The Fourth of June is the first novel by David Benedictus. This title was reviewed upon publication by Ian Fleming, who was an Old Etonian with David. In Fleming’s Sunday Times review he described it as ‘One of the most brilliantly written books since the war.‘
Fleming’s review of the book was complimentary of the writer but admittedly seemed out of touch with the current crop of Etonians, suggesting that the book ‘should have been reviewed by one of the author’s generation.’ The story is of Scarfe, a grammar school boy broken by the snobbery, sadism and sexuality of an Eton education. Fleming argued that the 23 year old Benedictus had vastly exaggerated the truth behind the three S’s, but was impressed by the young man’s ‘rapier wit, acute observation and perceptive eye‘ but ever the patrician, noted that Mr Benedictus ‘will kindly write out “eminences grises” -page 21 – a hundred times.‘
Richard Chopping was the illustrator of the striking dust-jacket, which Fleming described as ‘Jacket of the Year. Chopping had insisted that the title be left off the front cover and in an interview with The Book and Magazine Collector’s Crispin Jackson, Chopping explained his approach:
I like that one very much. The picture is actually a self-portrait, although I ‘youthified’ my face. I put on a straw hat which I’d decorated with flowers, and painted the picture using a mirror.
I said to the publisher, Anthony Blond, ‘I’ll only do it if you allow me to leave the title off the front.’
And Blond said, ‘I’ll do it for you Dicky.‘ And I said, ‘You won’t do it for me — you know perfectly well that it’s a bloody good idea!’ And he did it. I sold the painting in one of my Jeffress shows, which I bitterly regret.’
The notorious Guy Burgess even had the book in his flat in Moscow. Now, according to Jeremy Duns ‘Burgess’ copy of The Fourth of June is now owned by John Miller, the former Reuters correspondent in Moscow. who Burgess lent the book to. Burgess died before he could return it.’
It’s a seminal book that has stood the test of time – only recent Old Etonians could proffer an updated report on the three S’s. Eton’s best-known holiday takes place on the so-called “Fourth of June”, a celebration of the birthday of King George III, Eton’s greatest patron. This day is celebrated with the Procession of Boats, in which the top rowing crews from the top four years, row past in vintage wooden rowing boats.
We recently asked David Benedictus about the famous cover:
It was expensive to have so many colours and so much colour but Blond (not long in publishing) reckoned it would be money well spent and the small print run quickly sold out, despite the book being banned in Alden & Blackwell, the Eton bookshop. But the cover was also used for the Pan paperback in the UK and the Foyle’s Book Club edition and Dutton’s USA version although it never looked half as pretty as on the original paperback.
I also have always believed that the private joke of the FOJ cover was that it was a portrait of Blond with his flattened nose, not Chopping. Blond was also an Old Etonian so the straw hat made sense. Besides being attracted to both men and women, Blond was found to be either irresistible or repulsive by most of his acquaintances.
He gave great parties. But that was, of course, the Sixties!
However, the “Fourth of June” is no longer celebrated on 4 June, but on the Wednesday before the first weekend of June. Maths not a strong point at Eton perhaps…
Ian Fleming correctly predicted a successful career for the young David. His second novel, You’re a Big Boy Now, was filmed in New York by Francis Coppola and Dropping Names, published in 2005, was a collection of his memoirs. The FOJ has recently been republished by Valancourt Press in the US.
He was antiques correspondent for the Evening Standard, a tour guide for Original London Walks and has worked as an arts critic for many newspapers and magazines. For the last 19 years, he has been writing and publishing Uncle Ernie’s System, (38 editions), a guide to horse-racing.
He also produced TV and radio programmes for the BBC and Channel 4 and produced the audio adaptations of Winnie-the-Pooh, starring Dame Judi Dench. In between, he has written some 25 books equally divided between fiction and non-fiction.
He lives in Hove, England.
Purchase ‘The Fourth of June’ on Amazon