Saturday, May 26, 2012

Peter Brooke By Any Other Name

When I find a book by an author I am unfamiliar with, it is a good thing.  A chance to fill in the blank space of my seemingly ever increasing ignorance.  A Rose by Any Other Name by Anthony Carson (Penguin Books No. 1847, published in 1962, originally Methuen, 1960).  Who in the world is Anthony Carson I wondered?  The cover art was by the familiar and ever whimsical Quentin Blake.  Perhaps the only cover of a Penguin Book that extends over the edges of the center panel (prior to the Marber grid), but then again, my knowledge of Penguin covers is of course not complete.  Quentin Blake has drawn a circle around the Publisher's device and made radiating lines outward to suggest a sun.  Brilliant.  The Penguin looks rather surprised, is brought into the drawing and confronted with a mad poet on a bicycle.  It suits the text very well.  Short chapters of humorous autobiographical tales involving much travel and experience.  Experience with a capital "E" perhaps.

Anthony Carson, Anthony Carson?  I couldn't place the name.  It is a good feeling to find something new, but the other side of the coin--there's generally one--is that I felt at once rather shaky in my knowledge. Luckily no one in the past has ever asked me whether I liked the work of Anthony Carson.  "Anthony who?" I would have replied honestly; or if I was dishonest, which I'm not, I could have faked my way saying "Oh, yes, wonderful stuff.  Didn't like his last book though.  Losing it mate, losing it," and then changed the subject to an author I did know something about.

His real name was Peter Brooke.  Well, it was the name given to him by his 'preparatory school headmaster' when, at the age of seven, during the WWI, his family name of 'von Bohr' was deemed rather inconvenient as the other children began to accuse him of being a German spy.  Peter Brooke it was.  Such is the past. During the twenties he was a sort of remittance man in New Zealand and Australia where many of his tales of vagabondage are derived.  His days as a swagman in the outback, and trying to shear sheep as a pseudo-Kiwi, and that sort of thing.  Experience with a capital "E." Truly.

It seems he was a denizen of Fitzrovia and Soho, raising elbows at the The Wheatsheaf pub with Dylan Thomas, Julian Maclaren-Ross, George Barker, Peter Vansittart, Mulk Raj Anand, Fred Urquhart, the Canadian poet Paul Potts, Meary Tambimuttu, and later, Quentin Crisp, who were all perhaps trying to live up to the earlier denizens of the Fitzroy Tavern, Roy Campbell, Anthony Powell, Jack Lindsay and Patrick Hamilton.

Peter Brooke published his first novel, Our Lady of the Earthquakes (London: Cresset Press, 1940), but it was not successful.  He did achieve some financial success co-writing a song however: Violin: Sweet and Low Played the Bow written by Allan Gray and Peter Brooke, (Sydney: J. Albert and Son, 1941.) After WWII, he was involved in various jobs and began to write humorous travel books under the name "Anthony Carson."  I don't know how he came to choose this name.  Another blank space. Perhaps it came to him on an index card as he worked at the Income Tax Office.  Possible.

The author, Rupert Croft-Cooke--another author I am less than familiar with, though under his pseudonym, Leo Bruce, he wrote many an interesting mystery--was extremely prolific, and wrote over 20 autobiographical works known as 'The Sensual World Series,' and in The Wintry Sea (1964) he wrote of his meetings with Peter Brooke:

I used to meet him at a pub called Wheatsheaf in the 1940s. Solemn, dedicated and ponderous, he hungered after two things--publication and food.  .  .  He talked of 'experience' as though it were a commodity in which he had invested, of which he now held a large stock ready to put on the market.  .  .  Nearly everyone who came to the Wheatsheaf in those days had an inkling that he himself and the rest of us were somewhat laughable figures, even Julian Maclaren-Ross who wore a disintegrating teddy-bear coat, carried an ornate walking-stick and bagged the corner place at the bar so that he could lecture the rest of us from a vantage point....But not Peter Brooke.  He could see nothing funny in himself, or in not being able to get his work published when it was so full of experience, and nothing funny at all in having a perpetually unassuaged appetite.

Croft-Cooke later wondered over the transformation of Peter Brooke, the serious writer, into the comic writer Anthony Carson, whom Colin MacInnes described in the Observer as 'one of the few great English humorous writers of the century.'

It appears that all of Brooke's 'experience' was well exploited for the humor rather than for the drama.  Whatever works.  Each short chapter of A Rose by Any Other Name shows the signs of having debuted in Punch or the New Statesman with their sharp wit and comic hook at the end. I imagine he is better known in England and Europe than here in Canada. His popular humorous travel works have perhaps dated and time has faded the spines of his works into dusty obscurity (though all are available on those obscure hidden shelves of on-line book sellers). Still, a light read and enjoyable.  Nice cover art too.

His other works under Anthony Carson are:

A Train to Tarragona (Methuen, 1957)
On to Timbuctoo (Methuen, 1958)

Looking For A Bandit (Methuen, 1961)
Poor Man's Mimosa (Methuen, 1962)
Carson Was Here (Methuen, 1963)
The Sin of Summer (Methuen 1965)
The Golden Kiss (Methuen, 1966)
Any More for the Gondola (Hurst & Blackett, ?)

I imagine there may be others...

P.S.  I believe there is a photograph of  Anthony Carson / Peter Brooke in a new exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London, Famous in the Fifties: Photographs by Daniel Farson


Anonymous said...

He's forgotten in thr UK too. There's a chapter about him in Maclaren Ross's Memoirs of the Forties.

ralph mackay said...

Dear Anonymous,
My wife discovered that I have not been checking for comments on my blog. Under her astute eye, I therefore checked and found yours last night. Not long after, I was looking for my copy of King, Queen, Knave which was not with my other Nabokovs and checking a number of boxes, came across Maclaren Ross's Memoirs of the Forties which I had thought lost. I often find with books that there is a serendipity at play. I did find my KQK too. A pleasant end to the evening by reading the chapter on Brooke. Many thanks.

mousemac said...

Thanks for reviewing this book. I was hunting for it, as have been forced to leave my entire library to the dogs upon leaving my home of 40 yrs.