Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Death's Dateless Night by Thurman Warriner

published 1952   chapter 4

They entered the [pub] cautiously. The Archdeacon [Toft] required no search: there he was, firm as a rock in the middle of the floor, arguing fiercely with a large man in shirt-sleeves and a white apron…

Toft said “You were saying, sir?”

‘”I was sayin’, why the ‘ell don’t you take orff your collar and your fancy trousers and come in mufti if you want a drink on the old QT?” the man demanded. “It ain’t right. It gives my customers ‘ninferiority complex, that’s what. T’ain’t fair.”





"My cloth is my uniform!" thundered the Archdeacon. "Would you expect a field-marshal to take off the King's insignia and come clad in naught but pants and vest at your pleasure?

My collar has ecclesiastical significance I could not explain to a man of your low and limited intellect. My fancy trousers are what they are because Archdeacons in times of yore went horseback to administer their scattered parishes, and if you examine them in detail their resemblance to jodhpurs will be apparent even to your prejudiced eyes.”…

“T’aint fair! Look, mister, what’d you say if I turned up at your church in me white apron carryin’ a tray?"


observations: After enjoying the same author’s The Doors of Sleep recently, I tracked down another in his short series of books featuring the Archdeacon, an elderly retired gent, and a very modern young pair of investigators – the spiv and his moll. It is a similarly mixed bag of traditional detection, the possibility of sinister supernatural doings, and some entertaining antics. At one point a Superintendent says “I don’t believe in the supernatural” and an underling demurs: “I live up here in the north, sir, and I’ve known queer things happen.”

There are some nice historical details. By publication date, the ‘King’s insignia’ was out of date, as George VI died in February 1952, to be succeeded by the current Queen Elizabeth, and the book also features post-War rationing and shortages, and a pig club – another war feature popping up in books of the era, where a small community raises a pig on leftovers and eventually eats it.

This discussion on Toft’s outfit was an added bonus – it has no purpose in the book, but is an interesting philosophical debate. There is quite a long history of a churchman being unwelcome in the pub because he has a restraining effect - the issue comes up in the little-known film masterpiece The Holly and the Ivy, same year, about the varying travails of a country vicar’s children.

The fancy trousers are gaiters – as Toft says, the traditional wear of Archdeacons and also Bishops. I can’t do better than recommend a website called Anglicans Online, which has a page called Through the Years with Gaiters, listing sightings of this particular uniform. Gaiters are also worn traditionally by gamekeepers - or in this entry, which has two very nice pictures, by a duke posing as a gamekeeper (don’t ask). They also turn up, Malvolio-esque, on a lovelorn suitor in Trollope, are worn by an archaeologist here, and, surprisingly, feature in Louisa M Alcott’s version of Rational Dress in Eight Cousins. Chauffeurs wore them too: as with archdeacons, the tight leg not necessary when horses had gone, but the association with transport remaining.

And they are worn for their actual original purpose of riding in Brat Farrar.


One of the characters in Barbara Pym's No Fond Return of Love says it is handy for clerics to have their uniform: 'I suppose it saves your other clothes – like wearing an overall.'

10 comments:

  1. My wife's Gran used to raise pigs and chickens during the war (in a small town). Her Grandad would have been away at the war in Africa. My mother-in-law claimed one of the chickens as a pet, though that didn't stop it ending up in the pot. We actually moved some soil from her grandparents garden - maybe late 80's for our place and I swear you could smell the pigs!

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    1. I sometimes think our forebears had much better talents than ours - we wouldn't know where to begin raising chickens and pigs, but they just got on with it didn't they? Interesting bit of history there, thanks Col.

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  2. I did express an interest in this author at the earlier post, and this book sounds even better. I love mysteries set in post-WWII Britain (well, set anywhere really, but especially there).

    The history of the clerical garb is interesting, and I did not know that churchmen were unwelcome in pubs, although it does make sense.

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    1. I really liked the 1950s atmosphere in this one, Tracy, so I think you would too....

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  3. Hi Moira - yes sweet potato works fine - not yams I don't think though - they seem to get a bit watery? Cheers

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  4. Moira - That's an interesting debate about the wearing of the clerical garb in a pub. I see both sides of it, and I suppose that's what makes it interesting. And thanks for the information on said garb. So often you see clerical garb of any faith and you don't know what the various pieces signify and where they come from. It sounds as if this book captures both the economic shortages of the era as well as 'make do and make your own' spirit of that generation. Really interesting

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    1. Great atmosphere, and I love little moments like this one - it's not really relevant, but such an interesting little discussion. As you say, you can see both sides.

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  5. Moira: This evening I was discussing with a Salvation Army officer their practice of going into pubs and taverns in Canada to sell their newspaper, The War Cry, and take donations. He said he did it in several cities. The Army officers did not do it in Melfort. He said it is done less often at this time. He said owners are less welcoming. I said I did not know how often the Army was in drinking places as I spend less time in pubs than when I was younger.

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    1. Oh, fascinating Bill. When I was younger (like you, I spend less time in pubs now!) in a town where there was a military presence, there would be squaddie pubs and non-squaddie pubs ie places where soldiers were or weren't welcome. I had never thought of the Salvation Army as being a combination of these two tropes, but that's exactly what they are, isn't it?

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