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  • Writer's pictureCarl Plummer

Chapter 16: Green tights and the best Champagne.

Issues arising in Chapter 16: Southside O’Donnell Brothers, Al Capone, Iron Cross,

Jacques Bollinger or Dom Pérignon, Plimsoll Line, Ephraim Gadsby, Robin Hood and the horror of green tights.

Hammer gives our hero a rundown and brief explanation of the type of hoodlums he is up against in this adventure. The early 20th century saw the USA awash with gangsters and organized crime – perhaps Al Capone being the most infamous. These gangs came from two main cultural groups – although there were others – with the explosion of Italian immigrants hot on the heels of Irish immigrants having settled and claimed their place in American society. Let us step lightly here: only a small percentage of these immigrant groups went on to become gangsters, but it shows how the criminal classes can get a stranglehold of people who are disadvantaged and still trying to find their feet in a new world.

O’Donnell and his brothers expanded their operations during Prohibition. They began hijacking beer trucks belonging to John Torrio, creating tension, leading to a war with the Saltis / McErlane gang, backed by John Torrio & Al Capone, which proved fatal for many of O’Donnells men, 8 were murdered in a two-year period. An attempt on his life on 25th of September 1925, saw the first use of the Tommy Gun in Chicago.

In 1932 Spike, his wife and children decamped to Los Angeles. Spike professed to have become a law-abiding citizen. Seemingly having left crime and bootlegging, Spike O’Donnell went to London to lecture on organized crime, but he fell foul of lawsuits over forgotten taxes from 1928, 1929, 1930, 1931 and 1934, the IRS claimed $247,601. The tenth attempt on his life came in 1943 Spike O’Donnell was shot in the back as he passes an alley between Ada and Loomis on 83rd St. In the end having lost two brothers, 8 of his gang members and survived ten assassination attempts James Edward “Spike” O’Donnell died on August 26,1962, from a massive coronary thrombosis.

During his drink with Milly/Laura in the cocktail lounge aboard HMS Queen Mary, Pelhams espies the two villainous sorts, Clench and Hayes, who have been chasing him and trying to get their hands on the suitcase. Do not worry, there will be more from them later. They are dressed as gangsters – they are gangsters – rather ostentatiously, ready for the fancy-dress ball later that evening. The old trick of hiding a tree in a forest.

The American gangster and businessman, Alphonse Gabriel Capone January 17, 1899 – January 25, 1947), known by the nickname Scarface, made his name during the Prohibition era as the co-founder and boss of the Chicago Outfit. His seven-year reign as a crime boss ended when he went to prison at the age of 33.

He was born in New York City in 1899 of Italian immigrant parents. He joined the Five Points Gang as a teenager and became a bouncer in organized crime premises such as brothels. In his early twenties, he moved to Chicago and became a bodyguard and trusted factotum for Johnny Torrio, head of a criminal syndicate that illegally supplied alcohol—the forerunner of the Outfit—and was politically protected through the Unione Siciliana. Torrio retired after North Side gunmen almost killed him and handed control to Capone. Using violence, Capone expanded the bootlegging business and maintained a mutually profitable relationships with mayor William Hale Thompson and the city's police force. Capone was no ‘hideaway’ gangster and he enjoyed his fame, even viewed by many as a modern-day Robin Hood.

It was the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre, in which seven gang rivals were murdered in broad daylight, that led to FBI action and the newspapers to call him Public Enemy No.1.

The FBI charged him with 22 counts of tax evasion and in 1931, sentenced to 11 years in federal prison. Capone started suffering from neurosyphilis early in his sentence and became increasingly debilitated before being released after almost eight years of incarceration. On January 25, 1947, he died of cardiac arrest after suffering a stroke. Capone often enlisted the help of local African-Americans in his operations; jazz musicians Milt Hinton and Lionel Hampton had uncles who worked for Capone on the South Side of Chicago. Known for his flamboyance, and his expensive jewellery, Capone enjoyed custom suits, cigars, gourmet food and drink (his preferred liquor was Templeton Rye from Iowa), and women. Most worrying of all was his involvement and close relations (along with other gangsters) to political leaders.

Pelham does some rummaging through Hammer's luggage and finds and Iron Cross: worrying.

