Beyond the Lone Pine: The Jillies 6 – The Ambermere Treasure

All too soon it was over. Malcolm Saville began the Jillies’ series in 1948 and ended it after six books in 1953. It was one of four series about older children, based upon big adventures as opposed to the more minor events of the Nettleford, Susan Bill, Michael and Mary or Brown Family series that focused upon younger children, but unlike the Lone Piners, the Fabulous Buckinghams and the Marston Baines coterie, there was to be no adult resolution, no suggestion of a life in relationships born of the deepening friendships begun in childhood.
The Ambermere Treasure is simply the last of it. Mandy, Prue and Tim, Guy and Mark get together one last time. They conduct a commercial venture successfully but improbably, they find a missing treasure rather more predictably, and when there’s no reason to end the series, they just wink out without a light and go.
I know the word is now an egregious cliché, but there’s no closure.
I’ll come back to that but for now let me explain the set-up. Ambermere, village and manor, is a tiny Surrey village within reach of Guildford. It’s been the ancestral home of the Anstey family for centuries, but the line is failing, the family is penurious and the house and gardens are falling to a very extended rack-and-ruin. The Colonel has died heirless, his only son having been killed during the War, and the last of the family are the two spinster Misses Anstey, Lavinia and Ella, transplanted from genteel retirement in Harrogate.
Into this atmosphere of decay and fade comes Patricia, the eight year old daughter of their niece, who married an unsuitable man (excuse me whilst I sneeze the snobbery out). Pat’s father has been seriously unwell, her mother has gone with him to Switzerland for treatment and poor fearful, upset, selfish and hostile Pat has been sent to the most unsympathetic place and people she could be dumped upon, her well-meaning but utterly out-of-their-depths Great-Aunts. Who decide they have to engage some kind of nanny. It just so happens…
Things are not good for the Jillies. Money is more than unusually tight and J.D. is unwell, run-down and unable to shift a racking cough he’s had since contracting bronchitis in March. Over his objections and refusals to deprive his children of such a thing, Mandy, Prue, Tim and Dr Harvey persuade him into a holiday in Austria, staying with the Schmidts of The Sign of the Alpine Rose, to recover his health, his strength and, cleverest touch, coming from Mandy of course, his creativity.
In his absence, Mandy places an advertisement for a job, near London, preferably working with children. Which is how she comes to be taken on at Ambermere Manor, to look after Pat, with whom she takes a no-nonsense but comradely approach that wins the child over.
The thing about old baronial manors and the like, they usually have a hidden treasure, concealed for centuries, waiting for the first pack of bright twentieth century children to come along and find it. It’s practically a law, or an ancient charter. Besides, it’s in the book’s title, not to mention Saville’s dedication, to all the boys and girls who wanted him to write a story about hidden treasure.
The treasure itself was hidden in Civil War times, by Mistress Deborah, just before she was captured and imprisoned by the Roundheads, who had already killed her husband in battle. Mistress Deborah died in imprisonment, only once seeing again the baby son she sent away with his nurse, leaving only a nursery rhyme jingle to sing to her boy and all succeeding generations of Ansteys.
One for sorrow sits on the wall
When the moon shines bright or not at all
Armed with the knowledge that the Anstey family crest features a magpie, can you work that out before the end of this post?
But whilst the treasure hunt is what the kids are here for, and there’s plenty of fun with the unprepossessing rivals – the Colonel’s former servant, John Bennett and ex-maid Amy Perkins – that’s not the biggest part of the story. From the outset, the Misses Lavinia and Ella not only take to Mandy but also treat her as an adult, and a friend on their own level. And Mandy approaches these strange creatures with not just respect but love, becoming a confidante. And, this being 1953, Mandy suggests the Misses Anstey start to build the finances they need by opening the Manor to tourists.
It’s pushing the envelope of credibility further than it really ought but, with the approval and assistance of Solicitor Mr Brewster, who is as taken with Mandy’s energy, drive and sense as the ladies, the rest of the gang are gathered to the Manor to set-up the opening of the Manor as a business taking tours of tourists! One seventeen year old boy, one sixteen year old girl, two thirteen year olds and kids aged eleven and eight.
It’s fun watching everything build up and recognising that whilst Guy is the more practical and thoughtful, and incredibly experienced in what appeals to tourists visiting stately homes, Mandy is the presiding spirit, her imagination and energy and sheer drive animating the whole crazy venture, which is hardly a holiday for any of them. These two are chalk-and-cheese, and the affection between them is still expressed mainly in banter, but they are a very good team, a lot more understanding of each other’s qualities than they ever let on, and with an unspoken satisfaction on both their parts that they are doing something together.
Saville teases his audience a little bit over Mandy’s efforts at publicity, using her vivacity and hinting that they’re saving up discovery of the Ambermere Treasure for Opening Day. Of course you know they’re going to do just that, though the outcome depends on Tim’s most juvenile idea. Anxious to play ghost with a sheet over his head, he gets Prue to come down to the abandoned, overgrown Chapel in the dark. Saville’s already set up a magpie fresco, freestanding in a window from which the glass has long since disappeared.
In the moonlight, the shadow of the magpie is thrown onto the far wall, onto a loose stone behind which the Treasure – rings and gold – has been hidden these four hundred years. Did you solve it before they did?
It’s almost an embarrassment of riches, the Treasure and a grand Opening Day, fuelled by massive publicity and curiosity about the Treasure discovery, and the Day, run by six children and two old women, aided by one Policeman guarding the loot and one AA scout on traffic duty in the car park is a resounding success.
Best of all are two letters, one for Pat, who has inevitably learned a lesson and is rewarded by her father writing to say how much better he feels, and another for the Jillies from J.D., also recovering rapidly and, including a line that binds together much of what has been so brilliant about Mandy, Prue and Tim in this far too short series of books: “I beg you, my Jillies, to remember that you are guests, and remind you that your letters, to which I look forward every day, give me infinite pleasure.”
It’s what I said in writing about Redshank’s Warning, and without wishing to be disrespectful to Guy and Mark, this series is first and foremost a success because of the Jillies. We like them, we love the life they carry around with them, and one of us at least is considerably impressed with Mandy Jillions, a very advanced character in her independence and eagerness to experience. The Standings, and especially Guy, are the straight men, the counterbalance, and it’s noticeable that the one book of the series in which they don’t appear, the Jillies fail to make much of an impression because they’ve no-one to impress themselves against.
The ending is a little underwhelming because it isn’t a real ending, just a stopping. In the Seventies, knowing he was nearing the end of his career, Malcolm Saville resurrected the Buckinghams to give Juliet Buckingham and Charles Renislau a future together, and I wish he could have stretched himself to a long-overdue seventh Jillies story, with the characters all about, say, two years older: old enough for Guy Standing to have finally had the sense to sneak Mandy Jillions into a corner and give her the biggest kiss of her life (so far), and allow Prue Jillions and Mark Standing enough growth to start turning their shared interest into a genuine affection. Tim? Younger brothers in Malcolm Saville’s books are definitely excluded though Tim, with his experience of and sympathy for his sisters, will have the edge over Simon Buckingham and Richard Morton when that never-time comes.
When I was reading these books as a Sixties kids, I did not look at publication dates so I had no idea that the series all took place before I was born. Indeed, the Jillies was the first series Saville ended, though that’s not a distinction I’d like to have.
There has been one fan-fiction ‘adult’ Lone Pine story, which I have already written about, but if such things were to be repeated, I’d love to see the Jillies meet the Lone Piners. I think that would be serious fun, even if you didn’t set Mandy off against Penny Warrender…

