A Campion Commentary
5. Sweet Danger
by Roger Johnson
We owe this fifth instalment in the Campion saga, as Julia Thorogood explains1, to Margery Allingham's American publishers. Sales of the more cerebral detective-story Police at the Funeral had been unsatisfactory, and Doubleday asked for another 'plum pudding'. She was already at work on what should have been the next Campion novel, Death of a Ghost, but started on Sweet Danger without noticeable reluctance. Much later she said, perhaps disingenuously: 'This purely "right-hand" tale was written as a private celebration because I had achieved an ambition and got back to the countryside where I belonged after ten years of exile. I like to think that a trace of the march hare ecstasy that I felt all that enchanted summer had been caught in it.'2
She would refer to her essentially commercial writing, done to the dictates of an editor or publisher, as 'left-handed'. The stories over which she had complete control were her 'right-hand' work. Sweet Danger began as a response to disappointing returns in America3, but it was Margery Allingham's project and no-one else's.
This is the story that takes us to Pontisbright, surely the epitome of that part of Suffolk that I think of as Campion Country, and above all, as Barry Pike has noted, it is the novel that introduces the enchanting Amanda Fitton. 4
The origin of the title is obscure. It should be a quotation, but I have not been able to trace it. Different American editions have born the titles Kingdom of Death and The Fear Sign, neither of which conveys the swashbuckling, devil-may-care quality of the original, which is firmly of a piece with the adventurous intrigues of John Buchan or Dornford Yates.
The spoof Who's Who entry gives us brief but invaluable information about Campion himself, to add to what we can glean from the narrative.
Campion, Albert, b. May 20th, 1900. Educated at Rugby and St Ignatius College, Cambridge. Embarked on adventurous career 1924. Chief cases include The Black Dudley Murder, the Affair at Mystery Mile, the Protection of the Gyrth Chalice, and the incidents at Cambridge which entailed Police at the Funeral. Name known to be a pseudonym, but real identity hitherto unpublished. Clubs: Puffins, The Junior Greys. Hobbies: odd. Address: 17 Bottle Street, Piccadilly, London, W.1.
He shares his birthday with his creator, though he is four years older. He was, as we later learn (in Dancers in Mourning), just old enough to be called up for military service in the last months of the Great War, and evidently remained in service during 1919. Of the 'fear sign' he says: 'The last time I saw it, it was scribbled upon a piece of corrugated iron in a devastated area in France after the war.'5 We already know from Police at the Funeral that he attended St Ignatius College, Cambridge. Here we learn that his school was Rugby. More details of his early education will emerge in The Case of the Late Pig and The Fashion in Shrouds.
His job description combines the term 'Deputy Adventurer' from Police at the Funeral and 'Universal Uncle' from Look to the Lady. The latter is a refinement of Biddy Paget's not entirely flattering 'Universal Aunt'. 6
We learn more of his extraordinarily eclectic contacts. He gets information, with remarkable speed, about Brett Savanake's French concerns from his 'good friend Daudet of the Sûreté' — a French equivalent, perhaps, of Stanislaus Oates. The name could derive from the popular French author Alphonse Daudet (1840-1897), author of Tartarin de Tarascon and Lettres de Mon Moulin. On the criminal side, Campion already knows Savanake's hired help Peaky Doyle: 'We met at the house of a mutual friend in Kensington. There was a fight going on at the time. Doyle hit me over the head with a life-preserver.' This sounds like the fracas in Mystery Mile.
Savanake says to Campion: 'I see your brother is still unmarried. You'll come into the title some day, I suppose. Rather unpleasant, a thing like that hanging over you. I should imagine that the life of a country squire with a seat in the Peer's Gallery would not appeal to you.' That is an odd way of putting it: usually (but no longer, alas) one would have said 'a seat in the House of Lords'. Later Savanake says: 'You are thirty-two years old.' If the date is within days of the 28th May7, then Campion would only just have turned 32. In any case, the year must be 1932.
