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  • Writer's pictureCarl Plummer

Pelham on Parole. Chapter 8. Pelham’s world: Concatenations, Conflagrations, Jittery Joe, and Gyp.


We begin with a small word, a colloquialism. A noun often used to refer to a non-specific pain, such as a niggling ache in the back, the knees, or wrists. A strange use of the word as well; the common phrase is about something giving you gyp. The (aforementioned body parts) gives you gyp, as opposed to having a pain (in the aforementioned bodily part). For the younger reader – and welcome to you – gyp is something you will experience in later life, perhaps from an old injury. As for me, many a time I can forecast rain – with the gyp I get in one knee and one shoulder: old injuries.

The root of the word is interesting, especially when looking at it as a verb. To gyp is to swindle, to con, as well as the other noun form most likely from the French jupeau, meaning menial servant, kitchen worker. This term is still used for college servants at Cambridge and Durham.


A walking stick with a thick, knobbly end, the shillelagh could also be called the blackthorn stick owing to it being commonly made from the genus prunus spinosa, the sloe or blackthorn tree. Oak was also used. It was best to take your wood from the root (does that sound a bite rude?) where the knob end is thicker, firmer, and less likely to split in twain. (Yes, that does certainly sound rude).

The connection with Ireland is clear and well known. The name shillelagh is the Hiberno-English corruption of the Irish (Gaelic) form sail éille, where sail means willow or cudgel and éille is genitive for iall meaning strap, leash, string. Some Irish writers support the idea of the word coming from County Wicklow and the woodlands in the barony of Shillelagh.


Cadillac was founded in 1902 by Henry Leland, who named the company after Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, the founder of Detroit. Cadillac brought the idea of interchangeable parts to the automotive industry and laid the groundwork for modern mass production of automobiles.

In 1909 Cadillac was bought by General Motors. Cadillac became synonymous with quality and innovation, introducing electric starters to their cars and clash-less (Synchro-Mesh) manual gear changes, and steel roofs – cars until that time boasted canvas and wood roofs.

The V8 became the standard engine of the USA by 1949.

What seems at first an oddity but was to play a great part in the development of Cadillac was the Phillips head screw – Henry F. Phillips – and screwdrivers that speed up the assembly lines.

Fans of TVR, MGB GT V8, Sunbeam Tigers, Morgans, Rovers, and other famous British marques can thank Cadillac and Buick for those fantastic V8 3500s – the V8 Triumph should have used for their Stag instead of their own badly made V8 3 litre. Not so much now, sorry to say, but Cadillac meant class and quality in the 1930s up through the 50s and 60s.

Joseph Kennedy

The Kennedy family – let us call it a dynasty – is a tale almost of myth and legend, rich, political, powerful, and rarely scandal-free.

A little thought of mine own if I may. It has always struck me as odd – this American love of dynasties: Roosevelts, Kennedys, Bushes, Clintons – and now, maybe Trumps. Didn’t Americans go to great lengths in the 1770s to get rid of rich aristocratic rule? Americans have their own aristocracies now – the political dynasties: dangerous stuff. (Think Biden).

Born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1888, Joseph Kennedy was the grandchild of Irish immigrants who had fled the Irish famine of the 1840s. After Boston Latin School he attended Harvard and was a great baseball player – suffering discrimination because of his Irish roots. He went on to a career with banks and by the age of 25 he was the president of Columbia Trust. During the First World War he was a general manager at Bethlehem Steel’s Forge River shipbuilding plant in Quincy. After the war he went on to a brokerage company – made his fortune with insider dealing and managed to get all his money out before the Crash of October 1929.

26-year-old Joseph P. Kennedy photographed in 1914 while president of the Columbia Trust Company.

While amassing his fortune in the 1920s, Kennedy went into the illegal importing and selling of alcohol during Prohibition. He was purportedly in private partnership with gangster Frank Costello. After Prohibition, Joseph Kennedy became the sole importer of two Scotch Whisky brands and Gordon’s Gin with his dealership ‘Somerset Importers’.

