Sunday, 31 July 2011

The disappearance of Freeman Wills Crofts

Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers and Freeman Wills Crofts. What do they have in common? In the 1930s they were the three biggest names in crime fiction in Britain. Does that surprise you? It certainly surprised me. I don't know who I'd have placed third – Ngaio Marsh, perhaps, who was from New Zealand but whose books were set, and widely read, here. (Crofts was himself from Ireland, but like Marsh wrote books set in Britain.)

Unlike Adam Diment, Croft didn't disappear for real, but his books have vanished from the shelves. American publishing house Dover reprinted some novels in the 1970s, and British publisher Hogarth did in the 1980s. I've slowly accumulated a number of them over the years, mainly from the Oxfam bookshop in Bath. According to the entry for Freeman Wills Crofts on Wikipedia, in 2000 36 of his books were in print in paperback. This comes as a real surprise to me because I can't recall ever seeing one on the shelf in Waterstones, but a quick search of crime novel specialists Murder One's website turns up six of his novels. (I already have four, and at £12 for the new ones, I'll keep looking in Oxfam!)

I think it's telling that none of Crofts' novels have been filmed or made into television programmes. Agatha Christie's novels were being filmed by the late 1920s, while Sayers' Peter Wimsey stories have been adapted for television. The truth is, Crofts created brilliantly constructed stories, but not brilliantly constructed characters, and on screen personalities do hook the viewer as much as the plot. Miss Marple, with her intricate knowledge of human behaviour, poking into the closet of English village life. Fussy Poirot, with access to grand houses and the most stylish people, not to mention exotic locations such as Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Orient Express. Poor old Inspector French, spending time on ordinary trains and boats and in generally mundane locations can't possibly compete.

Nonetheless, I will continue to collect Crofts' books when I see them because he does construct a meticulous tale, and while they may not be great for translating to screen, they're very enjoyable to read and think about.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

The Hour episode 2 and an award

I am really, really enjoying The Hour now. I noticed on Twitter that a few people don't like it so much, but I think it depends on what you like in a programme – it's not purely a drama. There's the 'starting a new news programme' aspect, which is a drama, with personality clashes, corporate politics and potential for torrid affairs, and then there's the thriller aspect, with Freddie trying to discover why an academic was killed and why the murder of his friend is being written off as a suicide.

I make no secret of loving thrillers, and for me it's fabulous finally to get a show which has a 'slow burn' thriller at its heart. No stupid gadgets, no fast car chases, no 'sexpionage' (thank you, Undercovers, for that horrible notion, you steaming pile of dwang), just the slow uncovering of facts and the realisation that whatever's going on, it's big, and it's scary and there's now no way out. I think this is currently the best thriller I've watched in years, and this is in the year when we've also had The Shadow Line.

The news programme side of things is of less interest to me, although I am pleased that so far no-one's having sex. Honestly, if aliens landed and had based their knowledge of our culture on TV dramas, they'd probably be quite startled to discover that two humans can actually be in the same room as one another for more than two days without throwing panties to the wind and doing it on the photocopier. I'd like to see some genuine human relationships on the box – y'know, that 'friendship' thing? Family relationships that aren't affairs?

There seemed to be two themes in yesterday's episode running under the Suez Crisis main element: 'Everyone Has Awful Relatives' and 'The Phones Are Behaving Oddly'. (The latter was very crudely done; short of having a high-kicking chorus line dressed as operators dancing through singing "Your phones are tapped!" they couldn't have made it more obvious.) I doubt we'll escape seeing more of either Hector's wife, Marnie, or Bel's awful mother, although Marnie has the potential to be interesting. I can't wait for next week's episode.

And in a complete change of subject Wendy from The Butterfly Balcony has given me a bloggy award :D Check out her blog if you love vintage or crafts, and if you love both you'll want to follow it. I'm rubbish at webby things so can't put up the little squares with the awards in, but wanted so say thank you. (And if Wendy or anyone wants to find me on Ravelry, I'm 'idontlikecricket'!)

Monday, 25 July 2011

The Bloody Red Baron [books]

I've mentioned Anno Dracula by Kim Newman in the past (reviewed it and mentioned the reprint). The Bloody Red Baron is the second book in the series, so if you want to read Anno Dracula without spoilers, stop reading this review now.

