The Struggles of Brown, Jones & Robinson – Anthony Trollope

The Struggles of Brown, Jones & Robinson, as the book is properly titled, is one of Trollope’s less well known and even lesser read novels. I don’t know why The Folio Society in their complete Trollope novels series decided to drop ‘The Struggles of’ from the title other than the probable difficulty of fitting all the words into the standard spine layout for the series. That this is a relatively unknown work can be judged by its sporadic printing history and the fact that even The Trollope Society themselves largely dismiss it in a single paragraph write up and that the list of primary characters on that web page fails to mention any of Mr Brown, Mr Jones or Mr Robinson. I mentioned the printing history because it is so odd for a novelist of the stature of Trollope, Longman along with Chapman & Hall both declined the novel and it first appeared in eight monthly parts in The Cornhill Magazine in 1861/2. Despite being written in 1857 it didn’t appear as a book until American publisher Harper’s Library issued a copy in 1862, the first British edition was Smith, Elder’s (who also published The Cornhill Magazine) copy in 1870, there then followed another American edition in 1882 and then nothing for ninety nine years!

It largely seems to have been reprinted since 1981 as part of sets of complete works with no publisher judging it sufficiently commercial to make it a stand alone book in its own right. Indeed even The Folio Society, whose copy I have, left it to the last to be printed of the forty seven Trollope novels in their complete set which they started in 1989 with ‘Can You Forgive Her?’ and finally finished in 1999 with this book and then topped off the collection with Trollope’s autobiography. There isn’t even a Wikipedia entry for the novel. With all that in mind it was with some trepidation that I decided to see if it was really that bad.

Happily the answer is no, and whilst it isn’t a great novel I definitely enjoyed it both as a satire of the advertising industry and a tale of intertwined relationships. To set the scene Mr Brown becomes a widower at the start of the book and gains control of his wife’s butter business which he has no interest in so subsequently sells. He has two daughters Sarah Jane who had married Mr Jones and Maryanne who is single but has promised marriage to Mr Brisket, the butcher. Mr Robinson has fallen in love with the flighty Maryanne to the extreme annoyance of the much larger butcher who several times threatens him with violence if he doesn’t stay away from her. Oddly the three title characters subsequently start a business together selling haberdashery which none of them know anything about, with Brown putting up the money, Jones being the floor manager and Robinson in charge of advertising, he also takes charge of the decor and uniforms in the shop which is themed around the recently invented colour, magenta. The original capital in the business is stated as £4,000, which is the equivalent of around £365,000 today, a massive sum to start a small business with, but right from the off the partners, encouraged by Robinson, planned big with significant premises at 81 Bishopsgate Street and a significant amount of staff to match. What they didn’t have was much stock as Robinson was convinced that spending a lot on advertising would bring people in and then you could sell them what you had, rather than what you had promised you had.

It is not only Robinson’s extremely expensive advertising ploys, which range from horse riding knights in armour, to liverymen handing out leaflets but Jones’s dodgy selling which involved putting high quality items in the windows with low prices then actually selling similar looking but lower quality items to the customers for the same price which leads to the reputation of the business starting to fall away. Brown meanwhile is still dealing badly with his two daughters who see their inheritance frittered away in the business whilst he banks less than the actual takings and salts some away from himself. It’s difficult to find a single likeable character in the book with the possible exception of Robinson who is more naive than criminal, Brown’s two daughters are truly horrible and I rejoiced when Maryanne, after playing Brisket and Robinson off one another throughout the book ends up with neither of them and both count themselves lucky to be rid of her.The firm needless to say burns through the large amount of capital it started with in about a year and goes bust, a story that could be applied to numerous businesses that have more ideas than plans or solid foundations. It would have been interesting to see what Trollope would have made of the various overinflated dotcom and IT companies and dodgy banks built on loans to them over the last twenty years but ‘The Struggles of Brown, Jones and Robinson’ is an excellent primer on dubious companies living well beyond their means but believed to be sound right up until they crash. It may not ever have been rated highly but it should be read by anyone looking to start, or invest, in a company in the present day.

