Giles Bristow was part Utopian and part cool businessman and these ingredients were reflected in his bookshop. Giles was a medical student at Edinburgh University, a former boutique owner and a salesman. Before deciding to come to Norwich he carried out a thorough research of university cities. The shop stocked virtually no hard cover books. Giles and his one full-time assistant and buyer Tim Sillence believed that hardbacks were wildly overpriced and that there was little desire for a book lasting over 20 years.
Because of space shortage (there was a limit of 10,000 copies in 1968) Giles put an emphasis on stocking non-fiction: "You can get most fiction at the other bookshops. I would like to have a copy of every paperback which is unavailable anywhere else in town."
A glimpse at the shelves and you got the point: Japanese Landscape Gardening, The Philosophy of the Upanishads (concepts and ideas of Hinduism), Beginning Chinese, Sun Chief - the Autobiography of a Hopi Indian, a volume of Arabic poetry - in Arabic which starts at the back. There was also the Bible, Shakespeare, Winnie the Pooh and thousands of conventional titles. Bristow's catered for set books, for esoteric taste, it was all-embracing and very hip.
Bristow's also brought titles to Norwich for the first time free from the chore of special ordering. Alone it offered a wide range of City Lights books - the books of the American avant-garde. There was poetry by the Fulcrum Press and when they put up the sign "Tibetan Book of the Dead now in" all 12 copies went in a week.
The awareness of the place could be gauged by the magazines on sale. International Times, Oz, Private Eye, Freedom Press (anarchist’s paper), Challenge (young Communists) and the Los Angeles Free Press. Interestingly, Giles said "We stock no Fascist magazines because we know of none." Another piece of evidence to emerge from the idealism of Bristow's was the first Norch magazine. Although not printed on the premises subsequent issues and the initial Cyclops were. The shop's press also turned out the William Burroughs / Miss Marple mash up the eightfifteen murders said that it was only through Norch that new and untried poets could publish their work.
Beyond publishing, the future relied on cash. Giles tied up £10,000 in the shop and had his home above it. More money was needed to extend the shop and start the arts workshop. The shop used to be a butcher's and at the back was a former slaughterhouse where Giles opened a gallery and workshop. He claimed that he didn't want to organise people - merely to provide the facilities for exhibitions, experimental drama, painting, pottery making, poetry reading and talk-ins. He said "It will be a kind of happening. In spite of their popular image there's no reason why a happening should be disruptive. If it works a creative atmosphere will develop and people will be able to come alone or in groups and do what they like." This was Giles' Utopia in a slaughterhouse.
So, Bristow's was not just a bookshop but a place which hosted poetry readings and art exhibitions. It also managed to squeeze in a printing press. They decided to call it The Wild Pigeon Press. Tim Sillence said "At about this time the Wild Pigeon Press came into operation, so called because the recurrent phrase at the Students Union office at the Tech, "It's your pigeon" and the feelings of those involved that they were not so much "hawks" or "doves" but just (guess what) "wild pigeons."
Tim's connection with Giles Bristow started thus: "I was in Brighton looking around and I found the Unicorn Bookshop and I thought it would be a good idea to open a bookshop like that in Norwich selling small magazines and out of the ordinary things in the arts. New ideas were what I was looking for. I felt I had more energy than was reflected by Norwich at that time. Back in Norwich I walked down Bridewell Alley and saw what used to be a butcher's was a bookshop. I met Giles and we started readings and general 'events' in the back of the shop."
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