SPOILERS FOLLOW

Anno Dracula was set in Victorian times, with the Count having seduced and married the widow of Windsor, becoming the new Prince Consort. He had to flee Britain at the end, driven out by angry living and dead Britons. The Bloody Red Baron sees the Great War at its peak, with Dracula as chief military advisor to the Kaiser. The pilots of all-vampire Condor Squadron have been observing, and battling, JG1, the flying unit headed by Baron von Richthoffen, the Red Baron himself, and something strange appears to be going on at the castle where JG1 are based. Charles Beauregard, hero of Anno Dracula, is now an aged spy and sends his young protege, Edwin Winthrop, along to Condor Squadron to help investigate. What are the Germans working on at the chateau?


I've had this book since it came out in paperback in the mid-1990s, and I never rated it as highly as the first in the series. That's possibly to do with the fact that I didn't get as many of the cultural references then, but to be honest you need to share Newman's extensive and unique enthusiasms to get them all. Over 15 years ago I could spot Biggles and his chums, Count Orlok, Dr Caligari, Simon Templar, Bulldog Drummond and so on, but Sadie Thompson, Kent Allard, John Ashenden and the like were mysteries to me. As I've heard more books on the radio and read more books, I've come to get more of them (such as the brief reference to a girl called Cigarette – I don't know which version of Under Two Flags Newman takes his Cigarette from, but I picture Theda Bara, who I've seen in stills and who you see here). The real figures are almost all real figures who would have been alive during World War I, from Mata Hari and Peter Kurten to Winston Churchill and Herbert Asquith.

In case you are worried that the war itself is treated flippantly, rest assured that it is not. The historical aspects are treated with respect. I still don't think this book is up to the standard of Anno Dracula, but it does come pretty close, and as alternate histories go is extremely enjoyable.

(I was actually lucky enough to meet a World War I fighter as a child. In her teens, my mum went to work for Wing Commander Fry and his wife, and years later took me and my brother to meet them. I was pretty young, however, and my main memory of the entire day is of being bitten by a horsefly.)

Blogoversary brooch winners

Random number generator picked numbers 4 and 5, so that's Tickety Boo Tupney and Ankaret Wells! Ladies, please email a postal address (it can be a work one or other non-home address if you like) to crinolinerobot AT yahoo DOT com

Sorry it's taken a couple of days for me to do the drawing. I went back to the flatlands of Norfolk to visit my mum, who's been looking after a pair of elderly relatives with dementia and was in sore need of fun!

Friday, 22 July 2011

Blogoversary brooch giveaway

Crinoline Robot is a year old this weekend. It feels as though I’ve been writing this blog for much longer, possibly because I’d been thinking about it for some time before I started it.

In celebration, I’ve got a couple of brooches to give away. I’ll make one thing clear to start with: THESE ARE NOT VINTAGE as far as I can tell. They’re very clean, even in the corners, and have a slightly less smooth clasp action than I’d expect from a vintage brooch. However, they come close enough to the real thing for me to class them as repro. One is a silvery colour, with fake marcasite. (Real marcasite is darker grey, and the edges of the facets sharper.) I have a strong suspicion that this is a very good casting from a real marcasite brooch as the ‘stones’ are exactly the same colour as the setting but the details are nice and crisp. It would look great with a 1940s-style suit, or pinned onto a black evening dress. The other brooch is very similar in style to 1950s originals, and is a very pale goldtone (paler than it looks in the photo;brooches are hard to photograph) with pastel diamante, and would look darling on an angora sweater or worn on a full-skirted frock.

How do you enter the draw? Leave a comment - one comment per person only, please, as I’ll use a random number generator to find the winners. You don’t have to be a follower of this blog. If you have a preference for one of the two, mention that, and the first person drawn will get their choice and the second person drawn will get the other. When I’ve identified the winners, I’ll put up a post asking them to email me with their postal addresses so I can send them their brooches.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

The Hour [television]

I enjoyed The Hour. In case you haven't seen it, it's a new drama on BBC2, set in 1956. I was probably watching it with slightly different hopes than most vintage bloggers because of my love of old crime and thriller stories. Having noticed that it was supposed to be a conspiracy story, my real hopes were that it would be more Eric Ambler than Ian Fleming.

The first episode sees female journalist Bel Rowley and her colleague Freddie Lyon leaving their work on newsreels to help set up a new current affairs programme, The Hour, fronted by Hector Madden. Initially, as Freddie is filming a society engagement, we see the newly-engaged debutante trying to phone a man, who then gets his throat cut. She contacts Freddie, saying it wasn't the simple street robbery it appeared to be, and that she could be killed for talking to him. Freddie starts looking into things, and I will say no more about that first episode.

People looking for a 50s fashionfest will probably be disappointed, as will anyone looking for something sugary. I really hope the story isn't going to get sidetracked by the possibility of Bel and Hector having a relationship (he's married, so it's probably a certainty...) or, worse, a Freddie-Bel-Hector love triangle, with Hector's wife popping up occasionally to make things really annoying. If The Hour stays focussed on the thriller side of things, I'm going to enjoy it lots.