In I939, Joseph Patrick Kennedy was appointed, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, to be USA ambassador to Britain. Anti-Semitic Kennedy was also anti-British. Anti-Semitism, unforgivable, but as for his anti-British stance, we must take into his account his Irish roots. Kennedy was also against America’s growing anti-Nazi policies.

Joseph Kennedy having an amicable chin-wag with German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop at a London reception in 1938.

In correspondence with anti-Semite and Nazi sympathizer, Nancy Astor, Joseph Kennedy wrote: That he expected the "Jew media" in the United States to become a problem, that "Jewish pundits in New York and Los Angeles" were already making noises contrived to "set a match to the fuse of the world."

During May of 1938, Kennedy engaged in extensive discussions with the new German Ambassador to the Court of St. James's, Herbert von Dirksen. In the midst of these conversations (held without approval from the U.S. State Department), Kennedy advised von Dirksen that President Roosevelt was the victim of "Jewish influence" and was poorly informed as to the philosophy, ambitions and ideals of Hitler's regime. The Nazi ambassador subsequently told his bosses that Kennedy was "Germany's best friend" in London. (

Joseph Kennedy’s first public speech in Britain at London’s Pilgrim Club was enlightening for the British and caused a few ruffled feathers in Washington, where he said it was in America’s best interests to stay neutral – and should not side with Britain. In a letter to his friend Bernard Baruch he wrote reassure my friends and critics alike that I have not yet been taken into the British camp.

For four months after his arrival in London, the ambassador tried to arrange a meeting with Adolf Hitler through the German ambassador to Great Britain, Herbert von Dirksen. In his meetings with von Dirksen, Kennedy spelled out his personal animosity toward the Jewish people. In reaction to the Germans’ “Final Solution to the Jewish problem,” which was causing such an uproar in Western countries, Kennedy told von Dirksen that in his opinion, “it was not so much the fact that we [i.e., Germany] wanted to get rid of the Jews that was so harmful to us, but rather the loud clamor with which we accomplished this purpose.”

The ambassador’s remarks were picked up and reproduced in the United States, much to the chagrin of the president. However, if FDR believed that his ambassador was finished making anti-British and anti-Semitic remarks, he was badly mistaken.

Kennedy did not endear himself to the British population during German air raids on London. As the Blitz attacks grew stronger, the ambassador moved his family out of London to escape the raids. After touring the destruction in London, he remarked at how much he admired the local citizens for their bravery and fortitude in the face of such horrific German attacks. In time, the papers began calling Kennedy, “Jittery Joe.”

As the Roosevelt administration was debating whether or not to grant military aid to Britain (a March 1941 Lend-Lease deal would eventually send 50 obsolete destroyers to Great Britain in exchange for leases from the British of a number of bases in the Caribbean), Kennedy publicly spoke out against any such U.S. action. He chilled both Washington and London with his comments, “Democracy is finished in England. It may be here,” referring to the United States. His remarks were published in the Boston Sunday Globe on November 10, 1940. (

So, Pelham’s comments about Joseph Kennedy in Pelham on Parole are not far from the truth, and we learn later about Kennedy’s other shady dealings while Pelham shivers in his Sam Cooper Jockey shorts on the deck of a U-Boat.


In Pelham on Parole you will find Pelham and Studely in St. Mary Mead where they espy a diplomatic vehicle, a Cadillac, perhaps belonging to the USA embassy and part of Joseph Kennedy’s fleet. As Pelham informs Studely – the man from RKO.

RKO, a subsidiary of Radio-Keith-Orpheum, was one of the big five film studios of what can best be classed as the heyday of Hollywood. They churned out Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musicals along with low budget horror flicks and film noir.

Notable movies from RKO: King Kong, Citizen Kane, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Notorious. Jospeh Kennedy was not the only big name involved in RKO. In 1948 the studio was taken over by Howard Hughes.


