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News

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Penzance Litfest 9 July 2015

I gave a presentation at the Penzance Literary Festival on 9 July under the title "Victor Canning: resurrecting a reputation". The audience was small but appreciative.


Death of Kate O'Mara, 30 March 2014

Kate O'Mara was best known for her television work, especially in Dynasty, but she also had many film roles including the lead in the 1968 film of The Limbo Line from Canning's 1963 novel. She devoted two pages of her memoirs to this experience: Vamp Until Ready (Robson Books, 2003, p. 47-49):
“On completion of Great Catherine I was put forward for another film, an adaptation of a novel by Victor Canning, The Limbo Line. It was the story of a Russian ballerina who defects to the West, falls in love with the American hero and is hotly pursued across England and Europe by KGB agents. … I read for [the producers] in my newly acquired Russian accent—I had already secured the services of a Russian student to ensure that my accent was authentic—and was passed as competent by the choreographer who was in charge of the dance sequences. I secretly blessed the tortuous hours I had spent in ballet class. I was to perform the ‘Dance of the Little Swans’ from Swan Lake with members of the Royal Festival Ballet and had to be seen in the final moments of Stravinsky’s Firebird. … My leading man in the movie, Craig Stevens, was an American who had been very popular on American television in a series called Peter Gunn. He was married to the actress Alexis Smith, for whom Cole Porter had written Night and Day. Filming was to take place at Pinewood Studios with locations at Littlehampton, Marlow and Burnham Beeches, the last named being a favourite location spot for countless films. Craig Stevens turned out to be the most charming and urbane of men. I couldn’t have wished for better. Also in the film was Robert Urquhart, Vladek Sheybal and Moira Redmond. Moira and I immediately chummed up and had great fun. … I enjoyed making the film, but the producers made the mistake of giving it an unhappy ending, contrary to the author’s intentions. So, instead of wandering off into the sunset with the hero, the last shots of me were of being bundled into the hold of a Russian boat and taken back to the Soviet Union. The audience didn’t like the unconventional ending one bit and it was booed wherever it was shown. I have to say I agreed with them. I love happy endings. I think it gives one hope for the future and it’s partly why people go to the cinema, most particularly if it is a romantic adventure story. I suppose the audience felt cheated and I don't blame them.”

Death of Richard Griffiths, 28 March 2013

Just four months after the death of Mrs Finchley (Dinah Sheridan), radio's Mr Finchley has also died. Best known for his roles in Withnail and I, The History Boys and the Harry Potter films, the voice of Richard Griffiths captured the quintessence of Mr Finchley in the two radio adaptations, Mr Finchley Goes to Paris and Mr Finchley Takes the Road. Thankfully the BBC is providing occasional re-runs of the programmes on its digital channel Radio 4 Extra. Another peripheral link is that Griffiths made a television series called Pie in the Sky, about a part-time policeman who also runs a small restaurant. The site used for the restaurant itself was in Hemel Hempstead, within a hundred yards of the home of Jean Tearle, Victor Canning's sister.

Death of Dinah Sheridan

25 November, 2012: Dinah Sheridan, known chiefly for her roles in Genevieve and The Railway Children, has died at the age of 92. She played Mrs Crantell, later to be Mrs Finchley, in the radio adaptations of Mr Finchley Goes to Paris and Mr Finchley Takes the Road, made by the father and son team of Eric and Andrew Merriman, and originally broadcast on BBC Radio 2 in 1990, repeated in 2005, 2009 and 2012 on BBC Radio 4 Extra.

Majorca and The Manasco Road

September 2012 saw us off to Majorca for a week's holiday, during which we took a boat trip round Cape Formentor where the main part of The Manasco Road is set, as well as visitng Palma where I photographed places mentioned in the novel.

Tuscany and The Chasm

In June 2012 my wife and I visited Tuscany to explore the background to Canning's 1947 novel The Chasm. We walked the routes in Florence taken by Edward Burgess, and talked to staff at the British Institute Library and the English Department of the University of Florence about the likely originals of "Cappa" and "Montefalcone". I have added images of the two paintings Burgess describes and a picture of the Nazi destruction of the Arno bridges.
(1 August 2012)

Beggar's Bush (update)

The production took place, in spite of several hitches and late cast changes, and drew fairly good houses at our small Shaftesbury theatre. Charles Collingwood and his wife attended the first night. Reviews were mixed. I wonder when the next revival is going to happen.
(31 March 2012)


New editions

There has been quite a spate of new editions in 2010/11. First there was a very welcome reprint of The Rainbird Pattern from Ostara Press. Then Summersdale brought out a new edition of Everyman's England with a preface by Charles Collingwood. Then a reprint of The Whip Hand by Arcturus Publishing. This last is particularly welcome since it is the first in a planned run of several of Canning's best titles. Next year should see Firecrest and Queen's Pawn.
(19 August 2011)

Beggar's Bush

Victor Canning's 1940 stage play is to be revived by the Shaftesbury Arts Centre in October 2011 to celebrate the author's centenary. The script of this play seemed to be lost. The family did not have a copy. Curtis Brown, Victor Canning's agent, did not have a copy, nor did the theatre in which it had its only previous production. Eventually I tracked one down in the archive of the Lord Chamberlain, to which it had been sent for censorship, as all plays had to be until 1967. It turns out to be an accomplished and charming comedy about a group of beggars who are forced to take up a new profession. It is well worth a revival. After all, April 1940 was not the best date to launch your career as a playwright.

Rehearsals have started. Performances will take place at the Shaftesbury Arts Centre from 12 to 15 October 2011.
(1 November 2010)
Sad to hear of the death at age 92 of Jean Tearle. Jean was Victor Canning's younger sister, and a strong admirer and supporter of his work. She was married to a market gardener in Hertfordshire, and later took up a career as a Conservative Party agent, about which she wrote a novel, The Blue Rosette. After Victor's death in 1986 she undertook to complete the manuscript of Table Number Seven, the novel that he had left unfinished. Her contribution was roughly the last quarter of the book along with the necessary research, editing and polishing. She was a charming and entertaining personality who will be much missed by her daughter and grand-daughter, as well as friends and colleagues.
(1 May 2010)

BBC Mastermind Quiz: I took part in a round of this quiz on 13th November 2009, taking "The Birdcage books of Victor Canning" as my specialist subject. Click on the chair to see the questions that were set. (I only managed the first sixteen in the two minutes and scored 12 points. See if you could have done better.)

20 November 2009
Black chair

USA: A new edition of Victor Canning stories selected and edited by John Higgins was released in February 2009. This comprises the five Minerva Club stories, the seven Department of Patterns stories, and twelve very short stories about the mysterious Dr. Kang. The publisher is Virginia-based Crippen and Landru, well known for publishing 'Lost Classics' by famous crime and thriller writers. (3 March 2009)
France: Following visits to France, I have added pictures to the entry for The Limbo Line (28 June 2008), The Melting Man (15 September 2008) and The Boy on Platform One (25 October 2008)
Italy: On a recent trip to southern Italy in search of places mentioned in Canning's stories, I went to Number 4, Piazza Ebalia in Taranto, Puglia. This was an address scribbled on the back flap of Canning's officer's identity card in 1945, not in his handwriting. Click on the address to see a photograph. Was it a flat where he was billeted? a friend's home? an office he had to visit? Now it is just a block of flats, the only older structure in a square of modern buildings. Taranto is mentioned in The Mask of Memory, where Paul Woodford, the brother one of the characters, is said to have died "off Taranto" in 1944. If anyone reading this knows about the area or has any suggestions, please get in touch. (18 April 2008)
Following a visit to the British Library Newspaper Division at Colindale, I have tracked down four new stories or articles, including Canning's first attributable story (published anonymously in a children's magazine but mentioned by title and date in a letter) and the second story he published for adults, a charming story called "The Lion Tamer". I have updated that section of the bibliography. (24 February 2008)
I have just been to the Isle of Wight, the location of Parkhurst Prison where the 1956 novel The Hidden Face begins. Canning usually researched his plots carefully. Have a look at the entry for photographs of some of the island locations he mentions.
(12 February 2008)
I have visited Chilbolton, the village in which Miss Grace Rainbird lives and calls in Blanche Tyler for seances, so I have added photographs to the entry for The Rainbird Pattern.
(15 August 2007)
I have visited Dunster and Porlock, the setting of Birds of a Feather, and have added photographs to the entry for that book.
(5 August 2007)
The first new edition of an Alan Gould novel for 67 years. Victor Canning used the pen-name Alan Gould for six novels written between 1935 and 1940. They were never reprinted and have now vanished almost entirely. But I now have permission from the Victor Canning estate to republish them, starting with The Viaduct, using the print-on-demand service, Lulu.com. Click here to order a paperback or hardback copy.
(15 July 2007)
John Higgins