The Agatha Christie Challenge – After the Funeral (1953)

After The FuneralIn which diligent family solicitor, Mr Entwhistle, enlists the help of his friend Hercule Poirot to get to the bottom of the death of one of the late Richard Abernethie’s relatives shortly after the family meet to attend Abernethie’s funeral. Who killed the relative, and was Abernethie’s death murder too? After Entwhistle does the initial groundwork it is up to Poirot to assist Inspector Morton in solving whatever crimes have been committed. As usual, if you haven’t read the book yet, don’t worry, I promise not to reveal whodunit!

AbneyThe book is dedicated “For James, in memory of happy days at Abney”. The James in question was Christie’s brother-in-law James Watts, who had married her sister Madge. Abney was the Gothic Victorian house where they lived, and on which Enderby Hall, the home of the Abernethie family in this book, is clearly based. After the Funeral was first published in the US in forty-seven parts in Chicago Tribune magazine, between January and March 1953. In the UK, the novel was first serialised in the weekly magazine John Bull in seven abridged instalments from 21 March to 2 May 1953. The full book was first published in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company in March 1953 under the title Funerals are Fatal, and in the UK by Collins Crime Club on 18th May 1953.

Margaret RutherfordLike They do it with Mirrors before it, After the Funeral was used as the basis for a Margaret Rutherford Miss Marple film, this time Murder at the Gallop, but Poirot is replaced by Marple, and although there are some similarities between the two stories, there are also a large number of differences. However, the identity of the murderer is largely the same in the film as in the book, so reading the book might spoil the film for you (and vice versa). And it would be a shame to have this book spoilt, because it’s an absolute cracker, that starts relatively quietly but builds up an incredible pace to create a genuine page-turner. Christie uses the device of short mini-chapters within longer overall chapters to build up suspense and excitement. And as for the identity of the murderer, well I hadn’t the faintest idea and the story preserves their anonymity right up to the end of the denouement. What’s frustrating – and incredibly clever – is that you know the reappearance of nuns making charitable collections is a clue – but your brain can’t quite join all the links and tell you exactly why it’s a clue, and to whom the clue directs you (or should do!)

Big mealThe character of Poirot has been pretty well established by Christie over the years, and there are few surprises in our understanding of how he operates in this book. When Entwhistle first approaches him he won’t discuss the case at all until they have demolished a splendid repast – tummy always comes first with Poirot. His vanity, as always, knows no bounds: “I am in my own line a celebrated person – I may say a most celebrated person. My gifts, in fact, are unequalled!” Perhaps one unexpected observation from the great man was his assertion that “women are never kind […] though they can sometimes be tender”. Makes me think that Poirot never met the right woman.

SolicitorThere are two other significant people in this book; Entwhistle, whose curiosity and sense of family duty encourage him to act as an amateur sleuth in the early parts of the book, and Inspector Morton of the local constabulary, brought in to solve the crime. The first chapter, to be fair, is seen from the perspective of Lanscombe, the faithful Abernethie retainer who’s seen them all come and go over the years. After a few pages he hands the perspective over to Entwhistle, who, after a nicely prompt opening murder, and after being encouraged to take an active role in sorting out the initial investigations by Morton, takes it on himself to visit all the family members. Entwhistle is very much in charge of operations for the first seventy-odd pages, and you do wonder exactly why he’s throwing himself into the investigation quite so fully. Morton himself is another relatively understated fellow. Christie describes him as “a quiet middle-aged man with a soft country burr in his voice. His manner was quiet and unhurried, but his eyes were shrewd”. To be fair he never really becomes interesting.

private detectiveThis was also the second appearance of the private detective Mr Goby, whom we met in The Mystery of the Blue Train and who will come back in Third Girl. Christie says of Goby that he was “small and spare and shrunken. He had always been refreshingly nondescript in appearance and he was now so nondescript as practically not to be there at all.” Poirot has a lot of time for Goby’s skills, and he’s not known for prizing others’ achievements and abilities, so we can assume that he’s very good at his job.

Clement_AttleeAs well as unravelling a fascinating crime story, Christie also adds many moments of social commentary. As always, she weighs up the good old days with today’s post-war weariness and finds in favour of the past. She admires tradition, distrusts the labour party, has little time for either the lower classes or people with mental health problems, and as for the modern police, well…! I’ll look a bit closer at all of those later in this post. But you do get a big sense of regret for the old days passing. This will turn out to be the last time Christie creates a splendidly old-fashioned butler, for example. Grand old family estates are being broken up, modern houses are featureless and ugly, and life isn’t what it should be. The character of Miss Gilchrist embodies this, with her hankering after the good old times of running a tea shop; her attitude reminded me very much of Chekhov’s Three Sisters, for whom life could be great again if only they could get back to Moscow. You sense many people involved in this story have their own private Moscows.

BrixhamLet’s have our usual look at some of the references in this book, starting with the locations. Usually Christie weaves an elaborate web of fictitious places that clearly, or maybe not quite so clearly, relate to real-life equivalents. However, in After the Funeral, this policy seems to have gone out of the window. Cora Lansquenet is seen in the buffet at Swindon, Miss Gilchrist takes the bus to Reading, George Crossfield goes betting at Hurst Park Racecourse (in West Molesey, Surrey, which closed in 1962), and Miss Gilchrist’s gallery of pictures are of Brixham, Cockington Forge, Anstey’s Cove, Kynance Cove, and Babbacombe – although Polflexan is made up, I think. Poirot sends Entwhistle by train to Bury St Edmunds, and Miss Gilchrist dreams of opening up a teashop in Rye or Chichester. Only the central location of Lytchett St Mary, which Christie asserts is in Berkshire, is fictitious – even then, it takes its name from St Mary’s Church in Lytchett Matravers, the Dorset village –  and the made-up neighbouring town of Market Keynes, which nicely combines the original village location of Milton Keynes with Maynard Keynes’ philosophies of the Economy.

