Biography of William Pryor
• 29th January,1945- born in Farnborough, Hants where Old-Etonian, entomologist father, Mark, worked for the Royal Aircraft Establishment, inventing the glue that held the wooden airframes of Mosquito aircraft together. Mark was one of three sons of Walter, squire of Weston, near Baldock in Hertfordshire, where the family fortune was founded first on carting “night-soil” out of London, then, in the 18th century, on being Quaker brewers.
• Mother, Sophie, one of two daughters of Gwen, granddaughter of Charles Darwin. Gwen was friends with Rupert Brooke, Stanley Spencer and Virginia Woolf and married the French painter Jacques Raverat in 1912. After Jacques’ death from MS in France in 1925, she went on to become the leading wood-engraving artist in Britain, designed a ballet for her cousin Ralph Vaughan Williams, and, after a stroke in the 1950’s wrote the best-selling memoir Period Piece, which has not been out of print since.
• 1945- family moved back to Cambridge where Mark resumed his life as an academic at Trinity College, rising to become Senior Tutor.
• 1956 – WMP sent to crammer in Cumberland with first cousin (Francis Pryor, who would become the TV archaeologist) to pass Common Entrance exam to get into Eton. A traumatic Dickensian experience for a 12 yr old.
• 1957-61 – Eton. Did not fit in, hated sports, WMP persuades parents to let him leave after O levels. In same house as various Macmillans and other luminaries.
• 1961-2 – Davis, Laing & Dick crammer in London to get A Levels to get into father’s college, Trinity. Meets a bohemian crowd in Cambridge, including black G.I.s and Syd Barret and David Gilmour who would found Pink Floyd. Start smoking West Indian dope. Absolute Beginners, Howl and On The Road, the seminal books. Mingus, Ornette Coleman and Coltrane the music.
• 1962 – with beatnik friend revisit Eton on 4th of June (Founders Day) and get a half-page photo in Life Magazine article on “British High Society” (“Genuine Old Etonian William Pryor cannot resist the rites of the 4th of June…”)
• 1962 – Left home to live above Hang Chow restaurant in Petty Cury, Cambridge. Becomes a poet; performed poetry and jazz gigs with Dick Heckstall Smith, Pete Brown and Mike Horovitz.
• 1962 – take first opium in the form of “cooked” Dr Collis Browne’s Chlorodyne.
• 1963 – travel to Paris alone to be a beatnik. Borrow a cold-water studio from a cousin to live in. Hang with Brion Gysin, Harold Norse and other American beats. Chew Morning Glory seeds every other night for their crude LSD. Discover own genius as natural successor to Samuel Beckett and rush back to Cambridge after 3 months to tell family and friends about it. They are not overwhelmed.
• 1963 – drive to Greece with Storm Thorgerson (who would found Hipgnosis and design all Floyd’s album covers) and others. Can’t find the girl who spurned him in Paris. Spend time with beats in Harold Norse’s house on Hydra.
• 1963 – Went up to Trinity to read philosophy, or “Moral Sciences” as it was called with Professors John Wisdom and Casimir Lewy.
• 1963 - Sam, a blues guitarist and acquaintance from Hydra, turns up in Cambridge. He’s a heroin addict, registered with the Home Office. Gives WMP his first fix.
• 1964 – despite protestations, get hooked. Come under influence of Alexander Trocchi, the Scottish junkie author (Cain’s Book, Young Adam) and situationist founder of the Sigma Project. Get first script for heroin and cocaine from one of the London “junky doctors”. Soon move on to Lady Frankau. Get registered with Home Office.
• 1965 – founder (and sole member) of the Cambridge Neo-Pataphysics Society.
• 1965 – involved in Wholly Communion, the largest poetry reading ever: 7,000 people at the Albert Hall, chaired by Trocchi, with Corso, Ferlinghetti & Ginsberg. WMP thinks he read a poem or two, but is not sure.
• 1965 - Get a 2: 1 in Part One of the Moral Sciences Tripos!
• 1965 – first attempt at a “cure” in Cane Hill Hospital, a Victorian mental hospital.
• 1966 – briefly smitten with Marina Warner at her crashed birthday party.
• 1966 – caught changing the quantities on a prescription for heroin and cocaine, now from local Cambridge GP. Do it again a month or so later. Police called in. Am asked to resign from Trinity within 6 weeks of finals. Fined heavily. Story on 2nd page of Times. Much shame and grief.