Beyond the Lone Pine: The Jillies 5 – The Luck of Sallowby

For the fifth Jillies book, we’re back. Back in England, back to the Standings and back to a decent plot which Saville wants to use to dramatise the dangers of flooding in the arable land of the Fens as based on the real-life events of 1947, whilst bringing a Jilly enemy back into the middle of a good, strong criminal plot.
We’re three chapters in before the Jillies actually come onstage, heading for a holiday in Ely with their spinster aunt, Bridget Singleton, the sister of their late mother, who has been successfully running a warm and friendly cafe, the Copper Kettle, for six months or so. Aunt Bridget wants to reacquaint herself with her family. Still, in the midst of all this rain, and the flat and superficially undistinguished land of the Fens, Mandy and Prue in particular are wondering what they’re going to do.
By then, the reader has a fair inkling. In a technique he would not introduce into the Lone Pine series for some time, Saville starts with the villains, in this case the small, pointed-nose, circumlocutory of speech Mr Beale – who we know is a villain because he kicks a puppy into the gutter – and the younger, smoother, but still repulsive Mr Chester. Beale is a man down on his luck, under Chester’s thumb due to certain papers the latter holds. And Chester runs a criminal enterprise devoted to identifying and… acquiring… valuable relics to be sold to the American market. Beale, who is something of an expert, is to act as his spotter here in the Fens. And pretty damned quickly.
Chapter 2 reintroduces the Standings, Guy and Mark, at their large and comfortable home in the Midlands, growing frustrated at the waste of half their school holidays, trapped by the rain. They’re kicking against the traces and thinking of a mini-cycle tour when a lengthy letter arrives from Mandy, setting up the visit to Ely and inviting the boys to cycle over (it’s only a hundred miles!) She even suggests Aunt Bridget could put them up.
It’s Mandy to the life and though the stiff-necked and prim Mrs Standing objects, Mr Standing is not only more favourably inclined towards the idea (and Mandy!), he’s on a business trip the next day that will take him to within twenty miles of Ely.
Once the boys are on their own, buffeted by the high winds and able to see for themselves the risk from the river levels and their raised position above the Fens, Saville is able to ease into the wider concerns that will take us into the threatening territory of the book’s second half. Guy and Mark identify a hole in a dyke, give a lift to Water Board Inspector Mr Curtis, whose thirteen year old son Francis is the owner of the kicked puppy and who becomes a contingent member of the gang, like Sandy Barton in Two Fair Plaits, and like any decent Saville children, show an immediate interest in helping out this increasingly desperate situation.
Even so, they still arrive at the Copper Kettle the same day as Mandy, Prue and Tim, and of course Aunt Bridget is every bit as wonderful as you’d expect a Saville adult to be, so they’re accommodated with ease.
Which leads to one of my favourite exchanges in all of Saville’s books. Mandy catches Guy alone, grasps the middle button of his jacket and asks him, seemingly as if the answer matters, if he thought she was being a forward hussy in inviting the Standings to join them. Guy, who is not as far forward in this relationship than Mandy, still knows what to say and, straightfacedly replies that he does. And Mandy leans in until she’s almost in his face (and certainly within kissing distance) before hissing, ‘Silly old stick-in-the-mud!’ and running off.
It’s flirting, Jim, if not quite as we know it. The Neglected Mountain was still to come (it would be the next Lone Pine book), but Mandy Jillions and Guy Standing were a lot closer to marking the long term nature of their friendship than David Morton and Petronella Sterling.
The boys – and this includes Tim and Francis – are eager to experience more of the flood protection methods, although Aunt Bridget has arranged for all of them to take afternoon tea with her friend Colonel Frensham of Sallowby Manor, a widower of limited means but with great local and historical knowledge and a family history extending back to the times, and the band of Hereward the Wake. Prue refuses to go out and cycle but Mandy has no intention of being left out and joins the boys on a long, exhausting day, during which they are several times treated as if they’re underfoot (which they are) and which ends with them discovering a leak and the Standings desperately (and dirtily) plugging it up until Mandy can summon help.
This is where the various strands of the book start to be tied together. AS the two parties converge on Sallowby Manor, the man we know as Beale is just leaving. Prue recognises him but can’t remember from where. Somewhat surprisingly, everyone takes her seriously, as indeed they should. Though Colonel Frensham has certain antiquities on display, he has something priceless concealed in a safe in his study that he permits only Guy and Mandy to see. This is the Luck of Sallowby, a short-handled, immaculately preserved battle-axe from the time of Hereward, handed down through generations, complete with a rhyme, tying possession of the Luck to the fate of Sallowby Manor.
And whilst the children are examining that, Mandy sees a face peering through the window that they all automatically associate with Mr Beale. As indeed they should, as once they return to the cafe, Prue recalls who he really is: Mr Sandrock, the art smuggler of Redshank’s Warning.
The gang warn Aunt Bridget, who doesn’t actually disbelieve but seems overwhelmed, and the next day Mandy and Prue take the bus to Sallowby Manor to warn Colonel Frensham. (They have an additional motive: Aunt Bridget twice called the Colonel ‘Charles’ – she clearly wants to marry him! They could end up related to the Luck of Sallowby).
But the increasing danger from the flooding remains the central focus, with the threat of Chester and Beale taking advantage of the confused situation and everybody’s distraction. At one point, when the banks have leaked and everyone’s milling about, they find Mark on his own and kidnap him to a nearby but very dilapidated pub (another of Saville’s tropes: all pubs run by characters who give shelter to villains are run down and dirty), though he escapes and gets back to Ely. Where he’s greeted by the ever-dramatic Prue with a hug and a sob and a heartfelt cry that they thought he was dead: Mark is to Prue as Guy is to Mandy, but this is the first and only expression of anything more than friendship on either side.
There are some wonderful individual touches in this book, that explode the kind of cliches Saville and other writers so often indulged in. At one point, having been formally and mutually recognised by the gang, and taunted about other names, Beale finds Mandy alone in the cathedral, clutches her arm and threatens her over forgetting any other name but Beale or any other encounter. When he relates this proudly to Chester, the latter bluntly tells him it was the most stupid and dangerous thing he could have done.
And when Mandy and Prue repeat their warnings to the Colonel after Mark’s adventure, and he shows them the Luck’s empty case, Mandy bursts into tears that they have let him down by coming too late, only to be reassured: the day they first warned him, the Colonel took the Luck into Ely and deposited it with his Bank. He took their warning seriously. Why couldn’t more writers do this?
Eventually, the water wins. The culverts burst, the road explodes, the flood starts in. Unfortunately, Mandy is caught by it. She and Prue have, as planned, watched the housekeeper steal the empty case and follow her as she delivers it to Beale and Chester. The headstrong Mandy insists on following the pair to try to get the number of their car for the Police, though she’s supposed to stay within the Manor grounds. When the road goes, she and they are trapped. All three make for an isolated farmhouse, that won’t last forever under the pressure of the rising water.
Everyone panics at her absence, with Prue in tears, but inevitably it’s Guy who sees the light Mandy manages to flash from the farmhouse. He joins the Colonel in the boat that goes out to rescue everyone, the subdued Mandy first, joining Guy in the boat and clearly very but quietly grateful that he is there, in a manner that leaves him without any words to say how important it has been to him that she is safe.
So all’s well that ends well, even if the threatened flood has happened, causing untold and uncounted damage to the Fens, its economy and the food supply to England, which gets forgotten in the dark, as Mandy briefly wakes to see Charles smiling at Bridget, and is sure there’ll be a wedding ere too long. How very Austenian.
After the disaster that was The Sign of the Alpine Rose and the contrivances to construct Strangers at Snowfell, The Luck of Sallowby was a welcome return to form for the Jillies. Such a pity then that Saville would only write them one more adventure.

