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Crampton of The Chronicle

LAUGH LINES . . .By Peter Bartram

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During more years than I care to count as a journalist, there was one thing I could always be sure of. I never knew what I’d be asked to do next. One minute I was interviewing a bloke seven hundred feet down a coal mine. The next I was firing questions at a courtier in Buckingham Palace. (Well, not literally the next minute, but you get the idea.)

The sheer variety of situations that journalists can find themselves in was one of the reasons I decided to make the protagonist in my Crampton of the Chronicle crime mysteries a reporter. Specifically, a crime reporter. I felt that as I’d had a few reporting years under my belt, I would be able to get into character as Colin Crampton and tell his story with a true eye.

But I didn’t bargain for something else. I’d also need to get under the skin of the other characters I wrote about. In the case of some of them, that wasn’t too difficult. Take the irascible news editor Frank Figgis, for instance. He has some of the characteristic of news editors I’ve known. One, in particular!

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Other denizens of the Chronicle’s newsroom have taken on the features – delightful and not-so-delightful – of other journalists I’ve worked alongside down the years. But it’s been a tougher task creating other characters and the latest book – The Comedy Club Mystery – provided a particular challenge. Much of the plot centres around the suspicions of whether one of five stand-up comedians murdered a theatrical agent.

I puzzled long and hard on how to build the characters of five entirely different comics and then an idea hit me. The characters of most stand-up comedians come through in their acts. So I decided the book would include an excerpt from the stand-up routine of each of the comedians. Of course, it wasn’t long before I realised I’d just made another rod for my back. However, with a bit of thought, it wasn’t too difficult to create five different excerpts for stand-up comics.

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Comic number one is what I call an old-fashioned schmoozer. In the book I call him Ernie Winkle. But he’s the same kind of comic as old troopers from the music halls, like Tommy Trinder or Arthur Askey, who’d entertain an audience with a friendly patter that often included a lot of catch phrases. “You lucky people,” in the case of Trinder, “I thank-you,” with a heavy emphasis on the “I”, in Askey’s case.

baker09Then there was the female comic, in the 1960s often from the north of England, like Hylda Baker. In fact, I’ve made my version – Jessie O’Mara – younger and more overtly feminist than Baker. The feminist movement was stirring in the 1960s. I’ve made O’Mara a Liverpool lass with a strong line in scouse chat.

 

London’s Windmill Theatre, which featured tableaux of striptease dancers, was open until 1964. There were a lot of comedians – including Harry Secombe and Jimmy Edwards – who started their careers by telling gags between the girls’ performances. My version – Billy Dean – is not a nice man and scrapes the barrel when it comes to dirty jokes.

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Educating_archie_1949965cA special kind of comic in the days of variety theatre was the ventriloquist. The most famous was Peter Brough whose dummy was Archie Andrews. The pair featured in a long-running radio show. (I could never see the point of doing a vent act any more than a juggling act on the radio.) So I’ve created Teddy Hooper and his dummy Percival Plonker who do what used to be called a cross-talk act of quick-fire gags.

Finally, in 1962 BBC TV launched a late-night satire show called That Was The Week That Was. It spawned a growth in stand-up comics who had a contemporary edge to their acts. They were often more concerned about commenting on current affairs than delivering traditional punchlines. My guy is Peter Kitchen.

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It took a lot of time to research different stand-up styles and the kind of jokes they told. But it was one of the most entertaining pieces of work I’ve done since I started writing the Crampton series. I hope you enjoy it.

Fully Booked has reviewed several of the
Crampton of The Chronicle mysteries.
Click here to read more.

