Travelling with Tinniswood: Witney Scrotum


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Slakehouse is an elderly gentleman of obvious Northern extraction who lives in our village under an upturned zinc bath in the back yard of the cricket bag repository.
What other village, I ask you earnestly, would tolerate the presence in its midst of a wizened, moth-infested, fetid, belching, terminal inebriate with congenitally unbuttoned flies and a yellowing tongue encrusted with what appears to be a full set of aged rusting mountaineers’ crampons?
Who is he?
What is he?
No, he is not an ITN newscaster ‘down on his luck’.
No, he is not a former financial advisor to the Duchess of York.
No, he is not a younger version of Mr. Ned Sherrin.
The answer is far more potent and pungent – he is, dear readers, a sportsman.
And thus he is welcome in our village.
How and when did he arrive in Witney Scrotum?
On the matter of date we cannot e precise.
But neither can Mr. Raymond Illingworth be certain of the date on which he last captained Yorkshire from his bath chair.
And Sir Geoffrey Boycott is in a sea of total confusion concerning the date on which he is to have the next mammogram on his wallet under local anaesthetic.
There were four years between Winston, and Witney Scrotum, a far cry from the prolific Eighties when Peter Tinniswood was producing two Brigadier books a year. Not that he had eased up on his workload: in the Nineties, Tinniswood’s energy was directed towards Radio 4, to Winston serials and a plethora of well-received plays.
Witney Scrotum returns us one last time to the village and the world of the Brigadier, forever unchanged. I was concerned at the lack of imagination in the book’s title: we had already had Tales from Witney Scrotum, and this latest volume was confusingly close in name.
What can I say? It’s the Brigadier, and by now we know all there is to know about what we’ll be reading. Tinniswood changes the formula in no whit, save to include references to cricketers who have come along since the very Eighties era of the Brigadier’s creation: thus we have the shy Reverend Michael Atherton and those cheerful vandalisers, the Tufnell Twins, but apart from a handful of throwaway references, we might still be back where England were thrashing the Aussies in 1981.
The major difference between this and other Brigadier efforts is that I can’t find anything funny in it. It’s not simply a case of once too often to the well, though the sheer familiarity of the format is discouraging. It’s more that, whilst previous works have seemed to be effortless, too effortless as I have remarked, Witney Scrotum is constantly striving for effect.
Paragraphs droop with the density of improbable, incongruous adjectives. Tinniswood tries to cram in more and more detail into each moment, oversalting the fantastic elements. It’s the perils of any kind of eccentric or exaggerated humour: the writer continually has to overtop himself, to the point that the exaggeration ceases to be of real life, but of the previous level(s) of exaggeration. At some point, it snaps.
What’s worse is that Tinniswood is running out of sustainable ideas. There a couple of chapters that are made up of letters written by the Brigadier, with no genuine connection between them that would sustain a viable chapter. They are pressed into contiguity simply because the individual ideas are limited in length.
And the book ends with a Cricket Quiz that, in terms of humour, falls flat on its face. There are pages and pages of questions, followed by pages of answers, all serious and factual, save for the odd comic one thrown in to drown. The level of the humour can be demonstrated by the section on cricketer’s middle names, about one in every three of which is John.
It’s desperately sad to see a book like this published by Tinniswood, who was by now well-ensconced on Radio 4. It’s a pale reflection of his gifts, and a sad justification for his complaint, late in life, that he had spread himself too thin, accepted too many commissions to do his best work. In books, at least, it was far behind him. And one last utter disaster awaited.

