Sir Derek Jacobi urges landlords to help save famous French’s Theatre Bookshop
Stage bookshop loved by budding thesps to established players to close in April
23 February, 2017 — By Dan Carrier
The bookshop in Fitzroy Street
A STAGE bookshop with more than 200 years of history and famous for selling scripts to everyone from budding thespians to established theatre stars is to close its doors after a giant rent hike.
Actor sir Derek Jacobi is among customers lamenting the imminent loss of French’s Theatre Bookshop, which will go online-only from April. “It is quite unique, it will be dreadful to lose it,” the Cadfael star said.
Staff will move from the shop in Fitzroy Street, Fitzrovia, to offices in Euston to work on web sales and a theatre licensing businesses. Managing director Douglas Schatz told: “Our lease expires in April and we are facing a review that would put up the rent. It means staying here is just not viable, and there is nothing we can do about it.”
Sir Derek Jacobi
An online petition has been growing all week urging the shop’s landlords to change their minds about the increase in rent. It has hit nearly 4,000 signatories – but wrongly states that the building is owned by Camden Council. In fact, the Town Hall has nothing to do with the block and the site is owned by the Linton Group, a family-run property firm who also own Linton House in Highgate Road, Kentish Town.
Mr Schatz said they had searched for new premises, including a site in Charing Cross Road, which has traditionally been home to London’s book trade, but found the same problem with rising rent across the board. He said: “We would of course like to continue to trade in the West End, near Theatreland, but it is not proving viable.”
Sir Derek who lives in West Hampstead and whose performances on the stage include Cyrano De Bergerac, Uncle Vanya and King Lear, said: “Over the course of my career I have often been there and found it an incredible resource when you are looking for plays, both modern and almost extinct ones. They are always very helpful – as a theatrical resource, it is second to none.”
The actor, who narrates hit children’s television programme In The Night Garden, added: “London theatre is possibly the best in the world and French’s serves it. There is a clear link between the support French’s gives to the theatre industry, and London’s tourist trade. It must be saved, for the good of all.”
French’s was established in 1830 by theatre manager and producer Thomas Hails Lacey. He was based in The Strand and would buy up plays to publish. In the 1870s, New York-based Samuel French, who was in the same field, bought up the business and renamed it. Descendants of Mr French are still involved with the firm today.
Mr Schatz added that as well as established actors and directors, the shop had been a vital resource for drama students. “They come here looking for inspiration for monologues, for audition pieces, and we can offer help and advice,” he said. “Our customers will miss being able to browse, and we’ll miss meeting them face-to-face.”
In a statement, the Linton Group said: “We are disappointed that Samuel French has decided to close the bookshop on 52 Fitzroy Street after its longstanding business history. “Linton Group always support their tenants’ businesses to the best of their abilities, as it is important to Linton to promote independent and small business for which central London property prices can prove out of reach. However it is important that the group takes into consideration changing market conditions which has led to a necessary review of the rent at 52 Fitzroy Street.”
It added: “We wish Samuel French well in their new endeavours and hope the new tenants will bring a fresh dimension to the street.”