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  • Writer's pictureCarl Plummer

Pelham on Parole. Some Notes for Chapter 3: From a Body in the Barn…


Apologies to those of you who thought this would be a briefing about the famous crime-busters, Batman and Robin.

The batman mentioned here, when Pelham tells the tale of Clackett, was a soldier-servant employed by the military to keep commissioned officers in the comfort to which they were accustomed. Batmen were invariably chosen from the regiment by the officers of the regiment, and the job was nothing to be sneered at. Nothing but an officer’s lackey, you might think, but batmen were often excused the undesirable duties of many soldiers – being too busy looking after their officer’s uniform, shaving, dining, and driving about. Batmen were also likely to be promoted beyond lance-corporal.

David Niven in The Way Ahead.

(Peter Ustinov)

Yes, Britain was (perhaps still is) a class-ridden society, and up until the second half of the 20th century – a colonial empire. Batmen in the Indian army was known as orderlies, and four Indian officers each year, between 1903 and 1939, served as the King’s attendants in London – representing the Indian army at functions.

As for class? During the making of the wartime film The Way Ahead (an excellent film, I think), David Niven and Peter Ustinov worked as actor and writer. This caused an issue. David Niven was a Lieutenant Colonel and Peter Ustinov was a lowly private. To make it possible for these two military men to work together, Peter Ustinov was appointed as David Niven’s batman.

Perhaps the most famous batman in literature is Mervyn Bunter, former batman, and later butler to Dorothy L. Sayer’s Lord Peter Wimsey, making his first appearance in Whose Body (1923). Our man Bunter is introduced as a heroic fellow, having saved Lord Peter Wimsey from death on several occasions, most notably digging his boss out from a collapsed dugout after heavy shelling on the Western Front.

The modern reader may find all this a tad saccharin and hackneyed with the portrayal of the working-class hero serving the patronizing and benevolent Lord, but writers are of their time, and Dorothy L. Sayers gives us some strong female characters, especially with Harriet Vane, and complex plots with depth of knowledge and philosophy: still worth a read for those who like great detective stories that stand the test of time. Give them a go. For those preferring to watch rather than read – which is understandable so long as the visual production is well done – I would recommend the 1972-1975 BBC versions starring with the wonderful Ian Carmichael as Wimsey, and the stoic and ever-resourceful Bunter played by Glyn Houston as the partnership is introduced to us in Clouds of Witness.

As for the reader, I would recommend The Nine Tailors: a masterpiece.

The King’s Shilling

The practice of receiving the King’s Shilling goes back to the English Civil War and ended in 1879. The term is still used, informally, by those signing up to the armed forces.

Pay for a private in the English army was a shilling a day, which was not a sum to be sniffed at in those days, but soldiers were obliged to pay for their own food, their own clothing, and all initial equipment on signing up – on receiving the King’s Shilling. Soldiers would often get an advance of a month or two’s wage to assist with these initial payments, sometimes up to 23 shillings. The sum was at least six-months salary for most unskilled workers – a persuasive offer for many. This led to the problem of many soldiers signing up, getting the cash then deserting, reenlisting, deserting again… In 1787, one fellow was hanged for playing this ruse 47 times. But for most, the bounty was enticing.

The Recruit by Henry Liverseege (1803-1832) Now in National Army Museum

There were, of course, other novel ways to get men to sign up and avoid receiving the white feather from womenfolk – especially the suffragettes, who wanted the vote but were not quite ready to risk life and limb on the Western Front while pushing the men to go and be slaughtered for King and Country (yes, sarcasm here). A popular song, sung by women in 1914 went On Saturday I'm willing, if you'll only take the shilling, to make a man of any one of you’. Was that the going rate for the oldest profession at that time? Not an alleyway I wish to venture down, thanks all the same.

Fans of the BBC series Peaky Blinders may remember one character, Thomas Shelby, telling his men ‘When you take the King's shilling, the King expects you to kill.’ He should also have reminded them of what Tennyson says: Not though the soldier knew, Someone had blundered. Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die. (We will be meeting Tennyson’s famous line later as Pelham, Studely, and Hammer search RMS Queen Mary as relations between our heroes start to strain).

Player’s Navy Cut

‘It’s the tobacco that counts.’ ‘Player’s, please.’

Cigarettes were available in tins, along with pipe tobacco sold by the ounce, and cardboard containers, with the flip-top packet being introduced in the 1950s.

The famous log was introduced in 1883 with the lifebouy being introduced in 1888. The sailor was referred to as ‘hero’ owing to the name on his cap. The image of the sailor was known as "Hero" because of the name on his hat band. Behind the sailor are two ships; on the left is HMS Britannia and on the right is HMS Dreadnought or HMS Hero. The image of the sailor changed from time to time, sometimes clean shaven, and sometimes with a beard.

