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SHERLOCK HOLMES . . . Personation, pastiche and parody

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Soon after his first short story appearance in 1891, Sherlock Holmes became a phenomenon.   The first parodies, by JM Barrie and Robert Barr (friends of Arthur Conan Doyle), were published within months, and dozens of light-hearted short parodies and pastiches continued to appear regularly in magazines for the next twenty years or so.

Conan Doyle’s final Holmes story appeared in 1927, and Conan Doyle himself died in 1930.   From about 1940 “new adventures” by Holmesian specialists began to appear, fitfully, in magazines and private printings. More so than earlier pastiches, these tended to keep closely to the fictional world established by Conan Doyle. A selection of these tales was later collected in “The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” (1985), edited by Richard Lancelyn Green.

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Conan Doyle’s copyright
of his works originally lasted for fifty years after the author’s death. These rights were jealously guarded by the Conan Doyle Estate, in the person of Adrian Doyle, the author’s youngest son (above).  So it’s no surprise that he should be involved in the publication of the first authorised Holmes pastiches. These “Exploits of Sherlock Holmes” (1954) comprise twelve cases mentioned but never recorded in the original stories. They were to be written by Doyle and mystery writer John Dickson Carr, but  Carr fell ill after writing (or co-writing) six tales, and the remainder were written by Doyle alone.

Looking at the Exploits, it’s clear that the stories plotted by Carr are extremely imaginative.  Carr was the master of the locked room mystery and he re-used ideas from his earlier writings here. The six stories by Adrian Doyle are closer to the language of the original Holmes stories. However, they are also closer in plot; each of the tales has taken its main story line from one of the Holmes adventures written by Conan Doyle.   That said, it remains an enjoyable collection. Both men realised that the strength of the Holmes legacy lay in the short stories, which were generally superior to the novels.

The next pastiches were the by-product of two Sherlock Holmes films.

Ellery-Queen-Sherlock-Holmes-Versus-Jack-TheThe first, Sherlock Holmes versus Jack the Ripper, by ‘Ellery Queen’ was published in 1967. This was a novelisation of the screenplay of  ‘A Study in Terror’, co-produced by Sir Nigel Films Limited, a company formed by the Estate to exploit Conan Doyle’s works on screen.   The book added a framing story wherein Ellery Queen reads a manuscript (written by Dr Watson) which sets out the action shown in the film. Queen then applies his own detective skills to ascertain whether Holmes correctly identified the Ripper.  The Ripper section of the book was the work of pulp writer Paul Fairman, and the Ellery Queen part by presumably ‘Ellery Queen’ himself.  An early line of Dr Watson’s narrative reads:

“It was a crisp morning in the fall of the year 1888″:

A warning for American writers attempting this sort of thing.

Next, in 1970, came The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, a novelisation (by Michael and Mollie Hardwick) of the screenplay of Billy Wilder’s film of the same name. Again, produced in association with Sir Nigel Films.   Wilder called the screenplay respectful but not reverential. The film was much cut by the studio before its release, and the resulting story is unwieldy and at times near parody. All this is reflected in the book.  Still, some say it captures the Holmesian atmosphere reasonably faithfully.

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The early 1970s
saw a growing interest in Victorian/Edwardian detective fiction, and with Sherlock Holmes in particular. The Estate was aware that its copyrights would expire at the end of 1980, and authorised a number of Holmes pastiches (for which they took a share of the sale proceeds).

The first was Nicholas Meyer’s The Seven Percent Solution (1974).    A contemporary review states:-

Seven_Percent_Solution_first_edition_US“The story is couched as an alternative explanation for the period between Holmes’s  supposed death at the hands of Moriarty (‘The Final Problem’) and his resurrection (‘The Empty House’). The hiatus which began with Holmes drying out extends into a case involving a pasha, a baron and a red headed temptress, during which Holmes instructs Freud in the mechanics of detection and gives some advice about the meaning of dreams.”

This highly successful novel is influential for two reasons.   It’s the first story to mix Sherlock Holmes with  real historical figures – in this case Sigmund Freud in 1890s Vienna – a plot device which has formed the dubious basis of countless tales since;  and it’s the first book  to question the accepted facts of the canon. Nicholas Meyer would develop both these themes in his second Holmes pastiche The West End Horror (1976), set in London’s 1890’s theatreland.

Now the gates had opened. 1977/8 saw the publication of Loren D Estleman’s Sherlock Holmes vs Dracula, Robert Lee Hall’s Exit Sherlock Holmes, and Michael Dibdin’s The Last Sherlock Holmes Story.    The first is a re-telling of a Dracula legend, with Holmes involved in the investigation; the second a Moriarty Lives! tale with elements of science fiction in the conclusion, and the last a return  to the world of Jack the Ripper. These novels can best be described as adventure stories featuring Sherlock Holmes, rather than Sherlock Holmes stories.   None of them were bestsellers, but they have all been reprinted over the years and have in turn inspired many more variations on these themes.

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A few years earlier
, another promising seam was opened with the publication of The Return of Moriarty by John Gardner; the first of what now seems an never-ending series of books by various hacks featuring subsidiary characters from the canon.

