The marvellously miscellaneous life and loves of Mr Schott.

‘But very little is known about Ben Schott, the book’s author, designer and researcher. Who is he? An elderly librarian with half-moon spectacles and cobwebs in his hair?’ wrote The Telegraph of Ben Schott, whose series of miscellenies have sold in the millions all over the world.

Such anonymity when it comes to authors of runaway bestsellers is rare indeed. And yet Ben Schott falls into a near-unique category: that of exceptionally successful writers who never actually intended to write. After what he calls an ‘astonishingly brief’ foray into the world of advertising, he spent the decade after graduating from Cambridge (with a double first, no less) working as a portrait photographer. Snapping for the likes of The Independent, The Times, The Sunday Times, he captured the great, the good and the notorious, from Hugh Grant to Tony Blair to Enoch Powell.

His life miscellaneous all began with a homemade Christmas card. Impressed and amused, his friends and clients egged him on, encouraging him to turn the curiosities contained within those festive missives into something more permanent. Their instincts were spot on. That was in 2002, and it took just a few weeks for Schott’s Original Miscellanies to become a bestseller; it was, clearly, just the diverting thing the world needed at that moment. Follow up miscellanies and almanacs ensued, and, combined with his Schottenfreude, they have sold some 2.5 million copies. Not bad for a project whose realisation required much arm twisting. And as if this wasn’t enough, he has become the latest author to carry on the Wodehousian tradition and resurrect Jeeves and Wooster, writing two critically acclaimed books authorised by the Wodehouse estate: Jeeves and the King of Clubs and Jeeves And The Leap of Faith.

He tells us about unexpected name-checks in TV shows, the perfect waterside Italian idyll and which London building takes him back in time.

Picture credit: Harry MacAuslan

Favourite place in all the world?




On a chair facing Capri … at a table called ‘Positano One’ … on the dock of a restaurant called Lo Scoglio… along Italy’s Amalfi Coast.


Dream holiday?


See above. As a consequence of the incomparable food, the unquenchable wine, the glorious sunshine, and the fabulous family of owners, Lo Scoglio is one of the few places I am consistently aware of being happy in the very moment.


Most coveted item right now?


It may not exist, but I like to think there’s some super-secret black card that gets you automatically upgraded to first class.


Proudest professional moment to date?


This is a toss-up between being a question on the German version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, being name-checked in a bonkers piece of dialogue in ‘Billions,’ or being quoted in the Oxford English Dictionary. (To help define the word ‘septuary’.)


Your dream future project?


Becoming Marcello Mastroianni in his Fellini heyday.

Mastroianni

Pietro Germi, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Who has been your most inspiring mentor, professionally or personally?


My parents: who jointly and severally have an amazing combination of left-brain IQ and right-brain EQ. All of the work of which I am most proud attempts to zig-zag between these two poles.


Where would you live if you could live anywhere?



I think I could eke out a meagre existence at Villa d’Este on Lake Como.


What book is on your nightstand/ kindle right now?


Simon Raven’s Alms for Oblivion… because Simon Raven.


Best film you’ve seen recently?





Joseph Losey’s ‘The Servant’ — not just because of Dirk Bogarde, James Fox, Sarah Miles, and Wendy Craig, but also for Douglas Slocombe’s cinematography, which matches Harold Pinter’s brooding dialogue pound for pound. Watch the trailer here.


Best binge-watched TV show?


Alan Bleasdale’s dark political satire ‘G.B.H.’, which used an all-star cast (Robert Lindsay, Michael Palin, Lindsay Duncan, Julie Walters) to track ‘one caring, liberal madman’s odyssey through the appalling farce of life in Britain today.’ I watch it every few years, and it’s never not fabulous. Watch it here.


Top podcast of the moment?


InDesignSecrets. It’s an InDesign thing. #InDesign


Your hero?


The photomonteur John Heartfield (1891-1986), who pioneered a new form of agit-prop art, and took on the Nazi image machine single-scissored.


What’s your spirit animal?


Fernet-Branca. I assume that’s the kind of spirit you mean?


Favourite dish to cook?




Kedgeree. It is a pest to perfect (many moving parts) but a delight to eat. I especially enjoy cooking it for people who have never tasted it before.


Favourite café/ restaurant?




I am seldom undelighted by a late-night supper at Odeon in New York City. And then a drink at the bar at Gene’s just up the road on West 11th.


Favourite website or app?


As much as I hate everything about its design and functionality, life would be hard without the BBC Sounds app.


Most useful thing on your desk?


Cutting board, scalpel and steel ruler.


Which five people, dead or alive, would you find most interesting to be stuck in a lift with?


I’d love to spend time with my great-grandparents. My great-grandmother Zoe, for example, was a suffragist who drove a London fire engine during World War One. But to me she was just a nice, white-haired old lady who taught me croquet. Youth is wasted on the young.


Favourite building?




The Dennis Severs House, in Spitalfields. It is the closest I have ever come to time-travel. Book a candlelit tour, have a stiff drink before you enter, and dive into the grand immersive folly.


Favourite Instagrammer or tweeter?


Oh, heavens no.


Your screensaver?


Wait — is your screen ever actually off?


What would be your epitaph?


The delight is in the details.

By Nancy Alsop
February 2022

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