.. for purely budgetary reasons, but that financial pressures on the TLS were “very gentle” by the standard of the present times. [Peter Stothard, editor of the TLS] said: “I doubt if the value and values of the TLS have ever been more appreciated – both internally and externally. In the current difficult economic climate for the media our subscribers and advertisers are among the most loyal in the world.” However, he added: “Like any responsible paper we have annually to adjust our spending to our costs of editing, production and technologies of distribution”.
Which sounds as though nobody reads fiction any more.
Certainly one would search in vain for any decent comment on fiction in the current Summer Double Issue. No: not quite true — the feature article (front page, ripped from the original publication of Greenmantle and recently noted by Malcolm elsewhere) is all about the depiction of Islamic perils in pulp fiction.
All in all, it feels as if the Murdoch empire is under attack, having a hard time, and reduced to pulling the wagons into a circle.
So, let us consider the “editorial” of this issue:
The TLS does not offer a guide to Summer Reading, the ubiquitous staple of newspapers and bookstores at this time of the year. If our readers want to take a book to a beach, they surely need a truly random method of selection, not one provided by the blurred memories of reviewers and the three-for-the-price-of-two bargain tables.
“Books published in the year of one’s birth” might work. For the Editor of the TLS that would allow Another Job for Biggles (1951) by W. E. Johns (below), mentioned by Robert Irwin this week in his entertaining survey of Middle Eastern stereotypes in popular fiction. It would also be an excuse to read some science fiction set on voyages to Mars, part of a literary history of imagining the red planet reviewed by Andrew H. Knoll. Between Planets by Robert A. Heinlein remains a big favourite from that year. But Robert Crossley, the author of the book under review, prefers Kim Stanley Robinson’s trilogy Red Mars (1992), Green Mars (1993) and Blue Mars (1996), all too late for this year’s randomly selected suitcase.
If the beach seems best for “re-reading” masterpieces that sand and alcohol cannot destroy, the 1951 list suggests some Salinger and Monsarrat: The Catcher in the Rye (suitably short), and The Cruel Sea. For anyone reading this issue of the TLS beside the sea, we offer a review of no practical use (we hope), Richard Shelton on Richard Ellis’s The Great Sperm Whale, a natural history of one of the ocean’s most mysterious creatures.
David Bradshaw reminds us of the days when a major newspaper’s first thought was to stop its readers straying between hard covers. James Douglas was the Sunday Express critic, lightly lampooned by Graham Greene, who considered Ulysses a moral poison more pernicious than cocaine. The suppression of The Well of Loneliness was his famous victory. Ifa holiday choice from Greene himself had to come from the 1951 list, it would have to be The End of the Affair.
That is initialed by the sackmaster-in-chief, “PS” — for which read “Peter Stothart”.
If there is any man responsible for the generation of a generation of xenophobic Daily Mail readers, here he is.
There is a curious link between Johns and Percy French and (should we trust Python Terry Jones) — all were inspectors of drains. Since “Biggles” crept into consideration, let us recall a curious literary quinquangulation:
- “Captain” (in reality, never more than a Flying Officer, with some six weeks of combat experience) W.E. Johns‘s character derived from Air Commodore Cecil George Wigglesworth;
- Richmal Crompton based Just William on her brother, John Lamburn. Lamburn was first with the Rhodesian police, worked in China, and did war service with the RAF in Iceland under … Wigglesworth;
- Johns started his career inspecting the drains in Swaffham (and later rejected T.E.Lawrence as an RAF recruit), so might well have scrutinised the sanitation outside Oakleigh House, offices of Kingdom and Kingdom, sadly chopped by ITV, thus forcing Stephen Fry into other occupation;
- while the town sign of Swaffham (a.k.a. ”Market Shipborough” for that TV series) was the work of the grammar school’s art teacher, Harry Carter — nephew of Howard Carter, who excavated Tutankhamun.
By a strange coincidence, “Oakleigh House” was part of the Hamond’s Grammar School, which was Malcolm’s professorial brother’s alma mater.
However, if the TLS is not covering fiction in its previous depth, it has just lost Malcolm as a regular customer.