The World At War: e25 – Reckoning (1945… and after)


So after the War, the…?

The penultimate episode of The World at War is one of the hardest to respond to, because it lacked an ending. The War was over in terms of the shots and shells but in terms of its effects it wasn’t over in 1973 and it still isn’t over half a century later. The episode had a strong ending, a few simple words from Olivier, carrying an irony that was always contingent, stated that there had been peace in Europe for thirty years.

The episode went straight into the ruins of the War, the immense confusion, the crippled and broken countries, the soldiers being returned to their homes or at least their homelands, the refugees, the starving, the desperate. For a long way into the episode the historical footage was in colour, interrupted at first only by the creation of the United Nations, in black and white, staged for the cameras. I couldn’t help but see the symbolism in such choices, though there was enough black and white historical footage throughout the rest of the episode to suit.

What the episode was about was reactions. The United Nations. The Nuremberg War Trials. Stalin’s preferred solution: to summarily execute 50,000 Wehrmacht Generals and Soldiers. The division of Germany, first into Allied Ocupied zones and then, unintentionally but with historical inevitability, into separate countries that remained very separate when this series was made. The reconstruction of Germany and of Japan. Most of all, though, it was about the Breaking of the Fellowship.

War creates a shape, a single-mindedness, that Peace almost immediately breaks down. War is about unity of purpose and intent, shorn of the freedom to aspire individually, but Peace is about individual wishes, desires and pursuits. War cloaked the differences between Russia and the other Allies. Peace enabled each nation to seek its own ends. This was what this episode was about, about how to restore the world when it’s shaping powers had different intentions.

The episode relied heavily upon historians rather than witesses. It had to go beyond facts and into explanations. There was almost a school report as the episode neared its conclusion, assessing what each country got out of its War. Who, in the long term, were the winners and the losers? In a way, Britain were the biggest losers, getting next to nothing out of the War except, as one historian aptly defined it, the moral claim, the moral authority, for not caving in, for standing against Hitler, alone, for a year. We’re still living on that now.

And it was noticeable how many people sought to make what came over as excuses for what happened to Eastern Europe, which was left to Stalin and the Soviet system, a living presence in 1973. There was a certain defensiveness to the way all the speakers wanted to make the point that in comparison to what it wsould have been like under Naziism, the likes of Poland got it light. It didn’t convince. What happened was a fact and an unavoidable one, but let’s not pretend it was that much lesser an evil. ‘Slightly sinister’ (slightly!) vs ‘very sinister’.

So many aspects. The rise of nationalism in Asia and Africa and India, the insistence upon the right to self-determination. None said a word against it. Indeed, Lord Mountbatten was wheeled on to take a regretful, of course, potshot at the French, for decidingto go back into Indochina with arms instead of diplomacy: they were fighting still back then. And demobilisation, though the word was not used, turning soldiers back into men with civilian suits (one of George MacDonald Fraser’s McAuslan short stories, the last of them, was about demobilisation).

But in the end it was the end that mattered most. Not just Olivier’s brief words but before it, the soldiers coming home, coming back to home, family, loved ones, the separation and the fear over. We saw hundreds of them, women frantically running round, looking for their husbands, finding them and hugging and kissing like they were never going to let go, fathers holding children as if they ewere the most precious thing on Earth. The naked emotion of a reserved people, stripped of all restraint, just extreme love and relief. War is a hateful thing, however ‘necessary’ it may sometimes be, like the defence of Ukraine. But among its aftermaths are moments like this, when nothing but the moment matters. It was a sight to be beholden, and one you would give kingdoms to have rendered unnecessary.

The Infinite Jukebox: Eddi Reeder’s ‘Bell, Book and Candle’

How I even got to hear this song in the first place, I do not understand. It isn’t listed among Eddi Reeder’s solo singles in her discography in Wikipedia, and the only one that is and which reached the Top 30 I have never heard of before, let alone heard. Indeed, I have no conscious recollection of hearing any other Eddi Reader song in my life.
That is, of course, to disregard the one song she sung that I know only too well, the Fairground Attraction number 1 hit, ‘Perfect’, in 1988. I hated that. I haven’t heard it in donkey’s years though merely writing about it brings the chorus up in my head.
So what this song was doing being played somewhere where I could hear it, and several times, not merely once, I simply do not know. Written by Boo Hewerdine of The Boo Radleys, it comes from her fourth album, released in 1998. I wasn’t listening to any radio that I can recollect then. But somehow, somewhere and when, it was played and I heard it often enough for it to lodge in my head. Equally, I have some notion that it was at a time when Reader was not being taken very seriously as a singer at all, so that liking anything of hers was akin to trespassing upon some kind of Pale. But notwithstanding that I heard it often enough for the song to equally lodge in my heart.
It’s a fragile song, a slow rhythm, an undemonstrative melody, much of which is carried by Reader’s voice, backed by acoustic instruments. It’s title is a reference to the classic tools of exorcism, and this is the angle from which the words are approached, or so it seems.
Looking at the words in more detail, it becomes much harder to determine what Reeder is singing. At first it seems so simple. Reeder is looking back, reliving in her mind with that peculiar mixture of absorption in what was and relief that it is no longer that all former lovers understand is the aftermath of something that was so intense. It’s that latecoming recognition that you cannot long live at such heights, coupled with the desire to return to them now that life has become staid, even and, frankly, dull.
She is full of the look and the form of him, the blue around the morning moon the colour of his eyes – such a gorgeously precise definition – holding him and falling through summer skies. And then that crucial moment that both fixes and blurs the question: You’re everything that I’ve become in every word I say, I need a bell, a book and candle to keep your ghost away.
Just what has becomes of them? That it’s the past she is singing of is obvious: he isn’t there any more, nor has he been for such a long time. At first I thought he was dead, lost to the furthest extent someone can be lost, and that she is haunted by him. But though she is haunted, it’s not by any ectoplasmic manifestation. He is a ghost but he’s one that’s generated from within her, by her, by what he made of her.
Because his presence lingers in everything she sees, says and does, and most of all in her. His ghost inhabits her, to the extent that, in order to be herself again and not merely the shadow of him she feels she has become, she needs an escape, an exorcism. Her return, over and again, to those simple words, I need a ball, a book and candle to keep your ghost away, are both a deep irony and a heartfelt wish.
Whatever has happened, whether the separation is purely physical or whether it is eternal, she needs to escape from the shadow he has become to her, if she is to live again. She needs to make a life in which he is not present, in which she can see, hear, feel, touch, taste things that don’t remind her of him, that are free of association with him. Only then can she live again. Does it take an actual bell, book and candle to grant her that?
Reeder sings from within herself, in two different senses. She is drawing up what might, in religious terms, be termed her soul, her deepest feelings, deliberately facing what was the most intense time of her life, and trying to rid herself of it, and she is keeping away from passion in her voice. She could be louder, angrier, boil with rage, but instead she hunches her shoulders, sings with restraint and yearning, knowing that she cannot achieve what she wants by her own resources alone. She needs aid. She needs whatever equates to a bell, a book and a candle to keep his ghost from consuming her utterly.
Such a soft and gentle song, yet one that contains such amazing depths. Or is it only me that sees it so, from knowledge and experience, Though in my case, perhaps the true sadness was that I was not shaped enough. I can’t listen too much to this song but when I do I want to hear it over and over, longing to capture in my own voice what Eddi Reeder, the once singer of ‘Perfect’, so effortlessly touches. Keep your ghost away, keep your ghost away…

Film 2023: Genevieve


Coming to you earlier than usual, because I have a Cup Final to watch later on, I have been watching Genevieve, a British Film comedy classic of its time, though as it’s time was 1953 that’s not the assurance it might otherwise be. It’s one of those films that was a staple of Sunday afternoon television in the old, quiet days of little by the way of alternatives and I’ve seen bits of it on many occasions, but I don’t remember ever watching it in full before today.

Like other British films such as The Sandwich Man and Bedazzled, Genevieve is a time capsule, a depiction of its times both in the real life of early Fifties Britain that is its backdrop and of the filmic response to such things. It’s based on the London to Brighton Car Rally, then less than thirty years old, an annual rally for owners of vintage cars, commemorating the ‘Emancipation Run’, a drive from the London Metropole Hotel to the Brighton Metropole Hotel to celebrate the abolition of the law requiring motor vehicles to be preceded by a man on foot carrying a red flag.

The Rally is run today even though it’s restricted to cars built before 1905, making it an ever more impressive miracle of engineering. The film was made with the co-operation of the Veteran Car Club of Great Britain, including the lending to the film-makers of two genuine pre-1905 motor cars, a Darrocq and a Stryker.

The Run is the framework for the film but the comedy is the antics and rivalry of two couples engaged in this year’s rally. These are junior Barrister Alan McKim (John Gregson), his wife Wendy (Dinah Sheridan), his best friend, brash advertising man Ambrose Culverhouse (Kenneth More) and his girlfriend-for-the-weekend Rosalind Peters (Kay Kendall). As far as the story goes, the film could lmost be sub-titled Men Behving Idiotically because it’s spurred by Alan and Ambrose’s rivalry over their respective cars, with which they’re obsessed. The Run isn’t a race, most assuredly it’s not a race, but from the outset the pair are not only fiercely protective of their beloved vehicles but, especially in Ambrose’s case, offensive about the other’s vehicle.

I’ll say straight away that whilst neither bloke comes out smelling of roses, More’s performance as Ambrose got up my nose from the very beginning and Gregson is only a more sympathetic character by default. What their friendship is based upon is anybody’s guess since their entire conversation is based upon insults, mostly from Ambrose. It’s one of those attraction-of-opposites friendships, though almost completely lacking in the friendliness aspect. Indeed, it’s a lot like the relationship between Ian Carmichael and Terry-Thomas in School for Scoundrels.

Then there’s the ladies. Wendy and Alan have been married for three years. It was Ambrose who introduced them and midway through the film it’s established that in 1949 Wendy was Ambrose’s travelling companion and intended partner in the classic Brighton dirty weekend (it’s also firmly established that nothing happened and that she locked him out of their room all night because this in 1953 and wives were always pure before their marriage, the censors said so). Wendy in the main, and Rosalind to a lesser degree, echo the Last of the Summer Wine attitude that women are the more practical, hard-headed, mature and spoilsport gender, unable to share the boyish and natural enthusiasms of their menfolk, though during the film I was more mindful of Dave Sim’s approach to the same divide.

Anyway, the film breaks down into three uneven arcs. There’s the set-up, of Alan’s enthusiasm for the Run contrasting with Wendy’s inability to share his obsession, shded by her ultimate concession to joining him yet again and not going to the Cocktail Party she obviously would prefer, a sequence touched by the genuine love between this pair and their willingness to sacrifice their own pleasures for each other (incidentally, they may be a loving husband and wife but the only time we see Alan kiss his wife on the lips as opposed to her cheek, we don’t even see him kiss her cos his head’s in the way, so I doubt Gregson actually did).

