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Peter Bartram

CRIME ACROSS ENGLAND . . . 8 : Brighton and London

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It has been, as the song goes, a long and winding road. Nearly 1000 miles, or thereabouts of rolling English highway and  we are nearing the end. Just two more stops, and we will be back where we started, In London. Yes, there are places and authors we might have visited; Trevor Wood’s Newcastle, John Harvey’s Nottingham and Phil Rickman’s Hereford, to name just three. But both writer and reader can suffer fatigue, so this journey is what it is. Our penultimate stop-over is Brighton, seemingly a place of bizarre contrasts. There is the elegant watering place beloved of the Prince Regent, and the cheeky seaside town beloved of London day trippers, but with a scary undercurrent immortalised by Graham Greene. There is the contemporary Brighton, a place where outlandish political and social fads make its counterparts in California look reactionary. But our Brighton is a much sunnier place. We are in the 1960s, sex had just about been invented, mobile ‘phones were undreamt of in anyone’s philosophy, and a young man called Colin Crampton is the ace crime reporter for the Evening Chronicle.

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Colin Crampton is the inspired creation of former journalist Peter Bartram, and I do wonder if Colin is, perhaps, a younger version of Peter, and I would like to think so. Peter, from, my online dealings with him, is a genial and astute fellow with a broad sense of humour, and someone with a fund of nostalgic cultural references from days gone by.  In brief, Colin is as sharp as a tack, has a gorgeous Australian girlfriend called Shirley, vrooms around Brighton in his sports car, and his boss, deputy editor Frank Figgis, is permanently wreathed in a cloud of Woodbines smoke. The books are simply delightful. Escapist, maybe, comfort reading, probably, but superbly crafted and endlessly entertaining – yes, yes, yes. If you click the graphic below, a link will open where you can read reviews of the Crampton of The Chronicle series, and also features by Peter on the background to some of his stories.The author’s photograph contains a link to his own website.

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LONDON CALLING! And the voices are none other than those of Arthur Bryant and John May – and their creator, Christopher Fowler. Bryant & May are, of course, an in-joke from the very start. More elderly readers will remember the iconic brand of matches so familiar to those of us who grew up the middle and later years of the 20th century.

Fowler devised a brilliant concept. We have two coppers who began their investigative careers during Hitler’s war. One, Arthur Bryant, is an intellectual iconoclast, a fount of obscure knowledge, be it of Tibet, Inner Mongolia, Patagonia or the inner regions of the Hindu Kush. His expertise, however, is London. There is not a hidden river, an execution site, an ancient drovers’ trackway or site of an old graveyard that Arthur doesn’t have logged somewhere in his noggin. His colleague, John May, is slightly younger, but has adapted to the passing years. He wears decent suits, chooses conciliation rather than confrontation, and retains the razor sharp mind of his younger years. He is resolutely and remorselessly devoted to Arthur Bryant, and such is Fowler’s mastery of human chemistry that we know  one could never exist without the other.

Screen Shot 2021-11-21 at 18.34.16There were nineteen B & M novels, beginning with Full Dark House in 2003, plus a quartet of graphic novels and short story collections. I say ‘were’, because although Christopher Fowler (left) is still with us, those who have read London Bridge Is Falling Down (2021) will know – and I am sorry if this is a spoiler – that old age and infirmity finally catches up with the venerable pair of detectives. Where to start to talk about this series? The author himself is, as far as I can judge, a modern and cosmopolitan fellow, but his love – and knowledge – of London is all embracing. Christopher Fowler is a one-off in contemporary writing, and completely individual, but speaking as an elderly chap with many years of reading behind me, I can best put him in context with great English writers of the last 150 years or so by looking at various aspects of the novels.

There is humour in the books, plenty of it and – as you might guess – it’s very English. Imagine a chain of writers which goes back to Victorian times, starting perhaps with Israel Zangwill and the Grossmith brothers. The torch is carried onwards by Wodehouse, JV Morton and – with a more abrasive edge – by Waugh. Tom Sharpe is largely forgotten now, but his anarchic view of English customs and behaviour fits in well.

Now the city of London itself. Imagine a writer with the nostalgic fondness of Betjeman, blended with the darker imagination of writers like Ackroyd and Sinclair, and you will find that Christopher Fowler fits the bill perfectly. He makes us aware that the streets of his home town are like a stage, with troupes of actors down the ages acting out their dramas, each set of footsteps eventually fading to give way to the next, but each leaving something indelible behind, eternally available for those with ears to listen

Let’s not forget, though, that this is crime fiction, and the B&M stories have a strong vein of the Golden Age running through them, particularly with the ‘impossible’ crimes. Not content with mere locked rooms, Fowler takes us into a world where pubs vanish of the face off the earth and an 18th century highwayman commits murder in an art gallery. We started our journey in Derek Raymond’s London, with its drab streets, mean hearts, cruelty and violence. The streets walked by Bryant and May certainly have their dark corners, but Christopher Fowler fills them with joyful quirks of history, ghosts (mainly benevolent) and a sense of gleeful iconoclasm.

