Under a Solitary Tree: Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine Club – Not Scarlet But Gold

I’ve managed to keep my expenditure down in reacquiring the Lone Pine books, not having spent more than a few pounds at a time through eBay (mostly) and Amazon, but Not Scarlet But Gold has been one of two exceptions.
This is because I wanted a specific edition, or rather a specific cover, the original cover that I vividly remember from the hardback edition I borrowed from the library, to take away with me and read one mid-Sixties holiday to the Lake District, when we were still staying at Low Bleansley.
For all this time, since first we met her, Peter has worn her hair in two plaits. We’ve been warned more than once that she’s turning into a beautiful young woman. Now for this book, she has let her hair down, adopted a style more appropriate to both the Sixties and her age, and we are forewarned of this by the cover. Forget the setting, forget David in the background, this is a painting of a lovely girl, with red lips and roses in her cheeks, and the purple sweater she is wearing swells out in front of her becomingly. The cover alerts us, before even we read Saville’s foreword that tells us the Lone Piners will at last grow up, before Johann Schmidt openly expresses to Peter that he fancies her, that things have changed.
I remembered that cover, I was not unaffected by it. I had a crush on a girl at school who was blonde-haired and had rosy cheeks and who I no doubt conflated with Peter. For this book, I had to have the right cover, and if that meant paying a higher price, sobeit.
The book comes from Girls Gone By Publishing, a small house specialising in old children’s stories, long out of print, that are very expensive to purchase. The publishers aim to reproduce the most accurate first edition version, accompanied with editorial material about both book and author, which I found invaluable.
Not Scarlet But Gold represents a sea-change in the series, a point from which it alters irrevocably. Though it was published in 1962, I don’t remember reading it until a few years later, and I associate it with the mid-Sixties rather than its actual time of publication.
For nearly twenty years, the Lone Piners had been having adventures whilst remaining the same age. Indeed, as early as The Secret of Grey Walls, Saville was explaining that his readers had asked that their favourite characters should not age, and as late as Sea Witch Comes Home he was still confirming that they would remain the ages that they had settled into (subject to those mysterious fluxes from book to book: Tom suddenly becomes older than David for this fourteenth story!)
Now, Saville made it plain in his foreword that, whilst the Lone Piners were to remain their fixed ages to satisfy some of his readers, he agreed with others that they – or David and Peter at any rate – should begin to behave as young adults of the Sixties, to grow up, and most of all to recognise the obligations they had to one another.
Though there’s a villain or two, and a Treasure Hunt, and a dangerous conclusion, this is not any Lone Pine book we have read before, far from it. Such things are McGuffins, catalysts for what is the only story, which is how the Captain and the Vice-Captain finally admit to each other what has long been obvious, what they tacitly established at the end of The Neglected Mountain. But there’s a lot of teenage dissonance and awkwardness and very nearly utter disaster to go through.
Saville, as in recent books, begins his story with the villain, one Johann Schmidt, in Hamburg, who will shortly represent himself as John Smith. Johann’s father died in the War, before Johann knew him: his mother died three years earlier and he has looked after himself since in conditions of secrecy that plainly suggest he’s not all that honest. He’s very handsome, arrogant and unfeeling, and has just turned eighteen. He’s about to learn from his only remaining relative, his uncle Hans, that his father left behind a letter, before going on the wartime mission to England during which he died, to be given to Johann on his eighteenth birthday.
Though he behaves foully to his uncle, and foully later on, Saville has already implanted the seeds of Johann’s redemption. He is what he is through circumstance, a boy without a father, without a mother, who has been made to be the self-centred aggressor he is. Though on the surface, he’s black, before we even see how he acts to the Lone Piners, we understand that grey is mixed into the picture. Already, Saville is moving beyond the formula that has suited his children readers for nearly twenty years.
And this is to be a book of altered, and sometimes broken expectations. From Johan, we move to Peter. Much of the book is seen through her eyes, or those of Jenny, whose main concern for once is not Tom but rather her friend (this is a very feminine book, with none of the boys allowed any time as our eyes: even Harriet, becoming an official Lone Piner at last, becomes our focus when the exigencies of the story demand another viewpoint).
Saville’s first upheaval has already happened, two of them, before we meet Peter, on Sally, heading for Seven Gates and the Lone Pine camp. For some time, Saville has been telling us that one day soon people are going to look at Peter and realise that she is a very beautiful girl, and that day is now. Rain will force her under shelter, bring her into contact with ‘John Smith’, hiker and student, looking for a guide to the Shropshire mountains, and openly approving of the blonde girl he thinks is more than a schoolgirl.
And Peter, unsettled horribly by the news that her father has to retire, to leave Hatchholt, to go to live with his brother in Hereford, far away from these lonely hills she loves, compounded by the fact that David Morton hasn’t thanked her for the Xmas present chosen with loving care, and has arranged the holiday through Jenny Harman, asking her to retrieve the Club documents from above Witchend, Peter responds as would any teenage girl to a lean, handsome man who openly regards her as an attractive woman, not girl.
Even though she has already made it plain to us that, one day soon, she’s not going to be interested in any man other than David Morton, Peter’s hormones fizz. (So have Jenny’s, when ‘John Smith’ came into the shop). It’s all that’s needed to make the reunion with David, and by extension everybody else, even more awkward than it could have been. Both of them are simmering with how unfair the other’s been, Peter doesn’t want anything said about Hatchholt, Jenny’s upset about her friend, Harriet isn’t sure the distracted Jenny approves of her being a Lone Piner: the holiday gets off to a lousy start and it’s downhill from there.
Jenny’s completely open about things: the Club exists because of David and Peter, and they’ve obviously got to get married (at which point I wondered if she’d produce a shotgun!) and despite the awkwardness between the two girls, she enlists Harriet.
‘John’ turns up at the farm, angling for a bed for the night, obviously trying to separate Peter from her friends. Charles Sterling, worried about a sacked lout who’s been threatening his wife Trudie, throws him off, but Peter allows him to stay. In the night, the haybarn is fired, by the cheap layabout bully, Jem Clark, who becomes ‘John’s sidekick when it transpires that Jem’s mother Kate  was the last to see Johann’s father alive, and that she has the only, completely baffling clue to the Treasure’s hiding place: Not Scarlet But Gold.
This isn’t a Treasure Hunt as the Lone Piners know it, no matter how Jenny and the Twins try to make it into one. The Treasure isn’t diamonds, and its discovery won’t make life better for anyone, and the Lone Piners aren’t racing against professional crooks acting out of naked greed. Instead, it’s money, £300.00 in potentially counterfeit English banknotes, meant to be used as bribes for Wartime traitors to sabotage their country, and the person they’re racing is the one with the most apparent right to it.
And everyone’s taking stupid risks, going off alone, riling up Charles (and David and Peter) with their irresponsibility, and their refusal to obey orders, to the point that the younger ones put themselves not only in danger of real physical harm from two young thugs, but of Charles refusing to have them at Seven Gates again.
Harriet, who really should have had more chances to appear than she ultimately did, becomes something of a moral conscience. She is the one most unhappy about the course they’re on, the one most disgusted by the Treasure itself, and the one most keenly aware of the damage being done to all of them in this sticky, awkward venture.
Because though things between David and Peter slowly begin to ease, once she’s worked her way through the combination of her hormonal reaction to handsome John, her instinctive sympathy for an underdog no-one else likes, and her embarrassed refusal to allow herself to agree with everyone’s condemnation of him, until she must. And David, embarrassed by his growing sense that pride is making him behave like a fool, his estrangement from his very best friend and his fear of a rival, nevertheless refuses to be left behind, in a way that will foreshadow Peter’s refusal to be left behind.
‘John’ and Jem have established a camp in the Greystone Dingle mineworkings. Jenny leads a stupid and risky approach by the younger members that finds them. Her reward is to be sent to Shrewsbury, with Harry and the Twins, to buy maps. It’s meant to get them put of the way whilst David, with Peter as lookout, checks the mines to see if ‘John’ is still there. It is the beginning of an extraordinary sequence, perhaps the best in all the books.
But first, there are adventures in Shrewsbury. Jenny sees the upset and bullied Kate Clark, impulsively follows her, is trapped in a back street house when the weakling bully Jem comes home, and is set upon by him. Unbeknownst to her, Harriet and the Twins have followed her, coincidentally bumping into Tom Ingles en route (some very weak plotting there) and dragging him in. When Jem hurts Jenny, Tom knocks him down, realising as he does in that instant that Jenny means to him what he has always meant to her, but he’s horrified at the sloppy and dangerous things everyone’s been doing, and that David has been letting this happen.

