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1960s

RESTLESS COFFINS . . . Between the covers

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This is the final part of MP Wright’s trilogy which began with Heartman in 2014. That, and the middle novel All Through The Night (2016), tell the story of Joseph Tremaine “JT” Ellington, an ex-cop with a tragic past. JT has been forced to leave his native Barbados as a result of his upsetting certain powerful people on the island; his personal fate, however, is nothing compared to that of his wife and daughter who have perished in a fire that was anything but accidental.

TRCEllington, broke and broken-hearted has ended up in 1960s Bristol, where he uses his police training to eke out a living as a private investigator. When he receives the news that his only sister, Bernice, has died in Barbados, he is compelled to return home to wind up her affairs. Hovering in the background, however, is Ellington’s violent criminal cousin Victor, who has reappeared after rumours of his tumbling to his death on the rocky slopes of Bristol’s Clifton Gorge prove to be greatly exaggerated. When Ellington arrives in New York after the first leg of his journey home, he rapidly realises that ‘born-again’ Vic is involved in something much more dangerous – and potentially lethal – than his previous mildly illegal entrepreneurship within the West Indian community in Bristol.

Hooked into a deadly game of guns, drugs, deceit, deaths – and then more deaths – Ellington eventually arrives in Barbados, but only after a sojourn in New Orleans, where the city’s reputation for exotic violence is further enhanced. By now, three coffins have joined the travelling party. Much too honest and trusting for this venture, it eventually dawns on Ellington that these coffins are part of not only a drug deal, but also the means by which the violently despotic Barbados criminal named Monroe – almost certainly the killer of Ellington’s wife and daughter – will be despatched to join his ancestors.

Restless Coffins is strong stuff. There is no shortage of corpses, and endless variety in the ways they are killed. The villains are evil personified and the good guys – with the exception of Ellington himself – are few and far between. Mark Wright certainly takes a position regarding the way black people in the 1960s were treated by the indigenous British population. Although very little of the action in Restless Coffins takes place in England, readers of the previous two books will know that the attitude of white people towards those we now call The Windrush Generation is almost entirely negative. And, reading today’s newspaper, it seems that those problems are far from over.

M.P._Wright_2016_2Wright has made the decision to phonetically transcribe all the dialogue between the main characters in his books. I have to admit that in Heartman it was a source of irritation to me, but such is the pace and vigour of the action in Restless Coffins that it didn’t seem to matter as much this time around. The new ‘crime’ of Cultural Appropriation seems to me to be one of the most pointless, misguided and irrelevant of fashionable 21st century dogmas, so you will hear no complaint from me about a white Englishman writing a novel with an almost entirely black cast, complete with speech patterns, vocabulary and inflections.

The bottom line is that this is a crackerjack novel, full of action, humour, social observation, historical accuracy, brilliant topographical descriptions and the absolute sine qua non of a good book – a central character who is credible and described with subtlety and nuance. If you read this, and don’t care about JT Ellington and what happens to him, then you have a heart of stone and the emotional sensibility of a fruit fly.

Restless Coffins is published by Black and White Publishing and is out now.

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SWITCHED ON: THE STORY OF 1960s TV GAME SHOWS . . . by Peter Bartram

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It’s 7.00pm on a Thursday in September 1964 and a goodly proportion of the British population are settling down in front of their television sets to watch one of the most popular shows of the time.

The programme, Double Your Money, starts with a catchy tune that ends with lyrics – “double your money and try to get rich” – that leave no doubt what the show is about. The credit titles fade and a thin man with a cheesy grin, popping eyes, and a faintly transatlantic accent, steps in front of the cameras.

Hughie Green was one of a group of 1960s TV presenters who made their names as game show hosts. By today’s standards, most of the shows seem corny. In Double Your Money, the contestant would answer a question on the subject of their choice – sport and spelling were two favourites – to win £1. If they got it right, they’d move on to a £2, then £4 question all the way up to £32. If they answered that correctly, some had an opportunity to move on to the “Treasure Trail” where they could win up to £1,000 – equivalent to £18,600 in today’s money.