Lizzie BordenThere are only a handful or other references to mention. Entwhistle makes an ironic mention – quoting the infamous rhyme of the time – of Lizzie Borden, who was tried and acquitted of the axe murders of her father and stepmother in Massachusetts in 1892. In a paragraph where he reflects on other famous murderers, Christie refers to Seddon, Smith and Rowse, Armstrong, Edith Thompson and Nurse Waddington. Frederick Seddon was hanged in 1912 for the arsenic poisoning murder of his lodger Eliza Mary Barrow, Rowse Armstrong was a solicitor who murdered his wife and attempted to murder a professional rival (hanged 1922) – and also quoted in Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?, Edith Thompson was also discussed in Mrs McGinty’s Dead, Nurse Dorothea Waddington was hanged in 1938 for the poisoning by morphine of nursing home patients for the inheritance, and Smith was probably George Joseph Smith, also mentioned in Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?, hanged in 1915. What a gruesome lot!

CortonI’m familiar with a Pouilly Fuisse such as imbibed by Poirot and Entwhistle on their gorgeous feast before discussing the case, but they also drank a Corton which was new to me. My ignorance! It’s a Cote de Beaune from the Burgundy district of France. My bad. The other interesting reference is to the fact that George Crossfield was a member of OUDS. In fact, so was I. It’s the Oxford University Dramatic Society. But you knew that already. There’s also a reference to Lord Edgware Dies – Poirot admits to having been “nearly defeated” – and a Pangbourne case, but I’m not sure to what Inspector Morton is referring there.

PoundRegular readers will know that I like to consider any significant sums of money in Christie’s books and work out what their value would be today, just to get a feel of the range of sums that we’re looking at. There are a few sums mentioned in this book, mostly of (relatively) low value for a Christie. Cora is delighted to discover that she will have an income of £3000-4000 a year, which today would be the equivalent of £58,000 – £78,000, which is perfectly reasonable; considering she is said to have just £500 in the bank, which is £9760 at today’s rate. Crossfield won £50 at the races – the equivalent of £976. According to the nun collecting for charity, most people gave between 2/6 and 5/-, which today would be roughly £2.50-£4.50, and the lavish £1 tip that Poirot gives the telegram boy would be worth about £20 today. No wonder he was dumbfounded!

Now it’s time for my usual at-a-glance summary, for After the Funeral:

Publication Details: 1953. My copy is a Fontana paperback, eighth impression, dated November 1969, with a price of 4/- (20p) on the back cover. The cover illustration by Tom Adams shows a concerned-looking nun and a bloody axe beneath a glass dome, with an illustration of a harbour in the background. That covers a number of clues!

How many pages until the first death: 19 – unless you count Richard Abernethie who dies before the book starts. Thus you don’t have to wait too long before your home-sleuthing act has to get into gear.

Funny lines out of context: two, both of which play on a more modern meaning of an otherwise straightforward word.

Wondering whether George Crossfield has a criminal streak in him: “Had he felt instinctively, as Mr Entwhistle felt, that George was not straight?”

And Timothy puts it to him more bluntly: “he suspected you of not being straight, didn’t he?”

Memorable characters:

The characterisations are, again, perhaps not the strong point of this book. There are a couple of exceptions: I did like the polite interferences of Entwhistle, who’s a well-drawn and interesting character in his own right. And the gruff grumpiness of the hypochondriac and hypocritical Timothy also makes for an entertaining read. Christie starts the book with a family tree and it’s very useful for reference as the book develops because I found it hard to distinguish some of the less interesting characters.

Christie the Poison expert:

Entwhistle gets involved in quite a complicated discussion with Dr Larraby regarding the possible causes for Abernethie’s death, where Larraby affirms that if it wasn’t due to natural causes, “some kind of narcotic would be indicated. There was no sign of cyanosis” – which is the bluish tint to the skin that can be caused by a drug overdose, like heroin, but for sure the condition is also associated with cyanide. Abernethie’s vitamin supplements contained adexoline – today normally referred to as adexolin – but this is not considered in any way a dangerous drug.

There is a dose of arsenic that laces a slice of wedding cake, but I’ll say no more of that incident as I don’t want to spoil any surprises for you!

Class/social issues of the time:

There’s quite a lot of social unhappiness going on in this book, as I suggested earlier. Britain is still getting its act together after the war; Miss Gilchrist complains about the scarcity of eggs, and the fact that they’re foreign – more on the general xenophobic elements of this book shortly. Poirot adopts a pretend character – M. Pontarlier, whose job is to assist refugees. And the reaction to that? “Rosamund, however, had only said vaguely, “Oh! Refugees all over again, I’m so tired of refugees.” Thus voicing the unspoken reaction of many, who were usually too conventional to express themselves so frankly.”

This lack of kindness, of selfishness even, can be seen in other ways. There’s a continued lack of tolerance for mental health issues. There’s condescension towards Greg for having been a voluntary patient at a mental home, even from his wife who stops herself just in time from calling him “batty”. Poirot extends the kindness as far as it can be with his description of Greg as “unbalanced”. Earlier in the book, when guessing who might have committed the murder, Susan affirms “it’s got to be a certain kind of person […] a brutal, perhaps slightly half-witted type – a discharged soldier or a gaol bird […] one has to have a motive for murder – unless one is half-witted”. There’s no kindness in Susan;s comments, but it is interesting, however, that she perceives that ex-soldiers or ex-prisoners can suffer with what we now realise to be PTSD.

