Daylight on Saturday: a novel of an aircraft factory

A few weeks ago, discussing John Crowley’s Four Freedoms, I referred to an obscure, long out of print, long-forgotten novel of J. B. Priestley, Daylight on Saturday, on a similar theme, the recollection of which overshadowed my ability to enjoy Crowley’s work. The novels have nothing in common save their setting, which is that of a munitions factory during the Second World War, but the love I’ve long had for Priestley’s book made it impossible to approach Crowley’s novel with a completely open mind.

There’s a world of difference between the two books, on every level, and not merely the contrasting backgrounds of America – free from direct assault from either protagonist – and Britain – victim of air raids and attacks, close to the edge of the battlefield. Curiously, both writers go for a similar type of background: Crowley’s factory-cum-mini-city is in the midwest, between the poles of each coast and its differing characteristics, whilst Priestley’s factory is in the Midlands, an often neglected region because it is neither the North nor the South.

In their differing ways, the settings represent neutral areas, between extremes.

But the two books couldn’t be more different. Priestley’s was written on the spot, as it were, in the middle of the War when no outcome was yet known or knowable. And it is confined to the factory itself, every page taking place within its walls, every character seen only in relation to their role in the factory, in the urgent need to work for a victory that, with all due respect to Americans, is far closer to them. Crowley writes from the future, looking back, recreating an era and an atmosphere. Priestley writes from within, reflecting what he sees about him.

Daylight on Saturday is, unavoidably, a less literary book. Some might call it a potboiler, though I think it’s far better than that. It certainly has its propaganda aspect, but then Priestley was a passionate Englishman who gave greatly of his time and effort to what could support the war effort: his Postscripts series, a weekly talk on BBC Radio, was one of the most popular programmes in the War Years (until it was stopped because it’s political stripe did not match that of Churchill).

But it’s also a social document, a record of what people did and thought during wartime. That alone lifted it far above one of Priestley’s other wartime novels, a thriller entitled Blackout in Gretley, in which wartime England was no more than a backdrop – an accurate one, naturally – to a story whose sole intent was entertainment.

Since you’re highly unlikely ever to find a copy of Daylight on Saturday unless old copies still exist, in bookshops of the mind that rarely exist any longer, I’d better be more forthright than usual about the contents of the book. The title alone sets a tone for the story: just as the action takes place entirely within the factory walls, so too is everybody’s lives. Literally, they only see daylight on Saturdays, for their working day at the time of year this is set begins before and ends after dark.

The factory is building planes, or rather parts for planes. It is full of men and women doing repetitive, unending tasks with complex, noisy machines, working with different levels of skill and competency at things that, in another, better day, they would never have gone near, never have had to go near. For women, it is an entry to a workforce that was previously all but banned to them. Over and again, just by showing you people doing these things, Priestley emphasises that the war has changed things and, even once won, it will continue to change things in a way no-one expected. The genie is out of the bottle, the worms are out of the can, look at it as you will, there will not being a going back, no matter how much people expect and want it, to before.

Priestley opens the book with a bravura sequence of eight chapters. The whole story is told from multiple viewpoints: all the important characters, and there are neither stars nor heroes within, become eyes for us to see through, several times over, and there is a continual interchange between our understanding of what is inside a person and the visions others around them have of them.

But Priestley sets things up by applying this approach to a daisy chain. A succession of characters lead us first one way, then another, their viewpoints interlocking to inform us of all we need to know, the baton passing in turn from our inside man or woman to someone encountered near the end of their chapter, who will in turn take us in a different direction, until we have seen enough to understand where we are and who we are dealing with.

The order runs through James Cheviot, general manager of the Elmdown Aircraft Company Limited, Bob Elrick, its Works Supervisor, Joyce Deerhurst, a rather nice and genteel machine worker and former milliners’ assistant, Alfred Cleeton, the foreman, Edith Shipton, Women’s Welfare Officer, Nelly Ditton, a former country girl and machinist, with a lop-sided face, Sammy Hamp, odd-job man, and Francis Blandford, Progress Development Manager.

There are others seen along the way, who form a vital part of the narrative: Stan Ogmore, charge-hand, shop steward and communist, Gordon Stonier, a machinist who is steadily going insane, Blandford’s assistant, Maurice Angleby and his secretary (and cousin), Freda Pinnel, and we see through their eyes at different times.

We see through many people’s eyes, including those of a pair of ageing music hall comedians, ding a Worker’s Playtime show in the canteen. Everyone goes to build up a mosaic image of this place at this time, what people think, what they expect, what they love and hate.

But it’s a moving mosaic: this isn’t just a portrait. The factory isn’t doing well. Production is dipping, despite everything everyone can do to try to push it back up again. Things are so dire that, in a few days time, a Ministry Delegation is coming to inspect the factory, a delegation consisting of a career Civil Servant with absolutely no qualifications to assess what he will see, and a former assistant manager of the factory, sacked for incompetence. There are difficulties regarding supplies that force Cheviot to tour subsidiary operations, creating an absence that has disastrous results.

If there is a hero, or at least a central character, it’s Bob Elrick. He’s a passionate, aggressive, bad-tempered, hard-drinking man with a temper that usually denies him allies at the wrong moment. He’s convinced that the factory’s trouble is the war, the absence of news, the absence of some sort of development that will involve and excite the workers, be it good or bad. Elrick harks back to Dunkirk, when he personally worked like a trojan, driving, directing, urging, performing miracles, and it’s not to difficult to see that he personally is lacking something like that, some crisis, some reason, need, excuse to hammer at things at full bore.

He’ll be proved right too, before the book ends. In the background of the news, there is a clash going on in Africa, at a place called El Alamein, where a glorious victory and an upsurge in morale will change everything at the factory.

But Ellrick’s frustration with life, his gut-deep opposition to the snobbish, aristocratic, autocratic Blandford, who sees society as permanently stratified and everyone below him as disposable, his choleric inability to use his advantages over Blandford to his advantage, his growing obsession with Joyce Deerhurst, who’s totally in the wrong place, become the story of his gradual, but inexorable downfall, a common man’s tragedy.

