AFTER LAST WEEK’S LIST OF WARTIME HOMEFRONT BOOKS, AND THE COMMEMORATION OF THE VE DAY 70TH ANNIVERSARY, THE BLOG IS GOING TO FEATURE SOME POST-WAR BOOKS
[The head teachers of neighbouring schools are discussing a problem with one of the pupils. For clarity: the girls’ school is a day school, the boys are boarders]
Miss Parry said ‘It has to do with the play.’
For some years past, the Castrevenford High School for Girls had co-operated with Castrevenford School itself in the production of a Speech Day play.
The Headmaster said ‘Then this girl is in the play? I’m afraid I haven’t been able to give if much attention this year. It’s Henry V isn’t it?’
‘Yes the choice didn’t please my girls very much. Too few female parts.’
‘Doubtless the boys were disappointed for the same reason.’
Miss Parry laughed, sincerely yet still briskly; as if to imply that humour, while essential to cultivated intercourse, must not be allowed to usurp the place of more important matters.
‘Very distressing to all parties,’ she said. ‘Anyway, this particular girl is playing the part of Katharine. Her name is Brenda Boyce.’
The Headmaster frowned as he lit a second match and applied it to the bowl of his pipe. ‘Boyce? Are they local people? A boy of that name was here up to about two years ago. A rather worldly boy, as I recall.’
‘That would be a brother,’ said Miss Parry. ‘And you might describe the whole family as worldly. The parents are of the expensive, cocktail-party-and-chromium kind.’
observations: Wouldn’t you love it if the headteacher of your children’s school described you that way? Worldly. I wish.
Sometimes I know I must have read a book, but can’t remember anything about it. This one is yet another leftover from the books in schools lists Chrissie Poulson and I did recently – like Michael Gilbert’s Night of the Twelfth, Chrissie remembered it afterwards. It was on my shelf, I have read all of Crispin –but which one was it? Often, a clue or a clever method, or some characterisation will remind you which one it is; this one has to be unique - it was one word, the location of the action, revealed part of the way through: Warwickshire. Aha. Yes, that summoned up a major part of the plot for me (though I hadn’t remembered the school setting) though not the full explanation. I did work out whodunit, though I may have been helped by a forgotten memory.
In fact the methods of the crimes in this book are absolutely ridiculous. Ludicrous. The alibi evidence is nonsensical. By the time they got to the blotting paper evidence I was almost asleep. And there is a lot of pointless running round in the woods, unlikely shootings, a general air of derring-do And yet – the main body of the book is great fun, with Gervase Fen his usual entertaining self, and the school setting very well done. The attitudes to the girls in the school next door teeter constantly on the edge of being unacceptable, but in the end I thought you could give him a leeway for writing about his own time. There was a clutch of nice characters and descriptions – Speech Day at the school, the performance of Henry V. When a boy has been caught making a date with a girl, he says ‘I’m sorry, sir’:
‘Be more accurate, Williams,’ the Headmaster admonished him mildly. ‘If, at your age, you’re sorry that you arranged to meet an attractive girl, then you ought to be examined by a doctor… the phrase you should use in such circumstances is: “I apologize”.’
As a post-war book it is being included in this meme as a neutral. The aftermath of war is not particularly significant – there’s a lot of detail about the way people lived, but not much harking back to the conflict days.
The picture of a production of Henry V is from the NYPL.