To be unfashionable is no crime, especially at a time when fame is so fleeting that it makes Andy Warhol’s fifteen minutes seem like a lifetime. Even if he were still alive and working, the books of Colin Watson would not be found bulk-bought and jostling for space with the latest James Patterson between the party goods and the lottery machine at the local ASDA. Am I being snooty? Almost certainly I am, but I’m also more than happy to wear my love of Watson’s humour, ingenuity and exquisite use of English, as a badge of honour. Watson was, in his day, very well thought of. His Flaxborough novels sold well, and until relatively recently were always well represented on library bookshelves, because local library users were not, by and large, fools.
It would be tempting – but incorrect – to think that Watson would be turning in his grave at some of the writing which is passed off as crime fiction these days. Incorrect because he was a man who, by all accounts, was at peace with himself and with those around him. Another Lincolnshire man, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, imagined his pale Queen Guinevere describing Sir Lancelot:
“For manners are not idle, but the fruit
Of loyal nature, and of noble mind.”
Those words are inscribed on Watson’s tombstone in the village churchyard at Folkingham, where he is buried under a beautiful and ancient chestnut tree. It was a curious reflection on the fickleness of fame that when I first visited Folkingham, the good natured locals who showed me to the headstone had no idea who Watson was, or what he had written. In part two of this feature, I will look in more detail at Watson’s novels, but I am indebted to Stuart Radmore who has researched and prepared this timeline for Colin Watson.