The Love Story of Bill and Penny: A Bannermere Romance


The first thing to be asked is, is there a love story at all? Of course there is, but you would be forgiven for not realising it because in the Bannermere series by Geoffrey Trease, we only have Bill Melbury’s word for anything that happens, and dear old Bill is both oblivious until the very last moment that it’s possible to be oblivious, and too full of basic English decency to actually make any overt reference to such things.
David Morton and Petronella Sterling have twenty books over which to thrash out their future, and an objective narrator willing to tell as much as show. Bill Melbury and Penny Morchard must fit their love story into only five books, in which one of them can only speak what the other will record. It’s that which makes it easy for the boys and girls reading the Bannermere books to overlook, or even ignore, where the old friendship between these two is to end.
There are actually two overt romances in the series, both of which Trease confines to the deep background, one of which is pulled like a rabbit from a hat without a word of warning. The other, though its details are kept equally private, does belong to this story, and will be touched upon in passing.
But our main interest is in a story being told by a narrator who, almost until the end of it, is far less aware of what is going on than his readers, to the point that you start to wonder if he’s fit to be let out on his own, a storyteller who almost derails his own tale with a naivete of an entirely different order to that we see from the start. That he gets there in the end is almost a miracle of perception, but he gets there, even if he will never speak a word about it.

No Boats on Bannermere

Everything begins somewhere. David met Peter on a mountain, Bill meets Penny in a Botley’s cafe, Winthwaite, over ice creams. But each of them had to be there to meet. David was only on the Long Mynd because his father bought Witchend as an evacuation home for his family, and this was required because Adolf Hitler started the Second World War: a massive genesis. Bill’s in Winthwaite because his mother inherited a cottage in Bannerdale on condition she lived there, but the ultimate cause is no less massive, if entirely personal, than the historico-political causes of the War. This is a Divorce.
Things like that were virtually unheard of in children’s fiction of that era, and beyond the fact of it, we hear nothing about the divorce in all the series. But we can work out some things from the context.
It is mentioned, onceor twice, that this was long enough ago that Bill, and his younger sister Susan, were very small. They have certainly adjusted to it fully. Their parents have split up, their father has run away to Canada, they hear and see nothing of or about him, and the divorce has presumably worked a massive change on their lifestyle, but not once does either express distress or disturbance at the loss of a parent, especially not Bill, who is a boy in an age when boys worshipped their fathers.
That tells us something. It tells us that Mr Melbury was a rubbish father, his absence leaving no void that didn’t already exist. Nobody cares about him. They’ve lost what we assume to have been a stable, decent home and because he’s run off to Canada to avoid paying maintenance, the Melburys are stuck in a cycle of cheap and nasty lettings with cheap and nasty landladies. They have to make the best of things.
There’s one more point to express before we move on, and it’s one that I suspect has been kept from the children. Mrs Melbury has clearly had to divorce her spouse, and it was for Adultery. There were no other grounds back then, and we know it was him not her who cheated. How? She got maintenance and custody (I imagine the latter would not have been contested) and a Scarlet Woman would have had neither.
If that’s to be doubted, look at the subsequent behaviour of the pair. He shoots off to Canada (with his mistress? Who cares?) whilst she, despite her determination to keep up standards of appearance, and being referred to as a bit of a cut over other mothers, there isn’t the slightest sign of interest in her finding a ‘boyfriend’.
Incidentally, there’s never any mention of how Mrs Melbury comes by her limited income, which will only support cheap lodgings. Perhaps in London she works, but in Bannerdale she is a lady of leisure. In all these circumstances, Bill and Sue are almost too well-adjusted children.

The actual decision to move to West Cumberland nearly fails because Mrs Melbury is fearful of disrupting her children yet again, but thanks to one last nasty crack by Miss Raby, the die is cast. Bill will go to the centuries old Winthwaite Grammar School, where he will meet his best mate, Tim Darren, and his Headmaster, Mr Kingsford, Susan will go to the County Secondary, where she will meet her best friend, Penny Morchard and her Headmistress, Miss Florey. Bill and Sue meet for lunch on their first day, but whereas Tim has gone home to eat, Sue has brought Penny. She and Bill meet. Something begins.
But not at first. True, Bill is very impressed by the looks of his sister’s friend. Penny’s pale, clear skin and shining black hair are one thing, but her vitality and her wit are just as impressive. Bill, we might say, is smitten. Bill would not agree. Bill is next to completely oblivious as to just how appealing he finds Penny, though he can’t help coming back to her looks, most directly in his offhand (and private) comment about how Tim can call himself observant when he seems completely unaffected.
Is there any reciprocation from Penny? Not by her conversation, it seems. Penny accepts Bill as her friend’s brother, and then as her friend, a vital component in their little set. If she does respond on any other level, either on that initial meeting, or subsequently, we don’t know. We are reliant on Bill to tell us and even if Penny does give off any signs of something more than mere friendship, Bill would a) not notice it and b) not write about it if she did.
On the other hand, Bill, without recognising it in himself, does show a degree of empathy to Penny. This stems from Penny’s tragedy. Bill wants to be a writer, Tim a Police Detective, Sue’s arrival in West Cumberland has already suggested that her metier will be farming, but Penny wants to be an actress. She has the looks, the determination and above all the innate, natural talent. But she’s the one who cannot have her dream. A fall from a ladder when young, a badly-set leg have left her with a permanent limp. It’s not massively debilitating, and she still leads a full life, but that life is empty in things that matter to her, such as dance, and most of all, move naturally on stage.
This moves Bill, and even after Sue’s warning that Penny’s pride, and her hatred of pity, means that she cannot be condescended to, he is always aware of the extra limitations Miss Morchard faces, and he does everything he properly can to ensure she is protected.
Bill and Penny (and Sue and Tim) are all children, and this is a children’s book from 1948. There’s an enemy and a Treasure Hunt, a backwards thinking (though spirited and highly intelligent) Headmaster and a forwards-thinking (and also spirited and highly intelligent) Headmistress. No Boats on Bannermere was first and foremost an adventure story, but also an experimental one in that Trease, a very successful author of historical fiction, had been challenged to write a present day book without the cliches of dorm life, midnight feasts and secret passage.
He responded brilliantly, using Bill as his narrator, with the mildly metafictional element of Bill being conscious of writing the story whilst in it, but he wrote the Bannermere children as children. Bill’s initial response to Penny has very clear sexual undertones, but that’s all they are and remain, in this book and most of the others, and dear old Bill is completely unaware that’s what they are. His mother and sister have a much better idea, and Trease does a brilliant job at having Bill tell his audience things we can see but he misses.
But right at the end, on the last page, in fact, Trease drops his only overt clue, if indeed it is a clue. The Coroner’s Court has pronounced the treasure to be Treasure Trove, thwarting the unscrupulous Sir Alfred Askew. A reporter buttonholes Bill and Penny. Trying to get things straight, he suggests Penny is Bill’s sister. Very robustly, she replies, “No, thank God!”
By itself it may mean nothing. The times here are two decades older than when I was their age, but I still recognise the element of simple denial in that retort. However, the reporter sees another possibility. He doesn’t state it, but his nudge to Bill and his suggestion that might mean something else points directly at it. Penny, at least, understands what he means and turns bright red. Does this mean what Trease is hinting at? Will we get any more clues in the second book?

Under Black Banner

On the surface, nothing has changed in the second book, neither at its beginning nor at its end, which is about restoring a rightful position in more senses than one. If anything, the only romantic move that can be said to happen herein not only takes place completely in the dark as far as Bill Melbury is concerned, but has nothing to do with him and Penny Morchard, at least directly.
When it comes to romance, there are two stories buried in the second book, one of which progresses considerably further than the other. Indeed, whilst reading the book for evidence of the development of Bill and Penny’s relationship, it’s interesting to see just how much more overtly Trease treats the relationship of Sue Melbury and Johnny Nelson, whilst arranging things so that it all passes under Bill’s radar.
A year has passed since No Boats on Bannermere. Bill and Sue have shipped their mother off to Manchester for a hairstyling and shopping weekend, invited Tim and Penny up to stay and set off impulsively to climb Black Banner. Lost in cloud, they descend the wrong side of the mountain, taking refuge overnight in derelict buildings around Black Banner Tarn. They discover that another Grammar School boy is doing so more regularly than them. When Tim decides to use his detective skills to identify the boys, Penny challenges him, with Bill as her champion. Bill always gets a warm feeling at having Penny’s approval.
The boy is Johnny Nelson, a year ahead of Bill and Tim, captain of Sports in the weakest House at the Grammar. Nelson’s an amiable, straightforward character, and when it comes to Sports Day, he not only beats out the favourite, Ian Seymour, for Victor Ludorum, but almost single-handedly lifts Brownriggs into second place.
That Sports Day proves critical to everything. It enables Bill to identify Nelson as the boy at Black Banner Tarn. It enables Sue to see Johnny Nelson, of whom she forms quite a favourable opinion. It enables Johnny Nelson to see Sue, and given that she’s three years younger than him, it’s significant that he notices her at all. And it enables Penny to see Seymour, which is not a good thing at all.
Once he understands that Bill and Tim aren’t going to blab, Nelson unbends to lay out the story that becomes the plot. His parents used to farm Black Banner Tarn before the War but had to move out to let the Army use the land for war-training. Now the War’s over, the Army are refusing to hand it back. Our friends take up the cause of pressurising the Army to do the decent thing.
There’s an amusing moment when Sue and Penny pretend to have a puncture to get to talk to the Nelson parent about whether they want to go back (they very much do). They end up with Johnny’s help, but he recognises Sue as Melbury’s brother. It’s Trease’s second light touch: Johnny has noticed Sue.
The campaign is to start with letter writing to the local paper, one a week, Bill, Penny, Tim and Sue in that order. But Penny seems to be dawdling over writing her letter, and when the paper appears, she’s not represented. Bill’s furious, but that’s just the beginning. Nelson’s invited him to go fishing at the Tarn Saturday afternoon, and then almost as an afterthought, suggests he could bring his sister… Bill obliviously parlays that into an invite to all four, but Penny doesn’t turn up. And when the trio cycle back to Winthwaite, they have to pull up sharpish to avoid a fast moving car, driven by Seymour. There’s a girl with him. Bill doesn’t see her, but from Sue’s reaction he knows exactly who it is…
Bill is horribly jealous. His response is visceral but he can’t see that it is not the betrayal of the cause and the group that has upset him, but the more personal one he doesn’t recognise. Penny’s approval of him is very important, and this rejection, and in favour of the unsuitable Seymour, who is not only some three years older than her but whose moral character doesn’t come up to scratch, is utterly devastating.
Of course, Penny’s acting foolishly. She’d gotten dreamy over Seymour at the Sports Day but he’d seen (and fancied) her, and come looking for her, flattering her with an older boy’s attention. And she tries to make herself older, with lipstick and cheap scent, which only infuriates Bill more when he casts her off as a traitress, which hurts her in her turn.
We have to ask ourselves, just how foolish has she been? Not that foolish: there won’t be any of that happening, and besides Penny can’t be more than fourteen. But we know Seymour’s type, and we know that a girl won’t last long alongside them without certain liberties being mandatory: besides, Penny’s a bit googly eyes over him, so there will have been a number of snogging sessions. Poor girl.
Everything comes to a head in a multi-school expedition to London to see the International Exhibition. Bill and Penny separately plan to sneak off illicitly on the last afternoon, he to Parliament where a meeting with his MP proves to be the tipping point that wins the cause, she to the Theatre to see Shakespeare.
Bill’s unaware of this until, hurrying back to the Station, he bumps into Penny, lost and panicking and unable to get help. Being Bill, he immediately takes her in charge, gets them back in time. His reward is to find that Penny wants nothing to do with Seymour ever again: firstly, he wanted to go to some cheap variety show, not real theatre, then he dumps Penny for some cheap shopgirl with whom he can go dancing, making a cruel point about Penny’s gammy leg that prevents her from every doing that.
There might be a little Schadenfreude about Bill’s pleasure at learning this, but the true moment of reconciliation comes when Penny corrects him over her unwritten letter. It was written, and posted, but in the light of responses from Kingsford and Sir Alfred, it wasn’t chosen for print. That’s all Bill needs, to be able to take the betrayal onto his own shoulders, to be in the wrong. That cements things for him. And Penny, we suspect, has learnt a lesson about the value of certain men along the way.
On the surface, we’re no further forward. Underneath, there is the beginning of movement, from friends as part of a group, to friends for no other reason than enjoyment of each other’s company. It will only get stronger.
But the last word is the grand opening of the Nelson’s farm. Sue’s thrown herself into the refurbishing and renewing, along with many others, though she’s the one who, from the first, has seen the wild beauty of living at the Tarn with the same eyes as Nelson… or Johnny, as she now suddenly calls him.
Bill sees this as a matter for teasing, but Penny, once again completely loyal to her best friend, and a hundred times more sensitive than Bill, warns him off. This is no foolish crush, like Penny’s, and Bill is sensitive enough to Penny to read her glance, if not necessarily to realise that his younger sister is now older than him on one level.