The second arc is the Run to Brighton on the Saturday, which goes smoothly for mbrose, despite Rosalind’s discomfort nd her insistence upon bringing along her St Bernard dog, Susie whilst lan and Wendy experience massive discomforts, delays and frustrations, have to sleep in a cheap, ramshackle, nasty hotel that in itself is a picture of British seaside accomodation and ending up falling out over Alan’s sudden jealousy over Wendy’s ‘past’ with Ambrose (and she asking him to make love to her, the bloody idiot).

Which sets up the film’s third and longest arc as Alan, in a jealous fit, reacts to Ambrose’s latest prodding by challenging him to a race back to London, strictly against Club rules, and betting £100 on the outcome, which has been established as being practically every penny he and Wendy possess.

The rest of the film is about that run back, the problems, complications and increasing bad behaviour of, first Ambrose then Alan, to cheat each other. Ultimately, the girls get into the rivalry as much as their men, Wendy the most, and it’s she and Alan who win, or rather Genevive who does it for them at the last.

It’s very interesting, the difference just a handful of years makes. School for Scoundrels, five years later, has a gentle undertone to its comedy that I responded to, but Genevieve only made me actually laugh twice. It relies on a level of slapstick it doesn’t really carry through on and its performnces are stilted. Everyone speaks with Received Pronunciation (except for the very occasionl comedy yokel) and in cut glass, but the worst of it is the artificiality of the laughter. More, as Clive James once pointed out, spent his entire career under the impression that the words ‘Hah, hah’ delivered direct to camera constituted mirth and that’s laid on with trowel here. Gregson’s not far behind him in that espect, and even Sheridan ‘laughs’ long and unnaturally.

No, this is a film that has definitely outlived its time and, as a comedy, is now museum piece demonstrating what once was thought funny. It isn’t now. Though the cars are wonderful, to those whose enthusiasm they are, and even I couldn’t help but admire them, nd there’ a lovely moment, late on, when Alan’s innate decency prevails effortlessly over the race, in which Genevieve herself has become the price, and looks to have blown things in order to satisfy the joyous curiosity of an elderly stranger. So I’ve now seen the film in full, and can rest incurious.

Incidentally, I was surprised to note from Wikipedia that, a decade later, writer William Rose proposed a bigger and broader re-make, set in Scotland. The idea was taken up, on condition that the story be transferred to America, which it was. Where it was filmed as It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

A Flight with the Swift: Part 1

As a little boy, being introduced to comics in the very late Fifties, I read such things as TV Comic, Harold Hare Weekly and Robin. This latter, edited by the Reverend Marcus Morris, was for the little brothers and sisters of the boys and girls who read Eagle and Girl. In November 1963, I would move to Eagle via a dozen very cheap issues bought for me by my Dad at the back end of a Church Bring-and-Buy Sale.
But there was an intermediate comic in Morris’s little stable, designed to mediate between Robin and Eagle, and this was Swift. When I jumped to Eagle it was not there any more, having been merged into the older title earlier in 1963, after being founded in 1954.
I have some very vague memories of seeing things from Swift, largely indistinct images featuring characters smaller and slimmer than those from Eagle, as befitted the younger age range it catered to. I do not believe I ever read, or even saw, an issue of the title. It’s repute and collectability has never come anywhere near that of Eagle. But in its pages, there were features and stories by artists who worked on Eagle, and there is after all the completist’s compulsion to know all, or as much as can be determined.
So I have acquired a two DVFD run of Swift: incomplete, of course, but no better record exists unless I am to move to London to consult the set in the British Library. Time once again to venture into a hidden corner, drag out what I can find and explain it for those who are interested.

Swift 1

In total, 460 issues of Swift were published, coming out on Tuesday with a Saturday cover date, between 20 March 1954 and 2 March 1963, just two-and-a-half weeks short of nine years. The DVD set I am using has 174 issues and five Annuals, so it’s spread a bit thin. It includes the first issue, though that exists in isolation: the next available issue is 2 July 1955, over fifteen months later.
After that there’s a mostly continuous run until November 1958, and beyond, only four issues from the remaining four and a bit years of the title, including its great transformation in 1961. So this can only be a partial survey of the comic, but at least it seems to be representative of Swift as conceived and edited by Marcus Morris.
Looking at issue 1 alone convinces me that I must at some point have had, or several times read, a Swift Annual, because I immediately recognised more features than I anticipated. What did Swift no. 1 consist of?
It consisted of twenty pages, mixing colour with black and white. The cover feature was Tarna the Jungle Boy, a pre-adolescent Tarzan, (1½ pp, the internal half page in B&W); Mono the Moon-Man, (½p cartoon serial); Nicky Nobody, about an orphan and his dog (1p); Educating Archie (½p cartoon based on the popular radio ventriloquist); Things to Amuse You (½p); Tom Tex and Pinto, a western (1p); The Wreck of the Morning Mist (1p Coastguard prose adventure), plus one-tier strip Kono the Bushbaby; The Fleet Family in Island of Secrets (1p); full-colour 2pp centrespread incorporating natural world feature This Wonderful World, Men in Action, Speed and John Ryan’s Sir Boldasbrass; Paul English – adventures of a cabin boy (1p); three cartoons across one page, Roddy the Roadscout, The Topple Twins (both two tiers) and Daisy (one tier); Sammy and his Speedsub (½p) and Our Gang (½ ); editorial page; The Boy David and Sally of Fern Farm (½p each); Heroes of Today – no. 1 Sterling Moss (1p); The Sign of the Scarlet Ladybird (1p, full colour, back page – a sponsored strip in the mould of Eagle‘s Tommy Walls, this time promoting Ladybird children’s shirts). A veritable mixed bag.
Tarna I knew about, but Nicky Nobody, Our Gang and Roddy the Road Scout jumped out at me by name and, in the case of the latter two, art style. These two I had seen before. Indeed, Our Gang was a refreshing, endlessly inventive and attractive cartoon, drawn throughout by Dennis Mallet, who went on to draw the Mr Therm Gas adverts in Eagle around the turn of the decade.
Reviewing the initial line-up is something of a fool’s errand, especially if the next available issue is fifteen months later, but two things sprang immediately to mind. The first was that whereas Eagle‘s series were about adult adventurers (PC49’s Boy’s Club and the much-later Jack O’Lantern being the major exceptions), Swift is aiming for exact contemporaries of its readership, and direct identification.
The other was that whilst the cartoon strips, the Ladybird series and The Boy David were straight comic series, the other strips used a combination of in-panel speech-bubbles and the pre-War out-dated typed under-panel captions, as maintained in Rupert the Bear. It gave the comic a very archaic feel, and whilst I won’t use the word condescending as being too pejorative, it did give the impression that the readership weren’t exactly trusted to get what was going on without having it spelled out for them. And remember, these readers were older than the babies for whom Robin was produced.
And though they don’t look it, The Fleet Family and Paul English are being drawn by Frank Bellamy. Unlike Eagle, there were no credits on or attached to the art, with the exception of Peters signing Mono the Moon-Man (I wouldn’t).
The Swift of July 1955, Vol 2 no. 27 is only 16 pages. It still has Tarna on the cover, but Roddy the Road-Scout has moved up to replace Mono. Sue Carter, in Children of the Kite, now occupied page 3, with Tim, whom I’m guessing is her brother. Our Gang, consisting of Tubby, Teena and Tich, the latter pair being siblings, have gone up to a full page (though they will end up spending more time at three tiers on a four tier page), whilst Tom Tex has added Buckskin, an adult cowboy who he tells what to do. Page 6 still hosts the prose series, which is now The Magic Penknife, about another brother/sister combination who own a, guess what? Frank Bellamy’s adaptation of Swiss Family Robinson was in full swing, but you still wouldn’t know it was him.
The centrespread was still in colour and This Wonderful World up to instalment 66, accompanied by In Other Lands 39, but the bottom half was now The Rolling Stones – clearly not those ones, but a family of little kid acrobats, a boy and two girls, Johnny, Pam and Midge, who are part of a circus family.
Paul English survived but as a captioned one page story, with six square panels of illustrations: hardly a comics page. Page 11 offers The Bentine Bumblies, a creation of Michael Bentine, again in captions. As befits the former Goon, it’s silly but vivid. Remembering his later Children’s programme Potty Time, I checked Wikipedia to discover that this was how the Bumblies originated.
Sammy and his Speedsub was still going, now at a full page, with the editorial page on page 13. Picture Stories from the Bible shared the next page with the Topple Twins, Nicky Nobody on page 15 and the Ladybird strip still on the back page. As to the fortunes and fates of all the other starters, it’s anybody’s guess.

Swift 5

This too was an isolated issue but there were only three missing before I got into the straight run, allowing me to really get to grips with the title. Three weeks it might have been but it was enough for Swiss Family Robinson to have completed and be replaced by The Strong Family, who live on a tramcar-boat. Instead, Bellamy had started his King Arthur and all his Knights on pp 10 and 11, and this time he looked the artist we know him to have been, with room to breathe. Paul English had also disappeared, a very fair trade.
Tex Tom was replaced by another western, Cliff McCoy and Slicker (his horse again), boy hero for adult cowboy, written by the very familiar figure of Charles Chilton.
An initial seven week run was enough for me to come to some informed judgements, and the most important one is that Swift is very much a children’s comic in the way that neither Eagle nor any other of the British weekly’s I’ve read these past few years have been. They’ve all been children’s comics, but at the same time, much of the material had been inventive, energetic, clever and engaging, drawing their readership on and upwards.
In contrast, Swift is simple and simplistic, and without actually talking down to its generation of readers, takes care not to be in any way difficult for them. King Arthur is head and shoulders the best thing about it so far, with striking, positive art, but both its captions and especially its dialogue is unchallenging. No-one talks with any naturalness, nor personality. Everything is purely descriptive, and no-one is allowed to use a contraction. It must always be ‘It is’, and never ‘it’s’. Bellamy draws strong images but they are closed off and captioned boxes, without movement and certainly without his usual dynamism.
As for the rest of the features, only Sue Carter is a genuine serial, with a long running story. Not much happens each week but we are still reading Children of the Kite, ten episodes thus far (without any explanation of who Sue or Tim is or why they’re there). This is brave stuff. Tarna, Sammy and Nicky Nobody are far less complex. Tarna and Nicky’s stories go on for several weeks , whilst Sammy very rarely exceeds three weeks, and never more than four. The rest are all more-or-less one-offs.
The Magic Penknife is written to an unvarying formula. Sally and Bobby White own a magic penknife that has two blades, not that they use either for cutting anything, not in Swift, in case they give the readers the idea of using a penknife to cut anything, probably their own fingers. Instead, they rub the blades against things. The big blade ‘makes things what they could be’, which means they get bigger (and realer) until the Whites can no longer control them, then they chase after it to rub the little blade against it, to turn it back into the toy it was, without anyone else knowing.
Nor are the stakes high enough to be called adventures. It’s comfortable and cosy. It’s bound and determined not to give anybody nightmares, which means that the stories are not that interesting. Chilton’s Cliff McCoy is well written, but in common with the rest of the comic, his dialogue is brief, to the point, and impersonal. Any adult reading these strips is likely only to enjoy them to the extent that the children he’s reading them to are doing. It’s less dumbed-down than dumbed across.
As for the comic comics, Bentine’s Bumblies are the most anarchic but half a page is far too little, but perhaps because it’s the only thing that carries a spark of nostalgia for me, I’m finding Our Gang charming, and often amusing, probably because there’s a bit of opposition between Tubby, the leader, and the sometimes recalcitrant Teena and Tich.
Resuming reading, vol 2 no 38 advertises a new Nicky Nobody story whilst Sue Carter’s serial finally establishes why it’s called ‘Children of the Kite’. The Magic Penknife was used for the last time, replaced next issue by Jack and Judy’s Diary. There were more changes two weeks later, with Chickadee in Shadowland replacing the Bumblies, and a new colour short strip Tammy, about a sheepdog, squeezed into the centrespread to replace the animal feature.
Tammy was the sheepdog’s story from a pup, Chickadee had an Alice in Wonderland feel, a lonely little girl (Robin age) carried away into strange semi-educational lands by her imaginary playmate, Shadow Boy, but Jack and Judy was a quasi-educational notion: two ordinary kids leading ordinary lives and learning useful lessons that the readers could pick up on, like about Guy Fawkes and Bonfire night.
Volume 2 no 46 came out the day after I was born. Am I not allowed to mention that?