 

 

THE MOTHER’S DAY MYSTERY . . . Between the covers

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Robin Williams, Paul Krassner, Pete Townshend, Grace Slick, Timothy Leary, and many others have been credited with the saying, “If you can remember the 1960s, you weren’t really there.” Fortunately for us, Peter Bartram can and was. His lifetime of working as a journalist has produced an alter ego, an enterprising young journalist called Colin Crampton who works for The Brighton Evening Chronicle. He has a gorgeous Australian girlfriend called Shirley, a pantomime landlady by the name of Mrs Gribble, a chain-smoking news editor called Frank Figgis, an amazing habit of getting involved in murder mysteries – and he drives an MGB.

mothercoverIn The Mother’s Day Mystery, Crampton discovers the body of a schoolboy who has evidently been knocked off his bike and fatally injured. What on earth was Spencer Hooke doing away from his dormitory in Steyning Grammar School at the dead of night, cycling along a lonely and windswept clifftop road? In pursuing this conundrum, Crampton whisks us into a world of stage vicars, seedy pub landlords, archetypal leather-elbowed schoolmasters and impecunious toffs. There are jokes a-plenty, and Bartram indulges himself – and those of us who are, similarly, in the autumn of our years – with many a knowing cultural reference that might puzzle younger readers. He takes us into a wonderful sweet shop, the kind which can nowadays only be found in museum recreations:

“I stepped into a small room with a wooden counter topped with a glass-fronted case. To the side of the case was a set of balance scales with its weight tokens. Behind the couter were shelves loaded with jars of sweets. There were chocolate drops and sherbert lemons and liquorice allsorts. There were humbugs and fruit gums. There was barley sugar which glowed yellow like it was radioactive.

The air was loaded with a sickly scent like it had been sprinkled with sugar dust. If you breathed in deeply, you felt you were dancing.”

There is an unashamed sense of the risqué seaside postcard about much of the humour:

‘She was pouring coffee into a mug.

I ambled over and said, “Mine’s white but strong.”
Susan said: “So I’d heard. But how about your coffee, honeybunch?”
She guffawed at her joke and made her chins wobble.’

The wisecracks are not all end-of-the-pier stuff, however. When Crampton meets the owner of the gorgeous sweet shop, he is almost Chandleresque:

“She had a figure that would get Brigitte Bardot demanding a recount …. little laugh lines crinkled around her mouth as her full lips parted in the kind of welcome smile I felt I could pay into the bank.”

PBAnyone who is a student of English humour will soon see that Bartram is part of a long and distinguished tradition of comic writers who find meat and drink in the absurdities of English life and social structures. In the world of crime fiction, however, comedy does not always sit well with murder and bloodshed. The great and sadly under-appreciated Colin Watson did the job beautifully in his Flaxborough novels, while modern writers such as MJ Trow and Christopher Fowler perform the balancing act with similar verve. I am happy to put Peter Bartram (right) up there on the podium with those past and present masters. Incidentally, and quite appropriately for a Sussex man, Bartram knows and loves his Kipling, and manages to quote the great man on a number of occasions

Such is the joyful nature of the writing that the plot is almost irrelevant, but Bartram remembers that Crampton has a murder to solve, and he gives us the classic Golden Age denouement scene in the library. Except it’s not in the library, but in the village church, under the shocked gaze of the pompous Rev. Purslowe. Before the riddle of Spencer Hooke’s death is solved (with an “I’m Spartacus” moment) we get the best joke in the book.

“Georgina had caused a stir when she’d walked into the church. She was wearing a low-cut blouse and a mini-skirt which ended a couple of inches below the Book of Revelations.”

The Mother’s Day Mystery is published by The Bartram Partnership, and is out now. Watch the Fully Booked Twitter feed for a chance to win this novel.

Follow the links to check out other features and novels by Peter Bartram.

The News Editor, The Woodbines, and a Eureka Moment

Switched On: The Story of 1960s TV Game Shows

The Tango School Mystery

Front Page Murder

Stop Press Murder

I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside …

Peter Bartram also has an excellent website where you can Meet The Characters

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THE NEWS EDITOR, THE WOODBINES AND A EUREKA MOMENT . . .Guest post by Peter Bartram

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PBPeter Bartram (left) is an old school journalist who has turned his life’s work into an engaging crime series set in 1960s Brighton, featuring the resourceful reporter on the local paper, Colin Crampton. Peter now reveals how he came to invent his alter ego. You can read reviews of three Crampton of The Chronicle novels by clicking the title links below.