Black Banner Players

There’s a moment, just over halfway through this book, that looks like a repeat in smaller compass of the main element of Under Black Banner, but which I believe is the most significant moment to date for Bill and Penny.
The pair have travelled together to Castle Eden, for individual reasons that they are concealing from each other. Bill claims to be researching something in the bigger Library available there, which happens to be true but which is just a two-birds-with-one-stone opportunity. Penny claims to be meeting her Manchester Aunt to go clothes shopping, which is a flat out lie.
Bill’s looking for an early shorthand system that will enable him to translate the old diary he’s received from the Drakes, retired stage actors living in poverty, but that’s a bonus: he’s really here to meet Celia Bridgewater, of Children’s Hour, at the regional BBC offices, to discuss a short story he’d sent in. The story’s too long, but it would justify its half hour running time if converted to a play, and Bill emerges with that option.
All’s good, until he arrives at the station to see Penny laughing and talking with a handsome local schoolboy. Once again, he is horribly jealous, but this time, instead of being able to dissipate it (marginally) to his family, he gets snotty at Penny directly. She, naturally, gets furious and prepares to leave him on his own.
Instead, she stops, looks at him strangely, and stays. It’s a stiff, stilted journey, with very little conversation, but she keeps looking through the window thoughtfully.
What we are watching, with tremendous understatement, is the moment that Penny first starts thinking seriously of Bill as a future boyfriend or partner.
It’s a moment that changes everything. We’ve seen Bill’s jealousy before, and known it for what Bill can’t see it as being. It’s clear to his mother, and to sister Sue, Penny’s best friend. Whether out of loyalty to her brother, or out of embarrassment at discussing a thing that’s not a mere crush but which goes deeper than that, Sue hasn’t confided Bill’s feelings to Penny. She’s seeing his jealousy herself for the first time. In Under Black Banner, she, like he, put his curtness down to her ‘betrayal of the cause’ but now she’s re-evaluating everything she knows. Bill is no longer just a friend, a part of the gang. Bill has feelings about her. And Penny is looking inside herself, at what she feels about him.
Of course Bill unburdens himself to his mother and sister again, not that he gets much sympathy. Mrs Melbury thinks things are serious enough for her to try to point out how unreasonable he is being, to try to direct him away from a possessiveness he has no right to feel, that he doesn’t even recognise he feels. Of course, it’s her that is being unreasonable, by not agreeing with him, and especially for pointing out that he wasn’t honest to Penny about his trip to Castle Eden. The contretemps dies down with no resolution.
Even before this, things have moved forward a little. Mr Morchard has asked Bill to assist in the bookshop in the run-up to Xmas, which has meant the two seeing more of each other, without the other two. Bill sees more of Penny’s home life than he has before, learning how she is both different and yet unchanged when she is with her placid, thoughtful father. And Mrs Melbury generously invites the Morchards to Xmas at Beckfoot, an invitation Mr Morchard clearly enjoys, though his primary reason is for his daughter’s benefit. In this, I suspect this wise but quiet man is already aware of Bill’s empathy with his daughter.
It’s on Xmas Day – how odd to think that post used to be delivered then – that Bill is offered a chance to publish his poetry. Trease based this on his own naïve experience, and gives the over-eager Bill the escape he didn’t receive, but it’s very noticeable that Penny spreads Bill’s fame far and wide as a writer, proud for her friend even as she displays one of her few moments of bitterness over her failed dreams.
And more importantly, it is Penny who, with complete understanding of how Bill is feeling, and of what he most needs, who shuts down gossip and conversation over his reversal, sparing him the humiliation he fears becoming public. All this before the moment she starts to take stock of him as something more than a friend.
Though it’s not directly pertinent to the Bill – Penny relationship (nor the Sue – Johnny one, which is proceeding placidly whilst the latter is away at Agricultural College), I find the book’s story very warming. Though the Black Banner Revue, and its successor, the Black Banner Players, is conceived with an ulterior motive and continues for enjoyment’s sake, it, like the book overall, is about giving to others. The Players bring entertainment to folk in remote valleys, who can’t get away from their lives, and the Players are the means by which the lives of two elderly actors, declining in poverty, are changed.
Penny adopts the Drakes as mentors and friends, horrified and furious at the straits their lives have led to, and Bill discovers that an old notebook in their possession, to be thrown away, is instead a vivid diary of historic times that he, with Tim’s aid, can translate and, with the aid of Tim and Penny, he can help recover when it is stolen.
The misunderstanding over the Castle Eden boy still has to be resolved, and once again Bill has mucked up. He was in Castle Eden to see Celia Bridgewater, leading to his play being commissioned. Penny was to see her as well, to audition for radio, for what ends up being the lead part in Bill’s play! It’s an allowable coincidence, and once Penny is reassured that Bill hasn’t wangled her the role, she can dismiss his silly suspicions with bonhomie, calling him a silly chump. Which he is.
Mind you, if she hadn’t started to look at him differently already, it might not have been so smooth…

Black Banner Abroad

The main talking point of Black Banner Abroad, so far as our underlying story is concerned, is the ironic one of Bill Melbury doing to Penny Morchard what he has suspected her of doing in each of the last two books, once correctly, the other only in his imagination.
We are well aware by now that Bill is quick to be jealous about Penny, without ever being prepared to admit this. Now, the boot is on the other foot, and we can see that young Master Melbury, who has now reached the age of seventeen, is just as oblivious to what his actions are, let alone the effects they have.
Black Banner Abroad may start in Bannermere, but it spends most of its time travelling to or in Provence, in the South of France. The Black Banner Players have been asked to bring Shakespeare to not merely the students, but also as many of the adults who are interested, whilst our little group of friends have a separate, seemingly impossible mission, to find one old peasant lady and return to her life-savings stolen under a misapprehension during the War.
Our quartet sticks together for the journey, the play and the mission, but they are far from together in Rencavalles, where the Winthwaite children are dispersed amongst families willing to house them. Sue and Penny end up next door to each other, with two girls who are friends, but Bill and Tim share the household of Monsieur et Madame Garnier, their son Emil, and Mme Garnier’s niece from Paris, Gigi. Gigi is seventeen, blonde and attractive. This is where the trouble starts.
Bill becomes besotted with Gigi. It’s hardly surprising: she is attractive, she’s flirtatious, she’s exotic and she takes an interest in him. And Bill is almost frighteningly inexperienced. Tim, who has no interest in women whatsoever, has formed a firm alliance with Emil, who speaks far better English than Tim ever will French, who shares the same interests as him, and who is a junior woman-hater. Bill falls naturally under Gigi’s spell without once noticing. He wants to bring her in on everything.
Penny’s more amused than anything at first, insisting on calling the French girl Gee-Gee despite all Bill’s corrections. He really is blind to why she’s doing that, despite having twice kicked off at Penny looking at another boy.
Exactly what Penny thinks, we don’t know. We only see those reactions that take place in front of Bill, and Penny’s being much more circumspect and, mostly, tolerant of his distraction.
There’s only one point at which Penny’s reaction is explicit, when Bill gets Gigi onto an excursion limited to the schoolchildren, visitors and home. She and Sue had clearly been expecting to join up with their gang, but Gigi is enough to have Penny declaring they’d intended to sit with their hostesses, Simone and Marcelle. Even Bill sees that this is a last minute change in plans but his only reaction to it is to compare French and English expressions for what Penny’s done with the blonde French girl. He really is dim.
Taking what we see of Penny’s reactions at face value, she’s positively accepting of Bill’s defection. Apart from that one show of controlled temper, and the gentle niggling she indulges in, Penny acts like someone who can wait. They’re only in France for two weeks, and then it will be back to Winthwaite, and Bannerdale, and no more Gee-Gee.
It’s no coincidence that, practically as soon as the train pulls out of Rencevalles, Penny is there proffering a peach to Bill, re-establishing her proper place in his life. And Bill comes to that moment from hearing that Gigi was exiled to Rencevalles in the first place because she had fallen for some undesirable type in Paris, casting long shadows over the exact nature of her enthusiasm for Bill. Typically, he takes himself out of earshot before he hears more than this, running away from any realistic appraisal of what their little romance has been.
But there are two genuine romances in this book. One is the one we know, which is Sue Melbury and Johnny Nelson, which is all but acknowledged by now, especially as Johnny is back from Agricultural College. But the other one is the true rabbit-out-of-a-hat of the Winthwaite Grammar Master ‘Cracker’ Crawford and Mademoiselle, the French Exchange teacher at the County High who has the idea of the trip to France in the first place, who become engaged at the end after absolutely no foreshadowing whatsoever.
Or at least none that Bill has observed…
With only one book left in the series, Trease has a lot to do.