Doing the Riviera
In contrast to the previous two adventures, Sweet Danger opens far from London, in Mentone8, at the Hôtel Beauregard. Chambers's Concise Gazetteer of the World (London & Edinburgh: W & R Chambers; 1895) says of the resort: '(Fr. Menton), a town in the French dep. of Alpes Maritimes, is pleasantly situated on the Mediterranean, 1½ mile from the Italian frontier and 14 miles by rail NE of Nice.'
The grand hotels in Menton (as it is universally known today) are or were the Riviera Palace and the Winter Palace. A 1920s advertising slogan (for Cannes) ran:
Nice is rowdy.
Cannes is class.
This is 'the French Riviera out of season', but we do not know at this point whether it is early or late.
I Drove My Chevy to the Levee
The unusual word 'levée' occurs twice within a couple of pages. As an indication of Guffy Randall's delight at encountering his old friend in Mentone, we are told: '... that was the beauty of Campion; one never knew where he was going to turn up next — at the Third Levée or swinging from a chandelier, as someone once said.' And then, in describing his visit to Averna as pretender to the throne, Campion himself says: 'My levée was a stout affair. It was only my personal charm which retained me my throne, although no doubt the uniforms helped.'
The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford University Press; 1983) offers the following definitions: 'Levee (le.vi), sb. Also levy, levée. 1672... 2. A reception of visitors on rising from bed; a morning assembly held by a prince, etc. 1672. b. In Great Britain and Ireland, an assembly held (in the early afternoon) by the sovereign or his representative, at which men only are received 1760. c. A miscellaneous assemblage of visitors, irrespective of the time of day; applied (U.S.) to the President's receptions 1766...' Campion is no doubt referring to a (probably modest) assembly of the denizens of Averna, summoned on his behalf, in emulation of King George V's receptions. As to 'the Third Levée', by chance I came across the following, accompanied by photographs of dignitaries, on page 14 of The Times for the 30th May 1922: 'The Last Levée of the Year at St James's Palace. The King held the third and final levée of the year at St James's Palace yesterday. The Naval, Military and Air Services, the Church, the Bar and the Overseas Dominions were all represented.'
Descensus Avernae Facilis Non Est
Campion begins the story of Averna with Peter the Hermit, implying that he and Walter the Moneyless, with Lambert of Vincennes, naively set off for Palestine on their own and perished in the desert. The facts are a little different. Peter (c. 1050 - c. 1115) was a French monk and former soldier, who roused popular support for the First Crusade, and led the second of four undisciplined armies in 1096 (not 1090), which reached Asia Minor but was defeated by the Turks at Nicaea. A fifth, well organised and led, army of 600,000 set out later that year and was joined by Peter. 'During the siege of Antioch, which lasted seven months, the besiegers' ranks were fearfully thinned by famine and disease. Many lost heart, and among the deserters was Peter, who was several miles on his way home when he was brought back to undergo a public reprimand. He founded a monastery in France or the Low Countries.'9 Walter, otherwise called Walter the Penniless, was indeed Peter's companion, but Lambert appears to be fictitious.
The story of Averna, says Campion, 'seems to have been a sort of standard anecdote until 1190, when Richard the First set out to do his own bit of crusading, and then a detachment under a delightful soul called Edward the Faithful left the main expedition in Tuscia, cut across Romandiola to Ancona, and across the Adriatic — whatever it was called then — to a place called Ragusa, where the Dinaric Alps run down to the sea.'
Richard I, unlike Edward the Faithful, had an historical reality, though he actually joined the Third Crusade in 1191, not 1190.
Tuscia is an old name for Etruria (roughly modern Tuscany). Romandiola is not mentioned in any gazetteer or encyclopædia that I have consulted, but may be Romagna. Ancona, founded in 4th century BC by Greeks from Syracuse, is the capital of Ancona province and of the Marches. Ragusa is not the town in Sicily, but is the Italian name for Dubrovnik, a seaport on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia, founded in the 7th century. It became a great commercial centre, an independent republic and rival to Venice, but declined from the 16th century. It passed from Italy to Austria in 1814 (under the diplomatic influence of Prince Metternich) and to Yugoslavia in 1918. The Dinaric Alps are the mountains that separate the Dalmatian coast from Bosnia and Herzegovina.
