Sunday 24 October 2010

Bellamy and the Bank House Twins (by way of Burke and Hare)

Cover with flyleaf

Recently my wife decided we were both holidaying in Edinburgh. At first I agreed and thought nothing of it, as any break from the usual 9-5 is a break and whose company would I like whilst on holiday? - hers, of course!

As the time crept nearer an amazing coincidence (or two) occurred that led to me anticipating the event even more.

Firstly I had been following the Forbidden Planet blog in which amongst other things they review graphic novels and things I find of interest. Very useful for a guy like me who no longer can be bothered to understand the complexities of pre-, post- and infinite crisis sales pitches! I finally took the plunge and ordered a copy of this gruesome graphic novel which I first read about on John Freeman's blog. It is now being sold direct by the creators themselves - see their details at the new Burke and Hare website. After a lovely correspondence by email, Martyn sent my signed copy and I had time, just before the holiday, to read it. It certainly reminded me that the 'auld reekie' was not as pleasant a place to frequent 150 years ago as it is now! I'd recommend the book and Edinburgh town too (and there is a comedic film version coming from the excellent Simon Pegg and friends!)

But what has this got to do with Bellamy, you ask? Bear with me while I tell the story

On the drive along the A1 to our cottage in Longniddry (14 miles east of Edinburgh) we passed what, to me looked like a giant slag heap in the distance. I assumed that there was an old mine in the area as this bump in the landscape was so out of character with the fairly flat edges of the Firth of Forth. However I soon remembered that the North Berwick Law was no slag heap! "North Berwick Law may be described as as a round or slightly oval plug of felstone which comes up vertically through the ash, [...] into a cone of which the top is 612 feet above the sea." (Howell Hyatt, 2009. The Geology of East Lothian, Including Parts of the Counties of Edinburgh and Berwick. BiblioBazaar)

North Berwick Law -Taken September 2010 by Norman Boyd

We both decided to climb it and once at the top I let my wife know there was a connection with Bellamy. He illustrated a 1955 children's book called "The Bank House Twins".

The story concerns the Currie children, whose father is Manager of the bank in North Berwick - thus the title of the book. The twins, Christine and Colin are annoyed when they learn a friend of the family's is coming to stay with the twins for the summer. They initially try to get rid of him, and this is where the North Berwick Law comes in. 

p.40: "I think I can reach the dog now""

The twins hear that Donald does not like climbing and they therefore avoid the path (my wife and I took) and climb the rocks to the top. Donald appears to struggle, all the time not letting on he knows their game. The main thrust of the story revolves around some bank robbers - rather predictably, but the whole story reads so much like a simpler Enid Blyton, and is extremely dated now, but fun as a nostalgic piece.
Frontpiece: "There! See! The safe door's swinging wide!"


p.27: "Oh Donald. Your back tyre is terribly flat."

p.61: "The fire seems to have got a good hold"

p.83: In another second they were all struggling in the water

p.113: Borsky reached forward and grabbed her

p.131: He pointed the gun at Petkov

A review of a later book by Fidler by Brian Alderson appears in the Times newspaper of Wednesday 11 March 1980 of "the last book of a writer who made a small corner in "holiday adventure stories" and who died [in 1980] with more than 80 titles to her name. Kathleen Fidler's The Ghosts of Sandeel Bay has all the ingredients of triteness that the genre demands." Despite a rather disparaging review he goes on to describe how she was well loved in her adopted home in Scotland (she was born in Coalville, Leicestershire on August 10, 1899) and Blackie and Sons sponsored a "Kathleen Fidler Award" which appears to have run until at least 1996, Hodder Children's Books took over the sponsorship of the award and the name was changed to the Fidler award for a while. The interesting Wee Web Author and Illustrator's website has a longer biography and listing of her books

Bellamy's drawings are interesting in that I doubt he had seen the North Berwick Law himself and perhaps didn't even have reference material sent to him for this commission, apparently choosing subjects he knew would be acceptable.