There were three Navy Cut brands: Mild, and Gold Leaf, with Medium Navy cut being the most popular. The brand was discontinued in the UK in 2016.

It is easy to confuse Player’s Navy Cut with Senior Service (introduced in 1925), perhaps owing to the naval references – with The Senior Service being the nickname of the Royal Navy. (A cigarette I smoked in my 20s when not smoking Pall Mall – no lectures, please). Their logo is of a sailing ship, olive branches, and a crown, and their slogan was ‘Senior Service Satisfy’. A classier smoke, maybe, and for those who revel in the knowledge that James Bond smoked his own special Morlands – with the three gold rings – he was also happy to smoke Senior Service in Goldfinger, Thunderball, and The Spy Who Loved Me.

And guess what? Senior Service also get a mention in Peaky Blinders, and let us not forget a song by Elvis Costello – Senior Service – dedicated to the pleasure of smoking.

January 2020 saw the end of Senior Service.

A Decent Cuppa (of tea, naturally).

Pelham’s reminiscence of Clackett, and the injuries suffered by the batman, involves the pleasure of a decent cuppa under the severest of conditions. Not much work for me to do here; I shall leave it to George Orwell.

When I look through my own recipe for the perfect cup of tea, I find no fewer than eleven outstanding points. On perhaps two of them there would be pretty general agreement, but at least four others are acutely controversial. Here are my own eleven rules, every one of which I regard as golden:

  • First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea. China tea has virtues which are not to be despised nowadays — it is economical, and one can drink it without milk — but there is not much stimulation in it. One does not feel wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking it. Anyone who has used that comforting phrase 'a nice cup of tea' invariably means Indian tea.

  • Secondly, tea should be made in small quantities — that is, in a teapot. Tea out of an urn is always tasteless, while army tea, made in a cauldron, tastes of grease and whitewash. The teapot should be made of china or earthenware. Silver or Britanniaware teapots produce inferior tea and enamel pots are worse; though curiously enough a pewter teapot (a rarity nowadays) is not so bad.

  • Thirdly, the pot should be warmed beforehand. This is better done by placing it on the hob than by the usual method of swilling it out with hot water.

  • Fourthly, the tea should be strong. For a pot holding a quart, if you are going to fill it nearly to the brim, six heaped teaspoons would be about right. In a time of rationing, this is not an idea that can be realized on every day of the week, but I maintain that one strong cup of tea is better than twenty weak ones. All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes — a fact which is recognized in the extra ration issued to old-age pensioners.

  • Fifthly, the tea should be put straight into the pot. No strainers, muslin bags or other devices to imprison the tea. In some countries teapots are fitted with little dangling baskets under the spout to catch the stray leaves, which are supposed to be harmful. Actually one can swallow tea-leaves in considerable quantities without ill effect, and if the tea is not loose in the pot it never infuses properly.

  • Sixthly, one should take the teapot to the kettle and not the other way about. The water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact, which means that one should keep it on the flame while one pours. Some people add that one should only use water that has been freshly brought to the boil, but I have never noticed that it makes any difference.

  • Seventhly, after making the tea, one should stir it, or better, give the pot a good shake, afterwards allowing the leaves to settle.

  • Eighthly, one should drink out of a good breakfast cup — that is, the cylindrical type of cup, not the flat, shallow type. The breakfast cup holds more, and with the other kind one's tea is always half cold before one has well started on it.

  • Ninthly, one should pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea. Milk that is too creamy always gives tea a sickly taste.

  • Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.

  • Lastly, tea — unless one is drinking it in the Russian style — should be drunk without sugar. I know very well that I am in a minority here. But still, how can you call yourself a true tealover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt. Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water. Some people would answer that they don't like tea in itself, that they only drink it in order to be warmed and stimulated, and they need sugar to take the taste away. To those misguided people I would say: Try drinking tea without sugar for, say, a fortnight and it is very unlikely that you will ever want to ruin your tea by sweetening it again.

(The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, Volume 3, 1943-45, Penguin ISBN, 0-14-00-3153-7)

(I cannot find Yorkshire Tea in China, but I can always find plenty of strong Twinings English Breakfast).