When Edward discovered Lambert's kingdom, says Campion, 'There were no members of the original party alive...' — which is hardly surprising nearly a century on! It was Edward who called the realm 'Averna', a name surely derived from Averno in Italy: 'Ancient Avernus. A small crater lake, nearly 2 m. in circumference, in Campania 10 m. W of Naples. In ancient times the sulphurous fumes were believed to kill passing birds; it was represented as the entrance to hell.'10 The feminine form of the name makes it seem much more welcoming.
The Pontisbright claim to Averna was ratified by its purchase from Metternich in 1814, during 'the rearrangement of Europe' — at the Congress of Vienna, following the abdication of Napoleon and his exile to Elba. Prince Clemens Lothar Wenzel Metternich (1773-1859) was the greatest diplomat of his day. After the Battle of Austerlitz, he became Austrian minister to Paris, and then, after settling the Treaty of Fontainebleau, foreign minister. As such he arranged the marriage between Napoleon and Marie Louise, but at last he declared war against France. He took a leading rôle in the Congress of Vienna, guarding Austria's interests in Italy. From 1815, as the main supporter of autocracy and suppresser of popular and constitutional movements, he was largely responsible for the tensions that led to the European revolutions of 1848.
Campion says that it is necessary to establish sovereignty at 'the Court of the Hague', otherwise 'we might have all Europe flaring up if a certain Power11 thought it worth while to fight for Averna.' The Hague is the seat of government of the Netherlands, though Amsterdam is the capital, and the Peace Palace, built in 1913, still houses the International Court of Justice.
The 'Honourable Augustus Randall, of Monewdon in Suffolk, England,' is 'stolid, nordic and logical... Rugby, Oxford and the shires had produced in Guffy Randall at the age of twenty-eight an almost perfect specimen of the younger diehard. He was amiable, well-mannered, snobbish to the point of comedy and, in spite of his faults, a rather delightful person. His cheerful round face was hardly distinguished, but his very blue eyes were frank and kindly and his smile was disarming.' At 28, Guffy is four years younger than Campion. We know from The Crime at Black Dudley that he rides with the Monewdon Hunt, and that he has a broken nose and 'an almost unbelievable county accent'; and we later learn that he has a 'huge frame'. As 'the Honourable', he is the son of a baron or a viscount, or the younger son of an earl, but we never learn what his family title is. Guffy, of course, marries Mary Fitton, and we shall meet them again in the Campion saga.
Dickie Farquharson and Jonathan Eager-Wright are engaging but less clearly defined characters; however, Scatty Williams and Honesty Bull are splendidly drawn. Lugg, needless to say, is a complete personality, one of the author's great triumphs — even if she did not always appreciate him. 12
The charming, overpowering megalomaniac Brett Savanake is a strikingly modern villain. He rather resembles Robert Maxwell with a really ruthless streak. Julia Thorogood notes that Savernake (sic.) was a favourite name of Margery Allingham and her father Herbert. The villain of her unfinished novel The Lover, abandoned in 1925, is called Savernake. With this spelling it is the name of an ancient forest near Marlborough in Wiltshire.
Savanake seems to have a penchant for wintry concerns. Campion says: 'Early in his career there were some very queer stories floating about, and just after the Winterton Textile Trust smash he used to go about with a bodyguard of thugs.' Not long after, Campion discovers that the Hôtel Beauregard is owned by another of Savanake's companies, 'the Société Anonyme de Winterhouse Incorporated'13.
Peaky Doyle is certainly a nasty piece of work, but seems an uncomplicated personality, unlike the chatty Mr Parrott, who evidently has unexpected depths. A more interesting character than either is the demented Dr Galley. I am very curious about the books in that extraordinary library of his.
At the time of the young men's visit to Dr Galley, Campion is already aware that Doyle is staying at the doctor's house, though as yet, of course, he has no idea that Galley agreed to the arrangement because he believed the crook to be the incarnation of the demon Ashtaroth! The (male) Ashtaroth, otherwise Astaroth or Ashtoreth, was adopted by the Christian church from the ancient (female) deity, known to the Greeks as Astarte and the Mesopotamians as Ishtar. According to Collin de Plancy's Dictionnaire Infernal (1863) Ashtaroth has very bad breath — which makes one wonder whether any of the court of Hell do not have bad breath.