King Arthur and his Knights
King Arthur and his Knights

Chickadee’s story developed quietly on quite imaginative lines. At first, she had crossed into the Shadowlands London, where are the statues came to life and started wanting to see more of the city than their normal spots allowed. Other stories would take her into the Past, the World of Clocks and the time of Jesus Christ. Very simple stuff to us, but for the little kids…
Sammy’s latest adventure featured his favourite footballer, who wasn’t named but was very evidently the great Stanley Matthews.
There was no real story to the Nicky Nobody story, just a change of scene that saw him teaming up with Jenny, an adventurous girl of the same pre-teen age, getting into scrapes that were gentle and appealing without being exciting in the way of, say, a Malcolm Saville Lone Pine adventure.
Sue Carter now started a new adventure, Palaces of Ice, back in England but not for long, Cliff McCoy, whose art was improving greatly, followed suit, whilst Tarna and Chickadee lined up for new stories a week later. Sue’s story had overtones of the concurrent Dan Dare story in Eagle, ‘The Man from Nowhere’, in which Astral College cadet ‘Flamer’ Spry had somewhat implausibly been allowed to join the expedition to Cryptos. Here, Sue and her brother Tim were being welcomed as part of an expedition to the Arctic to find a missing Explorer. Yes, that’s two children aged about seven or eight, joining a Naval submarine crew and being welcomed as potentially valuable assets. Ok, we’re entertaining an audience of seven to ten year olds but the credibility rating here is below zero. Rather like the conditions are going to be.
Needless to say, the Picture Story from the Bible for Christmas week was the birth of Jesus. Nicky Nobody also came to the end of his current adventure, which meant waving Jenny Wilson goodbye.
Jack and Judy’s Diary only lasted until vol. 3 issue 5, when the family emigrated to Italy, and was replaced by Gawky & Co, three boys and a girl, narrated by Jo the girl. Again, it was simplistic, but it felt fresher and had more potential for its audience than its two predecessors. Several weeks of stories confirmed that impression: it was lively and interesting. Though it bore no resemblance to Eagle’s Three Js, it was a worthy equivalent.
Incidentally, it’s noticeable that, unlike Eagle, where Frank Hampson’s influence as Art Director ruled, the only creators’ credits in Swift were on The Sign of the Scarlet Ladybird, and these read only Story by Pasolds Drawn by Canning.
There was another of those stories of the time in no 8., in the Strong Family strip. Youngest son Roger wants to go swimming and finds two ‘negro’ boys already playing. They don’t want him so he ‘blacks up’ with boot polish at which point they accept him. Once it runs in the river, and he goes all streaky, their father turns up to laughingly suggest he cleans himself up and the boys say they like him. To be truthful, there’s nothing in it that I’d suggest was offensive other than the blacking up, which is done in pure innocence, but sensitivities are different now and it feels uncomfortable to say the least. It also interrupted an ongoing arc about the children’s selfish cousin Henry.

Our Gang strip from Swift

The comic celebrated its second birthday with no. 11, 17b March 1956, both in its pages and in some of its strips.
The great difference between the title and its older brother (and quite possibly sister too), is still very much that Eagle is all about adult adventure characters and Swift about children. The readers of the older title look up to ideals, a space pilot, a police constable, a Foreign Legion Sergeant and a seafaring troubleshooter. These stories might be leavened by kids, like PC49’s Boy’s Club, ‘Flamer’ Spry and Kerfuffle Kidd, but they’re not the stars. In contrast, save only for Cliff McCoy and King Arthur, Swift’s stars are contemporaries of their readers, people they can imagine being rather than becoming. It marks a vast difference in the readership that, in real life, is marked only by a few short years.
Perhaps McCoy was an ill-timed example for his series lasted only one week longer, to be replaced by The Red Rider, a Mountie series starring Sergeant Samson. The once-called colonies, and particularly Canada, were sources of fascination for stories in the comics of the Fifties, no doubt because they could feature English-speaking white characters who had wide-open and somewhat more primitive spaces in which to have adventures. Red Rider had strong art, as befitted the work of Jim Holdaway, and started with welcome energy and verve.
Frank Bellamy’s art on King Arthur had been excellent. When that finished he went straight on to Robin Hood, in the same static picture box with dialogue and typescript narration, but his art underwent a leap of intricacy, as if he had been holding back for some time.
Sue Carter has moved on to a new story but it’s still howlingly silly. This time, she and Tim are on their way to Lunkor to protect their traditional dances from being exploited by a westerner (I mean, the dancers are only in England to dance their dances for the public so it’s a bit late to begin with), but when they need to get out east, they’re given a lift by the RAF who are sending a special plane there… I really wish I’d been able to read this from the beginning to see what makes this girl so special that she, maybe nine years old, is treated as being as important and essential to these adventures as, say, James Bond. Even Tarna the Jungle Boy is more firmly based in reality than this.
Sadly, Gawky & Co ended with no. 20, ceding page 6 to All About Dunkle, about a ‘topsy-turvy village’. It sounded appalling and it was, pure kids stuff of a kind better suited to Robin. And The Strong Family were returning to land to make room for Jassy of Juniper Farm, though I was to be delayed in my introduction for that because this was the end of the straight run of 44 issues, ten and a half consecutive months.
The breach was five weeks – the entirety of June 1956 – with a fifty consecutive issue run to follow to the end of disc 1, so let that be the end of part 1.

Due South: s04 e08 – Good for the Soul

Due South

Episode 8 on the DVD, episode 8 in imdb. Still not over.

The Due South that turned up this week was the one that turned up last week: a serious story, treated seriously, with a touch of ultimately fulfilled naive optimism that befitted it also being a Xmas episode, and one in which the comedy was restricted to small, closely-defined pockets, basically the B story, which was that it was a Xmas episode.

The story title was an intimation of the long-expressed Christian belief, give in full in the episode, that ‘Confession is…’ The open set Fraser and Ray in a mall, buying Xmas presents, where they become witnesses to a well-dressed, burly, bearded, middle-aged man screaming at a waiter who’s accidentally dropped something on his suit. When Fraser tries to get him to apologise for his rude behaviour, the man, Wilson ‘Willie’ Warfield (Alan Scarfe), roars at him then backhands the waiter viciously across the face. Fraser carries out a Citizen’s Arrest for assault. The kick is that Warfield is a Mob boss.

The system naturally operates and, just as naturally, RCMP Constable Benton Fraser is unable to reconcile the societal position that sustains a tyrannical, vicious, unrepentant Mob Boss in his practical immunity from the Law with his conviction that Laws and Justice must prevail. Warfield is a cocky bastard with much to be cocky about. He runs his show ruthlessly, refusing to recognise anything that purports to stop him doing whatever the hell he wants to do at any time, proclaiming that the hardest man wins, and the Police and the DA’s office (a penultimate appearance from Anne-Marie Loder as Stella Kowalski) accept this as the way of things. They resent it, but they go along with it.

Not so Fraser. The episode pitches him against Warfield in a completely one-sided campaign. Interestingly, this isn’t just a David-vs-Goliath story, where we know that David will win and the interest lies in watching to see if the writer comes up with a believable way of ignoring overwhelming odds, but it’s also a character examination. Fraser is honest and committed to the ideals of Justice he has been brought up upon and which he enacts – it’s the whole point of his character after all – but how real is he? What is the point where unbending commitment becomes obsession? Is Fraser’s single-minded pursuit of what he believes to be right selfless or selfish in an imperfect world? In a way he’s like Rorscharch in Watchmen: Never Compromise.

No matter the cost to others – frightened witnesses who fear terminal reprisals, a Police station at risk of being sued for Harrassment – Fraser pursues Warfield monomaniacally. It’s the Irresistable Force versus the Immovable Object, except that Fraser is not Irresistable. He’s one lone citizen without legal authority, attempting to get a major Mobster to confess to a penny ante assault. He hasn’t a chance. Though can you hear the echo of Al Capone?

In the end, as we should have anticipated, Fraser’s weakness and Warfield’s strength are the key to the resolution. Fraser can’t do anything except stand there in his uniform outside Warfield’s club, exerting a moral pressure that Warfield’s entire character tells us will never work. Instead, Warfield’s strength, and his pride in never backing down, never climbing down, never being beaten, causes him to exercise that strength by having Fraser tricked into an alley and be beaten badly by a bunch of thugs. Badly enough to cause Fraser to question his self-righteous certainty, until he is checked in his doubts.

First this comes from his Dad, Gordon Pinsent appearing at last after several weeks, who agrees with him that he’s obsessive. But he’s right. Then it’s the Police, Ray, Walsh, Huey and Dewey, shamed at last at what Fraser has suffered because they failed to back him up, failed to believe in their jobs and settled for the imperfect world. They raid the club, find all sorts of infractions. Warfield roars at the challenge, they van be back next night, or at other operations. He wants them killed, but his closest associates refuse. Facing no alternative, and with the most sarcasm he can muster, Warfield gives Fraser what he wants: he confesses to hitting the waiter.

It’s the slightly unbelievable and improbably instant collapse of the house of cards. Warfield has confessed to a crime in front of a bunch of cops. He’s thrown away his invulnerability in one instant. He’s arrested, he’s in the cells, he’s admitted it, and suddenly, inside and outside his organisation, people are talking, singing even. The Immovable Object Moved, and he fell from that state which is not grace but which is power and was gone. Fittingly. Fraserr was vindicated.

Like I said, the comedy was mostly restricted to the B story (I am choosing to ignore Constable Turnbull’s little country music interjection), which was it being Xmas, Francesca putting up decorations and the business of Secret Santa, which was pleasant and none of it OTT. There was the singing, in isolation, of Silent Night, the dreadful cliche overcome by the purity and concentration of the unaccompanied singer’s sincerity, and a moment of earned pathos, as Fraser reminisced about old Xmases in Canada, of a kind barely recognisable (Arctic Tern instead of Turkey) and the unspoken regret, foreshadowed by Bob Fraser who admitted to having shared too few such occasions with his wife and son, at his Dad not being there. And lastly the sentiment of a hitherto undiscovered Secret Santa present under the tree for our Mountie: a framed photo of his family. Sweet and touching and, if manipulative, happily so.