There are other stories. The shy, unpretty Nelly grows in confidence and stature as the book progresses, picked to go to London to appear on the radio opening her up and starting a confidence that she’s never before been allowed to develop. And Angleby, who starts as a protege of Blandford, seemingly no more than a conscientious and dedicated worker, lifting himself up by his bootstraps, who grows rapidly to become Elrick’s replacement as Works Supervisor, and more than a match for the haughty Freda, who initially planes to give him nothing but acid condescension, but who learns that she herself has depths and qualities never dreamed of.

There’s Gwen Ockley, a gifted, intelligent mechanic, veteran of the pre-War days, lost in a hopeless love for Bob Elrick, there’s recent arrival Arthur Bolton, cousin of the wife of Edith Shipton’s married lover, a man frozen inside by the loss of his entire family to a Nazi bomb, to whom Edith, in trying to explain herself, starts trying to transfer her feelings.

And then there’s Stonier. Who is mad, mad with a kind of religious fervour, hearing voices in his head, from the machines, especially the new one, that squeals and screams, with all the cutting edges over which blood must flow, and Stonier can see the young woman with the lop-sided face who has been chosen as the sacrifice, who works opposite him every day…

Elrick finally loses it over Joyce Dewhurst. He’s already been replaced by Angleby, but Cheviot had other plans to use Elrick to advantage, but Elrick knows it’s too late, you can’t take Elmwood out of him. His clumsy, obsessive lunge at Joyce destroys all that, destroys his future and then Stonier grabs Nelly and starts dragging her to the machine, but Elrick intervenes, at the biggest cost of all…

Yes, go on, say that the ending’s melodramatic, that it’s just a means of closing off a story that, without it, might have lacked a satisfactory resolution. But Priestley takes Elrick’s final moments off-stage, lets them be relayed afterwards, with commendable brevity, concentrating upon the aftermath for everyone. And in a way the ending is a triumph, for the horror of Stonier, the fear for the naïve Nelly, who nevertheless could contain more in her than she even hoped to dream, has been a steadily growing theme for so very long that it’s deflection is in itself a victory. A war victory, at cost, great cost.

For a very long time, John Boynton Priestley was a great English author, and he was decidedly English, a native of Bradford, a Socialist at heart, a man with certain quasi-mystical appreciations of Life and of Time. I know of him long before I read him, out of the library, beginning with a piece of whimsy entitled The Thirty-First of June. Reading out of the library, I went through most of his contemporary novels, many of which were undercut with a bitterness at the age, with what he saw as the perversion of England’s character by various influences, mostly those of cheap Americana.

Even then, there were still great books: 1968’s The Image Men, a great, sweeping, scathing attack on advertising, hypocrisy and politics, 1965’s Lost Empires, an evocation of the Music Hall days. But the best ones were older ones, closer to their time. My favourite remains 1948’s Bright Day, which one day I’ll talk about in more detail, Priestley’s own favourite until The Image Men, and all the way back to the book that made his reputation, The Good Companions.

I began to collect his work, which is what led me, after several years of diligent examination of second hand bookshops, to Daylight on Saturday. Eventually, I read it all, most of it in old hardbacks that are now all the evidence that the books existed, because unless a true, universal print-on-demand service comes into being, no-one will reprint such books, and not this moment of a specific, thankfully gone time.

Eventually, I kept a handful. I wanted to read them all, but over forty plus years of writing there were those that were better than others, and I kept the ones I knew I would want to re-read. Some good books went because, at the end of the day, I had better ones to keep: The Good Companions is structured around three completely disparate persons coming together in an unanticipated exercise, and Priestley used that formula a few times over, on books that were good, but not better.

There’s a case for ignoring Daylight on Saturday as a minor work by an author who, like so many others, has ceased to matter since his death in 1984. It’s not a case that will ever influence me.


As an addendum to the above, a quick check on eBay reveals a dozen available copies of Daylight on Saturday, not to mention myriad others of Priestley. You may wish to indulge…

