The Serpent in the Suburban Garden
It would takeT. H. Jones nine years to recover from his failure to obtain a university appointment. At his Portsmouth interview he was told that he was overqualified, but, as an unemployed exnaval man he could have the post if he really wanted it.1 It was with some reluctance that he accepted. Teaching has never in recent times been well paid: in the 1950s the salary was an insult to anyone of ability, and housing was expensive and hard to find. Portsmouth had been heavily bombed and large areas of devastation remained: ‘Portsmouth was very slow to re-develop itself. Plymouth … was completely re-built before Portsmouth even started.’2 The cityscape was one of bomb sites, the city centre a wasteland. The Naval Dockyard was gearing down after the war, and there was little new private investment to reinvigorate the local economy.
More important, from T. H. Jones’s point of view, even compared with other provincial cities it had little intellectual or artistic life. Though there were far fewer sailors now that the war was over, it remained very much a sailors’ city:
Ghosted with sailors, the sleeping city
Waits by the water for an admiral
To take her out to sea …
The Pompey chimes ring out over seven seas
Portsmouth is pointed for a long commission.3
It did have three theatres: the Hippodrome, home of local variety, where the matelots repaired for the occasional evening of tame striptease; the Theatre Royal, a solid repertory theatre, and the Kings, which ran a few pre-West End shows and a little experimental drama –T. H. Jones found nothing to inspire him.