The mystery of Dorothy Ann Lovell

Nestlings Press will soon be bringing out The Many Worlds of Walter Trier ($22.95), collecting many of the illustrations of a great artist/illustrator who was hugely popular in Germany from 1910 to 1936 (when he fled the Nazis) and in England from 1937 to 1947 (when he and his wife followed their daughter to Ontario). He did some of his best work in Canada before his death in 1951, and has a small gallery in his honour at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.

This book will tie 2018’s How You Can Tell You’ve Moved Next Door to Satan for the most pages – 176 – and will mark the first time an NP book has used colour inside. Sixteen colour pages in the middle of the book will showcase Trier’s illustrations from Baron Munchhausen, Puss in Boots, Till Eulenspiegel and other works.

Researching this book uncovered a mystery. One of the books Trier illustrated was Toby Twinkle, a 1939 picaresque adventure by English author Dorothy Ann Lovell. Lovell wrote many books in the 1930s and 40s, was published by such prominent firms as Jonathan Cape and Faber & Faber, and boasted such notable illustrators as Trier, Nicolas Bentley and Shirley Hughes.

Yet it was surprisingly difficult to discover basic details of her life, including her birth and death dates. She is not included in the major reference works on British children’s authors, and the usual troll through the Internet proved futile. Clearly, I had to seek the help of the experts.

My first stop was the Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books in Toronto, a world-class repository for children’s literature. Services specialist Martha C. Scott knew of Lovell – she put her hands on a couple of Lovell books in the Osborne’s care – but her own search in the available catalogues yielded no clues. She suggested that I write to the Children’s Books History Society in England, which I did.

While awaiting a response, I contacted the University of London, since Lovell had written several books for the University of London Press in the 1940s. Laura Pritsch replied that the press had been taken over by Bloomsbury Publishing, and offered contact details there. She also said she would contact her colleagues at the university’s Institute of Historical Research.

I heard from Philip Carter, head of that institute’s digital wing. “There is very little on Lovell as a writer that we can find: nothing in the national newspapers online, no obituaries, and almost no secondary literature,” he wrote. But crucially, he was able to find United Kingdom census records on a Dorothy Ann Lovell who lived from 1888 to 1952, a death date that dovetailed with Lovell’s final published book. He provided a summary of important biographical information he had found – that she had worked as a schoolteacher (which meant she was familiar with materials written for children) and that she had worked as an editor for the Christian Science Monitor, which offered a connection to the world of publishing.

Yet there was still a missing link between this Dorothy Ann Lovell and the one who wrote so many books. Fortunately, Philip Carter ran into the archivist at Faber & Faber, Robert Brown, and mentioned the mystery. I wrote to Brown, and received the missing information I was hoping for. The letters in Faber’s production files were “mostly with the printers and illustrators of her books”, and “her own letters do not give much away”. However, a letter she wrote to her editor (Charles Stewart) on Jan. 14, 1944, said that she would be willing to read “junior books” for Faber because she had a little more spare time, as she had recently left her sixteen-year job as sub-editor of the junior department of the Christian Science Monitor. In fact, it turned out that a number of her Faber books, including In the Land of the Thinsies and Silvanus Goes to Sea (illustrated by Bentley), had first been published in the Monitor. Bingo! The link was made; it was the same Dorothy Ann Lovell.

Thanks to the help of all these professionals, I was now able to state definitely that Dorothy Ann Lovell, author of Toby Twinkle,  Stories of the Hoppity-Pops (1935), The Strange Adventures of Emma (1941), Curly-Top (1946), Little Gold Boy (1946), Magic in the Air (1952, illustrated by Hughes) and many other titles, was born on Aug. 2, 1888, in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, England, and died on Dec. 5, 1952 at University College Hospital in London. Her father was a Bristol-born timber merchant’s manager. As she was unmarried at her death (the form says “spinster”), her estate of 13,562 British pounds went to her sister, Phyllis – who, further research discovered, had been a prominent suffragette in her early years. Both Dorothy and Phyllis had driven ambulances during the First World War – a detail that resonated with me, since one of my grandmothers also drove an ambulance in Europe during the war.