In Praise of Pratchett: Moving Pictures

After a trio of excellent books, from Wyrd Sisters to Guards! Guards!, Moving Pictures was something of a disappointment. Though it’s a fundamental book in the series, introducing Mustrum Ridcully and practically the whole Faculty of Unseen University, not to mention giving free rein to Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler, the book still manages to fall a little bit flat. For me, there are three reasons for this.
By this point, with the series passing into double figures, Terry Pratchett had very firmly locked on to what, in a lesser author, would undoubtedly be called a formula. Each book was based around a theme, some aspect of of life or narrative, to which the unique distorting lens of Discworld would be applied, simultaneously breaking it down into all the little absurdities inherent in the concept, and penetrating to the essential heart, the elemental centre that anatomises what makes this thing significant.
The very title gives away that this book is about Hollywood, the Dream Factory: giving the scene of the action the name of Holy Wood is less a punster’s tip of the hat than a feeble acknowledgement of the fact that there is nothing more subtle that can be done with the name.
And that goes for the entire book. Pratchett is parodying the early years of the Movies, the silent era, and whilst he’s his usually imaginative self in converting/paralleling the events of Tinseltown’s foundational years, he’s up against the fact that those years were so unreal in themselves that too much of the time he’s doing little more than follow.
The problem with parodying something that’s already in a high state of fantasy is that there is comparatively less room to manoeuvre before you hit the badlands of outlandish and just too stupid to be believable.
Though Pratchett does get in some degree of analysis of what Holy and Hollywood actually do, the way he sets up his story, there’s no room for any light to go with the extremely deep shade that lies behind this phenomenon. Pratchett builds what motivates Holy Wood into something irrelievably black and dangerous, that the overwhelming innocence of everyone who gets themselves involved can only appear as excessive naivete. And the fact that someone like Dibbler can so quickly become such a big wheel in Holy Wood doesn’t actually suggest it can have any sort of redeeming factor.
The second factor in Moving Pictures falling flat is the absence at the heart of it. I speak, of course,  of Victor Tugelband, student wizard and proto-Rudolf Valentino. Victor is a very clever but fundamentally lazy person who is prolonging his student days in similar fashion to Roger Zelazny’s Fred Cassidy in his 1975 novel, Doorways in the Sand. Victor’s industrious attention to ensuring he neither fails nor passes his exams leaves him short of any other qualities, and his rejection of even the possibility of growth goes hand in hand with that to deprive him of any kind of charisma, other than that imposed on him by Holy Wood’s own brand of magic.
Victor is nothing more than a clothes-horse for Pratchett to hang jokes on, and as for Ginger, his female equivalent, she’s even more of a character-free zone, given that she doesn’t get to have any thoughts that aren’t interpreted through the filter of Victor. No, the second lead in this book, and the one who gets all the personality, is Gaspode the Wonder Dog, a small, cynical, flea-ridden mutt who’s learned to talk, thanks to Holy Wood’s magic slopping around, and who spends most of the book being ignored.
With such a character void at its heart, the great mercy of Moving Pictures lies in it possessing a wonderful array of supporting players.
There is Gaspode, for one thing, who turned out to be so good that, despite taking the magic away from him at the end of the book, Pratchett found himself having to restore the Wonder Dog at a later stage. And Dibbler who, after having played a mere bit part in Guards! Guards!, was swept into prominence here, and who would go on to be a force all by himself for many years.
But the real advance of Moving Pictures lay in its introduction of Mustrum Ridcully as Archchancellor of Unseen University and, by the endgame of the book, virtually all the Faculty, who would come to the fore in later books, as their nascent series merged with that of Rincewind.
Like Drunken Captain Vimes, our first exposure to Ridcully the Brown feels strange. He’s introduced as exactly what he appears to be: a huntin’, shootin’, fishin’ countryman who, in an Anthony Trollope novel, would be at the forefront of the statutory fox hunting scene. Ridcully is chosen as a safe (i.e. stupid and easily malleable) pair of hands, a stable figure after a period of crisis at the University, which has been going through Archchancellors like a hot knife through butter.
Indeed, it’s not certain whether Pratchett actually views him as a serious character or whether he’s just got bored with making up new names for identikit scheming/schemed against Archchancellors. This is emphasised by the way that we never get to see into Ridcully’s head at any time but instead view him through the medium of the Bursar, a born administrator if there ever was one.
For most of the book, scenes at the University centre on the Bursar and Ridcully, with only the ridiculous figure of Windle Poons (the University’s oldest wizard) and, in entirely a side role, the fortunate student Ponder Stibbins.
Suddenly, as the crisis reaches its peak, with Holy Wood’s magic gathering its strength, a party of wizards sneak out to go to the cinema. And they’re (almost) all there: the Dean (of Pentacles), the Chair of Indefinite Studies, the Lecturer in Recent Runes: only the Reader in Invisible Writings and the Senior Wrangler are missing.
I have a confession, one that is probably more common than is usually admitted: even after all these years, I cannot tell the Chair, the Lecturer and the Wrangler apart. Nor, other than the fact that the Chair is described as the fattest wizard at Unseen University, is any effort made to draw any distinctions here. It’s the crosstalk, the meandering, ever-distracted conversations that matter.
But having at a stroke introduced a handy supporting cast, Pratchett then demonstrates that there are greater depths to Ridcully than he’d been letting on. At this stage, it’s mainly the fact that he’s actually quite bright underneath, but it’s the first glimpse of the real Ridcully, and it reminds me of Arthur Ransome’s treatment of Timothy Sterling (aka Squashy Hat) in Pigeon Post, as a shy, quiet, absorbed and fairly ineffectual character, until the crisis strikes and he suddenly becomes both calm and resourceful.
It’s a good supporting cast, but in the end it can do no more than huddle, protectively, around the absence at the centre that is the cardboard figure of Victor Tugelbend.
The third element that works against Moving Pictures is, unfortunately, its central menace. Because the danger of Holy Wood is that it works at one of those points where reality – in Discworld terms – is at its thinnest. It seeks to break through, to enter into that reality because, yes, once again, on the other side is the creatures from the Dungeon Dimensions. And by this time they’re running a little stale.
Unfortunately, for all its inventive trimmings, Moving Pictures is one trip too many to the well of the Dungeon Dimensions. Been there, did that, wore one of Dibbler’s t-shirts for the very brief time before it fell apart.
Better was, of course, to come, in the shape of five successive crackingly good and very funny novels, most of them tens on my personal scale of Discworld novels. With a score like that, Terry Pratchett could easily afford the odd book here and there which fell flat.

Dan Dare: The Evil One

With the exception of the traditionally disregarded Underwater Attack, drawn by Eric Kincaid, which filled four undistinguished weeks between the end of the reprints of Prisoners of Space and the start of the reprints of The Man from Nowhere, the shortest Dan Dare story of them all is The Evil One, which ran a mere nine weeks.
Even then, it’s a bit of an embarrassment. Its basic idea – that an advanced alien fleet, known as the ‘Galactics’, pursues a renegade to Earth, threatening to destroy the planet if the malefactor is not handed over, and Earth having no idea who or where he is – is sound, but any merit the story has is swamped by placing the villain’s lair in a fun-fair on Blackpool Promenade.
And of course the innocent funfair owner is a mate of Albert Fitzwilliam Digby, and it’s a bloody good job he is and all, because in a story this short, if Digby hadn’t helijetted to Blackpool to pay a visit, Spacefleet would never have found the Evil One – a renegade Earth scientist by the name of von Malus – in anything like enough time to save the day.
Actually, there’s a little bit more to the story than this, albeit not much. Von Malus doesn’t arrive in Blackpool until about three weeks in and, after capturing Digby and his old pal, Charlie Barker, appears to them as a fifteen foot tall giant, boasting of how he’ll go on indefinitely  and can’t be caught, and how he’s suffered slights and criticism. Motton cleverly does not overtly link this to Dan discovering that in real life von Malus is a dwarf.
However, the ending is decidedly offkey. The Galactics are settling in to bomb Charlie’s funfair when they are drawn off by von Malus’s escape pod shooting into space and fetching up in the Asteroid Belt. In fact, it contains Dan, and is a diversionary tactic (a strange one if it deprives von Malus of his boasted escape route), but it also takes him out of the picture at the crucial moment.
Digby thinking his Colonel is dead, goes hunting in the wreckage for revenge, but has to be rescued by Dan when he gets back, and it’s Dan who tells us that von Malus is dead, killed by a collapsing ceiling very offstage and afterthoughtish.
The only other thing worth mentioning is something Keith Watson would do throughout this period: Dan has to speak to his boss, the Controller and, though he’s not named and not allowed under the ‘no recurring characters’ rule, Watson draws Sir Hubert.
And there’s a nice moment where Dan insists on placing himself in danger, replacing von Malus’s hostages, refusing to count himself as a Spacefleet Colonel as being more important than someone else. Motton places these words in Sir Hubert’s mouth: “There goes a brave man. He has planned and ordered his own death to save the lives and homes of others.” Even in the weakest stories…

You’re a Mutt, Charlie Brown

As I’ve mentioned before, I have Patrick McDonnell’s lovely daily cartoon strip, Mutts, e-mailed to me on a daily basis.