So, yes, two good ones in a row, not what I expected this close to the end, and for that very welcome. Not long now.

The Infinite Jukebox: Doves’ ‘Pounding’

My first exposure to Doves was by chance. I was in the big HMV Store that used to be on Market Street, Manchester, after work one December night – probably a Friday – for a quiet browse before going home. It was probably the time I made the most unexpected discovery ever to be had in a major record superstore, but that’s another story entirely, and I was queuing to purchase my improbable find. There was music being pumped out over the store tannoy and a song caught my ear. It turned out to be ‘Catch the Sun’, from the band’s first album, Lost Souls. On the strength of that single listen, I bought the album.
We jump forward a year or two. The occasion is a Later… with Jools Holland, a thing I suspect I may not have tuned into but for my then-wife. I’m certainly not aware that Doves are appearing, doing advance promotion for second album, The Last Broadcast, and leading off with their forthcoming single, ‘There Goes the Fear’.
I can’t remember if it was then or later that it struck me how much certain aspects of the sound of the track reminded me of The Stone Roses from that brief period of almost fifteen years previously when they had seemed poised to become the centre of everything, before their chance at the brass ring was snatched away by their over-exploitive record company contract, and that had they only been treated fairly, we could have had something like ‘There Goes the Fear’ a full decade before it arrived. Either way, it was a cracker of a track, and we were among the 15,000 who bought out the CD single’s limited release the day it appeared, leading to our gleeful celebration of the track reaching no. 3 in the chart a couple of Sundays later.
But that’s not the song I’m talking about. Having delivered themselves of one six minute piece of magnificence, the band stepped back to allow other guests on the show to strut their stuff, whilst we waited eagerly for them to come back again. We were rewarded with a performance of ‘Pounding’, also from the forthcoming album, as well as the second single to be taken from it, peaking at a severely undeserved no. 21.
Now, where ‘There Goes the Fear is objectively the better song, from that first minute I have liked ‘Pounding’ more. It is the archetypal Doves song, hard edged, gifted with a simple melody, a driving song whose instrumentation is direct and unstoppable. Though the sound is dark, the lyrics are oddly bright. Excluding an out-of-place opening verse that sees singer and bassist Jimi Godwin pleading for a person heading for destruction, lying and making it ‘hard to get by’ – a partner in a fraught relationship? – the rest of the song is a plea to take chances, to aim for joy, fulfilment and satisfaction, even if it be only for a time. We don’t mind if it don’t last forever (a gloriously Mancunian couplet!). Seize the time, cos it’s now or never, baby.
But what I love most about ‘Pounding’ is its beat. It’s drumming. Which, watching the band play it on Later… that first time, I suddenly realised, with shock, awe and glee, was the simplest beat I had ever seen or heard, and that includes the mechanistic stuff you get in dance music. I watched in fascination from the moment I recognised what Andy Williams was doing.
Watch him in the video. It’s that actual Jools Holland performance. Watch him, there at the back, in the middle. He’s literally just pounding, two sticks, bam bam bam. No fills, no fancy stuff, just the same, unchanging, rock-solid beat all the way through, just like any little kid given a toy drum for Xmas, who has no better idea than to just hammer at it over and over until its parents recognise one of the essential truths of the Universe: never give a kid a toy drum, ever.
If you thought about it for even a moment, you would say to yourself that it couldn’t possibly work. It’s not simplicity, it’s moronic. Anyone can do that. But when you hear it in practice you realise that precisely the opposite is true, that it takes a drummer, and a pretty skilful one at that, to make it work, with that metronomic precision, to create the sheer sense of force the song enjoys. An amateur couldn’t make that work. But the beauty of it all is that you can project yourself into the song, say that you can do that.
Dream on. But it is the perfect dream. And this is a brilliant song to march to, if you’re having to set off somewhere on foot. An hour long mix would be perfect. Because we do want it to last forever, however realistic we are about it.
I have never seen Doves play live. If I ever do, I want it to be this song.

Who’d be a Mother in a Malcolm Saville book?


Different authors tackle the matter in different fashions but practically all children’s fiction, especially in the adventure tradition, has to deal with the same question: how do we get rid of the parents? Somehow or other, if the boy and girl heroes are to have freedom to get into difficulties and danger, and out of it by, mostly, their own efforts, as respectable heroes must, some means must be employed to get Mother and Father out of the way.
Parents are a constant stumbling block. If they’re not stepping in to firmly rule out the merest possibility of little Jane or little Johnny doing the remotest thing dangerous, they’re taking over from their precious little dumplings to solve the problem for them. The last thing you want in an adventure story is for Mum and Dad to do anything except provide you with a hot bath and a generous feast once the Police, or the Secret Service, have finished congratulating you.
This isn’t, obviously, a universal law of children’s fiction, but as the point of the genre is to have children participating in adventures in their own right, in the majority of cases the author will be looking to keep the adults on the sidelines for as much of the story as he or she can.
I’m particularly interested in Malcolm Saville’s approach to this question, having spent the last half-decade in acquiring or re-acquiring thirty-nine of his sixty-five novels, a total of sixty percent of the whole. Certain patterns are very evident in his writing, one in particular. But before I go on to look at his approach to parenthood, I want to begin with an admittedly cursory look at how other writers have dealt with this thorny question.
Take, for example, Enid Blyton. When I was young, I read her books avidly, progressing from Binkle and Flip and Little Noddy to The Five Find-Outers, the quartet in the Adventure series and, of course, the Famous Five. I grew out of these by my late teens and haven’t read anything by Blyton since one nostalgic Sunday in my early twenties when I burned through half a dozen Famous Five books in the same number of hours, shortly prior to letting my complete set go.
So I am not the most reliable of commentators on how Ms Blyton handled her characters’ parents but my memories suggest that for the most part, she kept them in the background and let the children go about their business more or less under the parental radar. Take the Famous Five: Julian, Dick and Anne were brothers and sister and George their cousin. Her parents, the distracted scientist, Uncle Quentin and his wife Aunt Fanny, featured far more often than the other Kirrin’s parents, probably because Uncle Quentin was a source of plots, but for the most part, the Kirrin brood had both parents, they just went off on their own more often than not, under the leadership of the quasi-adult Julian.
If I remember correctly, the Secret Seven all lived at home, as did the Five Find-Outers, each with a full complement of parents, who provided meals at regular intervals but otherwise took little or no notice of what their various offspring might be doing with their time (the number of times they were congratulated by the Police for foiling crimes, you’d think they’d at least start to get wary, but no).
The one Blyton series that I remember being different is the Adventure series. This brood consisted of four children split into two brother-sister pairs. Philip and Dinah live with their widowed mother, whilst Jack and Lucy-Ann are orphans living with an unsympathetic uncle until, after the first adventure, they are adopted by ‘Aunt Allie’. This kind of set-up is unusual for Blyton, and I remember no explanation for the loss of either Mr Mannering or the Trent parents (though the book’s publication in 1944 may enable us to infer causes).
Blyton intended this series to run to only six books (as she had originally intended with the Famous Five), though audience demand led her to write two more. It’s interesting that the sixth book ends with Aunt Allie agreeing to re-marry, her new husband being the only other regular adult character in the series, Secret Service agent Bill Cunningham (aka Bill Smugs). It’s a suitably Austen-esque end to the series, though the interesting part is that, after six books of no detectable romantic interest between Alison and Bill, it’s the four children who suggest, in fact almost demand, marriage, and the adults who sound almost indifferent in agreeing to it!

Saville Swallows

The other giant of children’s fiction writers, Arthur Ransome, who invented the children’s holiday adventure genre with Swallows and Amazons, dealt with the issue of parents in a similar manner. His twelve books deal with three families, the Walkers, the Blacketts and the Callums, who have five parents between them. Mrs Walker and Mrs Blackett are the two most visible, both of whom are effectively single mothers: Mr Blackett has passed away before the series starts whilst Commander Walker is on duty overseas for most of the series, leaving his wife to cope with their pack. Professor and Mrs Callum simply don’t appear (though the former gets a wonderful single line in the never completed thirteenth book).
What Ransome does is to take the various children away, enabling them to sail and camp and construct adventurous fantasies around what they do and where they are that are all the more appealing for the knowledge that a happy real life, with a loving and supportive mother, lies behind it all, a moment of disaster away. Adults are never far away, but either they lean into the children’s games with the same imaginative spirit, as does Ransome’s alter ego, Captain Flint, or they are sympathetically indulgent, caring only that their offspring are well and happy, and that by doing so they are encouraging their growth and maturity.
As for Ransome’s other characters, much the same occurs. Mrs Barrable (the Admiral) takes on a parental role in the two Norfolk books, though her role is more that of the indulgent grandmother, as her character was originally conceived to be. Among the Coots, only Port and Starboard, the Farland twins, are without a mother, and they, in consequence, are in certain ways more mature than even Tom Dudgeon, having taken on a degree of responsibility to their AP (Aged Parent), though it is Tom who benefits from having a father with whom he can talk seriously about his concerns.
Ransome’s disciples, Kathleen Hull and Pamela Whitlock, go about things differently in their Persian trilogy, as befits the pair of teenage schoolgirls who wrote The Far Distant Oxus. The Heatherly’s parents are overseas, in the Far East, and the Aunt they live with when not at school has negligible understanding of them and is easily fooled when they want to get their own way in Escape to Persia. In contrast, the Clevertons have lost their mother and their father is impossibly but conveniently utterly complaisant, perhaps not least in the tribe’s final scene, about to start a polo match on his tennis court.
As for Maurice, the mystery boy, who knows? He is, after all, a complete mystery but, like all the Hull/Whitlock children, he can do as he wants and no-one to gainsay him.
I am only familiar with Geoffrey Trease so far as his Bannerdale series is concerned, four children forming a set of friends. Bill and Sue Melbury live with their mother: their father is not dead but divorced, and removed completely from consideration by emigration, but they are brother and sister. Tim Darren lives with his parents and has two younger siblings. Penny Morchard stands out on two scores, the only only child in the quartet, and the only one to have lost a parent to an early death. In a foreshadowing of Malcolm Saville, Penny has lost her mother.
What these four authors have in common is that in the vast majority of cases, they provided most of their child heroes with both a mother and a father, but took steps, in their varying fashions, to more or less remove their influence, positive or negative, most often by placing the children in settings where they are either taking responsibility for themselves, or else are benignly allowed to run their holidays in the way they most enjoy. Those children who lack both parents obey no pattern as to which has been lost.
Now it’s time to look in a bit more detail at Malcolm Saville. Those thirty-nine books in my possession consist of four complete series. The other twenty-six were written for, and feature younger children, of an age where they are more directly reliant upon their parents, or adult equivalents, and whilst I have not read any of these, I do not think it is an unreasonable assumption to suggest that the observations I’m about to make will not apply to these books.
Those four series are The Lone Pine Club, the Jillies, the Fabulous Buckinghams and Marston Baines. I put them in this order, both as to the order of their creation, and my subsequent discovery of them, but also because I believe that this is the correct order as to their importance in Saville’s career: the Lone Pine Club will always come first.