Beyond the Lone Pine: The Jillies 4 – The Sign of the Alpine Rose

In my younger years, I had five out of the six Jillies books and read them several times over. For some inexplicable reason I never got hold of The Sign of the Alpine Rose, and me such a stickler for complete sets. So the fourth book of the series represents another Saville story that I can only consider as an adult.
The Sign of the Alpine Rose is an anomaly in several ways. For one, it is the only book of the series not to feature Guy and Mark Standing, not even by passing reference. For a second, it takes the Jillies out of England for the only time, to Austria, the first of Saville’s characters to venture abroad. For a third, the book leans heavily on J.D. instead of his children, playing a more substantial and direct part than any of the adults in Saville’s fiction that I have read. And this is because, fourthly, the subject of the book is politics, and the Iron Curtain.
Instead of the Standings, Mandy and her family are going to a picture-book Austria, high in the mountains, to stay with her pen-friend Lisbeth Schmidt and her mother in the Alpine village of Bercht. At the time the book was written, 1950, Austria was still under quadripartite control, divided into four Zones, administered by the Allied Powers, America, Britain, France and Russia, though Saville mysteriously omits the Americans, and indeed writes as if there are effectively only two Austrias: free and Communist-controlled.
He blurs the matter further in his introduction, which for once is not about the characters but about the utterly-foreign country where it takes place, a mystery to all his readers. He then suggests the readers imagine Bercht as being in either the British or French Zone, only for it to be certain, if not telegraphed, in the book that this is the French Zone.
This is a very unsatisfactory state of affairs. I get simplifying the political background for an audience in which only a tiny minority will care, but there’s simplification and confusing obfuscation and Saville errs too much to the latter.
Still, the story. Lisbeth, a rather serious sixteen year old, and her elder, somewhat standoffish brother Franz, live with their mother, who runs a small but homely guest-house for visitors. Her father used to be the village schoolmaster, until he went away to war ten years before: he has long been believed dead. But Herr Schmidt is alive and well, albeit in the Communist Zone (Saville does not use the word Russian, he is being polemic in this story). And with the aid of a local underground, who are operating Scarlet Pimpernel-style to get refugees back from the East, Herr Schmidt is trying to get back to his family.
Enter the Jillies. J.D. has decided they are going on a holiday abroad, Mandy has nominated Austria to meet Lisbeth, it’s going to be so much fun. And at first it is, with beautiful mountain country all around, enough that I wanted to see it for myself. But already there’s trouble brewing of a kind I was actually ashamed to see.
Bercht, it’s valley and it’s higher satellite, Ober-Bercht, reached by a narrow cable car, is dominated by its prominent mountain, Bullshead, so called for its twin peaks, like horns at either end of a flat, snow-capped plateau. Bullshead? Not even a stab at an Austrian name? Bullenkopf? Mandy immediately wants to climb it. She, and J.D., get warned off: it’s a dangerous mountain for one thing, especially for completely inexperienced English schoolgirls, and besides, the border to the Communist Zone runs along its top.
But this is where I found myself feeling that shame. As far as Mandy’s concerned, and later J.D., they are British. They can go where they want, they can do what they want and no-one can touch them because they’re British. The arrogance and the ignorance overwhelms me. It makes the whole family look like egotists, blundering into a delicate situation that they have no understanding of, wilfully going their own way despite the manifold warnings of people who know the situation intimately, and who keep warning that the Jillies’ actions are endangering the organisation, it’s people and, what is worse, the refugees from the harsh Communist regime who are being smuggled back to freedom one by one.
Despite all this, the British know better. It’s one thing to see this in the impetuous and impulsive Mandy, whose heart is always in the right place even when her desire to prove her competence and independence leads her into foolish proclamations. But J.D. is an adult, old enough to have fought in the last war and owing his slight limp to a 1917 wound. That makes him somewhere around his early-to-mid-fifties, for all he plays a good decade younger, and therefore something like 37/38 when Mandy was conceived (I bet Saville didn’t think of that when he was writing this).
The point is that he is old enough to know better. I know he’s an artist, which is a shorthand for unconventional, but in the face of warnings he persists in invading the Communist Zone himself, despite his oblivious lack of knowledge. He even drags the heroic Johann, our Pimpernel-manque, along with him, promising to obey orders and follow his lead, only to ignore sanity and his own commitments at every turn to near disastrous effect.
The book’s supreme irony is that Herr Schmidt does escape and return to the bosom of not only his family but his village, a village that has identified the traitors among it, and run them out of town, but that he does it with no assistance from the Jillies greater than his leaning on Mandy’s shoulder as a stranger.
Of course, you could argue that J.D.’s nonsense played a part in distracting the Communists, but the timescale doesn’t work as Herr Schmidt has gotten across the Bullshead before J.D. goes off on his quixotic mission as the self-appointed British Saviour, superior to Johnny Foreigner.
I’m sorry to be so savage about this book, which did reflect the mood and morale of its time. Britain was five years out from winning the War, though it was still observing food rationing at home, an unmentioned fact though Saville has Tim goggle at the size of breakfasts etc. in the defeated enemy country of Austria. Saville clearly feels strongly about Communism, especially as practiced by the Russians, and especially from his position as a devout Christian, and he’s neither the first nor last author to allow his passions to override his writing skills.
The truth is that his chosen subject is far too weighty for his characters. There’s a limit to what Mandy, Prue and Tim can do. They can wander the mountain trails, they can draw the attention of an unpleasant man to them, they can act as red flags to bulls, but when it comes to helping Herr Schmidt return to his native village, they can’t do a damned thing. And J.D. not only comes close to borking Schmidts’s rescue, but he puts the entire operation at risk, and jeopardises his own freedom through his insistence on doing what he wants to ahead of the advice of experts with extensive local knowledge.
To complete the heaping of coals on Saville’s head, the book misses the Standings. Not just the sparks between Mandy and Guy, a safe figure against whom to kick, but the sense that all the cast are operating on a level together, not dividing between children and adult levels.
Saville would not make that mistake again.
I’ve no idea what I would have made of this book in that pleasant country we call the Sixties, probably far less than I’ve done now. But I think I made an unconsciously sensible idea not to go there then.