One mystery solved, then. Now, if I could only learn the identity of “Bold”, the illustrator for two or three Walter de la Mare books in the 1920s…

How You Can Tell You’ve Moved Next Door to Satan

Although my Challenge column ran in The Globe and Mail for seventeen years, and although it had a large and wonderful following, it was seldom mentioned in  other publications. I would have said “never”, except that recently I came across a tribute to it in Let Me Be the One, a 1996 collection of short stories by Elisabeth Harvor.

The story in question is “How Will I Know You”, and this is the first part of the opening sentence: “When she stood in the doorway to his cubicle one cold and sunny Monday morning in early spring, feeling newly shiny and slim and reading him some of the winning entries from a Globe and Mail contest for invented mistakes that drunken or incompetent sign-painters might make – HAZARDOUS FOOTBATH, SMALL APARTMENT FOR RUNT, HOSPITAL NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR LONGINGS – he laughed, looking with surprised alertness into her eyes…”

I do not know whether these particular entries were genuinely from the Challenge, although they would certainly have qualified, but it was heartening to know that a writer (an excellent one) enjoyed the column sufficiently to refer to it in a short story, included in a collection that was nominated for the Governor-General’s Literary Awards.

I mention all this in part to let the Challenge take a public bow, and in part because Nestlings Press is about to issue a new book made up of entries to the Challenge. How You Can Tell You’ve Moved Next Door to Satan is a compilation of reflections on “how you can tell that” your romance is going badly, or you should be suspicious of your lawyer, or you’ve taken your car to a bad repair shop. It is very funny, which I can say with some modesty because I am merely the editor, and hundreds of other Canadians are the authors who dreamed up the boffo lines that fill the book.

Here is a sampling from the title chapter, with the writers’  names in brackets. You can tell you’ve moved next door to Satan because:  The lawn sign reads, “Beware of God” (Izabella Cresswell-Jones). Your front lawn is littered with handbaskets (Paul Davy). The Good Intentions Paving Co. truck is often parked next door (Al Wilkinson). He’s obviously very taken with your wife, Rosemary

(Elsie Wollaston).

The book will be out later this year. It will tell you everything you need to know about everything that exists. How many other books can make that claim?

Warren Clements, July 2018

Nestlings Press in The Devil’s Artisan

We are happy to report that a long, profusely illustrated article on Nestlings Press appears in the latest issue (81) of The Devil’s Artisan: A Journal of the Printing Arts. Edited by Don McLeod, the journal appears twice a year and looks at interesting private presses and other print-related topics. Illustrations by Anthony Jenkins appear on the front cover (from Aesop, ASAP) and the back cover (from If Famous Authors Wrote Nursery Rhymes). The website is

Bixby, meet Bixby

When Samsung announced last month that its new digital voice assistant would be named “Bixby,” readers of Philip Street’s comic strip Fisher will have had an instantaneous reaction: How is this possible? There is already a digital assistant named Bixby.

Street created him in 2002, in a strip reprinted on p. 105 of Nestlings Press’s 2013 Fisher compilation, When Tom Met Alison. Tom Fisher’s boss at the ad agency Waverly & Mogul introduced the robotic assistant to Tom, noting that “the Bixby 800 has a built-in clock and calendar. You can enter appointments by voice.” Bixby immediately imprinted upon Tom (“You are my mother!”) and said, “I am programmed to recognize names! I am programmed to learn.” Tom introduced Bixby to his girlfriend Alison as “a new kind of digital assistant.”

Housemate Eugene wasn’t impressed. “So you have a personal digital assistant. So big deal. Who doesn’t?” Tom held out an unopened bottle of beer: “Bixby!” Bixby rolled in on his two big wheels, took the bottle in his articulated metal hands, and removed the cap. Tom smiled triumphantly at Eugene. “Can your BlackBerry do that?”

