Rf Delderfield Bibliography Apa
All Over the Town (1947)
Farewell the Tranquil Mind (1950)
Seven Men of Gascony (1954)
The Adventures of Ben Gunn (1956)
There Was a Fair Maid Dwelling (1960)
Stop At a Winner (1961)
The Spring Madness of Mr. Sermon (1963)
aka Mr. Sermon
The Golden Millstones (1964)
Too Few for Drums (1964)
Under an English sky (1964)
Cheap Day Return (1967)
Return Journey (1967)
Charlie Come Home (1969)
aka Come Home Charlie and Face Them
To Serve Them All My Days (1972)
Peace Comes to Peckham (1948)
Queen Came by (1949)
Sailors Beware (1950)
Nobody Shouted Author (1951)
The Bride Wore an Opal Ring (1952)
Made to Measure (1952)
Miaow Miaow (1952)
The Old Lady of Cheadle (1952)
Waggonload O'monkeys (1952)
Absent Lover (1953)
Golden Rain (1953)
Smoke in the Valley (1953)
Spark in Judea (1953)
The Testimonial (1953)
And Then There Were None (1954)
The Guinea-Pigs (1954)
Home Is the Hunted (1954)
Musical Switch (1954)
The Orchard Walls (1954)
The Rounderlay Tradition (1954)
Ten Till Five (1954)
Where There's a Will (1954)
The Offending Hand (1955)
The Mayerling Affair (1958)
Wild Mink (1962)
Uncle's Little Lapse (1955)
These Clicks Made History (1946)
The Fascinating History of Budleigh and District (1947)
Bird's Eye View (1954)
The March of the Twenty-six (1962)
Tales Out of School (1963)
Retreat from Moscow (1967)
For My Own Amusement (1968)
Imperial Sunset (1969)
Napoleon in Love (1969)
Overture for Beginners (1970)
Napoleon's Marshals (1981)
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It was JB Priestley's misfortune – a lasting, personal misfortune – to achieve vast commercial success at a time when the whole concept of commercial success was being called sharply into question. The literary 1920s were an age in which the matter of a writer's cultural affiliations loomed very large, a time when gangs of vers libre poets and outraged traditionalists skirmished through the pages of the weekly reviews and the word "middlebrow" became a term of abuse. With his titanic sales – The Good Companionsproved so popular in 1929 that fleets of lorries had to be engaged to distribute it – Priestley (1894-1984) was always going to be a target for this sort of snootiness: what was really remarkable, as the 1930s wore on, was his emergence as a kind of all-purpose intellectual hate-figure, a byword for everything that was wrong with the contemporary novel and, by extension, the literary scene that authenticated it.
The contempt in which Priestley was held by some of his fellow-writers can sometime seem rather startling. Virginia Woolf bracketed him with Arnold Bennett as "the tradesman of letters". The young Graham Greene caricatured him in Stamboul Train (1931) as the bluff, pipe-smoking popular novelist Mr Savory, and was threatened with a libel writ. George Orwell, alarmed by his influence on other novelists, noted of Patrick Hamilton's Priestley-haunted Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky (1935) that Hamilton "has set out … to write a novel about 'real life', but with the Priestleyan assumption that 'real life' means lower-middle-class life in a large town and that if you have packed into your novel, say, fifty-three descriptions of tea in a Lyons Corner House, you have done the trick." Anthony Powell not only put Priestley into his novels as a malign cultural signifier (in From a View to a Death half-witted Jasper Fosdick tries to impress a girl by offering to lend her the family copy of The Good Companions) but was still, half a century later, stuffing his diaries with references to the "stupefying banality" of Priestley's mind and his complete unsuitability for a Westminster Abbey memorial.
All this was, and is, horribly unfair – there were far more plausible candidates for highbrow disdain in the 30s than the author of English Journey – and yet, as nearly always happens when the intelligentsia takes against a particular behemoth of the book clubs, a certain amount of the mud has stuck. Nearly 30 years after his death, although Priestley's plays are regularly revived and there remains a folk memory of his considerable impact as a war-time broadcaster, his novels are usually regarded as the quaintest of period curios: sprawling, sentimental, and the forerunner of every postwar metropolitan bestseller, from Norman Collins's London Belongs to Me (1945) to RF Delderfield's The Avenue Goes to War(1964). Priestley's own verdict, in his 1962 memoir Margin Released, was that he was a victim of straightforward snobbery, that fixed English idea, as he put it, "that anything widely popular must necessarily be bad. Criticism … borrowed 'bestseller' from the book trade, where it means what it says and nothing more, and made it pejorative."
However heartfelt, this is also faintly disingenuous, for a close inspection of what was being written about him at the time suggests that he was being punished less for his success than for the sometimes wildly exaggerated claims made on his behalf. Orwell's review of Angel Pavement, published in the Adelphi in October 1930, is particularly revealing. One would not feel like attacking such a "competent and agreeable novel", Orwell writes, "if Mr Priestley had not been so extravagantly praised. He has been likened to Dickens, and when a novelist is likened to Dickens one must stop and ask the reason." Once this "absurd praise" has been discounted, it is possible to hail Priestley "for the qualities which he really possesses, and take Angel Pavement for what it is: an excellent holiday novel, genuinely gay and pleasant, which supplies a good bulk of reading material for ten and sixpence". What Priestley, who took himself and his art very seriously, thought about being described as a holiday novelist can only be imagined. At any rate, it is one step up from being damned as a tradesman of letters by a woman who lived on dividend payments.