Uncle Alf lets him go back to Seven Gates, but soon follows himself, to talk with Charles. David and Peter are missing: they have gone up Greystone Dingle and into the mines. But the rain has been falling, almost as badly as in Lone Pine Five. There is a threat, a serious danger. The Twins cannot go, a threat which devastates them, not out of their usual self-importance and irritating manners, but because this is their brother David, and Peter, who they love and who is as much family to them, and they cannot bear what they will imagine if they cannot see. They are allowed tp follow.
Because David and Peter have gone into the mountain. Things are still not right with them. David wants Peter to act as look-out outside, because he is afraid for her at the hands of their two cruel enemies. Peter lets him believe she will accede just to get them to Greystone without more quarrels, but there is no way she will leave his side. Though things aren’t right, though they can’t begin to explain to each other what they need to until this is over, she has never left his side before and she won’t now: they go together.
And they go into the mountainside together, where Peter once broke her ankle saving David and Mary and he protected her without thought for himself. There are new passageways to follow, a rockfall to scramble over, after which a further fall traps them under the mountain. ‘John’ is ahead, breaking into a chamber where he believes the treasure to lie. He’s obsessed now, maddened. They’re all caught underground. There is no way out. Outside, as Charles and Alf Ingles make a careful way up the Dingle, Tom and the rest a safe distance behind, the underground water breaks through the surface again, landslip and upheaval. ‘John’ makes a crazed attack on a roof support, looking for a way out, but his knife turns and cuts his wrist. Alone in the dark, facing death, Peter’s only regret is that she was not alone with just David, as she tells him that she has loved him since that day she first saw when when she was on Sally.
And above, it all goes crazy, as the ground caves in and Peter appears above ground, calling for help because David is buried, and the terrified Twins face the horror, with Mary’s face buried in Jenny’s arms, sobbing and unable to look, and Dickie more afraid than he’s ever been and the worse for not being able to cry, until Harriet, that calm, quiet girl that I’d completely forgotten, thinking her pallid and characterless, but who is so strong and true a personality, leading him to describe what he sees to his Twin, as Charles, Alf and Tom scramble to a rescue that gets not only David out alive, but also ‘John’.
And Jenny, in the midst of this, sees the holly tree whose berries are yellow not red and solves the clue: Not Scarlet But Gold.
In the morning, she leads everyone bar the sleeping David and Peter back to Greystone to find the Treasure itself, though she’s the only one with any genuine interest in the solution: not even Johann, remade by his experience, wants it now. He will go back to Hamburg, make his peace with his Uncle, remake his life, having gained from his experience with these so-called children and especially the two who saved his life.
As for these two, the time has come for reconciliation, and more. David takes Peter for a walk in the woods, alone. Trudie has told him about Hatchholt and he is aghast. He loved the wallet she sent him, but sent his letter of thanks to Hatchholt, not her school, and was too stupid and proud to retract. And then he kisses her. And again.
Peter has already told him that she loves him. And David, who is soon to leave school, and doesn’t want to disappoint his father’s wishes that he go to Oxford, has grown up overnight. Between the danger and the genuine fear of losing Peter, he has moved on with her. Wisely, Saville doesn’t go into details between the pair. Instead, there a couple of lines that went into the head and heart of a young boy a long way from romance, and which stayed there for over fifty years: “There was nothing new in what they said to each other. Nothing new in the way they mended a quarrel and nothing new in the promises they made.”
Doubtless there were more than just two kisses, but we were left to insert the words we would have used, even those of us too young to know any such words. It was quiet, and calm, as it should be in the wake of what was so nearly tragedy, and the two young lovers had earned the right not to be watched over.
I had never read anything like that before, not in a children’s adventure series, but as has been obvious throughout, the Lone Pine books, without being in the least bit sissy or soppy, were built upon the strong relationships between the boys and girls, whose feelings so clearly ran deeper than the exhortation to be true to each other always, whatever happened.
Of course, Not Scarlet But Gold was not flawless, and I’ll be speaking to that in a moment. But it was the book out of all of the series that I most wanted to re-read, and it is the first of those I have re-read so far that I have wanted to read again, very quickly. It is the book that has most involved me, and whilst I haven’t yet decided what to do with the series when I’m done, I will be keeping this book, come what may.
The biggest flaw is, of course, the flow of time, and Saville himself recognises this, ruefully but helplessly, in his introduction. The Lone Pine Club was formed during the War, and their first adventure was to bring down German saboteurs. Now, their ‘adversary’ is the son of a German saboteur older than they are, and Jenny Harman, whose first adventure with the Club is resolved by the discovery of American soldiers on manoeuvres, has to ask Alf Ingles what it was like ‘then’.
However you approach it, this is a circle that cannot be squared, and to accept it, one’s Disbelief has not so much got to be Suspended as locked away, no doubt in an abandoned cottage, from which, with the resourcefulness of a Lone Piner, it will eventually break free. Or else be released by Tom Ingles happening to walk down the same street…
That really is a poor piece of writing. It happens out of necessity, and it leads to a moment that is in keeping with the book’s major preoccupation, as Tom looks at Jenny, who has been hurt by the bully, Jem Clark, and understands just how important she is to him (a moment I can recognise: years later, I had a similar realisation  when someone started crying over the phone, hundreds of miles away). But it needn’t have involved much effort to reduce the coincidence by having the pursuit pass somewhere where Tom might have been expected to be found if he were in Shrewsbury at that time.
And Jem Clark really is one of Saville’s weakest creations. He’s a cliché from motorcycle helmet to motorcycle boots, weak, lazy, stupid but paper-thin. Saville doesn’t have much time for the ‘modern’ teenager, whose instinct is towards city not country, and makes no attempt to inject any realism into these all-purpose nuisances. Which might be tolerable if it weren’t for the cliched threats, the lack of any realism, the need to talk like a cheap Hollywood hoodlum from thirty years before and the constant ‘She knows too much. She’s got to stay’.
Irritating though such things are, it’s because the rest of the book is so good, so emotional that I pick these up. They’re par for the course, cartoons for a generally unsophisticated audience, the bits that have worn least well.
I’d like to once again praise Harriet Sparrow, to whom my memories have done a great disservice. She may be the new girl, and she may feel uncertain about Jenny, but she has no doubts about herself, and doesn’t allow her inexperience to deflect her from trying to affect what is going on. Her age puts her outside the level of the seniors and the emphasis on their relationships, but she has none of the irritation factor of the Twins. And it’s heartening to see how quickly and openly everybody accepts her: if she’s with the Lone Piners, she must by definition be worthwhile.
Not Scarlet But Gold took Saville and the Lone Piners into a new phase, and one that was, in the long run, unsustainable, irrespective of Saville’s growing inability to understand the modern world. Having paired David and Peter, formally, at long last, having admitted love in replacement for friendship into the Lone Pine series, he had left himself little room for manoeuvre.
The editorial material in the GGB edition strongly suggests that Saville intended for this to be the last Lone Pine Club book, and in many ways it would have been a fitting ending to the series. He had been a professional writer for nearly twenty years. The Lone Pine Club was just one of several series he had written, four of which had already had their final books appear: a fifth had been in abeyance for eight years but would shortly be revived, and he was soon to start another, slightly older series. Perhaps it was time to bring the Lone Pine to an end? Peter herself, in the early pages here, asks, “…why the best things don’t always stay the same?”
But in one sense it would have been completely wrong to have stopped here: David and Peter may have at last declared to each other the feelings we had known about for a very long time, but there were two other couples whose long term relationships would have been left hanging if Saville had intended or been allowed to lay down his pen.
Apparently, Saville was ‘persuaded’ to continue the series. Six more books would follow, in the next sixteen years. The first two of these would resolve matters for Jon and Penny, and Tom and Jenny respectively, but there would still be four more Lone Pine books after that. Not all of these would be worth it.