Finally, to top off the decade’s continuing fascination with all things Holmesian, 1979 saw the release of the film Murder by Decree  – a grafting of Sherlock Holmes onto Steven Knight’s then popular Freemasonry/Ripper theories. A novelisation of the screenplay duly followed.

Now seems a convenient place to stop. By December 1980 when the Doyle copyrights initially expired (they were extended to 2000 a few years later) almost all the elements of the present day copyright-free Sherlock Holmes industry were in place. For good or ill, all had been authorised by the Conan Doyle Estate.

From now on, almost all the pastiches were in the form of novels (short stories required too much work, and didn’t sell).

This presented a problem. The original Holmes novels are structurally flawed; the author cannot present a very intelligent central character with a case to solve, and then have that character take two hundred pages to solve it without making him look slow or obtuse.  Sub-plots, or  a back story,  must be introduced to fill the pages.   This is why the genius of Holmes (and Doyle) is best seen in the short stories.

Conan Doyle only once solved this conundrum – with The Hound of the Baskervilles – the pasticheurs never have.

WHITETHROAT . . . Between the covers

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There are locations for British crime novels that fit certain moods. You can have rural idylls which are shattered by evil deeds – the Cotswolds, the Yorkshire Dales and the majestic Scottish Highlands all fit that bill. Then you have the criminals hiding behind the bright lights of cities like London, Glasgow, and Manchester. James Henry has chosen a rather more understated milieu for his Nick Lowry police novels – Essex, and in particular, the garrison town of Colchester.

9781529401134Essex has become something of a trigger word in recent years, conjuring up images such as lavish mansions owned by London gangsters and dumb bottle-blondes with their perma-tanned, medallioned boyfriends. James Henry, however, takes us back forty years to the 1980s. DI Nick Lowry and his boss, Chief Superintendent Sparks, inhabit a police HQ which leaks, has rotten floorboards, and is maybe only months away from the demolishers’ wrecking ball. Sparks contemplates his desk:

“He studied the wooden surface of his desk. Countless semicircles, rings from years of mugs, cups, scotch glasses, placed carelessly and staining the untreated grain. The there were more pronounced wounds and scars: cigarette burns, knife scores, unusual marks – traces of events only the man behind the desk could read.”

Since Roman times, the history of Colchester has been inextricably intertwined with that of soldiering, and it is the death of a young ‘squaddie’ (an unranked private soldier) that Lowry investigates. Improbably, it seems that the dead man was shot in a Victorian-style duel, complete with gentlemanly observance and the presence of Seconds. With the help of his friend Captain James Oldham, of the Military Police, Lowry discovers that the two men had been fighting over a woman. But who was the other duellist, and who was the woman?

The plot goes this way and that, but this is a book that is always about the quality of the prose. Lowry has a young subordinate called Kenton, who has been on leave since being traumatised by the death of a young girl. Kenton is clever, well-educated, but enjoys his stimulants. In pursuit of the more legal kind, he observes pub life:

“..it was different being here as a punter. You saw the place through different eyes; peaceful and inviting and shabbily familiar. Flaking paintwork, worn hardwood surfaces, the yellow, cracked ceiling; a naked aging structure smoothed by the warmth of alcohol and density of cigarette smoke.”

And again:

“The first to arrive were the regulars. Men in their sixties. One, Wilf, was already in situ, perched quietly at a corner table, steadfastly drinking IPA. He would sut there until last orders, then leave as silently as he had arrived. Around midday, the bohemian set – ‘intellectual dossers’, Sparks called them – would drift in. Young men clutching tatty paperbacks. Sucking the end of biros and staring pensively into the middle distance.”

Like most self-respecting fictional police detectives, Lowry’s personal life is something of a wasteland. He is divorced, and his wife has poisoned their son against him. He feels that the years are taking their toll on him, but he remains compassionate:

“Lowry moved to place his arm across Sparks’s shoulders, but instead grasped the nearest arm, squeezed the firm bicep and bowed his head. He was winded by a surge of sympathy, revealing an attachment to the older man that seldom surfaced. Even now – more and more, in fact, the older he became – life caught Lowry out, introducing unsolicited emotions and concerns, age bringing with it a new sort of awareness.”

HenryThe plot is the least important part of this fine novel, but it unfolds gradually. The woman whose favours are being fought over by the duellists is not a woman at all, but a fifteen year-old schoolgirl, the daughter of a local businessman. He, in turn, has unfinished business with a local enrepreneur, and business that dates back to a racial attack three decades earlier. We are in a world of simmering resentment born out of old slights, and the result? The proverbial dish that is best served cold.

Whitethroat is bleak, downbeat and mesmerising; a subtle, compassionate and beautifully written novel that is something of an elegy to a way of policing – and living – that is gone for ever. James Henry (above right), as James Gurbutt, has also written prequels to RD Wingfield’s Jack Frost series. Whitethroat is published by Riverrun and will be out in hardback on 9th July. The two previous Nick Lowry novels are pictured below.

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THE FIVE LITTLE MARTYRS . . . Part two

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The story so far. “SCHOOLBOY GANGSTERS ROUNDED UP!”  screamed the local papers. According to Dr Meacock, who chaired the Special Children’s Court, the boys,

“constituted a centre of vice in the town,and they must be dealt with drastically.”