14 - Not Scarlet But Gold

We’ll look at the other children who come into the Lone Pine story later on, but the first thing is to note is that of the nine members of the Lone Pine Club, no less than six are only children. The Mortons – David, Mary and Dickie – are the only siblings involved and in similar vein they are the only members to be blessed with two parents who appear in the story. Given that they were inspired by Saville’s own family (which consisted of four children, two sets of twins), this is hardly surprising. The Morton family, and the number of occasions where both Mr and Mrs Morton are involved, make them unique as the only whole and rounded family across all his work (those familiar with the Buckinghams may dispute this but I will distinguish that series in due course).
Indeed Mrs Morton – intelligent, kind, loving and supportive – is the biggest exception to the title of this essay. She’s introduced alone in Mystery at Witchend whilst her husband is on active service with the RAF, effortlessly combining the maternal and paternal duties and respecting her children’s individuality. Yes, in both Wings over Witchend and Lone Pine London, she expresses her disquiet, indeed loathing for the dangerous adventures her brood and their friends insist on getting themselves into, but that aside she is the maternal figure incarnated. As one would expect from someone based upon Mrs Saville!
Certainly, she and her husband come over as the ideal couple, contented, proud and, we can infer, still very much involved with each other. Indeed, given their willingness to let their lot go off on their own for extended periods, leaving just the pair of them, I think we can safely infer that, in the deep background that is never permitted visibility, this pair have the best sex-life of any of Saville’s adults!
But after the Mortons, the story is very different. Petronella Sterling, brought up by a father noticeably older than all the others after her mother died when she was young. Tom Ingles, whose entire family were killed by a German bomb, living with substitute parents that he consciously sees as Uncle and Aunt. Jenny Harman, whose mother has died at some never hinted-at time, long enough ago for her father to re-marry, providing her with an older and awkward stepmother who has very little sympathy for her yet who she has to call ‘Mother’. Jon Warrender, whose father was killed during the War, protective of his mother. Penny Warrender, whose parents play virtually no part in her lives, who has lived with her Aunt and her deceased Uncle for so long that they have become more effective parents to her. And Harriet Sparrow, whose parents may be kind and loving but about whom we know only literally no more than that they live in South London, Harriet whose devotion to her grandfather takes on a worryingly displaced aspect, as if the love she would normally have for her parents is instead lavished one generation higher.
Intriguing. Four children who have lost one or both parents, and the other two divorced from their parents either by circumstance or emotion. Let’s look more closely at each of them.
Peter Sterling – and though it was not unknown for certain girls in children’s fiction to be known by boy’s names, it is still odd that we so naturally think of a beautiful young woman by such a name – is defined in many ways by her not having had a mother. We don’t know exactly when she dies: at one point Saville suggests it was when Peter was a baby, but mainly it’s just when she was very young. That she has died is literally the only thing we know about her. This left Peter to be brought up entirely by her father, a fussy, old-fashioned, rather prim gentleman, as befits a father who is significantly older than any other parent in the series. Indeed, in Strangers at Witchend it’s clear that he’s very much a contemporary of Albert Sparrow, grandfather to Harriet, a girl no more than five years younger than Peter.
It’s from her father that Peter gets her characteristics of fearlessness, independence, self-reliance and her love for and understanding of nature, birds and animals. In the beginning, that goes a bit too far: in Mystery at Witchend she visibly has to struggle to accept the Morton children as equals whose wishes and desires are as important as her own. We’re told that Mrs Morton virtually adopts her as a second daughter on sight, and the relationship between her and Mrs Morton is always strong, but, and I find this significant, there’s never any sign of Peter acting as if Mrs Morton is a surrogate mother. Peter has done without a mother effectively all her life: she doesn’t need one by the age of fourteen.
When we’re introduced to Tom Ingles, it’s as an evacuee. His home has been destroyed by bombing, his family has been split up, his father is in the Army, his mother and baby brother have gone to the Somerset coast and he’s gone to live with his Aunt and Uncle. Oddly enough, and never explained, it’s his Aunt Betty who is his actual relative (even though her married name is the same as his) though we never learn whether she is related to his mother or his father.
Tom seems to be peculiarly unaffected by this complete separation from his family, far less than his separation from the London streets! Some of this is due to his naturally sturdy nature and some to the adventure this total change of scenery represents, but later on things become a little strange.
The War is still ongoing in Seven White Gates but by The Secret of Grey Walls peace has been restored and England is slowly getting back to normal. But Tom is still at Ingles Farm, and this is not just the immediate aftermath of peace. General demobilisation has taken place: Tom can go back to his family now, reunited. The fact that he hasn’t done so tells us that something rather serious has happened.
Surprisingly, and I think unhappily, Saville leaves it until The Secret of the Gorge, the eleventh book, not published until over a decade later and after four post-War appearances by Tom, before explaining as if in an aside, that his whole family was killed by German bombing in the War, when his father was on leave in Somerset.
I think it very poor that Saville waited so long before coming to this point. It’s not as if the excuse of not wanting to remind his readers of their own losses as a consequence of the War can be put forward because, in the preceding book, he had not only had Jon Warrender acknowledge his own father’s death at Normandy – and in admirable terms – but had made that very death fundamental to the entire story.
Not only that but, aside from this almost offhand mention in 1958, Saville makes no other mention of the loss of Tom’s entire family. It’s one thing to exclude any emotional response to being separated from his parents but another and much more suspect thing to have him make no response to their being wiped out. Even Jon shows a sense of loss at the death of his father, and Penny too expresses how much she misses her uncle but from Tom there is nothing: they might as well not have existed.
Jenny Harman is a third Lone Piner without a mother. We know she must have had one, it’s a biological imperative, but never at any time does Jenny herself, or her father, mention her. We have to draw inferences from negative information. Instead, she has a classical stepmother, not actually Evil, but definitely classifiable as Evil-Lite. Since Jenny appears to be used to her stepmother and seems to have adjusted to calling her ‘Mum’, we have to assume that, like her best friend, Peter, Jenny’s real mother has died when she was very young, perhaps no more than a baby. I find it difficult to believe that if Jenny’s mother had died when her daughter was five years old or more, Jenny would not be making comparisons between her and her stepmother, certainly in Seven White Gates when her father is away in the Army and unable to act as a buffer.
Of course, it’s possible that Mr Harman may have divorced his first wife for her actual adultery, the only circumstance in which he, not she, would have got custody of a young girl, but that would be to admit the existence of divorce in Malcolm Saville’s fictional universe, and I think we all know that that could never happen.
Except for a few brief moments in Lone Pine Five, and these when Jenny has brought in a paying guest, the second Mrs Harman displays no motherly instincts towards her stepdaughter. Indeed, to take it a bit further, her generally stiff and awkward nature and her categorisation as being older than her husband, makes the entire marriage seem unusual. When married couples do appear in the Lone Pine books, and indeed in other series, they’re generally portrayed as contented and even happy. In the case of the Harmans, it’s a puzzle why they ever married in the first place. Mr Harman seems more set to placate his second wife than enjoy a loving relationship with her, and if he re-married to provide his daughter with a mother, he got that seriously wrong.
Mention must be made of Mrs Harman’s final appearance in Where’s My Girl?, when she undertakes the long drive from Shropshire to Dartmoor on Jenny being kidnapped, rather than her husband. You might argue that she has done so out of a sense of duty, that Jenny may have undergone vile experiences that she would more naturally talk of with another woman, than her father, but that fails to take account of her genuine, but considerably belated, wish to be reconciled to her stepdaughter.
As I’ve said elsewhere, it’s a good, kind and generous impulse, but it fails because throughout the series, Saville has never even attempted to stand this woman up as a human being as opposed to a cardboard cut-out. The work to make this long overdue display of maternal concern has never been started.
Thus far we have had three Lone Piners who have lost their mothers before they could have any influence upon them in respect of the youngsters’ adventures. The three remaining members each have a living mother, but only Jon Warrender has a mother who is seen to bring him up and play the full part of a parent.
Jon’s situation is actually a reversal of those we’ve seen thus far. His mother – who in eventual course we will learn is named Margaret – is not only still alive but, when he is not away at school, provides him with a permanent home. But the marriage has been disrupted, and again by death, except that this time it is his father who is missing, literally in action.
It’s early yet, but we can already draw a conclusion that further examination will only sharpen, and that is that it is far from wise to be a mother in a Malcolm Saville book. With the major exception of Mrs Morton they are not welcome, not wanted and in far too many cases, not allowed to survive.
Why then the reversal with Jon’s parents? One answer would be that it is essential to the plot of The Gay Dolphin Adventure for Jon’s father, not his mother, to be killed off before the story begins. Without Mrs Warrender’s survival and, rather more pertinently, her need to make a living for herself, her son and niece, there is no Gay Dolphin Hotel and no Smugglers Treasure to hunt out. Captain Warrender survives Normandy, and simply goes back to whatever trade, profession or job he pursued in Civvy Street, and to wherever he and his family lived. The story, and the social structure of 1945, requires Saville to introduce another mother. It’s to be noted, however, that unlike Mrs Morton, Margaret Warrender has a full-time job that keeps her from being too maternally protective to limit her brood’s adventuring.
Much of the above applies in nearly the same degree to Penny Warrender. Penny does have living parents, but they are removed from her by nearly half the globe so their presence in and influence over her life is pretty negligible. It’s the old Colonial legacy that was still credible in 1945 but which almost immediately became anachronistic. The parents are out serving the Empire, but want their child educated in England, so when she’s not at boarding school, Penny lives with her other family, her Aunt, Uncle and cousin.
We’re not told at first how long this arrangement has been in existence, although later, when the situation has become barely tenable, it’s fixed as an impossible to credit three years. Penny treats her Aunt and Uncle as virtual parents, and her cousin as a sibling. She suffers the same loss as Jon in respect of his father’s death, and is as devoted to her Aunt as he is.
Penny’s own parents appear in one book only, Saucers over the Moor, returning to England for six month’s leave. Saville avoids the emotional reunion, restricting it to a cursory flashback and jumping almost immediately to an unstrained contentedness. This wasn’t the kind of thing he was there to write about, and at least half of his audience would probably have loathed it, but I think he should have made more of Penny’s emotions about having her parents back than he did. It’s also noticeable that, within no more than a day or two of arriving at the holiday home they’ve booked on Dartmoor, and no more than about ten days into their reunion with their only daughter whom they’ve not seen for three years, Mr and Mrs Warrender decide to push off into Cornwall and leave said daughter behind with no apparent separation anguish on either side. In fact, they seem more eager to take the Morton twins with them than their own flesh and blood!
Which leads us to the last and least decently used Lone Piner, Harriet Sparrow. Like Penny, Harriet has both parents alive and well. Unlike Penny, she lives with them, in South London. And that is the sum total of all we know about these two Sparrows and Harriet’s relationship with them. Pardon me: we also know that her grandfather, Albert disapproves of his daughter-in-law. Why, and whether or not he is justified in so feeling, is a complete mystery. But it’s noticeable that it’s his daughter-in-law that he disapproves of, not his son-in-law, when the question of which one is of no significance to the series.
And it should also be pointed out that whilst Penny does think of and miss her parents, here and there, Harriet only mentions her mother once and her father not at all, and then in purely matter-of-fact terms. All her love is reserved for Granpa Albert.
These are the Lone Piners, and the case would appear to be established already, but there is yet more evidence to consider. The Lone Piners are not the only children to appear in the series, and their parental relationships can’t be overlooked, though we don’t need to discuss these in the same depth. We should note at the outset that, with one exception, they are all only children.
Taking them in chronological order, we start with Fenella, the gypsy girl. She is an immediate exception because whatever we may think of the insecurity of her lifestyle, Fenella is blessed with parents who love and value and care for her, never falling short of that ideal. In contrast, though it seems absurd to treat Charles Sterling as a child, it can’t be overlooked that his long estrangement from his father is a consequence of the death of his mother.
In Lone Pine Five, Percy Smithson has both mother and father, neither of them an advertisement for ideal parenting. Mr Smithson is a leftover and vulgar War-time spiv, but Mrs Smithson, though equally vulgar and genuinely doting on her wastrel of a son, is held up as pathetic and ridiculous.
Arlette Duchelle of The Elusive Grasshopper not only has both parents but loves them dearly, and they her. Excited as she is about the foreign fields of England and her unexpected adventure, she has tears for being separated from them, and her enthusiasm for everything she sees is doubled by the thought of bringing her experiences and the curiosities of England back to them to enjoy.
Though she’s not a child, Charles’ future bride Trudie Whittaker is both an only child and a motherless one as well. And it’s noticeable that whilst she takes on the role of den mother to the Lone Piners whenever they’re at Seven Gates, there’s never any suggestion that Trudie might have or even want children of her own.
Dan Sturt, in Saucers over the Moor, is eighteen and, at that time, not yet an adult, but is another only child. Like Jon, his father has died and he lives with a supportive mother, but is becoming increasingly independent of her. Nicholas Whiteflower in The Secret of the Gorge, is an orphan under the wardship of an ageing spinster Aunt, a substitute mother with no experience of motherhood. Paul and Rose Channing in Sea Witch Comes Home, the only siblings apart from the Mortons, are yet again motherless. What’s more, their father is self-centred, unreliable and prone to abandoning the pair for his own entertainment. True, they have an Aunt living with them, who spends the whole book on a coach trip, but who is quite clearly there as a housekeeper and not for any emotional support.
Johann Schmidt of Not Scarlet But Gold is an orphan who never knew his father and whose mother has died, whilst George Crump of Treasure at Amorys is another from the single child of single parent mould, as is Ned Stacey of Man with Three Fingers. Both these two stand out as having surviving mothers, but both mothers are presented as fat, unintelligent and lacking completely in parenting ability. Ned, being older, and being Tom’s friend, is possessed of energy and ambition that George will never have.
Which leaves us only Kevin Smith in Strangers at Witchend, about whom I confess I have a prejudice. As if Saville has locked himself into relationships, he’s presented as a boyfriend for Harriet, and a particularly unworthy one at that. Kevin has been effectively abandoned by his aggressive criminal father and his fat, blowsy mother, another useless parent in the tradition of George Crump and Ned Stacey’s mother. Neither parent has anything in their favour, yet because Saville’s conservative and Christian beliefs won’t allow him to produce a broken family, Kevin must go back to them, in defiance of all real circumstances.
To achieve this, Kevin’s father has to have his anger and nastiness suddenly alibied to an illness that will vanish when he starts taking his medicine, as he promises to do whilst, despite being a professional criminal who has been adulterating gold and silver, as well as having committed crimes the Police haven’t associated him with, will get off without a prison sentence. Talk about defying reality!