There are other societal pressures. Timothy blames “that damned Labour government” under Attlee from 1945-1951, and even under Churchill he still perceives the government to be “mealy-mouthed, milk-and-water socialists”. They can’t get servants, because they now ask for too much money; the daily woman went home at the end of her working day much to Timothy’s despair: “does that class of woman care? Not she? With any decent feelings she’d have come back that evening and looked after me properly. No loyalty any more in the lower classes.” Timothy is universally disgruntled with life.

The police are not exempt from the criticism. There are many suggestions that they’re no longer up to the task, despite Entwhistle’s stoic defence of them. Susan again: “you remember that woman who was murdered in Yorkshire last year? Nobody was ever arrested. And the old woman in the sweet shop who was killed with a crowbar. They detained some man, and then they let him go! […] it shows that there must be a lot of these sorts of people going round the countryside, breaking into places and attacking lonely women – and the police just don’t bother!” Timothy is the same: “I’ve no faith in the police nowadays – the Chief Constables aren’t the right type.” For these characters, progress is a backward step.

There is, of course, the usual dollop of xenophobia. One of our first insights into the old butler Lanscombe is his regret that Cora married a Frenchman “and no good ever came of marrying one of them!” Janet, the kitchenmaid, tars foreigners with the same brush. After Poirot had asked her some questions, her reactions are: “these foreigners! The questions they asked. Their impertinence! […] what business was it of some foreign doctor coming along and nosing around?” Later in the same conversation: “Lanscombe was courteous but distant. Less resentful than Janet, he nevertheless regarded this upstart foreigner as the materialisation of the Writing on the Wall. This was What We Are Coming to!” Lanscombe implies in the conversation that if foreign refugees were to live at Enderby then he wouldn’t be able to stay. He doesn’t warm up to Poirot later in his stay either. ““Foreigners!” thought Lanscombe bitterly. “Foreigners in the house! […] I don’t know what we’re coming to.””

Miss Gilchrist has a different kind of prejudice against foreigners. She feels she doesn’t have to maintain a polite or well-behaved character in their presence. In conversation with Poirot: ““You see, I listened!” “You mean you happened to overhear a conversation? “ “No.” Miss Gilchrist shook her head with an air of heroic determination, “I’d rather speak the truth. And it’s not so bad telling you because you’re not English.” Hercule Poirot understood her without taking offence.” There’s also an unfortunate use of the N word, in connection with the woodpile simile, spoken by Crossfield.

One final interesting example of a tradition that plays a significant part in the story; that of placing a piece of wedding cake under your pillow as a sure hope that you will find the man of your dreams. It could save your life!

Classic denouement:  Yes! This one’s a thriller. It’s in two parts – Poirot assembles everyone in the library and you think it’s going to be the big showdown but in fact he is just gathering further information. Ten pages later he assembles everyone again, but this time in the drawing room – including the murderer – who inevitably gives themselves away.

Happy ending? Yes, although you get a slight sense of it being an appendix rather than an organic conclusion. One person is going to have a baby, another is going to follow their heart and their dreams.

Did the story ring true? As always, there are a few far-fetched moments, but on the whole it fits together nicely and you can absolutely believe that what is said to have happened, has happened.

Overall satisfaction rating: I thought this was a terrific read and see no reason not to give it a 10/10!

image(1218)Thanks for reading my blog of After the Funeral and if you’ve read it too, I’d love to know what you think. Please just add a comment in the space below. Christie’s next book in her whodunit canon was A Pocket Full of Rye, which I’ve already written about – as it was the first of hers that I ever read. Therefore, the next book in this Agatha Christie Challenge is her next book after that, which is Destination Unknown, one of those Christies that feature none of her usual sleuths. I can’t remember anything about this book, so I’m looking forward to catching up with it. As usual, I’ll blog my thoughts about it in a few weeks’ time. In the meantime, please read it too then we can compare notes! Happy sleuthing!

Lockdown Armchair Travel – Jordan – Amman, Mount Nebo, Karak, Petra, Wadi Rum and Jerash – November 2008

Having shared the delights of Japan and Jersey with you, now it’s time for Jordan. We went there on a tour in 2008 that continued on into Syria – but more of that some other time. Jordan’s a beautiful, friendly place, full of amazing sights.

What do you think of, when you think of Jordan? Petra, right? Naturally. But I’m going to take you through these holiday snaps in order, so we start off in the capital, Amman.


Our first visit was to Mount Nebo, where Moses got to see the Promised Land but got no further.


There it is – the Promised Land (in the distance)


Amazing mosaics in the church in Madaba


Then we negotiated the windy road up towards Karak


with the extraordinary Jordanian landscape


until we got our first sight of the castle at Karak


Which is great fun to explore!




But you were right the first time – it’s all about Petra.


To get to the exciting part of Petra, you have to walk down a narrow path called the Siq.


And after a while you’ll get your first glimpse of The Treasury


And then your second glimpse


and your third


getting nearer


almost there


and finally, you see the Treasury in all its glory!


It’s as though you’ve opened layers and layers of gift wrapping until finally getting to the big present!


See how massive the building is in comparison with the heights of the visitors!


Petra enchants you with its other-worldness






The mosaics are remarkable



And I was so grateful for this kind gentleman to wander into my shot to make it complete


Straight out of Lawrence of Arabia. Talking of which:


That’s the famous Seven Pillars of Wisdom. We’re now on the road to Wadi Rum.