Beyond the Lone Pine: The Jillies 3 – Strangers at Snowfell

Malcolm Saville set his 63 novels all over England and, in his later years, expanded his reach to cross the Channel to various European countries. In all that time, he set only one book in what we now know as Cumbria, home to the Lake District but, much to my disappointment, he never got as far as the Lakes nor even old Cumberland. His only visit to the North-West was the third Jillies novel, Strangers at Snowfell, and those parts of the tale that aren’t a direct follow-on from Two Fair Plaits take place entirely within the long-obliterated county of Westmorland.
It’s after Xmas in London. Guy and Mark Standing are still staying with the Jillies, Mandy, Prue, Tim and J.D., in their untidy Chelsea flat. They’re due to join their Aunt Katharine in Scotland to enjoy Hogmanay (though not under that name), but a telegram arrives asking them to come up a day early, and bring the Jillies with them, to the party.
So despite some automatic resistance from Mandy, who’s conquered before she gets a day out with Guy, just the two of them, the five children travel from Euston by train, for a long journey ending in a jolly good time. At least, that’s the plan.
Once again, Saville builds his story around twin tracks, the Jillies on the one hand and the ‘victim’ on the other. This time, it is not a vulnerable little girl but, in his own way, a vulnerable man in his fifties. Dr Charles Thornton (who is nevertheless referred to throughout as The Professor) is a scientist who, at the start of the book, takes rooms in Snowfell, a farmhouse near Shap, for peace and quiet whilst he completes his work on an undefined scientific breakthrough that will be of immense value to his country.
What he doesn’t know is that he is being watched by a spy for another country, anxious to discover the secret. The first inkling of this follows his completion of his work. Some instinct leads him to write to his son, Nicholas, in London, asking him to travel up and join him. But that night, someone breaks into his room, after poisoning the farmer’s sheepdog.
From here, the story bounces back and forth between Thornton and the travelling party, who want to claim a carriage for themselves but find themselves sharing with a mysterious young man who’s anxious to avoid being seen by a rather florid, camel-hair coated man who enlists the Standings to hunt out his ‘young friend’.
The young man, who is, of course, Nick Thornton, is not very good at concealing himself. He’s shaven off his moustache, swapped coats but he’s not changed his tie, which enables Mark to identify him from the bookstall at Euston, a detail that panics Nick into running.
This isn’t a winter for mild weather. The fog that gripped the nation in Two Fair Plaits has turned to a snowstorm that grips the nation in Strangers at Snowfell. The train gets slower and slower until at last it is stopped dead just short of Shap.
Things start to get serious. Thornton, in search of a working telephone, has been decoyed to a sinister, broken-down house, Callow, whose housekeeper, and guardian to a frightened and maltreated eleven-year old girl, Mary, that the Professor is determined to rescue, locks him in and assists in drugging him for his enemy, Major Calloway. If Thornton hadn’t been cautious enough to conceal the vital papers behind a loose stone in Mary’s secret place, under the bridge, the villains would have all they want.
The halt sets up the adventure. Nick leaves the train to make for Snowfell. Despite Guy’s reservations – he has the David Morton role, the sensible person who doesn’t immediately take anything on trust – the gang decide to shield him. The two elders, Mandy and Guy, set off through the snow in pursuit, carrying the wallet Nick has dropped, leaving the younger trio, Prue, Mark and Tim, to run interference with Camel Coat. Tim sets off exploring up the line and gets to the nearby signal box where he makes friends with the signalman in a way that the coated man doesn’t!
Guy and Mandy get all the way to Snowfell, where Nick, seeing them appear, comes out to meet them but falls trying to climb a wall, badly-spraining his ankle and rendering him hors de combat for the rest of the book. Guy and Mandy have to take his place, floundering in deep snow to find the Police.
Instead, they find Mary and, through her, the whereabouts of the drugged, imprisoned and searched, but still defiant Professor. Meanwhile, Mark, Prue and Tim have also left the train, there being no point in staying once Camel Coat has gone and even less point in missing out on the fun. They trail him into Shap, observe him going into Major Calloway’s cottage and, in a move that could have come out of the Morton Twins’ scrapbook, stow away in the back of the Major’s shooting-brake (an old-fashioned type of car, built along station-wagon lines, i.e., like an estate car), which gets them transported to Callow.
So everybody’s back together again. They can communicate with Dr Thornton, who obligingly writes a note for the Police. Forces must be split. Prue and Tim are about exhausted, and Guy asks Mandy to get them back to the train whilst he and Mark remain to keep watch on the Professor until aid arrives.
Thus far through the book, Mandy has been her usual, independent, combative self, asserting her equality with Guy, and responding to his attempts to assist through the deep snow and elsewhere by whistling ‘I can do anything better than you.’ But now, when things are serious, and even without his impressing upon her that she’s got to take care of her sister and brother, Mandy accepts this as her job. It’s a long struggle, and both Prue and Tim reach the end of their strength before they’re back at the rescue-snowplough, but despite being close to collapse, Mandy forces herself to the end, and has enough determination left to both get her siblings brought in and get the Train Inspector in to hear her – and believe – her story.
So everything is handed over to the Police to set everything straight, though the Standing boys still have a part to play, having arranged with little Mary to have an unlocked access to Callow that they can guide the Police in by. Dr Thornton’s rescued, his secret is safe, he’s reunited with his son, little Mary is rescued from her unpleasant Aunt, who the Professor is prepared to pursue into gaol if she’s actually harmed the little girl, and everyone has nice words to say for all the Jillies and the Standings.
In fact, all’s well that ends well, except for the no-longer snowbound train steaming away in the distance, with all the travellers’ luggage on it!
Still, the Police will telephone J.D. and Aunt Katherine, and the luggage will be held for them at Glasgow until they can catch up on the next train, and it won’t spoil the party because they’ll only be arriving the day Guy and Mark were originally invited for.
I enjoyed Strangers at Snowfell, the more so for the bantering relationship between Mandy and Guy. It’s as plain as anything that she fancies him like mad and he isn’t wholly unappreciative of her dark good looks. In that sense, they’re already way ahead of David and Peter. Yes, Mandy is very determined to prove herself equal to Guy, and after three years of being mother to her family as well as sister, that’s hardly surprising, but her cheekiness to him is easy to see as her method of flirting, even if Guy isn’t quite quick enough for flirtation as yet.
That said, there are a couple of areas in which Saville’s plot-contrivances are a little irksome. The adult in me is quick to notice that there is not the least indication of what Dr Thornton is working on, or how it will prove to be of benefit to his country first, then the world (as opposed to the presumably Communist country Calloway represents). I’m sure the kid I was didn’t care, but the completeness with which Saville makes the whole thing a mystery does undercut the story for me. In that respect, Saucers over the Moor is a better book than this.
There’s also that bit about Guy and Mark coming early by a day. That’s never explained, and when you realise that that extra twenty-four hours is the exact compass of the adventure, it starts to look like filler, neither adding to nor detracting from the story, except by its contrivance.
But the biggest bit of contrivance is highlighted by a rather shamefaced Saville himself in his foreword, pointing out that rather than Nick Thornton buying a ticket to Penrith – further on than Shap, where the train doesn’t officially stop – he would have bought one for Preston and changed there to a local, but he had to do the very thing he wouldn’t have done in order for the story to exist. That’s definitely something I wouldn’t have picked up on as a kid (not being a train nut like Mark and Tim), and I really dislike stories where characters do things they wouldn’t do in order to make the story happen. It’s poor writing, always has been, always will be.
And in those days, Saville really could do better.

