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STELLA BINGHAM
from the TV serial by Keith Waterhouse
Charters & Caldicott


click to enlarge

BBC, London, 1985
price: 1.95; 192 pages


The blurb on the back:

Charters and Caldicott first achieved public fame in Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes when, as passengers on that fateful railway journey across Europe, they anxiously demanded news of the latest Test score at every station. Now settled comfortably into retirement, their leisurely routine of lunch at the Club and amiable argument about cricket averages achieved beneath the blue skies of yesterday is abruptly shattered when the body of a strange girl is found in Caldicott's flat.
Pitched on a trail of unexplained deaths and dogged by the fastidious and disapproving Inspector Snow, they attempt to unravel the mysteries around them. Why were the handbags switched? What does the message 'Mix Well and Serve' mean? And why does the enigmatic Venables, a fello Clubman, turn up at every twist of their journey?
Inevitably, the clues to these questions lie within the hallowed pages of Wisden, and the dramatic climax takes place inside the members' enclosure at Old Trafford, in the middle of the Test Match...


opening lines:
It was the first Friday in June. As on all other first Fridays in the calendar, Hugo Charters was listening to Radio Newsreel on the World Service of the BBC on his ancient, bakelite wireless while he made ready to leave for Town.


Charters and Caldicott first appeared in Hitchcock's 1938 classic The Lady Vanishes, where they were played by Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne. They were clearly intended as minor characters, representing the innate decency of the English upper-middle-class, more interested in cricket than politics but still the people you'd want on your side in the trenches. But then a curious thing happened: as the tension of the Munich era gave way to the certainties of war, their value became ever more apparent. And so the pair returned in Night Train To Munich (1940) and in a series of movies thereafter. Sometimes for contractual reasons, they appeared under other names, such as Bright & Early, but they were still the same characters.

In the 1979 re-make of The Lady Vanishes (which is much, much more fun than film critics are prepared to admit), Arthur Lowe and Ian Carmichael provided the definitive version of the duo. And then in 1985 Robin Bailey and Michael Aldridge brought them to TV in a version scripted by Keith Waterhouse and resembling nothing so much as two Mr Marples stumbling upon a murder, and bumbling towards a solution.

This is the novelization of that series. And it's quite pleasant really. Nothing too special, and the plotting is really quite sloppy, but the idea of two ex-public schoolboys behaving in their near-dotage as though they're still at school is an attractive proposition in an English kind of way, and their tut-tutting at the foolishness of the modern world is quite charming.

In a word: agreeable.

One of these days, they'll make a comeback, ideally in a film directed by Peter Hewitt.


ARTISTIC MERIT: 2/5
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE:
2/5
HIPNESS QUOTIENT:
1/5


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