The Gates of Bannerdale

And so we come to the final book, with everything waiting.
The Gates of Bannerdale is a very different book to all its predecessors, not so much in that the overwhelming majority of the story takes place in Oxford, not West Cumberland, nor that it is largely a solo or, at best, two-hander of a story, with Sue peripheral and Tim restricted to less than a handful of cameos. No, what marks this book out from the rest of the series is the thing Trease brilliantly conceals, which is that the children of this children’s series are no longer children: Bill and Penny are adults, young adults, students at University.
One of the ways in which this development is kept overshadowed is simply that Bill is still Bill. Penny, we can see, has changed. She has grown. She’s the only one of the pair who can truly be called adult in this book, because Bill in many ways hasn’t yet grown enough to be an oversized child.
There is some debate as to just how much of a love story there is, but if you look in the right places, and read what Bill’s telling you instead of what he thinks, the pieces are there.
To begin with, Bill’s off to Oxford to apply for the Scholarship place that’s his only hope. Penny pops up at the station to see him off, with some story about it being a coincidence, she’s there to check the Parcels Office for her Dad. She just happens to have some lucky white heather for him. She’s practically blatant and Bill, when he notices her cycle off without going to the Parcels Office, just thinks she’s forgetful. It crosses his mind that maybe she’s not, but doesn’t let it go any further. You have to wonder what she sees in him.
This first part of the book (indeed, every moment he has) is a love letter to Oxford, from Trease, through Bill. Just as on his first day at Winthwaite, he makes a best friend out of Gardiner (though it will take Penny to learn that Gardiner is also called Paul!), who comes from a very different background to Bill, but who is also seeking a Scholarship.
It’s everything Bill wants, and it’s what he deserves, and gets, to his surprise. Then comes an unusual scene. Everything we see in the Bannermere series is seen through the eyes of Bill. Here and there are scenes at which he was not present, reconstructed from eyewitness reports shortly after, with Bill making plain the source of events.
There’s a comic transition from Penny trying on flamboyant orange slacks in a free period to going to Miss Florey’s room to discuss her future. Bill’s going to Oxford. Sue’s going to be a farmer’s wife. Tim’s going into the Police. And Penny has a black hole in front of her, with even her radio career exploded by the advent of television.
So she’s turned academic. More than that, she wants to go to University. Despite her minor doubts, based on Penny’s past, Miss Florey is supportive. It might be an ordinary conversation between Headmistress and pupil, but there’s a curiously cryptic quality to it, something not being said aloud. Because Penny has one University in mind, and one alone: Oxford.
The oddity is that Bill, in his usual manner, explains that he heard about this scene from Penny, a few days later. And then he comments that he heard about certain things Penny did not tell him, from Miss Florey, a long time later.
What this might be is easily identified. Bill goes on to greet Penny’s news with great enthusiasm, and when it comes to her choice of University, seemingly undecided, does his best to persuade her to opt for Oxford…
I’ll come back to this chapter, but let me present it as absolutely crucial to the entire book, and in particular all the things that Bill does not say from here to the end, which puts in doubt the question of whether there is anything to speak of. Penny wants to go to Oxford, like Bill. The seventeen months between them in age will be obliterated by Bill’s National Service: they will go up to Oxford together. There, however much they are friends in Winthwaite, they will be friends unequivocally: even in chapter one, Bill is still portraying Penny as his sister’s best friend. There’ll be no such intermediary in Oxford.
The intervening period has to be glossed over, slightly. Bill helps Penny out with Latin coaching, that being her weakest area (it says much for their feelings that the friendship survives). Then he is sent to Germany on National Service. They write to each other regularly, leading to Bill’s platoon calling her his girlfriend. Bill denies this, over and over, because he simply cannot see Penny as being a girlfriend (obviously, he’s forgotten Ian Seymour).
That’s ridiculous. From the moment he first met her, Bill has been struck by how attractive Penny is. Now he’s a young man, in the Army, amongst men of his own age whose preoccupations off-duty are going to be heavily influenced by women – or sex – and Bill not only has no instincts towards sex at all, not even negative ones due to distaste at his comrades, but can’t conceive of Penny ever having any such feelings. In an era when girls were expected to grow up and marry.
This is taking Bill’s obtuseness into the area of asexuality. Which doesn’t augur well for Penny in Oxford.
In fact, things go disastrously. After travelling together, Bill and Penny are separated by their differing physical locations and their busy schedules. Bill teams up with Gardiner again. He’s repelled on his first attempt to visit Penny by the rules of her college, but meets her by chance after a confusion in a bookshop with her new best friend Carolyn (a not unattractive blonde).
This results in a tea party with Gardiner, who hits it off with Penny as his mother is an actress. But Bill is wilfully self-destructive. He eagerly responds to a twist in the conversation about University being a place to make new friends by also positing that it’s a place to shake off old ones. Someone not a million miles away takes that devastatingly to heart. That she still puts up with him argues very strongly that Penny must love Bill very deeply.
Will the idiot ever see what’s under his nose? He’s a bit jealous when Gardiner starts taking Penny to the theatre, and almost as a provocation invites Carolyn to help him counter the plan of Snaith to write a debunking biography of the ex-Hereford Warden Talbot, who seems to be deeply involved in the disappearance of the College plate. Bill sees more of Carolyn than Penny, though he never once seems to see even her as a girl, and one who clearly doesn’t mind his company. Rather than a foursome, the set are two couples.
Ultimately though, and with no description of that period in Penny’s life, she and Paul have no more future (or present) than Bill or Carolyn. Paul suggests organising a punting party for May 1st, but is shy of asking Penny: it will come better from Bill. Paul is clearly aware of something Bill doesn’t know, and there’s an undertone of annoyance, perhaps of jealousy behind his reminder to Bill that Penny is one of the most striking girls at Oxford.
This comes in the context of the outdoor performance of The Tempest out of doors, on and about the Hereford College Lake. The closing scene is a spectacular conception that leaves me wishing I could see it rather than just read about it. Prospero sails back to his life as Duke of Venice. Ariel, played by Bill, runs out across the water (a causeway built just under the surface), yearning for his master to return.
Paul has organised for Penny to play the ship’s figurehead, a mermaid, though it requires her to do no more than stand still. Even Bill admits, when first he sees her, that he is glad not to have the next lines, as everything else goes out of his head.
It is this that finally breaks the ice, when it may be presumed to be Antarctic thick. There is the harking back to the Black Banner Players, and there is this final appraisal of Penny’s beauty. Bill escorts her back to her bus. And finally wants to know why she’s been avoiding him all year. Oh, Bill!
If she ran away, sobbing, it would not be unjustified. But Penny, fighting off tears, tells him she has only been doing what he wanted. Bill protests, but she reminds him of that thoughtless remark about sloughing off old friends. He protests he never meant it that way. But his realisation is immense, and just as they have always done when things have threatened to intervene in their friendship, their investment in each other takes over. Typically, Bill writes the moment as a restoration of their old friendship, no different from similar scenes in Under Black Banner and Black Banner Abroad, but the final step, that’s waited since Nutley’s, is finally taken.
Everything else stays off the printed page, but Bill can’t resist the odd reference. His Mum, Sue and the Drakes come down to Oxford, and Bill mentions that he is happy about things even before that, and in the book’s closing chapter, there is a more direct moment. Sue is marrying Johnny Nelson, with Penny as bridesmaid, Bill to give the bride away and Tim, improbably, as Best Man. Proving he’s still as resistant to female charms as ever, Tim wonders about having to kiss the bridesmaid, to which Bill replies sotto voce, with the closest he comes to a leer, that if Tim doesn’t want to…
And if that doesn’t suffice, there’s Mr Tyler, gently chiding him for letting his younger sister get wed afore him.
So let us return, as a final note, to that mysterious chapter with Penny and Miss Florey. Penny’s told him most of what was discussed, and Miss Florey supplies the last detail a long time, indeed years, later, that Penny only ever had her heart set on Oxford. Miss Florey would hardly have given away something like that about one of her pupils unless she was absolutely confident that the confidence was warranted. I think we can safely take it that three of our little circle of friends will be safely and happily married, and we shall just have to hope that Tim Darren wakes up to the advantages of someone to love before he is promoted to Detective Inspector.

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Some Books: Wilfrid Mellers’ ‘Twilight of the Gods’


This is an occasional series, about books I read many years ago, usually from Didsbury Library, that I seek out to re-experience, to see if the things that appealed still affect me the same way, and to measure the change in myself between then and now.
The latest of these is Twilight of the Gods – The Beatles in Retrospect by Wilfrid Mellers.
Until now, I’ve been re-reading and reviewing exclusively fiction, but Mellers, a noted and highly-respected musicologist, produced an erudite survey of the music of The Beatles – mainly as a band but also covering the first, post-split albums by each member – from the point of view of the music itself, in the same manner as he and others of his ilk, would analyse, assess, praise and explain the works of Beethoven, Bach, Mozart et al.
It was a controversial book, sneered at and derided from both sides. The classical scholars were horrified at their standards and demands being applied to a mere pop group, even one so exalted as The Beatles: to them, Mellers was not so much slumming as rolling in ordure. And the pop/rock community, including The Beatles themselves, were derisive and dismissive of the very idea of applying strict musical theory to their music.
I’m sure it was that which drew my attention to the book: I’d started getting the New Musical Express in February 1972 and I can’t imagine there wasn’t a satirical review of the book at some point. I know that when I saw it in Didsbury Library, I knew what it was and was eager to read it.
It’s hard to know what to say about this book. Neither then nor now do I understand more than half of it. It’s full of staves of music, which I can’t read, and is full of musical terms that, even with the benefit of several pages of glossary, I can barely understand, and is so dense in the use of these that if I tried to consult the glossary every time, I would never finish the book.
I can follow the overall description of the progress of The Beatles’ music, from the initial primitivism of their early singles and albums – described as ritual music, or trance-inducing – to the growing sophistication of the various stages of their musical development. And its helpful that Mellers’s assessments of the various merits of the albums is in rough accord with mine (at least until the final phase, where he rates Abbey Road much higher than I do – I have no Beatles albums after Magical Mystery Tour).
But it’s obvious that Mellers regards The Beatles, and particularly Lennon and McCartney, as tremendously gifted natural musicians. Their use of musical effects, such as melissma and glissando, to name just two terms I don’t get, is detailed and praised, despite the act that their application is in almost every case accidental, unplanned and natural.
It seems that the pair’s instincts, as composers as well as musicians, combined with their expert use of the studio and the formal assistance rendered to them by George Martin, enabled them to invariably select musically adventurous forms that were ideally suited to the ideas and emotions they wanted to express.


Not that Mellers slights Harrison or Starr, making it plain that whilst their contributions, musically, may be slight in comparison to the major writers in the band, they were nevertheless essential components in the collective identity of The Beatles, the shared experience of being Liverpudlian working class men at that time and in that place.
Twilight of the Gods, an overblown title for which I can find no justification in or out of the book, was published in 1973, allowing Mellers to end by looking at the different approaches taken by the individual Beatles in their post-split-up solo work, a period long enough to enable all members to release two albums, except for Harrison, whose first was a triple-album offering more sound overall than any of the other three.
Even here, Mellers concentrates more upon Lennon and McCartney who, separated from the scrutiny of the other, go down very different routes towards the uncompromised music they wish to make (McCartney does not profit by the distinction, at least not to my eyes, just as he certainly doesn’t to my ears).
It’s still all very much above my head, except when Mellers makes reference to certain of the lyrics, and there’s still a certain surreallity to the idea of subjecting pop/rock to this level of formal analysis. But Mellers is sincere in his beliefs and in the value of the music and even an imperfect understanding of his arguments fails to render them risible or overdone.
In the end, the book’s interest lies in it being one of the first, if not the first, to examine The Beatles’ music rigorously, and to conclude that it was not merely valid, but serious, and to describe it in musical terms usually confined to the more formal, more trained Classical music. For this, Mellers was scorned on all sides. The book is out of print and comparatively costly to obtain but, understand it or not, I’m hanging onto my copy.

Beyond the Pine Tree: Malcolm Saville’s The Buckinghams Part 2


It seems that I was prematurely pessimistic in doubting I’d be in a position to read and review the other half of Malcolm Saville’s Buckinghams series, as copies of A Palace for the Buckinghams and The Secret of the Villa Rosa appeared on eBay at more or less the same time, both for less than £10.
On the other hand, I suspect I have not been remotely pessimistic enough when it comes to the sixth and final book, Diamond in the Sky. Three copies of this were available through eBay: the cheapest for £110, the next more than twice that figure and the third more than ten times the price of the second. Quite frankly, I am not going to spend £2,500 on a book when I can get it for £110, not that I can afford to spend £110 on a book in the first place.
But I am willing to pay £30 to enable me to complete a series, even if it means having to go on Amazon Deutschland for it.

The fourth Buckinghams book, A Palace for the Buckinghams, was published in 1963, nine years after The Long Passage, though the edition I acquired was the 1969 Armada paperback that, at 158 pages, was self-evidently much-edited, Armada-fashion, from the First Edition. The story takes us back to the core characters, Juliet and Simon Buckingham, and Charles Renislau. A very familiar time-shift has taken place, with Juliet settled at age 16 (and her hair now buttercup yellow), Simon retrogressing to twelve and Charles out in front at 17.
To be honest, I was a bit disappointed in book 4. I had enjoyed the first two Buckinghams books for their complete change of atmosphere, their closer and more personal adventures and the individual characteristics of the three youngsters. The Long Passage had veered towards Lone Pine territory, with its expanded cast, the introduction of a criminal organisation that the trio stumble upon and set out to defeat, and A Palace for the Buckinghams completes the job of absorbing Lone Pine Club characteristics.
The scene this time is London. Juliet and Simon arrive to spend a fortnight with Uncle Joe, the artist, at his Chelsea flat, and arrive as he is entertaining Sir John Villiers, England’s greatest contemporary portrait painter, albeit one who has not painted in three years. The beautiful Juliet attracts his eye, but not so much as, surprisingly, Simon. Uncle Joe is trying to get Villiers to agree to have his paintings catalogued. Between these two things, and the fact that the family name of the Dukes of Buckingham is Villiers, the three Buckinghams are invited to stay at Sir John’s home on the edge of Hampstead Heath whilst he flies to Italy where his only daughter is ill.
As for Charles, he’s on his way back to London after accompanying his father on a continental concert tour and gets roped into the invitation (he shares a bedroom with Simon, not any other member of the Buckingham family, what did you think?). Sir John’s big old house is the titular Palace.
So far, so good. But then Saville overloads, perhaps even over-eggs, the adventure side. On the plane back to England, a stranger eavesdrops on Charles reading Juliet’s letter about all this to his father. The stranger is Barry Salter, and he just happens to be the lazy, greedy (and crooked) stepson that Sir John has already mentioned he has disowned. Barry is a smuggler, working under and with one Arnold Ball, who has the goods on him (all very The Doctor and John Robens). He’s trying to sell Ball on the idea of getting into the ‘Palace’ whilst Sir John is away, stealing as many paintings as they can have away with on their toes, and making a real search for the legendary Villiers family treasure that Sir John could really do with.
Hidden treasure being sought for by professional criminals: you see what I mean about a Lone Pine plot, don’t you? And it is made all the worst when Saville reveals that Arnold Ball’s real name is Septimus Bland, the erstwhile Master of Maryknoll.
With one significant exception, the adventure side of the story proceeds conventionally. That exception comes when Simon discovers the Villiers’ Treasure – a Highwayman’s booty of jewels – only for Bland to instantly seize it from him, bash him and leave him trapped whilst he goes on the run. This precipitates an all-night Police chase from London to the South Coast and a climactic scene where Juliet is directly threatened with death at Bland’s hands, by being throw over a cliff edge into a 300′ deep chalk quarry.
But Charles’ cricketing abilities come to the rescue, with the throwing of a cricket ball sized lump of rock that hits Bland under the heart, enabling Juliet to escape. She takes refuge in Charles’s arms, and within moments she has slipped away with him into the woods and is signalling to him to kiss her. My Armada copy is promoting their edition of Not Scarlet But Gold in October 1969, but David and Peter’s epiphany had been written had been written a year before.
Charles and Juliet had not had to wait anything like as long for their friendship to turn into romance. Though it’s never brought up as such, the boyfriend/girlfriend dynamic is there throughout, and Juliet in an unusually modern way asks Charles to take her out on what has to be a date. Besides, after a token mention that Charles is half-Polish as well as half-English (as an explanation for him being more handsome than a purely English boy), his foreign nature is virtually forgotten. Simon gets to refer to him as moody, but Juliet isn’t continually losing her temper with him for being so unEnglishly emotional: certainly not in the wood at the end.
Having left the Buckingham group out of it for nine years (during which he’d written seven Lone Pine books and six Susan, Bill books), their unexpected revival did not lead to a resumption of the series, not at any rate for another eight years, when the fifth book, The Secret of the Villa Rosa, was published (four more Lone Pines, six of seven Marston Baines books).

The fifth book was prefaced by a Lone Pine-style foreword, in which Saville addressed his readers on the subject of the three characters’ ages, as well as referring to The Master of Maryknoll as having been written over ten years ago. That was accurate but misleading: the book was first published twenty-one years before The Secret of the Villa Rosa. But Saville is mainly concerned with the ages of the participants. Juliet, who was fourteen in the first book is now seventeen, and Charles six months older (the boy must always be older than the girl), whilst Simon is the same old thirteen he always is, no matter what age the other two. Saville actually acknowledges that the trio’s ages have bounced around a bit but confidently asserts that this is how old they will be in future.
I can only shake my head.
The Buckingham series has taken place in a different part of the country each time, but after a brief prelude in London, our friends are headed to Europe for the first time, to be precise, Orvieto in Italy. Juliet, whose hair has now settled upon being ash-blonde, and Simon have come to stay with Uncle Joe, the artist and the bachelor brother (it appears that novelist father James is no longer interesting enough), only to find that Joe has been offered a startling commission, to paint murals at the Hotel Villa Rosa in Italy. Furthermore, he may bring his niece and nephew with him, and invite Charles Renislau, son of the great composer and musician Alex Renislau (the Villa Rosa is very exclusive in its choice of guests). Charles is currently in Paris.
Well, this is something different by way of set-up. The Buckinghams make their way by car, through France and Switzerland into Italy, stopping off in Florence. Saville is lyrical about the countryside they pass through, but we know this is not what the book will be about. Sure enough, the trio attend a Florence museum, where Uncle Joe wants to show them one of his favourite paintings ever, Fra Angelico’s ‘Nativity’. Joe’s reaction is strange, but when a loudmouth American know-all joins them in the little side-room where it is displayed, he immediately agrees. The painting is a forgery, and a poor one at that.
So the story is to be about international art theft, and the Buckinghams and Charles will uncover the secret gang responsible, through the chance of Joe being the first person to identify the theft of the original (despite the American, art dealer Anderson, trying to aggrandize himself over it), and through the chance of Juliet and Simon, taking a late evening walk along the ramparts of the former monastery, the Villa Rosa, and coming across a half-conscious man with a livid bruise on his head, a man who appears to have been struck, but who disappears without explanation before Simon can bring Uncle Joe to help.
That the leader of this international gang will either be the obnoxious Anderson, himself a guest at the Villa Rosa with his daughter Sally, or else the smooth talking manager Bernini, so insistent that sordid matters involving the Police should not besmirch the Hotel in the eyes of its ultra-exclusive clientele, is pretty obvious. I went for Bernini on instinct alone, but Saville had me fooled this time, despite putting Bernini in the frame until very near the end, when the real brains turned out to be the Contessa: white-haired, wheelchair-bound, his mother. Anderson and daughter are involved, naturally. Good and evil are pretty bluntly drawn in Saville, and obnoxiousness of character is never far from overt criminality.
The book has good and bad points to it. Saville repeats the exhausted trope from the Lone Pine series of the grown-ups not believing the unusual experiences of the children: and he was doing so well in The Buckinghams at Ravenswyke, when the Police immediately investigated Alex Renislau’s disappearance. Joe Buckingham doubts the existence of the injured man that Juliet and Simon encounter, leading to near hysteria on his niece’s part, and why not?
Charles, at least, believes her immediately, but then that’s a good point. There’s no coyness in depicting the pair, they are accepted as girlfriend and boyfriend as if that were completely natural, they kiss unfussily, they can say how much they are glad to be together. There’s an unnecessary scene where an exhausted Juliet kicks off at Charles when she sees him sat talking with Sally Anderson, but Saville buries that offstage, only explaining what has happened after Juliet has apologised, instantly, openly and unaffectedly, for her tantrum. Clearly, he felt constrained to have Juliet act jealous because Charles even acknowledges the existence of another ‘eligible’ female, but couldn’t bring himself to actually write it, because it was a ludicrous waste of paper.