• 1967 – parents in car crash. Father in coma for three years.
• 1967 – fly to India to see Maharaj Charan Singh in Punjab – clean for 3 months, but not healthy.
• 1968 – back on heroin (mostly street, not NHS, now, since the prescribing regime had changed) within weeks of return. Through Marina Warner’s father, get job at Bowes & Bowes bookshop, Cambridge, which he ran (then headquarters of W H Smith’s academic bookselling) , learning all sides of the book trade.
• 1970 – father dies
• 1971 – marry, still struggling with addiction.
• 1972 - move to Devon, open Cosmic Books, in Torquay. Daughter, Lydia, born. (She’s now the mother of WMP’s 4 grandchildren) .
• 1973 – meet pretty art student who would become second, and current wife.
• 1973 – busted by local drugs squad as customer of local pushers of “Chinese” – turn Queen’s evidence against them. Their friends assault WMP soon afterwards knocking four teeth from his head.
• 1973-5 – becomes a chronic alcoholic when heroin hard to come by. Hospitalised 3 times, near death, from alcohol poisoning.
• 1975 – patient number 10 in Europe’s first Hazelden-model treatment centre, Broadway Lodge. Sells Cosmic Books profitably. Start slow ascent to straightness.
• 1975-9 – take up poetry again and freelance book editing. Stop going to AA after a year.
• 1976 – marries second wife, Joy.
• 1980-2001 – entrepreneur: Clear, Calm & Company (importer of independent US books): merged to form Airlift Book Company Ltd in north London. Sell stake in Airlift (turnover in excess of £10m) . Launch The Whole Thing mail order catalogue which became The Green Catalogue, the pioneer of environmentally helpful retail in the UK. Started Arq Ltd and FLOOT.com Ltd in which Freeserve plc Music Choice PLC invest
• 2001 - after September 11th, deal with US financiers for development financing falls through and business is finished. Go back to writing.
• 2003 – Publish memoir of addictions, The Survival of the Coolest to rave reviews.
• 2004 - Promote book on US radio stations & around UK Literary Festivals. Start writing screenplay adaptation of Survival. Edit and publish Virginia Woolf and the Raverats, the collected correspondence.
• 2005 - Develop Eclector, web bookselling business. Complete nth rewrite of screenplay – secure Hollywood producer. Develop concept of Unhooked Thinking conference to be held in Bath April 2006 with international and high-level NHS participation.
• 2006 –Unhooked Thinking 2006 a great success - Sign option with producer on screenplay. Gillies MacKinnon attached as Director - Secure investment in Eclector – change its name to MediaStores - launch Unhooked Thinking 2007
• 2007-12 – try and eventually fail to make a go of Eclector. Join Joy in taking over and developing Oriental Rugs of Bath. Continue to develop the movie, The Survival of the Coolest, now renamed simply Cool. Also act as script editor and producer on The Orchard.
Away Tangent Books, Exeter (1979)
Unearth Galloping Dog Press, Newcastle (1980)
The Survival of the Coolest (2003)
Virginia Woolf and the Raverats (2004)
William Pryor's Works:
The Survival of the Coolest
Virginia Woolf and the Raverats
William Pryor Poems
Ending, fending the ending, off pending, you wait
The Autumn Of Metaphors
The ladder leans on our wall we clamber rather than fall as snakes to the pit we flit
on my cycle headlight edges absence - grass growing in the middle
that no seam is visible the joint: the web
how purpose sheds light as moles ‘see' through dank crumble
the universe is a single turn and my turn is invisible to the naked I
There is nothing to say but the words. There is nothing to see but the look
Little coming he thought what a jolly to take the map of heaven
Eyes asleep in thought the onetime castle king ordered milk for seven dry sundays while his china universes
The day the one-armed bandit clapped his hand and saw the face he had before he was born
Providence And Inwardleigh
this - fresh made out of words not found on a sign
Long burgeons the last cello swells with cut enthusiasms where bud the swollen flowers of being...
At Times Of Self
I sign your thigh flourish my pot belly as maybe a sensual distortion
As if circling furious surrounded sparks be holding
fending the ending,
pending, you wait
through your fate;
you queue for the bus
the lasting seconds