By 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.
LOOKING FOR LEAPING LORDS
Leaping 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.
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.
DAY 10 BOOK
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.
Sadly, 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.”
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.
But 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.”
At 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.
WHY READ DAY 10 BOOK?
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.
And 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.