Travelling with Tinniswood: The Brigadier’s Brief Lives


MISS PETULA CLARK
I much enjoyed watching on the moving television her series, The History of Western Civilisation.
I confess, though, that when she started singing in her weak litle voice, I turned down the sound and started playing with the reamer on my pipe smoker’s compendium.
It has always been a great solace to me in times of stress and hardship.
Last week I broke my dibbler while watching Lulu.
MR SEBASTIAN COE
A young man of sallow complexion, who appears to have the ambition to run faster than anyone else in the world.
With a personality like his I think he is very wise.
MISS JILLY COOPER
I do like women with gaps in their front teeth.
They are so damnably useful when it comes to scraping carrots.
The sixth Brigadier book can quickly be seen as a companion to The Brigadier’s Tour (indeed, Tour and Brief Lives would later be released in a combined hardback as The Brigadier’s Collection). It’s the same format, a series of ‘profiles’, of greater or lesser length, only this time not of cricketers but rather personalities: people well-known in 1985.
Of course, the Brigadier being the Brigadier, there are the odd cricketer or two herein, but in keeping with the tone of the book, they are not usually described in reference to their sporting achievements.
It’s a better, frequently funnier book than the last few Brigadier collections, simply because, by expanding the frame of reference, Tinniswood opens out the humour and, increasing the range of subjects, gives himself more room.
I have always cherished the comment above as to Sebastian Coe, and consider it to still be more than apt, notwithstanding the inevitable decline of his best racing speed.
Some of the Brigadier’s comments are delightfully scabrous, some demonstrate a twisted affection for characters, everything is seen through the peculiar, disoriented, not-a-prejudiced-man-but lens of the scion of Witney Scrotum.
Having said that, there’s little I can usefully add.
MR TONY BENN
A very shuperior short of Shoshialisht.

Travelling with Tinniswood: The Brigadier in Season


I am sure there was something else we celebrated, too.
What the devil was it?
Ah, yes.
I remember.
It comes back to me now. It was the visit of the Pope to Witney Scrotum.
I confess that when it was first mooted I had “my doubts.”
Would it bring on another of Prodger the Poacher’s strange “turns” and set him off once more exposing himself in the mobile library?
Would the sight of all those handsome, single, unmarried, bachelor priests be “too much” for Miss Roebuck of the dog biscuit shop?
What would be the reaction of that ranting, raving vitriol-tongued preacher, Doctor Jones-Jones-Ontong-Wooller in his tin hut chapel of the Church of the Third Wicket Down Redemption?
One thing was absolutely and totally assured – the Commodore was incensed.
“What do we want with a gang of Wops in the village!” he thundered.
I explained as patiently as I could that the Holy Father was of Polish extraction.
The Commodore glared at me silently for a moment, grinding at the stem of his self-lighting bulldog pipe.
And then he said: “That is as maybe. But I will wager you one silver half crown that the blighter’s almost certain to be a bloody Catholic.”
Ok, what is there to say about this? It’s another Brigadier book, the fourth in succession, the fifth in three years. It’s funny, inventive, dense with jokes, puns and allusions. The Brigadier and his lady wife are back home and a new cricket season is about to begin. We are back to the tales of far-fetched cricketing times and places. But, as may be expected, there is nothing to say about this book that hasn’t already been said about its predecessors
Tinniswood progresses his world a little. There are many opportunities for the Brigadier to call on his neighbour, chum and fellow devotee of the ‘summer game’, dear old “Bruce” Woodcock of The Times. (The joke here being, as I have just had to look up, that the well-known Times Cricket Correspondent was John Woodcock, whilst Bruce Woodcock was a boxer).
And among the denizens of Witney Scrotum, there is a greate emphasis upon the amatory intentions of Miss Roebuck of the dog biscuit shop towards Somerset medium pace bowler, Colin Dredge.
I saw the book one Saturday afternoon in London, having travelled down to attend the bi-monthly Westminster ComicsMart and see some of my friends in fandom. I bought it of course, read it on the train back to Manchester, thoroughly enjoyed it.
But my immediate reaction was unease at yet another Brigadier book, turned out so soon after the last one. Even then, I was dismayed somewhat at the speed with which this part of the canon was expanding. It made it feel as if what Tinniswood was writing was too easy. I don’t know the level of effort that actually went into writing these books: the free-wheeling flow from one idea to another was, in all likelihood, nothing like as easy to attain as it was to write.
But the point was that the profusion, allied to that sense of anarchy as to the Brigadier’s thought-processes which made every tale so wholly unpredictable, made the works feel as if they were easy, first draft work that just came naturally.
I liked The Brigadier in Season, laughed at it then, laugh at it now. But I wanted something more from Tinniswood. Something of more substance.
The jackets of these last three books had each indicated that Tinniswood was writing another Brandon family novel. Thankfully, that would come next.