Saville Alpine

These then are the examples Malcolm Saville has offered throughout the whole length of his career, thirty-five years and twenty books. We have seen enough already to make it extremely difficult to deny certain consistent themes. But this is one series only. Are these a peculiarity of the Lone Pine Club alone? For this, we need to consider the other series written by Saville for his older readers.
Saville’s third novel, published in 1945, was his first outside the Lone Pine Club series but the Michael and Mary books were aimed at younger readers so we next look to the Jillies series, beginning in 1948 with Redshank’s Warning and aimed at the same age group as David Morton and Peter Sterling.
The Jillies series was the most compact of Saville’s career, six books written in the space of as many years, granting it the dubious honour of being the first series he concluded. Though the books had similar characteristics to the Lone Pine Club, they were much simpler, with only five characters, two families and no only children.
The series takes its name from the Jillion family, Mandy, Prue and Tim. These three are a lively, unorthodox and extrovert bunch, and Saville in private correspondence confirmed that he found them much more fun to write about, which shows. The Jillies are the life of the books and it is a life we enjoy with them.
What’s the first thing that we notice? The Jillies’ mother is dead. This at least is secured to a concrete time-line, three years prior, long enough for her to have been of real influence on her children, though we known nothing of her save that Prue takes after her mother in looks, and perhaps in temperament, though this is purely inference. The children’s father, significantly, is known by the nickname his younger daughter has created for him, JD (Jilly Darling). He’s an artist but as a father he’s very much in the mould of Richard Channing, though impractical rather than selfish. He loves his children and takes them seriously, but as a competent father he’s not in the running.
Thank heaven then for Mandy. Though she was only twelve/thirteen when she lost her mother, Mandy has taken over as substitute mother to her younger siblings, and done a much better job of it than her only adult equivalent, not only exerting authority over Prue and Tim but keeping their loyalty as well. And all without disrupting her schoolwork or sports!
It’s all fundamental to what makes Mandy Mandy: her self-reliance, her mental confidence, her forthrightness and her determination to be taken – and treated – seriously. Mandy is still a schoolgirl, with the ability to switch back into being just that, but she is older than her years because she’s had to be, and even when she makes mistakes, she remains unabashed, because she’s earned her pride.
The other family, the Standings, Guy and Mark, are deliberately intended as contrasts. They’re the same ages as the two Jillion girls (though where Guy and Mandy obviously fancy each other like mad, the only instance of possible affection between the younger pair comes when Prue flings herself on Mark in The Luck of Sallowby, when he returns from being kidnapped).
The Jillies are meant to be an unconventional family, to which the absence of their mother is intended to contribute. The Standings therefore are conventional, with both parents and a more stable and better off home. However, the Standing parents appear in only two books, and otherwise are happy to let their boys go off miles away from the family hearth, most notably at Xmas (Two Fair Plaits). And mother and father are very different characters, again to an extent that you wonder what they first saw in each other. Mr Standing is an easy-going, relaxed and rounded man who has seen Mandy and is clearly very happy to encourage his older son to meet her as often as possible.
But Mrs Standing is a very different kettle of fish. She’s socially conscious but, more importantly, she’s stiff, humourless and completely lacking in empathy. She doesn’t like her boys associating with the slapdash and more common Jillies, doesn’t approve of, or perhaps rather understand their independent spirit and willingness to rough it, but on the other hand can be bribed into letting them shoot off to spend Xmas with virtual strangers by the prospect of spending her own Xmas in a Hotel, no doubt an upmarket one.
Two families: one without a mother, the other with one who makes up a very unflattering picture of maternity.
As there are only six books, there is correspondingly a limited number of other children to survey. No less than three appear in Two Fair Plaits: the kidnap victim, Belinda Ferguson, whose mother is dead and who has to leave her father behind to spend Xmas with her grandmother, Joyce, the bargee’s daughter, a nasty and cruel piece of work taking her cue from her parents, and Sandy Barton, the Docklands kid, a working class nipper brought up by honest, hard-working parents who know their place: all three are only children once more.
Nicholas Thornton in Strangers at Snowfell is no child, but is presented to us as yet one more character who is both an only child and whose mother has passed away.
In contrast, Lizbeth Schmidt, in The Sign of the Alpine Rose, has an elder but rather taciturn brother but for most of the story, has only the one parent. This time it’s her mother, and the circumstances of the story mean that it has to be her mother that has been bringing her up, because the plot revolves around her missing father being a War prisoner whose return from captivity is the object of the adventure.
Francis Curtis in The Luck of Sallowby is once again an only child, and one with presumably both parents, we just don’t get to see anything of his mother, whilst Patricia in The Ambermere Treasure, is yet one more only child, terrified that her father, whom she loves, is going to die a long way away and that she will not get to see him before he does. Her mother is away with her father, so once again the woman is off the scene. The evidence stacks up.

Saville Maryknoll

Between the two middle books of the Jillies series, Saville started his fourth series, featuring the Buckinghams, sometimes called the Fabulous Buckinghams. Like the Jillies, this new series was aimed at the same mid-level audience, featured two families and consisted of six books but there the comparisons fall short, because the Buckinghams series played out over twenty-five years, including a seventeen year gap with only one book to appear during a break that must twice have seemed that the series had been concluded.
There’s an even smaller cast of characters in this series, just three, being Juliet and Simon Buckingham and their half-Polish friend Charles Renislau. And, for a wonder, the children all have mothers on the scene! That’s not to say that the pattern has changed in any substantial way, for it hasn’t. Juliet and Simon live with their father and mother, but after an opening chapter featuring the Buckinghams at home and meeting the deliberately mysterious Charles for the first time, Mrs Buckingham drops out of proceedings until the final chapter as her two children go off on a cycling/sleeping rough holiday.
And Charles lives with his mother, though his circumstances are very different and, for almost all the first book, he believes his father is dead, a Polish violinist/composer whose talent and violin Charles has inherited, but a patriot killed in the defence of his country in 1939.That this isn’t going to be so is clear to any astute reader from the moment they learn that Mrs Renislau has gone abroad on a mysterious mission. Charles is afraid she is sick and has gone to die in a European Sanitorium, but though the pages of Saville’s books are littered with dead mothers and other parents, each one of them has had the decency to die and get any trauma over and done with well before the book starts: no-one will have the temerity to die during a story.
But for the moment, Charles’ mother is absent and only comes into it in the final chapter, by which time we know that his father Alex is alive and is about to be restored to his loving son.
That’s the situation in the first book, but it’s what follows that is, if anything, more interesting. Both Mrs Buckingham and Mrs Renislau survive to the end of the series, though neither acquire first names to match those of their respective spouses, and in the remaining five books, the ladies make only one appearance between them.
This is Mrs Renislau in The Buckinghams at Ravenswyke, when Juliet and Simon come up from Shropshire to the North Yorks Moors for a holiday without their parents. After that though, Mrs Renislau, who has suffered the agonies of separation from her husband, believing him to be dead for a decade, and who has had him restored, completely vanishes. Her husband and her son spend their lives permanently on tour, and she doesn’t bother accompanying them, not even as far as London.
As for Mrs Buckingham, it’s interesting to note that their four remaining adventures see them go off twice with their bachelor Uncle Joe, the artist, but also twice with their thriller writer father, James. But on neither of these occasions does their mother join the party, not even for a stay in Amsterdam. Instead, she makes excuses both times to avoid joining them which, in the works of another writer, could perhaps lead to unworthy suspicions as to what she’s doing behind their backs!
As to guest children, there are only two, who both appear in The Long Passage. Little Sarah has lost her father and is having to move to smaller accommodation with her widowed mother, whilst the American, Maisie, has two stereotypical Malcolm Saville American parents, but is very much the product of a nuclear family: both girls are, needless to say, only children.
Though they’re neither of them children, it’s interesting to note two other characters in the series whose parentage is relevant. In A Palace for the Buckinghams, the shiftless and unpleasant Barry Salter is both a thief and a lazy lout, but he is also an only child whose mother has died after a second marriage, leaving him to be thrown out by his stepfather. And Carla Jensen in Diamond in the Sky is in the same position, her mother having recently died and her relationship with her stepfather by no means cordial, though in her case she is the one who wants to terminate contact.

