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Frank Percy Doel (14 July 1908 – 22 December 1968) was a British antiquarian bookseller for Marks & Co in London who achieved posthumous fame as the recipient of a series of humorous letters from American author Helene Hanff, to which he scrupulously and, at first, very formally replied. The shop where he worked was at 84 Charing Cross Road, the title of a bestselling 1970 novel written by Hanff which became a cult classic, a 1981 stage play, and a 1987 film starring Anthony Hopkins as Doel and Anne Bancroft as Hanff.

Early life[edit | edit source]

He was born in Wallasey, Cheshire, and moved from there to Harringay, London, when he was eight years old.

From 1919 to 1924, Doel was educated at Hornsey County Grammar School, a co-educational school also attended by his elder brother.

On leaving school, Doel started his first, and only, job with Marks & Co, an antiquarian bookshop, located at 84 Charing Cross Road, London.

Always known as "young Frank",[1] he learnt the trade from his employers Ben Marks and Mark Cohen.

Family life[edit | edit source]

Doel was twice married.

In 1936 he married Mary Price, and their daughter, Sheila, was born in 1939. Mary died in 1945. In 1947 Doel married Nora Morrison and a second daughter, Mary, was born in 1948.

War service[edit | edit source]

Doel served during the Second World War in the Middle East as a Private in the RAOC.[2]

Character[edit | edit source]

Doel travelled the country and was well regarded wherever he went.[3] Mark Cohen would describe him as the shop's 'anchor man'.[4]

Doel loved classical music and was, with his brother, a keen supporter of Tottenham Hotspur F.C..

Social life[edit | edit source]

Doel had many good friends and colleagues in the antiquarian book trade [5] and much of his and Nora's social life centred on the "Bibliomites", the Society of Antiquarian Booksellers Employees, of which he was a Committee Member.[6]

Doel knew the Soviet double agent Peter Kroger, who was later imprisoned for spying, because he opened a rare bookshop near St Clement Danes's church as a cover for his activities.[7] This friendship is mentioned in Helene Hanff’s The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, a sequel to 84, Charing Cross Road. Nora Doel describes a New Year's Eve at which Lona Cohen (aka Helen Kroger)

...arrived looking very exotic in a long black evening dress. 'Helen, you look like a Russian spy!' said Nora. And Helen laughed and Peter laughed and a few months later Nora picked up the morning paper and discovered that Helen and Peter Kroger were Russian spies.[8]

Later life[edit | edit source]

By the late 1960s Doel was running the business virtually single handed, Marks having died and Cohen too elderly to oversee day-to-day operations.

He died from paralysis of the Ilium on 22 December 1968 and his funeral was attended by almost the whole of London antiquarian book trade on New Year's Day 1969.

" It is with deep sorrow and regret we have to announce the death on the 22nd of December of MR. FRANK DOEL, who has been with us for over forty years. He will be greatly missed by us all and his many friends throughout the country. - Messrs. MARKS & CO., 84, Charing Cross Road, London, W.C.2.".

When Hanff belatedly heard of his death she wrote a short autobiographical book which became the cult classic 84, Charing Cross Road.[9] The book was subsequently turned into a play and a film starring Anthony Hopkins and Anne Bancroft, 84 Charing Cross Road.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Fan web-site
  2. During this time Frank's friend and colleague John Watson, himself exempt from call up on health grounds, deputised for him.
  3. The Frank Doel I knew Frank Westwood: article in the Petersfield Post, 24 October 1994
  4. 84 fan Site (Ibid)
  5. Petersfield Post (ibid)
  6. Doel’s character
  7. Background to Kroger affair Archived 2 July 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  8. Hanff, Helene (1976). The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street. Avon. pp. 40. ISBN 0-380-00634-0. 
  9. Hanff's reaction

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