If you're in the UK and missed it, the first episode of The Hour is available on iPlayer.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Radio and telly roundup

Radio 4 Extra is broadcasting a serialisation of Edgar Wallace's 1930 novel White Face in the 8pm slot this week. The first episode was yesterday, but it's on iPlayer if you want to catch up. It seems fairly regular Edgar Wallace fare; there's a journalist hero, a beautiful rich girl and a dastardly colonial (supposedly South Africa, although the reader manages an accent that sounds more Australian to my ears. It could be a plot twist and he is actually Australian, although then you'd expect all the other characters to be wondering why he claims to be South African when he so clearly isn't.)

(Like Edgar Wallace? See my review of The Green Archer.)

Also, the 1956-set conspiracy drama The Hour starts on BBC 2 tonight. I have no idea what it'll be like, but I'm definitely going to watch it, and I really hope it's good and edge. I really enjoyed The Shadow Line recently, even with all the pretentious dialogue, and I hope The Hour has similar levels of grit. And, because I love a good spy story, lots of Cold War shenanigans. I hope they don't go shoehorning too much sex into it. I'd rather have a proper thriller or ripping adventure story.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

A grand day out in Bristol

Apologies for the quality of the photos in this post; I thought I'd leave the camera at home and use my iPhone. BAD IDEA. Getting the pics off the phone was hard enough, and then they were bobbins.

Yesterday I met up with my friend Rachel to go charity shopping in Bristol. (She recently started a blog on Scandinavian and Modernist jewellery, so if you're into modern-looking gems from roughly the 1940s to 1970s, do check it out.) I'm reclusive and don't go out very often, and Bristol scares me a bit because it's so big, so having someone to show me round was brilliant. Like London, Bristol's a conglomeration of villages, so the various parts all have their own characters. We started off in the posh bit, Clifton Village, and worked our way to the Gloucester Road, which is rather more mixed in character.

The first shop of note was Clifton Vintage Boutique, in Clifton Arcade. Cleo, who owns it, had a few new pieces of silver for Rachel to look at. I found this fascinating as I know nothing at all about Modernist jewellery. I really liked this shop; it wasn't rammed to the rafters with stuff but what it did have was very nice, and there were plenty of things that I coveted, including a good number of men's hats. They don't take cards here, so I had to leave behind a very nice handbag as buying the (secondhand) iPhone has cleared out my disposable cash for July. We went round a few more charity shops and one place that felt kind of house-clearancy, called Focus on the Past. As well as furniture and pictures that had some very nice china and, at the back, all sorts of dressing table sets, jewellery and so on.

From Clifton we walked to Cotham, where there's a little group of charity shops on Cotham Hill Road. I did find a pair of brand new Miss L Fire shoes for £20 in one, but they wouldn't fit, and another had a black and yellow dinner service which I would swear was 1920s for £20 but some blighter had already bought it. (Otherwise I'd have got it home somehow, even if I'd had to pay for a taxi to Temple Meads station.) I fell in love with Cotham Antiques; they had a gramophone playing a 1920s record in the door, and lots of lovely bits of furniture and jewellery inside, and the staff are really nice.

By this point I was starting to wonder if Bristol had any plus-size shoppers as most of the stuff in the charity shops seemed to stop at around a size 14. Were my fellow big lasses clearing the shops out ahead of me? Was everyone in Bristol thin? It was most perplexing.

Gloucester Road was more my sort of place. For one thing, the food there is very mixed, from a top-notch bakery to a great Caribbean restaurant (I've eaten there in the past after watching cricket in Brizzle) to fab foods from every part of the world. The charity shops catered to a wider range of sizes than the ones in the posher areas - and one cancer charity actually has a separate store entirely devoted to vintage there. However, it was in one of the non-dedicated charity shops that I found my clothing purchases, a Phase Eight tartan skirt, which is modern in style but the colours will look fab with a beige 1950s jumper I'm knitting, and a silk Laura Ashley scarf. All together, £6. I also got a little vase from another shop for £4. I've been trying my hand at flower arranging lately with the help of a couple of books by Constance Spry. I suck at it, but at least it gives me an excuse to buy nice vases!

It was a great day out, and I'm definitely heading back to Clifton Vintage when I have some spending money.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

The V-word

I am finding contant use of the v-word highly offensive. No, not vagina. I’ve yet to see that particular word get overused. Vintage. You don’t have to wear nothing but vintage clothing to be into vintage, you don’t have to dine off Meakin plates and recline on an Eames sofa make the grade, but for heaven’s sake IF YOU’RE CALLING IT VINTAGE, PLEASE CAN IT BE MORE THAN TWO DECADES OLD*.