A cross has been the symbol of Germany's armed forces (now the Bundeswehr) since 1871. The Iron Cross, the Eisernes Kreuz was a military decoration in the Kingdom of Prussia, continued through the German Empire (1871–1918) and Nazi Germany (1933–1945). King Frederick William III of Prussia established it on 17 March 1813 during the Napoleonic Wars. The Iron Cross awarded during World War II has a swastika in the center. The Iron Cross was usually a military decoration only, though there were some were awarded to civilian test pilots during World War II.

The cross symbol's design was black with a white or silver outline, was ultimately derived from the cross pattée of the Teutonic Order, used by knights on occasions from the 13th century. The Black Cross (Schwarzes Kreuz) is the emblem used by the Prussian Army and Germany's army from 1871 to the present. It was designed on the occasion of the German Campaign of 1813, when Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia commissioned the Iron Cross as the first military decoration open to all ranks, including enlisted men. From this time, the Black Cross was featured on the Prussian war flag alongside the Black Eagle. It was designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, based on Friedrich Wilhelm III. The design is ultimately derivative of the black cross used by the Teutonic Order. This heraldic cross took various forms throughout the order's history, including a simple Latin cross, a cross potent, cross fleury, and occasionally also a cross pattée.

The Black Cross was used on the naval and combat flags of the German Empire. The Black Cross was used as the German Army symbol until 1915 when a simpler Balkenkreuz replaced it. The Reichswehr of the Weimar Republic (1921–35), the Wehrmacht of Nazi Germany (1935–46), and the Bundeswehr (1 October 1956 to present) also inherited the use of the emblem in various forms. The traditional design in black is used on armored vehicles and aircraft, while after German reunification, a new creation in blue and silver was introduced for use in other contexts.

Some of our greatest literary heroes love to show off their good taste, and their hefty expense accounts. Pelham knows nothing about wines. Hammer does, and he likes to advertise his knowledge. I am no wine snob, and to be honest, I am no fan of Champagne. I prefer a decent Chablis with my fish or a hearty Claret with my steak, but I will stand by this: Champagne is only produced in the Champagne region of France, and anyone who calls a sparkling wine Champagne (even a wine using the Champagne method) is a fraud, a liar, or simply an uneducated git.

Many readers will think of Ian Fleming’s James Bond and Champagne. A bit of a battle here, maybe. Both Bollinger and Dom Perignon have played a role in the books and the films – moreso in the films.

From the book, Diamonds are Forever – Bollinger. Bond slipped off the bed and went over and examined the contents of the tray. He smiled to himself. There was a quarter bottle of Bollinger, a chafing dish containing four small slivers of steak on toast canapés, and a small bowl of sauce. Beside this was a pencilled note which said ‘This Sauce Béarnaise has been created by Miss T. Case without my assistance.’ Signed ‘The Chef.’

Good to see the sauce Bearnaise as well. Check out the Pelham Hardimann blog and Chapter 15 for more on Eggs Benedict. James Bond drinks Dom Pérignon in the novel Moonraker: two bottles of Dom Pérignon '46, at the suggestion of the wine-waiter at Blades during the dinner with M.

The name Bollinger sounds a little German – and there is good reason for that. Jacques Joseph Placide Bollinger was born in Ellwangen in 1803, in the kingdom of Württemberg. In 1822, he moved to the Champagne region and began work at the Champagne house of Muller Ruinart, which no longer exists. A lot of Germans in the Champagne business, eh? Johann-Josef Krug and the Heidsiecks, who founded a house that would become Charles Heidsieck, Piper Heidsieck, Heidsieck & Co Monopole, and Veuve Clicquot.

In 1918 Jacques Bollinger, the son of Georges, took over the company. Jacques married Emily Law de Lauriston Boubers, known as "Lily". Jacques expanded the business, built new cellars, and bought the Tauxières vineyards (this is referred to by Hammer in his short bout of pedagogy aboard Queen Mary), while acquiring the assets of another Champagne house on Boulevard du Maréchal de Lattre de Tassigny. Bollinger's offices are presently located here.

