Pelham on Parole. Notes for Chapter 6 (a). Pelham’s world: Benny Goodman, Bunny Berigan, Gene Krupa
Benny Goodman, Bunny Berigan, Gene Krupa
I have put these three together because they belong together. They are magic together. Son of a Jewish, Polish emigrant, Benny Goodman (1909-1986), the King of Swing, was an American clarinetist, and one of the most influential band leaders in American music history. His 1938 session at Carnegie Hall has been described as "the single most important jazz or popular music concert in history: jazz's 'coming out' party to the world of 'respectable' music.”
Benny Goodman was brought up in poverty, in Chicago, in the slum railroad districts, along with Irish, Italian, German, Polish and Scandinavian immigrants. After starting his training (music lessons) with Franz Shoepp of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Benjamin Goodman went on to have lessons from James Sylvester, and by the age 13 he had his union card. At 14 he was working (playing) alongside Bix Beiderbecke.
A move to New York City had benny working with Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, and Isham Jones. (We hear from Isham Jones a little later in Pelham’s adventures – when we hear of his wonderful version of Stardust). In 1935, at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles, Benny Goodman set off the swing era – after a session or two that had fallen rather flat. Benny Goodman followed the advice if his friend, Gene Krupa – if we are gonna to die, let’s die playing our own thing. It is worth noting here how much of an American thing Swing was. Sure, Britain and Europe had big bands galore, but swing did not go down so well in Europe, especially in Germany. Adolf was no fan of jazz – seeing it as crass, mongrel music created by Jews to stain the purity and virtue of German music. One British writer, J. C. Squire, described swing as ‘jungle noises without heart’ and demanded it never again be played on the BBC. All I can say on that matter is that J. C. Squire must have been something of a lead-lined, fresh-out-of-the-box prat! Benny Goodman was designated the King of Swing after playing for the Hollywood’s 1937 The Big Broadcast.
Swing remained in vogue until 1940, waiting for Charlie Parker to create bebop. Benny Goodman flirted with bepop for a while, along with the likes of Thelonius Monk, Buddy Greco, and Zoot Sims before returning to Swing.
For films featuring Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, Bunny Berigan et al: The Big Broadcast of 1937; Hollywood Hotel (1938); Syncopation (1942); The Powers Girl (1942); Stage Door Canteen (1943); The Gang's All Here (1943); Sweet and Low-Down (1944), Goodman's only starring feature; Make Mine Music (1946) and A Song Is Born (1948).
Suggested listening: Goodman’s 1935 version of Louis Prima’s Sing, Sing, Sing, if you want to do some leg-swinging and hip-jiggling. For a romantic one, try his wonderful Stardust from Oh Lady be Good.
Bunny’s Blues Boys: Trumpeter and band leader, Wisconsin born Bunny Berigan, who based his playing style on Louis Armstrong was a shooting star, brought down by the scourge of alcoholism at the age of 33. But he us there with Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, and Benny Goodman. He joined Benny Goodman’s swing band in 1935 after working in New York at CBS. Hospitalized in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1942 for pneumonia, it was found that cirrhosis had damaged his liver beyond repair. His return to the band in New York was short-lived and he died on the last day of May in 1942. His band continued, with Tenor Sax player, Vido Musso taking over the reins.
Next time you watch Polanski’s Chinatown, listen out for Berigan’s 1937 recording of I Can’t Get Started – a recording inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Okay, why talk of Goodman, Berigan, and Krupa? I wanted Hammer humming and brum-brumming along to swing while driving to give him something of a quirk. Hammer may have a penchant for wearing Nazi uniforms, but he does not take the AH line of hating jazz. Straightlaced and conservative Hammer may well be, but he does lob a brick at the stained-glass window of conformity from time to time.
Anyway, give Benny Goodman and his mates a go. You may not be a fan of swing, but if you don’t find yourself gyrating to Sing, Sing, Sing – well, you’d better check for a pulse.
Time to chat about one of my favourite authors and perhaps his greatest character. P. G. Wodehouse is on my ‘Desert Island Discs’ (exchange discs for books) list, along with Raymond Chandler, Rex Stout, and George Orwell, and R. K. Narayan, and Leslie Charteris, and Len Deighton, and…and…
In the world of P. G Wodehouse – a world without war and hate, apart from the snarling of Aunt Agatha, and the bumptious idiocy of Roderick Spode – Jeeves sails through like a trimmed tea-cutter as others careen and drift like loose-sheeted galleons. Jeeves is steady, well-read (brain fuelled by a diet of fish, Russian Classics, Shakespeare, and
Spinoza) with a keen eye for an advantage and the weakness in others. He is heroic, and perhaps based on Wodehouse’s real-life hero, Percy Jeeves (1888-1916), a famous Warwickshire cricketer and reputable bowler who was killed at The Battle of the Somme.