Be Afraid — Be Very Afraid
The 'fear sign' (which gave its title to one of the American editions) is 'a cross surmounted by a cedilla'. Campion says: 'It's a perfect example of the ancient God-help-us mark14... It's probably the sign that the Children of Israel chalked up on their doors in time of persecution. The Ancient Britons used it when the Norse pirates swept down on them15. At the time of the Black Death you could find it on practically every door and house wall. The last time I saw it, it was scribbled upon a piece of corrugated iron in a devastated area in France after the war. You can never tell when it's going to turn up. It isn't an appeal to a Christian god, even. The symbol of the cross is much older than Christianity of course...'
I have been unable to find this particular design shown in any dictionary of signs and symbols. In fact, all Dr Galley's ceremonial diablerie seems to be clever pastiche — like Mrs Munsey's curse in Look to the Lady.
The fantastical plague said by Dr Galley to infest the village is 'a peculiarly horrible form of skin disease akin to lupus' — an ulcerous skin complaint. Campion identifies Galley's supposed ointment as 'Sea onion. Or, as we botanical eggs like to think, Scilla maritima, or Ye Common Squill. one of the most powerful irritants known to ancient herbal medicine.' The Encyclopædia Britannica has this to say, which is more than I could find elsewhere: 'The squill, or sea onion, scilla maritima, a seashore plant, contains several toxic glycosides, the aglycones of which are bufadienolides more typical of the toad poisons than of plant products.'16
The Red-Headed League
Our introduction to a character who will become as valued a friend as Campion himself is distinctly encouraging: 'Amanda Fitton, eighteen next month, was at a stage of physical perfection seldom attained at any age. She was not very tall, slender almost to skinniness, with big honey-brown eyes, and an extraordinary mop of hair so red that it was remarkable in itself.' Margery, herself always inclined to plumpness, seemed determined to emphasise the slenderness of her favoured young female characters. Amanda's sister Mary is twenty-three, and their brother Hal sixteen.
Julia Thorogood is disturbed by Hal's assumption of superiority to his sisters, and by the fact that he is stronger than they. 17 The situation is certainly paternalist and is even suggestive of male chauvinism (a term unknown 70 years ago). There may be an echo here of the relationship between Margery and her husband, but it seems to me that Hal's attitude is inevitable and not necessarily objectionable. He has believed from his early years that he is the rightful Earl of Pontisbright, and he tries conscientiously to live up to the honour and the responsibility — supported, though not unthinkingly, by his family. The greater physical strength of the male is surely usual among fit, healthy young people.
All three Fittons are good-looking, and all have the striking Pontisbright hair. The anonymous clerk who described the crown of Averna assumed rightly that the family would continue to inherit blazing red hair.
Amanda tells Campion that the reason she trusts him is that 'we knew about you. Aunt Hatt used to be a great friend of Mrs Lobbett and her husband, down in the South somewhere, and she heard all about you from them. D'you remember them? She used to be Biddy Pagett18.' We know that Miss Huntingforest has been with the Fittons for three years, and that Biddy married Marlowe Lobbett in 1928 or 1929, so the two women cannot have known each other very long in the United States — perhaps six months.
Julia Thorogood notes that Margery Allingham herself had an 'Aunt Hat'19 [sic]. The improbable surname Huntingforest is surely derived from the Suffolk village of Huntingfield, some fifteen miles north of Letheringham.
Amanda says of her electric car: '... it's really very useful, and not at all bad, considering that I bought it off a higgler for a pound, and Scatty and I made it go.'20 The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines a higgler as 'an itinerant dealer'.
Amanda tells Campion: 'I would make a very good aide-de-camp.' He replies: 'Or lieut. I often think that's what the poet meant when he said Orpheus and his lieut.' Pamela Bruxner points out that Campion is referring to Shakespeare's song, which begins
Orpheus with his lute made trees,
And the mountain tops that freeze,
Bow themselves when he did sing.21
Amanda says: 'Very likely. They made trees, didn't they? That reminds me, let's put this thing back.' (Meaning the slice of oak-tree.) This seems to be an Allingham joke. Amanda would have learned the song at school, in one of the many musical settings22, and have known it by its first few words — rather as many people seem to think that 'Scots Wha Hae' is a complete and coherent statement.
