The Advent of The Pelham Hardimann Adventures
Pelham Hardimann, a cross between David Niven and Simon Templar (or so he thinks), is released from prison in the spring of 1939 as war in Europe looms. The condition of Parole: to deliver scientific secrets to the USA. On his tail: two American gangsters, an old woman armed with knitting needles, a corrupt Scotland Yard detective, and the obligatory femme fatale. On his side: rotund ex-copper Studely, and Mr. W.S. Churchill’s gentleman’s gentleman who has a penchant for Nazi uniforms – and could be a Nazi assassin. Pelham on Parole is an adventurous satire sprinkled with whimsical and philosophical meanderings, filled to the brim with class war, strained friendships, personal demons, and family feuds amidst the burgeoning battle of good against evil – on trains, in boats, and in aeroplanes. Enjoy as Pelham, now an old man, sits at the fireside with you, beer in hand, telling tall tales of his daring-do: some of which may be true, some of which may be filched from movies of the 1940s and 1950s. Allow him his indiscretions, his inaccuracies, and his embellishments. Allow him his moment.
(Apologies: this is not your hero. This is your author).
How did I come up with the character – Pelham Hardimann – and why the name? The name is simple enough – a nod to Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, my go to author when I have had my fill of reading the heavy stuff for work. My favourite author, well, that is not any easy one; reading favourites depend on genre and mood, I feel. Much of my reading now is politics, philosophy, and psychology, with some dabbling in the sciences: I need to keep up to date with things for my TOK students. (Unfortunately, I cannot help them with mathematics).
When not teaching or reading, I am writing – often editing, re-editing, re-re-editing. I am an avid editor. The Hardimann surname comes from – I have no idea. It just popped into my head, perhaps giving the name a pleasant rhythm.
I had a good think about the fiction I enjoyed most. Humour and satire, and history. Could I combine them? My mind wandered; what would happen to Bertie Wooster if he lost his little all, and his aunts and uncles lost their little alls? His allowances gone. And what of Jeeves? Such a schemer, such a brain. What if he was malevolent, and Machiavellian?
I thought about my teenage years. Wet Sunday afternoons. No chance of the beach or the forest. The afternoon film on television – invariably in monochrome. Those old war stories: Ice Cold in Alex, The Cruel Sea, The Wooden Horse, The Colditz Story, Carve her Name with Pride, Where Eagles Dare, Went the Day Well? Mrs. Miniver, In Which we Serve, The Dambusters – the list is endless. It was a world of heroes, be they warriors, scientists, secret agents, or enlisted bank clerks, people facing their own personal battles with a giant backdrop of war. A world of John Wayne, Jack Hawkins, John Mills, and Harry Andrews. Sylvia Syms and Virginia McKenna.
I had my hero: Pelham Hardimann. (You may not like him at first, but I think he will grow on you. As he tells you himself: we must allow men their weaknesses). His Sancho Panza: Studely. And playing them both like a fiddle, Hammer. I could throw in the class war, the personal stories, the strained friendships, the personal demons, and challenges with one huge backdrop – the fight of a sort of good against a definite evil. I wanted humour, not belly-laughs, but satire sprinkled with whimsical and philosophical meanderings, which meant avoiding the true horrors. I had to keep it small and personal, at times almost domestic. The stories are drizzled – apologies for the cookery metaphor – with snippets you will recognize from those great films of the forties, fifties, and sixties. Did it work? Well, that is up to you to judge. Think of Pelham as an old man sitting at the fireside with you, beer in hand, telling tall tales of his daring-do. Allow him his indiscretions, his inaccuracies, and his embellishments. Allow him his moment.
As for the development of characters and how I see them?
I have always liked heroes and their sidekicks – the greatest of all being Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. There are so many others: Holmes and Watson, with Watson being the conduit for the exposition of Holmes’ genius. Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin – excellent. Biggles and Ginger, Raffles and Bunny, Lord Peter Wimsey and Bunter. Campion is wonderful, certainly enhanced by the brutishness of Lugg. Got the idea? While these duos are terrific, and great fun, I wanted more friction. What about three main characters? The Three Musketeers springs to mind immediately. No,no,no, we are not going along the Charlie’s Angels line. Three works well. Triangles are strong in most ways, but what I like about triangles is the possibility of two against one, with the two and the one exchanging, or when things get really bad, all for none and none for all. In my late teens, my A level days, I had two great friends, Woody, and Blaise. Yes, a cliché, but we were referred to as the three musketeers. And yes, there were times when we were as one, times when were as none, and often two against one with the two and the one changing. We were also such different characters – but still mates. Bizarre? No, just interesting chemistry. Think of Top Gear – or The Grand Tour as it is now; that trio works because of the differences, because of the squabbling, and the extremely rare occasion when they must work together and support each other. The English reader will know well the long-running Last of the Summer Wine. A trio again – with plenty of bickering, and dollops of mirth. Gentle humour – and nothing wrong with that. Enter Studely and Hammer. I don’t want to give too much away here, apart from saying that these three characters (when Pelham Hardimann is included) are thrust together, must work together, and get over their differences while attempting to complete the near impossible mission of saving good old Blighty.
Maybe it is lack of imagination, I do not really know, and I am not sure what other writers do, but I am not good at picturing totally original characters. I am fine with characteristics, idiosyncrasies, and all that malarkey – but looks – no. I suspect all writers dredge characters up from their own past. Pelham Hardimann is easy: a shorter David Niven (lose the moustache). Easy-going, witty, very charming, a little full of himself, a total lack of awareness where others are concerned, and a bit of a dreamer. A hero, he ain’t, but thinks he would be if heroism were thrust upon him. Fear not, he does improve as the adventures continue; think of it as a lengthy bildungsroman.
Studely: One of my favourite character actors from the 60s and 70s was a superb actor – another who died too young: Roy Kinnear. He could play bolshie, rebellious characters, with a twinkle in his eye, a certain roguishness, downright stubbornness, and a strong moral compass: a clear sense of right and wrong. He would have made a superb grumpy ex-copper – Studely. (If truth be told, and I feel I can tell the truth here; Studely is my favourite character).
Hammer: menacingly clever and Machiavellian, snobbish, sprig-of-holly back, nose in the air, what Studely would call – and does call – a toffee-nosed git. And a strange penchant for wearing Nazi uniforms; and we have seen a few of those in our time, have we not? The English reader will remember a comedy series – Are You Being Served – think Captain Peacock with an extra dose of pomposity along the lines of Dad’s Army’s Captain Mainwaring.
Quill was easy: think of Leonard Rossiter’s (another great character actor) Rigsby from Rising Damp (minus the hands to hips and ‘ye..es, very good, Miss Jones’). Creepy, tawdry, leering, with something of the night.
Mrs. Glendower can only be the special, the one and only, Margaret Rutherford. As large as life, with a spring in her step, and a handbag like a sledgehammer – with added knitting needles.
Milly: the almost love of Pelham’s life. (We all know she can do better). If you have never seen it, shame on you: give it a go. A clever comedy and homage to film noir. Dead Men don’t Wear Plaid with the stunning Rachel Ward: the voice…oooh…the voice
Well, those are the main characters, and those are the people I have in my head. If I were I able to cast them for a film version, I would. Bless them all.
As for you, dear reader, you are cordially invited, nay, expected, to supply your own actors. I do not know who you know, if you know what I mean.
Pelham on Parole
To be followed by: Pelham and the Plan on the Clapham Omnibus
To be followed by: Pelham on Tin Islands.
Work in progress: Pelham and the Man with the Mandolin.
Carl Plummer (almost my real name), August 2020.