When Jacques Bollinger died in 1941, Lily Bollinger took over. Lily expanded production through the purchase of more vineyards and travelled the world to promote the family name – and the bubbly. Becoming well known in the Champagne region and the Champagne business, she was happy to lend a quote now and then. One of her famous quotes: I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it—unless I’m thirsty. Is the Champagne any good? Bollinger is fermented in oak barrels, and at harvest, usually only the first pressing is used, the cuvée. Bollinger sells some second pressings, the tailles. It utilizes two pressing houses, Louvois and Mareuil sur Aÿ.

The first fermentation is done cru by cru, variety by variety. Wines that will not hold up to first fermentation in wood are vinified in vats. Bollinger Champagnes usually undergo malolactic fermentation, with traditional yeast. Vintage wine, including all wine to be used in a Grande Année, is fermented in small oak barrels, sorted according to origin and variety. Both oak and stainless steel are used for non-vintage wine. The wines are only lightly filtered. Bollinger ages their non-vintage wines three years, and the vintage wines five to eight years. The Grande Année and R.D. Champagnes are riddled by hand; the riddler is the turner of bottles. The winemaker has also used the James Bond film series as a marketing device, as did Dom Perignon.

Dom Perignon or Jacques Bollinger? Aah, choices, choices, eh?

Plimsoll Line

The international load line, Plimsoll line and water line (positioned amidships), indicates the draft of the ship and the legal limit to which a ship may be loaded for specific water types and temperatures in order to safely maintain buoyancy, particularly with regard to the hazard of waves that may arise.

The load line ensures that a ship has sufficient freeboard (the height from the water line to the main deck) and thus sufficient reserve buoyancy. All commercial ships, other than in exceptional circumstances, have a load line symbol amidships on each side of the ship. This symbol is permanently marked, to remains visible. The load line makes it easy for anyone to determine if a ship has been overloaded. The exact location of the load line is calculated and verified by a classification society and that society issues the relevant certificates. The marking was invented in 1876 by Samuel Plimsoll.

The first 19th-century loading recommendations were introduced by Lloyd's Register in 1835, following discussions among shipowners, shippers, and underwriters. Lloyd's recommended freeboards as a function of the depth of the hold (three inches per foot of depth). These recommendations, used extensively until 1880, became known as "Lloyd's Rule".

In the 1860s, after increased loss of ships due to overloading, a British MP, Samuel Plimsoll, took up the load line cause. A Royal Commission on unseaworthy ships was established in 1872, and in 1876 the United Kingdom Merchant Shipping Act made the load line mark compulsory, although the positioning of the mark was not fixed by law until 1894. In 1906, laws were passed requiring foreign ships visiting British ports to be marked with a load line. It was not until 1930 (the 1930 Load Line Convention) that there was international agreement for universal application of load line regulations.

Pelham Hardimann - your hero, dear reader - is not known for his depth of literary knowledge, but even he cannot escape the adventurous and humorous world of wit and wisdom created by P. G. Wodehouse. (Excuse me while I genuflect at the foot of the master). Anyone who has wiled away hours reading Jeeves and Wooster or the goings on at Blandings, to name but a few of P. G. Wodehouse’s wonderful characters has been blessed. For those of you who have not read any, givethem a try: you have a world of treats in store. Hammer – Pelham’s temporary gentleman’s gentleman has not read any of the Jeeves and Wooster story; he is more of your Spinoza reader when not brushing up on his Mrs. Beeton. Claiming that he can out-Fred the nimblest Astaire Bertie Wooster enjoys dancing and likes fancy dress balls. Pelham Hardimann abhors dancing and views fancy-dress balls with the contempt they deserve. But England calls…and all that…

In this scene, Hammer is explaining Pelham’s need to attend a fancy-dress ball, while informing him that a costume is already aboard RMS Queen Mary and all they need tdo is go below decks and fetch it. Pelham is keen to guess what costume it is – and runs through a gamut of what he believes to be English heroes. After all, if he is forced to go, he could go as nothing else. A short history lesson ensues – leaving poor Pelham somewhat disappointed. We also witness here Pelham’s growing suspicion that Hammer may not be all he is cracked up to be.

Why the Ephraim Gadsby comment?

I sighed a long one full of despair. “Is our England such a barren waste, forested only by stout and hearty men of misty myth, folklore and legend, with no truth in sight? Have we no decent, fit and worthy heroes of our own to pluck from the basket of history?” I asked, feeling the chest and throat stiffen. “Next thing you’ll be telling me is that some of our greatest Anglo-Saxon brave-hearts came from German stock and that we have none at all of our own true English blood.”