The Tango School Mystery

Front Page Murder

Stop Press Murder

THE NEWS EDITOR, THE WOODBINES AND A EUREKA MOMENT by Peter Bartram

Two hours into my first day as a newspaper reporter, aged 18, my news editor called me into his office and said: “I’ve got a job for you.” I thought: “This is great. I’m going to be sent out on a big story.” He gave me half a crown – twelve and half pence if you’re two young to remember the old currency – and said: “Just pop across the road to the shop and buy me 20 Woodbines.

Well, it was a start in newspapers that turned out to be surprisingly useful a good many years later when I was thinking about writing a crime mystery series. My original idea had been to base the series around two ill-matched characters – a formula that has served well in thousands of crime books from Holmes and Watson, through Poirot and Hastings, to Dalziel and Pascoe. The trouble was I couldn’t think of any way to make my pair original.

Whenever I thought of an idea, it turned out that something similar had already been done. And then I had a Eureka moment. The answer to my problem was staring me in the face. I was a journalist. I would make my protagonist a journalist. My reporter hero would be a young journalist starting his first job, aged 18, just as I had done. He’d be given some dull jobs to do – just as I’d been – but he’d also stumble across crimes to solve.

On my paper, the chief reporter had started me off covering batches, matches and despatches – better known as births, marriages and deaths. As it happened, there weren’t many batches to write about. The trick with writing the matches was to avoid double-entendres. Never write, “the bride carried a sheath of flowers,” the chief reporter warned me.

But the despatches carried different perils. I turned up at one house to discover the deceased had been laid out on the dining room table. I’m not sure what the rest of the household were doing for dinner that night.

 I soon found there were perils in newspaper work I hadn’t fully appreciated. One of them occurred in my first week. One of the sports reporters had covered a football match. He’d started his report: “This was a scrappy game of football.” Except that the compositors – the mischievous guys who set the paper in hot metal type in those days – had dropped the “s” off the word “scrappy”.

That morning, you could see people all over town sniggering at the piece. Later, you could hear the editor yelling at the proof readers. Anyway, I was so taken with the idea of having a rookie reporter as a crime-busting hero, I rushed to my laptop and batted out the first chapter. A couple of hours later, I realised I’d made a big mistake. A rookie simply wouldn’t have the experience to tackle the challenges a crime buster would face.

I sat down and thought about it some more. I decided that my protagonist would be a crime reporter who’d have regular contact with the police – one of my early newspaper jobs was to attend the local cops’ daily press briefing. But I also realised he’d need realistic newspaper characters around him.

crampyon0511And that was when I remembered my first news editor. I never saw him without a Woodbine hanging off his lower lip. And so Frank Figgis, news editor of the Evening Chronicle, was born. Of course, there was still lots to think about – especially more regular characters. But with Colin (right) and Frank I felt I was on my way. Both of them have big roles to play – along with other regulars, especially Colin’s girlfriend Shirley Goldsmith – in the latest tale The Mother’s Day Mystery.

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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 POSTMAN DELIVERS ….Stop Press Murder

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I THOROUGHLY ENJOYED the first full length novel in Peter Bartram’s Crampton of The Chronicle series – Headline Murder. It was cleverly written, witty, and nostalgic without being mawkish. Now, Brighton’s most inquisitive reporter, Colin Crampton, returns for another 1960s mystery, and my long-suffering postman brought it to me this morning. It is due out on August 1st, and promises murder, two elderly lady twins locked in a life-long feud – and a stolen What The Butler Saw machine.

The full review of Stop Press Murder will be on here soon, but also look out for an article by Peter Bartram (pictured below) – on What The Butler Saw machines! You can buy Stop Press Murder from Amazon, and other booksellers.

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