It hardly seems any time since Felix Dennis popped his clogs – in fact it was June – but already the estate of the once-jailed joint editor of underground magazine Oz, Mac User and Maxim owner, and multimillionaire publisher is being sold off.
Sotheby’s is auctioning Dennis’s collection of Eric Gill sculptures and drawings on 9 December as part of its English Literature, History, Children’s Books and Illustrations sale.
And it is an extensive collection numbering about a hundred lots, many of several items, gathered by someone who regarded himself as an unlikely collector of art. The lots include many examples of drawn and carved lettering, while a youthful Dennis himself had stormed out of Harrow School of Art saying he shouldn’t have to waste time learning to draw letters when he could simply use Letraset.
Gill led a reprehensible private life, exposed by Fiona McCarthy’s 1989 Faber biography of the sculptor, wood engraver, illustrator and typographer. So perhaps there was something of kindred-spiritship there with the rebellious Dennis. Fergus Byrne is working on an authorised biography of Dennis, to be published by Ebury. The blurb runs:
His early rebellious days started with dropping out of grammar school, playing in a rock ‘n’ roll band, and being imprisoned (with Richard Neville and Jim Anderson) for charges of obscenity relating to a priapic Rupert Bear in the ‘schoolkids’ issue of the magazine Oz. The launch of Kung-Fu magazine, created when Dennis spotted a queue at a Leicester Square cinema for a Bruce Lee film, changed his fortunes. An industrious and self-destructive era then followed. He moved to America, added the magazines MacUser and Maxim to his portfolio, but also discovered crack, hookers and S&M. When his lifestyle led him to hospital, he gave up the drugs overnight and took to writing poetry. He acquired a mansion in Warwickshire, bought a much loved home in Mustique from rock star David Bowie, gave generously to charities, planted the largest broadleaf forest in Britain, and published several volumes of verse promoted by very well received readings nationwide.
Byrne wrote a 2013 profile of Dennis after the latter’s treatment for throat cancer. He quotes Dennis talking about his treatment and giving up smoking:
“So I’d been smoking, God knows, thirty, forty or fifty a day for forty-nine and a half years and then just stopped, just like I gave up narcotics.” He amused the lady in the radiotherapy department with the explanation that he gave up through fear. “Terror is the best patch” he told her and she proceeded to make a sign with just that quote to hang in the radiotherapy waiting room.