The Prisoner: Other Media – The Prisoner’s Dilemma

Several years ago, when I did my series about Patrick McGoohan’s landmark TV series, The Prisoner, I wrote about attempts to portray Number 6 in other media. I mentioned, in passing because I hadn’t then read it, a 2005 novel, The Prisoner’s Dilemma, written by Jonathan Blum and Rupert Booth and published by Powys Media, and intended to the the first of a series of new stories about everybody’s favourite Village.

Time has passed. The series never materialised. The anticipated book two, The Outsider by Lance Parkin, never appeared. Powys Media’s website list book three, Miss Freedom, written by Andrew Cartmel but not how to get it. Google turns up some mixed reviews of this, at GoodReads and Google Books, but a search of eBay, Amazon and BookFinder turns up no copies, and whilst Biblio.com lists a signed and numbered copy of the book, it is out of stock.

A mystery worthy of the series, perhaps?

Nevertheless, I had acquired and read a copy of The Prisoner’s Dilemma, and it’s time to supplement the series with a few words about it.

On balance, the book is worthy of its good reputation. It’s plot is complex and well-managed, springing from a single, ingenious action that involved Number 6 with Number 18, a tense, troubled young woman who is, in a completely different fashion, every bit as much a rebel against the Village as he is. The story starts with Number 6 on his ceaseless mission to monitor the Village’s ever-developing  surveillance for blind and deaf spots, when he is almost witness to Number 18 murdering a man: her Observer, it transpires, but also someone who has been sexually abusing her for some time.

This trigger’s Number Six’s chivalrous instincts, as do similar but less serious situations in the series, but it also triggers the classic impasse that forms the title of the book, and its underlying theme. Two prisoners are held in separate custody, facing common charges: do they trust each other in order to prevail against their captors, or race each other to sell out and shift the blame onto the other? Trust only works if both come to the same decision, but they cannot communicate with each other, cannot agree to trust.

Number Six finds himself accused of the Observer’s murder, both by reason of who he is and where he was and because Number Eighteen has, allegedly, claimed he killed the man.

Neither is charged. This set-up is but a preliminary to the main novel, a more-than-McGuffin that serves not only to connect Numbers Six and Eighteen but to introduce the central dilemma of the entire novel: does Number Six learn to trust Number Eighteen? Can he?

That’s as far as I’m going to go in describing the story. This pairing, having been forced by the Village, is put through a long series of variegated tests, designed to work on that question, as they try to combine opposing approaches to the objective of bringing down a new Village system that infallibly controls people by accurately predicting their responses. Can Number Six trust Number Eighteen? I’m not telling you, but the book itself gives away the ultimate answer in nearly every page.

Blum and Booth are good, very good indeed, on the minutiae of Number Six’s Village life and the overwhelming paranoia with which he has to live in order to survive on the terms he has demanded for himself. The book is thick with detail of what the Prisoner thinks and does, the extent to which he is completely self-isolated by the approach he has chosen.

Number Eighteen’s approach is radically different, and Blum/Booth provide plenty of arguments in its favour as a viable approach. And the further we get into the book, the more those arguments become objections to the flaws of the persona Number Six has adopted, that blind him to any option that is not generated by himself in accordance with what are very narrow criteria. The Prisoner’s Dilemma.

It makes for a dense, very intense book, sometimes a bit wearyingly so. Number Six’s attitude is complete and fully coherent, but the endless vigilance, the refusal/inability to compromise even for a second on the most minor of things asks the reader to raise their game to an inhuman level. Nor does the undisguised contempt for any alternate concept help us ease into the story: inevitably, some of what Number Six says comes over as the most rigid egomania, and the longer the book goes on, the more despairingly and more often Number Eighteen points this out to him and us.

Can he really trust her? That’s where the ending is really clever, making her disappear in ambiguous circumstances that could be anything from escape to reassignment, leaving us with the same dilemma as Number Six.

I do have some specific complaints about this book. The first is that its Number Two never rises above being a cypher, and that too much of the book leaves him on the sidelines, depriving us of the direct clash of minds that underlines each of the television episodes. At different times and in different ways, Number Six’s battles are against Numbers Fifty-four (the honest cop) and Number One Hundred and One (the ultimate double agent), so that when Number Two begins to play a direct role, in the last phase, it comes too late to share the personal element so important to the rhythm of the series.

And I am seriously concerned at the uneven tone of the book in one serious aspect. The Prisoner was made and set in 1967/68, in an era of Cold War rigidity, in the still-living aftermath of a War that had turned on ideologies, spawning a world in which ideologies were even more prominent. It took its politics from that, it took its colours and concerns from the edge of the counterculture that was feeling its way into being, it pointed us towards the future that was bearing down, as a warning that we all ignored.

Blum and Booth were writing almost forty years on, in a world in which the Village has spread to encompass our lives. There have been massive leaps in technology and culture. Unfortunately, the authors try to have it both ways, trying to retain the ambience and the politics of the Sixties whilst folding in the computerised world of the Twenty-First Century. It sets up a tension that they can’t resolve, with a Reality Show employing fantastic technology that resembles nothing but state-of-the-art CGI switching to an attack on high-powered computers so primitive that their back-ups are still on tapes.

And what Blum and Booth don’t seem to realise is that by introducing their Reality Show (and a coy reference to The Kumars at no. 42), not only are they irretrievably mixing incompatible cultural periods but the defeat they concoct for Number Six is as crushing and final as they portray it as being. Number Six’s credibility on every level is shattered, he is completely defused, his privacy is destroyed, in a manner that cannot be reset.

The idea is too good.

Overall, though, I’d rank The Prisoner’s Dilemma as much more representative of the series than any of the official, contemporaneous tie-in novels, and in its incorporation of futuristic themes, tons better than the Shattered Visage comic. It’s a shame the series wasn’t continued as envisaged, especially as the ending of this book looks to be foreshadowing the non-existent Lance Parkin novel. Or is it?

