nazis, my father fled to England. His journey was made possible by an influential acquaintance, who enabled him to make contact with the exiled Czech government based in London.
While there, he planned what was to be the first festival of British Film to take place outside the UK. It opened in Prague in 1946, with a galaxy of leading actors and production personnel from both Britain and Czechoslovakia as guests.
My father returned briefly to Czechoslovakia in 1947 but the advent of the communist government in 1948 meant a second and permanent departure. He settled with his wife in London, and bought an ill-fated restaurant, Le Tabarin, 46 Gloucester Terrace, London W.2, near Paddington Station.
It served simple continental dishes, and was much-loved by its customers. Unfortunately, changing times, and my father’s over-generous nature meant that it didn’t stand a chance.
He became bankrupt, and c.1951 took a job with a London bookseller at No.16 Fleet Street, where he remained on the staff for thirty years.
The firm of L. Simmonds was well-known to the legal profession, being in the centre of that world. It stood a few doors away from Middle Temple, and supplied vast quantities of law books, as well as serving local libraries, schools and colleges with more general stock.
My father’s boss, Louis Simmonds, was a remarkable man: diminutive in stature (like his wife, Rose) but big in heart, he commanded a loyalty from his staff that is now virtually unknown.
It seemed rare for anyone to leave, under any pretext, and the shop had a faintly Dickensian air to it, narrow and rather dusty, but much loved by all who knew it.
1951 saw the publication of Who’s Next ? The Lesson of Czechoslovakia. My father wrote the book under the pseudonym ‘John Brown’, and dedicated it to the memory of Jan Masaryk, whose murder he had always deplored.
(Note: The British Library in London has an almost complete run of Dobra Edice publications, and various other works associated with my father. They can be found through the Slavonic Department, and in the general catalogue.)
To be continued …
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Copyright © Francis Wright, 2012
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