One of my very favourite books combines all three of my areas of interest…HISTORY, HUMOUR, & TRAVEL.  It is also about one of my favourite cities – New York.    Apple of my Eye was written  by the late  Helene Hanff, better known for her best selling memoir  84 Charing Cross Road. 

Asked to provide the copy for a photographic work on her hometown of New York, Helene  realised there were vast gaps in her knowledge. She conscripted her friend Patsy Gibbs to join her in exploring  and rediscovering the city. Whether the photographic work ever saw the light of day is a mystery, but  the resulting Apple of my Eye is a delight. In 1986 I followed  in Helene and Patsy’s erratic footsteps, precious volume in hand. The ladies  led me to George Washington’s wooden false  teeth in the Fraunces Tavern,  and to many other weird and wonderful sights.

Patsy proved to be extremely pedantic (like my darling partner Rob)  constantly saying, ‘Write that down Helene. Did you  get that down?’    Her frustration with the  ‘lackadaisical’  Helene grew until at one point she snapped that the photographic book would need a rider stating that everything in it was  only  ‘half accurate’.  I’m sure Rob would like to add the same warning to my Taste of theThames, because I failed to record every detail of information from every church, museum and National Trust property we visited  along the Thames Path!

UPDATE – July 5 2005


In June  2005  I was travelling  to Sydney from the Blue Mountains when I heard on ABC radio  that  the actor  Anne Bancroft had died. There was an immediate response  from callers, who  spoke of her  enduring marriage to comedian Mel Brooks and of her wonderful  theatre and movie performances. However, no one mentioned the film for which I best remembered Miss Bancroft: 84 Charing Cross Road.   Perhaps this was not  surprising as the movie’s nostalgic literary theme lacked the mass appeal of  The Graduate, in which Bancroft played the seductive  Mrs Robinson.  Her death  saddened me, and yet  I was  filled with wonderful memories.

 As mentioned above,  I had become obsessed with the works of Helene Hanff.  84 Charing Cross Road was based on letters between herself, then a struggling New York playwright,  and Frank Doel, an antiquarian bookseller in London. The book was a surprise best seller. Prior to  the movie it had been adapted for the stage, indirectly fulfilling  Hanff’s childhood dream of having one of her plays performed in London’s West End.

Returning to our  hotel after visiting the Fraunces Tavern,  Rob  suddenly said; ‘Let’s cross here and walk up Madison Avenue.’  As we did so we found our way blocked by a film crew.  Heavy lunch time traffic  was being halted every few minutes to allow a scene to be shot. I was fascinated by the speed at which old lamp posts and flower stalls were set up and 1950’s motor vehicles   driven into position.  The scene being filmed involved a dowdy woman  crossing the street to post a letter.   ‘What’s happening?’  I asked the person next to me, and was astounded by her reply:  ‘That’s  Anne Bancroft. They’re filming a movie  called 84 Charing Cross Road’.

 I later discovered that, like me, Ms Bancroft was a huge fan of Helene Hanff’s book. She was introduced to it when a complete stranger  approached her in the street and presented her with a copy.  Mel Brooks  bought the film rights  as an anniversary present for his wife.

Naturally I went to see 84 Charing Cross Road when it was  shown in Sydney. It was fortunate that  I knew the book well because I was so busy looking  for ‘our’ scene that I could scarcely concentrate on the dialogue.

Another strange coincidence occurred after Bancroft’s death,  when  I was searching   for the photographs  we had taken of the New York filming.  I  resisted the temptation to be distracted until I came across a letter from a close friend, written from London in  August 1987.  Perhaps because my friend had been unwell  and much in my thoughts, I began to read it.  On the second page she had written:

‘I took Captain & Mrs E  (the people she was then living with) to see 84 Charing Cross Road last night …..I was watching  closely for that scene you saw being shot, where Helene Hanff  posts the letter on Madison Avenue.’


Yes, this is me! .. outside the Fraunces Tavern.



  1. I love, love , love your new website. Beautifully done, interesting to meander through.

  2. Your response warms the cockles of my heart Diane, thank you so much.

    And thanks for your own contribution, the little characters in the boat completely stole my heart..I’m sure they will deliver my second ‘baby’ to Robert Hale safe and sound.

  3. Helene Hanff – a new name to add to my list of must reads – thanks for the recommendation Pauline. I too love the look of the new site – and look forward to reading about The Thames in due course.

  4. OK, I’ve found the subscribe button this time 🙂

  5. Thanks Elizabeth

    I have a feeling you would enjoy Helene and Patsy.

    Best of luck with Life is Not a Trifling Affair certainly isn’t in my experience but would be a dull business otherwise!

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