John Bull

Those of you who follow my posts will remember that Dr Meacock was at the very heart of the controversy surrounding the life and death of Dr Horace Dimock, twenty years earlier, an unfortunate situation which resulted in the infamous riots. So, who were these five desperadoes, and what were the Industrial Schools to which they were to be packed off, until they reached the age of 16?

Firstly the names of the boys. I received this information from the County Record Office. I imagine they are all now deceased, but at the time their names would not have been available in the press, for legal reasons. They were:

Horace Stephen Freear, age 7
Frederick Hunt, age 8
Stanley Johnson, age 9
Harry Rivett, age 10
Harry Worth, age 10

Their sentence? To spend the years in an Industrial School, until they reached the age of 16. For Worth and Rivett – a 6 year sentence; for Johnson, 7 years; Hunt would serve 8 years, and Freear a staggering 9 years.

The words ‘Industrial School’ have a vaguely worthy ring to them. There’s a suggestion that they were places where youngsters could learn a trade, benefit from a healthy lifestyle, and be taught the errors of whatever ways had led them to become inmates. Older readers will remember the words ‘Reform School’ and ‘Borstal’. These days we skip around the  truth with phrases like ‘Young Offenders Institution’, but the fact remains that Industrial schools were usually grim places which probably served as training grounds for future lawbreakers. The industrial schools were invariably grim and forbidding places but it doesn’t seem that one existed in Cambridgeshire, with the nearest one being in Suffolk.

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To their eternal credit, there were those in Wisbech who thought the sentence handed down to these boys was excessive. To use modern parlance, they may well have been “thieving little scrotes”, but even so, this was a draconian sentence, even by the standards of 1933. Spearheaded by a Baptist minister, the Reverend R N Armitage (pictured below), a fund was started to appeal the boys’ sentence.

Armitage

Then, the big guns turned on Dr Meacock and the other people alongside him who actually were magistrates. It seems that Meacock had no business being in that court, and with the benefit of hindsight, it seems that the infamous Old Pals’ Act was alive and well in Wisbech. The popular national periodical, John Bull, said its piece. After repeating the findings of the magistrates, the journal then let rip.

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Martyrs clippingThe case of the Five Little Martyrs is not simply one of a wrong being righted. It has a curiously modern feel to it, with its far-reaching echoes of relatively minor misdeeds being met by extravagant punishment. The boys were clearly beyond parental control. and their group had a velocity and dynamic all of its own. Yes, the hauls from their thieving – ten bob, some pig serum, cycle lamps and a packet of Aspros (remember them?) seem comical.

However, you only need to follow local Facebook groups nowadays to read accounts of similar misdemeanours, on the same streets as the Infamous Five frequented, to read violently worded responses from people who feel that ‘feral youths‘   (a term not yet invented in 1933) are making their lives a misery. The people who ran Wisbech in 1933 – in particular Dr Meacock – don’t emerge from this saga with any honour. Sadly, some things never change.

I write as someone who lives in Wisbech, and I can tell you that in 2020, eighty seven years on from the events I describe in this feature, modern day versions of Dr Meacock are alive and well, still with theirhands on the tiller.

So, what became of The Five Little Martyrs? The records tell us that a Horace Stephen Freear died in 1978, and that a Frederick Hunt died in 1971. Of the others, no-one knows what they did with their lives after they, briefly, became national figures.

THE FIVE LITTLE MARTYRS . . . Part one

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It is the Autumn of 1933. The summer had seen the cinema release of The Private Lives of Henry VIII featuring Charles Laughton, and an out-of-favour politician called Winston Churchill had made a speech warning of the dangers of German re-armament. In Wisbech – an unremarkable town in Cambridgeshire’s Fen country – a criminal case was the headline in the Wisbech Standard. The repercussions of this vaguely comical affair would later bring Wisbech into national focus.

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Let the report in the Wisbech Standard tell the tale of these ruthless gangsters and their reign of terror which had the honest Fenland folk cowering in their beds and in fear of their lives.

“For five hours Dr H. C. Meacock (in the chair) and other magistrates sat, on Tuesday, at a special Wisbech Children’s Court listening to the evidence in an amazing series of thefts extending over two months, committed by a gang of young Wisbech schoolboys, five of whom were eventually ordered to be sent to an industrial school.”

Those who read – in an earlier Fully Booked True Crime feature – the sad tale of Horace Dimock, and the tragic events in Wisbech some twenty years earlier, may recall the name of Dr Meacock. It could be said that he had ‘previous’. Wasn’t he the man who, twenty years earlier, was most prominent in the sad case of Dr Dimock and The Wisbech Riots? He was, the very same. One of his fellow magistrates was a certain Mr Savory, seen here on the right of the good doctor.

Meacock Savory

So, what was the nature of the criminal career of these five lads? Were they emulating the deeds of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker who were in the middle of their legendary crime spree a few thousand miles across the Atlantic? The crimes of The Wisbech Five were rather more mundane:

The defendants were first charged with stealing a purse containing a ten shilling note and 2s 6d in silver from the dwelling house of Annie Ward, at Wisbech, on September 5th.

Annie Ward, of Little Church Street, Wisbech, stated that she left her house at 11.55 am to go to a nearby baker’s establishment. When she returned five minutes later she found her purse missing from the mantelpiece.