That is, appropriately, a matter of trust…

Under a Solitary Tree: Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine Club – Sea Witch Comes Home

Sea Witch Comes Home was the only one of the Lone Pine Club series that I found myself actively disliking when I first read it. It’s the last book in that sequence which saw Saville moving his fictional children to parts of the country they had never been before, in this instance the East Anglian coast, and it’s the last in which they remain perpetual Cinderellas, never growing up, but what disconcerted me so, a surprise that I simply couldn’t get past, was that it only featured the Mortons. David and the Twins may well have been the start of all things, but it felt fundamentally wrong that they should experience an adventure without any of the others joining in.
No Peter, no Penny, no Jenny and no Harriet makes for a dull book indeed.
They’re not, of course, the only youngsters in the book. The story is precipitated by an appeal for help from David’s schoolmate, and contemporary Paul Channing, whose father Richard, owner of the yacht Sea Witch, has gone missing, and his twelve year old sister Rose, she of the heart-shaped face and pony-tail.
I’m assuming that’s Rose that features on the cover of the hardback, just as I’m assuming that’s David that is stood just behind her, but if it is, then it’s an awful misrepresentation of the character. God, that boy looks smug, with his pursed lips, his over-styled, wavy hair, and his blue cravat. I hated the look of that cover from the moment I found the book, and fifty years on my opinion of it remains unchanged. It’s a cover to severely prejudice any lad against the boy depicted.
It did not make approaching Sea Witch Come Home in 2017 any easier, even with an edition with a different, but also ugly cover. And I found it just as unwelcoming as I did back then, though not as disappointing.
Part of this is that the Channing family are not actually that attractive. Paul is excitable, moody and self-centred, which we soon realise he gets from his father. Paul wants the Mortons, who stayed with them for a holiday the previous year, to come down to Walberswick, in East Anglia, on the Suffolk coast, because Richard Channing has gone off without a word – not for the first time – leaving Paul and Rose alone at home with only a tenner to last them until he turns up again, whenever that will be. And even though a tenner went a lot, lot further in 1960 than it does today, when it wouldn’t even get you to the poorhouse, it’s not much security, especially when one of the kids it’s supposed to sustain is only twelve.
Which brings us to Rose, she of the heart-shaped face and the pony-tail, in respect of whom Richard Channing has once crossed over into the Jillies’ series by one Malcolm Saville, and appropriated the much-repeated J.M.Barrie line about how ‘Daughters are the thing’. Rose is fanatically convinced that everything is alright, that her father will walk back into their house any second now, and they have all committed a sin against the Fifth Commandment by doubting his divine word.
Rose’s faith in her father would be more uplifting if Saville hadn’t previously undercut it by showing us that things are not alright: that Channing is a bad father: lazy, selfish, neglectful, far more concerned with his own manly huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ pleasures, that he gets by on charm without application, and that for several years he has been a thoughtless dupe of highly professional criminal Simon Donald, for whom he has performed numerous errands, for cash, without questioning what he is doing.
Which, in the current instance, is delivering stolen paintings to a South American art dealer staying in Belgium. That’s where Sea Witch is to come home from, only now Channing, purely out of English distrust of the greasy foreigner, has sussed what’s been going on, and Donald is spreading his low-life but efficient organisation to ensure that when Sea Witch does indeed come home, Richard Channing doesn’t talk to anyone: not the Police, not his neighbours, and certainly not his children.
Into this, the Mortons are pitched. The Twins are the Twins, and I’m growing tired of saying so. Since their major performances are exclusively reserved for the really bad guys, I suppose it’s technically acceptable, but even then, I would be horrified to find that any kids of mine were so downright rude, and so insistent that their pet dog should be allowed to attack anything he chooses, just because he gets it into his head to do so, and Macbeth is never wrong (except when it comes to cats).
When the Scottish terrier has a better sense of manners and propriety, it’s time to be concerned.
As for David Morton, he is still a natural, sensible, calm and level-headed leader, but he can’t carry the book alone. David needs others to properly come across, not to bounce off of, though if, say, Penny were here things would be altogether far more lively, but in order to be the still centre. Being Mr Reliable isn’t very exciting on its own, and Paul is just too thin a character, a contrivance of the plot, for David to stabilise him. Besides, he’s always better when Peter is around.

Saville set this story in East Anglia not just because he wanted to encourage his readers to visit this part of the country, but because he wanted to bring into his fictional world the Great Storm of 1953, which broke the banks along the shore, flooded the area and did immense damage. Saville writes comprehensively about the incident, using it to break up the criminal enterprise he has started, and he paints a detailed picture of it, but I have grave reservations about using something like this in a Lone Pine adventure.
The actual crime offers odd parallels to Lone Pine London, in that they again involve paintings by an obscure, but suddenly in demand deceased artist. But this time the paintings, by the late John Jackson, or J.J. as he is now known, are real. J.J. was a local artist, who lived in Walberswick, and whose paintings were miniatures. They are in great demand, and Donald’s agents are stealing these to order, and Channing is delivering them, in a chart case, to Juan Andrea, in Belgium.
There’s a big London newspaper that has caught a whiff of this, and whose best crime reporter is investigating: yes, James Wilson again (though not a word mentioned about Judith, who we assume, reader, married him).
Saville doesn’t really quite know how to present Wilson. He’s supposed to be a friend, and he ends up with the story and in everyone’s good books again, but he knows about Donald and Channing’s involvement, which has Paul and Rose in a fury against him, but he still gets on Channing’s good side without Saville ever properly squaring the circle for his readers.
And Channing himself is portrayed inconsistently in the book. Saville lets us know that several in Walberswick have commented adversely about his cavalier attitude to the children yet, when the Police order a full-scale evacuation, Channing is summoned from being ‘on the run’ to lead the village in taking the evacuation seriously, because apparently he’s the kind of chap they look up to and follow in such circumstances.
Yes, that says a lot about the underlying assumptions of Saville’s work, and the accusations that it is too middle-class for the modern world, and here you have it. Class tells when push comes to shove. Channing is lazy, selfish, a neglectful parent, a criminal dupe, but dammit, the man’s got breeding! Just the sort of chap, don’t you know, to see that these silly working-class folk, these simple peasants and fisherman, really understand the urgency of matters and get it that their homes and possessions and, if they don’t buck up under his direction, their lives are at risk. It takes the right sort. Hip, hip, hooray.
I can’t say that the me of fifty years ago and later re-reads disliked the book out of such egalitarian and liberal principles, but they certainly get in the way now.
And about this high-tide and storm and disaster: let me make rather explicitly a point I’ve touched upon before in this series. To me, both as a once-child, and as an adult looking back, the best kind of adventure story is one in which the children who are the stars have real agency. By that, I don’t mean that they play an unrealistic role, facing adults on an equal basis, given undue respect and credence. Ultimately, the Police or some other similar authority must come in to handle the mop-up on a level that the central characters can’t believably operate.
But within that stricture, for the adventure to be a success, the children must play a central role in determining the outcome. Within the range of their intelligence, understanding and physical ability, it must be they who control the denouement. The Police must complete the job, but they must be merely the mopping-up, the application of force that the children don’t possess. Without the Police, the win is beyond the children’s reach, but the tipping point must be reached by the Lone Piners’ efforts, and it must be that without them the Police have nothing to mop up.
In the very limited sense that Mary observes where Simon Donald hides the last stolen painting, and leads the Police to it, that stricture is observed, but in the face of the Great Storm, the children have no agency at all. They cannot offer any help. The Twins are relegated to following Donald about, being a frightful nuisance. Rose falls into the sea, and David (taking on Peter’s role) dives in and saves her life, though Saville bottles it by making the dive a ciffhanger and letting the truly dramatic part of this scene happen offstage.
Indeed, because he is ultimately writing for an audience of children, Saville finally cannot do the storm justice, because he is either editorially mandated not to be too frightening for the kids, or his own natural conservatism keeps him from going too deeply into what is happening and the sheer terror it could encompass.
One thing about this works well: Saville includes a offhand line, deliberately and effectively impersonal, that at Orford, “a boat called Sea Witch was sunk at her moorings”. A very neat bit of symbolism.
No, I cannot say that Sea Witch Come Home deserves to hold its head up amongst Malcolm Saville’s work. The superstitious will point to this being the thirteenth book of the series. More rational heads will point rather to this being the thirteenth book about the same group of children in seventeen years, and the fact that time and the absurdity of never growing eventually catches up with all series.
But time was changing the minds of Malcolm Saville and his audience, which were at last ready to see the love and loyalty that lay between these familiar teenagers reach a fruition that was both well-prepared and long overdue. In the next book, it was all going to change.

