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Thursday, 21 March 2013

JACK TREVOR STORY Live Now, Pay Later (1963)

Savoy Books UK, 1980


Unknown to Albert, all the power that he thought he had and all the power the other tally-boys thought they had was harnessed to Mr Callendar and his simple creed of getting the goods in the 'ouse.  Tally-boys to Mr Callendar were just a means of getting the goods in the house.  They were a necessary evil in the distribution of consumer goods.  Tally-boys had no power of any kind because they had no money.  Nobody with money would become a tally-boy.  Nobody with any self-respect would become a tally-boy.  No man with an ounce of real ability or even with any ordinary sensibility or human feeling would stand on a doorstep in his best suit and pretend that he was doing working people a favour.


The NovelThe life of a tally-boy –– a door-to-door salesman whose job it is to persuade people to sign exorbitant hire-purchase agreements to buy lounge suites, vacuum cleaners and other things they can't afford and don't really need –– is never an easy one.  And it's even tougher if, like twenty-four year old Albert Argyle, you happen to be cursed with a conscience that makes it difficult for you to rip people off without feeling at least fleetingly remorseful about it.  But what can you do when you have your own rent to find each week and the issuers of your own duly signed hire-purchase agreements chasing you relentlessly for defaulting on your payments?  You take the path of least resistance which, in Albert's case, means working for the grasping Mr Callendar in his shoddy London warehouse, calling on the bored, sexually frustrated wives of men who have proper jobs to go to and not the slightest inkling of what goes on behind their backs while they're out attempting to earn themselves a semi-honest living.

Unlike the dull and grimy suburban world of early 1960s England he operates in, Albert's life is deceptively complicated.  Aside from the various affairs he conducts with several of his slow-paying female clients, he also has the problems of a son and his true but temporarily lost love, Treasure, to keep him on his toes.  He wants to get back with Treasure but there's a snagthe girl hates his guts.  And not without reason, he often reminds himself, recalling the abortion he forced her to get as soon as she told him she was pregnant.  (His son was the result of a dalliance with still another woman, the kind and forgiving – and aptly named – Grace.)  That might have been bearable, had Treasure not chosen to trash Callendar's Warehouse one night not long after her abortion, making Albert financially liable to his unscrupulous boss for the damage caused by this unforeseen and very destructive temper tantrum.  To add to Albert's worries, he finds himself attracted to a newish client named Joyce – a working class girl married to Reginald Corby, a boorish real estate agent and aspiring local councillor, whom he makes the fatal mistake of feeling sorry for and trying to help.  All the while he's falling behind on the job, costing Mr Callendar 'payments of arrears' and the much-needed sales commissions they ought to be earning him. 


Penguin Books UK, 1963
Then an accident occurs.  Popping in on Joyce one afternoon in his normal casual way, Albert surprises her in the shower.  She still has shampoo in her hair and puts a towel over her head before walking out to the bedroom, forgetting that she swapped its furniture around after one of the snooty guests her husband had invited to one of his social-climbing cocktail parties remarked on how 'common' it was to have one's dressing table blocking one's picture window.  Joyce walks straight through this same window, plunging to her death right in front of the stunned but helpless tally-boy.  

Could this be a sign that it's time for Albert to quit the tally-boy racket?  To do whatever he has to do to reconcile with Treasure and find a job that doesn't involve preying on people's desire to live 'the good life' even if they lack the financial werewithal to pay for it?  'Are you trying to tell me you've changed, Albert?' Treasure asks him at one point late in the book'No,' he answers, perhaps more prophetically than he realises.  'We never change, darling –– but you can feel worse about the way you are.'

Feeling worse about who and what you are –– and choosing or not choosing to change it – is what Live Now, Pay Later is really all about.  It's a short book and a very funny one despite what happens to Joyce and the serious questions Story raises in it about morality, venality, ambition and the price of having a conscience in an increasingly conscienceless society primarily concerned with living selfishly and, of course, strictly for the moment.  While many things about the world have changed since 1963, just as many things haven't changed by as much as one iota.  People are still encouraged to live far beyond their means, spending more than they earn to buy themselves a taste of what manufacturers and credit card companies want (and need) us to believe is 'the good life.'  Have it now, enjoy it now, and forget about the repayments (and the cripplingly high interest they're charging you) until your goods are repossessed and their lawyers are issuing writs to sue you for breach of contract.  

Sound familiar, anyone?

Albert Argyle's strange comic journey continues in the sequels Something For Nothing (1963) and The Urban District Lover (1964).

 



JACK TREVOR STORY, 1955
The Writer:  Jack Trevor Story was born in Hertford in 1917.  His father was a baker and his mother was a domestic servant who, following her husband's death, relocated to Cambridge where she soon found employment in one of that city's many university colleges.  At an early age Story found work as a butcher's apprentice, the first of many jobs that would see him try his hand at clerking, lathe operating and, eventually, electrical designing for Marconi Instruments.  His earliest writing –– technical articles on electronics – appeared in Marconi's in-house magazine, a publication he also edited for a time. 