Bixby became a recurring character in the comic strip, familiar not just to readers of The Globe and Mail in Toronto but to readers in other countries who followed Fisher on Street’s website. Might it be possible that one of those readers paid homage to Street’s Bixby by suggesting the name to Samsung?

At the very least, Samsung would be wise to present Philip Street with a complimentary Galaxy S8 smartphone, Bixby included, to acknowledge that Street got there first. But I’m sure they’re way ahead of me.

Two November 2016 book fairs of note in Toronto

Should you be in Toronto this month, and interested in two book fairs selling books (and in one case paintings) that you are unlikely to see elsewhere, make time for one or both of the following:

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 19, 11:30-4:30 p.m.
Meet the Presses’ Indie Literary Market, at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, 427 Bloor Street West, a couple of blocks west of Spadina

There will be almost 50 presses represented, including big hitters (Coach House Press, Porcupine’s Quill) and smaller presses like Nestlings Press. Lots of great books on display, for admiring and, just possibly, purchasing.

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 27, 12:00-4:00 p.m.
The Arts and Letters Club’s annual Small Works Show and Sale, 14 Elm Street, west side of Yonge a couple of blocks north of Dundas

This is always a popular show, offering not only books written by members of the club but walls full of small paintings, sculptures and photographs by some of the best professional artists in the business (they don’t call it the Arts & Letters Club for nothing). Added attraction this year: The first twelve visitors to spend $150 will win a caricature drawn on the spot by Alan King (former editorial cartoonist of the Ottawa Citizen, and the author-illustrator of a terrific new children’s book). And you get to see inside an amazing historical building.

Nestlings Press will have our two most recent books on offer – Aesop ASAP (50 Aesop’s fables in rhyming verse, illustrated by Anthony Jenkins) and News of the Day Lustily Shouted, full of breathtaking illustrations of the mean streets of Victorian London (think pickpockets and cutthroats) by Julian Mulock, with accompanying couplets and quatrains by Warren Clements. We will also have our backlist of some ten other titles, including If Famous Authors Wrote Nursery Rhymes, How to Get to Heaven and Back (a look at hundreds of movies about Heaven, Hell, angels and ghosts), and collections of the Fisher comic strip (Philip Street) and the Nestlings comic strip (Warren).

Donald Trump and Aesop

Donald Trump’s scurrilous campaign to discredit the U.S. electoral process put us in mind of Aesop — specifically, one of Aesop’s fables, expressed in verse in the Nestlings Press book Aesop, ASAP:

The Fox and the Grapes

A fox in urgent need to dine

Saw grapes suspended from a vine.

He jumped, and jumped, and came so close,

But could not reach them. So, morose

And running quickly out of power,

He griped, “Ah well, those grapes were sour.

They’re hardly worth the effort I

Would have to make to jump that high.”

When labours prove of little use,

Some seize on any weak excuse.

Word Book in Progress

Warren Clements writes:

During the couple of decades I wrote the Word Play column for The Globe and Mail in Toronto, readers would regularly ask when a book was coming out. Circumstances and lethargy ensured that no book came out then, but one is in the works now. I will keep you posted.

Meanwhile, since Donald Trump’s 2012 threat to run for U.S. president has been realized in his 2016 Republican nomination, this seems an opportune time to review the various definitions of trump.

For instance, players of early card games borrowed the word “triumph” and transformed it into “trump” to describe cards in a suit that outranked the other three suits. The expression “turn up trumps,” found in print as early as the 1500s, meant to come up smelling like roses.

Trumpet arrived by way of Old French trompe and its diminutive trompette from Old High German trumpa, which was likely an imitative word, sounding like the noise a trumpet makes. In the mid-1400s, to blow one’s own trumpet meant to tell the public that one had triumphed. For many centuries, another word for a trumpet was a trump. It may be no coincidence that Donald Trump’s every utterance is trumpeted rather than spoken.