Saville Tuscany

For completeness’ sake, I do want to cast a brief eye at the Marston Baines series, though this was written for older teenagers and features older characters, who are young adults rather than children.
Aside from the adult and bachelor titular hero, the seven books of the series feature appearances by eight people of University age or slightly older, who during the series form into four couples. There is also a young boy in one book.
Of the young adults, we learn about the parentage of only three, and needless to say they have all lost a parent, the two young women their mother, and Simon Baines, the real main character of the series, his father. With one exception, each of these characters is an only child, though that’s very much a matter of assumption, based on not one of them ever mentioning a possible sibling.
Running through these quickly, Simon Baines begins the series by having lost his father to a car crash only two months prior. This leads to an invitation to join his estranged Uncle Marston in Tuscany to recuperate mentally (Simon’s father ‘did not approve’ of his brother, for reasons never given: given that Marston was a very successful writer of thrillers who has lived in Italy for a dozen years, it comes over as awkward, but maybe the late Mr Baines also knew his brother was a British spy). Simon goes abroad, leaving his mother behind to cope with having lost her husband without any support from her son, but the reader needn’t worry: we shall never see her or hear from her again.
Both Annabelle Corret, who appears in The Purple Valley and Power of Three, and Francesca Brindisi of Dark Danger and The Dagger and the Flame are girls who’ve lost their mothers before their first appearances, though they both have loving and supportive fathers. Francesca is the odd one out in the set as having a younger brother Pietro, who only appears in the first book but makes enough of an irritating impression there to do for both.
Oddly enough, one other of this mixed group not only has both parents but we see both father and mother, albeit in different books and countries. Rosina Conway, who becomes engaged to marry Simon, makes her debut in Three Towers in Tuscany, whilst on holiday in Italy, but her industrialist father makes a separate appearance back in England, complaining of industrial unrest, just before Marston’s real job is revealed to the reader.
In contrast, when Rosina reappears in White Fire, set on Mallorca, she is on holiday with her mother, a demanding hypochondriac, and a woman who leaves no good impression, being primarily self-centred. The same book also features the young boy I mentioned, William Adams, in respect of whom Rosina has become a kind of informal nanny. William, like her, has two parents but is here with one, his workaholic (and criminal) father who has virtually no time to spare for him, whilst his mother is somewhere else entirely, with no explanation why she isn’t part of the family or why she has left her young son.
So there we have it. Four series, thirty-nine books, thirty-six children, eight young adults and a smattering of other characters whose parentage and family status we are exposed to along the way. Of those children a total of twenty-four, two-thirds, are only children, as are seven of the young adults. The only adult characters mentioned as having siblings are James and Joe Buckingham, Jon and Penny’s respective fathers, who were brothers, and Jasper and Micah Sterling.
Of these same children, seventeen, under a half, have both parents living, though Penny Warrender and Harriet Sparrow’s parents pay either no, or a very limited part in their lives as we see them. Six others have a mother but no father, two of whom are either ineffectual or never seen.
In contrast, twelve characters have a father but no mother, a condition that also applies to three adults. Tom Ingles, Nicholas Whitefeather and Johann Schmidt have lost both parents. The mothers of Kevin Smith, the Standings, the Buckinghams, Charles Renislau and young William Adams play little or no part in their lives
These are just figures, but figures that represent thirty-five years of writing and thirty-nine books. This is not the result of deliberate planning. This is evidence of an unconscious bias, perhaps a conscious decision, on Malcolm Saville’s part, to exclude mothers in only the tiniest number of cases, by making them invisible, or putting them out of the way or, which is where things start to get faintly disturbing, killing them off beforehand.
What lies behind this? Part of it is authorial convenience: parents are a mixed blessing in children’s fiction, a threat to independence and adventure, and yet a safe haven to return to, reassuring figures. But whilst statistics are never entirely the story on their own, what we have here suggests something deeper. Of the starring roles, only the Mortons and Jon Warrender have mothers who play an active role in their lives. The Buckinghams and Charles Renislau start with active mothers but these fade completely very early on. Of the rest, those who have mothers are rarely if ever seen with them.
We know Malcolm Saville to be deeply Conservative, conservative and Christian. In this, he was a man of his time, born in 1901, brought up in stricter, more disciplined times. Remember too that, if we admit Swallows and Amazons in its rightful place as the progenitor of the Children’s Holiday Adventure, the genre itself was less than fifteen years old when he wrote Mystery at Witchend. All these point to a man whose instincts were very masculine oriented, notwithstanding the care he took in creating believable and admirable female characters.
But girls or women were still inferior to boys. They lacked strength, physical and mental, they were affected by emotion, they lacked initiative and rationality. They deferred to boys. Wherever there is a pairing in any of the series we’ve looked at, in every case the boy is older than the girl. These are automatic assumptions on Saville’s part, as are the premises of his appeal to both genders: the boys read for the adventures, the girls for the relationships.
That attitude carries over into everyone’s parentage. Fathers are to be looked up to, but mothers are next to invisible, because mothers, being female, automatically equate adventures with danger and will restrict and hinder their children’s activities. Twice, Mrs Morton openly expresses her dislike of her own children and their friends getting involved with crooks and the Police. In contrast, only once – and that in the penultimate book – does Mr Morton, privately and contingently – worry about whether they should be let out alone, and by now we’re discussing seventeen year olds.
So mothers are to be excluded. They’re wet blankets, worriers, obstacles. They’re not wanted. But why do so many of them have to have been killed off, and leave no trace of ever having influenced their children? Mrs Sterling. The first Mrs Harman. Mrs Jillion. Madame Corret. Countess Brindisi. This persistence with killing off so many mothers only places greater emphasis on those others who have survived but who might as well be dead for all they play any part in their children’s lives.
The predominance of this syndrome suggests to me that Saville was actually not conscious of it. He didn’t want mothers playing a part in his characters’ stories – except for Mrs Morton, whose avatar was his wife – and given his chauvinistic instincts, it may have just seemed easier to have them drop dead before page 1 than to clog up his story with even a minimum bit of fussing.
As to his aversion to giving his characters siblings, I have no suggestions to make. The Mortons, the Channings, the Jillions, the Standings, the Buckinghams and Francesca Brindisi are all siblings but everybody else is an only child. Saville could certainly write for families, and among the Lone Piners there seems to be a theme of lonely children coming together to bond in the Club as a substitute family, but otherwise, his insistence upon ‘onlies’ is curious. Unless we’re meant to read something into his own family of four children, that is.
So there you have it. I am not well versed in the world of children’s fiction, so I don’t know how Saville compares to the mass of his contemporaries. Those with whom I am familiar in any degree – Blyton, Ransome, Trease, Rowe Townsend – seem perfectly happy with extended families in the way that Saville is not in the books covered here. I believe he was much more attuned to families in the series aimed at younger readers, where the danger was much reduced, but this I have to take on hearsay.
Nevertheless, I certainly wouldn’t agree to be a mother appearing in a Malcolm Saville book, not for a million pounds!

Wednesday Morning Sitcom Time: The Office (US) s02 e04-06 – The Fire/Halloween/The Fight


I made a conscious effort this week to try to blot out the original version of The Office and the the US version on its own terms. Naturally, this was impossible in absolute terms, even though the fact of the three episodes all owing nothing to Gervais and Merchant made things easier. But to a large extent I was successful, letting me judge, and more importantly enjoy, these three episodes in their own right.

To a large extent, all three episodes were dominated by Dwight, and not in a good way. By that I mean that I am already finding Dwight Schrute an intensely annoying character. I’m going to have to make a comparison here because Dwight is a less extreme version of Gareth Keenan, which makes him closer to real life which in turn reconfigures him as irritating as opposed to monstrous. If you spent your day working alongside Gareth you would be flabberghasted, if you spent it alongside Dwight you would be homicidal.

‘The Fire’ is an excellent character piece. The fire alarm goes off, it is not a drill, everybody removes to the car park and just generally chatter whilst the fire brigade investigate the building. It removes the need for a story, though there is a storyline there, as Michael Scott assesses Ryan, the temp (who so far has had little to do) whilst everybody else just talks amongst themselves, with Jim as an informal Master of Ceremonies, keeping everyone occupied. The little game of ‘Who would you do?’ is especually interesting.

As for Ryan, he’s attending business school in the evenings, with the ambition of running his own business. It’s intriguing to watch Michael’s split personality in relation to this: in one respect superior, regarding his experience as entitling him to ‘teach’ Ryan whilst on the other hand being slightly in awe of the theory Ryan is learning and understanding. Of course, Dwight sees Ryan as a threat to his dog-like dependence upon Michael and tries to but in, which leads tp his wounded tretreat to his car and playing ‘Everybody Hurts’ at enormous volume. It’s further emphasised when he races into the ‘burning’ building to rescue Michael’s callphone – which he had on him all the time – and discovers that the ‘fire’ is actually Ryan having misprogrammed the toaster oven, leading to an orgy of crowing. A lot of stuff going on, a lot of threads being intertwined.

‘Halloween’, in contrast, played more on Michael’s abject reluctance to let someone from the office go, i.e., fire them, on Corporate’s orders, though as the downsizing was on budgetary grounds it wvas more a case of redundancy. Michael can’t do it. He’s left it right till the end of the month, which means that it’s Halloween, there’s a party, the whole office is dressed up in fancy dress (brilliant clip of the cleaner, the night before, vacuuming up all the cobweb decorations), it’s not going to help the party mood. And he can’t do it. He can’t even choose anyone, because it’s impossible to sack someone and have them still like you (again, this would have been less difficult with David Brent).

Dwight, who’s dressed up as a Sith Lord, is played with by Jim and Pam, who put his profile up on a jobs web-site that nets him an offer of a better job in Maryland (that he blows anyway). It’s such a good job that Pam openly talks of Jim as being better deserving of it, which suddenly opens the trapdoor beneath them. He won’t consider it because it means moving away, and not seeing her. She doesn’t want to tie him down but would ‘blow her brains out’ if he left, which he tries to rationalise into something he can handle. Oh, it’s very much soap opera, your basic will-they-won’t-they, but given the greatly extended space that the US series will offer, I am very interested in watching this develop.

