publications - fiction

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Out of print – 30 remaindered copies available, slightly foxed.
Published by Faber & Faber, 1959

Old Letch

Old Letch

'What's he like, this Letchford? Face: like a passport photograph; lank, drawn, hang-dog, stamped all over "wanted" – yet not one to frighten little children; even likeable in a sad, hunted way. Sallow-complexioned, fat-nosed, blue-eyed. Trouble with spots. Sallow-coloured eyebrows, fading into invisibility. Head: fore-and-aft shape, covered with shredded dun-coloured hair, more of it than required. Body: a long, exaggerated greenstick fracture, nothing else; joints so ill-fitting and under-lubricated that they squeak with crepitus as he twigs along. Voice: scratchy, certainly frightening to little children. Mind: dense screens of overlapping sex-mirages, but behind them a feeling for humanity. Ambition: getting on the stage. Club: Espresso.'

He's also quite outrageous and quite unforgettable – a comic creation on the grand scale. Though he never achieves his ambition, he does get involved in what are probably the oddest political goings-on ever recorded; and in the maddest election scene in literature. And he gets involved, in the process, with a very rum Soho lot indeed – Ermie, Sherry, Loveapple, Tusker, Hymie, the delectable Jo Anna and the ever faithful Typewriter and Kettle.

A taste of the critics

'An extravagantly funny novel about Soho and its inhabitants.' Kenneth Allsop, Daily Mail
'For those who can take practically anything as long as it it unexpected… a delight.' Daniel George, The Bookman
'This is definitely the book to redeem a dull weekend.' Auckland Star

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Written on voyage from South Africa to England, Old Letch, sometime titled Qwertyuiop, foolery with the typewriter, was, three years later, turned into a musical by John Dankworth (music) and David Dearlove with Sylvester (lyrics). Here are the words of a sample song about its hero, a lazy, lovable layabout, at his toilette:

The nail on a toe
Can't possibly grow
as fast as the nail on a finger
for the nail on a toe
takes everything slow -
and the nail on a finger won't linger,
won't linger,
won't linger,
won't linger.

There's only one But:
the moment to cut
each harvest of horn - that's the poser!
for the manual tips
are ripe for the snips
much sooner than those on the toes are,
the toes are..
the toes are..
the toes are..
(Dankworth, Dearlove, Stein)


Last word from John Hearne: