Goebbels & Gladys
John Murray, London, 1981
dedication: For Sara
The blurb on the back:
Journalist Hedley Verity writes about royal indiscretions, spies in high places, political sex scandals, the untold secrets of World War II and other stories that are believed to sell newspapers.
I like Fleet Street novels - as I may have told you before - and this is a particularly nice little sample of the genre.
There are two key characteristics of the tabloid world: a tone of sentimental cynicism, and a belief that nothing a newspaper does has any consequences at all. The first is laughable, and thus makes for a great source of comedy, whilst the latter is all too horribly untrue: the kids down at the gutter end of British newspapers seem to think they live in a playpen where no one can get hurt, and in the process they destroy lives and culture with a casual disregard that borders on the evil. One is reminded of that Frank Zappa song on the lines of: 'What's the ugliest part of your body ... I think it's your mind.' If tabloids have a mind, then 'ugly' is surely the appropriate adjective.
The joy of the fictional version, on the other hand, is that it is genuinely (and literally) inconsequential. So the idea of a hack inventing Goebbels' private diary about his sexual conquests becomes quite amusing, and you can come away from this novel thinking that it's snappy, raises the odd laugh and passes a couple of hours most agreeably.
The sentimental cynicism is still there, of course. We're supposed to thrill to the freeform version of reporting, whilst also recognizing that journalists are - at heart - decent human beings struggling with moral questions, however much they pretend to be hard-bitten hacks:
Gladys, in case you didn't read the sleeve-notes, is our narrator's black girlfriend. And she doesn't exactly leap off the page as a fully rounded human being, if you see what I mean.
That aside, it's a charming book and - unlike the world it parodies - it's really quite harmless.
PS If the name of the protagonist is familiar, you're probably thinking of the great Yorkshire spin-bowler Hedley Verity, who returned figures of seven wickets for nine runs against Hampshire on the last day of the 1939 cricket season. He was killed whilst serving in the battle for Italy four years later. Why he is evoked here is unclear to me.
ARTISTIC MERIT: 3/5