A desolate, desert landscape en route, but when you get to your destination…


There’s always a bedouin to make you some tea.


Ever wondered what it might be like on the surface of Mars?


More dramatic landscapes


that conceal an abundance of ancient art


After overnighting in a tent, we were on our way to Jerash, the Pompeii of the East.


That’s the ancient Hippodrome.


But there are numerous amazing sights in the ruins of this Greco-Roman city.


Including some musicians who played Amazing Grace for us on their bagpipes. They needn’t have bothered. I was only grateful they didn’t go on to perform Scotch on the Rocks.


It’s nice just to get lost amongst the ruins





After Jerash we followed the road north into Syria – but those photos are for another blog post. In the meantime, here’s our driver and our poppet pocket rocket space cadet tourism policeman, who accompanied us everywhere we went, looking concerned.


Yes he does look about 17. And, as always, all destinations give opportunities for quirky photos.





So we say farewell to Jordan


Thanks for accompanying me on this little jaunt around Jordan. Next blog may, or may not, be another return to some old theatre productions in the summer of 1982. Stay safe!


Carrying on with the theatre memories – October 1981 to April 1982

Come on in, the water’s lovely!

  1. The Killing Game – Apollo Theatre, London, 29th October 1981

image(1193)image(1194)image(1199)Thomas Muschamp’s The Killing Game was an intriguing thriller with a military air; it had something of the Conduct Unbecoming to it, if you remember that old play. Given the fact that he apparently wrote dozens of plays, Mr Muschamp’s oeuvre seems to be largely forgotten today. I remember this as being a riveting and exciting drama that kept me guessing throughout. An excellent cast but I particularly remember Hannah Gordon being superb.

  1. The Mitford Girls – Globe Theatre, London, 4th November 1981

image(1185)image(1186)image(1178)Another two-show day, this started off with Ned Sherrin and Caryl Brahms’ musical about the six Mitford sisters, the socialite, not socialist, family who got in with the Mosleys and the Hitlers and suchlike in the first half of the twentieth century. Nicely done, but it left me a bit cold – although, maybe that was the point? A great cast starred Patricia Hodge, with terrific stalwarts including Gay Soper and Julia Sutton – not to mention Oz Clarke. It even had “dances supervised” (whatever that means) by Anton Dolin. I remember feeling grateful that I had another show to go on to; and, indeed, it didn’t last long in the West End.

  1. Anyone for Denis – Whitehall Theatre, London, 4th November 1981

image(1181)John Wells’ Chequers-based farce was a complete hoot, with a fantastic central performance by Angela Thorne as Maggie Thatcher, although I always found John Wells’ own impersonation of Denis as rather over the top.

image(1182)I still cringe when I think of the publicity photo with Ms Thorne and Mr Wells and the real Thatchers – Denis obviously found it hilarious, but The Iron Lady had a smile full of individually gritted teeth.

A fascinating example of political satire that could never have been allowed whilst Theatre Censorship was in action. Creatively different programme, too!

  1. Children of a Lesser God – Albery Theatre, London, 5th November 1981

image(1171)image(1172)image(1175)On a second two-show day, I first saw Mark Medoff’s stunning play about a relationship between two members of staff at a school for the deaf, which garnered several awards on both sides of the Atlantic. The main roles were taken by the deaf actor Elizabeth Quinn and the hearing actor – and Shoestring himself – Trevor Eve. I remember it as a gripping and riveting watch, chock-full of terrific performances, and indeed it was later made into a very successful film.

  1. Roll on 4 O’clock – Palace Theatre, London, 5th November 1981

image(1162)image(1163)image(1168)The Palace Theatre is an awfully big place when there aren’t that many people in the audience so this third night performance of Colin Welland’s amusing but overwhelmingly alarming play about teachers coping with life as teachers and homophobic bullying amongst the boys felt a bit surreal. Primarily I went to see it because I wanted to see what Windsor Davies was like on stage – and he was brilliant. I remember him rousing up the first few rows of the stalls so that we all stood up to sing a hymn just before the curtain fell for the interval. Enjoyable, but I was expecting more. Also appearing as members of staff were Shaun Curry, Bernard Gallagher and Clive Swift, and amongst the boys, Nick Conway went on to have a very successful acting (and teaching) career.

  1. Pass the Butler – Globe Theatre, London, 6th February 1982

image(1156)image(1157)image(1149)A farce by Monty Python alumnus Eric Idle, and with a massive cast headed by William Rushton, John Fortune and Peter Jones, directed by Jonathan Lynn, should have been a thing of joy. But I remember it as being sadly shallow and full of horribly easy laughs, and, whilst it was certainly superficially funny at times, it didn’t have anything like enough oomph to become memorable. Can’t win them all – my next four shows were all sensational.

  1. On the Razzle – Lyttelton Theatre, National Theatre, London, 20th February 1982

image(1152)I saw this with my friend Ian – I’m not quite sure why he wanted to see it, but I’m glad he convinced me. Adapted by Tom Stoppard from Johann Nestroy’s 1842 comedy Einen Jux will er sich machen, which was also adapted into The Matchmaker and Hello Dolly, this was a brilliantly funny farce with maniacally lively characters, a superb script and some fantastic performances – Ray Brooks, Felicity Kendal, Dinsdale Landen, Joan Hickson, and above all, Michael Kitchen who was on fire for this show. image(1137)A farce of mistaken identities, romantic entanglements, an actress playing a boy and anything else Stoppard and Nestroy could chuck at it. I note that of the three child actors playing the Ragamuffin, one of them was Adam Woodyatt (aka Ian Beale). As Michael Kitchen said many times during this show: In a word, classic.


  1. Guys and Dolls – Olivier Theatre, National Theatre, London, 4th March 1982

image(1138)image(1139)image(1140)A preview production of the show that has never really gone away since. Frank Loesser’s magnificent musical based on the writings and characters of Damon Runyon is full of the stuff of legend – and this incredible production by Richard Eyre quickly entered the annals of history as being Of The Best. I’ll never forget the audience erupting with ecstasy at David Healy’s finest career moment – his performance of Sit Down You’re Rocking The Boat – so much so that Harry Towb, who had the next line as Lieutenant Branigan, simply gave up waiting to deliver it and joined the audience in demanding a reprise. With a dream team four main actors of Julia McKenzie, Julie Covington, Ian Charleson and Bob Hoskins, supporting cast including Barrie Rutter, John Normington and a young Imelda Staunton, this was always going to be one of the best shows anyone was ever likely to see. This production fired up some controversy along the lines of “should the subsidised theatre be creating commercial productions like this that could stand on their own two feet on Shaftesbury Avenue?” When it was a production of this quality, the answer was, unquestionably, yes.

  1. Another Country – Queen’s Theatre, London, 10th April 1982

image(1144)image(1129)image(1133)Julian Mitchell’s astonishing play about two social outsiders growing up in the public school system ran for ages and remains a landmark production, not only because it’s a riveting play, but because of the two young stars that were made from it – Rupert Everett in his first West End role and Kenneth Branagh, straight out of RADA. It wasn’t difficult to tell that these two would set the world on fire. Inspired by the real life story of Guy Burgess, the play went on to become a very successful film and is often revived. Another highly memorable and electric theatrical experience.

  1. Noises Off – Savoy Theatre, London, 15th April 1982

image(1135)image(1136)image(1125)Michael Frayn’s best known play had been running for just two weeks at the Savoy Theatre when I saw it, and since then I must have seen it at least another three or four times! A classic farce of backstage shenanigans with a hopeless cast rehearsing a dreadful sex comedy – and we see the first act of this awful play three times from three different perspectives and at three different points of its disastrous tour. One of the funniest plays around – and it still packs them in wherever it plays. With a superb original cast of Paul Eddington, Patricia Routledge, Nicky Henson, Roger Lloyd Pack and many more blistering names – just sensational.

Thanks for joining me down this theatrical memory lane. Next regular blog will probably be back to the holiday snaps and J is also for Jordan, and a week of exciting sightseeing in November 2008. Stay safe!

Lockdown Armchair Travel – Jersey, 1995

Still with J, and almost – but not quite – abroad, it’s Jersey. I’ve been there twice, the most recent time was in 1995 for two weeks of summer sunshine – and it really was glorious. Most interesting, however, was that our visit coincided with VE Day – which in Jersey meant the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the island. As you can imagine, they celebrated big style!

So what do you think of, when you think of Jersey? Probably things that I didn’t photograph! But try this for size:


The Jersey flower industry is an important part of the island’s economy. And they make the island look beautiful!


I was surprised to discover the island has a really chic little racecourse


And somebody made a lot of money that day!


It’s an island of lovely beaches


Castles… (this is Gorey)


and coastlines

28528061891_d07402f4c2_o (1)

But watch out for those waves.


That craggy coast can look austere at times



Here’s St Brelade’s Bay, where I went on hols in 1982


But St Helier is where it’s at. And, as I said earlier, we were there for the 50th anniversary celebrations!


The place was packed and very excited


We were there when the Prince of Wales arrived


And the marching bands played



The Red Arrows had a field day





Parties went on into the night, and fortunately no photographic evidence remains! Suffice to say we went to a 70s disco with DJ Bri-Nylon. It was brilliant!

There’s lots of amazing sights in Jersey and I’m sorry not to be able to show them here, I’ve lost a number of photos it appears. Still we know that the coast is rugged


And so are the men


And who knew this was the resting place of this popular old policy?


Thanks for accompanying me on this little trek around Jersey. Next blog will be back to the old theatre shows, and some memories from October 1981 to July 1982. Stay safe!

Still the theatre memories keep coming – July to October 1981

Well? Are you ready to go??

  1. Educating Rita – Royal Shakespeare Company at the Piccadilly Theatre, London, 24th July 1981

image(1045)image(1046)image(1047)I saw this with my friend Rob, and we both really enjoyed it. The original production – although not the original cast – of Willy Russell’s instant smash hit comedy that spawned a terrific film version and endless stage revivals, with many more to come I trust. If you only know the film, then you might be surprised to discover the play is a two-hander, with Mark Kingston’s lecturer Frank getting progressively more drunk and disorderly as the play progresses, whilst Shirin Taylor’s Rita gets progressively smarter. Two superb performances – although my memory tells me that Ms Taylor was on particularly cracking form.

  1. Barnum – London Palladium, 3rd August 1981

image(1058)image(1043)image(1044)One of those shows that rewrote the history of the musical. I saw it with the Dowager Mrs C because we were both still carried away by Michael Crawford’s performance in Flowers for Algernon, so we wanted to see him in a show where he’d been incredibly successful too. Mr Crawford’s skill and showmanship have never been more delightfully expressed.

But this is a terrific show all round – with amazing songs, wonderful circus skills, memorable characters and sheer goodtime exhilaration. Deborah Grant was superb as Charity, but there was superb support throughout the entire cast, and I remember with particular fondness Jennie McGustie’s hilarious Joice Heth (Thank God I’m Old is one of my favourite showtunes) and Sarah Payne’s temptress Jenny Lind.

I even managed to get one of the flyers for Jenny Lind’s free concert. One helluva show.


  1. Childe Byron – Young Vic, London, 11th August 1981

image(1060)From the heights of exhilaration to the depths of sheer awfulness in one fell swoop. I saw this with my friend Claire because she wanted to see how David Essex was in real life and this did, to be fair, sound like an interesting play, with fascinating controversies over the original American performance, and with terrific performers like Sara Kestelman and Simon Chandler in the cast, it couldn’t be all bad. Wrong. It was as bad as they get. To be honest, it wasn’t the play, although it was cumbersome and pretentious. It was David Essex. I’m afraid this was the worst performance I’ve ever seen from a star name. image(1061)He simply had no variety to his speaking pattern, it was that Godspell-style sing-song intonation all the way through. And it wasn’t just me who found him awful. A sizeable chunk of the Young Vic audience was clearly appalled at what they were seeing. In that awful tense moment where an audience has to choose whether to react either by booing or laughing at it (believe me, silence was not an option), we decided on laughter. At one stage Mr Essex stopped the show and told us all that if we weren’t going to take it seriously he wasn’t going to carry on (at which we all had to suppressed a mock ooooh retort). For some bizarre reason we stayed until the end. But it was flat out dreadful, and Mr Essex did himself no favours that evening.


  1. Pygmalion – Young Vic, London, August 1981

image(1074)image(1059)I headed back to the Young Vic a couple of weeks later to see this revival of Shaw’s Pygmalion, directed by Denise Coffey, and with Richard Easton as Henry Higgins and Lorraine Chase as Eliza. It was very enjoyable and good-humoured. So much so that, when Stephen Lewis (Blakey in On The Buses) playing Alfred Doolittle, seriously mucked up a couple of lines, he stopped, turned to the audience and very politely asked “Shall I go off and come on again?” at which point we all cheered and good-naturedly let him go from the top again. All this and the redoubtable Betty Marsden as Mrs Higgins. Highly entertaining.

  1. Quartermaine’s Terms – Queen’s Theatre, London, 14th August 1981

image(1080)image(1081)image(1073)Simon Gray’s new play was a charming and funny look at how teachers interact in the staff room at a Cambridge school for teaching English to foreign students, with an accent on how the good old days are on their way out. With a notable cast led by Edward Fox, including James Grout, Prunella Scales and Robin Bailey. Not too many other memories of this one, but I remember that it was good.

  1. Goose Pimples – Garrick Theatre, London, 19th August 1981

image(1086)image(1087)I have much stronger memories of this production, but not entirely for the right reasons. Devised by Mike Leigh – which will have meant that the cast basically wrote it themselves under his aegis – it’s a very tasteless play where a middle class party gets out of hand and they encourage a non-drinking Muslim to get blottoed so that they can laugh at him. Hilarious if you like poking fun at filthy foreigners, otherwise, even in those not especially PC days, buttock-clenchingly embarrassing at times. What’s most bizarre is that the sheikh was played by a young Antony Sher, in his pre-RSC days. The cast also included the splendid Jim Broadbent. I went to see this because I was hoping for another Abigail’s Party. I didn’t get it.

  1. One Big Blow – 7:84 Theatre Company England at the Everyman Theatre, Liverpool, 25th September 1981

image(1084)image(1085)Passing over 1981’s visit to the Pendley Festival (Merchant of Venice that year), I went with my friends Mike and Dave, whilst I was staying at their family home in Liverpool during the summer hols, to see John Burrows’ One Big Blow, a moving and beautifully performed story of the health and safety hazards faced by a group of coal miners, who also formed a brass band for their recreation when they were above ground. The actors performed the sounds of the brass band a capella and, yes, these were the actors who went on to become The Flying Pickets. Superb and emotional night at the theatre, and it was fascinating to see the beginning of what was to be a very successful musical career for these actors.

  1. Overheard – Theatre Royal Haymarket, London, 28th October 1981

image(1103)image(1104)image(1094)A new play by Peter Ustinov must have been a source of great joy, but I have to confess, I can’t remember a single thing about this. I even forgot that I had ever seen Ian Carmichael (whom I always admired) and the excellent Deborah Kerr on stage. I had just begun two years’ postgraduate studies at the University of London and I reckon I had enough on my plate. What I do remember, is that I started to blitz the West End now that I was living in London, so I saw a matinee of this play, then an evening performance of the next one – and then I repeated the same pattern the next day. And the same the following week. I crammed a lot of theatre into a short space of time that way!

  1. Steaming – Comedy Theatre, London, 28th October 1981

image(1112)image(1113)image(1100)I remember much better Nell Dunn’s play about the women who used municipal steam baths and how they faced and dealt with its proposed closure. Hats off to Jenny Tiramani for her design which allowed the stage of the Comedy Theatre to be transformed into a real-life steam bath, which the naked ladies occasionally jumped into with total unalloyed abandon. The film that starred Diana Dors changed the emphasis of the original play somewhat, in order to accommodate its star, but the play was a delight, with Georgina Hale, Maria Charles and Brenda Blethyn all giving top rate performances.

  1. The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B – Duke of York’s Theatre, London, 29th October 1981

image(1107)image(1108)image(1111)J P Donleavy adapted his own novel for the stage in this thoroughly entertaining romp starring Simon Callow and Patrick Ryecart. After a while the title was shortened to just Balthazar B, but I’m sure the audiences didn’t miss out on his beastly beatitudes too. Messrs Callow and Ryecart were a terrific duo in this rather salacious tale of women chasing men and marriages of convenience. I can’t remember too many details but I know I enjoyed it enormously. This was a matinee performance – and you’ll have to wait until my next theatre blog to discover what I saw in the evening!