Inspector Bush gave evidence of the enquiries he pursued after being informed of the loss, and read statements which he said were made by the defendants when he interviewed them.

The next charge was one of stealing a box of ante-serum for pigs and 5s worth of groceries, the property of Bert Clifton at Wisbech on September 1st.

Bert Clifton, a farmer, of Gedney, said that about 8 o’clock he left his motor car against the Canal railings near the Empire Theatre. In the car were some drums of ante-serum, which he valued at 22s 8d, and 5s worth of groceries. He was away from his car between 8pm and 10.45pm, and on leaving the Theatre he went direct to the car and did not miss the goods until he reached home.

Inspector Bush stated that on September 11th and on subsequent dates he interviewed defendants, one of whom he said took the groceries out of the car and handed them to another of the defendants, who threw them into the canal. Witness added that one of defendants’ parents had rendered every assistance in trying to retrieve the goods from the canal (pictured below)

Canal

All the defendants pleaded guilty except one, whose father said that he was in the house at the time of the alleged crime.

The same boys were then charged with stealing a rib of beef and a carton of cream belonging to Susannah Winters, at Wisbech on the same date.

Susannah Winters said that she left her cycle in Clare’s Passage at about 6-40pm. On the handlebars was a basket containing a joint of meat worth 2s 3d, and a carton of cream, which had disappeared when she returned to her cycle at 6.55. Inspector Bush spoke of interviewing defendants, one of whom said that one of the others took the meat home and had it cooked. This was denied by the parent. Mr A R Bennett, headmaster of the Queen’s School and Mr A V Thompson, headmaster of St Peter’s School were present when witness interviewed defendants.

Five of the boys were then charged with stealing cycle lamps at Wisbech on September 8th and 9th, the property of William Callaby, James John Harrop, Kate Rose, and another. Inspector Bush gave evidence in each case.

A charge of stealing two purses and 9d in money, the property of Ivy Irene Hurst, and another, at Wisbech on September 9th was brought against four of the boys. Ivy Irene Hurst said that she went to the Swimming Bath on the date in question, with a friend. After she had left the water, and dressed, she took her shopping bag, which contained her own handbag, inside which was her friends purse, and placed it in her friend’s cubicle. A few minutes later they both went back to the cubicle and found that the purses had been taken from the bag. Witness valued the handbag at 7s 6d. Jean Parlett corroborated the previous witness’s evidence. Inspector Bush said he interviewed defendants, who admitted being there.

Another summons was for stealing half a pound of butter, a box of Aspro tablets and two cycle spanners, at Wisbech on September 9th. Dolly Mary Willimott Barber stated that she left her cycle outside 6, The Crescent at about 6-15pm. On returning at 6-40pm, she found the articles were missing. In his evidence, Inspector Bush said he saw the defendants on September 10th, and one said that they had all shared “the white sweets, which did not taste nice.”

Five of the boys were also charged with stealing a leather handbag containing 2s 7d in money, certain photographs, and one NP match-box, the property of Ivy may Hurst, at Wisbech, on September 1st. Ivy Hurst, of Broad Drove, South Brink, Wisbech, said that at about 9-15am she left her perambulator, in which was her handbag containing the articles, outside Dr Gunson’s House. She visited Dr Gunson’s surgery at 10-10, and when she came out at 11 o’clock the handbag was not there.

Inspector Bush said that when he interviewed defendants one of them said that a boy took the bag out of the perambulator and hid it under some stones near St Peter’s School. All the boys admitted they were there when the theft was committed.

Two of the boys were finally charged with stealing 2s in silver and 4d in copper, the monies of Barbara Joyce Bush, at Wisbech, on September 9th. Barbara Joyce Bush, of the Police Station, Harecroft Road, Wisbech, stated that she left her cycle outside Peark’s shop. On the handlebars was a basket, in which was a small bag containing the money. She was only in the shop about three minutes, but when she came out her bag was missing. Inspector Bush spoke of the previous witness reporting her loss to him, and the subsequent enquiries he made. One of the defendants admitted taking the money and sharing it one of the other boys. They bought some sweets with some of the money.

This hearing took place at Sessions House, a familiar Wisbech landmark.

Sessions House

IN PART TWO
(live on Friday 26th June)

The summing up and sentencing …
The horrors of the Industrial Schools…
The town – and the nation – responds …
The five boys named for the first time ….
The ‘judge’ who had no business being in the court

THE STRANGE DEATH OF HORACE DIMOCK . . . part two

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The Great and the Good (minus one or two of the medical fraternity from Wisbech) gathered to pay their last respects to Horace Dimock, in his home village of Stretham. There had been a kind of ‘lying in state’ in the family home, before the mourners assembled at the church, ready to make the procession up the hill to the village cemetery. A beautiful old funeral bier still exists inside the village church, and may well be the one which carried Horace Dimock’s body on its final journey.