Jeeves always has a solution, invariably one conjured up to get his master, Bertie Wooster, out of a bind. This saving of his master will often result in a crisp white fiver or two winging his way or will result in a fishing trip and ocean-going voyage he has been dreaming of.
Jeeves was my starting point for Hammer in Pelham on Parole. I wanted a figure like Jeeves, smart, clever, but more Machiavellian, more dangerous, more malevolent – and we never truly know whose side he is on. Yes, there are nods to P.G. Wodehouse in the Pelham Hardimann adventures – for which I offer no apology. Studely’s homely tale about the silver cow creamer is the most obvious, I suppose, but there are others: look out for them.
A website/blog to visit should you be a Wodehouse fan is Plumtopia at honoriaplum.com
Regal, Rex, Roxy, and Savoy.
Cinemas (movie-theaters for our American readers) of the 1930s were like real theatres, called picture palaces, they were palaces of dreams where people could enter other worlds – worlds of glamour and adventure – an escape from the mundane and quotidian of drudgery. No multiplex in those days. They were ornate, velvety, and romantic. Saturday morning was the children’s club, crammed with cartoons and ‘B’ movies and the obligatory western. And Sundays had double bills.
And what great names these palaces had. Regal, Rex, Roxy, and Savoy. They were adorned with huge posters promising adventure, adding to the grandeur of the architecture. By the end of the 1930s there were three main distributers in Britain: Associated British Cinemas (ABC), Gaumont, and Odeon. In 1938, 31% of the population went to the cinema at least once a week, with 13% going at least twice a week.
Two great names of British cinema are the Hungarian Alexander Korda and London-born Alfred Hitchcock. Korda’s London Films gave us The Drum, The Four Feathers, and the jingoistic (to be frowned on nowadays as non-pc) Sabu, while Hitchcock laid the ground for thrillers with The Man Who Knew Too Much, The 39 Steps, and the wonderful The Lady Vanishes. We get a nod to The Lady Vanishes as Pelham goes up on deck for a breath of fresh air before leaving Southampton.
As a kid in the 60s and 70s, I used to frequent The Odeon to see greats like Where Eagles Dare or You Only Live Twice. I would often watch all through the credits, stay stuck in my seat, and watch the film all over again. My first visit was with my mother, to watch Mary Poppins. My father took me to watch Clint Eastwood chewing skinny cigars and squinting before shooting bad and ugly geezers, and Michael Caine as the working-class spy. He took me to see Lawrence of Arabia there: the next weekend we went into Dorset to find Lawrence’s hermit-like dwelling Clouds Hill.
It was a magical world for me, often beginning with a machine-gun volley of Pearl & Dean adverts, to be followed be a sprinkling of badly shot pleadings to visit a local shoe shop or restaurant – always around the corner from this cinema. After that: the man with the bloody great gong. Even the first few seconds of films were stunning: the roaring lion of MGM, the statue-of-liberty style woman holding her torch, and my favourite – Universal Artists with that twinkling, golden stardust falling to earth before the white circle of a Bond opening.
Has the magic gone? I think so, unless I am just an old git, cynical and unmoved. Film stars are everywhere now – on YouTube and Facebook, on television non-stop – forever promoting themselves, along with their political views. My last visit to the cinema was a multiplex in Guangzhou – on the top floor of a shopping mall, clean, extremely efficient, but sterile, without romance, lacking the sense of occasion.
Gaumont in Salisbury.
Pathé produced newsreels and documentaries between 1910 and 1970. Its creator, Frenchman Charles Pathé took the national emblem of his country as his company’s trademark. He began his newsreel in 1908, and opened an office in Wardour Street, London in 1910. Newsreels known as the Pathé Animated Gazettes and by the 1930s the coverage of news became more widespread, covering sport and culture.
The company was sold to Warner Bros. in 1958 but by1970 it could no longer compete with television.
The London North Eastern Railway ran a service between the capital of England, London and the Capital of Scotland, Edinburgh from 1862 via the East Coast Main Line. With a thirty-minute stop for lunch in York, the service first took just over ten hours, to be reduced to 8 hrs. 30 minutes in 1888. The name Flying Scotsman came out of the initial title of Special Scotch Express. The London to Edinburgh service now takes 4 hrs.
We think of the Flying Scotsman as one famous locomotive, but in fact there were quite a few locomotives, changing with technology. The most famous: Gresley A3 4472 Class Pacifics the holder of the steam rail-speed record, reaching 100mph in November 1934, driven by Bill Sparshatt.
For International Women’s Day on 6 March 2020, LNER rebranded the service the 'Flying Scotswoman' for a month, with the service was staffed entirely by women.
