Thursday, 13 September 2012


 My plan on how to launch myself perilously into the life of a freelance author was simple in concept. Before giving in my notice to the advertising agency I would write a novel and, if I managed to get it published, seek the services of an astute literary agent who would find me work for ever.
 It took me a year of burning the midnight oil to write the book which started off as a sinister mystery but ended up as a light hearted thriller concerning an inefficient  private detective who becomes involved in the doubtful murder of a fashion model. I gave it the title - She Modelled Her Coffin
 I sent it to the director at Macdonalds who had commissioned my cartoons. He contacted me a month later to tell me he wasn’t interested but that he had passed it on to a small publishing house responsible for `The British Bloodhound Mysteries.́ I had never heard of them but, when another month later, a Mr Boardman, who owned the company, asked me to come to his office for a chat, I was more than happy to do so.       
 I found Tom Boardman to be a genial pug faced American in tweeds and a cloud of smoke, puffing at a pipe in a poky little Soho office untidy with piles of dusty books, discarded manuscripts and abandoned cups of coffee,
 'It’s good, it’s good. A kinda loony Raymond Chandler,' he said before I had even shaken his pudgy hand. 'I’ll take it on if you can follow it up with five more featuring the same crazy detective. The book trade likes sets of six and so do lending libraries.'
 He suggested a few changes, said he would publish it within a few months, He’d have a contract ready to sign the next day.
 Now an about-to-be-published-author, I wasted no time searching for the astute literary agent and a friend of a friend pointed me in the direction of Richard Gregson, a tough, aggressive and very ambitious character who did not suffer fools gladly. In time he was to become a successful film producer, marry and divorce Natalie Wood      ( who re-married Robert Wagner and then drowned in suspicious circumstances ) and be mentioned by Anthony Burgess in his autobiography as a man who - `reminded him of the kind of army officer who is eventually killed in the field by his own men.'   Richard immediately advised me to leave the world of advertising, sold an option of the film rights of I Married a Model ( the film was never made ), had me write three episodes of Emergency Ward 10 a popular hospital soap at the time, and sign a contract with ATV tying me down to developing a six part comedy series based on an idea by Robert Morley who would play the lead roll together with his real life mother in law, Gladys Cooper - two very respected high protane thespians..
 The story, which I did not think too original, concerned the monarch of a mythical kingdom who has money problems and relies on his beatnik daughter to keep him out of trouble by inventing doubtful tourist attractions. I was to come up with comic storylines in which the characters came into conflicts with each other.  I managed to do this and, on the first day of rehearsals Robert Morley, with his ungainly bulk, triple chin, fierce eyebrows and famed for playing pompous windbags, took me aside, sat me down in a corner, sat himself heavily down on a chair in front of me and tapped my knee with an authoritative extended index finger.
 'Now dear boy, your storylines are excellent, your plot development perfect, but overall there isn’t enough of my kind of humour to please my many admirers, so unless you object, and even if you do, I will add a few things here and there and hope you won’t be hurt.'
 Before I could say anything he stood up, gripped my shoulders in way of a friendly hug, I thought, but in fact it was to make sure that I wouldn’t get up myself and bother him from then on.
 Screened the following April, If the Crown Fits, as the series was called, was not a complete disaster but hardly a success. The best notice I got was in the Daily Mail for the fourth episode :
 'This Ruritanian series is as unfunny now as it was when it started. For this Robert Morley cannot blame his scriptwriter.'
 The scriptwriter, however, was at fault.
 I had been witness to glaring continuity mistakes made during the rehearsals, I had missed opportunities for funnier lines, and had not spoken up enough because I lacked confidence among these experienced professionals. I had, in fact, felt quite uncomfortable in their company. Memories of Gert and Daisy at the Café Royal came to haunt me. ‘Try writing for others, you’ll be good at that...’ Well maybe I wasn’t.

 Between the end of rehearsals, the recording of the show and its screening, my domestic life took a turn for the chaotic. Grumpy old Grandmere Launay died in Pau, Maman’s second husband died in Nice, Pierre became enamoured of a woman younger than my mother so was kicked out of her life and Eddy reached the age of sixty five and retired from his beloved food trade.
  As Maman inherited a small fortune from her late hubby and, following in her dentist father’s footsteps, had developed a liking for casinos, Simone and Eddy sold Weir Pool and winged it quickly to Nice where they invested her money in a Cote d’Azur mansion where all three settled down to a life of never ending disagreement.
 Meanwhile Eve and I finally left London with our boy child and, seeking a feel for the raw natural life, rented a coastguard cottage in Sussex which was so close to the sea that on stormy nights massive waves thundered against the retaining walls sending gallons of foamy white spray over the roof.  

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