HH in person
With her address being printed at the top of every other page in "84, Charing Cross Road", Helene Hanff quickly started to receive letters and postcards, and the occasional phone call, from fans.
When I first saw the film of "84" whilst at University I then sought out all of her books and read them over and over from cover to cover - and I too then wrote to her. I can't describe how exciting and gratifying it was when a postcard arrived in the mail from her - I'd never written a fan letter before and hadn't really expected a response, but here it was, a postcard from Helene. I sent a few further letters over the years, and then, in 1994 I had the opportunity of going to New York on holiday.
I wrote to Helene again to ask if we could meet. I was delighted when she invited me to meet her in the lobby of her apartment building at 305 East 72nd Street. So on Monday morning 14th November 1994 I introduced myself to the doorman. He buzzed Helene in her apartment and she came down to the lobby, where we talked about my trip from England for about 35 to 40 minutes.
She then gave me a list of places off-the-beaten-track in New York that I might like to see, including the church-and-neighbouring-mall housed at the foot of a skyscraper just off Lexington Avenue, and she encouraged me to call her if I ran out of things to do during my trip.
I gave Helene some gifts from England - a copy of "Poets Corner - an Anthology" (of the various writers commemorated in Poets Corner in Westminster Abbey), a book about the history of Exeter (my then home town), and some photos which I'd taken that summer in and around Westminster Abbey and St Paul's Cathedral - including pictures from Poets Corner and one of John Donne's shroud. Helene seemed very pleased to be given these - and later referred to the Anthology in a postcard to me.
During the visit, two of Helene's neighbours passed us. Both feature in her book 'Letter from New York' - Nina (who used to own Duke, the German Shepherd, Helene's "true love" as she called him in one of her books) and Richard (who owned Chester the Sheepdog, and later Bentley, another sheepdog). Helene introduced me to them and it was lovely to meet these two people, who up until that point had been characters in a book.
Nina took a photo of Helene and I, and stayed to chat for a few minutes, posing for a photo herself, whilst Helene dashed to her apartment to bring down a treasured photo of Nina's late German Shepherd dog, Duke... which I'm holding in the second photo with Helene at left.
I left after about an hour, giving a heartfelt "goodbye and thank you" to Helene, and posed for a photo by the building's entrance, proudly holding up one of my signed books (Letter From New York) - not realising that Nina and Richard were just in view in the background!
In 1995 fellow fan Ken Anderson, from South Carolina, USA, also visited Helene. He kindly shared his photos with me for this site.
In the 2000's, the building was renamed "Charing Cross House" in honour of Helene, complete with a plaque outside the building and a large commemorative painting in the lobby, which I posed with when I revisited in 2009.