Under a Solitary Tree: Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine Club – Mystery Mine

So we reach Mystery Mine, the mystery Lone Pine Club book I could never find when I was young, and which I have now read for the first time as an adult. This was the twelfth Lone Pine book, published in 1959, the year I turned four, and it’s the third of the last five books to travel beyond the usual haunts of Shropshire and Rye, starting in London but spending more of its time on the North Yorkshire Moors, above Whitby.
As with the series I did on Sandman Mystery Theatre, the further I go into the Lone Pine series, the less interest I start to have in the actual adventures. Rather than a series of books, I’m seeing the series as a long, unfolding single story, in which the most interesting aspects are the relationships between the characters, and especially between the elder half dozen, the boy-girl pairs.
Thus I am far less concerned with the opening chapter, in which Saville again leads with his bad guys, a pair with whom we are already familiar (no: not Ballinger and Co.) but rather the second chapter, when Jon and Penny Warrender arrive in London to holiday with the Mortons at Brownlow Square.
The bad guys, meeting at the port in Whitby, are John Robens (now going by the name Charles Warner) and ‘The Doctor’ from Lone Pine Five. Despite Saville giving the impression at the end of that book of Robens breaking with the older man, it seems the ‘Doctor’ still has just as much of a hold over him. Robens is one of a team of men covering the North of England in sections, looking for something that their scientific expertise can determine.
Improbably, this is uranium deposits: the Government are offering financial assistance to British landowners who have uranium deposits, which Robens et al will identify in advance and the ‘Doctor’ will then buy from the unknowing owners. I found the whole thing improbable, but like Saucers over the Moor Saville was making use of a genuine contemporary concern, with the British Geological Society assisting several commercial companies in the search for British uranium deposits!
The Lone Piners come into things in the second chapter, with David Morton collecting Jon and Penny Warrender from the station on the first day of their holiday in London. There will apparently be some delay about getting up to Shropshire as the Morton parents can’t go yet, for some undisclosed reason. And then, before Penny has barely unpacked her suitcase, David and Jon decide that they want to go off hiking for a week, on their own.
Penny is devastated and deeply hurt by this idea to abandon her before even an afternoon is out, but at no point in the whole story do the boys show any indication of recognising that they are being incredibly rude and selfish. Penny flares up at them in her best sarcastic manner, not just on her own behalf but on that of Peter, who is being similarly abandoned, without this penetrating for a moment.The biggest surprise is that Mrs Morton, who recognises how hurt Penny is, regards the boys as entitled to go off on their own with no regard for their friends.
It’s an unforgivably chauvinist approach. The adult me is as shocked as Penny, especially as the Lone Pine oath requires the members to be true to each other, no matter what, and David and Jon are being anything but. What the child me would have thought, I can’t imagine, though I’d probably have been more on their side. Saville was a conservative-minded writer, in a conservative-minded age, but it is rare that this is so baldly reflected. Indeed, both alone and jointly, there are instances later in the book where Peter and Penny, in order to progress, have to think themselves into a ‘what would the boys do?’ state that, given their own, well-established resourcefulness, seems both peculiar and totally unnecessary.
Harriet Sparrow is back, and she’s a little bit bolshie with it, over the fact that she’s been promised Lone Pine Club membership, and she’s expected to join in, but she hasn’t yet been made a member. I really liked the dynamic Harriet brought with her, especially her insistence on sticking up for herself, and she’s the key to the adventure, or rather her grandfather is.
Mr Albert Sparrow has suddenly become a Yorkshireman by birth, and a Tyke eager to return to his native heath and own a chunk of it. He’s done a deal to swap his London antiques shop for a similar establishment in Spaunton, on the North Yorks Moors, with a Mr Venton who wants to run a London shop. Somebody’s been trying to buy Venton’s business and land (which includes an old mine-shaft) but Venton is a man of honour and sticks by his existing deal.
So the Twins go up to Yorkshire with Harriet, David and Jon set off to hike to Whitby and the disgusted Penny, refusing to sit and mope until she’s called for, goes off to Hatchholt as the guest of Peter and Mr Sterling, determined not to let Jon ruin her holiday.

No sooner do the boys get there, after a tiring moorland trek in a sea-roke, than they find someone trespassing on Mr Sparrow’s mineshaft. This is naturally Robens, and he is found underground the next day, much to Sparrow’s disgust. But the ‘Doctor’ is already putting on the pressure to sell, which Sparrow refuses to consider.
So a belated phonecall is made by David to Peter, to invite her to Yorkshire, to which Jon adds a request for Penny to join them. The girls give in far too easily.
The Warrenders are the only ones who have not met the bad guys before, but Robens has regrown his wild beard, which confuses the Mortons, until Peter, the only one to see him face-fuzzed, becomes the last to catch sight of him. The Twins badger him unmercifully, in a way that’s only acceptable because he is a bad guy, although it’s borderline as to whether it’s acceptable at all.
The situation is further confused by the appearance of Philip Sharman, a young man who claims to be a geologist and archaeologist, who wants to see the mine, and to take the Lone Piners to the old Roman ruins at Coram Street. In the end, he turns out to be on the side of the angels, though he denies being Police and who he represents – or whether he represents anyone at all – is left unexplained.
Sharman’s presence starts Jon getting an inkling of what this may all be about, and half an hour in Whitby Library puts him on the trail of the uranium deal. Meanwhile, Penny spots and follows Robens to his digs in the mean and shabby Prospect Way, only to find herself captured and locked in by the ‘Doctor’.
She’s appropriately defiant, but also badly frightened, as he delivers the usual ‘get out if you know what’s good for you’ threats. By the time she is let go, she is very late for her rendezvous with Jon who, when he finally catches up with her, berates her explosively. But, in one of the few positive developments, Penny realises that its is not anger that lies behind his behaviour but fear, fear of losing her.
As an aside, it’s funny to note that the pairing that includes the oldest of the Lone Piners is also the one that proceeds with the most indirection. Even Tom and Jenny, the youngest of the three couples, have made more of an overt commitment to one another by this point.
By now, the ‘Doctor’ is applying pretty crude pressure on Sparrow to sell, including a pretty direct threat as to Harriet’s safety that no-one seems to twig to. Thus, when Sharman takes everybody out to see the Roman Road, and Harriet falls and twists her ankle, she is taken back to Sparrow’s house by only Peter and Mary. This sets up a kidnapping, in which Mary is insistent on not being separated from her friend, whilst Peter is naive in allowing herself to be got out of the way.
It’s a rare pleasure that the statutory Twin-kidnapping should turn out to not be in any way their fault for once.
Peter comes closer than ever before to panicking at her failure, catching up with the party in a distraught condition. Sharman takes charge, first linking the party with Sparrow, back from London with Venton, who he has been consulting, and bringing in the Police (at least Mr & Mrs Morton are far away and unable to make their displeasure felt again).
Mary and Harriet have to escape from a burning cottage, an incident memorialised on the cover of the Armada paperback, though in the book this is much less of an incident than it might seem, and Robens throws over the ‘Doctor’ again and goes off with the Police, this time never to be seen again. Sparrow and Venton agree to share any profits from the uranium in the mine, and the last word comes from the delightful Harriet, still annoyed at having no official Lone Pine status, and insistent that she at least gets a piece of paper, admitting her to the Club.
I’ve got to be honest: my recollections of Harriet were few and dim, and I was prepared to describe her as colourless. I doubt I would have been able to think that had I read Mystery Mine in my youth.
She reappears in the next but one book, where the series undertakes an irreversible change, and in two further adventures after that. I can’t remember how she performs in any of the remaining stories, but the Harriet of this book is a genuine find and a real asset to the series. She’s worth the entire story alone.
But I would have been happier if either of the boys would have shown at least some remorse for their thoughtless actions at the start instead of their ongoing smugness at their own independence. Which we don’t even get to see!