The forty eight Trollope books in the complete works set by the Folio Society.


Wall and Piece – Banksy

Iconic and famously anonymous graffiti artist Banksy first wrote about his works in three small books just 148mm x 105mm (5.8″ x 4.1″) Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall came out in 2001, Existencilism in 2002 and Cut it Out in 2004. I bought Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall when it came out but unfortunately missed the other two which were also published by Banksy’s own Weapons of Mass Distraction publisher. I say unfortunately because you cannot pick up any of these for less than £100 each nowadays. Far easier to find is the subject of this weeks blog Wall and Piece first published in 2005 by Century, part of the Random House group, and much larger at 257mm x 210mm (10.1″ x 8.3″) and 240 pages and which is in full colour unlike the small black and white only books which are just 48 pages long.

As for the ‘Now with 10% more crap’ sticker on the cover, my edition is the 9th impression and talking to a friend who has an earlier version, without the sticker, she confirmed that my copy is noticeably thicker than hers. We haven’t done a page by page comparison to establish the additional material but it was clearly an evolving project and I would have expected this to be a second edition rather than the 9th impression of the first. Wall and Piece, as a mass produced book running into multiple print runs is unsurprising quite cheap to find second hand, costing just a few pounds although I bought it new from a book shop and paid full price (£12.99) for mine.

The art is roughly in chronological order, starting with his chimp wearing a tabard with assorted messages on it to his rats which is when he really started to be noticed with his instantly obvious style and sense of humour. It is probably the fun in what he does that makes him so different to the vast majority of graffiti artists and which makes him so collectable with one of his works recently selling for £18.5 million, including premiums at auction. But this book takes us back to the beginning and he explains where the idea for the stencils came from, he was trying to paint ‘LATE AGAIN’ on the side of a train and taking far too long about it so that the police arrived and he only avoided being caught by escaping through thorn bushes and then hiding under a dumper truck. Looking up he saw the stencilled plate on the base of the fuel tank.

I got home at last and crawled into bed next to my girlfriend. I told her I’d had an epiphany that night and she told me to stop taking that drug ‘cos it was bad for your heart.

More rats, and this shows how he makes use of existing things on the walls he paints on either because it’s funny as in this example or because he is trying to make a more serious point. The vast majority of his works in the past have been either painted over or simply cleaned off the wall involved so it is the photographic records that are his lasting legacy. Most recently, due to the considerable value of his authenticated works, huge sections of wall have simply been removed and presumably sold such as the seagull art in Lowestoft taken earlier this month, see here.

The newest works in the book are from 2005, which is when the book was first published, and feature the works that Banksy, and a team of helpers, painted on the segregation wall illegally built by Israel through the occupied West Bank, the one above is near the checkpoint in Ramallah. They mainly appear to be holes in the wall with attractive views, one has a mountain range, another a tropical beach although one looks simply like the dotted line with scissors used to surround items to be cut out from printed items, this particular image is over twenty feet high. Although the paintings are largely appreciated by the inhabitants Bansky describes the wall in the book as something that “essentially turns Palestine into the world’s largest open prison.”

Old Man You paint the wall, you make it look beautiful
Me Thanks
Old Man We don’t want it to be beautiful, we hate this wall, go home

One section I particularly like deals with his re-interpreted art such as Sunflowers (from a Petrol Station) seen above. Banksy has managed to hang his parodies in numerous famous galleries by simply walking in and putting them up usually with explanatory cards in the form used by the gallery itself. These establishments include The Tate Gallery in London, The Louvre in Paris, The new York Metropolitan Museum and the Natural History museums in both London and New York amongst others. In the book these works are often accompanied with various photographs of Banksy hanging the ‘fake’ painting, the pictures normally survive on the walls for a few hours before being removed after which they have been discarded by the gallery or more recently added to their own collections.