Blighty is an affectionate nickname for Britain (or more specifically England) taken from the height of the Victorian rule of India, that was first used in the Boer War in Africa, and popularized on the fields of Western Europe in the First World War.

The Oxford English Dictionary says that the word is a distortion of a distortion: the Urdu word vilayati either means foreign, British, English or European, and it became a common term for European visitors to India during the 1800s. A mishearing changed the v to a b, and then bilayati became Blighty, as a term to describe British imports from home, such as soda water. There again, it was also claimed by Rupert Graves that it derives from the Hindustani word for home: blitey.

Having picked up some use during the Boer War (because nothing breeds in-jokes and slang like soldiers living and fighting in close proximity), the term really took off during the long years of trench warfare in World War I. Soldiers would talk openly of dear old Blighty, indicating not only a longing to be away from some of the most horrific battlegrounds in human history, but also a wish to return to a time when such horrors were unthinkable. This elegiac tone was caught and carried by the War Poets: Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, both of whom used the word when describing their experiences.

he War Office soon picked up on this, releasing a free magazine for active servicemen called Blighty, which contained poems and stories and cartoons from men on the front line. Then there were slang terms like Blighty wound, an injury good enough to get a soldier sent home, but not life-threatening, as depicted in the 1916 Music Hall song “I’m Glad I’ve Got a Bit of a Blighty One” by Vesta Tilley.

A year later there was “Take Me Back To Dear Old Blighty,” which quickly became enormously popular both at home and abroad, sung by many artistes (and soldiers) and capturing something of that wistfulness for the pre-war era, while still maintaining appropriately gritted teeth at the unpleasant tasks ahead.

Article and Pictures from:(

Stone the Crows

A great one for incredulity or annoyance. A flippin’ adds strength. Crows were – most probably still are – a scourge to farmers, especially sheep farmers. Crows will kill and eat newborn lambs. They also strip newly seeded arable land. Keeping crows from farmland was an arduous task, and poorly paid. Have a read of Thomas hardy’s Jude the Obscure but prepare yourself for one of the most tragic and heartbreaking episodes in literature.

I like the expression stone the crows, perhaps because it was a favourite of my father’s. It also puts me in mind of the wonderful Tony Hancock who often employed a wistful ‘stone me’.

Joe Stalin (Uncle Joe)

I shall not go into any details about one of the twentieth century’s nastiest mass-murderers – that would be to depressing. What does interest me is the way such a monster was viewed by people in the 1930s – people refusing to believe the horrors – a cognitive dissonance caused by an allegiance to what was seen as the noble cause: communism.

Passionate advocates of Stalin’s murderous regime were leading members of the Fabian Society, Sidney and Beatrice Webb who, in their 1935 book Soviet Communism: A New Civilization? Merely glossed over the deportation of Kulaks and the enforced famine and death of millions of Ukrainians – Holomodor.

In Pelham on Parole, Mrs. Glendower is also taken in. Hence the giant portrait of Uncle Joe. We meet Joe Stalin later. I tell a lie: we meet some crazy man dressed up as Uncle Joe for a fancy-dress ball aboard ship.


The Pistole Parabellum, a toggle-locked recoil operated semi-automatic pistol. It is one of those pistols we recognize immediately. We have seen it in hundreds of war movies. It is menacing – more menacing than any other pistol perhaps because of its origins and those who pointed it and fired it. It is the weapon of choice for any villain and any writer of villains.

Yes. Especially Bond villains. From titles of The Spy Who Loved Me.

I know, The Spy Who Loved Me was one of Roger Moore's best - perhaps his best .

What of the first James Bond? A sad week for many - including me. As a kid growing up in the 60s and 70s, there were 3 great British movie stars for me. Only one left now. We have lost Bond, we have lost The Saint. I hope we can keep Harry Palmer for another decade or so.

I am sure you will understand my reason for the final photograph in this episode of my blog.

From Goldfinger. Set explosives, order a drink, check your watch. Boom. Light your cigarette. Can't get classier than that, eh?

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