(Go Go Roborant!)

My irritation at this stems from people labelling modern things with some vintage inspiration ‘vintage’. At their most historically accurate, those things are, to me, reproduction, repro if you like the short version. When the makers have taken a lead from historic items and styles but wandered off in their own direction, that’s vintage-inspired at best. Sometimes, it’s just pretty-modern. There’s nothing wrong with pretty-modern. What winds me up is that modern stuff being labelled vintage.

So, for me an original 1940s bag would be vintage.
A bag made with accurate historic styling, such as the fab lucite bags from Miss L Fire as repro.
And a bag made from fabric with a 1930s ditsy print all over it is pretty-modern.

A plate from the 1930s would be vintage.
A teapot made now but with vintage patterns and in the original shape would be repro.
A cup made now with vintage patterns but modern shapes would be vintage inspired (for example, Royal Albert’s mugs that were released as part of the 100 years of Royal Albert range).
And a plate plastered with roses like you see on 1940s fabric would be pretty-modern because even if the pattern was 1940s, no-one ever ate off plates like that in the 1940s. It is NOT vintage.

You may not agree with my categories, but are you also fed up of seeing ‘vintage’ slapped onto things? I swear sooner or later I’m going to come across a ‘vintage’ fan who doesn’t actually like old stuff. It’s going to happen...

*I know, I know, lots of people reading this will think, ‘Two decades? Surely you mean six!’

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Art deco dressing table set

I've wanted a glass dressing table set for some time. As a child, I was fascinated by my mum's china one – I've never seen another one like it, but it was white with blue borders and little pink and gilt flowers. Before last Christmas, Oxfam had a glass set in the window, and I dropped a few hints to Mr Robot. However, I'm not very good at hinting, and while the set disappeared from the display it did not reappear in my stocking. (A bottle of discontinued, much sought-after Jean Patou Divine Folie showed up instead; proof of his most excellent present-buying skills.)

Anyway, yesterday Oxfam had another set in their window. Tray, big pot, two smaller pots, candlestick and pin tray, all for £15. I took one look and said, "I'm having that!" and went in and bought it. I didn't check it over for condition, but when I got it home I found there's just one tiny chip on the corner of one of the lugs on the pin tray. What I really love about it is its art deco styling, especially on the candlestick, and in the strong vertical lines of the pot handles. It doesn't exactly go with my blue and cream bedroom, but who cares? It's pretty!
I have been seriously considering getting my hair bobbed, and feel this is a definite sign that I should EMBRACE THE DECO.

As if finding this beautiful set wasn't enough, in Scope I picked up a 1947 film annual for £5, with no scribbles in and no pictures cut out. Old film annuals are getting harder to find at reasonable prices, so I was dead chuffed with that.

I've tagged this post 1930s although I have no idea how old the set is. It certainly looks 1930s to me, given the colour and style.

Photos taken by Mr Robot.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Steampunk flashmob day

The British Steampunk Community on Facebook (and possibly other steampunks, but I got the info through Facebook) are having a steampunk flashmob day on the 6th of August. All nine of the events I've seen listed so far are in England, but I'm guessing more will be added to the list. (I can't imagine the Welsh steampunks I know letting the day go unmarked, unless they're all braving forren parts and crossing the Severn for the Bristol meet-up at the SS Great Britain.

In related news, my review of Waltz on the Wye (plus a couple of photos by Mr Robot) is in the latest issue of SFX magazine, on sale now.

I'n completely non-related news, I've decided to get my hair bobbed, although it probably won't be before next payday as I got drunk at the cricket on Monday and blew this month's money on a Thai meal. I had a bob years ago, and I've been mulling over having one again for some time. I don't like faffing with curls and updos, whereas a bob works well on me, and I managed to burn my hair on the cooker this week. I cut it this morning and got it lopsided. Oops. So, a bob it will be.

The two things putting me off were that it wouldn't work with the mid-20th-century dresses I own, or look completely steampunky, but then I thought, 'Nuts, I don't own that many vintage dresses or go to steampunk things much, and bollocks to anyone who doesn't like it anyway.' I've been keen on the 1920s for years, love silent film and the music of the decade, and if I wind up with people thinking I'm on my way to a fancy dress party so be it.

Monday, 4 July 2011

When life gives you lemons…

Make a 1947 handbag. No, wait that's not right.