Thanks for joining me on this little look at some old shows. Next regular blog will be back to the holiday snaps, and J is also for Jersey, and a fortnight in 1995 that coincided with 50 years since the end of the war, and, more important, 50 years since the liberation of Jersey. In the meantime, stay safe!

Lockdown Armchair Travel – Japan – Tokyo, August 2014

After lots of I’s we’re finally on to the J’s – and today J is for Japan, and a fascinating cruise that Mrs C and I took in the summer of 2014 around the northern island of Hokkaido (also visiting the little town of Korsakov in Sakhalin, Russia). But the holiday started with three full days visiting Tokyo – which we couldn’t have done without our personal guide because the lack of English translations – or indeed any translations – makes it very difficult to navigate.

So, what do you think of, when you think of Tokyo? Maybe this:


Sushi was one of the things we were both fearing the most about Japan as neither of us is a fan. However, it wasn’t horrible, so we took that as a bonus! Whilst we’re on the subject of food and drink:


We did the traditional tea ceremony; not like any other tea we’ve tasted. It comes with its full set of rules and instructions


But it was all in the beautiful setting of the Hamarikyu Gardens:


where urban sprawl and rural tranquillity rub shoulders


Talking of urban sprawl, some of those skyscrapers are surprisingly decorative:




Modern architecture on the indoors can be fascinating too


Perhaps it’s at its most interesting where it stands side by side with lowrise buildings



Views from the top are of course breathtaking


This was from our hotel bedroom:


And at night:


However, did you know that Tokyo could also look like this?


This is old Tokyo.


There’s not much of it left, sadly.


The fishmarket is a big attraction


To be honest we found it rather gruesome!





Time to move on, I think. By the way, could you work your way through this tube network?


Plus… who’s driving this train?


Who knew that a Tokyo train would take you here?


Not even Disneyland! This is an area called Daina, with lots of shops and restaurants… and the Statue of Liberty!


Temples. There are a few but perhaps not as many as you might expect. This is the Meiji Shrine




The Tokyo National Museum is also a tremendous place, filled with excellent artworks like this Imari Jar


and this noble general


and these cute Imari rabbits.


Sadly, this didn’t age well


but primarily, Tokyo is full of surprises. Like square watermelons


Unmentionable puppets


and golden sperm


A place of constant wonder!










Thanks for joining me on this little trip around Tokyo! Next blog will be another look at some old theatre shows from July to October 1981. Stay safe!




Yet another bunch of theatre memories – October 1980 to July 1981

Twenty more shows for your consideration – including some more student productions, so this a bigger-than-average memory blog!

  1. Ballet Rambert – New Theatre, Oxford, 23rd October 1980.

image(926)Another mixed programme of contemporary dance, including favourite dancers Catherine Becque, Ikky Maas, Lucy Bethune and Michael Clark. The four dances performed were Christopher Bruce’s Preludes and Song, Richard Alston’s Rainbow Ripples and Antony Tudor’s Judgment of Paris and Dark Elegies. Having seen Rainbow Ripples, my friend Mike spent the best part of the next 25 years occasionally breaking into the meaningless Rainbow Bandit. Rainbow Chuck Bandit. Chuck Bandit. And so on. As always, a terrific night of dance.

  1. Lark Rise – Oxford University Dramatic Society at the Burton Rooms, Oxford, October 1980.

image(924)image(925)OUDS’ production of Lark Rise was performed in promenade just like the National Theatre version, directed by Tim Whitby and with music composed by Oscar-winner-to-be Rachel Portman. My friend Mark played Boamer and Cheapjack; elsewhere in the cast list was Chris Bryant who has been MP for Rhondda since 2001. Can’t remember much else about it.


  1. Catch 22 – Keble Tyrrells Drama Society, Keble College, Oxford, November 1980.

Joseph Heller’s groundbreaking novel given an adaptation by Alan Durant, who also designed and directed the show, and today is a very successful children’s author. Yossarian was played by Jonathan Darby, and my friend Andrew played Major Major amongst other roles. I remember seeing a production of Catch 22 a few years back which announced itself as the first ever dramatization of the book, and saying to myself – err, that’s wrong, I saw it in Oxford as a student!


  1. Three Sisters – Oxford University Dramatic Society at the Oxford Playhouse, 6th December 1980.

image(937)image(938)Chekhov’s great play given the OUDS treatment with a top quality cast that not only included my friend Mark as Kulygin, but also had Jon (now Jonathan) Cullen as Prozorov, a young Imogen Stubbs as Irina (her first stage performance, I believe), and political philosopher Adam Swift as Fedotik. I remember this was a stonkingly good production and all the young actors acquitted themselves tremendously well.


  1. Hinge and Bracket at the Globe – Globe Theatre, London, 9th December 1980.

image(932)image(933)image(934)This was the first time I got to see the Dear Ladies themselves in this hilarious two-hander revue where Doctor Evadne Hinge spent most of the time with her nose out of joint as she accompanied the frequently insensitive Dame Hilda Bracket as she soprano’d her way through some long- and best-forgotten pieces. Hinge and Bracket were an incredibly inventive and creative drag act who could target their material at both the liberals in the Theatre and the more conservative listeners to Radio 4. I guess their humour didn’t suit everyone but I always found them completely hysterical and I loved every minute of this show. As they spied a guy nipping off to the Gents during the show they inquired after his wellbeing and on his return asked him “Could you hear us?” When he said he couldn’t, Doctor Evadne threw back “oh…. We could hear you”. Comedy genius. I saw all these Christmas holidays shows by myself, no one else wanted to come out and play, sadly!

  1. The Biograph Girl – Phoenix Theatre, London, 11th December 1980.

image(942)image(943)Harold Fielding’s production of this much-expected show received a barrage of bad reviews and by the time I saw it, three weeks into the run, it was already on its last legs, and it’s not been seen since. Shame really, as it’s not a bad show and it has some great songs, about the crises faced by performers who were big stars in the days of silent movies but when the talking pictures came in – unfortunately their voices were not up to the job. Sheila White played Mary Pickford, the Biograph Girl herself, but on the night I was there I overheard some important-looking people muttering and grumbling to themselves that “she’s refusing to go on” “she won’t listen to reason” and such like. Sure enough, that night (and I believe on many nights) Mary Pickford was played by her understudy. Directed by Victor Spinetti and also featuring Allo Allo’s Guy Siner as Mack Sennett, I quite enjoyed it despite everything; Put it in the Tissue Paper is a genuine tearjerker and the title track is a banger!


  1. Oklahoma! – Palace Theatre, London, 16th December 1980.

image(939)image(940)image(941)Courtesy of the Haymarket Theatre Leicester, this rip-roaring spectacular production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s landmark musical was directed by none other than Hammerstein’s son James, and starred Australian John Diedrich as Curly and Rosamund Shelley as Laurey. Madge Ryan as Aunt Eller, and, perhaps most interestingly, Alfred Molina played Jud. I enjoyed it, but at this stage of my life I found episodes like the long dream ballet sequence relentlessly tedious. It would take several decades to change that opinion!

  1. Dangerous Corner – Ambassadors’ Theatre, London, 20th December 1980.

image(969)image(970)Another two-show day, Robert Gillespie’s production of J B Priestley’s classic time play had only opened three days before I saw it, and I found it absolutely riveting. As a result of seeing this, I went out and bought the text to all Priestley’s plays, but this one is probably my particular favourite. An excellent cast was led by Jennifer Daniel and Clive Francis. Not much more needs to be said!


  1. Early Days – Comedy Theatre, London, 20th December 1980.

image(966)image(967)image(968)David Storey’s latest play had opened at the National earlier in the year and finally received its West End transfer in time for Christmas. Ralph Richardson led the cast, which also included Gerald Flood, and it was directed by the redoubtable Lindsay Anderson. Sir Ralph played a retired MP who was drifting into dementia and was being looked after by his increasingly irritable family. A very sad and moving play given some great performances.

  1. Pal Joey – Albery Theatre, London, 23rd December 1980.

image(984)image(985)A cracking show with a brilliant production that had come from the Half Moon Theatre in Whitechapel (now, sadly, a pub). Denis Lawson and Sian Phillips led the cast in this story of a despicable but lovable louse, and the women he mistreats as he scrambles his way to what he thinks is the top – by which time there’s no one left to love him. Brilliant songs (and an excellent cast album which I still play often) made this a must-see production at the time. Notable for its reinstated original lyrics for Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered, plus entertaining references to Ravel’s Bolero and Ronald Reagan, to give it a modern twist. Wonderful supporting performances from Danielle Carson as Linda, Darlene Johnson as Melba, and all the night club girls (Jane Gurnett, Buster Skeggs, Lynne Hockney, Kay Jones, Susan Kyd and Tracey Perry). Funny, musical and enormously entertaining.


  1. Orpheus – St Hugh’s Players, Morden Hall, Oxford, January 1981.

image(982)image(983)A student production, which was an original adaptation of Jean Cocteau’s film Orpheus for stage. I regret I can’t remember too much about it, although it featured my friends Linda and Andrew, and starred Wally Upton and Helen Dodds in the main roles.

  1. London Contemporary Dance Theatre – New Theatre, Oxford, February 1981.

image(980)image(981)During their Spring Tour of 1981 the London Contemporary Dance Theatre dropped in at the New Theatre Oxford to present two premieres and a five-year-old dance. The programme started with Robert North’s Death and the Maiden, which has lasted long in many dance repertories; then Siobhan Davies’ Something to Tell, and finally the return of Robert Cohan’s Masque of Separation. The superb company included favourites such as Robert North himself, Janet Smith (who would go on to launch her own excellent dance company), Darshan Bhuller, who’s had an extraordinarily successful career in dance, and Kenneth Tharp, “merely” the Apprentice, currently CEO of the Africa Centre London.

  1. Moving – Queen’s Theatre, London, 16th March 1981.

image(1002)image(987)When I should have been revising hard for my finals, (a comment that applies to this and the next six productions) I saw this comedy by Stanley Price which later was developed into a TV series. It had a great cast to include Penelope Keith, Peter Jeffrey, Roger Lloyd Pack, Barbara Ferris and Miranda Richardson, but I felt it needed to be funnier than it actually was. Nevertheless, it was an entertaining night at the theatre.


  1. Virginia – Theatre Royal Haymarket, London, 24th March 1981.

image(996)image(997)Edna O’Brien’s play about Virginia Woolf, taken from the author’s own writings, starred Maggie Smith as Virginia, Nicholas Pennell as Leonard and Patricia Connolly as Vita. As a student of literature, I had often tried, but largely failed, to get into the works of Virginia Woolf and I’m afraid this thoroughly boring play didn’t help matters at all. A delight of course to see Maggie Smith in the flesh, but that was all.