The strip’s primarily about Earl and Mooch, little dog and little cat respectively, who live next door to one another with their owners, but its cast includes a range of animals, each with their own shtick. In many ways, Mutts is a throwback to the early years of strip cartoon humour, in which the skill lay in constantly finding new ways to enliven, refresh and constantly renew the strip’s stock situations.

The best model is George Herriman’s legendary Krazy Kat, a thing of surreal beauty and wit, that found infinite variety in a twisted but touching scenario played out between cat, mouse and dog.

McDonnell’s a big fan of Herriman, and co-author of a superb, profusely illustrated and wonderfully informative book about the cartoonist and the Kat, and this shows in this week’s set of strips. These feature McDonnell’s pair of squirrels, Bip and Bop, whose reason for existence is to throw nuts down onto the heads of unsuspecting passers-by beneath their tree, and with some force too.

Not for the first time, the unfortunate bonkees have all been comic book and cartoon characters, drawn with a delightful fidelity to their originals. We’ve had Robin the Boy Wonder, Dennis the Menace (the American one), Richie Rich and Little Dot so far,, and today’s strip features Charlie Brown, whose creator, Charles Schultz, once praised McDonnell by calling Earl ‘a perfect cartoon dog’.

It’s a laugh, like all the others have been. But it’s also a touching thought. Which is why I wanted you to see it as well.

You can find the strip at


Dan Dare plagiarism – part 4

Another update: I have just submitted a second complaint to Google, this time about the theft of my Introduction to the Dan Dare series as the Home Page of Peter Crwford’s blog. This still left one further piece that has been stolen, but as I set out to check its url, I came across the following, in place of the page already removed:

Speaking as the aforementioned Unpleasant Little (Person), all I can say is that someone has reacted very badly to being caught with his hand in the cookie jar up to the elbow.
Such a big man, not to care about people stealing massive amounts of money from him (fucking idiot). Well, Mr Crawford, speaking as someone who doesn’t make a penny off what he does, I say again that you are a thief, stealing other people’s work and passing it off as your own, and your blog will not be missed.
It’s an irony that you claim to love and admire a character whose moral and ethical stance is so diametrically opposed to your own practices.
PS, in case you want to claim that I am as guilty as you for appropriating your little toy-throwing exercise above, please note that I’m not claiming to have written it myself. You can have full credit for that one.

Visiting That London

                                                                           A very pleasant London pub

I was in London the Saturday before last, meeting some Internet friends for a drink in a nice old pub on Fleet Street, a part of This Nation’s Capital I think I hadn’t previously seen. And I’ve not seen much of it now, seven and a half hours of talking and drinking passing in a subjective two to make up an experience I’ll gladly repeat any day.
Naturally, the day put me in mind of other experiences with the Great Wen, not least that, discounting an overnight stay in South-East London when attending my then-sister-in-Law’s re-marriage, this was the first time I’d been to London since Mark Rustigini and I drove down nice and bright and early for the 1999 FA Cup Final, the second leg of United’s incredible Treble.
Apart from a couple of occasions a very long time ago, when I stayed, all my visits to London have been like this: fleeting trips, a few hours spent mostly wandering around certain, pre-selected shops, back by train or car to spend the night in my own bed (mostly).
My first ever visit to That London was back in 1977, when I stayed a week, renting a room in a North London suburb handy for Arnos Grove Tube Station, which was itself handy (two stops) for Alexandra Palace. I had six three hour examinations to sit at Ally Pally, in three-and-a-half days, my Solicitor’ Part II Final Exams, for which I’d crammed, literally, at the Law College near Chester, over six months that began in the tinder dry Drought Summer and went through chokingly thick fog and deep snow into a rainy, post-Xmas January.
I passed the exams, all six, despite having doubts about two and being resigned to re-sitting Company and Partnership, but it was only once I escaped from the last of these, at Thursday lunchtime, that I could begin to explore what That London might be able to offer. A trip to a recommended bookshop, Compendium Books at Camden Town, a wander round its famed Market, and an evening at a suburban cinema where I started off watching a double bill comprising a Death Wish-style Charles Bronson thriller and some kind of Emmanuelle spin-off. I found the latter so boring that, after a quick toilet break, I ‘returned’ to the screen offering a re-showing of Blazing Saddles that was so much more fun.

                                                                                  Where I did my exams
All this was a prelude for Friday. I was off nice and early for Central London, emerging from the Tube – which I absolutely loved – at Tottenham Court Road to begin a long day’s wandering.
After hunting out the then premier Comics and SF shop, Dark They Were And Golden-Eyed, in Soho (where I scored a paperback of Roger Zelazny’s first novel, The Dream Master), I made my way down to Oxford Circus, browsing the many shops along the way. Was this before the big Virgin Megastore? I can’t remember, and if it was my budget was severely limited, and had to cover food and drink on the way.
From there I turned down Regent Street, detouring along the way to go through Carnaby Street, a pale shadow of its vanished Sixties glory but still full of clobber, ninety percent of which I would never have dreamed of wearing.
The bottom end of Regent Street led me into Piccadilly Circus, which I left by Haymarket, down to Pall Mall and into Trafalgar Square. Eros at the one, Nelson at the other, monuments I had heard of but not seen for myself. In one of these wide open, milling-with-tourists places I bought a cup of birdseed to feed the pigeons, but any thought of doing so under my own steam vanished when, with a precise choreography that would have gladdened Alfred Hitchcock’s heart, though perhaps not Tippi Hedren’s, several dozen pigeons descended en masse onto my right had, wrist and arm, all trying simultaneously to get their beaks into the cup.
The weight was incredible, and the chances of my gaining control over the birdseed non-existent, so I quickly gave up and turned my wrist enough to pour it on the flagstones, causing all the birds to abandon ship, except for one particularly dozy specimen who’s landed on my right shoulder, from where he had no chance, and who remained on that perch for several seconds, eyeing me superciliously until it became plain that I wasn’t going to hand-feed him, and took off. All rather a disappointment.