Une trompe still means a trumpet in French. The Italian variation on trompe, trombone (meaning big trump), gave us the English name for the trombone. The French tromper, to play the trumpet, also meant to deceive, though no one quite knows why. Thus, trumped-up today means false and possibly malicious, as in trumped-up charges. A trompe l’oeil, welcomed into English from the French, is something that deceives the eye. And se tromper means to make a mistake – for instance, voting for Donald Trump.

A skit of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale

News comes that the publisher Hogarth has commissioned several authors to write novels based, however loosely, on Shakespeare’s plays. Margaret Atwood, for instance, will take on The Tempest, while Gillian Flynn will tackle Hamlet. According to a New York Times piece by Alexandra Alter, Jeanette Winterson asked to be given The Winter’s Tale — “and,” recalled Winterson, “they looked at me like I was insane.”
That’s not surprising, given that the first half is a grotesque tragedy and the second half is a romp (complete with a character, presumed dead, choosing to pretend to be a statue).
For a quick precis of the play, here is a short musical version of The Winter’s Tale, taken from Nestlings Press’s book Meet the Shakespeares.

The Winter’s Tale

NARRATOR: Good evening, and welcome to The Winter’s Tale. Our play opens as Leontes, King of Sicilia, decides for absolutely no reason that his wife, Queen Hermione, is cheating on him with Polixenes, King of Bohemia. He assigns one of his lords to poison Polixenes, but the lord helps Polixenes to escape instead. So Leontes locks up Queen Hermione. Well, let him explain it.

LEONTES: There are those who say – and you may be among them –
That jealousy is irrational.
But for centuries the drama where Pop accuses Mama
Has been extremely fash’nable.
And it doesn’t even matter if the cheating is real.
The very thought can make folks squeal.
So if your flaw is tragic, it’s box-office magic.
Three cheers for adultery.
Gimme an A! [CHORUS, from behind curtain: A!]
Gimme a D! [CHORUS: D!]
I can’t believe my wife is cheating on me.

HERMIONE [poking her head in]: I’m not cheating on you!

LEONTES [waves hand dismissively]: Ssh.
And the great thing is, that if I cry adultery,
I’m free to be a sociopath.
I can be a total rotter, endangering my daughter
And making neighbours feel my wrath.
And because I’ve fallen under an irrational spell,
With a snap of the fingers – [snap] – I’m well.
You may think I’m addle-pated, but the plot is highly rated.
Three cheers for adultery.
Gimme an A! [CHORUS: A!]
Gimme a D! [CHORUS: D!]
It’s fun to think my wife is cheating on me.

NARRATOR: Hermione gives birth to a daughter in prison. Leontes, convinced for absolutely no reason that Polixenes is the father, orders Antigonus, another of his lords – he’s running out of them by now – to take the baby into the wilderness and leave her to die. He puts Hermione on trial. Then word comes that their other child has died. Hermione collapses. Emilia, Hermione’s lady-in-waiting, says the Queen is dead, but she has really gone into hiding.

HERMIONE: I got a little secret, if you promise not to tell.
[CHORUS: We promise. We promise.]
People think I’m dead but I am feeling rather well.
[CHORUS: Do tell us. Do tell us.]
My husband’s off his rocker, so I’m livin’ in a hut.
All sealed up just like King Tut.
So nobody expects any lines from me.
Until Act Five I’m free.

I can sit around the dressing room and have a little snooze.
[CHORUS: Do tell us. Do tell us.]
Maybe if it’s boring I can sip a little booze.
[CHORUS: We’re jealous. We’re jealous.]
I lie on the couch with a glass of sauvignon,
Watch New Girl. Deschanel is so mignon.
I munch a little cracker with a layer of Brie.
Until Act Five I’m free.

