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  • Writer's pictureCarl Plummer

Some notes for Chapter 1 (Greta)

Welcome, dear reader. A few notes here for you, should you be the younger reader - and welcome to you - or perhaps a reader unfamiliar with some little 1930s oddities.

We begin our tale with Pelham Hardimann – your hero – languishing in prison. Not an overly long sentence, and he will explain all the who, where, what, when, and why he arrived in clink as swiftly as possible once the ball is rolling. You do not want to be tied up in backstory right from the start, do you?

We begin our journey here, at H.M. Prison. Wormwood Scrubs. London.

Photograph by Chmee2


The Daily Mirror is a British tabloid newspaper, founded in 1903 by Alfred Harmsworth, who sold it to his brother (the future Lord Rothermere) Harold Harmsworth, in 1913. If a man can be non-PC while being ahead of his time, Alfred Harmsworth’s intention was to publish a serious newspaper for women, within a year, sacking all the female journalists and referring to it as a paper for men and women. The newspaper started off as a middle-class tabloid, shifting to the left in the late 1930s and supporting the Labour Party since 1945, and being what can best be described as a newspaper for the working-classes. (For American readers of Hardimann adventures, it is worth checking out the different use of middle-class, and the use of Liberal between British and American politics).

Something worth noting in the political shifts is that during the early 1930s The Daily Mirror, under editorial directorship of Harry Guy Bartholomew, along with The Daily Mail, became aligned with both Mussolini and Hitler; this may be owing to Lord Rothermere’s friendship with them. The Daily Mirror headline on January 22. 1934: “Give the Blackshirts a helping hand”, urging workers to join Sir Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists. The BUF violence at the Olympia rally put a stop to that. The Daily Mirror, nearing the end of the decade, became strident in its opposition to the appeasement of German National Socialism.

It is worth considering here, and I go into this issue much deeper in the 4th adventure, that early on in the 1930s many leaders in Western democracies looked to Italy and Germany and were spellbound by the economic miracle taking place – especially in Germany. How easy it is to turn a blind eye to horrors and injustices as we gaze upon economic progress. Fascism and National Socialism were also seen, by many, as a defense against the horrors of dreaded communism – that spectre haunting Europe, promised by Marx nearly a hundred years earlier. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but even our hindsight can be myopic. Much of this is still missed by historians, maybe ignored; perhaps something we do not wish to confront.

So, why is the Daily Mirror mentioned in this chapter? By 1939, the newspaper was selling 1.4 million copies a day – reaching 4.5 a decade later. A working-class newspaper – and I shall stick my neck out here and state that good old fish ‘n’ chips was the fast food of the day: cheap and plentiful. (Not rationed during the war).

This delicacy – you may argue amongst yourselves about its origin – was first wrapped in thin, clean paper before being double wrapped in newspaper – unsold newspaper from the newsagent that was invariably just around the corner. Why yesterday’s newspaper? Exceedingly cheap, and wonderful at retaining heat. Tramps on park benches used to swear by it. I remember buying the odd bag of chips on the way home from school, after a few beers or after swimming practice of an evening in the late 70s: easy on the vinegar though; it does tend to seep through and leave you with a bit of a mush. Health experts deemed this form of wrapping – despite the first wrapping of clean paper – to be unhygienic. And how many people died from fish ‘n’ chip paper? Are there statistics? How much sea-life has been chocked to death by polystyrene trays? I would hazard a guess at millions. I have the same attitude toward plastic bottles; we used to buy milk and pop in glass bottles. Milk bottles were returned, cleaned, re-used. And youngsters could always earn a few pennies by collecting pop bottles. (I must stop here; I am going into old-git mode). So, the image of fish ‘n’ chips wrapped in newspaper (The Daily Mirror) is easily recognizable to the older reader, and the older author.

The bits refer to the bits or scraps (known by some as dubs or gribbles) of deep-fried batter left in the fryer after the fish is cooked – sometimes during cooking. Always worth asking for bits.

Worth a butcher’s: #AbsoluteHistory How Trains Made Fish & Chips A British Tradition


Remember Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock (1938)? Ida says: It’s like those sticks of rock. Bite all the way down, and you’ll still read Brighton.

Okay, so Dan does not say Brighton; he says Blackpool Rock, but you get the gist. Seaside rock – I say seaside because these tooth-cracking tubes are invariably sold at the seaside. Other tourist spots as well, so don’t fret. Numerous lengths, numerous widths of cylindrical boiled sugar with a name running all the way through. These tubes, sticks – dental dynamite – are multi-coloured with the writing set against a soft white centre, and eligible throughout. How do they get the writing all the way through – magic? The sugar, heated up to 147 degrees centigrade, is rolled, stretched, and flattened, and the upper-case lettering is not initially laid out in order. Most letters are set out in square, with A and V set out in triangles so as not to lose their shape.