Above is part of the rear of the book which not only completes the image on the front where the masked man is shown to be throwing a bunch of flowers rather than the Molotov cocktail that might have been expected from first impressions but also includes a quote from the Metropolitan Police, London’s police force, which may or may not be genuine.

Finally below is the book that started it all, a lot of the images from ‘Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall’ are also in Wall and Piece but in colour and much larger than could be achieved in such a small book. Surprisingly though there is a quite a lot of text in this small volume whilst Wall and Piece is largely a picture book, although it does include quite a bit of information about the various styles he has used and little bit of biographical detail but not enough to come any where near identifying him. There are also hints for how to do your own stencil graffiti in a few pages at the back and some introductory paragraphs at the start of each section.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – Douglas Adams

This is the 275th entry in this blog so by way of something different this is not so much a ramble along my bookshelves as a wander through my record collection. But it does concern two books, specifically the two Dirk Gently novels by Douglas Adams in the form of the wonderful adaptations done by Dirk Maggs and John Langdon for B.B.C. radio in 2007 and 2008 and first released on vinyl by Demon Records in 2020 and 2021. Each is a triple album with an episode a side so a total of six hours of listening pleasure and boy is it a pleasure. Dirk Gently is a Holistic detective in that he uses apparently unrelated objects and experiences in order to solve his cases, the stories are also very funny. The pressings are high quality coloured vinyl which along with the design of the sleeves and liners add considerably to the joy when I first unpacked them.

The cast is also superb with Harry Enfield playing Dirk Gently, Olivia Colman is Janice his long suffering secretary, Billy Boyd is Richard MacDuff and Jim Carter is Detective Sergeant Gilks. These four appear on both sets of records with other cast members including Andrew Sachs, John Fortune, Jan Ravens and Peter Davison to name just a few. There are also several stalwarts of the Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy radio series, the original scripts of which I reviewed here, such as Stephen Moore, Michael Fenton Stevens and Philip Pope who also wrote the incidental music for both Dirk Gently series. By the very nature of cutting both books down to three hours each when the Audible recordings of the books being read are just short of eight hours each clearly a lot has been lost, but this is true of any dramatisation and frankly I largely prefer the audio dramatisations to the books, especially The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul for reasons I will explore when I get to that section.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

This was probably originally Douglas’s attempt to get some use out of a script he had written for Doctor Who called Shada which had been abandoned shortly after filming had started due to a strike by B.B.C. technicians. The similarities between the two works are obvious and whilst Douglas removed the specific Doctor Who references and merged in part of the plot of City of Death, another Doctor Who serial he wrote, the central character of Cambridge professor Chronotis having a time machine and living for centuries remains the same. In Shada he was a Time Lord, in Dirk Gently it is never explained who or what he is but they do use his time machine, which is actually his rooms in college, to travel to an ancient spaceship orbiting the Earth and back in time four billion years to the start of life on the planet. The new material concerns a character Gordon Way who is killed right at the start but continues to appear as a ghost trying to contact the living and explain what happened and it is his death that Dirk Gently ultimately solves in proving that his client Richard MacDuff didn’t do it and Way was actually killed by an ancient and malfunctioning robot from the orbiting spaceship.

This adaptation is pretty faithful to the original book, which can not be said of the second recording for reasons explained below.

The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

The title of this book comes from another of Douglas’s works, the third of the Hitch-Hikers books, and is said of Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged, an immortal character who was not born to immortality and was therefore not prepared for it.

In the end, it was the Sunday afternoons he couldn’t cope with, and that terrible listlessness which starts to set in at about 2:55, when you know that you’ve had all the baths you can usefully have that day, that however hard you stare at any given paragraph in the papers you will never actually read it, or use the revolutionary new pruning technique it describes, and that as you stare at the clock the hands will move relentlessly on to four o’clock, and you will enter the long dark teatime of the soul.

