Student Days

Finishing his secondary schooling with the highest grades, a thorough and fluent command of French and a study prize awarded to him personally by the then Vatican nunciate Giovanni Roncalli (later Pope John XXIII), Petar would have loved to move into the world of the arts and theatre but, as is well known, parents give advice on future careers… It was therefore, as he always maintained, that “to please my mother” he agreed to study Law at Sofia University. Less flatteringly about the subject, he would say: “Qui ne fait rien, fait le Droit”!

Not a lot was said about the degree programme and, apart from the fact that he completed the course, it must be assumed that he continued to spend the greater part of his time in theatres, at performances of plays and musicals. He is known to have made the Bulgarian translations of the libretti of several operettas, and a tribute paid by him to Mimi Balkanska in a broadcast on the BBC Bulgarian service was recently cited to introduce the Bulgarian TV documentary on her life and work. Generally he played the role of the elegant, handsome and sought-after young “man about town”.

From 1937, after graduating, Petar started to write film reviews, published in Balkan (whose Arts pages he edited), Dnes and Zlatorog. He was to continue this activity, not only in Bulgaria but also while travelling and on postings abroad, for example his Filmi ot Venezia (published, in the form of a letter, in Zlatorog in 1941), for the next 10 or so years, indeed until he left Bulgaria for England in 1947. These articles have recently been collected into a volume Filmovi Trohi (Film Crumbs, Petar’s own phrase) by Kostadin Kostoff, lecturer in the history of film, and published in Plovdiv.

In 1939, at the age of 24, he was awarded the Bulgarian State Drama prize for his running of an experimental theatre group in Sofia where his productions included English, French and German plays. This young “man about town”, as several people recall, was one of those regularly invited to the ‘soirées’ given by Anna Kamenova in her house (destroyed during World War 2) on Slavianska Street. These gatherings, one may imagine, would have seen the cream of the intellectual elite of Sofia in the late 1930s.

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