Angel Pavement's storyline can be given in a paragraph. Mr Golspie, an "able rogue" (Orwell's phrase), arrives in London out of the blue on a Baltic cargo ship with a display case full of veneer samples, and the sole UK agency for an innovative new manufacturing process ripe to make fortunes for the lucky men he selects as his business partners. Descending, apparently at random, on the moribund City firm of Twigg & Dersingham, he proceeds to shake up the business to devastating effect: swindling its vague and ineffectual owner, Mr Dersingham, wreaking havoc in the heart of Miss Matfield, its genteel secretary-typist, and ruining the prospects of Turgis, its pimply clerk, who makes the mistake of falling for Golspie's daughter. Written from the angle of each of Twigg & Dersingham's original employees, the novel is, necessarily, a study in milieu: the Earls Court maisonette that Mr Dersingham shares with his not very enticing wife; the joyless routines of the "Burpenfield Club" on whose melancholy premises Miss Matfield occupies a bedsitter alongside three or four dozen other ground-down spinsters; Turgis's gloomy lodgings in down-at-heel Camden; and the terraced house in Stoke Newington inhabited by the desiccated accountant Mr Smeeth and his ingrate brood.
At the same time, pace Orwell, Angel Pavement is only incidentally a story of lower-middle and middle-class London life. Its real subject is detachment, the absolute conviction expressed by most of its characters that their lives would be better lived out elsewhere, doing other things and in the company of other people. Priestley may not have been the first English novelist to appreciate the morale-sapping effect that living in a big city at the dawn of the machine age can have on an averagely sensitive human being, but it is extraordinary how often during the course of the novel's 600 pages that this tocsin begins to clang, and how many of the people caught up in it are sustained not by the material realities of their existence but by the careful cultivation of what might be called their personal myth. Miss Matfield's imaginative life, for example, is spent almost exclusively among romantic novels set in the South Seas ("jungles, coral reefs, plantations, hibiscus flowers, the scent of vanilla, schooners on the wide Pacific, tropical nights"). Turgis, alternatively, is a lovesick solitary, convinced, in spite of his unprepossessing exterior, that the relationship of a lifetime is just around the corner.
Gradually, as these dreams are brought out to be investigated, gently mocked or, in one two cases, ambiguously resolved in the dreamer's favour, Angel Pavement's other key theme begins to declare itself. This is the generational divide, brought about by the tumultuous changes in postwar popular media. Mr Smeeth's children, hot for cheap sensation, tolerant of the old parental adages about hard work and duty but completely unmoved by them, are products of the cinema age ("They were the children of the Woolworth stores and the moving pictures"). His daughter's appearance, grimaces and gestures are, as Priestley notes, "temporarily based on those of an Americanised Polish jewess" – one assumes this is Greta Garbo – "who, from her nest in Hollywood, had stamped them on these young girls all over the world". There is a rather significant moment, in terms of this intergenerational incomprehension, in which Mr Smeeth lectures Twigg & Dersingham's office boy on the subject of his own alternative life, in this case a leisure given over to detective magazines and the "shadowing" of innocent members of the public.
"The best thing you can do, Stanley," Mr Smeeth blandly advises, "is to drop these silly tricks. They'll get you into trouble one of these days. Why don't you do something sensible in your spare time? Get a hobby. Do a bit of fretwork. Collect foreign stamps or butterflies or something." Stanley, unimpressed, retorts that "Nobody does them things now." Contemporaneity, up-to-dateness, the idea that one is obligated to do something merely because thousands of other people do it, rampages through the novel like a forest fire. Mr Smeeth and Stanley may be north-east Londoners living within a mile or two of each other, who travel on the same buses, talk the same slang and listen to the same radio programmes, but the gap between their respective childhoods is widening into a chasm, and each of them knows it.
For all the chaos unleashed by the depredations of Mr Golspie – a character whom it is impossible to dislike on account of his sheer animal vigour – the novel ends on an up, with most of its cast galvanised into some kind of new relationship with a world that had previously held them in its thrall. Even Turgis, bruised, beaten and dismissed, his romantic dreams crushed into fragments and his person flung down the office stairs by his indifferent ladylove's outraged father, finds solace in the regard of Poppy Sellers, the junior typist. All the same, the thought of a world that is changing out of all recognition and bringing with it a set of daunting existential challenges is difficult to ignore, and the general effect is rather as if The Waste Land had been rewritten for the variety hall stage. As for Angel Pavement's place in the literary canon of the 1930s, it is a terrific example of the mainstream novel's occasional habit of noticing some of the features of ordinary life that so-called highbrow productions routinely ignore and veering off into psychological territory where the much abused entity regarded as "popular fiction" rarely strays.
•Angel Pavement by JB Priestley, with forewords by Tom Priestley and DJ Taylor, is published by Great Northern Books (£9.99).