Though he lived another decade after completing this book, Saville wrote only five more children’s novels in the next seven years. The third of these was a sixth and final Buckinghams book, Diamond in the Sky, published in 1974 and set in Europe again, this time in Amsterdam.
After international art theft comes international diamond smuggling. James Buckingham (who we learn, after so long a time, is a writer of thrillers) has had two books successfully translated into Dutch, and is invited, with his whole family, with his Publisher, Pieter van der Straat, to do publicity and research a new book, set in Amsterdam. Pieter’s stepdaughter Carla, aged 18, has already stayed with the Buckinghams in England (are they still in Shropshire, or did they ever move to Sussex) and become firm friends with Juliet, so much so that when the action starts, Charles Renislau, who is already in Amsterdam (of course he is, as is his father) has his nose put out of joint when Julie refuses to abandon her troubled friend for him.
There are only three Buckinghams to travel. Mrs Buckingham is yet again off the scene, this time having an ailing sister to attend to, whilst Mrs Renislau is similarly absent. After all those years separated from Alex because of the War, she never travels anywhere with him and her still-teenage son. It’s a shame that Saville was so reluctant to let the mothers appear, from the moment that the thriller aspect started to dominate this series.
The triggering event is that Carla, at the request of her elderly bookseller friend and would-be mentor, Josef Herman, has asked Juliet to pick up a rare book bought by Josef from a dealer in London, and bring it with her. The book, and the name and address it comes from, are kept strictly secret, which appears to infuriate Pieter even more than Carla’s announcement that she will shortly leave, intending to move to England, and to work for Josef, occasionally as a carrier, like Juliet, of books too precious to entrust to postage.
Indeed, it gets properly up Pieter’s nose and spoils the holiday for everyone, from James on down.
Why he’s so huffily insistent on knowing about this transaction, and angrily apologetic to Juliet over her having been involved inappropriately, is a bit sinister, and everyone expects it’s something to do with professional rivalries, but of course it’s not. On the plane, and several times after, the Buckinghams bump into a pretty young woman named Jean Smart, who appears inordinately interested in this tale of Juliet Buckingham lumping a book around. This is not because she’s a nosy bugger, or has a sinister role to play, but because she’s a young British Customs Officer, assigned to liaise with Amsterdam Customs over the aforementioned diamond smuggling, which might take place by hiding a diamond in the spine of an antique and rare book carried by an innocent dupe.
This leads to a rather awkward scene when Jean meets the somewhat eccentric Dutch Head of Customs, Hans van Loön, who she ends up accusing of not taking her seriously, because she’s young (and pretty), and of making up her suspicions about the Buckinghams to attract attention. It’s an ill-judged scene, which feels like Saville dragging in one of his stock situations, that are plausible-ish when it’s the children heroes who are being disbelieved, but not with an adult, and professional figure.
Before the plot plays out, and the kindly-seeming Josef is revealed as the smuggling mastermind with Pieter as his subordinate who he’s trying to double-cross, Juliet and Carla are drugged and kidnapped, only to be trailed and saved by James, Charles and Simon in a virtual replay of Peter and Jenny’s kidnapping in Where’s My Girl?
But all’s well that ends well, and James Buckingham gets a title for his new thriller, Diamond in the Sky, which is a cue for his brazen hussy of a daughter (well, maybe not, but it is surprisingly forward of a Saville heroine) to drop a heavy hint to her boyfriend Charles that the diamond she’s been rewarded with ought to be part of the ring she’s expecting him to give her before too much longer…
And that was it for the “Fabulous Buckinghams”. Though Saville wrote as if this was merely another book in a series that would naturally continue, he was now 73, and would write only two more novels, both published in 1978, a final Marston Baines, and the last, elegiac Lone Pine story.
Though I found the books enjoyable as Malcolm Saville stories, the second half of the Buckingham books do not match up to the first. Though I also strongly suspect that the very things I like about the first two books would have bored my young self, who would have been much more uncritical of the increasingly thriller-story tone.
I find it very interesting to see the common characteristics between the Buckinghams, and Charles, and the Lone Piners. There’s the same time flux as the three character’s age relationships elide and expand, or should I say Juliet and Charles in relation to Simon are all over the show whilst he is the perennial 13 year old, and increasingly irritating at it. And the obvious relationship between Juliet and Charles (once we get rid of this crap about him being not entirely English) is a fraught-free version of Peter and David (as is Mandy Jillion and Guy Standing, though they poor dears, never saw their series survive into the Sixties and consequently never even got to kiss, let alone plight any troths).
Should the opportunity (here defined as a set of first editions at cheap prices) arise, I’d like to go back to the Jillies series, and later still perhaps try an adult sensibility on the Marston Baines series I rejected as a kid. If I do so, you’ll read about it here.

Some Books: Henry Cecil’s ‘Independent Witness’


Since 2014, when I went in search of books I had once read and re-read enthusiastically from Didsbury Library, I began an occasional series about re-discovering such books after something like thirty years. I am curious about whether I still find them appealing, and if this is for more than nostalgia for the times they are associated with.
I’m assuming it was after I’d started directing my efforts at a Law Degree and a career in the Law to follow that I started reading Henry Cecil from my local library.
Henry Cecil was the pen-name of Henry Cecil Leon, a County Court judge who, between 1951 and 1977 (posthumously), was a successful novelist, mostly of comic tales with a legal background, for which he drew upon his own experiences. His first big success, Brothers in Law, about his time in training, was converted into a BBC sitcom with Richard Briers in the main role.
Cecil was a prolific writer, well-represented in Didsbury, and I must have read between two-thirds and three-quarters of his output, though the last few books were not up to the general standard of his work. There are probably a dozen or so that I would remember on re-reading but only one that I’ve kept in memory all these years. Recently, I was reminded of it and, finding a paperback copy available cheap on eBay, laid hands on it to read again.
Independent Witness (published in 1963 and first read probably in 1973) had a profound effect upon me at the time of reading it, and taught me lessons that I’ve observed all my life since. Though it contains Cecil’s usual gentle comedy, ultimately the story is serious, one might almost say deadly serious, and it is that seriousness that impressed itself upon me.
The set-up is simple. A car arrives at a road junction and stops at the Halt sign. Seeing no traffic, it starts across the junction. A motor cyclist tears round a blind bend and hits the car. The cyclist is thrown over the car’s roof and suffers serious injuries. The motorist drives off, leaving half a dozen or more independent witnesses behind.
MP Michael Barnes comes forward a couple of days later to admit to the accident, and is charged with dangerous driving. His wife is suffering from an extremely difficult pregnancy, hence his rush to get home to her, she having collapsed. There are some mental issues involved, and she needs to be kept free of agitation.
At first, the case, which is to be heard at the Old Bailey, in front of Mr Justice Grampion, who is notorious for his lacerating comments about drivers and levying maximum sentences. Against Barnes are these eight or nine independent witnesses. They do not know either the accused or the victim, they have no axe to grind, they are presumed to give wholly objective and truthful evidence because they have no stake whatsoever in the verdict. In short, they are Independent.
Anthony Wimbledon, Michael’s Solicitor, engages a QC named Oliphant to conduct the defence. However, Michael’s journalist friend Andrew Mortlake, employs a dirty, underhand, unethical trick (worthy of the legal profession, that man) gets Grampion out of the way by engineering a ‘casual’ bumping into the Judge, during which he and Michael exchange derogatory words about Grampion, unaware (well, Michael is) that it is the very man who’s about to try the MP.
Grampion, who may be down on drivers, is nevertheless scrupulously fair and offers the Defence the chance to request he stand down which, amidst a paean from all sides to the Judge’s ethical standards and ability to exclude personal considerations, Oliphant jumps at.
I was actually quite disappointed at that twist. It wasn’t the underhand nature of the trick, but it came over as a cheat on the reader. Cecil goes to great lengths to set Grampion up as a fearsome threat, a dangerous arbiter, an obstacle to Michael’s hopes of acquittal, and then he’s removed before he can say a judicial word, in far too easy a manner.
All of this is the set-up, the context for the purpose of the book, which is Oliphant’s cross-examination of the witnesses. This is why we’re here, authorially, and this is why I’m here forty-odd years on from first reading the book.
Oliphant can’t attack each or any one of the witnesses. That would invite disaster, both in the hardening of their testimony, and in the eyes of the Judge, who will respond harshly to harsh conduct to the witnesses.
What Cecil draws out though, through the careful, patient, controlled cross-examination by Oliphant, is that though the testimony each witness offers is honest, and given in a sense of public duty, not one of them can be relied upon. And each is undermined, their reliability in the eyes of the Jury gently demolished without their characters being in any way traduced.
Because not every independent witness is truly independent. Some have thoughts and opinions that are brought out by prejudice against the Defendant. Some are too independent, people going about their business, their concerns, who did not see what actually happened but genuinely believe in their testimony, though it’s shaped by talking afterwards with others, and constructing a narrative of what they think must have happened.
Each of the witnesses gives the same story: the car raced across the junction at a mad speed, without stopping for the Halt sign (ancient Road Traffic laws, you stop at a Halt sign, no matter how clear everything may be) and that the cyclist was driving at a moderate speed. We know that isn’t true, having ‘seen’ the accident for ourselves on page 1. But these witnesses are adamant, and honest, in describing it diifferent.
The storyis an object lesson in objectivity, especially for one who was working towards making his career in the law around which this revolved. I was completely absorbed in the forensic nature of the questioning, a technique of constantly returning to the actual scene, to what the witness actually saw, and confronting them with the logical inconsistencies between what they thought and what was actually possible, until the honest admitted their mistake, and those who had invested themselves too deeply in what they believed they’d seen blustered too much in defence of their testimony to remain credible.
But the point I took away was that the witnesses were honest, and said what they believed they had seen. Oliphant’s point, made patiently and gently, aimed at getting the idea into the juror’s heads rather than getting the witness to recant (one does, but in an admirably tough-minded piece of plotting, the Prosecution subjects her recantation to exactly the same doubts Oliphant is raising).The actual point is that none of them had seen the actual incident. Each had been thinking about their various preoccupations, had looked up at the sound of the collision, had talked to one another and had retrospectively constructed a version of what they hadn’t seen to fit their reaction to the injury to the unprotected cyclist and the driver’s rapid departure from the scene.
There’s a substantial twist near the end. The Prosecution rests. All Michael Barnes has to do is to go into the witness box, give straightforward testimony, and his acquittal is assured. But Michael refuses. Oliphant gets round it admirably in his closing speech. The Defendant is not obliged to give evidence, in fact until sixty years previously (then) he wasn’t even allowed to. Michael Barnes is a public figure. He is entitled to a verdict that he can point to and say there was no credible evidence, I did not even need to answer it.
Michael is acquitted, even though his legal advisors more or less assume he’s lied to them throughout and did commit the crime: what else can you think? All Oliphant’s patient work in undermining the witnesses and they were right all along. But here comes the double-twist: Michael was not driving the car. It was Sheila. And he’s taken the rap, risked his whole future, to protect her. He just couldn’t lie on oath and say he was the driver.
Of course, the ultimate irony is that every single witness could have been shot down as unreliable on the most basic of points: they all said the car was driven by a man!
The concept and the story still holds, though I am less enamoured of some of the diversions Cecil includes to pad the book out. One witness is Cecil’s recurring character Colonel Brain, a garrulous, rambling, beer-drinking idiot who I may have found funny once but who now is an intolerable nuisance. Worse however is the eighty year old Mrs Benson, obsessed with getting her licence back so she can drive again and getting muddled up between her testimony and her application to have her licence restored, for pages at length. If your attention doesn’t wander through this bit, you should have yourself checked for rigor mortis.
But to come back to why I remember this book out of all the Henry Cecil’s I enthusiastically read, it is down to that central point. Be observant. Be objective. Be accurate with yourself. Separate what you actually see and hear from what you think might explain it. Be clinical. It is vitally important that you bear true witness to things. That was the lesson I took away, and I adhere to it still, to the best of my ability. Stick to the facts, man. And retain this book.