I’m with George Orwell on the ‘no sugar’ issue. In my young days – in the 70s – I was a two-spoons-of-sugar boy. In 1974 (I was 14) there was a sugar shortage owing to a reduction of sugar imports from the Caribbean. Sugar was rationed. Consumption was controlled by EEC (now the EU) regulations – yes, the EU was a pain in the neck even then. This shortage led to lengthy queues at small shops and supermarkets. My mother – with a full-time job – was not going to waste her time queueing, and neither was I. I started drinking tea sans sucre; I acquired the taste and I have never looked back. Tea with the merest grain of the sweet stuff is now poison to me. I have a feeling there is a joke here about silver linings and Silver Spoon, but I can’t work it out yet.

The Hun

Hun (or The Hun) was a term employed often during The Great War and was often seen on Allied war posters.

It is a reference to Attila the Hun in Wilhelm II's "Hun speech" (Hunnenrede) of 27 July 1900, when he bade farewell to the German expeditionary corps sailing from Bremerhaven to defeat the Boxer Rebellion; yes, not only the British involved in thee Boxer rebellion.

The Kaiser's speech was widely reported in the European press and became the basis for the characterisation of the Germans during The Great War as barbarians and savages, used to great effect by the British propaganda machine.

The French songwriter Théodore Botrel described the Kaiser as "an Attila, without remorse", launching "cannibal hordes". The Germans of The Great war were not as brutal as often portrayed, but there were instances of horror, especially in Belgium. The racially motivated wars of National Socialists during the 1930s and 1940s went to the utmost extremes, along with the racially motivated nationalism of the Japanese and the savagery prompted by the ideology of the Soviets.

Winston Churchill, in a 1941 broadcast said: "There are less than 70,000,000 malignant Huns, some of whom are curable and others killable, most of whom are already engaged in holding down Austrians, Czechs, Poles and the many other ancient races they now bully and pillage." Even the American President Franklin D. Roosevelt also referred to Germans as Huns, stating that an Allied push into Southern France would "be successful and of great assistance to Eisenhower in driving the Huns from France."

(Italian poster from 1915)

That said, it was very much a term of The Great War. Fritz was popular during both world wars, with Jerry being employed mostly by the British during the Second World War. One thing is for sure, whenever there is war, between whomever it may be, countries will always find a dehumanizing and pejorative term for the enemy.

In Pelham and the Plan on the Clapham Omnibus and Pelham on Tin Islands you will find Studely using Fritz often.


Quill of The Yard prepares to launch a Fabian fusillade at Pelham, showing his contempt for Pelham’s posh background and connections.

With its original coat of arms being a wolf in sheep’s clothing, the Fabian Society was formed in 1884, and named after Fabius the Delayer.

The Fabian organization endeavored to promote socialist ideals, to promote scoialist democracy, without going to the extremes of revolution. The Fabian Society greatly influenced the founding of the British Labour Party and founded the London School of Economics and Political Science in 1895. As one of the founding organizations of the Labour Representation Committee in 1900, and as an important influence upon the Labour Party which grew from it, the Fabian Society has had a powerful influence on British politics. Other members of the Fabian Society have included political leaders from countries formerly part of the British Empire, such as Jawaharlal Nehru, who adopted Fabian principles as part of their own political ideologies. The Fabian Society founded the London School of Economics and Political Science in 1895.

The ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ emblem was dropped, owing to its negative connotations.

While calling for social justice, the minimum wage, universal health care, fighting the noble cause and the betterment of mankind, there was a darker side to the Fabians – perhaps one I’m sure they like to forget about: eugenics being one of them.

Most of their beliefs went against the Liberal ideas of individualism promoted a great deal during previous centuries.

One of their most prominent members was George Bernard Shaw, the playwright, and one his most horrific propositions – the human gassing of those people deemed to be a burden on society – mainly the mentally and physically infirm.

Although it is unlikely most Fabians went around with copies of Karl Marx’s Zur Judenfrage in their pockets, the Jewish people did not escape hatred from the left: something not uncommon even now, and something, I fear, on the rise.

In his biography of Shaw, Michael Holyrod explains after reading much of Shaw’s correspondence, some of his more horrific ideas. A good read, but not a fun read. We must keep in mind that the intentions of cruel and barbaric leaders do not emerge from a vacuum of ideas or ideologies.

This is something that for a long time has sat heavy with me, an admirer of Shaw’s literary genius, and it is difficult to separate the art from the artist. Shaw was a fan of Hitler and viewed those sentenced at the Nuremburg trials as martyrs to the cause. Shaw’s devotion to Hitler was only outdone by his love of Stalin and his ‘terrors’.

Something we should keep in mind; economic miracles can all too easily disguise the horrors employed in their creation. We must never be blinded by the burnished gold of economic progress and what is oft deemed as civilization.

I have finished on a heavy note, but it is something that cannot be avoided. The truth must never be shunned. We move onto lighter things next week.

Carl Plummer. 2020.

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