For reviews and features about the Bryant and May novels,
click the  image below.

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THE WORLD CUP MYSTERY . . . Between the covers

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WCMWe are in Sicily, and it is the long hot summer of 1966. Brighton crime reporter Colin Crampton has taken his Aussie girlfriend Shirley Goldsmith abroad for a holiday. While the sun beats down, and gentle breezes blow in from the Mediterranean, Colin hopes to choose a romantic location – perhaps the ruin of a Greek temple – where he will go down on one knee and propose marriage to the beautiful Shirl. He has an expensive diamond ring in his pocket to help boost his case, but it is not to be.

They encounter a young Italian woman who is being abused by her Mafioso husband, and she tells them that her father – who owns a greasy spoon café near Colin and Shirl’s home in Brighton – has been murdered, but her husband refuses to allow her to travel to England. Colin, ever the parfit gentil knight, puts his proposal on hold, flogs the ring, and manages to smuggle Rosina out of the country. Back in Blighty, Colin learns from his contacts in the constabulary, that Sergio Parisi was not only murdered but robbed of a precious ticket for the World Cup Final at Wembley on 30th July. Parisi had won the ticket in a raffle at the local football club, where it had been sent, anonymously, and for reasons yet unknown.

It is always a joy to be sent a new Crampton of The Chronicle story. I have been enjoying them since Headline Murder in 2015. People can be dismissive of so-called Cosy Crime, or ‘comfort reading’ but, like many another crime book reviewer, I have to read new stuff all the time, books that one has no idea from the outset whether or not they are going to entertain, thrill, challenge or what demands the plot is going to make on one’s credulity or attention to detail. The Colin Crampton books are reassuringly and delightfully reliable. It is a dead certainty that they will be:

(1) Full of politically incorrect – but never cruel – humour
(2) Tightly plotted and cleverly written – as one would expect from a veteran jounalist
(3) Gloriously nostalgic, and crackling with authentic period detail
(4) Peopled by outrageously over-the-top characters
(5) Built of the bedrock of the sheer decency and warmth of the two main characters – Colin and his Aussie girlfriend Shirl

Back to the specifics. Colin’s investigations uncover the fact that the murder of Signor Parisi is connected to the notorious theft of the Jules Rimet trophy and its celebrated re-discovery by Pickles the border collie. The plot becomes delightfully more absurd as Colin gets arrested for murder and we meet, in no particular order, a football groundsman who is a disciple of Kim Il Sung, the lovely Shirl modelling international football strips on the front page of The Daily Mirror (phwoar!} and Booby Moore. There is an implausible but entertaining finale in the tractor shed under Wembley Stadium just as Geoff Hurst scuppers the dastardly Huns with his extra-time goals, and  Colin and Shirley live to fight (and love) another day.

If settling down to enjoy two hundred or so pages of a book as good as this is a cultural sin, then mea culpa. Forgive me Father. for I have sinned, and I’ll do as many Hail Marys as it takes to return to a state of grace. The World Cup Mystery is published by The Bartram Partnership, and is available now. For more on the series, and features written for Fully Booked by the author, click on his image below.

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THE BEACH PARTY MYSTERY . . . Between the covers

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41FEXmDAJYL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_It’s the summer of 1966 and Brighton journalist Colin Crampton – he’s the crime reporter for the Evening Chronicle – gets a tip off from a friendly local copper that there has been a murder in Embassy Court, an upmarket block of flats on the seafront. Racing to the scene to try to out-scoop his rival from the Evening Argus, he ducks under the crime scene tape and learns that the dead man is Claude Winterbottom, a financial consultant.

Reporters are sometimes accused of muck-raking, and Crampton does literally that as he holds his nose and sifts through Winterbottom’s dustbin. He soon finds a motive for the man’s death. The so-called ‘financial consultant’ was actually a fraudster, selling get-rich-quick schemes to people with more money than sense. The list of people Winterbottom has scammed is quite impressive, and it even includes Crampton’s landlady, the redoubtable Mrs Gribble.

indexPeter Bartram (right) doubles up on the enjoyment by giving us a parallel plot (which eventually weaves in with the murder of Winterbottom) involving an off-shore pirate radio station, Radio Sea Breeze. Younger readers used to the communication free-for-all we have today may be puzzled by the concept. Back in the 1960s licences to transmit radio were not readily available in the UK and record companies had a tight grip on who played their music. Taking their cue from America, enterprising broadcasters exploited a loophole in the law by using ships anchored in international waters as their radio stations. The most famous was probably Radio Caroline which was on the air, using five different ships with three different owners, from 1964 to 1990. It still exists, but is now fully digital – and legal.