Any actors who are list’ning, if you want a little nap.
[CHORUS: Do tell us. Do tell us.]
Try to find a role with a really long gap.
[CHORUS: You tell us. You tell us.]
People say the show, it must go on.
But it goes on without me while I’m savouring a prawn.
Darling, did you just get a tweet from me?
Until Act Five I’m free.
I do very little, but I still get a fee.
HERMIONE, CHORUS: Until Act Five I’m free!

NARRATOR: Meanwhile, Antigonus, who has been assigned to abandon the baby daughter in the deserts of Bohemia, finds himself staring into the face of a bear. This is where we get the most famous stage direction in all of Shakespeare: Exit, pursued by a bear.

ANTIGONUS: You’ve read Shakespeare’s plays, so you’ll know that he’s famous
For tales in which everyone dies.
The classic is Hamlet, whose play ran the gamut
Of murder and spirits and lies.
Had Titus Andronicus a nice gin and tonic as
He sat with his wife for a meal.
It wasn’t her fault as he passed her the salt,
That she didn’t detect a faint squeal.
But the play The Winter’s Tale
Has a fate to make you quail.
I reach my last scene, and imagine what’s there:
Exit pursued by a bear.
CHORUS: I reach my last scene, and imagine what’s there.
Exit pursued by a bear.

ANTIGONUS: Poor Richard the Third wondered why no one heard
When he promised his crown for a horse.
A rather good trade, but he died, I’m afraid,
Before it could go into force.
Macbeth in his castle expected a hassle
When trees started moving about.
Things got a bit rough as the mighty MacDuff
Explained that he’d once been ripped out.
But that’s just a summer breeze
Or a quiet country fair
Compared with instructions that sound like a dare:
Exit pursued by a bear.
CHORUS: Compared with instructions that sound like a dare:
Exit pursued by a bear.

ANTIGONUS: Now Julius Caesar was not a weak geezer.
He said, I’m not scared by the ides.
Until at the Forum, his friends broke decorum
And brandished their knives on all sides.
And Coriolanus considered it heinous
That nobody gave him respect.
He met his ma-MA, who said, Son, blah blah blah,
Which had a most fatal effect.
In conclusion, let me say
That you haven’t got a care
Unless you’re in line for a finish like mine.
Unless you are sure you’ll be folded in fur.
Unless you’re aware that you’re in for a scare:
ALL: Exit pursued by a bear.

NARRATOR: Still, we all know there are two sides to every story. It seems only fair to let the bear have a few words.

BEAR: I am a bear. There’s no doubt about it.
I got the hair. I’m suitably snouted.
I’m one of nature’s noblest creatures.
Grace is one of my finer features.
But what do humans see? A lumbering galoot.
Hirsute in a fur suit in pursuit.
CHORUS: Hirsute in a fur suit in pursuit.

BEAR: I’m not the kind of bear to knock a fellow’s head off.
I may have a temper, but it’s hard to set off.
When people say I’m mean, I cry because I care.
I smart like the average bear.
My tummy doesn’t favour humans over raw fish.
I just want a hug, but they get stand-offish.
Maybe it’s the growl. Maybe it’s the fur.
I wish I’d been given a purr.

Never you mind. I’ll find a nice meal.
Back to my mate. Her name is Lucille.
We’re gonna raise a whole pack of cubs
On pick-a-nick baskets and day-old subs.
And maybe I’ll be seen as more than something to shoot.
Hirsute in a fur suit in pursuit.
CHORUS: Hirsute in a fur suit in pursuit.
ALL: Hirsuit in a fur suit in pursuit.

NARRATOR: Well, the plot abruptly takes a turn for the happier. The abandoned baby daughter grows up to be a lovely young woman named Perdita, who falls madly in love with Prince Florizel, the son of King Polixenes, the man her father accused of adultery. Hey, it could happen.

FLORIZEL: I found love. My heart is beating wildly.
PERDITA: I found love. And that’s putting it mildly.
BOTH: Oh, happy day. Love came our way
In a tonally inconsistent play.