Bier

The newspaper commented thus:

Many of the mourners came the other side of the Isle, where, week after week, Dr. Dimock had served his patients faithfully and well. The mourners assembled outside the family residence in Red Lion Street, where the young doctor lay dead, and few of them were allowed look upon his face for the last time. Dr. Dimock, in a will made prior to one of his sea voyages taken for the benefit of his health, expressed a wish that flowers should be sent by the family in the event his death, and this wish was respected on the present occasion. Floral tributes, however, came from elsewhere, chiefly from Wisbech—and the inscriptions on them showed the high regard which the doctor was held by those amongst whom he had laboured. One wreath bore the following inscription, which fairly represented the feelings of Wisbech: “In loving sympathy, for one who worried the few, but loved the many.”

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The report continued:

It was expected that the funeral of the late Dr. Horace Dimock would be largely attended, but the villagers of Stretham were scarcely prepared for the crowds that trooped into their midst on Friday. One of the oldest inhabitants, in conversation with our representative, looked upon the attendance at the funeral as a fine tribute to the popularity of Dr. Dimock, and said he had not seen anything like it in the village before.”

The mourners were met at the churchyard gate by the Rev. S. Stuart Stitt and the choir, one of whom acted as cross-bearer. The surpliced churchmen led the mourners into the sacred edifice, and the coffin, covered with beautiful wreaths, was taken thither on a wheeled bier, which was placed near the entrance the sanctuary. The service was conducted by the Rector. The choir sang“On the Resurrection Morning.” and Now The Labourer’s Task Is O’er. You can listen to the tune of this lovely old Victorian hymn by clicking the media player below.

Hymn

WreathsThe floral tributes included the following:

“In deepest sympathy and loving memory of The People’s Doctor, from members of the Wisbech Working Men’s Liberal Association.”

“With deepest sympathy, from the residents of Gorefield and Leverington; With united, sincere, and deepest sympathy, from the staff and employees of the G.E.R., Wisbech.”

“With deepest sympathy, from the parishioners of Elm— “Greater love hath no man than that he laid down his life for others”

‘With deepest sympathy, from the Rev. and Mrs. S. Stitt; For Dr. Horace, with love, from Hilda: With deepest sympathy for our late beloved doctor from the M. and G. Joint Staff, Wisbech—”Gone but not forgotten.”

The newspaper account concluded:

“The cinematograph was at work during the afternoon, and one photographer more bold than the others of his fraternity, erected his apparatus on top of a churchyard monument. The interment took place in the cemetery after the first part the service had been held in the parish church. The proceedings were orderly, with the exception that one Wisbech man gave vent to some strong language, which had reference to the way which Dr. Dimock had been treated. The police, of whom two were in plain clothes, had an easy task to perform, as compared with what might have happened under certain circumstances.”

Postcard 3A century or more later, what do we make of the affair? What happened to the participants who survived? Reading contemporary accounts, it is difficult to believe that Horace Dimock was a totally innocent party. It would have been perfectly possible for him to have won the hearts of his patients, many of them from the poorer side of society, at the same time as conducting a hate campaign against those fellow professionals against whom he bore a grudge. The less lurid of the postcards allegedly sent by Dr Dimock were reproduced in the press, along with detailed evidence by so-called handwriting experts.

The ordinary people of Wisbech were not sitting on the fence, however: to them, Dimock was a victim of a vile conspiracy, and a modern martyr. It must also be remembered that this was not a period in British history marked by many episodes of popular unrest. This was still the Golden Age of the British Empire, and despite his death three years earlier, the benign spirit of Edward VII still hovered over his subjects. Within twelve months of Dimock’s suicide, Europe would be torn asunder by a terrible war which would lay waste to a generation of young men.

What of Dimock’s fellow Wisbech doctors? Dr Meacock, who was the most vociferous of Dimock’s detractors, was to make the headlines again, some twenty years later, but this time in his capacity as a magistrate. Dr Gunson went on to serve with distinction in The Great War. He survived to return to general practice, and is remembered in a street sign near his former home, which was one of the targets of the Wisbech mob in the dark November days of 1913.

Ghost Passage

And now, in 2020? The Dimock home in Stretham has long since been demolished. Horace Dimock’s grave lies next to that of his father, who had died three years earlier. His father’s tombstone is still clear, but the inscription beneath Horace’s cross is barely readable. It is only by comparing the original funeral photographs with modern images that we can be certain of Horace’s last resting place.

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THE STRANGE DEATH OF HORACE DIMOCK . . . part one

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It all started with the National Insurance Act of 1911. For the first time people paid
into a scheme which gave them some protection against sickness and unemployment. It was the beginning of the Welfare State. Among doctors a
sequence of events was set in train. In Wisbech, an unassuming town in the Cambridgeshire Fens, it would end with tragedy and riot. Before 1911 there were private GPs who gravitated towards wealthier areas. The 1911 Act provided insurance cover for about 12 million workers earning less than £160 a year and included the free services of a GP. The individual became a ‘panel patient’. The difficulty lay in finding a private doctor prepared to work at panel wage rates.


Postcard 3In Wisbech this was a problem
because no doctor would do it. A new doctor, Dr
Horace Dimock, was drafted in to help clear the case-load. Though the poor of
Wisbech took him very much to their hearts, his arrival created hostility among the
other doctors. Dimock was a local man from the village of Stretham, but the local
private doctors, fearing a cut in their incomes, turned their backs on the Government’s health reforms.
In October 1913, Dr Dimock’s already difficult relationship with other doctors became impossible. These other doctors were receiving malicious postcards and anonymous letters supporting the wonderful work of Dr Dimock and criticising them. One of the doctors receiving the hate mail, Dr Meacock, informed the police and Dr Dimock was arrested. He was taken before local magistrates and was remanded on bail. Dr Dimock appealed to the Medical Defence Society but discovered they were already acting for the other doctors. Dr Dimock returned tired and distressed to his home village, Stretham. The next morning he was found dead. He had taken an overdose.

