Book Reviews: An Inspector Recalls

This is a very old-fashioned book indeed, with an eccentric text that rambles like a serpentine line, but it is no less captivating for that.

Derek Sherborn, ‘the Inspector’, worked for the Ministry of Town & Country Planning from 1947. I think he was one of the first inspectors, and he was an unsung pioneer, whothanks to unfriendlies in his department never received his proper due from Downing Street. It was pretty disgraceful.

Nothing is conventional in this fascinating memoir, and no punches are pulled. When I first met Derek in 1955, he and Fawns, his extraordinary country house near Hounslow – with his mother still in charge – were well sprinked with bits of rust from the Barons’ Wars.

And what a treasure house it was, stuffed with goodies. The goodies dwindled somewhat due toburglaries, from local rough trade no doubt – though he is open about his homosexuality. Derek loves to relate how a carrier bag was put over his head and a revolver pressed against his temple.

I recollect meeting him one day in Nottinghamshire in the early 1960s, and marvelling at his account of cleaning out the antique shops and shipping everything straight down to Sotheby’s. Derek’s reminiscences of country houses in the Fifties and Sixties are to be savoured.

Having listened long to accounts of the trials involved in putting this book together, I feared for the worst, but never anticipated that I would not be able to put it down . I loved his lacerations of developers and certain conservation societies, and can just imagine what the libel lawyers have cut out.

Buy it, buy it, I implore you.