Beyond the Lone Pine: The Jillies 2 – Two Fair Plaits

It’s more than six months since Girls Gone By Publications re-issued Malcolm Saville’s first Jillies book, Redshank’s Warning, and as expected there are no signs of a follow-up yet. It’s hardly surprising, given the time it takes to re-prepare a book, accumulate its editorial material and send it to print in numbers sufficient to satisfy customers’ demands without tying up precious capital in overstocking, not to mention the sheer number of writers for whom GGB are doing this.
So, especially in the light of the current coronavirus isolation, I decided to pursue the remainder of the series in second-hand originals, hardback publications from Lutterworth Press, with their illustrations, so long as I don’t have to break the bank.
This allows me to now read and review the second book in the series, Two Fair Plaits.
Like the Buckinghams series, each of the Jillies’ stories takes place in a different part of the country. Two Fair Plaits starts in Birmingham, with an eleven year old girl, Belinda Ferguson, being put on a train to London to spend Xmas with her elderly grandmother. Belinda’s mother, Grandma’s daughter, has died three years earlier, and Mrs Hawkins has quarrelled with her son-in-law, hence she is travelling alone, her hair worn in two long, blonde plaits, and her head covered with a ‘Sights of London’ scarf that will play a significant part in the plot.
Belinda doesn’t arrive at Euston. She is taken from the train, which is heavily delayed by a country-wide fog, at Watford by a woman claiming to have been sent by her grandmother to bring her by car to avoid all this delay. As you might guess, Belinda has been kidnapped.
Enter the Jillies, at Euston Station, waiting patiently for the same Birmingham train. Eight months have passed since the Norfolk holiday and their meeting with the Standing brothers, enough time for Mandy to have turned sixteen whilst her sister and brother have stayed 13 and 11 respectively. They are waiting for Guy and Mark, who have been invited to share Xmas at the Jillies’ chaotic Chelsea flat. Their absence from the family bosom seems to be more acceptable to their cheerful and surprisingly wise father, who’s happy to encourage any chance of his elder son spending time with the attractive Mandy, whilst their rather more clinging and slightly uptight mother is bought off by the thought of spending Xmas in a hotel.
Mandy identifies the elderly and superior Mrs Hawkins, and her ever-present, solemn butler, the lugubrious William, on the platform and tries to greet her in a friendly manner. Mrs Hawkins has moved into a nearby house and holds herself aloof from her neighbours, but Mandy is determined to try to get a neighbourly word out of her. She fails again, but this unimportant encounter is the key to the whole story.
The Standings are greeted, the familiarity of Norfolk is instantly re-established (Guy and Mark have been worried whether it would happen a second time but the thought has never even entered any of the Jillies’ heads and their whole-hearted welcome drives out any notion of that: I said we like the Jillies for themselves, and we like reading about them).
But the evening celebration is interrupted when William the Butler calls to ask if Miss Amanda would be so kind as to come to Mrs Hawkins’ house about an urgent matter. Her granddaughter has not arrived and, behind that stiff-necked face, and behind her Victorian reluctance to display emotion, she is frantic for the girl’s safety: might Amanda or any of her family have seen her at Euston?
No, they haven’t, but the quickly-sympathetic Amanda promises to ask their guests, who travelled on the same train. How might they recognise Belinda? By the plaits and/or the scarf.
It’s not till the next morning that Mark recalls seeing a girl in that kind of scarf being led away from the train at Watford, though no-one, especially Guy but even Mandy, takes him seriously. Until, that is, venturing out into the only slowly-thinning fog, the children are witness to a car knocking down a young boy who has been paid ten shillings to deliver a letter to Mrs Hawkins.
After setting him straight and binding up his twisted ankle, Mandy takes Sandy (real name George, a true East-Ender from Wapping and Dockland) to Mrs Hawkins, having to practically force their way in past her stiff-necked Solicitor nephew Mr Trevor. The letter is a ransom demand. Mr Trevor gets all supercilious ignoring Mandy’s advice on how best to handle Sandy, who runs off.
Infuriated by his attitude, Mandy commits her family and her friends to finding Belinda, and finding her before the Police. That, not entirely convincingly, gets us over the hurdle of what has it to do with the Jillies and the Standings? The child audience would jump at it and, emotionally, it’s a solid motive, however implausible it is that a gang of children should be trying to challenge the Police’s efforts. That Mandy is suspicious of the cold-fish Mr Trevor adds an extra layer to things: he’s an obvious choice for diabolical mastermind, though it’s noticeable that Saville doesn’t insert anything to make Mandy’s suspicions concrete.
By now, it must be evident that Two Fair Plaits is a much more complex story than its predecessor. Saville adopts a twin-track structure that was unusual for him to that point in that we see as much of Belinda as we do Mandy and Co. We follow her experiences step by step, from the kidnap to the barge ride that takes her into Dockland, the cutting off of her plaits to disguise her as a boiler-suited boy, her enterprising signalling to a boy and girl that we, not she, recognise as Tim and Prue, and her attempts to escape.
And her beloved scarf, her father’s gift, is quickly stolen from her by Joyce, the daughter of her bargee captors, a cold, cruel, scornful girl, the woman who, lazily, gave George ‘Sandy’ Barton ten bob to deliver a letter, a decision that proves to be the fatal mistake.
The Jillies escort Sandy back to his home and meet his parents, working class to their roots, of the decent ‘know-my-place’ working class skewered so effectively by the two Ronnies and John Cleese in the classic Frost Report sketch. But Mandy, Guy and Co are so far out of place they couldn’t begin to function without young George. This part of the book is very difficult in 2020. Saville is wholly respectful of the Barton family and their world, but the whole thing is shot through with an unexpressed but obvious approval of the social stratification depicted. All the working class are cliches, not individuals, and the sense that these two worlds are touching but can never truly mingle, like oil and water, is overwhelming. Mrs Standing would be horrified. JD, the eccentric, is his welcoming self, but after this book is over, there will be no further visits to the exotic world of Wapping or further east.