As for ‘The Fight’, this is sparked by Dwight as martial artist, purple belt, boastful, provoking Michael into an hilariously ludicrous fight at the dojo at lunchtime that Michael wins, though hardly in any martial arts manner. The physical comedy is kept to a minimum, thankfully, as it’s an easy crutch to rely upon, and what was more interesting was what was going on in the background, as the playful ‘sparring’ between Jim and Pam suddenly and embarrassingly changes. Jim takes his playfulness around her too far, lifts her off her feet, exposes her stomach as her blouse rides up. It goes beyond the unspecified limit of their friendship and reduces both of them to silence, his embarrassed, hers angry. Is it resolved at the end? Almost certainly, without words, with a silent apology in the form of a bag of crisps or something similar. He went too far, thinking he had a certain licence that he mistook. Delicately played.

But this episode started with the equivalent of a non-sequiter which I had to say was pure UK Office in its beauty and simplicity. Dwight arrives at work to find his entire desk missing. Jim conducts a ‘warmer/colder’ gag leading him to wherte it’s been set up, entire and whole, in the men’s room. That was the pure stuff and it was bloody funny just of itself. I’d have loved to see that with Tim and Gareth.

The World At War: e24 – The Bomb (February – September 1945)


This is the other Big One.

Of all the things that the Second World War was, of all its complexities, influences, certainties and questions, there are two fundamental, inescapable things when you come down to it: the Camps and the Bomb. Yet whereas one was morally clear and indisputable to a degree that is inarguable (though many do challenge it), the other is a morass of conflicting opinions and moral imperatives adding up to a question that cannot be avoided but which, in this temporal world, will never be answered: was it right to drop a bomb that destroyed an entire city in 53 seconds of falling time?

This episode did not try to answer that question. The only way something like this can be approached with any vestige of objectivity is to set out the facts and leave the question to the audience to decide. The episode did so. It began with the take-off of the Enola Gay from the Marianas Islands with the first Atom Bomb to be detonated in combat on August 6 1945. It then swung back to the previous February, and the death of United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt, which seemed at first to be not wholly relevant.

But it was the base point of what became a complex overlapping of political motivations that were then explored throughout the programme. Roosevelt did not actually die until April, but the programme started from the Yalta Conference in February, which was put forward as the first time the ‘Big Three’ overtly started looking beyond the end of the War and began considering not just Peace but the shape of it, the world in which Peace would exist and be maintained. There was a careful avoidance of judgement as to whether Stalin misled his Allies about his intentions in Eastern Europe, especially Poland, or whether there was a genuine misunderstanding between the two sides. However it was, the ‘solidarity’ of the three Allied Powers was becoming shaky behind the scenes (or more likely shakier) when Roosevelt suddenly died.

Enter Harry Truman. Though the episode didn’t touch on this, Truman had been a surprise choice as Vice-President the previous year, a Senator who had had little contact with Roosevelt but even though he’d replaced two-term VP Henry Wallace he remained outside Roosevelt’s circle. The footage of Roosevelt at Yalta shows a frail man, rapidly aging, a man whose imminent death would be no surprise to those who saw him. I’ve read that his Doctors confirmed he was a dying man before he even ran for his fourth term in 1944, so the decision to first select Truman then to keep him isolated is doubly inexplicable.

So ‘the little haberdasher’ as he was frequently called had to hit the ground running hard. In Europe it was of little matter: the end was nigh. Japan was a different matter. The programme explored the conditions that made the end of the War in the Pacific just as inevitable: the smashing of the Navy and Airforce, the overwhelming superiority of firepower, the cutting off of resources, theAmerican military confidence that Japan would be defeated within a matter of weeks. The invasion of the Home Islands was scheduled for November. Before that, in accordance with the agreement reached at Yalta, the Russians – hitherto ‘neutral’ so far as Japan was concerned – would enter the War three months after the end of the War in Europe, on August 8.

But that was where things started to get complicated, especially morally. Grmany was defeated, and Russia had plans in Europe. The Americans, especially Truman, did not want them to get into the Pacific War, where they could ‘interfere’ in that theatre post-War as well. The unity of the Allies was cracking. And America had its super-weapon.

Undoubtedly, mistakes were made. At times like these, mistakes are unavoidable, and the consequences can be catastrophic. Japan’s military ability to continue the War was tenuous at best, and a rising Peace faction recognised this. But the Military faction was implacable and fanatic: Surrender was unthinkable, a devastation to be ultimately forbidden by Japan’s honour. What could they fight with that would be effective? Only their bodies and their spirits. Truman insisted upon Unconditional Surrender, refusing, publicly, to rule out deposing the Emperor. Unconditional Surrender was unacceptable to a nation that wanted to keep its God-King and avoid Occupation. America had its bomb and were going to use it, but how? Tell everyone? Stalin didn’t seem impressed: did he already know or did he just not believe? Demonstrate its power, or use it? Force Japan to surrender? Send a warning signal to Russia? Between all of these things, the possible futures were near-infinite, the implications impossible to calculate. My own response was that there were other things that could have been done at the time to avoid the mistakes that were visible in hindsight, but that a different course choice would have meant the making of other, different mistakes. In the end, the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.

Up till now, I had always been impressed by the argument put forward by George MacDonald Fraser related in his autobiography The Light’s On At Signpost. Fraser relates an argument he once had at a cocktail party with someone who was adamant that under no circumstances should the bomb have been dropped. Fraser took personal offence at this because at that moment he was a British soldier in Burma. Not to end the War at that moment, however brutal and savage it was, was to effectively say that Fraser and his comrades were expendable, that they should have been condemned to further battle and death instead.

It’s the one unassailable truth. If the bomb had not been dropped, 130,000 inhabitants of Hiroshima and Nagasaki would not have been killed, not to mention the unanticipated radiation sickness suffered by thousands more. But other people would have died. We can’t know how many there might have been or if the numbers would in any way have balanced out. To be crude about it, it would have been ‘our’ people who died: whether you like it or not, War is Us vs Them. You protect Us.

That doesn’t alter the morality. Should the Bomb have been dropped? Need it have been dropped? Japan couldn’t last much longer anyway. They were trying to negotiate peace, trying to get the Russians to act as intermediaries. The Allies knew Japan wanted peace, they’d broken the codes and eavesdropped on it. They only needed to wait. On the other hand, it took a month from the dropping of the Bomb to actual Surrender. The Military faction were adamantly opposed: Death (for everyone) before Dishonour. It took two interventions, the second a final decision by Hirohito himself, before it was agreed that the Allied Ultimatum be accepted, and even then a group of young Officers invaded the Imperial Palace intend on stealing the Surrender Announcement and destroying it before it could be broadcast to the nation: they failed.

So yes, there would have been opposition. Even with Unconditional Surrender there remained opposition. Was the bomb dropped on Japan to end the War as abruptly as possible and save as many of our lives as it could, or was it dropped to send a message to Stalin about his future plans? Both, of course. Diplomacy is never about one message only. Which was the prevailing intention, we can guess according to our prejudices but never truly know.

At the end of the episode, we knew that it was very complicated. We knew much more about the questions, but the answers as ever remained for us to judge. The last scene was of the signing of the Instrument of Surrender, in a ceremony on an American battleship in Tokyo Harbour, conducted by General McArthur. A young Japanese assistant present at the scene spoke in voiceover of his awe at the men lined up, the officers in immaculate uniform with their brass glittering, and of wondering how Japan had ever thought it could defeat these forces. It was the only moment of triumphalism in the episode and it came from the defeated. This was not an episode to be triumphant about.

The Infinite Jukebox: David McWilliams’ ‘The Days of Pearly Spencer’

David McWilliams’ ‘The Days of Pearly Spencer’ is another of those ‘lost’ hits, a song that got regular airplay on Radio 1 as a Golden Oldie but which turned out, once books about chart history started to appear, I discovered had sunk without trace in the days of its release. There’s an interesting story about that, if you believe it.
McWilliams was a talented singer/songwriter from Belfast who started recording his own songs in 1966, growing in confidence. He had a gift for a sensitive melody and an ear for thoughtful words that led to a decade of success in a number of countries across Europe, much of it sparked by the popularity of ‘The Days of Pearly Spencer’, a song about a homeless man McWiliams had met in Ballymena.
Released in 1967, the song was a hit across Europe, going top 10 in multiple countries and selling over a million copies. In Britain it got nowhere for McWilliams, until 1992, when it was covered (and partially re-written) by Marc Almond who changed the closing lyrics to relieve some of the song’s darkness. Almond’s much inferior version reached no 4, which was some vindication for the writer, who was to die ten years later, of a heart attack, aged only 56.
I rag on the Great British Record Buying Public often enough in this series, and rightly so, but ‘Pearly Spencer’s failure in 1967 cannot on this occasion be attributed to them. Instead, in a truly petty gesture, the BBC refused to give the song airplay, effectively banning it, because his manager/agent, Phil Solomons, was associated with Radio Caroline, the leading and soon to be driven out Pirate Radio Station. To whom I say, you miserable bastards!
It’s ironic that I should become so familiar with the song through Radio 1’s regular playing of it years later, when the exposure was of no use to McWilliams.
‘Pearly Spencer’ is a superb song, painting a vivid word picture of its central character and the life of deprivation and misery that he led. McWilliams led in with an acoustic guitar introduction before allowing the song to be dominated by sweeping strings orchestrated by Mike Leander, who had provided the orchestrations for Marianne Faithful’s ‘As Tears Go By’ and ‘She’s Leaving Home’ by The Beatles.
McWiliams bleakly documents the life of Pearly Spencer in Ballymena, starting by describing a tenement, a dirty street, walked and worn by shoeless feet, in silence long and so complete, watched by a shivering sun. Those who knew the place he was singing about attest that there was no exaggeration in McWilliams’ words, and the picture he paints, which, echoed in the hopelessness of later verses, is presented to us without any of the light or colour that we usually associate with the music of the Sixties.
And there is the extraordinary matter of the chorus, whose words are brief and simple but whose recording was so strange, so divorced from the rest of the song in sound and texture. The days of Pearly Spencer, ah ah, the race is almost run is all McWilliams offers, a chilling implication that this life will not endure much longer.
Pearly himself does not appear until the third and final verse. If this is indeed the man McWilliams encountered, and his lack of exaggeration elsewhere suggests that the portrait is dismayingly true, then the picture is indeed something that Dorian Gray would turn away from. Pearly, where’s your milk-white skin, what’s that stubble on your chin? Buried in the rot-gut gin, you played and lost not won.
But McWilliams still went on to deliver the line that cut right through all my teenage naivete, and which sent chills up my back every time I heard it, over the past fifty years. You played a house that can’t be beat, and now your head’s bowed in defeat, you walked too far along the street where only rats can run.
That chorus is distant, cheerless and hollow, not only in its words but in how it was recorded. People suggest it was sung through a megaphone but in fact McWiliams sings down the line from a phone box outside the studio. It is the last, perfect touch.
I vaguely recall hearing Almond’s version and not being impressed, not least for the lack of any distinction between vocal texture on verse and chorus. The additional lyric is a repeat of McWilliams’ first verse, this time twisted round to be a reminiscence of a bad past that Pearly has overcome to live a good and fulfilling life, not to mention the final chorus stating that the race is almost won. It’s a travesty. If you should ever be forced into listening that version, for god’s sake switch it off before you get to that bit. It’s the equivalent of putting garish pink lipstick on the Mona Lisa. Down with this sort of thing.