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Most of these shows turned up on ITV – commercial television started broadcasting in Britain in 1955 – because the publically-funded BBC didn’t think it right to give away licence-payers’ money in cash prizes. The BBC stuck to more cerebral game shows, like University Challenge, which first broadcast in 1962 and was based on a US television show called College Bowl.

One thing is certain, Colin Crampton, crime reporter on the Brighton Evening Chronicle, and his girlfriend Shirley Goldsmith would not have been among the 15 million people tuning into Double Your Money. They were too busy chasing the killers in The Tango School Mystery.

It meant they would also have missed other top game shows of the time, such as Take Your Pick, hosted by Michael Miles, a character with all the on-screen charm of a second-hand car salesman. A car – definitely not second-hand – would sometimes be the star prize on the show.

To get a shot at winning a prize, contestants had to answer three out of four general knowledge questions. They would then pick the key to one of 10 boxes. Seven contained good prizes, such as a TV set or holiday, while three held booby prizes. Before they got to open the box, Miles would try to buy the key back off the contestant in a kind of reverse Dutch auction. Most players resisted and ended up with whatever the box had to offer.

As the 1960s progressed, TV companies sought more and more inventive formulae for their game shows. Criss Cross Quiz was based on the US show Tic Tac Dough. It was presented first by Jeremy Hawk and then by Barbara Kelly. Two contestants played a game of nought and crosses. Each took turns to answer a question to get a nought or a cross in a square. They won £20 for every square they filled or £40 for the centre square. The winner – the first to get three noughts or crosses in a row – became the champion and took on another challenger.

The Golden Shot involved contestants, either at home on the telephone or an isolation booth in the studio, directing a blindfolded cameraman with a crossbow bolted to his camera. The contestant could see the target on the TV screen and directed the cameraman with instructions like “left a bit”, or “down then stop” et until they’d lined up the target and gave the order to fire.

On one occasion, a contestant took part from a telephone box. He was watching the screen on a television in a shop window. Half way through his directions to the cameraman the shop TV was turned off.

But it wasn’t only big-prize game shows that pulled in viewers during the Swinging Sixties. Panel games, such as What’s My Line and Call My Bluff, were popular, especially with older viewers. But other game shows, such as Concentration, Jokers Wild and Password, are long forgotten. Which only goes to prove that even among game shows there were winners and losers.

Peter Bartram’s new Colin Crampton mystery is out now, and a full review of the book will be on here very shortly!

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THE POSTMAN DELIVERS . . . Hall of Mirrors by Christopher Fowler

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Have you ever heard of Chip Taylor? No, me neither until I researched this post. He is still with us, and was born James Wesley Voight in 1940 and, yes, he is the brother of John and uncle to the fragrant Angelina Jolie. His claim to fame? He penned the immortal line (if you’re a fan of The Troggs, that is)

“Wild Thing – you make my heart sing..”

 Some things, wild or otherwise, do make my heart sing. For example, in no particular order, the first heady sip from a glass of the luxury single malt, Lagavulin. Hearing, via Test Match Special, the unique subdued hum of thousands of spectators at Lords. Fishing on my favourite water in the tiny French hamlet of Aizelles, and feeling the line scream off the reel as a fat carp takes my bait. Snuggling in an armchair with my little granddaughter as we watch yet another re-run of a classic Tom and Jerry cartoon. And – this one is special – opening a parcel to reveal a new Bryant & May book by one of my favourite authors – Christopher Fowler.

HOMThe dust jackets of the Bryant & May novels are a work of art in themselves, but between the covers is where the true genius lies. Arthur Bryant and John May are detectives working for the Peculiar Crimes Unit, an imaginary department of London’s Metropolitan Police. Their adventures take them mostly to curious and forgotten corners of London where the past is just below the modern surface. Fowler has many talents as a writer, not least of which is his comedic talent. He is a direct descendant of English humourists such as George and Weedon Grossmith and HV Morton, and the jokes come thick and fast amid the serious business of solving murders or strange crimes.

