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Even seasoned literature buffs will find something to excite at Hampstead Garden Suburb’s newest literary festival, says television presenter Richard Madeley, who lives in the area with his wife Judy Finnigan.

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Literary festivals are mushrooming like mini-Glastonburys.

They’re cool, signature events (no pun intended, oh, all right, actually there was) and they attract people of all ages, but without the mud and random nudity.

You don’t need wellies at a literary festival, unless it’s Hay-on-Wye, a tented event in fields lying in the rain shadow of the Brecon Beacons.

I bumped into Dawn French there once on a wet day and she was in oilskin and sou’wester. And very fetching and ship-shape she looked, too.


Oh, hang on – that was in an episode of The Vicar of Dibley. But I did meet Dawn at Hay and very charming she was.

Since writing my biopic, Fathers and Sons, and with my missus about to publish her first novel, Eloise, I’ve become something of an habitué of England’s growing number of literary festivals.

Distinguished authors stroll around and are usually happy to stop for a chat.

It’s marvellous to be able to buttonhole a novelist and ask them something like: “But why did you make the eldest daughter give her baby up for adoption? Are you sure that really worked within the story?” If you hit a nerve, that’s really fun.

I’m joking, of course. Literary festivals are the height of good manners and courtesy.

Readers, writers, publishers, and agents are all terribly nice to each other.

Publishing, unlike my own alma mater of broadcasting, where no prisoners are taken and executives routinely eat their young, remains, a genteel and polite profession.

So it is with genuine pleasure and excitement that I can flag up Hampstead’s own and newest literary festival. It’s at Henrietta Barnett School, Hampstead Garden Suburb.

It will be in addition to the successful Proms at St Jude’s music and heritage festival, now in its 20th year, and for a debut event the organisers have booked an impressive range of authors to appear:

- Sir Michael Parkinson (Parky)

- Gillian Slovo (An Honourable Man)

- Claudia Roden (The Food of Spain)

- Mihir Bose (The Spirit of the Game)

- John Mullan (What Matters in Jane Austen?)

- Tom Service (Music as Alchemy)

- Diana Athill (Somewhere Towards The End)

- A D Miller (Snowdrops)

Money raised will go to the Aspire programme for young people in the East End at Toynbee Hall and to North London Hospice. The Proms at St Jude’s donated £60,000 to these causes through last year’s music festival.

Literary festivals are enormous fun. It’s wonderful to meet authors in the flesh and hear them talking, sometimes shyly, sometimes engagingly cockily, about their books. The Proms at St Jude’s festival looks like being the first of a long run of such events. Good luck to it.

* The Proms at St Jude’s Literary Weekend is at Henrietta Barnett School in Central Square, from June 23-24. For more details go to

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