Guffy observes that the Fittons are 'nice people', and adds: 'It seemed a pity that the bar sinister crept in in the fifties.' The correct heraldic term is the 'bend sinister', a broad band from upper right to lower left of the shield in a coat of arms, traditionally indicating illegitimate descent. It has not been used in English heraldry since the middle ages, but persists in popular idiom.
Amanda hid the £300 given to her by Campion in Hal's collar-box. How many sixteen-year-olds today have collar-boxes? How many have ever worn a shirt with a detached collar?
At the end, with the various proofs recovered, and Hal’s claim to the Pontisbright title vindicated, Campion reports to Amanda that ‘the missing earl is well on the way to his place in Dod’ — meaning Dod’s Peerage, Baronetage and Knightage of Great Britain and Ireland (and not, as I first thought, Dod’s Parliamentary Companion). An appropriate reference, but even then, I suspect, not obvious. Most people would have said Debrett or Burke.
Campion asks of Amanda, rhetorically: 'What's going to change you in six years, you rum little grig?' The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary says: 'Grig...1. A dwarf... 2. A short-legged hen... 3. A species of eel; a small or young eel... 4. A merry g.: an extravagantly lively person. Also in phr. as merry as a g....' Definition 4 is evidently the one intended.
That final scene is handled with a delicacy that is evident only on reflection. It is apparent to the reader that both Campion's life and Amanda's are indelibly marked by their contact, yet it seems that their creator had no immediate intention of bringing them together again. She introduced Amanda into The Fashion in Shrouds because it finally seemed a good idea, after Campion had undergone considerable moral and emotional tribulations in Dancers in Mourning.
Margery Allingham knew south Suffolk well, but it is no secret that many aspects of Campion Country are details of Essex simply translated to the neighbouring county. Pontisbright is an old name for Chappel or Chapel, near Colchester, to which Margery and Philip Youngman Carter had moved in 1931. It is a half-Latinised version of 'Britesbrig (1272), originally "Beorhtric's bridge"... now represented by Chapel Bridge.'23
The River Bright24, and references to the Bright Valley, seem to indicate the origin of the Suffolk village's name. However, 'Bright' could be a reverse-derivation, like that of the Chelmer, from the town of Chelmsford, which was actually named after a Saxon chieftain Ceolma25; the original name of the river is unknown. But whether Pontisbright was named after the river or after a Saxon leader, the pronunciation 'Pontsbury', used in Jill Hyem's 1990 BBC Television script, attractive though it is, seems increasingly improbable. (We may also note that Peaky Doyle, in his letter to Sniffy Edwards, uses rhyming slang for Pontisbright: 'Fly by Night'.)
We learn of the attack on Miss Huntingforest from a report in the East Suffolk Courier and Hadleigh Argus, a paper which is also quoted in Look to the Lady. Miss Huntingforest later says that she 'wrote to every paper in London about it', but it seems that none of them paid attention.
Miss Harriet Huntingforest, a resident of Pontisbright, near Hadleigh, Suffolk, has been the victim of a remarkable attack by an intruder yesterday, who entered her house and ransacked it without removing anything of value. Miss Huntingforest, who surprised the intruder, courageously ordered him out of the house, but was brutally felled to the ground, which rendered her unconscious. The only description of her assailant with which Miss Huntingforest can furnish the local police officer is that he was of unusual height and the possessor of an extraordinarily pronounced widow's peak.
Dicky Farquharson has already noted that their enemy, identified by Campion as Peaky Doyle, had 'a widow's peak that almost touched the bridge of his nose.' From the newspaper report we learn that he was exceptionally tall.
If I Were You I Wouldn't Start from Here
We also learn that Pontisbright is near Hadleigh in Suffolk, and must therefore be fairly close to Sanctuary, the scene of the action in Look to the Lady. Yet Campion's party drives from London by way of Ipswich and Framlingham! Admittedly country roads were not what they are now, and Lugg, we know, was lost, but this is an extraordinary detour. To go by way of Ipswich might just be considered reasonable, though they would have done better to leave the A12 at Stratford St Mary, but Framlingham is many miles out of their way. Guffy Randall, it is established, is at home in West Suffolk and should be acquainted with Pontisbright26 — and he surely must know East Suffolk well enough to realise how far astray the little party was going?