Under a Solitary Tree: Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine Club – The Secret of the Gorge

Reading the Lone Pine books in the Sixties and the Seventies, I would often struggle to locate books in the series. Like so many similar series, the libraries tended to have the early books and the more recent ones, but the mid-series books would have been and gone, and bookshops would not have them.
The Secret of the Gorge, and it’s successor, Mystery Mine, were the two books out of this series that had gone out of print and which never seemed to have been picked up by Armada. My reading was a mixture of library copies, second hand hardbacks and Armada paperbacks, and as Saville was not the only author I read voraciously, and my parents did not give me free reign to buy anything I wanted, I had to ration my purchases.
At a late stage, I got hold of a second hand non-Armada paperback edition of one of these two books. I never did manage to read the other. Which of the two it is I can’t remember. I don’t remember a thing about The Secret of the Gorge when I look at summaries, but then again, Mystery Mine was another of the off-locations, and I don’t remember reading a Lone Pine story set on the North Yorkshire Moors.
So this book was going to be either a secret revealed or a mystery exposed: which was it?
When I first started to read this book, I was certain that I had never read it before. Nothing was in the least familiar: indeed, for much of the first half of the book, it felt odd, like a regression to earlier stories when the feelings between the various pairs in the Club were being completely ignored.
I was looking forward to the interesting sensation of reading a Lone Pine Club adventure without the slightest taint of nostalgia to influence my response.
For the vast majority of the book, that’s more or less what I had. But about a quarter of the way through, there was a full-page illustration that I immediately recognised. Further on, in musing on what might follow their incomplete clue, David Morton speculates with a line I had read before. And a little further on, he appears to cave in to the bullying bad guy, agree to strike camp and run away, which I also recalled.
So I have, after all, read The Secret of the Gorge, and in this edition too (which I now remember buying from Morton’s Books, round the back of Didsbury Village), but apart from these three elements, I retained absolutely nothing of it.
The story concerns a treasure hunt. Forty years ago, a young housemaid was incited by the Butler to steal a necklace belonging to the Whiteflower family, of Bringewood Manor. After concealing it, she drowned in the nearby dark, sullen and seemingly haunted gorge, down near the Shropshire-Herefordshire border.
Forty years later, the Whiteflower family fortunes have declined. Twelve-year old Nicholas, lonely, shy, awkward, with near-white hair, lost his father during the war and his mother has died recently, leaving him to the care of his spinster Aunt, Margaret. The family has no money, even after the sale of the Manor for demolition and conversion into a small housing estate, and they are living in the cheapest possible accommodation in Barton Beach, where the red-headed girl at the Post Office General Store, who is now wearing her hair in a pony-tail, and who is still horribly lonely when the other Lone Piners aren’t around, is curious about him in a way that the self-conscious Nicholas deeply resents. The discovery of the Whiteflower Diamonds will make a massive financial difference to Nicholas and his Aunt Margaret.
Unusually, Saville starts the book with the bad guys. Harry Sentence returns to Shropshire after forty years in Australia, under an assumed name, to search for the Diamonds. He seeks rooms in the dilapidated Two Bells pub, run by the thuggish, bullying Blandishes, who when they learn his real identity, force themselves on him as partners.
The Lone Piners enter the picture when Jenny and Tom accompany Mr Harman to a Bishops’ Castle auction where he buys a hideous sofa from the former housemaid’s room, for his wife. He outbids Aunt Margaret and Nicholas, but it’s Blandish and Sentence’s late arrival that keeps them from outbidding him. When cleaning the sofa later, Jenny discovers an old unsent letter from Harriet Brown to her partner in crime, which clearly dates from the night of her death, and which ends halfway through a clue as to where she was going to hide the Diamonds.
Nicholas is initially rude about strangers poking into family business but quickly bonds with the Twins over Macbeth attacking his landlady’s copious cats: another embarrassing performance by the Twins, since Mackie is the unprovoked aggressor, Mrs Quickseed is rightly defending her pets on her land, and they’re going so far as to flat out lie about who attacked who: still, it gets Nicholas turning over a new leaf and determining to live up to his new friends.
The upshot is that the six Lone Piners and Nicholas are driven down to Bringeford to establish a camp and look for the Diamonds.
The problem is that, although Saville is at pains to establish that the gorge itself is real, and is as he describes it in the book, the setting never feels real. Some of this is perhaps the absence (in my edition) of David’s traditional map, and some is that the whereabouts of Bringeford in Shropshire, especially in relation to those points we already know, is never given, other than that it is on/near the Herefordshire border, in sight of the Welsh mountains and on the River Teme.
And for more than half the book, the story reads and feels like a regression, back to the earliest stories, existing in a kind of emotional limbo, without any special recognition between the Lone Pine couples that there is anything more than kid gang friendship between them.
It doesn’t help that the Lone Piners act a little bit irresponsibly once they’re in place. They have various members of the Blandish familiy coming around threateningly, claiming that the camp-site is trespassing, they’re going to get in trouble and ordering them to clear out. David and Peter stand up for their camp, refusing to budge until someone with genuine rights comes to them, but also insisting that they’re not causing anyone any harm. Unfortunately, they also insist on keep going into the Manor to explore, over the attempts of the Foreman to keep them out. Yes, he’s been bribed by Blandish to do so, but he is also completely right: the Manor is private property, it’s undergoing demolition, the Lone Piners have no right there and are putting themselves at risk of injury for which the demolition company/new owners would be liable. That this used to be Nicholas’s home, and the same ‘not harming anyone’ argument is used are of no legal or even practical basis. They shouldn’t be there, and their insistence on their right to do that comes over as insolent, smug and a bad case of middle-class privilege.

