Bookseller Peter Brown: if market survives so will Soho’s independent spirit
Concerns about society and Government keeps his trade ticking over
28 April, 2017 — By Alina Polianskaya
For Peter Brown, who runs a book stall in the middle of Rupert Street, Soho, the variety of people he meets is what make things interesting.
Selling everything from books about Marxism, cinema and psychology, certainly attracts an interesting crowd.
“You have a cross section of people from all walks of life coming through,” says Peter. “You get collectors, actors and authors…”
But Rupert Street, which on one side is vibrant and interesting, has another side to to it.
“On the opposite side of the street you have the people that are completely forgotten about in sleeping bags,” says Peter. “They are basically vulnerable people deep down. There is a sort of contrast of culture.”
He started working at the stall on Saturdays for more than 15 years, originally sharing the stall with another trader.
Peter has focussed on books about cinema since he developed a love of old Hollywood films from the 1930s, 40s and 50s.
Peter at his Saturday stall
He recalled staying up late to watch the old classics. Inspired by film historian Leslie Halliwell’s shows and screenings on Channel 4, he recalled staying up late watching the old classics and developing a love for what some call the golden age of cinema.
“Growing up in the 1970s, I had never seen films like that before, the old classics,” he said. “I developed a bit of knowledge that led me to join the National Film Theatre where I met like-minded film buffs.” Famous faces including actress Kin Novak and Harry Belafonte sometimes made an appearance here as did film directors.
He started collecting books on the topic, scouring book fairs for rare gems and his haul grew so large that he decided it was time to sell some on, which led him to the stall – he got chatting to the owner about sharing a corner, and the rest is history. Eventually, the owner went off to study and Peter took over the rest of the stall, expanding his collection to include books on sociology, politics, arts and jazz, and old psychology books from the 1920s. His bestsellers are mainly out of print books: “Pelican books covering sociology or Marx and Lenin tend to do well,” Peter says.
A lover of the silver screen, it is always a treat for Peter when the stars pay his stall a visit. He’s had his share of famous customers. “Nigel Havers, Fenella Fielding, Paul Ross… Bill Nighy bought a book about Joe Orton once,” Peter says. The 52-year-old, who is a carer during the week, has tried his hand at acting himself. He has a background in drama and has done a fair tread the boards on a number stages in community settings.
Peter, who can be found in Rupert Street every Saturday, said it has changed a fair bit since he first began there, when there were far more stalls. “Many seem to have left over the years. There were people selling jewellery, clothes. A lot of it seems to have died down, but I’ve survived with the books.” Maybe it’s down to the subject matters they cover. “It’s all the concerns of society, the government, there is a vast amount of stuff on each.” Peter muses. As the area changes, he hopes it can keep its independent spirit, but he is positive that if the area’s markets thrive, then people will keep coming and Soho will survive.