Been there, seen that

It was still only about midday so I strolled on, along The Strand (arousing memories of the old Music Hall song I’d had to sing once, at an Old Folk’s Evening put on my the Church Youth Group), thinking of putting myself around some food and drink shortly. For early February, it was dry, sunny, mild, and I wound up turning down Waterloo Street, as far as the Bridge, eating sandwiches, drinking coke, reading Zelazny a scene that came back to me every time I opened that book again, as I overlooked the river.
Replete, I descended to the Victoria Embankment and followed the Thames east, east for miles as far as Tower Bridge and the Tower of London, strolling along London. There was the HMS Victory, free to board and explore, tracing the bounds of a history then still within a plausible human lifetime: what struck me most was a digestive biscuit, uneaten, preserved: so old.
By the time I reached Tower Bridge, I was footsore. It was a couple of years since I had last been fellwalking in the Lakes, but London Streets, though basically level, were a different experience, and though I was young and fit, barely turned 21, I’d done a lot of walking and it was an easy decision to start to head back west, to parts of London that I ‘knew’. I’ve never been that far east in the City since.
Staying in London was an unusual thing. I had been glad to see as much as I had, but I had no desire to live in the Smoke. There was the accent, for one thing, and for another the arrogance that attached to London, as the Capitol. I was already too deep a Northerner to ever accept London as more than a place to go to and come back from.
Future visits were invariably briefer. There were a handful of times when, during my Articles in Nottingham, I was sent to deliver things in London: serve papers on a Company’s Registered Offices, at their Solicitors, deliver a Brief to London Chambers, even a letter to the Land Registry at Worthing, way down on the South Coast, which allowed me time on the way back to indulge myself in London shops.
That was what London meant to me then. Whether I was on a float from Nottingham, or down from Manchester for a Westminster Mart, or even Cup Final mornings when an early start gave me a few hours in and around Oxford Street, London was Opportunity. Not to go to the great scenic places – I have never seen Buckingham Palace, and have no intention of ever doing so, vive la republique! – though I have passed outside the British Museum.
Though my London adventures weren’t entirely deprived of landmarks. In the late August of 1983, one of the partners and I travelled down to London to participate in the firm’s annual Staff vs Partners Cricket Match. We disembarked at Euston, and the first priority was a quick lunchtime pint. So we marched west along Euston Road before crossing and turning left into this side street, at the end of which was a splendid pub, with thirsty customers spilling out onto benches and tables outside.

                                                                                    Goonery brewed here
To my wondering eyes, I had struck gold. This was the Grafton Arms, and it’s a legendary place in British Comedy History. It was a haunt of ex-servicemen, in the years after the war, struggling comics of all kind, out to get their feet on the rungs, attracted by Landlord Jimmy Grafton, scripter and Agent, with contacts in BBC Radio.
Here, behind the bar, and sleeping in the attic, worked Terrence Milligan: Spike, the great Spike Milligan. Here, impromptu, private, uproarious lock-in performances took place, comedians entertaining comedians. Here a group of four coalesced into a common purpose: Spike Milligan, Michael Bentine, Peter Sellars, Harry Secombe.
Here, The Goon Show was born, and here I was, inadvertently brought to the one pub in London that, above all others, I’d have wanted to visit.
It was even better than taking a wicket and scoring a boundary in the game.
No, in those days, London was the place where you could find treasures undiscoverable in Manchester (and even less so in Nottingham). I speak of bookshops, with a wider range of stock, or record shops with a much wider range of stock, of comics shops that had things that you might hear about in The Comics Journal but never see at our version of the Virgin shop, or the big Market Street HMV. The only problem was twofold: budget and carriage. I could never afford as much as my eyes took in, and on foot through the streets, and even on the long train home, I was limited by what I could carry.
But though it was a great place to pick up those things I couldn’t find at home, I never went to London solely to shop. Even in those days, the train fare was expensive. Sometimes my job might take me there, but more often it was trips to see people I knew in Comics Fandom, at Westminster, to which I would attach Oxford Street runs or, in the Nineties, Cup Final Saturdays. I even went down there twice with my first long-term lady friend, the second time from High Wycombe, where she and I had been invited to house-sit her brother’s home whilst they were away over Easter Weekend.
Apart from overnights at the annual UKCAC (United Kingdom Comics Art Convention), the only other time I stayed in London was in 1986, when I spent a month providing relief for my firm’s London Office.
Things were quiet in Manchester, so much so that I would be one of two Solicitors made redundant in December. One of London’s Articled Clerks had qualified and was leaving, but his replacement couldn’t start for four weeks. So, just as London had helped us a few years earlier by seconding someone to replace our lovely lady litigator when she abruptly left, I was seconded down there, to hold the fort and run down the work to leave the new guy a clean sheet.
I had an initial three day spell, Wednesday to Friday, being shown the files by the guy who was leaving, then four weeks to clear it all. For accommodation, I was living over the job, literally. The offices maintained a flat, on the fifth floor, that was usually used by partners staying overnight after a visit to the Theatre or the Opera, but in which I would live, Monday to Friday.
For my trip to London, Manchester Office bought me a First Class Return – which was hellishly crowded on the Wednesday morning down, during which I saw Cyril Smith forcing his way down the train, but beautifully peaceful, quiet and sunny on the last Friday afternoon home. In between, London Office paid for Second Class Returns to get me back to Manchester for weekends.
It was a very useful experience. I loved the fact that I could get out of bed at 9.00am, eat breakfast, shave, shower, dress and go for my morning paper and be on time to start work at 9.30am. And in the evening, I could pack up at 5.30pm and be ‘home’ for 5.35pm – longer if I took the slow, dark lift.
Basically, I knew no-one, though everyone was very nice, especially the secretaries, and that continued even after they discovered that I didn’t have a TV back in the flat, which meant that they couldn’t keep sneaking off to view the Royal Wedding between Andrew and Fergie (in which I had no interest other than the frustration of my desire to wander up and down the corridors shouting ‘Vive la Republique!’, which I could have gotten away with). There were more than a couple of the secretaries who would have been welcome to sneak up there to not watch TV, and I’m not necessarily talking about the younger ones, either, but I was too shy to offer that kind of hospitality, even in thinly-disguised jest.