I am surprised the health and safety people have left this confectionary alone, but they will have a go if they have not already tried. Sweet and sticky, for the younger jaw, but not ideal for those of us who are long in the tooth.

I chose Blackpool because I felt the seaside town more recognizable – the summer playground on the Lancashire coast – and Irish Sea, about 30 miles north of Liverpool. The town became a holiday centre in the mid-800s owing to the railways, although stagecoaches were already running from Manchester and Halifax in the 1780s. Summer holidays were introduced during the 19th century – especially in the Lancashire cotton mills. These ‘wakes’ weeks do not owe themselves to the generosity and good spirit of the mill owners; the mills were closed down for a week to service and repair machinery.

Bass Brewery, in Burton, was a little more generous. From the 1880s until the outbreak of war in 1914, the Brewery would hire fifteen trains to take up to 9,000 of their employees on their annual trip to the seaside.

Early with its gas lighting, Blackpool was also at the forefront with its introduction of electricity, with one of the world’s first electric tam systems introduced in 1892. In 1894 Blackpool could also boast an all-electric theatre, Grand Theatre, on Church Street, and the now famous Blackpool Tower – known for its illuminations. Sketch of Blackpool Beach by Hedley Fitton Manchester Times.1895.

Hitler had his eye on Blackpool, stating that the town would remain a seaside holiday destination and place of leisure, but that didn’t stop the git from bombing it on September 11th 1940. Worth a butcher’s: How do letters get in a stick of rock?


The first edition of Dundee based D.C.Thomson & Co. The Dandy came out in December 1937, to become, along with The Beano, one of Britain’s most popular comics. It was the first comic to use speech balloons instead of the speech printed along the bottom of the frames. Published weekly until September 1941, The Dandy became fortnightly, alternating with The Beano owing to paper shortages. The weekly issues returned in 1947. The Desperate Dan Statue: High Street, Dundee, Scotland.

The Dandy Comic stamp, issued by the Royal Mail.

So, why Dan, and why desperate? I wanted a prison inmate, Pelham’s cellmate, to be a villain but not too nasty, not too evil. I also wanted him to be big! The Dandy’s Desperate Dan (created by Dudley D. Watkins) a pleasant bad guy, rough and tough, with a penchant for cow pies; he could lift a cow with one hand. Hence the cow-pie-eater reference. He shaved with a blowtorch and filled his pillow with building rubble. He was a friendly, kindly character – with something of the Wild West about him. A loveable rogue, perhaps. Certainly sympathetic.

We only see him for a while in Chapter 1, but he may well crop up later in the adventure as he strives to get to the USA and give his beloved Greta a cuddle.


Pelham on Parole is sprinkled with Cockney Slang. Peckham Rye: tie. For the Shermans amongst you: necktie.

Peckham, in the London Borough of Southwark, is south of the River. Fans of Only Fools and Horses will be familiar with the name and with the rhyming slang oft employed by the characters, although I warn you not to place any faith in Delboy’s French phrases. Those of you familiar with William Blake – he of the Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright, will know that it is on The Rye (parkland) where he had his vision of a tree stuffed with angels, their wings bespangling every bough like stars. True, perhaps, but just as likely to be the result of Delboy’s luminous paint.

Anyway, for our purposes, stick with the Cockney slang aspect.

Language is a living thing, rhymes go in and out of fashion, and the invention of new phrases is constant. That said, you will find some regular favourites here.


In a 1955 LIFE magazine interview, Swedish actress Greta Garbo, nee Greta Lovisa Gustafsson (1905), states that she never said: ‘I want to be alone’. That’s as maybe, but I am not going to let truth get in the way of a good line. If I may get a bit Bidenesque: apocrypha without fact. She was known as the Mona Lisa of the 20th century. Greta Garbo was no fan of the press, and she could be a little curt. During an interview when she arrived in the USA (1925) her simple answer to a mundane question was "I was born. I had a mother and father. I went to school. What does it matter?" Excellent! Good for her. With MGM paying her $270,000 per movie, she had a great deal of leeway and control over her roles. I bet that made the other starlets jealous. This star was not going to be pushed around by the studios.