Richard Cheffins suggests that the location of Pontisbright, like that of Sanctuary, is fantastical:
'... at the end of the story, the convenience of Colchester is stressed as a garrison town to supply a contingent of soldiers to mop up. Colonel Featherstone reports: "... Only heard of this an hour ago and here I am... (my men) had some little trouble with a car-load of blackguards on the road, but they'll be here any moment now'..." This strains credulity for a Pontisbright in the Hadleigh area but is much more convincing for one at Chappel.'27
In fact the soldiers should be able to do it in an hour from Colchester. The only reasonable alternative to Colchester Garrison that I can trace is Gibraltar Barracks at Bury St Edmunds, home of the Suffolk Regiment — a much smaller establishment and no nearer to the area near Hadleigh than Colchester. Besides, soldiers coming from Bury would not have encountered the villains heading towards London.
It would be interesting to know which regiments were stationed at Colchester in May 1932.
Pontisbright as a Button
Campion, Guffy, Eager-Wright and Lugg travel to Pontisbright in Campion's Bentley, reaching the village at 'eight o'clock in the evening'. At the 'Gauntlett', the 'bar door was open, and two old men sat drinking beer in the last rays of the sun'. In 1932, sunset was at 8.01 pm on the 28th May, and at 8.00 pm on the 23rd July. The earlier month better fits a time that is 'out of season' on the Riviera.
It is clear from the text that Grog's map is oriented north-south, in which case the pub faces west across the heath. However, the map shows the recess embracing the 'cobbled yard' at the back of the building, whereas the text indicates that it is at the front.
The mill house at Pontisbright is 'a nearly perfect example of late fifteenth-century architecture. Its wattle-and-daub walls were plastered over and ornamented with fine mouldings. Big diamond-pattern casement windows bulged beneath rust-red tiles, and the whole rambling place suggested somehow the trim blowsiness of a Spanish galleon.' Most mill houses in East Anglia are 18th century or later, and usually attached to their mills, though both text and plan confirm that at Pontisbright there is a clear space between the two buildings.
All Greek to Me
Savanake's advertisement asks 'A.C.' to call at Xenophon House, W.C.2, but there is no further indication of its address. It is probably in or near the Strand. (In a 1960s Penguin the building is first mentioned as Xenophon House, then as Titanic House, and finally as Xenophon House again. 28) The advertisement is subscribed 'X.R. & Co.' Presumably the X is for Xenophon, but the significance of the R escapes me. The company's activities encompass insurance, shipping and no doubt many others.
Savanake's 'offer' to Campion includes having him driven straight to Croydon and flown from there to Southampton to join the Marqisita for Peru. Before the war, London's international airport was at Croydon.
The Man in the Moon Came Down too Soon
The busybody who knows the whereabouts of the Malplaquet Drum (or Pontisbright Drum of Malplaquet) is Rudyard Glencannon, named, surely, after Rudyard Kipling — himself named after the lake in Staffordshire by which his parents honeymooned.
The battle of Malplaquet in 1709 was the last and costliest victory of the first Duke of Marlborough in the War of the Spanish Succession. It led indirectly to the Treaty of Utrecht and to Marlborough's downfall. 29
We never, I think, discover who was responsible for donating the drum to Brome House Museum in Norwich, and little is made of the fact that Norwich is 50 or 60 miles to the north of Pontisbright, in the next county. I can only assume that the decision was made (by the author) for dramatic purposes: had the drum been sent to Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds or Colchester it would have been near enough still for Pontisbright people to remember. This subtlety seems to have escaped the makers of the BBC TV film, who quite wrongly located Pontisbright near Norwich, and implicitly in Norfolk.
Brome House and its contents, we may note, were bequeathed to 'the town' by 'old Dr Poultry'. The name of the house may derive from the dramatist Richard Brome (d. 1652), who as a young man was a servant to Ben Jonson. He wrote at least 24 popular plays, including The Northern Lass and The Jovial Crew.