But Story's great love was not electronics.  He loved women, money (the spending of it in preference to the accumulation and/or saving of it) and the work of George Orwell, Arnold Bennett and William Saroyan, the idiosyncratic American author of 1935 story The Daring Young Man On The Flying Trapeze and the 1939 Pulitzer Prize winning play The Time of Your Life.  Inspired by Saroyan's freewheeling attitude to literature and life, Story decided to turn to writing to make a living, publishing his first novel – a black comedy about a man trying to hide a corpse called The Trouble With Harry –– in 1949.  This was followed in 1951 by a crime tale set in the London underworld titled No Protection for a Lady.  A third novel, Green to Pagan Street, focusing on life in London's East End, appeared in print the following year

Story married a woman named Evelyn during this period, eventually fathering five children by her while he conducted an affair with a fellow writer named Ros Woods – a woman who would, in time, bear him three more children.  (Both families tried living together under the same roof for a few months with disastrous results.)  Eternally pressed for money –– a recurring problem that would both plague and define his life for the next forty-odd years – Story wrote anything and everything he could, including 'quickie' westerns, the text for newspaper cartoon strips and, beginning in 1954, a series of twenty adventure novels for The Sexton Blake Library.  By 1957 he was also writing film scripts and regularly providing teleplays for popular British TV programs including No Hiding Place, Dixon of Dock Green and Danger Man.  Yet he still lived hand-to-mouth, spending money almost as quickly as he earned it and making consistently terrible business decisions.  Among the worst of these was his decision to sell the rights to The Trouble With Harry to Alfred Hitchcock for a paltry one-off fee of £150.  When Hitchcock later re-sold the rights to 'his' story to Paramount Studios for $20,000, Story received nothing from the sale and no percentage of the profits from the subsequently produced film.  (The film went on to become a respectable box-office success which helped to launch the career of a slightly kooky young actress named Shirley Maclaine.) 

Despite his almost continual state of financial calamity, Story remained a remarkably optimistic and charming man, never allowing his straitened financial circumstances to rob him of greatest asset –– his unique and ever-present sense of humour.  'Thank Christ I can get into debt again now,' he was once heard to say as he left court after being discharged of bankruptcy.  'I'm going to find myself one of these marvellous credit cards.'

A serial philanderer with a weakness for women much younger than himself, Story managed to churn out enough TV scripts during the late 1960s and early 1970s –– for programs like Budgie and You're Only Young Twice – to rent himself a one bedroom flat overlooking Hampstead Heath and earn the affection of Maggie, a spry Scottish lass twenty years his juniorUnfortunately, the good times didn't last.  Leaving the home of his friend and fellow writer Michael Moorcock after a party one night, Story was taken into custody for running a red light and transferred to Notting Hill Police Station, where he was beaten, intimidated and generally abused and mistreated by the arresting officers.  He was released the next day but had to leave the station on crutches.  The incident understandably darkened his outlook and saw his later work – in novels like The Wind in the Snottygobble Tree (1971) and The Screwrape Lettuce (1979) – become increasingly picaresque, anti-authoritarian and sometimes eerily paranoid. 


JACK TREVOR STORY, c. 1990
Although he continued to write –– TV scripts, novels, memoirs, a popular column in The Guardian about his life after Maggie left him which inspired a beloved 1979 ITV television series called Jack On The Box he was not the same man. That, combined with his failure to earn a decent living from his writing, resulted in a nervous breakdown which saw him become homeless before being briefly institutionalized in 1990.  He recovered – by weening himself off the anti-psychotic drugs his psychiatrist had prescribed him, according to Moorcock – and was beginning to gain some perspective on his experiences by the time he died, of heart failure, on 5 December 1991.  At the time of his death he was working on an autobiographical novel titled Shabby Weddings, only brief extracts of which have been published so far  


Click HERE to visit Jack Trevor Story: A Tribute and Resource Site created and maintained by London writer GUY LAWLEY.  It's an excellent site that contains a wealth of information about JACK TREVOR STORY and his work, with many interesting links to articles by and about him, photographs of him, and the obituaries and reminiscences from which much of the biographical material contained in this post were obtained


You might also enjoy:
KINGSLEY AMIS That Uncertain Feeling (1955)
KEITH WATERHOUSE Bimbo (1990)
LAURIE GRAHAM The Ten O'Clock Horses (1996) 

2 comments:

  1. Wotcher, Mr Rumble.
    I just stumbled upon your brilliant page about JTS.
    Just to let you know - and please tell your readers - that my Jack Trevor Story site is alive and well.
    The ".uk" address was pinched by some unscrupulous bugger, but it the site continues at
    www.jacktrevorstory.com
    Though the software to update it is unavailable in newer versions of Windows so it is stuck in amber at about 2013, unchanging.
    Really pleased to see someone of your talent writing about JTS.
    My email still works too BTW.
    All best wishes,
    Guy Lawley
    London
    England

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  2. Fantastic to hear from you Guy & to learn that your fab JTS site is still up & running. I've re-added the link to the original post & my website list, so hopefully more people will be encouraged to visit it & learn more about JTS & his underrated work.

    I have no hesitation whatsoever in describing JTS as one of the best British writers of his generation & feel extremely grateful that someone as knowledgable as yourself took the time to create a website about him. Believe me, without your diligent efforts the second half of my post would not have been possible. (If I made any factual errors re: his life, please let me know & I'll correct them.) Thank you very much for that & also for sending me a comment. It's good to know that someone out there actually reads my blog & that I haven't spent the past 6 years just pissing in the wind (if you'll pardon the expression).

    I'm the owner of a lovely 1962 UK first edition of JTS' "Man Pinches Bottom" that I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a few years ago. I plan to post about it some day so please check back from time to time.

    My very best wishes to you as well,
    BR

    ReplyDelete