Actress Greta Garbo poses for a publicity photo for the MGM movie "As You Desire Me" which was released in 1932. (Photo by Donaldson Collection/Getty Images)

The introduction of the talkies (1927) caused some concern for studios; her accent was low, throaty, and cosmopolitan. For me, that is sexy, but for 1930s America – maybe not so much. The studios were foolish to worry; she went on to create great roles, mainly strong-willed heroines, in Queen Christina, Ninotchka, Anna Karenina, and another Oscar nomination for Camille. (1936).

The 1929 film, The Kiss was the story of an unhappily married woman caught up in scandal and murder when her relationship with a younger man is misinterpreted. Gossips, eh?

Was she beautiful? Oooh, yes. And tough. And mysterious. If I had to choose between Greta Garbo and Lauren Bacall – a close run thing either way…much of it down to the voices. Sexy and husky. Hey ho, dream on.


Beachy Head is the highest chalk cliff in England (531ft) above sea level – overlooking the English Channel, formed during the Late Cretaceous epoch between 66 and 100 million years ago. One would assume, quite incorrectly, that Beachy refers to the beach below. No. The name – perhaps first used in 1274 CE – is a corruption of French (beau chef), meaning beautiful headland.

Some readers may recall Quint’s song (sea shanty) in Jaws, his rendition of Spanish ladies.

The first land we sighted was called the Dodman, Next Rame Head off Plymouth, off Portsmouth the Wight; We sailed by Beachy, by Fairlight and Dover, And then we bore up for the South Foreland light.

Beachy, yes, is Beachy Head.

A quick reference here to Wight. Without giving too much away, we are introduced to the Isle of Wight near the end of Pelham on Parole. Isle of Wight has nothing to do with the colour white – despite the island having its own chalk cliffs. Wight is an old English word for creatures – the island of creatures.

Other interesting aspects of Beachy Head: Beachy Head Lady. In the 1950s, human remains were discovered. Forensic investigation and carbon dating proved the remains to be those of a Roman woman of Sub-Saharan African origin who lived in Eastbourne around 230CE. Image courtesy of Herry Lawford/Flickr

Look closely at the bottom of the cliffs and you might find the ashes of Friedrech Engels. Okay, you won’t: not with all that wind and waves, but it’s worth scouring around for fossils, especially sharks’ teeth. As a kid, in the late 60s and early 70s, I was the proud owner of hundreds of sharks’ teeth, mostly from further along the coast – Dorset way – Hardy country.

There are, naturally, plenty of photographs and videos about Beachy Head, but for something special, have a watch of the 1980 film Hopscotch – Walter Matthau at his best, no matter what Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times said. An excellent flying and explosion scene with a great view of cliffs and lighthouse.

For those into war movies, you will get plenty of shots of the coastline and white cliffs (along with Michael Caine) in Battle of Britain (1969)

This all sounds very pleasant, but there is a darker side to beachy Head. The Beachy Head Chaplaincy Team carries out regular patrols of the area because Beachy Head is the third most ‘popular’ spot for suicide, after The Golden Gate Bridge and Japan’s Aokagahara Woods.

James Mason, a murderer in The Upturned Glass (1947) takes his last step from Beachy Head.


The Master of the Posts was created in 1516, by Henry VIII. The term postmaster general came into being in 1710. The early posal system was for the crown and government, not to become available until 1635 under Charles I. There were no stamps; postage had to be paid by the recipient – so you made sure you wrote a decent, lengthy, news-and-gossip-crammed letter to justify the costs. Think of all those lengthy letters in Jane Austen novels.

All acts passed during the civil war, during the Commonwealth, and under the Protectorate Parliament were negated under Charles II in 1660. In the early to mid-1700s, Ralph Allen the postmaster of Bath developed the British postal network, introducing coaches with Royal Mail livery.

General Post Office (GPO); they were they bods we had to contact when we wanted a telephone installed. The first mail train ran on the Liverpool and Manchester railway in 1830, and money orders were introduced in 1838.

(Edinburgh and London Royal Mail by Jacques-Laurent Agasse - Hampel Auctions, Public Domain.)

The Uniform Penny Post was introduced in January 1840. A single rate was now pre-paid by the sender for any delivery in Great Britain and Ireland. The famous Penny Black (proof of payment) was first used on 6th of May 1840. With between six and nine deliveries a day in London, same day delivery was guaranteed.

Pillar boxes spread across the land – after the first being in jersey, in 1852. The Latin initials of the reigning monarch are on the cast iron boxes, apart from in Scotland where there was dispute about the reigning monarch. What you will see on Royal Mail post boxes: VR – Victoria Regina GR – Georgius Rex, and of course, EIIR. The GPO ran the telegraph and telephone system; the national telephone service was opened in 1912 and the international airmail service was started in 1919 by the Royal Engineers and the RAF.