Life, The Universe and Everything – Douglas Adams

The original book is somewhat complicated and jumps around rather a lot as Douglas keeps track of the various characters and this meant that Dirk Maggs had to do a severe rewrite in order to produce something that would work in six episodes without completely confusing the listener. He also brought back Richard MacDuff, who doesn’t appear in the book, and made him a character in this version, there are also a lot of added Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy references as Dirk had recently adapted books three, four and five of that series into radio productions. It also features a fridge that has not been cleaned for months and eats the person who first tries to do so. A client for Dirk is later found ‘listening’ to an album but unfortunately it is jumping mainly because the arm is bouncing off his severed head which is now on top of the turntable. There are also major character appearances for Odin and Thor and the explanation as to where Asgard can be found in modern London and how Janice, now an innocent Heathrow airport check in clerk, became cursed and turned into a drinks machine.

Douglas Adams had been working on and off on a third Dirk Gently book intended to be called The Salmon of Doubt up until he died, and this work, along with other unfinished pieces was eventually published as The Salmon of Doubt in 2002. Dirk Maggs originally intended to dramatise this as well but plans were shelved by the B.B.C. before any work was done on this.

Monty Python and The Holy Grail (Book)

This book is a lot of fun, especially if you know the film well as it contains the forty five page first draft, which was used for pitching for funds to make the film, along with the much longer final draft. The original version actually bears little relation to what was actually filmed and even in the final versions there are a lot of sections crossed out with pen amendments alongside so it was clearly a work in progress even whist being filmed. Alongside these two scripts are sketches of possible titles and posters, lots of stills from the film, a statement of accounts as to how much the film cost to make, a total of £229,575 for those of you who are interested and a letter from the producer to Michael Palin.

I feel this tells anyone who hasn’t seen the film quite a lot about it and it is very funny for those of us who have seen the film numerous times and can quote large sections.

It’s the ephemera and the pen amendments that for me make the book so interesting you can see the Python team improving the work as things are going on and they spot opportunities to tighten the humour, such as the section below. This is part of the fight between the three headed knight and Sir Robin which in the original final draft takes 3½ pages of typescript but is replaced with 1½ pages of handwritten alterations which got rid of a lot of the bickering between the heads and speeded up the arrival of the punchline “He’s buggered off” which isn’t even on this page of the script.

On his way to this fight, which as alluded to above Sir Robin ran away from, his minstrels had been singing songs of his bravery but written in such a way as to terrify the knight, which can be seen below. I have included this double page spread to give some idea as to how the book is formatted. On the left, which would have been blank in the original script are all sorts of interesting items such as the Daily Continuity Report seen here, but it could be snapshots from the set, notes on possible improvements, sketches by Terry Gilliam etc. In short anything at all that the editors of the book and Derek Birdsell, the designer, thought would be fun to include. It makes a wonderful mish mash of ideas about how the film is, or should, be progressing and adds a huge amout to what could have been a simple reproduction of the script.

I just had to include one of my favourite sections from the first part of the film where Arthur and his knights have arrived at the French castle, not riding horses but banging coconut shells together in the classic sound effect method to simulate horses hooves. This then leads to a side discussion as to where they had got the shells which comically keeps interrupting the main flow of the text. It is particularly fun as the swallow has become so iconic when attached to this section of the script to see that they originally intended a whole selection of different birds including a gannet, plover or a merlin which would have been a funny preshadowing of later in the book when they do encounter a parody of Merlin in the form of Tim the Enchanter.

The film ends on the shore of a lake where the knights are preparing to embark on their last great adventure but by this time the budget had largely run out and the Python’s decided to simply end the film there with a modern day police raid which stops filming. A truly surreal end to the film in a truly Monty Python way.

The rear cover has lots of suggested advertising slogans all in the form of obviously fake quotes including the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, her predecessor Edward Heath, and Richard Nixon who had resigned the American presidency following the Watergate scandal just four days after Mark Forstater’s letter the Michael Palin reproduced above. As can be seen I have the first edition of the book published by Eyre Metheun in 1977. Later editions drop the cut out folder format of the cover for a more ‘normal’ binding.