It is not really a surprise to learn that Guffy Randall is acquainted with 'Sir Geoffrey Partington, the magistrate for the district' (of Norwich).
The Law, the Army and the Church
When the fake policemen arrest Farquharson and Eager-Wright, Guffy threatens to phone his 'friend the County Commissioner'. But English county police forces are commanded by chief constables — only the City of London Police and the Metropolitan Police have commissioners. It is later established that the 'Commissioner' is 'Tenderton... an understanding, intelligent old boy'. Until the local government reorganisation of 1974, East and West Suffolk were separate administrative counties, each with its own police force, and with their county towns at Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds. Hadleigh is close to the border, and Sudbury lies to the west, with Sanctuary between the two30. There is an emphasis throughout Sweet Danger on West Suffolk (including Campion's remark that Guffy's father owns most of it), which suggests that Pontisbright is in West Suffolk, along with Sanctuary, though Kepesake31 could be in East Suffolk. For the record, in 1932 the Chief Constables of West Suffolk and East Suffolk were respectively Major E.P. Prest and Captain J.G. Mayne, C.B.E.
Campion mentions to Amanda that one of the ersatz policemen is well suited to causing a diversion in his hired car: '... you'd like him, by the way, drives at Brooklands quite a lot... ' The name of Brooklands is almost sacred among devotees, as it was the first purpose-built motor-racing circuit in the world. It was opened in 1907 near Weybridge in Surrey, and was in continuous use (except for a brief period during the Great War, when the enclosed area was given over to the Royal Flying Corps) for more than thirty years. During the Second World War, Brooklands was commandeered for the Vickers-Armstrong aircraft factory, and motor-racing never returned. Fortunately a fair amount of film footage survives.
* * *
The army contingent is led by Colonel Featherstone, who is apparently well known to Campion, Eager-Wright and Farquharson. His second in command is Captain Stukely-Wivenhoe, who is also part of the same set: '"Guffy Randall?" enquired the captain with interest. "I was lunching with his father yesterday."' Characters called 'Wivenhoe' will appear again in the Campion saga, though it does not, as far as I can discover, actually exist as a surname. Wivenhoe is a small port on the River Colne in Essex, not far from Colchester.
* * *
The extracts from Parson Galley's diary are rather in the style of the Revd Francis Kilvert's diary, kept between 1870 and 1879, discovered and published posthumously.
Note that having 'dismissed' (sacked?) Mrs Parritch, who dropped his 'best salad bowl and cracked it', Parson Galley had her stand witness to the marriage of Hal Pontisbright and Mary Fitton, along with 'her father's man, Branch'. (That is, Mary's father's man.) Branch is probably related to the Gyrth family's butler, Roger Branch.
Bits and Bobs
Quoting Shakespeare's Henry IV, part II, Campion acknowledges that 'uneasy lies the head that wears a crown'. This line was memorably misquoted by Sellar and Yeatman in 1066 and All That as 'Uneasy lies the head that wears a throne.' Well, it would, wouldn't it?
* * *
After their visit to Dr Galley, Campion says to Guffy and Eager-Wright: '... in the words of the Prime Minister, "I have just had a bewtiful thoat which I am about to brodecast — not to the wurrld, but to you two, my trusty co-lleagues."' The P.M. in 1932 was Ramsay MacDonald, hence the suggestion of a Scottish accent.
* * *
Campion says of Lugg and Scatty, who have half-killed Peaky Doyle in a fight, that they 'seem to be a pair of daisies, as we say on the Bench.' Partridge says: 'daisy, n. (and, in England, a rare adj., 1757), an excellent or first-rate person or thing: the n. came ex U.S. (- 1876) and was anglicized ca 1890; Kipling used it in his poem, Fuzzy Wuzzy.'32 At this stage in his career, it is unlikely that Albert Campion had ever been a magistrate, but with him one never knows.
* * *
Learning that Savanake has made all the arrangements for his mission to Peru, Campion says, 'Now all I've got to think about is a bottle of Mothersill, and a bag of nuts for the natives, I suppose.' What was Mothersill?