 

On 30 October 1913, the news broke in Wisbech of the death of Dr Dimock. A crowd gathered and rushed to Dr Meacock’s town house by the river and stoned the windows. The local police called for reinforcements but the situation got out of control. Eventually the Mayor of Wisbech read the Riot Act and the police went in with their truncheons.

This is how the riot unfolded, according to one newspaper.

“There was tremendous excitement and grief when the news reached Wisbech. On Thursday evening, October 30th – two days after Dr. Dimock’s death – four or five thousand people attended a meeting in the Market Place. The meeting was orderly enough, although the speaker declared that Dr. Dimock had been “persecuted from the day he came to Wisbech”. Tributes were paid to his services “especially to the poor”, and the crowd, standing with heads bare and bowed, passed a resolution of sympathy with his relatives and then sang “O God our help in ages past”. But, said a reporter “apparently an undercurrent was at work”.

“Hundreds of people went & stood in front of Dr. Meacock’s house on the North Brink. There were cheers for Dr. Dimock and loud boos for Dr. Meacock. Then stones were thrown, and several windows were smashed before the rush from the police broke the crowd up. But they crossed the bridge over the river and reassembled again in front of Dr. Gunson’s house in the Crescent where,  booing and hooting, they smashed all the windows. The police charged again and drove them away – only for them to return to Dr. Meacock’s house.”

 
This is the obituary from the British Medical Journal, for the unfortunate young doctor.
Obit

Before we continue with the saga of the Riots, it should be mentioned that the new welfare measures were a national issue not confined to the Fens. The Riots were widely reported in newspapers up and down the land, and the matter of doctors’ panels in the town had been raised in Parliament earlier in 1913. This is the report from Hansard, and if at least one of the names seems familiar, he was Captain William Benn, MP for Tower Hamlets and Junior Lord of The Treasury. He went on to serve with distinction in The Great War and was, of course, the father of the late Tony Benn.

WISBECH MEDICALPANEL

HoraceSo, the people’s favourite, Dr Horace Dimock (right), was dead by his own hand, as a result of persecution form his fellow medical men in Wisbech. Was it as simple as that? Had the other doctors received hate mail? Did Horace Dimock have ‘previous’? Here is another side of the story, widely reported in the press, up and down the land. Was Dimock a victim of a concerted plot organised by the establishment, or was he a foolish man with a hatred for anyone who dared to disagree with him?

“As soon as he (Dr. Dimock) came to Wisbech, anonymous postcards of all degrees of scurrility and obscenity were sent the secretary of the hospital, to the doctors, and to various lay members the community. These postcards in (hand) printed characters, not script, were found to resemble most closely those used some nine years before in a number of scurrilous documents that were sent to a medical student at St. Thomas’s Hospital (London)who was living in the same lodgings also occupied by Dimock. A writing expert considers that the St. Thomas’s Hospital documents and the Wisbech documents were, undoubtedly written in the same hand, and anyone who examines the two sets of documents must agree with this. These documents were sent in such a fashion that the wives of the Wisbech doctors saw them. The police, then taking the matter in hand, saw Dr. Dimock post documents at certain pillar-boxes, which were kept under careful observation until the officials of the Post Office could open them. In both cases postcards or similar documents were found near the top, addressed to Wisbech doctors, in the suspected writing, and of a libellous nature.”

But then on the other hand, one of Dr. Dimock’s admirers spoke up in his defence.

“Who are the authors of the anonymous and libellous letters and postcards written to the late Dr. Dimock, which he received from the first day he began to work in the town ? Why have colleagues called him “blackleg”, boycotted and ignored him? Who repeatedly pulled down and defaced his brass plate, and were they acting for others? Who threw the gate to his back garden off its hinges, and who smashed his windows? Who repeatedly called him the telephone at night to attend to distant cases which not exist? and What evidence have the police regarding the secret persecutors of the doctor, which, it is hoped, may lead to an arrest?”

Not to be outdone, Dr Meacock was not slow to reply in the press.

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Sadly for our modern tastes, the salacious postcards allegedly sent by Dr. Dimock were not revealed in their full glory in Meacock’s letter, as newspaper readers of the time were expected to use their imagination much more than we are today. It was also evident, according the outraged Meacock, that Dimock was something of an amateur artist. Dr Meacock finished his letter regretting that Horace Dimock had died – if only because that sad fact had prevented justice from being done, and seen to done.

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Meanwhile, the public disturbances had continued, not without a few moments of unintentional humour.