Beyond the Pine Tree: Malcom Saville’s The Buckinghams


Back in 2017, on a whim, I reacquired the complete Malcolm Saville Lone Pine Club series that I’d loved so much as a boy in the Sixties. As well as re-reading the series, more than once, I’ve spent a lot of time writing about various aspects of the books and the characters in them.
My rediscovery of Saville has roused a bit of curiosity about others of his books. He was a prolific author of children’s books, all but two of them in series that ran to a minimum of three books. The only other Saville books I read in the Sixties were the Jillies’ series, five of the original six books, which I enjoyed as Sixties stories without being in the least conscious that these were books written and set before my birth.
With one exception, I don’t remember seeing any other Saville series back then, though the evidence of the Armada books editions available for so many varying prices on eBay clearly demonstrates they were there if I had wanted to hunt further afield. The exception was one of the Marston Baines’ books, a series clearly intended for older readers, which I turned down when the one I looked at in the Library had a scene involving kissing!
Whilst I wouldn’t mind re-reading the Jillies, and of course the one I missed first time, I am conscious that the Armada versions, much like the Lone Pine books, will be heavily edited down, and the originals tend to be a bit expensive for my budget, given the other books I am simultaneously pursuing.
But in the late 2000s, Evans Books, the original publishers, put out commemorative editions of the first three Buckinghams books, in a similar format to the GirlsGoneBy Lone Pine editions, albeit without any editorial material. Still, these are complete first edition texts with the original Alice Bush illustrations, and I could get decent copies of all three for about a tenner through eBay.
The Buckinghams series is a bit of an oddball. Saville wrote three books in the early Fifties, a fourth a decade later and then returned to the characters in the early Seventies for a final two stories. You’d expect these last two books to be easier to get in the Armada editions and, given that Saville was, by then, pretty much writing directly for Armada, I’d be willing to take on trust that these are complete. A quick survey on Book Finder reveals that, as assumptions go, that’s a pile of fetid dingo’s kidneys. It may be some time before I can do an article on the later books..

So: who are the Buckinghams? There are two of them, brother and sister Simon and Juliet (often called Julie). Juliet, who is described immediately as pretty, and has striking blonde hair, is about eighteen months older than her brother, the pair being fourteen and thirteen respectively in their debut, in The Master of Maryknoll.
There may only be two Buckinghams but the books are about the adventures of a trio, the other member being the half English, half Polish Charles Renislau, a talented violin player and son of a highly regarded Polish composer.
The Master of Maryknoll introduces Charles first. It’s England, post-War. Charles’ father has been missing, presumed dead, since the outbreak of World War II in Warsaw when, a patriot, he went to war to defend his country. Renislau managed to send his English wife and young son out of the country, with his violin, since when they’ve lived with Mrs Renislau’s brother, businessman Martin Strong, in the Midlands.
Charles is unhappy. His Uncle is unsympathetic, his Aunt Mary a social-climbing snob who makes it clear he is beneath her, and his cousins Cyril and Derek are ignorant and offensive, forever making plain the distinction between them, who go to fee-paying Boarding schools, and Charles, who goes to the local Grammar. Charles has little or no interests in common with any of his family other than his mother, and when the book starts, she has gone to Switzerland for mysterious purposes: Charles fears she is seriously ill and this is being kept from him. The adult reader quickly works out what her absence is really about.
But in the meantime, Charles falls foul of his cousins. Cyril demands Charles bowl at him but Charles is far too good a cricketer and humiliates him. This leads to a fight, to Charles going indoors when two snobbish neighbour girls arrive to play tennis, offending his Uncle, and eventually leading to a major argument with his oh-so-charming cousins, who maliciously tell him he and his mother are charity cases and no-one wants him there.
Stung o the quick, his pride rising, Charles decides to run away and prove he can keep himself. Naturally, he takes his most prized possession, his Dad’s violin.
Enter the Buckinghams. Dad’s a writer, like Saville himself, whilst the effervescent and energetic Juliet is an aspiring actress, and one with a degree of talent. Simon’s just a kid brother, home from boarding school for the first time. But there’s a very good relationship between the two siblings: the banter is affectionate but both respect each other and make time to act in concert.
It’s an odd first encounter: the enthusiastic Juliet gets everyone up early one morning, to have breakfast outside in the garden of their house, Leasand, somewhere to the south of Ludlow (aha, we are bordering on Lone Pine territory here!). And they are eating out in their garden when a boy of similar age to Juliet cycles by. Between her and him, the family ends up asking Charles to share their breakfast table, in return for his helping with chores around the place. And despite the fact he refuses to give them his real name, or where he has run away from, everybody intrinsically trusts ‘John Brown’. And neither parent objects when the Buckingham children decide to follow this perfect stranger travelling under an admitted false name to help him with his adventure.
Yes, it’s a different world, in space and time, but I find this much much harder to accept than the licence given to the Mortons the day they met Peter Sterling. Juliet and Simon are planning to be away for days, without their parents knowing where they are unless they phone home, and intending to sleep in barns and under haystacks.
There’s a very different dynamic between the three characters. Charles varies between being grateful to his new friends for the assistance and company they provide, and driving them, or at least Simon, away with his tendency towards melodrama and emotionalism. You see, whisper it, but Charles isn’t fully English. He’s half foreigner, which makes him over-emotional (I’m not sure what the image was of Poles in the early Fifties, but Charles is treated like a toned-down version of a French boy, and you know what they’re like.)
This is a Malcolm Saville book so there must be a menace of some sort. This is in the form of Septimus Bland, the titular character, who has opened his grounds for an extensive flower show to which the children are admitted. Charles and Juliet put on a popular mini-recital, but Bland shows great interest in Charles and especially in his violin. Charles finds himself effectively a prisoner, under pressure from Bland – who will eventually be revealed as a fence of stolen goods, particularly artistic ones – who ends up stealing the violin with the intention of selling it to an American collector.
It takes the Buckinghams to get Charles out, and it takes their father and uncle to intercept the dealer in London, who proves to be too ethical to proceed with the intended purchase of the stolen violin.
By now, everybody is in London. Charles has had to promise to go back to his Uncle’s but things have changed dramatically, in a way nobody’s telling him about but which isn’t hard to guess. His mother is back from Switzerland, his father’s Violin Concerto is to get its first English performance at the Royal Albert hall, and everyone is to attend. And not until Charles is reunited with his mother is the secret revealed: his father is alive, he has escaped from Poland after years of imprisonment and torture, and he is here: in fact, he will conduct his Concerto himself.
It’s a moment of great emotional release for everybody, a triumph on every level. And the book ends with Charles walking towards the father he has believed dead for a decade.
It was odd to read a non-Lone Pine Club book by Saville, for the first time in over forty years. The dynamics were completely different, first in there only being three characters, with their own individualities, and secondly for the melodramatic aspect arising naturally from the circumstances of Charles and affecting him personally, instead of being a formulaic criminal enterprise into which the Buckinghams stumble. And I was interested that, long before Peter Sterling was described as going-to-be-beautiful-one-day, Juliet Buckingham was not only described in physically striking terms but was openly stated to be pretty from the outset.
Not that there was the least element of sexual tension between her and Charles, though the likeliness of this is obvious to modern eyes. They are just boy and girl of similar ages, free of emotion or any kind of soppiness. Juliet simply believes in Charles on sight and gives him friendship. The only other girls in the book, his cousins’ stuck-up tennis partners, are beneath Charles’ contempt. In that respect, he’s a bit like a distant Jon Warrender.
Overall, I’d call it as a minor book in comparison to the Lone Pine series, though it is refreshingly free of many of that series’ flaws (and I don’t just mean the Twins). Then again, it has its own flaws, mainly in the distinction it is determined to draw about how Charles is different, because he’s not wholly English.

