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Late on Christmas Eve 1926 Police Commander John Parker was summoned to the home of Margaret Swann, the widow of his old boss Herbert Merriman Swann, one of the finest policemen that ever lived.

“ John, thank you for coming.”

“ Is something wrong?”

“ No, nothing is wrong. It’s just that I’ve I come across this small notebook which I think you should have. I know that Scotland Yard have asked you to privately investigate the fire at the Memorial Theatre, and I think you might find this notebook of interest. ”

“ How did you know that I had been asked…

“…a new wave of sax players were coming and going in Kansas City.”

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Charlie Parker. Image: New York Daily News

Ross Russell’s 1973 biography of jazz musician, Charlie Parker, is as much a history of 1930s America, as it is post-war America. It is also the history of a nation seen from the point of view of not just Parker, but most working jazz musicians of those periods. And when writing about the post-war era, Russell (picking up on a riff from Norman Mailer’s 1957 essay, The White Negro) writes:

“ If the new language was exotic, by contrast behavior had become curiously circumspect. Loud voices were frowned down, as were hurried, headlong (frantic) actions…Dress tended to become neater and more conservative. The handshake gave way to the palm-and-finger brush. …

A Truly Fine Short Story That Became Two Hollywood Movies

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Image: The Daily Beast

Hemingway’s short Story, ‘The Killers’, was first published in Scribner’s Magazine in 1927 (not long after his first novel, The Sun Also Rises, was published in 1926), with the story later included as one of the fourteen that made up Hemingway’s second volume of short stories, Men without Women, and as Carlos baker writes, Hemingway’s:

“…fame was clearly growing among the reading public. As Perkins [Hemingway’s editor] had predicted, the novel [The Sun Also Rises] kept its momentum well beyond the Christmas holidays. …

Why Not Start Your Own Theatre Company?

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Steve Devey is Oliver Cromwell. Photo: Phil Jarrett

Many years ago I sent a radio play of mine called Ancient Pinnacles to the BBC (at their request) about the American poet Walt Whitman. And although they liked it they informed me that their schedules were full, sorry. Not to worry, I said, I’ll start my own theatre company, and get it staged that way. Their reply was that people didn’t start theatre companies anymore.

Some months later I was at a party. It was a glorious summer’s afternoon in the garden of a house in Stratford, where I was introduced to another Stratford playwright, Ian Harris, who’d just had a play of his optioned by a London agent. We helped ourselves to another drink and started talking about writing plays, talk which eventually, and probably inevitably, moved into the area of theatre companies, and how hard it had been to even get a play optioned, let alone performed. It was then we were joined by another, older, Stratford playwright, Reg Mitchell, a Yorkshire man who’d retired to Stratford a couple of years earlier. …

Cornish Roots

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David Lean. Image: Londonist

A couple of years ago, here on Medium, I wrote a history of what eventually became David Lean’s masterpiece, Lawrence of Arabia, a film that re-set the cinematic bar very high indeed. Since then only one or two film makers have come close, the majority have not. So what was it that made the boy from South London so very, very good? The heart and eye of an artist is the best I can come up with.

Lean’s heritage, on both sides, is Cornish. His mother, Helena Annie Tangye, was known as “the beauty of the Tangyes…”, a family Lean loved, describing them as “…good-looking people, very artistic with a lot of gift in them. The Tangyes were artists, inventors and engineers. …

A World Away, and A Child of Bliss

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Mervyn and Maeve. Image: BBC

In 2008 my wife and I organised the first Stratford-upon-Avon International Festival of Literature. Sebastian Peake was one of our guests; a charming man who spoke lovingly, and in depth, about his father, the writer and artist Mervyn Peake, and his mother, the artist Maeve Gilmore.

Sebastian’s memoir, A Child of Bliss, and Maeve Gilmore’s own memoir of her life with Mervyn, A World Away, seems, for me, something of a reiteration of Mervyn Peake’s own nature, even when suffering so badly toward the end of his life.

Perhaps still best known today for his Gormenghast trilogy, Mervyn Peake was a writer of such depth and sensibility that his other writings, most notably his short stories, often outshine those three award winning novels; he was also an artist of such originality that it is virtually impossible to place him into a particular genre. …

Books by Isobel Charman and Arthur Marwick

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A Munitions Factory. Image: BBC

On the last Saturday in March, the well-to-do of Edwardian society gathered along the banks of the River Thames for the first society sporting event of the season: the University Boat Race. The press had been hyping it up for weeks. The Oxford team, which had generally been considered the poorer, had been performing exceptionally well in training and suddenly the stage seemed set for a great contest. Crowds flooded in to West London to witness the spectacle. Ladies donned hats laden with flowers and feathers; gentlemen wore frock coats and silk hats, the more daring also sporting brightly coloured gloves. …

Charles Dickens Gets In The Groove with Jazz Musician and Composer John Dankworth

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Charles Dickens. Image: Mirror

It might seem a bit improbable for the British Jazz musician and composer, John Dankworth, to tackle the work and characters of 19th century novelist Charles Dickens. But anything was possible in the 1960s. Charles was having a bit of a renaissance, with new paperback editions of his novels lining the shelves, several TV adaptations filling the weekend slots, plus films and musicals, most obviously Lionel Bart’s Oliver. Perhaps it was time for Dickens to get in the jazz groove?

I must have discovered John Dankworth around the same time as I did Charles Dickens (late 50s, early 60s), with John’s music in the background as I ploughed my way happily through the Dickens canon. The two went together well, most especially when I read The Pickwick Papers, accompanied by the early Dankworth Seven recordings. There was a similar jauntiness of tone and purpose. …

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Geoff Dyer. Image: Document

I’ve been re-reading Geoff Dyer’s But Beautiful recently — it was first published in 1991 — which is a book about Jazz, and is a must for any devotee of the music, and a small literary masterpiece that can — must — be read and re-read. It is one writer’s take on the life of jazz musicians. Let me quote from his piece on Lester Young:

“When he woke the room was filled with the green haze of a neon sign outside that had blinked to life while he slept. He slept so lightly it hardly even merited the name of sleep, just a change in the pace of things, everything floating away from everything else. …

Jack Newman wanted adventure…

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Defence of Mafeking by A Sutherland. Image: The Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection, Brown University

My great uncle Jack was a loveable man with a handle-bar moustache and centrally parted, heavily brilliantined, dark hair. He smelled of Sunlight Soap, and Wills’ Gold Flake cigarettes, which he smoked incessantly, as did his younger brother, my grandfather Harry, as would Harry’s son, my father Roland.

Back in the mid-1950s my sister and I loved going to Uncle Jack’s cottage in Hampton Lucy, where he was born in 1877, a cottage that belonged to the Fairfax Lucy family, who lived in the big house, Charlecote Park, where Jack’s father had been the book-keeper for over fifty years. …


Steve Newman Writer

Playwright, Historian, Biographer & Freelance Writer Living and Working in Shakespeare’s Stratford

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