PERDITA: The opening was positively horrid.
My father lost his ever-loving mind.
But life with my new boyfriend will be torrid.
We’ll leave the past behind.

FLORIZEL: If my dad had cheated with your mother.
That would mean … I’d be your half-brother.
PERDITA: What a thing to say.
FLORIZEL: I’ll test your DNA
In this tonally inconsistent play.

PERDITA: Okay.. it’s true… the years have been a strain.
My fa… ther tried… to have your father slain.
My ma… for years… pretended she was dead.
How soon can we be wed?
FLORIZEL [pause]: Um….

PERDITA: Something wrong?
FLORIZEL: I got a funny feeling.
PERDITA: Must be love.
FLORIZEL: True, my mind is reeling.
BOTH: Oh, happy day. Love came our way
In a tonally inconsistent play.

PERDITA: Our generation has the chance to clean up
The legacy of loony kings and queens.
FLORIZEL: [to audience] But I will be insisting on a pre-nup.
I fear her fam’ly’s genes.

BOTH: I found love.
FLORIZEL: It’s not as though I’m balking.
BOTH: I found love.
PERDITA: There’s no way you are walking.
BOTH: Oh, happy day. Love came our way.
FLORIZEL: Oh, happy day. My smile may start to fray.
PERDITA: Oh, happy day. Come what may.
In a tonally inconsistent play.

NARRATOR: Perdita lets it be known that she didn’t die as a baby. On hearing the news, Queen Hermione leaves her room and tells everyone she’s alive, but not before she pretends to be a statue. Don’t ask. And the whole play would just lurch to a halt if it weren’t for this rousing closing number.

EMILIA: Come along and sing with us a winter’s tale.
It got a little out o’ hand.
Leontes fought the battle of jealousy.
Hermie spent her life inside a room.
ALL: Pity the guy who got the bear angry.
Pity the actor wearing this suit.
EMILIA: Got a lot of mileage on these shoes.
But the happy couple looked cute.
Anybody want to sing a winter’s tale?
It helps to have a drink or two.
Wasn’t this plot from Othello’s play?
Are we sure that nobody will sue?
ALL: Never you mind, the ending is happy.
Just wipe away the stuff that came first.
EMILIA: Keep your eye on Cutey-Pie and Handsome Prince.
God, they’re both so happy I could burst.
ALL: That’s the cheery ending to The Winter’s Tale.
God, they’re both so happy we could burst.

Katzenjammer, Thus Owls, and two new additions to the fold

Warren Clements writes:

While putting together my book How to Get to Heaven and Back, which took a deadly accurate but humorously tinged look at all those movies in which people die, go to Heaven or Hell, and come back again, I listened to Katzenjammer. It’s an amazing group, all women, from Norway (I think). They sing in English, their tunes and arrangements are endlessly inventive, and their idiom is pop/rock, but they range so widely that it’s impossible to pigeonhole them. Although their CD Le Pop was available in Canada — and that’s the one I played over and over again while writing Heaven — they seem to have made nary a dent in this country. I can’t understand it. They are wildly popular in Europe, and tailor-made for a wide audience. Their latest, Rockland, cost me a fortune to buy on Amazon, and it’s less rock-based than Le Pop, but it too is wonderful — as was their middle CD, A Kiss Before You Go. Should any of this intrigue you, you will find many of their live performances on YouTube.

The latest two additions to the Nestlings Press fold are Aesop, ASAP, a book of 50 Aesop’s fables translated into brisk verse, with charming illustrations by Anthony Jenkins, late of The Globe and Mail; and News of the Day, Lustily Shouted, a showcase for the witty, expert draftsmanship of Julian Mulock, who has illustrated mock-Victorian quatrains (mine) with an affectionate nod to Edward Gorey and Charles Dana Gibson (the U.S. illustrator in the early twentieth century whose specialty was the “Gibson girl,” an ever-changing young lady in the latest fashions, who was forever being wooed by presentable young men). At least of this writing, the front cover on the website is black on white, but the actual cover is a deep maroon. We’ll get around to fixing that, and may have done so by the time you read this.