The Buckinghams at Ravenswyke appeared in 1952. Unlike the readers’ insistence on the Lone Piners staying the same age, Saville was under no such pressure and the two year gap between the books is reflected in the story. Two years have passed and Juliet is now sixteen, and has moved on from being pretty to beautiful: indeed, her appearance is so striking, heads are turning wherever she goes.
She and Simon have not really kept up with Charles Renislau: an exchange of letters, and then Charles has been spending time adjusting to having a father, and to a father who, whilst he is returning to composing and has become a British citizen, is still traumatised by the memories of his years of imprisonment, torture and escape.
Just as Juliet and Simon are not getting very far with their parents over the prospect of a holiday away this summer, a very long letter arrives out of the blue from Charles, updating them, getting far too emotional even for Juliet, and offering them a holiday. The Renislaus have moved from London to Ravenswyke, on the edge of the North Yorks Moors, near Whitby, where Alex can compose more peacefully, and invite the Buckinghams to stay.
Whilst the Lone Pine books are all about the adventure, Saville clearly has more creative freedom with a less popular series. There is an adventure, which once again arises organically from the characters’ situation, but this comes in the middle of the story and, though overwhelming at the time, is more or less put away with long before the end. The novel’s structure in that respect is a bell curve.
The drama involves the disappearance of Alex Renislau, in Whitby, on the day the Buckinghams arrive. Charles is very disturbed, not least because his father had been acting happy, and relaxed, more so than he’d ever been, and then changes demeanour on seeing a sailor in the harbour.
The ‘sailor’ is actually a spy, and a torturer that Alex knows from Poland. Alex follows him to a junk shop but Jan has already recognised him and Alex is taken prisoner. The Buckinghams and Charles are taken more seriously by the Police than the Lone Piners usually are when they report the disappearance (this is what happens when you’re not dragging the Twins around with you), and between them they find where Alex is held and assist his release.
That’s not the whole of the drama. Jan turns up incognito as a beach artist at Robin Hood’s Bay, who sketches Juliet whilst Charles and Simon are watching cricket, and when the children get lost on the moors in a sea-roke, and have to take refuge in an occupied cave overnight, it’s pretty obvious who’s been hiding there, but even though nearly everybody shifts to London for the last couple of chapters, Jan is captured pretty much offscreen.
No, those last few chapters shift well away from the action, to holiday concerns, and Charles’ debut for the Ravenswyke Cricket Club in a manner that would never do for David, Peter and Co.
One final point that struck me: Juliet’s now 16 and clearly very attractive. She doesn’t mind being appreciated, but nobody tries to be more than appreciative of her good looks, so her own emotional maturity remains untested. Given that he’s of similar age and has been described as handsome from the beginning, Charles is an obvious interest for her, like Mandy and Guy in the Jillies’ series.
But not only is Charles all but oblivious to Juliet as anything more than a dear friend (when the Cricket Club’s star twenty year old batsman displays obvious interest in the fair blonde, Charles is momentarily disgruntled, but this lead is not followed up at all), but Juliet is frequently snappy with Charles, and to his face, about his un-English over-emotionality. Even when he is openly rude, she makes it clear she doesn’t want an apology, when one is clearly merited.

Once again, two years passed before the third, and for nearly a decade, last book, The Long Passage, two years for the reader at any event, but not the Buckinghams. Once again, there seems to have been no meetings between them and Charles since the last book, contact having been limited to the exchange of letters between the golden-haired Juliet and her handsome friend.
What precipitates matters here is the arrival of a substantial royalty cheque for Mr Buckingham, on the strength of which he hires a caravan for a fortnight and takes his kids on a touring holiday aimed at Brighton and Sussex, his home county and perhaps their next home. Mrs Buckingham, not being into caravanning, goes off on her own for a week: it’s a good job this is a Malcolm Saville book or tongues might wag.
By coincidence, once they reach Brighton, the Buckinghams see Charles there. His Dad is touring, and he has written to tell them, in the hope they can get to Brighton, though the letter arrived after the party left Shropshire, and has to be forwarded on to them.
This time, the gang is transformed by the addition of two new characters. First there’s Maisie Dallas, an American girl, whose family have become firm if unlikely friends with the Renislaus. Maisie is sixteen, dresses like twenty, talks all the time and is truly getting up Charles’ nose (even if his reactions are expressed in a way that suggests he’s seriously not ready for girls yet). Naturally, she’s the occasion for the green eye from Juliet, but her enthusiastic adoption of all Charles’ friends when she meets them disarms our lovely blonde and there’s no serious rivalry between them after all.
The other is Sarah Temple, a young girl, eleven and nearly twelve, who meets the Buckinghams unpropitiously when, on a late evening ride on her horse, the family’s guest and new friend, antiques shop owner Mr Foster, startles her horse, throwing her. Though she’s initially rude, as who wouldn’t be, the family’s kindness and patience quickly wins her over and she wants Juliet and Simon to visit her home the next day. And Simon seems taken with Sarah, despite her being about eighteen months younger than him.
The thing is, Sarah’s father has recently died and her mother is having to sell their ancestral home and its possessions. The auction is tomorrow. In order that her mother should not be the only one to lose her things, Sarah, a brave little girl, has put some of her things, including a china cow once given her by her father, that she loves, into the auction as well. Taken by the girl’s sacrifice, Simon and Juliet buy it for her at the auction, only to find that the old box it comes with has a secret panel, inside which an exquisite, and no doubt valuable miniature is concealed.
Both the Buckinghams and Charles have already seen Foxy Simmonds, the assistant to Septimus Bland in The Master of Maryknoll, set up in Brighton, and still crooked. The five strong gang, with Maisie and Sarah accepted quite naturally, are out to foil attempts to steal the miniature.
There is a twist, a rather unSaville-like twist, when the friendly Mr Foster turns out to be part of the gang. I saw it coming, in his appearance out of the blue at a significant moment, but it’s a move Saville never attempted in the Lone Pine series, where imposters always failed to convince the astute Lone Piners even if they took in the grown-ups.
The increase in numbers works quite well and smoothly. I assume Maisie was a one-off, given where her family come from (and Saville really cannot write convincing Americans) but it wouldn’t surprise me if Sarah Temple returns in the fourth book: she gives Simon a partner of his own age, and a sense of responsibility, although at the end the youngest pair go all Twins-like when they think they’re being left out, and have their own, rather contrived adventure, which does at least justify the book’s title.
On the other hand, the increase in the cast, and the use of a problem that arises from the outside makes The Long Passage the weakest of the three books. Consciously or unconsciously, Saville is shaping the series towards the formula of the Lone Pine books. Doing so might make the writing a little easier for him but it doesn’t serve the character of the Buckinghams and Charles, nor is it helpful to turn them into second-rate copycats.
It’s interesting to note that after this book, Saville discontinued the series. It was nine years before he returned to the Buckinghams with a one-off story, and another eight years after that before two final books that took place abroad, instead of in England. Could it be that he recognised that with The Long Passage he was in danger of plagiarising himself, and stopped until a genuinely new idea, or ideas, came up?
Overall, it was refreshing to read a few Saville books that didn’t conform to the tropes of the Lone Pine series, and I’d enjoy reading the other three in the series. It could simply be that I was reading these for the first time, without familiarity, but the books came over as relatively minor works. That impression may well change on a re-reading, but I did enjoy the relative naturalness. This was an enjoyable experiment, and one that determines me to get access to the Jillies books again. GirlsGoneBy, are you listening?.

Under a Solitary Tree: The Love Story of David and Peter (Part 3)


Treasure at Amorys

There’s a very good case for saying that Not Scarlet But Gold is the end of David and Peter’s story, and indeed at one point it was going to be the end of the series. But Saville had two more relationships to attend to, to bring to their proper conclusions.
Peter isn’t present for Treasure at Amorys. Her status as David’s girlfriend is accepted and her absence is felt, but as usual, Jon and Penny take the forefront.
Penny’s loyalty to Jon has been one-sided for over 90% of the time we’ve known the Warrenders, and his dismissive attitude to her has far too frequently been condescending and cruel. His every now and then decency doesn’t begin to make up for all the times he has ranted at her, anywhere that is except in Penny’s heart and mind. She has worshipped him since before they were first introduced, and it is significant that it is only now, when their long relationship is about to be ended, that Jon decides that he likes girls after all. Even then, it shows itself in a twisted manner, with Jon deciding that the prospect of Penny becoming engaged or married to someone else is ‘disgraceful’.
He’s taken her for granted for so long, only seen her as an object for his disparagement. Even when he decides he’d rather have more than one day alone with her before the Mortons arrive, he’s calling her a little fool when she cuts her ankle, swimming. But God forbid she should look at even an imaginary other man.
No, I do not have much, or indeed any sympathy for Jonathan Warrender in his path towards the happiness and the love that his cousin has wanted all along. He does not deserve her, not for a second. But he’s what she wants.
The Morton’s visit is supposed to be a last hurrah, but as always Miss Ballinger is hanging around. Penny is kidnapped and terrorised, Jon turns into a righteous fury and rescues her almost single-handed, and the pair end up kissing frantically.
But that’s as far as Saville could let himself go. He’d set up the Warrenders as cousins long before the idea of any romances between Lone Piners could ever have been considered and his beliefs couldn’t allow Jon and Penny the same outcome the other loving couples merited. Their future would forever be blurred.

