When I visited the Jane Austen Centre in Bath, England, in July 2011, Martin Salter had the day off.
At the time, I didn’t know what I was missing. But since then I have learned that a Janeite who visits Bath without meeting Salter is a pathetic loser who should turn in her library card and stay home knitting sweaters for her cats.
Salter dresses in a homemade Regency ensemble for his job as the Jane Austen Centre’s official greeter, and after twelve years posing for selfies with tourists, he is often called “the most-photographed man in Britain.”
Judging from a recent interview with the BBC World Service’s Outlook series, which features human-interest stories from around the world, Salter is also a charming fellow with a sly sense of humor and an appealing West Country burr.
Apparently, his outfit – hat, cravat, waistcoat, greatcoat, and truly enormous sideburns – is meant to evoke Mr. Bennet of Pride and Prejudice. [Of course, Jane Austen never tells us anything about Mr. Bennet’s appearance. It’s surely not coincidence that the person the costumed and be-sideburned Salter really evokes is Benjamin Whitrow (scroll down here), who played Mr. Bennet in the BBC’s iconic 1995 TV adaptation of P&P.]
Although Salter didn’t start out as an Austen fan, his observations on her wit and psychological realism are sound. More so than those of the BBC reporter, who lamentably describes Our Jane as “the UK’s legendary writer of romance.” Maybe Salter could have given him some pointers.