The Beach Party Mystery is a highly entertaining merry-go-round involving, in no particular order, The Rolling Stones, the FBI, the KGB, MI5, auditions for a James Bond movie, a Mary Whitehouse soundalike – and the world’s most insanitary pub. Unsurprisingly, for a man who has spent his life as a journalist, Peter Bartram has a nice turn of phrase, and a keen eye:

“It was one of those picture book places you find in the Sussex countryside. There were ancient houses with oak beams and sagging roofs. There were moss-encrusted flint walls. There was an old stone church and graveyard with weathered headstones. There was a village hall with a noticeboard. It carried news of scouts’ picnics’ Women’s Institute keep-fit sessions and parish council meetings.”

I make no apology for being a huge fan of the Colin Crampton novels. Yes, they may be light in tone, and they don’t set out to examine the darker recesses of the criminal mind, but I love them. The Beach Party Mystery is published by The Bartram Partnership and is out now, For reviews of the previous novels in the series, and also feature articles by Peter Bartram, click on the image below.

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THE COMEDY CLUB MYSTERY . . . Between the covers

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ComClubIt is 1965 and we are basking in the slightly faded grandeur of Brighton, on the south coast of England. The town has never quite recovered from its association, more than a century earlier, with the bloated decadence of The Prince Regent, and it shrugs its shoulders at the more recent notoriety bestowed by a certain crime novel brought to life on the big screen in 1947. Brighton has its present-day misdeeds too, and who better to write about it than the intrepid crime reporter for the Evening Chronicle, Colin Crampton?

Crampton is an enterprising and thoroughly likeable fellow, with a rather nice sports car and an even nicer girlfriend, in the very pleasing shape of Australian lass Shirley Goldsmith. Crampton is summoned to the office of his deputy editor Frank Figgis and, barely discernible amid the wreaths of smoke from his Woodbines, Figgis’s face is creased by more worry lines than usual. His problem? The Chronicle’s drama correspondent, Sidney Pinker, has been served with a libel writ for savaging, in print, a local theatrical agent called Daniel Bernstein.

Bernstein has certainly seen better days. His hottest property, the redoubtable Max Miller, is two years in the grave, and Bernstein’s remaining clients consist of dodgy ventriloquists and wobbly sopranos whose top notes have long since disappeared with the last high tide. Crampton is tasked with talking the aggrieved impresario out of legal action, but his job becomes slightly more difficult when Bernstein is found dead in his office, impaled by a sword. And who is discovered with his hand on the hilt? None other than Sidney Pinker.

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Pinker, by the way, is very much in the John Inman school of caricature luvvies, so those with an over-sensitive approach had better look away now. His pale green shirts, flowery cravats and patronage of certain Brighton nightspots are pure (politically incorrect) comedy.

max-miller00Bernstein’s murder is seen as very much open-and-shut by the Brighton coppers, but Crampton does not believe that Pinker has the mettle to commit physical violence. Instead, his investigation takes him into the rather sad world of stand-up comedians. Today, our stand-up gagsters can become millionaire celebrities, but back in 1965, the old style joke tellers with their catchphrases and patter were becoming a thing of the past, as TV satire was breaking new ground and reaching new audiences. Crampton believes that the murder of Bernstein is connected to the agent’s former association with Max Miller and, crucially, the possession of Miller’s fabled Blue Book, said to contain all of The Cheeky Chappy’s best material – and a few jokes considered too rude for polite company.

Eventually, Crampton discovers the killer, but only after life-threatening brushes with American gangsters and psychotic criminal twins born much closer to home. His success is due in no small way to the ability of the delightful Shirley to deliver a debilitating karate kick to sensitive male parts.

There have been occasions – and I am not alone – when I have used the term cosy in a book review, meaning no ill-will by it, but perhaps suggesting a certain lack of seriousness or an avoidance of the grim details of crime. Are the Colin Crampton books cosy? Perhaps.You will search in vain for explorations of the dark corners of the human psyche, any traces of bitterness or the consuming powers of grief and anger. What you will find is humour, clever plotting, a warm sense of nostalgia and – above all – an abundance of charm. A dictionary defines that word as the power or quality of delighting, attracting, or fascinating others.” Remember, though, that the word has another meaning, that of an apparently insignificant trinket, but one which brings the wearer a sense of well-being and even, perhaps, the power to produce something magical.

I can’t remember in recent times reading anything more magical than the three page Epilogue which concludes The Comedy Club Mystery. I have to confess to being sentimental at times and I am unashamed to say that I put this lovely novel down rather moist eyed.

“Yes”, the man said. “Love is very important too.”

The Comedy Club Mystery is published by The Bartram Partnership, and is out now. For more on Crampton of The Chronicle, follow this link.

