Day 10 of 12 Days of Christmas : 10 Lords a-Leaping & Wimsey

Day 10 lordsBy Day 10, the deranged True Love is sending along an almost football team of male aristocrats engaged in unlikely gymnastics. Were I the recipient I would go away pretty sharpish, not leaving a forwarding address.

The British 1970s Christmas stamp depicting these Lords (and yesterday’s Ladies) is chilling. At least, I think so.


Day 10 leaping Lord EmsworthLeaping lords are a bit thin on the ground in fact and fiction, I found. For Day 10 I scavenged my PG Wodehouse memory, always a pleasure, but without success.

Although I am certain that Lord Emsworth must have leaped like a lamb in springtime at some point – the approach of the Efficient Baxter, perhaps, or maybe his insouciant brother Galahad – I failed to track it down.

Well then, what about the aristocratic hurdler in Chariots of Fire?  I knew he was based on a real life person.

Well, up to a point.

Burghley winning 400 metre hurdles, 1928 Olympics

Chariots of Fire  mucked about with history more than I’d realised.

Actually my Dad, who, as a member of something called the Tufnell Park Harriers, sometimes ran with Harold Abrahams in the 20s, scoffed mightily at the whole movie. He specially deplored the high-jacking of David Burghley’s record race round a Cambridge Quad and giving it to Abrahams.

David, Lord Burghley, later 6th Marquis of Exeter, seems to have agreed with Dad about the movie. But I could find nothing by him and he mostly seems to turn up in other people’s biographies, though there’s a jolly article about him Governing Bermuda during the War.


So I returned to an idea which had enticed me since this 12 Books of Christmas idea first took hold of me: Lord Peter Wimsey in Murder must Advertise by Dorothy L Sayers.

It’s one of my favourite detective novels, full of real people, their private lives, finances and hopes. And their problem solving.

I’ve always engaged with the murderer, too,  who is neither evil nor fiendishly clever,  just pulled along by a series of bad choices and chance.

The murderer even ends as reasonably heroic. Not currently fashionable of course. But there again, neither am I.

Day 10 fine edition Murder must advertiseSadly, Sayers herself wasn’t happy with it. She was writing The Nine Tailors at the time but there was too much research still to do, so she couldn’t finish it in time to satisfy Gollancz’s request for a book to publish in 1933.

The result was a rapid gallop through a murder in an advertising agency – her day job for 10 years – with Lord Peter under cover as a new copy-writer. Bright Young Things and dope trafficking were the primary cause of the crime. Sayers didn’t know much about dope or that section of society and so she thought the book was “Not one of my best efforts.”

I disagree.

The advertising agency and its staff, the work, the style and content of its slogans, even its summer cricket match against a client firm, are simply wonderful. In the most recent edition, Peter Robinson suggests in his enthusiastic introduction that the story might well be viewed as “a 1930s version of Mad Men, without the angst.” Sayers’ clever and competitive copy-writers certainly have some pithy things to say about advertising as a profession.


Day 10 Harlequin NijinskyBut where is the lordly leap that qualifies Murder Must Advertise for DAY 10, I hear your cry. Well, in the world of the Bright Young Things, Lord Peter turns into a figure of romance, and turns up at a wild party as a masked Harlequin. Sayers actually puts the character into Peter’s own words when he instructs the girl who is to introduce him into that milieu.

“Tell bright Dian that I’m a most mysterious person. You never know where to find me yourself. Hint that I’m probably miles away – in Paris or Vienna, or anything that sounds fruity. You can convey the right impression, I know. Phillips Oppenheim, with a touch of Ethel M Dell and Elinor Glyn.”

Day 10 Witley Court fountainAt the party he climbs an ornamental fountain and, urged on by wilful party girl Dian de Momerie, he executes a fabulous and seriously dangerous dive into the waters.  I always imagine it as something like James Forsyth’s Perseus and Andromeda fountain at Witley Court.

The slim body shot down through the spray, struck the surface with scarcely a splash and slid through the water like a fish.

And his exploit achieves exactly the reaction he could have wanted, especially from bad girl Dian de Momerie.

 “Oh you’re marvellous, you’re marvellous.” She clung to him, the water soaking into her draggled satin. “Take me home, Harlequin – I adore you.”

The Harlequin bent his masked face and kissed her.

The scene could have come straight out of an Ethel M Dell and Sayers is giving it full welly. And, for the first time in the Canon, Lord Peter is suddenly sex on a stick.


Because it’s a cracking mystery. Because it’s full of brilliant characters, not least the cynical and witty Miss Meteyard, who must have had more than a little in common with talented and wryly observant copy-writer Miss Sayers. Because it’s the first Lord Peter mystery where we get a whiff of a powerful sex appeal. Because it’s humane.

Day 10 radio serialAnd a bonus – there is a terrific BBC radio adaptation available from their archive. It stars the masterly Ian Carmichael, who manages the silly ass, the grave and sympathetic man behind the banter and, on this occasion, the seriously hot aspect of Lord Peter. We are going to see that more intensely in  successor books. Yum.



8 thoughts on “Day 10 of 12 Days of Christmas : 10 Lords a-Leaping & Wimsey

    1. Sophie Post author

      I always liked the detective books but I think I didn’t really fall for him until he was disguised as Harlequin, showing off and being two-faced. Wonder what that says about me?

      Hadn’t read either Gaudy Night or Busman’s Honeymoon by then, of course. But I must say, I didn’t blame Harriet for turning him down at the end of Strong poison.

      Whereas, no one in their right mind would have turned down sexy Harlequin in a mask who courted danger and swam like a fish.

  1. lesley2cats

    And mine. Now will have to read it again. But I do love The Nine Tailors. Has anyone read the Jill Paton-Walsh Wimsy books?

    1. Sophie Post author

      Oh yes, The Nine Tailors is very special. Creepy too. And the weather has chilled you to the bone already!

  2. Elizabeth Bailey

    You’ve got me hooked. I was never a Sayers fan, and didn’t fall for Wimsey at all, though I liked Harriet rather. But this Harlequin disguise certainly teases the senses.

    1. Sophie Post author

      Actually, I suspect that the Ethel M Dell/Elinor Glyn association may unconsciously have added a little something to the way Sayers presents him. And that affects the reader as much as the susceptible Bad Girl in the story. Even cool, witty Miss Meteyard feels a flicker I think.

      Possibly Sayers did too and didn’t like it. She kept him very cerebral afterwards. Except for that electrifying moment in the punt in Gaudy Night where Harriet suddenly sees him differently and is overwhelmed by lust – and horridly shocked and uncomfortable as a result. And HE knows and lets her off the hook. Very odd but utterly compelling.

      1. lesley2cats

        But so clever. I felt a lot of the tesion went from the books after they got married. Busman’s Honeymoon felt a bit – well, tame…

        1. Sophie Post author

          Rather too much about Elizabethan flowerpots, I agree. And poor little Miss Twitterton has more to lose than anyone else, so the focus of the story is a bit off. Still she has Peter quoting Donne at moments of love and desire, and it even sounds natural. But the stakes are too low for Harriet and Peter to have the tension of Gaudy Night, I suppose.

Comments are closed.