Tuesday, June 16, 2015

It Always Rains On the Working Class

It Always Rains On Sunday is a favourite of mine, both Robert Hamer's 1947 film adaptation, and Arthur La Bern's 1945 novel. Taking place within a single wet Sunday, both film and novel are evocative depictions of London East End life just before the onset of  the war. Romanticised, perhaps, though not by much.  Or at any rate, just enough to be effective. The film, best remembered for Googie Withers' tough and touching performance- even better than her role in Night and the City- accurately captures the claustrophobic ambiance of the novel. Though Rose in La Bern's novel is far more worn down and heavier than Googie in Hamer's film, and a lifetime away from her youthful romance with Tommy who shows up asking her for help after escaping from prisoner. The film also lacks the scope of La Bern's novel, which, despite its set pieces, combines a Kersh-like grittiness with a cinematic eye and interventions  reminiscent of Dos Passos. Particularly observant is La Bern when it comes to all things sartorial, as in "ten-and-elevenpenny imitations of Anthony Eden hats, white silk mufflers, quite smart fifty-shilling suits and patent shoes." Written in a rhetorical mode few would try to emulate these days, La Bern's novel doesn't miss a trick. Told in retrospect, from a post-war perspective which  looks back on the days prior to the war, this is an East End replete with class gradations, populated by wide boys, petty criminals, womanisers, second-rate dance-band musicians, pugilists, street urchins, barrow boys and dreamers. La Bern also has an fondness for expositions, which he probably inherited from his visits to the local picture palaces, as much earlier working class fiction and populist  journalism. This is the East End on the verge of change, first in the form of the war and the blitz, followed by the creation of the welfare state.
Arthur La Bern

Here's the opening paragraph:
"The houses in Coronet Grove were originally constructed in yellow brick, but in the course of half a century the factory fumes and domestic smoke of East London have transformed this bright ochre rash into a grey smudge, which is only relieved by the six white strips in front of each house, the bright colours on the advertisement hoarding at the end of the street and the white lace curtains at the windows, here and there parted to reveal the dark-green plumage of an aspidistra plant."

Just one of a handful of excellent writers from that era who wrote about London's working class with a style forged on Fleet Street, La Bern is best remembered, if at all, for writing Frenzy (original title: Goodbye Piccadilly, Hello Leicester Square) which Hitchcock, much to the author's ire, adapted for the screen. An added feature of this volume is crime writer Cathi Unsworth's introduction, which not only puts La Bern's career in perspective but is informative regarding the criminal underworld of that period (particularly for fans of the BBC's Peaky Blinders). In all, another excellent reprint from London Books.



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