“Well, sir, talking of Anglo-Saxon…you do have…”

“You mean we, Hammer.”

“We, sir?”

“Yes, Hammer. We. Were you to be an officer of the notorious SS, as your love of such a uniform seems to imply…your use of you leads me to infer…”

The Machiavellian stirrer of cocktails and presser of trousers smiled. It was not the sort of smile I warm to. “We, sir.”

“Good, and it is pleasing to hear. Your interest in uniforms does not go unnoticed, mark you. I am always keen to give a fellow the benefit of the doubt, but I shall hold sway on believing your commitment to the English cause…”

“British, sir.”

“We were considering English heroes, Hammer.”

“And struggling, if I may be so bold, sir.”

I let loose a sigh. “Yes, struggling. The way things are panning out, it seems my best bet would be to ankle into the fray as Ephraim Gadsby.”

“A hero unknown to me, sir.”

“Well, I am at a loss so throw the name at me. Then we can scuttle below decks and have a rummage.”

“I’m not sure if scuttle is apropos in this situation, sir.”

“True, Hammer. The name?”

Hammer gave one of his gentle coughs. “I took the liberty, sir, of placing in one of our other trunks a rather fetching combination that would suffice as a recognisable portrayal of that great legend Robin, Earl of Huntington. The manifest shows that the said trunk arrived and was put aboard. You can go as Robin Hood.”

“Robin ruddy Hood! Hell’s teeth!” I leapt up, stammered a while, clenched fists and shook one of them. I am rarely a shaker of the fist, but I’m sure you’ll agree with me when I claim the moment warranted such an action. “I am no wearer of green stockings, Hammer.” I flopped back down into my chair and held my head in my hands. After a couple of fortifying breaths, I looked back up to give him a volley. “And I’ll be damned if I’ll go prancing about like a popinjay in buckskin boots or attempt the Charleston and Breakaway or any of those newfangled Balbaos, Snakehips, Cakewalks and Jitterbugs with a feather jutting out of my pointy hat.”

(From Chapter 16 of Pelham on Parole).

Bertie Wooster and Jeeves have been described as "one of the great comic double-acts of all time". Hammer and Hardimann are also something of a double-act although we find something more akin to a triangle-act between Pelham, Studely, and Hammer.

Bertie Wooster assumes an alias on several occasions. He appears in court after tripping a policeman in Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit, and calls himself Ephraim Gadsby. In one scene in Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves, he is said to be a thief named Alpine Joe, which is mentioned again in Aunts Aren't Gentlemen. There may be future occasions – although I cannot promise – when Pelham Hardimann filches a few more names – a few more aliases – from our friend Bertie Wooster. I am sure Plum would take no offense at such a liberty.

Hammer, it appears, is all for the 'feudal spirit'.

Pelham’s dismissal of Hammer’s suggestion about striding into the fancy-dress ballroom should ring a bell for any of you who have seen Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood prancing about in green tights. It is hard to picture Robin Hood any other way. The Adventures of Robin Hood is a 1938 American Technicolor swashbuckler film, produced by Hal B. Wallis and Henry Blanke, directed by Michael Curtiz and William Keighley, and starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone, Claude Rains, Patric Knowles, Eugene Pallette and Alan Hale Sr.

In 1995, the film was deemed culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation by the National Film Registry. Contemporary reviews were mostly positive. John Mosher of The New Yorker called it a rich, showy, and, for all its tussles, somewhat stolid affair, praising Flynn's performance and the action sequences but considered the excellent collection of supporting actors to be somewhat buried under the medieval panoply.

The film's popularity inextricably linked Errol Flynn's name and image with that of Robin Hood in the public eye and was the third film to pair Flynn and Olivia de Havilland (after Captain Blood and The Charge of the Light Brigade). They would ultimately star together in nine films, the aforementioned and Four's a Crowd (1938), The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939), Dodge City (1939), Santa Fe Trail (1940), They Died with Their Boots On (1941) and Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943), although they shared no scenes in the last film.

Green tights may be all well and good for Errol Flynn, but for our hero - Pelham Hardimann - a definite no, no.

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