“Since an early hour this evening a mob has been parading the streets and demonstrating alternately before the residences of Dr. Meacock and Dr. Gunson. At nine o’clock a double police cordon was drawn across the bridge which gives access to the street front of Dr. Meacock’s house, and the crowd, which must have numbered about 1,500 strong, concentrated upon Dr. Gunson’s in the Crescent .The Police who barred the way were subjected to a fusillade of squibs and detonators, the explosion of which, though harmless, sounded remarkably like revolver shots. An arrest in Bridge-street before ten created some disturbance, and three or four stones were thrown at Dr. Gunson’s windows, one or which was broken. About ten o’clock night there was a recrudescence of the rioting in the neighbourhood of the Market-square. A crowd numbering several hundred invaded Market-street, and in a few moments had broken every window in the surgery.”

Further rioting took place on Saturday night. The streets were crowded with people, but there was no trouble until nearly ten o’clock. Then the people formed into mobs, and powerful explosives were discharged. Several of these exploded perilously near the faces of some of the police on duty. One bomb was so strong that it smashed the window in a jeweller’s shop. That was the only damage to property during the evening, the crowd seeming to be more anxious to attack the police than damage the property of residents. This was probably due to the fact that the police had been too vigorous in  their handling of the crowd on the previous evenings. From ten o’clock until two this morning there were continuous conflicts between the police and civilians in various parts of the town, and the mob was really more riotous than it had been on any previous occasion. The rioters attempted to rush the cordon of police guarding the approach to Dr. Meacock’s house, but the constables used their batons, and the crowd was repulsed, several men and women being knocked down and others receiving hard blows from the batons. A number of police were struck in return.”

The worst disturbance took place about 11.30 in the market-place. About 2000 people were assembled, and a rowdy element commenced throwing explosives and empty bottles at the officers. Three or four of the bottles struck policemen, inflicting nasty cuts their faces. Then the police drew their batons and charged into the crowd. They hit hard, and several of them were struck heavily in return. One aged man was hit on the head with such force that he sustained a bad wound, and was treated by doctor. The man alleges that he was standing at the top of the passage where he lives and was struck without any provocation whatever. Another man received a blow in the mouth and some of his teeth were knocked out. Order was restored in the market-place about one o’clock, but when the police attempted to clear the streets there was a renewal of the disorder. Blows were freely struck, and there were instances of of stand-up fights between civilians, while police constables on duty in the outskirts of the town were attacked at several points by villagers returning home. It was not until two o’clock this morning that order was restored.

One former Constable clearly was a gamekeeper turned poacher.

“There was a sequel to the recent disturbances yesterday at a local police court, when Ernest Langford, an ex-policeman, pleaded guilty of having assaulted the police, and was fined 20s. Constable Wallace said that on Saturday night the police had just cleared the demonstrators from the Bridge, when Langford rushed across and hit the witness on the head with a stick. The blow knocked off his helmet plate and also the chain. The defendant ran away, but fell down, and was stopped by another constable. He was rescued, however, by the crowd and got away. The Defendant expressed regret, and stated that he had been a police officer, and was discharged from the force with a good character.”

PART TWO – DIMOCK’S FUNERAL and AFTERMATH
will follow on Saturday 20th June

WARRIORS FOR THE WORKING DAY . . . Between the covers (click for full page)

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Shakespeare’s words have an uncanny relevance to this novel. First published by Jonathan Cape in 1960, it is the story of another “band of brothers” who, like Henry V’s army six centuries earlier, were fighting in the fields of France. This time, the “happy few” are the crew of a British tank, fighting their way inland from the beaches of Normandy.

Elstob

Like most of the other novels in this excellent Imperial War Museum series of republications (see the end of this review) Warriors For The Working Day is semi-autobiographical. Peter Elstob (left) was a tank commander as part of the 11th Armoured Division. His own service closely mirrors that of Michael Brook, the central character in the novel.


Elstob
vividly captures the intense claustrophobia of being part of a tank crew, and the awareness that they were sitting inside a potential bomb:

“Uncertainty and a preoccupation with defence ran through the troop like a shiver and reminded them that they were imprisoned in large, slow moving steel boxes full of explosive and gallons of readily inflammable petrol.”

Brook and his comrades are fighting an enemy who is frequently invisible and most probably using a better machine than theirs. An understanding the technology of tank warfare in 1944 is crucial to getting closer to the mindset of the men in the novel.

 

For the greater part of the book, Brook and his crew are in a Sherman tank. These were American, produced in vast numbers, and relatively easy to repair and maintain. The main danger came from the 8.8cm Flak artillery piece, originally designed as an anti-aircraft weapon, but utterly lethal when used as an anti-tank gun, particularly when firing armour-piercing rounds, which would cut into a Sherman like a knife through butter. The enemy tanks – Panzers – would have included the formidable Tiger, with its hugely superior firepower and armour plate. Luckily for the Allies, the German tanks were fewer in number and probably over-engineered, making repairs in the field very difficult.

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The relentless movement
of the narrative follows the tanks as they break out of Normandy and head north-east towards the old battle grounds of the Great War, through the debacle of Operation Market Garden and then, in the depths of winter, to face what was Hitler’s last throw of the dice in what became known as The Battle of The Bulge. The final episode of the saga sees Brook and his weary colleagues crossing The Rhine and fighting the Germans on their own soil.


