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Olive’s sequel proves a Little Italy bestseller

History of Il Quartiere’s post-war years appears seven months after 91-year-old author’s death

21 July, 2017 — By Koos Couvée

John Besagni and Anita Grayson with the new book at their stall during Sunday’s procession

FOR Olive and Bruno Besagni, the annual Italian procession through the streets of Clerkenwell was as important as Christmas.

The procession – which Bruno took part in as a boy, and later in life built floats for honouring Catholic saints – played a huge part in the couple’s life during their 68-year marriage.

Last year, Olive and Bruno were quite a draw at their stall selling Olive’s 2011 book A Better Life, a collection of oral histories from Clerkenwell’s Italian families going back generations. Sadly, Olive died in December aged 91, followed by Bruno six months later. He was also 91.

While the couple are no longer with us, Olive’s second book, Changing Lives: More Stories from London’s Little Italy, went on sale for the first time at Sunday’s procession. She had almost finished the sequel to her first book when she died. Her family decided to have it published posthumously by Camden History Society.

Bruno and Olive Besagni, married for 68 years

“We sold out yesterday,” said John Besagni, Bruno’s brother, who manned the stall with Anita Grayson, Olive’s and Bruno’s daughter.

“The new book was released only 10 days ago. She always had the idea to write the next story, so she decided to write a sequel and almost had it finished when she died. But it was mainly the pictures that had to be done and Anita did that.”

John added: “Instead of going over the 1920s and 1930s, the book deals with the later history, the 1950s. For instance the story of Joe Bacuzzi, who played for Fulham and also for England. He was the first son of Italian immigrants to play professionally and was instrumental in getting a number of Italian boys into professional football.

“The second book, although smaller than the first, wraps up a lot of loose ends.”

Born to English and Italian parents, Olive married Bruno, a son of Italian immigrants, and fully immersed herself in the heart of what locals called “Il Quarterie” – the area around Clerkenwell Road, Farringdon Road and Rosebery Avenue. The couple lived for most of their life in a Myddelton Square flat.

Sunday’s procession

An assistant film editor by trade, Olive’s fascination with Little Italy continued throughout her life until, aged 86, she put together A Better Life.

Bruno, a plasterer, reproduction artist, keen sportsman and holder of an Italian knighthood for services to the community, died in May. Hundreds attended the funeral at St Peter’s Italian Church in Clerkenwell last month.

Held every year since the 1880s, the procession of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is part of the community’s “sagra” – a festival dedicated to a Saint Patron which includes “bancarelle” (market stalls) selling beer, coffee, pizza and panini.

Olive’s book can be purchased through Camden History Society for £5.95. For more information, visit

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