Thanks to Belinda enterprisingly using her severed plaits as paperchase clues, Mandy and Co trace her whereabouts. Unfortunately so does Joyce, who chases her into and up to the top floor of an abandoned warehouse, where her hastily cast aside cigarette sets the place on fire. Both are trapped and, what’s worse, Joyce has broken her ankle and becomes overcome by the smoke.
Saville was prone to use water as a source of disaster and possible death in the Lone Pine series, but his handling of the fire, and the quixotic determination of JD, entering the burning building rapidly followed by Guy and Mark, is, I think, the best handled in all his books that I have read. It’s coloured by Belinda’s compassionate and heartfelt insistence on not abandoning Joyce, despite her hatred for her, an outcome solidly in Saville’s Christianity. On top of her freedom, and her reuniting with both Grandmother and Father (who takes on board all the responsibility for the quarrel, unexpectedly and not wholly convincingly), little Miss Ferguson gets her scarf back, not to mention a new hairstyle for Xmas.
And if Mr Trevor didn’t do it, why, who did? It was the butler what do-ed it, the placid William, nicknamed by Mandy as the Bishop and far from episcopal.
So, all’s well that ends well, on Xmas Day. Unfortunately, apart from a wicked mention early on by Prue, there may be mistletoe but Saville isn’t going to tell us if Mandy and Guy should happen to arrive under it at the same time…
David and Peter, Tom and Jenny, Jon and Penny. Juliet Buckingham and Charles Renislau. A hint of ‘love interest’ in the final Nettleford book, though who is involved I have no idea. Mandy Jillions and Guy Standing were set up to be another pairing, boy and girl in their mid-teens, enjoying a ‘special’ friendship that contained elements of a nascent romance that they were not quite ready to explore. By Two Fair Plaits it was clear that Guy and Mandy fancied each other like mad, and were only too happy to go off on their own, but it was equally obvious that Mandy wasn’t about to settle for being a girlfriend, expected to trail along in the wake of her boyfriend, but was determined to be seen and appreciated for her own abilities. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, but I’m already regretting that Saville didn’t think to bring Mandy, Prue and Tim, Guy and Mark back for just one more adventure in the Seventies. They go together so well.

Under a Different Tree entirely: Sam Young’s ‘Little Light’

A few years ago, a chance word posted on a private social forum re-awoke my love for Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine Club series of my childhood in East and South Manchester, and restored an enthusiasm that has seen me re-purchase the entire series (including the only one I never read before), as well as other of Saville’s books.
At the outset, I kick-started my memory by researching the Internet, though there was less information about the things I wanted to know than I expected would be available.
I was also surprised to discover that a ‘new’ Lone Pine novel, or rather a ‘Lone Pine Club’ book for adults, had been published in 2006, a book titled Little Light, written by Sam Young. Very little information was available for it, but it was self-evidently unauthorised, and I got the impression that it was very much frowned-up on, though I can’t find any such reference on-line now.
What little that seemed to be available about it was that it began with the arrival in Rye for the first time of newly-weds Jonathan and Penelope Warrender…
Whether it was good, bad or indifferent, it piqued my curiosity. However, it also appeared to be rare and fetching something like £40 a copy, and whilst I’m better able to afford items like that now, it would have to be a very important book to make me pay a sum like that.
On the other hand, an immaculate condition copy reduced to £8.75 on eBay, was practically irresistible. So what merits does a piece of ‘fan-fiction’ about a Lone Pine Club’s worth of adults have to an ardent fan of the originals?
For a relatively slim book, of just over 200 compact pages, there’s a lot to be said. Young’s stated intention was to write a Lone Pine adventure concerning adult versions of our friends in a world where they have never met before but form instant and lasting friendships as they deal with a criminal plot of more adult scope and consequences. Things are not quite that simple, however. Jon and Penny, David and Peter, Tom and Jenny: these are our cast. There is no place for the Morton Twins, nor for Harriet Sparrow, not even by way of passing reference. Indeed, there is no suggestion that the David Morton of this book has any siblings.
The villains are the ones you might expect: Les and Valerie Dale, formerly husband and wife, and Val’s (real) aunt, Emma Ballinger, and there are substantial roles for a James Wilson who is involved with the press, a Fred Vasson who is near enough the same person in a different role and an unexpected Ned Stacey. And there are minor cameos from Albert Sparrow, Henry Carter and Arlette Duchelle.
But there is no Gay Dolphin Hotel, no Seven Gates Farm or Barton Beach and whilst Ingles’ Farm is where it ought to be, the nearby Mortons live at Briarsholt, which is Witchend in all but name, and I wonder why Young didn’t or couldn’t use that name when the casting of Jon, Penny, David, Peter, Tom and Jenny collectively would be more than enough for any successful copyright suit by Malcolm Saville’s literary heir, it being another 32 years before the Lone Piners pass into the Public Domain.
As for the plot, it traverses familiar Saville ground. The object of the hunt, the ‘Little Light’, is a diamond stolen in the late Nineteenth Century, the story being turned up by the loathsome Les Dale, who enlists his shortly-to-be ex-wife Valerie in turning up a clue to its possible whereabouts at Powlden House in Rye, the first home for that newly-wed late-twenties couple, Jonathan and Penelope Warrender, who become neighbours of the avuncular Mr Vasson.