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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.

 

 

COVER REVEAL . . . The Comedy Club Mystery

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pbI have become a great fan of the Crampton of the Chronicle mysteries. Despite having multifarious murders and diverse dirty deeds, they are breezy, funny, beautifully written and they have a definite feel-good factor. Peter Bartram (left) is an old newspaper hand himself, and the background of a 1960s newsroom in a provincial newspaper is as authentic as it can get. Colin Crampton’s latest journey into the criminal underworld of Brighton is The Comedy Club Mystery. The cover blurb tells us:

ComClub“When theatrical agent Daniel Bernstein sues the Evening Chronicle for libel, crime reporter Colin Crampton is called in to sort out the problem.

 But trouble escalates when Bernstein turns up murdered. Colin discovers that any of five comedians competing for the chance to appear on a top TV show could be behind the killing.

 As Colin and his feisty girlfriend Shirley Goldsmith investigate, they encounter a cast of colourful characters – identical twin gangsters, an Irishman who lives underground, and a failed magician’s assistant.

 And it’s not long before their own lives are in peril. Join Colin and Shirley for a rollercoaster of an adventure in Swinging Sixties England – where the laughs are never far from the action.”

The story will be published on 24th May and there will, of course, be a full review in due course, plus news of a Blog Tour and other goodies. In the meantime, you can check out why I am so fond of the series by clicking on the image below.

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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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THE TANGO SCHOOL MYSTERY . . . Between the covers

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Colin Crampton and his beautiful – if rather vulgar – Australian girlfriend are eating out at a Brighton restaurant. Shirley likes her steak rare, and she subscribes to the old adage about cooking a huge slice of beef, “Knock its horns off, wipe its bum, and lead it quickly through a warm kitchen,” Unfortunately, the blood on her Porterhouse has an additional source – a growing stain in the ceiling above their table.

In this sanguinary manner we get straight into the action in Peter Bartram’s third tale of Colin Crampton, the intrepid 1960s reporter for the Evening Chronicle. Colin races upstairs to the flat above the restaurant and finds an extremely leaky corpse, later to be identified as the mortal remains of one Derek Clapham.

tsm-tnColin’s day has already been bad enough. He has been summoned to the office of Frank Figgis, the News Editor, and given a daunting task. The newspaper’s Editor, Pope by name (dubbed “His Holiness”, naturally) has a brother called Gervaise. Gervaise is in trouble. He has been mixing with some rather unsavoury characters, namely the adherents of Sir Oscar Maundsley, the aristocratic former fascist leader. Interned by Churchill during the war, he now dreams of Making Britain Great Again.

Due to internal feuds among the fascist folk – which has also resulted in the stabbing of Derek Clapham, and the spoling of Shirley’s steak – Gervaise Pope has threatened to shoot Maundsley. Figgis has been told by His Holiness to find the errant brother and stop him from committing murder. One problem. Gervaise has disappeared and so, Figgis, with all his fabled capacity for delegation, has handed the task to Colin Crampton.

What follows is a fascinating and completely beguiling journey through a 1960s England that seems now, at least to those of us old enough to have been there, as far away and foreign as medieval Cambodia, including a visit to the bizarre school for dancing mentioned in the title. Maundsley is a thinly disguised …. ? Well, since neither Peter nor I can afford expensive libel lawyers, you must do your own homework. Along the way we are reminded that the Prime Minister of the day was the curiously archaic Alexander Frederick Douglas-Home (pronounced ‘Hume’), and Bartram also has great fun as he remembers – more or less with affection – the way we were and the things we ate and wore.

Peter Bartram doesn’t mind at all if this book is popped onto the ‘cosy’ shelf of your library, but he serves up just enough violence and and downright malice to blow away the gentle mists of human kindness which can soften the outlines of dark deeds. Like the old trick where you were persuaded to put your tongue on the terminals of a 9 volt battery – and then regretted it – the dialogue tingles and sparks. The gags, puns and one-liners come thick and fast, and – as befits the experienced newspaperman that he is – Bartram never wastes a word.

In terms of plot content, Bartram audaciously brings A Very Important Person into the narrative at the end of the book and, my goodness, how well it works. In the hands of a lesser writer, this episode could have fallen flat on its face, but such is Bartram’s skill, it works beautifully and with added poignancy, given what was to happen just a few months later.

I reached the final page with that mix of sadness and satisfaction which will be familiar to anyone who has ever read a good book. The Tango School Mystery is a delight from start to finish and, sentimental old sod that I am, I want to find a tree and carve ‘Colin 4 Shirley’ on it, inside a big heart. Yes, well spotted – amidst the murder, mayhem and subterfuge, there is an enchanting love story, too! The Tango School Mystery is published by The Bartram Partnership.

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