Man with Three Fingers

Tom and Jenny’s story has been pretty much a background one in this long essay, because it has simply been there, established quickly and unchanging. It started offstage, between Seven White Gates, when the two meet, exchange no conversations, and we’re told that Jenny hangs rapturously on Tom’s every word, and The Secret of Grey Walls where Jenny’s commitment to Tom is already established, and Tom is her determined champion.
And that’s how it is, book in, book out, always more than just boys and girls who are friends, but never anything else. Jenny frequently suggests Tom is neglecting her, and he always phlegmatically points out that his time is not his own, and but when he can he makes time to see her. Jenny is the more overt: remember that lovely moment in The Neglected Mountain when the Twins assume that the boys and the girls will make up separate pairs, and Jenny and Peter exchange nervous glances. It’s always been those two, and it always will be.
The first overt suggestion of anything more comes in Not Scarlet But Gold. Tom turns up, deus ex machina style, to rescue Jenny from a brutish lout. To her, his miraculous appearance is all that is needed, but though he says nothing, though he’s never been responsive to her affection, Tom sees her hurt and realises that he feels for her what she has felt for him for so long.
Typically, though, he says nothing to her. That’s left to Man with Three Fingers where Tom, more than any of the others, is facing adolescent blues. It’s him rather than anyone else, because his, beside Jenny’s, is the most restrictive life, a small farm, hard work, no regular contact with friends and an Uncle who hasn’t yet begun to adjust to the idea of Tom as an adult. A slightly older friend who offers a glimpse of a wider life, Ned, disturbs Tom’s equilibrium. And the person most concerned with his equilibrium, Jenny, who is reaching the point where she can at last be explicit about what she wants, is full of fear that he will be pulled away from her.
Tom’s thoughtlessness extends not merely to Jenny but to the Mortons, and Peter, who is worried up to the last minute that David, far away from her, in the big city with thousands of girls… distractions, will have forgotten her. But David is constant: Peter is now his only concern, and the Lone Pine Club, despite having been the foundation of lifelong friendships, is a distraction from the all too brief pleasure of being with Peter.
But Jenny’s misery and anger about Tom’s defection is overlaid with fear when she learns he’s been attacked and injured. Peter’s father counsels understanding and patience, but Jenny can’t help herself and shows her anger towards him, only to be totally disarmed by a present he had bought for her. It’s only cheap beads, but it’s a sign she very much needs to receive, and it gives her the confidence to kiss Tom, for the first time. And it’s no peck, but a very prolonged and serious kiss.
That’s almost all there is. Tom is still too easily open to manipulation by his histrionic friend, but Jenny shows sense in acting as if she’s a given in his life, and she gets her reward in Shrewsbury: Tom goes off following the man who assaulted him, but before he does he tells her, she’s his girl, and kisses her.
All that’s left is melodrama, and Tom reconciles with his Uncle who’s been a father to him, and that includes telling him Jenny will one day come to Ingles as a farmer’s wife, something Alf and Betty have known for a very long time, could not be happier about, and welcome as a long overdue commitment to Ingles’ future.

Rye Royal

There was one more Warrender book and one more chance for Saville to give Jon and Penny the conclusion all his fans wanted, but once again he was unable to do so. Penny hasn’t gone to India, for which no explanation has been given, but which is no doubt related to her parents being due home, for good, at Xmas. She’s at domestic college, training for her future role as manageress at the Dolphin and he’s studying something very clever at University, and they’re treating each other as boyfriend and girlfriend.
But that’s all. Jon and Penny’s bar appears to have been crossed but Saville has nowhere he can go to take them forward and, indeed, he afterwards thought long and hard about breaking them up, but was persuaded out of it, sensibly.
This is the last halfway decent Lone Pine book, and there are some good moments in it, the finest being that Peter, at long last, has come to Rye, to see the Dolphin and share Xmas, and her first request on arriving is that her friend Penny should walk her up to the hotel, girls alone in a Rye night under stars. Despite their different natures, despite Peter’s initial suspicions about the redhead, despite the fact they have seen each other so rarely, there is an affinity between the two girls and this is a wonderful moment for both of them, so relaxed in the knowledge that they have the boyfriends they have loved for so long.
And the two pairings are relaxed and secure. There’s an early moment from Jon, reminiscent of how he’s usually treated Penny, but this is different, it is mere teasing, understood and accepted on both sides. Jon can look at David and Peter, and himself and Penny, and conclude that that is how the world should be.
For David and Peter, there is but one serious moment. In the basement coffee shop, with its crowded, stuffy, noisy scene, and David cornered by two painfully earnest college girls, arguing across, around and through him, Peter suffers what we’d now call a panic attack and has to get out. Even so small a town as Rye has proved too much for her, and she’s afraid of what it means for her and David. We’re a long way from the utterly self-confident, natural Peter, who now dismally confronts what she sees as her narrow limitations. The girls around David are invaders but they are invaders she sees as being from David’s world, natural to him, and she fears she cannot be enough for him if she can’t bear entering his world.
Judith Wilson comes to her, speaking words of wisdom. It’s wisdom of the times and it sounds compromised to us: if Peter is to marry David, she must be prepared to go wherever his job takes them. Yes, the wife must submit to what suits her husband. Nowadays we recognise it’s a truth but a limited one: the husband must also submit to what suits his wife, or rather not submit, but share and balance.
It won’t be like that for Peter, though. Saville may be socially conservative but David, dear staid, sometimes stuffy David, sees his life with Peter differently. He follows her, shrugs off the girls as the evident pain they were, understands why she has been uncomfortable and promises her that he will never take her away from the county she calls home: he will live and work there, for he loves it too. Judith’s words and David’s concern inspire Peter to rise above her crisis and promise that wherever he will be, she will be, in love and happiness.

Strangers at Witchend

And when the decline came, it was rapid and conclusive. David and Peter, Tom and Jenny, both pairs have passed beyond the adventures that still motivate the Twins. They want nothing more than to be together. Dickie even recognises that the Club is breaking up, as it inevitably must.
This is Harriet’s last appearance, and as if Saville is now locked into relationships as the centre of the Lone Pine Club series, this splendid, solid girl develops a massive crush on the unprepossessing Kevin Smith, so much so that when he leaves, for the most unlikely and unconvincing family reunion, Harriet’s final moments are a demeaning blur of tears.

Where’s My Girl?

The penultimate book saw a return to Dartmoor, to the same place as the long-ago Saucers over the Moor. This is Warrender territory, especially as Penny’s father has bought King’s Holt and is developing it as a high class hotel and stables. But Saville’s limitations left him unable to do anything more with Jon and Penny so, by an awkward contrivance, they’re shunted off to France and, thanks to an even more awkward contrivance, Tom and Jenny get away from Shropshire for the first and only time.
It’s a poor book. Saville brings the Lone Piners up against gun-runners, a step far too far. Jenny’s panic when Tom is injured, at Ingles, reduces her to an hysteria that is embarrassing to watch, and she takes far too long to apologise for the things she says. At least it comes as part of a scene where she and Peter are alone, and Jenny touchingly asks for confirmation that when they’re both wives, they will still be friends.
It’s a seemingly unnecessary question, but it’s of its time, or maybe slightly earlier than that. The nineteenth book may have been published in 1972, but Saville was awkward and out of sync with the era, a product of times when marriages were driven by the man, and women’s friends were not automatically welcome.
The only other aspect of the story relevant to this essay is Dan Sturt. The cub-reporter of 1954 is a multi-media newsman in 1972. He still fancies Peter something rotten, and still tries it on to get her to go off with him, alone, but that boat has long since sailed. Peter gently puts him right and David only displays a tactful jealousy. These are not children any more.

Home to Witchend

With this book, Malcolm Saville completed both the stories of his Lone Pine Club and his career as a writer of children’s fiction, begun thirty-five years earlier in Mystery at Witchend.
I don’t believe it’s a good book, but that’s not the point. It did as much as Saville could towards the endings that his audience wanted, the promise of never-ageing long forgotten. Would David ask Peter to be his wife was the drama behind the book, but the only real drama would be if he didn’t, and that was never going to happen. Saville teased a couple of scenes, one of which only older readers would have understood, but yes, at Peter’s eighteenth birthday party, he put a ring on it, and everyone cheered, in the book and outside it.
Tom and Jenny, the working pair, also made that commitment, on their own, in private, as an adjunct to David and Peter: the undemonstrative pair, who had achieved their special relationship off the page and almost never wavered from it ever since. Even more than the Club’s leading pair, theirs was only ever a matter of time.
There is, of course, no such resolution for Jon and Penny. They get a Penny-dominated chapter, including a Jon-dominated kiss, but their future is left to the readers to decide. Practically everyone will be reflecting that when Penny gets married, she won’t be changing her name.
It nearly wasn’t so. Saville toyed for a long time with giving Penny a happy ending by palming her off to an engagement to Dan Sturt, with Jon getting an unhappy ending by swearing eternal brotherhood. This was wrong on so many levels that it’s painful to even think that Saville contemplated it. Thankfully, he was persuaded otherwise, though it’s noticeable that he doesn’t completely expunge the notion: the moment Dan’s tribute is finished, he wants to know where’s Peter’s ‘red-headed friend’.
There might have been a 21st book, but the quality had dipped so far so fast that it was preferable not to have more. What more could be done with the senior Lone Piners? And how could a New Lone Pine Club of 12 year olds and under have an adventure, even if they were led by Harriet Sparrow and not the Twins? The story ends here, from a mountain to a barn, from loyalty to love, and from love to marriage and parenthood.

Terminus Est


Ladies and gentlemen, we have lost a master.

It doesn’t matter how much we may have expected it, for he was 87 and had not published a book in four years, it still comes as a deprivation from which it seems impossible to recover, that it has been announced that Gene Wolfe has died.

He leaves us his stories, and we should be content for those stories contain not just worlds but Universes, and not just Universes but trickery and puzzles and things that go bump a long way beneath the surface of the words you are reading. Wolfe never explained. And now he never will explain, and we are left to use our own imaginations and intelligences to try to divine what exactly he meant in hundreds of cases.

He leaves us whole books, concealed with the pages and the lines of books we have read, and as long as one unguessed at secret remains unpenetrated, he will not die. He will live a very long life that way. And we will thank the God in which he believed so deeply that we shared those years in which he wrote, and not an era in which such things did not exist.

Terminus Est.