Jon and Penny are clearly Young’s favourites, dominating the first third of the book, But at a party hosted by Henry Carter to celebrate his engagement to Arlette Duchelle, Penny makes instant friends with a tall, simple, beautiful out-of-place feeling blonde with the unlikely name of Peter, and she and John invite Peter and her husband David to sleep at their home overnight. David and Peter live at Briarsholt in Shropshire, but are house-sitting David’s parents in London.
Penny is led into a trap set in London by Dale, who wants the clue to the whereabouts of the ‘Little Light’. Having taken Peter for company, the Dales capture both women and show that they’re prepared to be violent, as in actual physical violence. Penny creates a distraction that enables Peter to run, though she suffers a serious beating from Les in consequence. Peter is at risk of assault and rape by two football hooligans until they’re beaten up by an even bigger football hooligan – he’s from the East End, see – who’s also a tabloid journalist. This is James Wilson, and he helps find Penny.
Penny recovers physically from the beating but has her spirit crushed. In order to help her recuperate, the Mortons invite the Warrenders to stay at Briarsholt and meet their friends and neighbours, Tom Ingles and Jenny Harman. Technically, this pair are still engaged, they just never got round to marrying after Jenny got pregnant with their five year old daughter Daisy. Tom and Jenny live with Ned Stacey in what we are meant to infer is a menage a trois.
Meanwhile, the search for the ‘Little Light’ has also moved to Shropshire as identified by Ballinger and it turns out that the stolen diamond was buried in the roots of a pine tree above Briarsholt: yes, that one. Les’s start at digging it out is interrupted by Daisy’s arrival in her secret place where she takes it away.
As a result, Daisy is kidnapped to be exchanged for the diamond, to be brought by Penny alone. Once he’s got the diamond, the vicious Les intends to beat Penny even more severely again, this time including rape, just cos he hates her guts, except that Wilson saves her, administers a kicking and supplies the twist in the tale, before disappearing into the night because he’s fallen in (genuine) love with Mrs Warrender but she loves Jon…
So: characters, and plot. But is it any good?
Well, the synopsis, out of which I’ve left a number of details clearly dear to Young’s heart, is sufficiently Saville-esque so far as the adventure is concerned, and it does combine the two stock plots: searching for a hidden treasure and foiling a criminal gang. And we’ve already seen that this time the violence goes beyond a clumsy fist-fight. Penny is badly beaten by Dale, and half-stripped at the same time, and though she quickly dispels Jon’s fears of sexual assault, she goes through a period of post-assault trauma that relates to sexual expression (out of which she is snapped, with implausible rapidity and unconvincing completeness by Daisy singing their (and Young’s) favourite song).
And when she is threatened with worse, with the attack already started, James Wilson smashes Dale’s head in with a rock, near killing him.
But an adult story consists not merely of violence but sex. Do the Lone Piners have sex? Oh, you betcha. Young can’t resist bringing it up. Penny’s carnal enthusiasm for Jon. Peter’s prim and restrained exterior that doesn’t conceal a willingness to experiment (David has to replace a broken antique footstool, fnar, fnar). And aside from the Ingles-Harman-Stacey household set-up, it’s pretty much implied that Jenny isn’t averse to experimentation and has her eyes on David for the future (that’s if she hasn’t already), whilst Mr Morton is clearly enthused by the sight of Penny, despite the vast difference in bust-line – Penny does make it plain that she doesn’t bother with bras because she’s got nothing to go into them… Yes, Lone Piners have sex, but it’s isn’t quite the kind happy, able couples in their late twenties enjoy as of nature but something to be shoved under our noses a bit, look, see.
They also smoke, or at least Penny does from time to time, and Young can’t resist slipping in a reference at Henry’s party to suggest it isn’t only good, wholesome nicotine, as we get to hear the tail-end of Penny demonstrating to two sixteen year olds how to build a spliff.
Regular readers of this blog will be expecting me to insert a reference to Earth-2 at some point, but I think a more apposite comparison is with Christopher Priest’s The Separation, in which parallel realities cross and merge with one another.
This is because Young isn’t merely content to write a Lone Pine story featuring the elder members as adults meeting for the first time, but he cannot help salting his adventure with gestures to the original books. There are three points in Little Light where he plays with metafiction and I think that’s definitely two too many.
The first two of these – one early and clumsy, the other a decidedly unwise insertion into the climactic chapter – are of the same order. Running late for their appointment with Fred Vasson over Powlden House, Penny spots the cover of a children’s book being removed from the window of Albert Sparrow’s bookshop. Two of the characters look identical to her and Jon, as well they should be since this is The Gay Dolphin Adventure (Armada version). After some unamusing guff about her misreading the title as ‘The Gay Golfing Adventure’ (oh, hilarity!), she drags Jon off without waiting for Sparrow to confirm that they do indeed look like the characters on the cover, and they have the identical names…
Once might be a manageable in-joke though it’s a contrived one, Saville’s book having no actual bearing on the plot except a garbled comment about the author having had some correspondence with a Charles Flowerdew, but Young compounds this badly. Penny has to go alone with the ‘Little Light’ from the Devil’s Chair on the Stiperstones to what’s clearly intended to be Greystone Cottage. She’s never been there before but isn’t she lucky? There’s a group of Lone Pine fans out on the mountain, one of whom (a real-life person) recognises her, can’t believe she’s called Penny Warrender and sends her in the right direction, but not before pinning a Lone Pine badge on her…
Oh cringe, cringe, cringe. If I knew more Latin, I could play on the classic concept of deus ex machina, for this is certainly no god in this machine. This seriously tempts fate over the reality of Young’s book but any residual credibility it leaves is destroyed at the end.
Daisy’s secret place has been recognised by us all as HQ1, the Lone Pine itself. The ‘Little Light’ has been buried all this time in the tree’s roots. But as a sumptuous feast breaks up, with Ned having taken Daisy home to bed leaving only six once upon a time Lone Piners, Jenny finds something else buried in the little hole. It’s an old sardine tin, setting out the rules of the Lone Pine Club and signed in 1945 in blood by six people who have never met until this year…
Here is where the book delves most deeply into Christopher Priest territory, but not only does it fail in its own right, because the ‘real’ piece of paper would not have had the names of Jenny, Jon and Penny, and would have had Richard and Mary Morton, but by being an in-joke of this size, it overbalances the whole of Little Light, reducing it to what it is, a pale echo of Malcolm Saville’s work, a book he would not and could not have written, a book that is in the end pastiche: not real, never possibly real in the way that the original series is and will always remain.
Before leaving this book behind, I do want to mention that the ‘Little Light’ of the title derives from Daisy Harman’s favourite song, which, from the number of times its lyrics are referenced in passing before we even get to Shropshire, is ‘Summer Breeze’, and patently the Seals & Croft original. It’s a welcome choice, though I go for the 1976 cover by The Isley Brothers which was my favourite record of the year and far ahead of the original.
And whilst ultimately I come down against this book, for all the reasons I’ve given, Sam Young has still done something I couldn’t have done (albeit wouldn’t have tried) and that is to have written a Lone Pine book. If we exclude consideration of whether he should have even tried, he’s still done more than the rest of us put together (though if anyone is now about to draw my attention to a stash of Internet Lone Pine fan fiction, I’d rather you didn’t: the hint that Miss Ballinger may have had sex with Fred Vasson in this is too much for my stomach to cope with…)

