From Scenes Like These
The novelist in Gordon Williams, who died a year ago today, fed off the journalist. Many of his novels were founded on his own real–life experiences.
From Scenes Like These — post-war rural Scotland (tick), The Camp — RAF conscripts at a base in West Germany (tick), The Upper Pleasure Gardens — local journalism (tick); and it goes on: Big Morning Blues (Soho noir) and Walk Don’t Walk — author tour of America.
Even such an unlikely candidate as Straw Dogs, had a factual inspiration….. and his first book, the Last Day of Lincoln Charles, was actually based on a story he covered for a weekly features magazine — in real life it is USAF airman Napoleon Green who runs amok, kills people, and is hunted to his death in seaside Britain.
It actually happened on Broadstairs beach in the summer of 1955: four dead, seven wounded. Maybe Britain’s first serial shooter…. and yet completely forgotten today. But testament to Williams ability to spot interesting stories and run with them. It was a talent he brought to bear on SCENE magazine — a short-lived events/arts/film/music magazine that Williams worked on …… a Peter Cook venture that also had Tom Stoppard as the drama critic. It was where, according to Williams, Stoppard worked on an early draft of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
Few copies of SCENE survive today …..but Williams’s articles present a writer standing on the edge of an emerging pop world, aware of the hype even before most people were aware of the phenomenon (see his astringent review around the same time of Cliff Richard’s Summer Holiday). So we begin this look back at Williams work with some of his work on SCENE magazine.
As a taster of his style here is his intro to an article from November 1962 on Mark Wynter… a pop singer who had 2 top-ten hits that year with ‘Venus in Blue Jeans’ and ‘Go Away Little Girl’.
‘Mr Andrew Oldham rang up to say that he was taking over Mark Wynters publicity. Mr Oldham said that Mr Wynter was not like other pop stars. Mr Oldham said that Mr Wynter was suitable for a story with depth.
Mr Oldham turned out to be a freshfaced 18-year-old with an unparted mass of ginger hair and tight corduroy trousers with flared bottoms.’
Yes, that was Andrew Loog Oldham — the Rolling Stones contract the would make him their manager, was still a year away.