The Lone Piners are suspicious of the bad guys, and with good reason, since Blandish is thuggish enough to put threats of violence into practice as others have never really done before. The children separate to increase their areas of search. Needless to say, the Twins are the ones who sneak back into the Manor, with the aid of deliberate rudeness on Nicholas’ part, and climb the Tower, where they see strangers attacking their unguarded camp. Unfortunately, they also lock themselves in (makes a change from someone else doing it, but not that much).
It’s not until David divides the remaining pairs along gender lines rather than couples that we see the Lone Piners we have grown accustomed to. David is thinking practically: he and Tom are to explore the Gorge itself so he is pairing the most able climbers/scramblers, but the girls exchange a look that indicates just how clearly they dislike being separated.
I’ve not specifically referred to this before now, but it’s a regular feature of the Lone Pine books that the children are separated and have adventures that fit together. Saville’s very skilled at presenting this kind of mosaic picture, so after the Twins see the camp being attacked, Peter and Jenny encounter a slovenly couple, consisting of one eighteen year old lout (Blandish’s son, Syd) and his girlfriend Marilyn, whose unreliability is confirmed by her covering her natural prettiness with far too much make-up and wearing scarlet jeans every day. This pair comment on the adventures the boys have been having, and inveigle the girls into a ruined cottage, where they are imprisoned.
Then we revert to the boys for details of these adventures in and around the Gorge, where it’s now starting to rain, until they return to camp to interrupt the wreckers.
And it’s at this point that the girls reappear, Peter limping from a badly cut knee, sustained breaking out of the cottage. This sends David into a cold fury: despite a sizeable disadvantage in age, size and weight, he fights Syd and decks him. And for the remainder of the book, he’s practically inseparable from Peter, only leaving her when she goes into the village to the Doctor, for stitches.
His defence of her does not go unrecognised: Peter unexpectedly kisses him, in the forest, when they are alone. Saville gives no details, so we don’t know whether this is a real kiss, or merely to the cheek, and it’s a response to circumstances and not a sign of commitment. After all, the fans still don’t want the Lone Piners growing up.
Peter’s trip to the Village is accompanied by the eager Nicholas who, like the Twins, has been rescued from the Tower. Unfortunately, he is captured there and taken to the Two Bells from which a determined Lone Pine contingent rescues him, though not before Jenny has admonished Tom, telling him he ought to take her out on her own more often (this is a kid’s story?).
But this is in the aftermath of David’s act, designed to mislead Blandish into thinking they’ve finally gotten out of the way, when instead they are merely shifting to a new camp, secret, in a cave in the gorge itself.
Which sets up the dramatic climax. Blandish and Sentence are fixated on the old well as the hiding place for the Diamonds, and are trying to empty it, at first bucket by bucket, and then with a pump that will never work. The cave the Lone Piners have found for their new camp is where the well water is draining away through: with Tom and Jenny alone, Blandish turns up, crowbars away a rock that is interfering with the flow, and suddenly the water is rushing through, as the rain from the Welsh mountains catches up with the Gorge.
Sentence is swept away. As usual, it is Peter who is first to react, diving in with no thought for her own safety to rescue him. She lacks the physical strength to do so, but of course David is right behind her, as he always is, and between the two of them, they drag him to shore. Sentence is taken off to hospital by Blandish and Syd, whilst Mr Morton, concerned about the rain and angry that they’ve gotten muddled up with crooks again, turns up fortuitously to whisk off the soaking wet Peter and David to the Gypsy camp, for Reuben and Miranda to dry them down, warm them up and dress them.
So it is Tom and Jenny, with Nicholas, who return to the cave to retrieve what possessions have not been washed away, and who find the Whiteflower Diamonds, washed into the light. Despite Nicholas’s efforts to have the Club share in his fortune, Jenny speaks for all when she refuses. They have helped him and his Aunt secure themselves, secure Nicholas’ future, and had another adventure: that is the only reward they ever seek.
It’s an interesting book, and I can only attribute my near total lack of memory of it to such things as that curious, regressive introduction, and the air of unreality that pervades it. The Club is operating throughout on territory that never achieves solidity, and I think these two factors render it so much more elusive.
On another level, time is once again in flux in the world of the Lone Piners. Jenny has slid back to being ‘only just fifteen’, whilst there is a moment of dislocation early on when Tom finally brings up, for the readers’ benefit, that his parents were killed in an air-raid.
If the Lone Piners were occupying some kind of time limbo, in which it could be argued that their adventures are taking place still only a year or two after the War, it might be possible to reconcile this statement with the presence of Syd and Marilyn. But the Lone Piners describe Syd as a ‘teddy boy’, and Marilyn’s not only garish but no doubt tight-fitting pants pin them to the year of publication, 1958. Was Tom only three when he was evacuated to Shropshire, without his mother? I doubt it.
Jenny’s pony-tail is another sign of the times, and it’s interesting to note that, for the first time in over a dozen years, Peter has changed her hair-style, having made her plaits up into coils, though this is mentioned only twice, and very early on, and David certainly doesn’t comment on any change in her appearance, even after she kisses him in the wood.
But don’t get too excited about that development. We have yet to come to the moment when the series changed irrevocably. Next up is the one I definitely have never read before. We’re off to Yorkshire.

Under a Solitary Tree: Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine Club – Lone Pine London