Beyond the Lone Pine: Malcolm Saville’s The Jillies 1 – Redshank’s Warning

To my great delight, the inestimable Girls Gone By Publishers have begun reprinting another of Malcolm Saville’s children’s adventure series, The Jillies (1948 – 1954). The first book in the series, Redshank’s Warning,  arrived in October this year, in perfect time for my birthday, and was a wonderful exercise in nostalgia.

Though the Lone Piners are who and what Malcolm Saville will always be remembered for, he wrote no less than eight series in a career of sixty-three novels (and only two standalones!). Before my recent investigation of the Buckinghams series, I had only read one other of Saville’s series, and that was the Jillies.

Amanda, Prudence and Timothy Jillions, and their loyal friends Guy and Mark Standing first appeared in 1948, when Savile had already published at least four Lone Pine books and two Michael and Mary books (about which I know nothing). Their’s was a compact career, with all six books published in six years, during which Saville also published three more Lone Pine and two more Michael and Mary, plus introduced The Buckinghams (two books) and Nettleford (two books) series, for a total of fifteen books in a seven year period: this from a ‘part-time’ writer with a job in publishing.

I’ve been trying to remember if there was any particular reason why I only read The Jillies after the Lone Pine Club and I can’t think why. Redshank’s Warning was the third of Saville’s books to be made available in Armada paperback, which the first two also being Jillies’ books. The Marston Baines series began in 1963, but these were aimed at an older audience and something about them put me off. I don’t remember any of the other series, though plenty of them did appear from Armada.

So, after all this preamble, what of the book and its characters? As adventures go, Redshank’s Warning is a little simplistic compared to a Lone Pine adventure, but there is a different atmosphere from the off. We are introduced to the Jillions, whose friends call them Jilly’s, in their untidy, higgledy-piggledy first floor Chelsea flat, overlooking the Thames, midway through the Easter holidays. Their father is a commercial artist by day and a free-spirited artist all the time. He is unconventional, a little impractical, and in material terms maybe not the best father there could be, but in terms of his emotional relationship with his three children, his acceptance of them as adult already, and his encouragement of their individuality, he is far superior to many.

The Jillies’ mother has died three years before, putting a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of eldest daughter Mandy, nearly sixteen. Mandy, slim, attractive, bright and practical, wearing her straight black hair in a pageboy bob, runs the household whilst managing to perform well at school. Mandy’s strong-willed, independent and imaginative, the glue of the family, Right now, she’s nursed her younger sister Prue – a serious but exciteable, frequently dramatic thirteen year old girl who most resembles their mother, who silently envies Mandy’s slimness, and who responds most deeply to beauty and animals – through a bad case of measles of which she is now cured, as well as thoroughly bored after three weeks being cut-off from everything. Mandy’s also keeping a sharp eye on Tim,  a smaller, less tidy version of her in looks, an eleven year old, permanently hungry boarding school boy with his own ideas of fun.

Mandy persuades the Doctor to persuade JD (short for Jilly Darling, their name for their father) to take the family away for a week’s holiday. Prue, enthused about bird-watching, selects Blakeney on the north Norfolk coast. En route, they arrive at the same pub as the Standings, a more conventional family, more middle-class, more prosperous. They have two sons, Guy, tall, fair, thin, bespectacled, clever, and thirteen year old Mark, lively, outgoing, fun. Guy’s like a less crass Jon Warrender, though he does start off with a snide remark about the Jillies’ disreputable old banger. However, he’s quick to apologise and, when Blakeney turns out to be the Standings’ estination, and a familiar haunt, the two sets form a group with consummate ease. Oh yes, Guy and Mandy are going to have a future…

As I said, the adventure is very simple, and the conspirators typically unpleasant. Mr Sandrock, insistent on his privacy, has taken all the rooms in the boarding house the Jilies hoped to stay in and looks down his nose at them. Miss Harvey, the supposed photo journalist living in a hut out on Blakeney Point, is even more insistent on a privacy to which she has no enforceable entitlement, but she’s a bird expert who can’t tell the difference between an oyster catcher and a redshank, and she’s the kind of woman  prepared to keep a badly-injured dog tied up without food or water. The kids are quick to spot that this pair are only pretending not to know one another, and though Sandrock temporarily cons Mandy into believing he is a Detective, when it’s really the much more prepossessing Charles Martin who is, the kids play plausible parts in putting together the clues that enable this pair to be arrested for smuggling stolen paintings out of the country.

But the cops-and-crooks aspect is not the reason why this book works. No, that’s the Jillies. Guy and Mark, for all they try to keep up, and for all they act as the standard characters (Guy is also another variation on David Morton, save that with Mandy around he will never be the ‘captain’), it’s the Jillies we’re here for. In their widely contrasting, but easily dovetailing ways, Mandy, Prue and Tim and their abundance of Life make us just enjoy being with them. What they do is nearly irrelevant, they are just fun to be with. I recognised the life bursting out of them and would have welcomed a book twice the length.

And neither then nor now does the book feel dated. I never suspected, in the Sixties, that I was reading a series that had been completed befoere I was even born.

I don’t know how frequently GGB plan to put out the remainder of the series, one of which I never read, but one a month  – ridiculous optimism! – would suit me fine. Here’s to seeing Two Fair Plaits.

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.

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.