Magazine article The Spectator

'A Dandy in Aspic', by Derek Marlowe - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'A Dandy in Aspic', by Derek Marlowe - Review

Article excerpt

A Dandy in Aspic Derek Marlowe

Silvertail Books, pp.250, £9.99, ISBN: 9781909269231

I wonder what happened to my first edition of A Dandy in Aspic . I must have been careless about lending it when it could no longer be bought. Derek's succeeding novels, from The Memoirs of a Venus Lackey (1968) to The Rich Boy from Chicago (1979), are in their place on my bookshelves; seven titles, lacking the first and ninth. The last novel, Nancy Astor (1982), based on his own screenplay, had passed me by. But it was A Dandy in Aspic , written in four weeks in a flat he shared with me and Piers Paul Read just off the Vauxhall Bridge Road in 1965, that changed Derek's life.

Derek, Piers and I were friends but not a trio. We each had a room and kept to it. We had a kitchen but seldom ate communally. It was the year of 'You've Lost that Lovin' Feelin', by the Righteous Brothers: Derek played it on a loop. He went out most days because he had some kind of a job, and there were indications of an exciting life elsewhere. He'd met some people who had a rock band, and the band became The Who.

I'm writing from memory, an increasingly fallible resource, but my memory recalls that when Derek told us that he was writing 'a spy novel', we were sceptical. Surely that bandwagon had passed by? The Spy Who Came in from the Cold had been published years ago (three years seemed like a long time)! But what I do remember is that when Derek told me the basic premise for his novel (a spy with two identities who is ordered to kill his other self) I thought: now, that is an absolutely brilliant idea.

By that time, Derek had delivered his riposte to our scepticism. Gollancz, he announced one day, had accepted his book. The American rights and the film rights followed. By our lights, Derek was rich. Success had arrived.

The flat in Vincent Square was the third chapter of my times with Derek. We had met as tenants of bedsits in a house in Blenheim Crescent just off Ladbroke Grove, Notting Hill. Today those houses change hands for millions of pounds but back then, 1961 to 1964, Blenheim Crescent was the wrong side of a frontier between respectable Notting Hill and Rachmanland, so named after a notorious landlord whose fiefdom was rife with drugs and prostitution. London was getting into its famous Sixties swing, and Derek, a romantic figure in dark clothes, had a life of which I (a country mouse in the big city) knew little. I don't think I was aware until later that he'd had at least a couple of plays modestly produced in London. But in 1964 we were independently invited, as promising young playwrights, to spend a few months in West Berlin with a group of young writers and film-makers, a 'Literarisches Colloquium' funded by the Ford Foundation.

A Dandy in Aspic was made into a successful film in 1968, starring Lawrence Harvey and Mia Farrow (pictured), together with Tom Courtenay and Peter Cook

That's where we met Piers. Comfortably installed in a substantial house on the shore of a lake, the Wannsee, we young writers were left to do pretty much as we liked (to work, as was hoped). This extraordinary perk culminated in a kind of graduation evening of performances of the results of our fitful labours. My dim memory of Derek's play suggests that it might have been the same piece, titled The Scarecrow, mentioned by Wikipedia as having been produced in London the same year. …

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