                                                                          No. Thank you.
There were quite a few London-based comics fans with whom I met up for drinks, and I got invited to a meal one night, so far out into North London that the Tube had gone overground for the last few stops, and my month overlapped the Saturday of the Lord’s Test against New Zealand, for which I had a ticket organised through London Office since the Spring.
So I dumped my luggage at Euston, early on, and walked a long and tedious hot walk through Regent’s Park to Lords, (which I would visit with Lancashire for the first time only a handful of weeks later, losing the NatWest Trophy Final). It was the day Bob Taylor came out of retirement to fill in for England’s injured wicket-keeper until his agreed-upon replacement could reach Headquarters.
I had to leave early (Phil Edmonds took an unnecessarily spectacular catch whilst I was walking round the back of the Nursery End) to catch the Tube back to Euston in time to catch the last train home. Of course, I could have simply stayed in London all weekend, but among the amenities the flat did not have was a washing machine. So my mother had to hastily turn my washing round to get me back to London, Monday morning, freshly laundered.
The work was not a problem. I was amused to discover that, simply be being in London, I was worth nearly twice as much to my firm in terms of hourly rate, and over half as much again as Manchester partners. And by the nature of my role, the work got lighter and lighter, as I cleared and closed cases until, in my final week, I had only three files left to occupy my time, not one of which I could take over the line before I finished.
Despite that, one of my clients, a Chef at the Connaught Rooms, called in on my final afternoon to present me with a bottle of champagne as a thank you gift. (I saved it to the day of my sister’s wedding, the following May).
What I found best about that strange month was that, after work, after a bite to eat, I could walk up West, to Oxford Street, and find the whole thing a slightly more civilised bustle. The shops didn’t shut until 8.00pm, an innovation that I loved. In Manchester, only Waterstones stayed open that late, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when I was down at the Crown and Anchor, I’d go out an hour early just to spend an hour in the atmosphere of books.
In my last week, I went out on the Thursday night, for a last wander up west. I wound up in the Virgin Megastore, browsing around. This was my last year of vinyl: out of my redundancy monies, unneeded as I got a job inside six weeks, I bought a new hi-fi system, with my first CD player. Something made me look under R, and I discovered a brand new, unheralded, unsuspected REM album (Lifes Rich Pageant), which I grabbed despite being 24 hours, and 270 miles from a record player.
Such things no longer happen. The last surprise capture I enjoyed was Cup Final Day 1996, the Double Double day. I was in the big HMV on Oxford Street and decided to check out the Ps, in case by some miracle the legendary unreleased Pavlov’s Dog Third album had been released on CD, and I discovered that the band had reformed and recorded a fourth album.

                                                          This one. Not the one with the stupid arch.
London no longer produces magic in that sense. Once upon a time, I went into Dark They Were And Golden-Eyed and discovered that they had X-Men comics on import: on import! That put them three months ahead of those of us who still bought them off newstands, brought over by sea. I came out with issues 118-120 when, in Nottingham, I was still waiting for 117.
Of course, the downside was that I now had to wait three months for the story conclusion in 121, which slipped through the net and never made it to any of my Nottingham sources, so I couldn’t pick things up again until 122.
But all the comics are imported now. Leave aside Amazon, and it’s still been a long time since there’s been any major discrepancy between what’s available in London and what I can get here at home. And time, finance, space and interest have narrowed my obsessions down until there are not the things being produced that I want to try.
That didn’t stop me deciding to enjoy a mini-version of my old wanderings the Saturday before last. Or, at least, planning something like that. But I came out of Euston with two hours to kill before the pub rendezvous, and it was a hot, sunny day, so I walked down Woburn Place and Southampton Row, looking for the turn into New Oxford Street, to enable me to locate Tottenham Court Road tube station, and orient myself to find Forbidden Planet on Shaftesbury Avenue.
But foolish and provincial me was not competent to deal with metropolitan sophistication and not putting street names on corners, you know, where you might want to turn into the one you’re looking for, not to mention putting such names on maps and then not having the streets appear where the map says it is.
So I wound up all the way down the bottom of Kingsway, turning onto Aldwych and finding Drury Lane, and wandering about at High Holborn until by sheer luck I found the shop I wanted, and I wandered it and found no magical, must-buy surprises.
Nor were there any in Foyles bookshop on Charing Cross Road, where a Gay Pride March was gearing up, so I decided to head towards Fleet Street and did so along High Holborn, intending to turn down Chancery Lane, except that, you guessed it, the street sign was non-existent and I ended up on Fetter Lane instead, and sitting in the sun for ten minutes, dehydrating even more, because after all that I was still early.
Then a great time was had by all and I took a taxi back to Euston rather than accentuate my paranoia about times any more and came home to Manchester.
Visiting That London’s no big deal anymore. Unless you’re meeting up with friends who, poor things, live down there. As only one out of all of us did, actually…

Dan Dare plagiarism – part 3

I’m gratified to note that, on Peter Crawford’s Dan Dare blog, the entire story page, which contained the vast majority of rip-offs of my essays here, no longer exists: thank you, Google.

This still leaves his Introduction, which is, of course, my Introduction, and the section on Flamer Spry on the page about Characters is my ‘Elephant in the Spaceship’ blog, with some light editing to remove the title.

Hopefully, Mr Crawford will take the hint and clean up his act, but if those pages still exist tomorrow, I’ll be submitting further Complaints about both.

Get it through your head, Mr Crawford, that what other people spend time and thought in preparing and writing and putting on the Internet is not for you to freely thieve and claim to be your own work. Someone supposedly ten years older than me, not that your picture suggests that, should have been taught better.