Along the way
, Brook gains new friends but loses old ones, while learning something about the nature of battle fatigue:

“Most of them were unaware that anything much was wrong with them, for they were uncomplicated men not given to introspection. They knew they were frightened, but they knew that everyone else was frightened too, and had come to realise that wars are fought by a few frightened men facing each other – the sharp end of the sword …’

 

Violent death is ubiquitous and frequent, but has to be dealt with:

“‘I’ve just been talking to the Q – Tim Cadey’s dead.’
He told them because he had to tell them. They said the conventional things for a minute or two and then changed the subject. It was not the time to recall the small details of Tim Cadey, or ‘Tich’ Wilson, his driver, or Owen and his singing. It was best to try and forget them all immediately.”


In their progress into Germany
, Brook and his crew pass a mysterious wired enclosure surrounded by tall watchtowers:

‘They certainly don’t intend to let their prisoners escape,’ said Bentley. ‘What’s the name of this place, Brookie?’
Brook reached for the map on top of the wireless and found their route. ‘That village the Tiger was in front of was called Walle … and the town up ahead is Bergen, so this must be …Belsen. Yes, that’s right, it’s called Belsen.’

‘Never ‘eard of it, ‘ said Geordie, jokingly. ‘But I wouldn’t want to live ‘ere.'”


Warriors For The Working Day
is a deeply compassionate and moving account of men at war, simply told, but without bitterness or rancour; it is the work of a man who was there, and knew the tears, the laughter, the bravery – and the human frailty.

 

Brook journey


To read my reviews of other books in this series, click on the image below.
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OFF SCRIPT . . . Between the covers

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It’s just as well that I don’t work in publishing, because I have no nose whatsoever for what makes an author popular. Some of my very favourite writers clearly have their audiences, but never have their names “up in lights’. One such is Graham Hurley. He created one of the truly original fictional coppers – Joe Faraday – and then killed him off. Poor Joe didn’t survive his Reichenbach Falls moment but subsequently, Hurley gave us a quartet of beautifully crafted novels featuring Faraday’s young sergeant, Jimmy Suttle.

Hurley’s latest creation is not a police officer. She is an actress, Enora Andresson, who doesn’t even solve crimes as an amateur, but her circle of acquaintances and personal circumstances lead her into dangerous situations. The first two books in the series are pictured below,and clicking the images will take you to a detailed review of each.

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Now we have a new Enora Andresson novel, Off Script, and it is every bit as cleverly written and perceptive as Graham Hurley fans have come to expect. For newcomers, here is a quick precis of Enora’s world.

She is a distinguished and much-admired actress, having appeared in many stage productions and is best known for her roles in what used to be known as art-house films. She lives with a brain tumour which she hopes is now in remission. Her former husband, whose name she retains is, as they say, a ‘nasty-piece-of-work’. She has a rather feckless son, Malo. We learned in Curtain Call that his father is a gangster-gone-legit, Hayden Prentice. Another significant figure in Enora’s life is a former scriptwriter called Pavel. Once Enora’s lover, he is now blind, and paralysed after a freak accident.

41tNcNbzycL._SX319_BO1,204,203,200_In Off Script, the early focus is on Carrie, one of Pavel’s carers. She has received a terrifying small-hours visit from an apparent psychopath, and when she confesses how much this has disturbed her, Enora sets out to find the strange young man who, after his chilling threats to Carrie, seems to have disappeared into the twilight world of the homeless and uprooted.

Enora’s world is tipped on its head when she discovers a terrible murder:

“She’s sprawled on her side, one knee up, a semi-foetal pose. Her eyes are wide open in the blankness of her face. Naked, she’s lying in a drying pool of what must be her own blood. It’s everywhere, over the sheets, the duvet, the pillows, the wallpaper, everywhere.”

The search intensifies for Carrie’s midnight visitor, and along the way Enora and an investigative journalist take a trip to the Somerset seaside, but it is far from idyllic.

“Mitch has never been to Weston before but what he sees on the way in doesn’t surprise him. Scruffy industrial estates. Boarded up units. Heavy security outside supermarkets. Kids on their bikes pulling wheelies in the middle of the road, eager for their day in court.”

Enora is blindsided by a new man in her life, and makes a terrible mistake. She eventually realises what she has done, and it takes all her skills as an actress to prevent catastrophe. Not the least of Graham Hurley’s wizardry is the bravura way he tells the tale through the eyes of a 39 year-old woman. Enora is utterly convincing, and has become another example of Hurley’s brilliant storytelling.

Off Script is published by Severn House and is out now.

THE POSTMAN DELIVERS . . . Riviera Gold

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I haven’t written one of my The Postman Delivers features for a while – because he hasn’t! I don’t know about other reviewers, but while my Kindle is pretty much bursting at the seams, print copies have been like hens’ teeth since The Great Lockdown began back in March.

But today a real book arrived, reassuringly solid, with a beautifully designed cover and actual pages to turn. The Mary Russell series, written by Laurie R. King, is apparently a big seller in the States, but although this is the sixteenth, the books have passed me by up until today.

It is 1925, and we are in the exotic and sun-soaked French Riviera and amateur detective Mary Russell is teamed up with the man himself, none other than Sherlock Holmes who must be fairly elderly by now!

What the pair get up to is, for now, a mystery, but I have bumped it to the top of my (mostly digital) TBR pile and when I have discovered what is going on, you will be the first to know.

Riviera Gold is published by Allison & Busby, and is out now.

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