This morning I was up early and decided to do some ironing. Bad move. I managed to melt a piece of the fabric in a silver-grey shift dress. I'm especially annoyed as I bought the dress full price, not from a charity shop, and have probably only worn it half a dozen times. I can't send it to a charity shop in that condition.

Then I remembered my oldest Stitchcraft, from January 1947. It's got these two handbag designs in it. I've been planning to make one or the other from tweed, only I don't have any spare tweed kicking around and haven't been in a shop selling any. Although the dress fabric is a little fancier, looking like a slightly slubby silk, I reckon it will be fine for the first bag. At worst making it will be a trial run for when I get my tweed. So, look out at some point (probably next weekend) for the most poorly-made bag you're likely to see in some time!


I haven't seen any handbag designs in any of my later issues of Stitchcraft, so I have been wondering if fabric day bags were a make-do-and-mend thing, and as soon as bought leather handbags were available again women opted for those. Can anyone who knows more about 40s/50s handbags say if that was the case?

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Popular Sausage Crown Salad

Look at that! Is your mouth watering? No, mine neither. I was hunting through my old craft mags looking for a lace knitting pattern to turn into a steampunky choker, and while I didn't find that, I did find this and just had to share it. Something fluffy after yesterday's seriousness. Pins and Needles from May 1967 has a page of recipes for high teas (and we all know what a high tea is, don't we?) and pride of place goes to the Popular Sausage Crown Salad. A dish so popular, I'd be amazed if anyone's ever eaten it... I labelled my scan 'SausageWTF', which seems a much more apt name.

Esentially, you put sauteed tomatoes and mushrooms in the centre of the dish, with halved sausages arranged around it – and it is important to have the cut sides facing outwards! – and finely chopped green pepper with seasoning and worcestershire sauce on top of the tomato mixture. On top of that goes a tasty layer of green beans, and then some tomatoes for decoration.

Mmm, is your mouth watering now? No, mine still isn't either. I do rather like that dish, though.

If you have seen this and want MOAR FOOD, may I recommend the Gallery of Regrettable Food, a site devoted to vintage culinary horrors. The jelly (Jell-O) images are particularly horrifying. I may have more vintage food treats to come. Some of them will even be edible.

Friday, 1 July 2011

A controversial subject

Retro Chick did a lovely post on tanning a couple of days ago, which brought up some questions about skin tone and vintage, and whether the current popularity of pale skin among a lot of vintage enthusiasts makes people of colour feel unwelcome. To start with, I'd like to say that I don't believe anyone I've met wouldn't welcome a person of colour. If you have felt that way and are reading this, COME, JOIN IN!

The thing we all come up against is history. I'm going to get a bit personal here; my paternal grandfather was Anglo-Indian and came to Britain in the 1930s. (For anyone who doesn't know what an Anglo-Indian is, Wikipedia has a great page on Anglo-Indians.) There was never any mention that he might not be completely European. My tan-skinned, black-haired father was put down to our Irish ancestry. And reading books from the early to mid 20th century, I know exactly why my granddad didn't talk about his Indian ancestry. There's the shifty Anglo-Indian in Edgar Wallace's The Green Archer (who actually turns out to be a bit of a hero, and he and his wife are my favourite characters in the book, but that doesn't stop Wallace playing on the preconceptions people had of Anglo-Indians). I nearly threw Barbara Worsley-Gough's Alibi Innings across the room, so appalling was its portrayal of the one Anglo-Indian character: starting out as a handsome man who flew heroically in the war, once his ancestry is revealed he suddenly becomes cowardly, childish and a thief. It makes me so angry. This is how my kind, hard-working relatives would have been seen. And I'm not of African or East Asian ancestry; the portrayals of those races in most vintage crime fiction and classic films is infinitely worse.

Then there's the real world. For example, the 1980s have very different associations to someone white British than to someone with black South African ancestry. Maybe I think too much, but I find it hard to encounter something from a particular time without also thinking about how people like me were treated at that time. It's a sobering experience, and I doubt I'm alone in that. And most of vintage is about putting on a certain sort of whiteness, because it mostly follows the dominant trends of the time, which were set by Caucasians.

However, vintage isn't about reenactment. I, a married woman, work and have my name on a mortgage. Scandalous if this were the 1930s, but it isn't. We're in the 21st century. Personally, I would love to see more people of colour involved in vintage and celebrating vintage in a diverse way. (I think this country needs much more awareness of its multicultural heritage.) So pop on that frock like the ladies on the Windrush would have worn or channel a deco-loving Maharajah of the 1930s, all are welcome.

Images:
Top: Anna May Wong in The Chinese Parrot
Second: Sammy Davis and Eartha Kitt in Anna Lucasta