The new book? It’s called Hall of Mirrors, and takes us back to 1969. Our intrepid pair are sent to Tavistock Hall to investigate dark deeds on a country house weekend. I’ve already started to read the book, so look out for a full review very soon. The publicist, in full alliteration mode, warns us to expect ‘murder, madness and mayhem in the mansion,’ but me? I’m looking forward to meeting the one-armed brigadier, Nigel ‘Fruity’ Metcalf!

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FRONT PAGE MURDER … Between the covers

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PeterIn the latest novel from Peter Bartram (left) his alter ego Colin Crampton, a reporter for the Evening Chronicle in 1960s Brighton, faces his toughest challenge yet. Local artist Archie Flowerdew is due to be hanged on Christmas Eve unless Crampton and his intrepid Australian girlfriend Shirley can stop this affront to Christmas cheer by proving that Flowerdew did not murder a rival artist.

For historical background it is well to remind ourselves that the last people to be executed in England were Peter Anthony Allen and Gwynne Owen Evans. Both were hanged at Walton Prison, Liverpool, on 13th August 1964. The Murder Act of 1965 suspended the death penalty in Great Britain, but not for Northern Ireland.

Back in Brighton, Crampton gets to grips with the Flowerdew case. Flowerdew’s alleged victim was the deeply unpleasant and embittered Percy Despart, a talented but disappointed artist whose main income came from designing that peculiarly English art form – the risqué seaside postcard. Despart’s misanthropic nature had won him many enemies, and he combined his artistic talents with his malevolent nature to put caricatures of these enemies on his best-selling postcards.

FPMPersuaded by the condemned man’s niece, Tammy, Crampton gets to work, and finds no shortage of other Brighton folk who would have clapped their hands in glee upon hearing of Despart’s demise. The plot thickens delightfully, as we encounter a crooked art dealer, a lecherous vicar, a camp artist (complete with velvet trousers) and the usual cast of boozy, chain-smoking searchers-after-truth (or a good headline) on the staff of the Evening Chronicle.

Those of you who have read and enjoyed the two previous Crampton of The Chronicle stories, Headline Murder and Stop Press Murder, will be familiar with Bartram’s style. The jokes come thick and fast. Most of them work, and although some don’t, Bartram keeps up a rapid fire delivery of gags that have an accumulative impact. Amid the merriment, however, there is a backbone of seriousness which consists of perceptive observation of the 1960s social milieu and – of course – a totally authentic newspaper background in the days of battered Remington typewriters and hot metal typesetting.

BrookeBartram introduces a fascinating contemporary note by featuring the Home Secretary at the time, Henry Brooke. He was appointed by Harold Macmillan after the Prime Minister’s infamous ‘Night of The Long Knives in 1962. Brooke (left)  was to prove one of the least distinguished holders of the post, however, and he was pilloried without mercy by the BBC’s satirical show That Was The Week That Was. They dubbed the hapless Brooke ‘The most hated man in Britain’, and Bartram recalls their mocking phrase, “If you’re Home Secretary, you can get away with murder.”

Front Page Murder is a joy from start to finish. Yes, it is escapist. Yes, we guess that the the admirable Crampton will, in the end, prevail. No, Bartram doesn’t take us deep down into the dark world of serial killers but, my goodness, Front Page Murder is wonderful entertainment, and is one of those rare books where there is a definite sense of sorrow that you have reached the final page.

Peter Bartram wrote an entertaining piece on What-The-Butler-Saw machines as an accompaniment to the plot of the previous Colin Crampton novel, Stop Press Murder. The links to both items are below. Front Page Murder is published by Roundfire Books (click the link to visit their website) and will be available on 24th November.

I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside

Stop Press Murder

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THE HAMMERSMITH MURDERS

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The dark phantom of Jack The Ripper, whoever he (or she) might have been has haunted the world of crime fiction and True Crime writing for over 130 years. The catchy four-syllable nickname, probably cooked up by newspaper hacks in the first place, is never long absent from newspaper copy when serial killings have to be written about. Peter Sutcliffe, of course, became the Yorkshire cousin of the original killer, but headline writers in 1960s London plumbed new depths of bad taste and lack of originality when they covered a series of murders where the victims were all engaged in what is now primly known as “The Sex Industry”. Their dire effort? Why, Jack The Stripper, of course!

There are certainly similarities between the Hammersmith Murders and the Whitechapel killings. The victims were all women. They had all, at some point, sold their bodies for money. The locations, although not as tight together as those in 1888, were within a recognisable geographical area. There were ‘canonical’ victims; six in fact, as opposed to the generally accepted quintet during the luridly titled Autumn of Terror. There was subsequent talk of a well-known celebrity being involved. The case has inspired both True Crime reconstructions of the events, and novels based on the killings. Finally, of course, the killer was never found, despite subsequent theories claiming to finally identify the perpetrator. The Hammersmith victims were as follows:

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Hannah Tailford:
Originally from Northumberland, Tailford was found dead on 2 February 1964 near Hammersmith Bridge. She had been strangled and several of her teeth were missing; her underwear had also been forced down her throat. She was age 30

Irene Lockwood: 26 year-old Lockwood was found dead on 8 April 1964 on the foreshore of the Thames, not far from where Tailford had been discovered; their two deaths were linked and police realized that a serial murderer was at large. Kenneth Archibald, a 57-year-old caretaker, confessed to this murder almost three weeks later, but his confession was dismissed due to inconsistencies in his version of events, and because of the discovery of a third victim.

Helen Barthelemy: Barthelemy, originally from Blackpool, was found dead on 24 April 1964 in an alleyway in Brentford. Barthelemy’s death gave investigators their first solid piece of evidence in the case: flecks of paint used in motor-car manufactories. Police felt that the paint had probably come from the killer’s workplace; they therefore focused on tracing it to a business nearby. Barthelemy was 22.

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Mary Flemming:
Flemming’s body was found on 14 July 1964 in a dead-end street in Chiswick. Once again, paint spots were found on the body; many neighbours had also heard a car reversing down the street just before the body was discovered. Mary Flemming was 30 years old.

Frances Brown: 21 year-old Brown was last seen alive on 23 October 1964 by her friend, fellow prostitute Kim Taylor, before her body was found in a car park in Kensington a month later on 25 November. Taylor, who had been with Brown when she was picked up by the man believed to be her killer, was able to provide police with an identikit picture and a description of the man’s car, thought to be either a Ford Zephyr or a Ford Zodiac.

Bridget O’Hara: O’Hara, also known as “Bridie”, was found dead on 16 February 1965 near a storage shed behind the Heron Trading Estate. She had been missing since 11 January. Once again, O’Hara’s body turned up flecks of industrial paint which, incredibly, were traced to a covered transformer just yards from where she had been discovered. Her body also showed signs of having been stored in a warm environment. Bridget O’Hara was 28 years old.

BOOKS ON THE CASE

gpflsGoodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square (Anthony LeBern, 1966) is very loosely based on the Hammersmith Murders, and was later filmed as Frenzy (with many changes) by Alfred Hitchcock in 1972. The book title comes, of course, from the celebrated song It’s A Long Way To Tipperary.

 

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Jack of Jumps
( David Seabrook, 2006) is a dazzling mixture of fact, fiction, contemporary accounts of the 1960s, real characters, imaginary conversations and a certain amount of psychogeography after the manner of Iain Sinclair. Seabrook also features Freddie Mills, who died in his car, parked in a London alley, apparently from a self inflicted gunshot.

bad-pennyBad Penny Blues (Cathi Unsworth, 2009) sticks much closer to the original events, and features several thinly disguised real-life celebrities of the time, including the artist Pauline Boty, David ‘Screaming Lord’ Sutch, Joe Meek, crooner Michael Holliday, and ex-boxer and TV personality Freddie Mills (pictured below). The connection to the crimes is provided by a young copper who is drawn into the circle of Notting Hill artists and bohemians while his day job is to try and find the killer.

 

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