Talking of women – I do occasionally; pastiche or even homage is a joy to behold when done well. Give yourself a treat and watch (a proper feminist before feminist started talking about feminism) Diana Rigg’s cat-suited Emma Peel tied to the tracks as a miniature locomotive thunders toward her in an episode of the ground-breaking TV series (yes, ground-breaking) The Avengers. The Gravediggers episode.
It is glorious. Don’t worry; once freed, she gives the baddies a good kicking. Sadly missed, Diana Rigg, a wonderful actor, talented and beautiful, playing great roles for women on stage and screen without reverting to any of the ‘because I’m a woman’ malarkey.
BRAINY, BRAVE, and BEAUTIFUL.
Yes, Simon Templar aka The Saint, one of Britain’s greatest durable desperadoes gets the odd mention in Pelham on Parole. Pelham is a wannabe Simon Templar, for sure but he has neither the looks or the skills, or the courage, come to mention it.
Leslie Charteris’ wonderful character first came to our bookshops in 1928 (Meet the Tiger) and ran until 1963. There were aliases, Sebastian Tombs and Sugarman Treacle, all making use of the initials for a Robin Hood character in Savile Row suits, leaving his stick-figure calling card – the halo above the head, which was always used to introduce the Roger Moor version on British TV. Our hero rarely carries a gun, preferring a knife and his wit. Is he a killer? At times, yes – but only to those deserving of such punishment.
Many of the early books had Templar fighting gangsters, arms dealers, and drug runners – even white slavers, but by the early 1940s we find him fighting Nazis, often on behalf of the American government.
The Saint on Guard portrays Templar more as a secret service agent than a swashbuckling buccaneer and crime-fighter. Yes, there are literary tropes galore, and The Saint is very much of his time, along with the likes of Drummond, Raffles, and Lupin: great driver (with a sporty coupe), leaves a calling card, a lover of the casual quip, a charmer, a dodgy relationship with lily law, and forever reaching out a helping hand for any damsel in distress. Like any globe-trotting hero, Templar gets his gal (unlike Pelham Hardimann) but he does have a long-lasting and rather open relationship with one woman – Patricia Holm – who is way ahead of the times as far as relationships are concerned, and yes, she’s just as tough and up for some villain-bashing as any male hero.
A strange sidekick is Hoppy Uniatz, a fan of the bottle, but handy with a gun and his fists – an ex-member of the prohibition era American underworld. As for the law, we have constantly dyspeptic Chief Inspector Claude Eustace Teal of Scotland yard, a solid and workmanlike detective on a par with Conan Doyle’s Lestrade who is forever searching for a way to collar Templar, while owing many of his best busts to his arch enemy. Does Simon Templar have a gentleman’s gentleman? Yes, Orace, something of an old retainer.
Many readers may think of Bond or Brett Sinclair (of the Persuaders) when Roger Moore is mentioned, but for me, he was always The Saint. And he seems to spend most of his time in the South of France – when not saving the decent leaders of imagined African or Middle East countries.
Leslie Charteris’ writing is fast-paced, humerous, and at time wonderfully glib, worthy to be placed on your bookshelf alongside P.G. Wodehouse and Rex Stout.
The author, the creator of Simon Templar was Leslie Charles Bowyer-Yin, son of an English mother and Singapore father – a Chinese physician claiming lineage going back to the Shang Dynasty.
By 1932 he was writing for Paramount Pictures in Hollywood. In 1936, Simon Templar was on the airwaves, portrayed by Vincent Price and from 1938 to 1943 George Sanders played Templar in the RKO films. During this time, Leslie Charteris was writing scripts for the Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce radio series of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Should you be searching for photographs or even short film clips of Leslie Charteris – good luck to you; they are few and far between. He died in 1958 – a year before your author and creator of Pelham Hardimann, Carl Plummer, was born.
Did I read The Saint adventures as a teenager – oh yes, I lapped them up. If you have not read any – give them a go. They stand the test of time. Great writers and great characters always do.
Just a little thing to add to our section on Simon Templar: all swashbuckling heroes have transport, preferably a high-powered sports car. In the case of Simon Templar, we have the Hirondel – sometimes spelled incorrectly as Hirondelle – expensive for its day as would be an Aston Martin of Lagonda. Templar’s Hirondel boasts eight cylinders, is red and cream – weren’t two-tone cars wonderful; I still look forward to the day when I can buy a two-tone Lotus Elan – with wire wheels, of course. Roger Moore’s white Volvo was pretty nifty for its day, though I think the shooting-break version is sleeker.
The (fictional) Hirondel Motor Company, Coventry, was the cover subject of Automobile Quarterly First Quarter 1972
Just a thought here. The French word hirondelle, apart from their word for catamaran, is their word for the swallow family of birds. What does Pelham Hardimann drive? An SS100 (which will be featured soon in a future blog entry), for Swallow Sidecar 100, to become Jaguar Motors after the Second World War because of SS having rather distasteful overtones.