The Infinite Jukebox: three by The Walker Brothers

The Infinite Jukebox is well aware that a lot of Sixties love songs sound a little dodgy in the more egalitarian world of the Twenty-First Century. Sixties pop is very chauvinist in many respects, not least the idea that everything revolves around how the man treats the woman. As long as he ‘treats her right’, i.e., doesn’t lie, cheat, hit her, takes her out to nice places and pays for her, she’s his, and she has no excuse for not loving him.
What the woman might feel in such a situation, is really not the issue. As long as he’s treating her right, she’s got no excuse for not loving him.
Three very big exceptions to this ‘rule’ happened one year for The Walker Brothers. The year was 1965/6 and it was to be their Wunderjahr. There were minor hits before and after, in Britain, which took them to its heart in the way their homeland didn’t, but in this year they scored two Number Ones with a Number Two between them, and each of these songs were classics, perfect examples of how ‘manufactured pop’ can also be high art.
The first of these was ‘Make it easy on yourself’. The song’s by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, the melody’s wide and gorgeous, a soaring orchestra above a simple, easy-paced, initially piano-based rhythm, a chorus backed by a wordless choir. It’s smooth, it’s sweeping, it’s an echo of the Phil Spector Wall of Sound and it creates an atmosphere of drama, as John Walker (John Maus in real life: the Walkers were neither Brothers nor named Walker) raises his clear tenor across the sound to create three minutes of magic.
He loves the girl. She used to love him, but that’s not the case any more: there’s someone else. We know nothing about this other guy, who he is, what he’s done to win her love, but it doesn’t matter. He still loves her, loves her so much that her happiness is the only thing he will take into account. If you really love him, he says, and there’s nothing I can do, don’t try to spare my feelings, just tell me that we’re through.
Because he still loves her, but it’s her feelings that matter most. It’s her happiness that is important, above everything. And if she does love this guy more than him, then it’s simple: go to him. Breaking up is a shitty thing for both of them, but he is determined to shoulder as much of the pain as he can, so that she is not hurt.
Once again, and in words that are a self-lacerating confession no lover ever wants to make, even to themselves, he addresses the heart of things. If the way I hold you can’t compare to his bliss, no words of consolation will make me miss you less.
He tells her to run to the other guy, run and don’t look back, because as soon as she’s gone, he’s going to break, but there’s no reason she should be made to break too. He will take it all upon himself, in a moment of pure self-sacrifice, and self-abnegation that is almost spiritual.
Make it easy on yourself, he pleads. He doesn’t want her to see him crying, now out of some stupid issue of machismo, but because he doesn’t want it to make her cry as well.
And the music soars and swells and shapes itself around the titanic sound of the Walkers’ voices, fading away into the oblivion the singer has assumed for himself, all for the love of another.
‘My Ship Is Comin’ In’ was another matter. It’s the same mid-paced ballad, the piano leading in, the orchestra, more distinctly divided between horns and strings, surrounding the singers, but this time it’s Scott Engels’ richer, deeper voice pulling the story along. From the very first, it’s to and of his girl that he sings, his first words to say how good she’s been to him. It’s a song, a testament of faith and gratitude and love.
He hasn’t treated her right. No, he hasn’t lied, cheated, hit her, anything like that. But he’s never been able to do for her the things he wanted, give her the things he believes that she deserves. There have been bad times for him, nothing but bad times, struggles and wants and deprivations. He’s had nothing to give her but himself and her love and she’s stayed by his side, because that’s what she wants of him: his love.
But from now on, it’ll all changes. The things he’s been working towards, the battles he’s fought, to live, to thrive, to change that bad fortune, they’re coming good. It’s going to happen. His ship is coming in, like they used to in the merchant days, and it’s loaded with good things, and he’s going to be loaded. His dreams are coming true.
And what matters most to him about all this? Not his own riches, not the freedom and liberty it gives him, but what it means for her. Her faithfulness, her loyalty all these years, and at long last he can treat her as he believes she should be treated. At long last he can fill her life with wonderful things, he can give her good times as she’s never had, and that means more to him than anything he will gain for himself.
Perhaps there’s an air of relief about it, perhaps some pride is tangled up in this, relief from the shame of not being ale to give his girl what other men could, though she’s never showed any signs of resenting him for it. But in the end, what he sings of is his love, and that she is what gives his fortune, his fast-approaching ship any true meaning.
And then there was ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’. Last and greatest of these three songs, this song takes hold of love from a similar angle to ‘Make It Easy On Yourself’, but from further on. She’s gone now, gone to him, to indifference, perhaps to death, maybe she never ever loved him and all he did was look from afar, it really doesn’t matter. She’s gone, but love remains. And he remains.
Once again, it’s Scott who sings, and it really couldn’t be anyone else. Though this is a Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio song, a Frankie Valli solo, it can only be Scott Walker, with that simultaneous richness and deepness in his tones that can conduct into this place, this land where those who love and who have lost can only exist, in darkness, of the eyes, of the heart, of the soul.
Loneliness, Scott sings, is a cloak you wear. A deep shade of blue is always there. The song has started on a strong, almost marching rhythm, a beating drum, a shaken tambourine, a prominent, melodic bass. Horns accompany that near-martial intro, but it’s almost a shock to realise that in this big, overpowering sound, the instrumentation is so sparse, only the percussion supporting Scott’s voice, alone in a big space.
There’s a drift of sound, distant strings, and then the horns play out a melody over that simple lament, all the more powerful for being such a plain statement of fact. The sun ain’t gonna shine anymore. The moon ain’t gonna rise in the sky. The tears are always cloudin’ your eyes, when you’re without love.
It isn’t even a complaint. It’s what it is, it’s knowledge, true knowledge, and it can’t be unlearned. From here, in the midst of this empty land, a very long way from anywhere else, there is nothing but to be. Nothing to lose, but no more to win.
That love may return, may be found with someone else, that the sun might indeed shine again are thoughts that have no place, as Scott and John’s voices come together, sharing pain, alternating, moving ever deeper inwards in this place of no light.
Love is a strange and powerful thing, and it’s a dangerous creature in the wrong hands. In the year of their glory, The Walker Brothers explored corners of it that many chose not to approach. These songs always play in sequence on the Infinite Jukebox.

Make It Easy On Yourself

My Ship Is Coming In

The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore

Dan Dare plagiarism – part 2

Just to notify Peter Crawford that I have submitted a complaint to Google as to your plagiarism of my blogpost Dan Dare: Prisoners of Space.

This is a token complaint at this stage as there are other of my blogposts that you have printed without consent or accreditation and further complaints will be made in respect of each of these, as necessary.

I also note that you are reprinting portions of Frank Hampson’s art from Dan Dare which carry a copyright notice in the name of Zac Sawyer, in amongst items or original art properly credited to Mr Sawyer. I suggest that you rectify this immediately.