Having bitten off more than the Lone Piners could chew in the last two books, Saville scaled things back to a much more realistic proportion for Lone Pine London. As the title immediately reveals, this is the first and only adventure not to take place in the countryside that is the Club’s natural and most beloved milieu, but Saville’s foreword makes plain that he loves the capital city as much as he does those more regular haunts.
The book features the Mortons, who only four weeks earlier have moved to their new, rambling home in Brownlow Square, in some unidentified North London suburb, with the Warrenders as their guests. Time has once again been in flux, with the Mortons unchanged but their guests having aged a little further, Jon being ‘nearly seventeen’ and Penny ‘now sixteen’.
The book also introduces the ninth and last Lone Piner, Harriet Sparrow, granddaughter of a London antiques/jumble shop owner, Albert Sparrow, not far away from Brownlow Square. Harriet has already been described as ‘the Twins’ special friend’ in several books written before she was even thought of, and it’s clear from her age, twelve, that she’s intended as a bridge between the perennially frustrated egomaniacs, and the elder children, whose ages are much of a muchness, and some five to six years ahead.
Harriet lives with her parents, where she is an only child. Mr Sparrow does not get on with his daughter-in-law, but Harriet spends a week with him every holiday, helping him in the shop (to which she is tied, by her dedication, to a greater extent than Jenny Harman was, given her less harmonious relationship with her stepmother).
Like the other three girls before her, Peter, Jenny, Penny, Harriet is a lonely girl, who takes to the Lone Piners as friends that she has been searching for. It’s fascinating to see this pattern repeated so often, without it ever seeming to be a conscious decision on Saville’s part. Her youth puts her in the Twins’ sphere, but she is not so far behind the others and Penny, of course, is instantly welcoming and sympathetic, specifically recognised the little girl as an ‘only’ who needs friends, and taking her under her wing.
The story itself arises naturally from an accident that is the unexpected outcome of an offstage argument. David, that inveterate cricket fan, has disparaged professional football as a game. Jon, who bases his opinions on evidence, has never seen a professional football match. So the book begins at White Hart Lane, with Jon, armed with details of bus routes, watching the Spurs play a famous Northern team who wear red and white stripes (we get the colour of the goalkeeper’s jersey but not of the shorts, so cannot decide whether the visitors are Sheffield United or Sunderland). Jon is suitably impressed by the Spurs’ play (a late goal in a 3-2 win after being twice behind), but less so with the crowd, or the arrival at full-time of a London fog.
Thanks to the fog, it takes Jon forever to get back, and he meets Harriet when he stumbles upon Mr Sparrow’s shop, and she guides him the way back. But there’s this mysterious, camel-coated man who Jon first sees at the football, who seems to heading back in the same direction, and who runs away when Jon seeks assistance and guidance. It’s all very strange, and suspicious, but it’s Penny who puts her finger on the most likely explanation: Jon may not have recognised this stranger, but the stranger has recognised him.
And, since this is a Warrender adventure, the stranger turns out to be Slinky Grandon, and he’s still working for the Ballinger.
The scam this time is forged paintings, specifically prints by obscure English artists of the Nineteenth Century. Just at the moment, William Johnston, who specialised in exquisite flower paintings, is particularly hot, and Ballinger is behind the forgery of prints, which are sold to antiques dealers across London. This scam is being investigated by the Crime Reporter from the Clarion, James Wilson, he of Elusive Grasshopper fame, who has been alerted to the presence of fakes by his art student fiancée, Judith, who. like everyone else, takes immediately to the Lone Piners and accepts them as co-investigators.
Grandon’s part in all this is to tour antiques shops, looking in the first instance for old newspapers and magazines, which are used to lend authenticity to the fakes by being employed as backing paper, and on some occasions to offer prints for sale. This task is also carried out by an attractive, if hard-faced young blonde woman, aged about twenty, selling heirlooms inherited from deceased parents, who is obviously Valerie.
Harriet, who is accepted whole-heartedly from the outset, is the key to success. Despite her inexperience, she goes out alone at night to follow Slinky, tracing him to a mews courtyard where, unbeknownst to her, the artists carrying out the forgeries are at work, insulated from their masters by telephone cut-outs. She almost falls foul of the Ballinger, who we’ve already met elsewhere in the story, selling impeccably tasteful clothing to young and restless American film star Lucinda Gray, and pointing her towards Johnston prints.
But Harriet is scared enough by her experience to be unable to retrace her steps. The older Lone Piners go out with her, James and Judith, to search the area, with Penny acting protectively towards the little girl, who is motivated more by fear of failing her wonderful new friends than of the crooks.
Meanwhile, the Twins accompany Mr Sparrow to the unpleasant Holloway Hill, and the postal contact address of Grandon. This is obviously going to be the set-up for the usual kidnapping, though this is mercifully brief this time: the Twins stow away in Grandon’s van, are not captured until seeing him working on the forgeries, and are rescued after about ten minutes captivity by Mr Sparrow, who has brow-beaten the thuggish newspaper shop owner into giving up Grandon’s real address.
As kidnappings go, this is a pretty weak example, but it’s no less stupid on the Twins’ parts than last time out, and their rescue is too convenient to be at all impressive.
This time round, however, it’s David and Jon who undergo the serious kidnapping. They discover the forger’s den but give themselves away whilst investigating. The forgers capture them and leave them to be handed over to the mysterious, over-sized Louis, who takes them to Madame Christabel, aka a slimmed-down, better-dressed, more elegant Ballinger – or Mrs Sandford, Louis being Mr.
There’s a frantic chase, with Police support, to the Sandfords’ home near Guildford, but though they’re supposed to stay in the car, Penny leads the girls – Judith, Harriet and the excited Miss Gray, who is regarding this as a wonderful holiday from being a very controlled film star – to the rescue.
So the boys are rescued, albeit a bit bruised. Mrs Morton once again expresses her hatred of the children under her care getting involved with criminals (this is why most such stories dispense with parents as early as possible). Ballinger and Grandon are captured by the Police off-stage, and even Lucinda joins in the post-adventure party.
Overall, Lone Pine London is a much better book than its two immediate predecessors, and Harriet is an enjoyable addition, even if the existence of the Lone Pine Club is concealed from her until the final page. She’s clearly Lone Pine material, eager for friends and both accepting and accepted, and not intimidated (too much) by their existing comfortable network.
Nevertheless, the Cinderella effect is once again at play, for those of us who pay such things attention. I’ve already mentioned how the Warrenders have aged by about six months whilst the Mortons have stood still, but the third appearance of the Ballinger and her associates introduces complications more in line with those that marked Wings over Witchend.
At the end of her first adventure, the Ballinger escaped, but after The Elusive Grasshopper she was arrested by the Police. They all were, Grandon and Valerie too. That was for smuggling, an offence for which the punishment is more than mere probation. Yet, even allowing for the minimal ageing of the Warrenders, Ballinger et al have served their sentences, returned to crime, set up this highly profitable forgery business, and Ballinger herself has had time to set up her legitimate dress-design/clothing business, and become the go-to woman for, among others, American film stars.
It’s the same old problem. The stories flow forward in time, but the characters don’t. Years have passed between the books, years have passed between the crimes, but barely months have passed between the Lone Piners’ involvement.
It’s not as disorienting as the State Forest in Shropshire, especially as the villainous trio do not directly appear for anything like the time: they are more of a presence than an actuality. But this is now the third time round and Saville could do with new villains to challenge the Warrenders.
As a final aside, Peter may not be around to bounce off David, but there’s more slow evidence of the importance the Warrender cousins hold for each other. Judith who, having only recently accepted James’ proposal, has romance on her mind, teases Penny at one point about David and Jonathan, and about which of them she decides to marry, but our favourite redhead doesn’t rise to the bait in any way, and we’re left with a more overt declaration about – but not by – her cousin when, growing concerned about Penny’s whereabouts, he is greeted with her cool and unconcerned voice, and understands for the first time how important it is for him to hear that.
Added to his punch to Mr Green when he thinks the birdwatcher has hurt Penny, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that there’s more than two romances slowly building in the Lone Pine Club. Poor Harriet! Fancy being stuck with the Twins…

Uncollected Thoughts: Clive James – Injury Time

A new poetry collection from Clive James, unexpected by author and audience, has been published today. Like its acclaimed predecessor, Sentenced to Life, it is a very hard book to read in extended spells: a half a dozen poems is about as much as I can cope with at a time, before James’ theme – once again his imminent but now six-years-postponed death – overwhelms me and I can’t carry on.

I’ve been a fan of Clive James for over forty years ago, since he used to present Granada TV’s Cinema in the early Seventies. I found his reviews hilarious and perceptive, though I didn’t remember how many of the films on which he commented I actually went to see, or whether he and I shared the same opinions.

I was also aware that he wrote lyrics for Pete Atkin, who was releasing albums through the first half of the decade. I only heard occasional songs by Atkin, which I generally liked because I liked his voice, and whose lyrics were certainly clever. But I only really began to follow James’ work the following decade when, initially from the library and then with my own copies, I read the collected columns of TV criticism from the Observer.

There were two books then, and I read the second first, and I remember reading this late at night and trying to have silent hysterics because my sister, in her bedroom, was trying to sleep and I wasn’t helping her. I remember the third book coming out.

I remember deciding to explore the Pete Atkin connection more deeply, first by borrowing the six albums from my mate John and copying them onto three C90 cassettes, which I would play on rotation in the car, enough that certain songs remind me of the places I was driving through when I was singing along with the song.

I loved the music, I loved Atkin’s voice, and I loved James’ lyrics, for their wit, their rhythm and the insight they displayed. And I started to collect his other books, with varying degrees of enjoyment (the literary criticism could sometimes be overwhelming because the high culture it dealt with was higher that I usually liked to go, and the reviews correspondingly long and involved). The novels were funny and involving, and I took different things from the four of them. There is a scene near the end of Brilliant Creatures that resonates so much, that culminates with a line so true and rueful that it slid backwards in time to inform my earlier experience, as if I had coined it myself for a moment I really did not want to go through.

That was the thing: one of the reasons I enjoyed Clive James so much was that not only did I agree with most of what he said, so much of it was something I could and might have said myself, if I were a little bit more intelligent, or creative. I was always behind him, and could never have written what he wrote, but once it was written, it was in my wheelhouse.

Would that he had influenced me more! I just wasn’t smart enough, the big influence on my writing style turned out to be Douglas Adams, even though I went off The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy years ago. But I still fell on everything he published, even to the extent of buying essay collections in hardback, and hunting out those older books, the long narrative poems from the Seventies, etc.

And there was the Pete Atkin revival, and twice I’ve seen the pair performing, Atkin singing and playing, James talking and reciting, and bringing me close to tears in public once, when he read his poem Occupation:Housewife, which began so funny and which slid so imperceptibly into heartbreaking regret for a father lost before he ever knew him, a situation that always moves me deeply.

Funnily enough, I wasn’t too bothered with the television series. I regularly watched On TV, enough so to continue enjoying it when it went to Chris Tarrant. But the other shows, the variety shows, the Saturday and Sunday Night Clive’s were always that bit too populist for my tastes, too diluted in James’ real abilities. Never did like the Japanese Game Show bit.

So I can’t be objective about Clive James, and given the subject of the poetry in this and Sentenced to Life before it, I can’t be objective about this book, and I can’t even finish yet, because after so many poems I have to take a long break. So these thoughts are more collected than uncollected, but they’re thoughts about Clive James, not Injury Time, which I suspect I’ll never really be able to analyse.