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Two Gentlemen Sharing

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Pan, London, 1966
(originally published in Great Britain by Martin Secker & Warburg, 1963)
price: 5/-; 240 pages

The blurb on the back:

Roddy Pater works in the slick world of advertising. One night he comes home to his sub-Hampstead boarding-house to be told by his landlady that he is to share his room - with Emjo Brown, a cricketing law student from Jamaica.
With liberal good humour, Roddy accepts, and soon finds himself entangled not only with Emjo and his vital, carefree compatriots, including the delectable Caroline, but also with bizarre types like the kinky Bimba, Amanda the nymphomaniac, and with Jane, the English girl who shares with her ex-actress mother the attentions of a muscular young boxer.
Two Gentlemen Sharing is a novel which will both shock and enchant. Peopled by wonderfully drawn characters, its story explodes among the streets and pubs and dance-halls of North London.

opening lines:
'Like the descent into hell!' said Ethne's voice, close at hand in the darkness of the stranded elevator.

Under normal circumstances, a forgotten social comedy from 1963 would scarcely be worth mentioning. But this one has the added factor of race, which might make it worth your consideration if you're interested in the evolution of attitudes towards racism in Britain.

David Stuart Leslie was best known for his novel In My Solitude, which was filmed by Roy Ward Baker in 1963 as Two Left Feet with Michael Crawford and Nyree Dawn Porter. And he was undoubtedly an acute observer of social mores; here he is on the forerunners of what would, twenty years later, be known as Sloane Rangers:

girls who, if they met in the street, would open their eyes and enormous mouths, clasp both her hands in their gloves and hold them for ten minutes, jerking them occasionally, while they screamed 'Poppet! How marvellous to see you!' while she screamed back at them 'Caroline!' (Most of them were called Caroline.) 'It's ages!' never seeing the stares of passing proles and foreigners. Very healthy girls from other Warwickshire families, who took jobs at Harrods, or as receptionists in Harley Street, or did a year's training at one of the smarter hospitals, taking a week off for Ascot, three weeks for winter sports, and a month for the shooting, before going off in carloads to tour America. (pp.36-37)

Good stuff, you see? I'm therefore prepared to accept his remorseless portrayal of the racism of the metropolitan middle class. And it's bloody uncomfortable reading. Obviously we're not talking full-on Alf Garnett racist abuse here: rather this is a patronising sense of superiority, combined with an unquestioning conviction that black people are objects rather than subjects. The characters are given enough rope to hang themselves, but I'm not convinced that Mr Leslie's position is all one might wish it to be: the underlying assumption seems to be that there's an ideal of cheerful common sense, as embodied in young, well-educated, white men.

To be honest, I wouldn't recommend this for pleasure. But as a record of its times, it's invaluable. This apparently is how a man would convey to another that he finds a young lady attractive: 'Nice bit of tit.' Charmed, I'm sure.