Now, in Chapter One, Pelham informs Dan that all post belongs to the crown – from post box to letter box. I am not sure about this; I have been told this by postmen, and it sounds good to me. (If you know for sure – I will be pleased to hear from you). Notice how your postal worker will not take a letter from your hand. It must go into the post box then into the sack.

Queen Victoria Hexagonal Pillar Box courtesy of Memoirs of a Metro Notice the ornate VR.


Do people still buy matches?I suppose they do. I remember using Cook’s Matches in wipe-clean boxes, in my chef days – a long time ago. I used to collect match boxes – yes, sad old (young) me. Many companies put little jokes or interesting facts on the reverse side of the boxes. I have heard tell that one can only light a pipe with a match – never a lighter. Swan Vesta was another large company – with longer, flatter boxes. Ship matches, another Swedish company. Sweden, eh? Abba, Volvo, and matches. I am sure there is more: the straight from the sauna and rolling about in the snow – they can keep that thanks all the same.

I remember Bryant and May because they took over James Pain and Sons and Waeco (members of British Match group) to become Pains-Wessex, the fireworks and Fumite people at High Post, just outside Salisbury. I worked there for a summer after my A levels. A sprawling factory of Nissen Huts (for safety in case of explosions, and they did happen from time to time), and woodland where fumigation and pesticides were tested. Safety rules in the factory were strict, with red and green lines painted around the place. Step over a red line with a single match or single cigarette in your pocket, and you were given your marching orders: no questions asked, no discussion, no appeal. How did I get the summer job? My mother was Personnel Officer there (now known as Human resources, I expect). November 5 (Guy Fawkes Night) was fantastic in the early 70s; she would come home with a car boot load of reject fireworks – all without labels. I would make up bundles of fireworks, attach fuses, and stand well back, in the back garden. Health and safety eh? She would be arrested for that now, and I would end up in care.

I chose to use England’s Glory (made in Sweden) to give a touch of patriotism, and to give a sense of the time. England’s Glory made in Sweden: is that what they call irony?



Okay, I shall come clean. I needed a prison warder. Two came to mind. One from Two Way Stretch (1960), starring Peter Sellers, David Lodge, Bernard Cribbens, Wilfrid Hyde-White (you will meet a Wilfrid Hyde-White type character later in Pelham on Parole. He could play an excellent vicar), and Lionel Jeffries. Lionel Jeffries is superb as a bullying warder with thin moustache, Blakeys, sneering cruelty, and a big gob. (Lionel Jeffries as Chief P.O. Crout: Two Way Stretch (1960) British Lion Films. ).

Another great portrayal was in Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais’ Porridge. Porridge – if not in the top five of British TV comedies, there is no justice in the world. The BBC series ran from 1974 to 1977, set in fictional Slade Prison with habitual burglar, Norman Stanley Fletcher, played expertly by Ronnie Barker, naïve new inmate Lennie Godber, played by Richard Beckinsale (who died so young, and has such a career ahead of him), and the cruel and grisly, tough Scotsman, Principal Officer Mr. MacKay played by Fulton Mackay. Let us not forget Brian Wilde (he of Last of the Summer Wine – which I mention in my introduction) who plays Mr. Barrowclough, the soft, warm-hearted, easily tricked, progressive Prison Officer. Ronnie Barker and Fulton MacKay in Porridge. Courtesy of:

Come to think of it, I could write a complete book on Porridge – with so many superb actors, comic situations, and loveable characters. Comedy writing at its best; comedy does not rely on jokes, it works best with characters you care about, in simple situations where characteristics come to the fore. If you have never watched an episode of Porridge, give it a go. You will not be disappointed; it stands the test of time.

So, Mr. Kay: a mix of Lionel Jeffries and Fulton MacKay.


I mention ‘blithering’ on this page simply because I like the word. Some words just sound great. The Cambridge Dictionary mentions nincompoop, twerp, and troglodyte. I must try and use troglodyte. The word ‘blithering’ a variant of blather, was popular in the second half of the 1800s and early part of the 1900s. It seems to be coming back into fashion: I do hope so.

Blather is a Northern English and Scottish word, perhaps coming from the Old Norse bladra, meaning to mutter or wag the tongue. Blither is first recorded in the 1860s as a variation of blether (1780s) and blather (1520s).

I expect the word first crossed my path whilst reading P.G. Wodehouse.

I hope you have enjoyed these little snippets, maybe learned, or become more interested in something mentioned.

I will be doing this for each chapter. One of the great joys of writing is the research, the checking of facts, looking for little objects, words, or phrases to add colour to the landscape.

All the best. Carl Plummer.

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