'The Last English Poachers', by Bob and Brian Tovey, with John F. McDonald - Review

By Heffer, Simon | The Spectator, June 13, 2015 | Go to article overview

'The Last English Poachers', by Bob and Brian Tovey, with John F. McDonald - Review


Heffer, Simon, The Spectator


The Last English Poachers Bob and Brian Tovey, with John F. McDonald

Simon & Schuster, pp.288, £16.99, ISBN: 9781471135675

The publicity blurb about the two unpleasant criminals whom this dismal book romanticises says that they are 'continuing their ancestors' traditions, reluctant to surrender the old ways of sourcing food from nature'. Imagine a book about two men who were being celebrated for 'continuing their ancestors' tradition of beating their wives, raping them when necessary, treating them as their private property and forcing them into a life of drudgery and subjection'. Morally, this one is just as bad, and as a work of literature it is a joke.

Bob Tovey and his son Brian have shared their way of life with a writer called John F. McDonald, who in a lachrymose afterword noting the death of Tovey senior describes him as 'a legend'. McDonald also patronises his subjects by inserting the occasional grammatical error, when he remembers to do so, to remind us that we are listening to the voices of genuine peasants. There are ethically stunted people who revere the likes of Reggie and Ronnie Kray and 'Mad' Frankie Fraser and write books about them, and this book about two professional thieves is of the same sort.

Tovey senior was brought up to regard landowners as the enemy, and the book drips with his and his son's demented class hatred; substitute Jews, or blacks, or Muslims for 'toffs' and I doubt this book would ever have seen the light of day. One wonders how much of their story is fiction; I suspect quite a lot. If the phrase 'agrarian feudalism' ever tripped off a Tovey tongue, rather than that of his ghostwriter, I should be amazed.

One supposedly 'hilarious' anecdote -- that blurb again -- describes a gamekeeper calling his employer (an earl) 'your grace' in a ludicrous moment; but no keeper would ever address his employer, nor one of his employer's guests, so wrongly, precisely because every keeper I have ever met has a perfect understanding of the gradations of the class system of the sort that inspires hatred in the minds of the Toveys. Lords, earls, toffs, stuck-ups and those who don't hate them -- let us say synonyms for people who don't in general resort to crime for a living -- are all berated by the Toveys.

Tovey senior seems to have seen himself -- with the help of his gullible ghostwriter -- as a cross between Robin Hood and a branch of English Heritage. His almost pompously self-righteous descriptions of the 'arts' of poaching seem to be crying out for a lottery grant. He steals food to distribute, he alleges, to the deserving and in need: but no one is as deserving and in need as the Toveys. …

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