* * *
'At seven o'clock Mary came down and the kitchen quarters sprang to life, and it was to the pleasant clatter of delf and the sizzle of bacon that Guffy arose and went down...' 'Delf' seems to be an archaic version of 'delft', meaning Delftware crockery.
* * *
The twin to the Great Bell of Pontisbright is 'the convent bell of St Breed in the Pyrenees'. Breed is not listed in any dictionary of saints that I have consulted. He or she may be a local saint, or even a variant of the Irish St Bride. The convent could be in France, Spain or Andorra.
* * *
Chapter XXI is appropriately called Truth in the Well. 'Truth lies at the bottom of a well' is said to be a Greek proverb:
* * *
Campion says of the diamond, the bell and the drum: 'After all, it doesn't follow that because a thing's been written a hundred years it's true. Consider Joanna Southcott.'33
* * *
Honesty Bull at the 'Gauntlett' offers Guffy the expensive 'dark beer' Colne Springs — which may have been an actual product of one of the then-extant breweries in north Essex — perhaps Cook's of Halstead. But was it brown ale, porter, stout, old ale or what?
* END *
1 Thorogood, Julia: Margery Allingham, A Biography (London: Heinemann; 1991).
2 In the introduction to Sweet Danger in the omnibus Mr Campion's Lady (London: Heinemann; 1965).
3 Julia Thorogood says: 'It was the last book produced overtly to please Malcolm Johnson and the Crime Club.' (Thorogood: op. cit.)
4 Pike, B.A.: Campion's Career: A Study of the Novels of Margery Allingham (Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press; 1987).
5 Lord Peter Wimsey, who was in active service, was a few years older than Campion.
6 See Mystery Mile.
7 See below.
8 By coincidence, the action of The White Cottage Mystery, Margery Allingham's first proper detective novel, ends at Mentone. In Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers (1923), the first recorded exploit of Lord Peter Wimsey, we learn that Lady Levy, wife of the missing Sir Reuben, has gone to Mentone for her health.
9 Thorne, J.O. , ed.: Chambers Biographical Dictionary (Edinburgh: W. & R. Chambers; 1969).
10 Moore, W.G.: The Penguin Encyclopedia of Places (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971).
11 Italy, under Fascist rule since 1922.
12 See 'What to Do with an Ageing Detective' in The Return of Mr Campion by Margery Allingham, edited by J.E. Morpurgo (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1989). The piece first appeared in Time and Tide in 1958.
13 'Société Anonyme' is the French equivalent of 'Limited'.
14 Dr Galley also calls it the 'God-help-us mark'.
15 It was the Angles, Saxons and Jutes who persecuted the Ancient Britons. Probably Campion means that the Anglo-Saxons used the sign when the Norse pirates swept down on them.
16 Chicago: The New Encyclopædia Britannica, 15th ed., 1998
17 Thorogood: Op. cit.
18 The surname should be spelt 'Paget'.
19 See Thorogood, Julia: Op. cit.
20 How much would it be worth today?
21 King Henry VIII, act 3, scene 1.
22 Probably Arthur Sullivan's. Other composers attracted by the verse include Ralph Vaughan Williams, Edmund Rubbra and Arthur Somervell.
23 Reaney, P.H.: Place Names of Essex (Cambridge University Press, 1935).
24 For what it's worth, the nearby town of Hadleigh stands on the River Brett.
25 Pronounced, of course, Chelmer.
26 See below: 'The Law, the Army and the Church'.
27 'Margery Allingham's Topography: Chappel', in The Bottle Street Gazette, no. 10, Dec. 1993.
28 Xenophon was an ancient Greek historian.
29 My history master at school was a Mr Bromwich, known inevitably as 'Brom'. He used his nickname as a mnemonic for Marlborough's four great victories, in chronological order: Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudenarde, Malplaquet.
30 See 'A Campion Commentary 3: Look to the Lady' in The Bottle Street Gazette (New Series), Issue no. 5.
31 See The Case of the Late Pig.
32 Partridge, Eric: A Dictionary of Historical Slang (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972).
33 See 'A Campion Commentary 3: Look to the Lady' in The Bottle Street Gazette (New Series), Issue no. 5.
Text © Roger Johnson
Photos of Margery courtesy The Margery Allingham Society
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