Dan Dare: Operation Earth-Saver

Dan Dare in black and white

The boy who had been reading Eagle since Odhams had taken over had seen plenty of changes in Dan Dare alone, not to mention changes in the other features the comic had to offer. But he could not have been prepared for the changes between the 3rd and 10th March, 1962.
One week he was reading not merely Dan Dare but also Storm Nelson and ‘Riders of the Range’, veterans of the Hulton glory years, as well as the more recent but still established ‘Knights of the Road’ and ‘Danger Unlimited’. Then there was the series of Famous Short Stories, the new football strip, ‘Home of the Wanderers’ and the centrespread, a rather stilted historical drama entitled ‘The Sword of Fate’.
Then, a mere seven days later, it was all gone. No more Silver Fleet or Jeff Arnold and Luke. No crime-cracking lorry-drivers or Queen’s Messengers. Everything swept away, even down to the famous red title box, with the name of Eagle spelt out in red letters against a white background, the eagle itself flying across the middle letter.
After a mere twenty weeks, ‘Men of Action’ had gone from the cover, but the biggest shock of all was that, after nearly twelve years, so too had Dan Dare. Eagle’s cover was now divided into three colour panels, advertising stories inside.
‘Home of the Wanderers’ had survived the cull, sneaking onto page 3, and it had been joined by adaptations of Conan Doyle’s Professor Challenger book, ‘The Lost World’ and Max Brand’s short story ‘Flaming Irons’. Frank Bellamy had taken over the centrespread for the life story of Montgomery, and there were yet more new features, one in comics form, ‘Sergeant Bruce C.I.D.’ and the other in words, ‘Beau Fortune’.
Thankfully, there was still Dan Dare, but there were still more shocks. Not only had Dan lost the cover for the first time in Eagle’s history, but he wasn’t in colour any more. Eagle’s flagship character had not just been shunted inside, he was reduced to black and white!
Indeed, there was even more change than the boy reader realised, for on top of everything else, there was a complete change in the creative team. Eric Eden, Don Harley and Bruce Cornwell were kicked off the series without a word of explanation and, in Harley and Cornwell’s case at least, without a word. Notoriously and disgracefully, they had completed the art for the final episode of The Earth-Stealers and then were left to wonder where the next script was coming from. Whether Eden was treated similarly has never been disclosed, but presumably he did get some notification about not pitching a new story.
Eden’s place was taken by David Motton, who would write most of the rest of the series, to mixed responses from Dan Dare fans, but it was the new artist who was the most interesting part of the changeover, for this was Keith Watson.
After quitting Eagle in disgust at Odhams’ treatment of the series, Watson had gone on success drawing Dan’s main rival, Captain Condor, in the rather more downmarket Lion. When Longacre decided on a new artist, Watson was free, having recently been relieved of the Captain Condor job, and accepted the offer to take over.
Ironically, Watson got the job on the strength of his work at Lion, not because he had previous experience on Dan Dare. Incredible as it may seem, Longacre had no idea Watson had ever worked on the series before. And, as Watson later commented, had they known, he would not have got within a mile of Dan Dare. And because of that twist of fate, the series survived.
Because Longacre wanted Dan Dare killed. It was never admitted, but the conditions they placed on the series made it obvious. Taken off the cover, crammed inside, reduced to black and white, restricted to stories no longer than thirteen weeks in length, no supporting characters and nothing but Earth-threatening menaces, it is abundantly clear that the intention was to weaken the series and kill its appeal until it could be cancelled with minimal protest.
But appointing Keith Watson would frustrate Longacre’s plan. He’d started as Frank Hampson’s assistant, he’d resigned over the mis-treatment of the series and here he was as its artist, and his heart and soul went into the determination to restore Dan’s former glories. Out went Frank Bellamy’s designs, in favour of the traditional Spacefleet uniforms and insignia. Watson would show, with some of his inventive layouts, that he had learned from Bellamy too, but he brought back the Look, so that Dan Dare looked like Dan Dare again.
And without the need to colour the art, Watson had additional time to hone his work. In some ways, he was more stylised than Hampson, and in years to come there would be occasions when his faces were too abstract and cartoonish, but at least at first he was drawing his socks off and giving every reader something to cling to.
If Longacre hadn’t appointed Keith Watson, and instead brought in an artist who was just doing the job his client wanted of him, Longacre would probably have got their way. Thankfully for all of us, their ignorance, and their underlying arrogance in not needing to know, undermined them fatally.
The story itself was crisp and direct, and might have made a good story if allowed room in which to breathe. It ran a mere thirteen weeks and would not have felt over-stretched if that length had been doubled.
Operation Earth-Saver started in Australia, at Woomera, where Dan and Digby supervise the launch of a new satellite, to study cosmic radiation at an orbit of 5,000 miles, before they go on a fishing trip. Almost immediately, various regions on Earth, starting in Cornwall, suffer rapid and excessive plant growth.
This plant growth threatens a world crisis. Food, vegetables, flowers and even garden insects grow to fantastic sizes, becoming unusable as food and causing ecological disaster everywhere.
Dan enlists the assistance of leading biologist Professor Grainger, who has to be rescued from a seaweed draped liner in the Atlantic. They quickly diagnose the issue as being radiation reflected from the new satellite, but are unable to launch to reach it when two gigantic grasshoppers jump on their ship and over-balance it.
The solution comes when the trio are inadvertently drawn into a bell-like spaceship that is gathering deposits of organic material piled up on Earth (they are not aware that they share the craft with a nuclear warhead). This ship takes them to a distant planet whose dominant life-form is intelligent and mobile plants, using cowed human slaves to attend to them.
Dan and Digby succeed in fomenting rebellion against the plants, by their example, and are packed off back to Earth, leaving the revolution to proceed without them. No radiation, plants go back to normal.
It’s well-written, and not without sufficient character-differentiation in the dialogue, whilst Motton introduces a new, more descriptive element, sometimes expressed in florid similes and metaphors, into the narration, but it’s without frills, and it’s pacy and punchy. It’s just that it could have been more with little effort.
As for Keith Watson, his art was superb. The black & white format allowed him to concentrate on clear, distinct, rounded images and his use of grey wash to indicate shade is also excellent. Later in his term, when I began reading Eagle as a boy, I would look at his B&W work and naively assume that he had worked in colour, only for it to be printed and black and white.
The biggest flaw in this initial effort is how frequently, and melodramatically, the story harps on the utter devastation being caused by the overgrowing vegetation, to the point where it would take more than just stopping the damage to enable Earth to recover: the clean-up would have to take forever, and the planet couldn’t recover at all quickly. This has to be the new reality for future stories. But you know that’s not going to be. And it isn’t.