Composing the quatrains for Julian’s book was an endeavour carried out whenever inspiration struck, usually while I was on the streetcar. Putting together Aesop, ASAP, was another matter. I would use my memory of the fables to write rough versions of the fables, and then consult many books of Aesop’s fables (in prose) to correct any points I had remembered wrongly. Then came the sculpting: gritting my teeth and abandoning favourite lines if they interrupted the flow or didn’t quite fit the metre. And, as I wrote and rewrote, I listened to another CD over and over again — this time the 2014 album Turning Rocks by Thus Owls, a Montreal band with a Swedish connection. Like the Katzenjammer CDs, it has very catchy melodies, though it’s far softer in its approach — as suitable for the world of Aesop as Katzenjammer was for Heaven and Hell.


Buick, Cineplex and Other Stray Thoughts

Warren Clements writes:

I continue to be perplexed by television advertising. So often, the person using the product is portrayed as a complete buffoon — either manically in love with the product or driving others crazy with talk about the product. The fellow in a suit of armour who tries to talk a driver into buying his brand of car insurance insinuates himself into the guy’s car, eats his snacks (which the driver has earlier wrenched away from him), and asks for a lift home. It’s amusing, in large part because the actors are good, but who would identify with the guy selling the product? He’s our worst nightmare.

The latest commercial to befuddle me is one for Buick. The point of more than one ad is that Buick’s new car looks nothing like a Buick, so people looking out for a Buick walk right by it or assume it’s not the right car. The message? That even Buick doesn’t like the way most Buicks look. Very strange.

While I’m at it (mini-rant while I take a break from turning Aesop’s fables into verse for a spring release from, there is yet another story about Cineplex having troubles because not enough people are spending money to see its films. Their story is that the movies just haven’t been up to snuff. Well, maybe, but let me rehearse a different argument: that many of us are staying away from theatres (and waiting for DVDs or Netflix or other online services) because of all the commercials stacked up before the movies. Going to the movies is supposed to be a special experience. There’s nothing special in turning up at the theatre and being treated like someone who has just turned on over-the-air TV at home. Here, they seem to be saying, in return for the money you just paid us we’re going to let a whole bunch of people try to sell you something. Oh, and you can’t watch the movie until we’re through.

I had a long conversation a few months ago with one of the people at Cineplex who deals with the inclusion of ads. She was very generous with her time, and she answered my questions directly and clearly, for which I give her full marks. But the gist of what she said was that they get so much money from the ads that they couldn’t afford to turn back that tide. As for the higher-end options, in which you get a reserved seat in some theatres and the right to annoy the person next to you by ordering food and a drink in-theatre, they have fewer ads than most Cineplex films, but they still have ads. It reminds me of the Monty Python skit about Spam, in which the person ordering a meal insists on having something other than Spam, and is told that there is no Spam-free option. (“It’s not got as MUCH Spam in it,” the server says to mollify him.)

The point is, I’d urge Cineplex to conduct an experiment. Find a couple of theatres in a few of the cities it serves and, for a week or a month, let people know that if they spend another $2 or $5 a ticket — whatever the margin is that would cover the loss of advertising revenue — they will get a special film experience with not a single commercial or static ad. (Coming attractions are fine; that’s part of the movie-house charm.)

Cineplex might resist this because essentially it would be dissing its own advertisers. But if it’s truly interested in luring missing patrons to its theatres — particularly older ones, since the younger ones are often just grateful for a place to take their dates where they can kiss and don’t have to think up conversation — it should give this a try. A thought, anyway. If it works, I won’t ask for royalties.

Back to Aesop’s fables, coming in spring WITHOUT ADS!