Authors: Simon Brett
Table of Contents
CAST, IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE
SO MUCH BLOOD
AN AMATEUR CORPSE
A COMEDIAN DIES
THE DEAD SIDE OF THE MIKE
MURDER IN THE TITLE
NOT DEAD, ONLY RESTING
WHAT BLOODY MAN IS THAT?
A SERIES OF MURDERS
A RECONSTRUCTED CORPSE
SICKEN AND SO DIE
DEAD ROOM FARCE
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First published in Great Britain in 1979 by Victor Gollancz
eBook edition first published in 2012 by Severn Select an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited
Copyright Â© 1979 Simon Brett.
All rights reserved.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.
ISBN-13: 978-1-4483-0004-4 (Epub)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
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who's quite funny sometimes
FEED: Did you have a nice holiday?
COMIC: Oh yes, what a week it was. Only rained twice â once for three days, once for four.
Sun 'n' Funtime
at the Winter Gardens, Hunstanton, was, according to the posters that faded on bus-shelter walls and the brochures that were shuffled onto boarding-house coffee tables, âA Summer Tonic, Music and Laughter for All the Family'.
The queue that Charles Paris and his wife Frances joined that wet Tuesday afternoon in September looked as though they could do with a tonic. In most cases an oxygen mask would have been more appropriate. Their average age was about seventy-nine and they had the washed-out look of torn bunting clinging to the grille of a drain. These were the dream-realizers, enjoying either a seaside holiday or, in some cases, the life sentence of retirement by the sea.
The Winter Gardens reflected their air of bewildered decay. Maybe once the iron framework had boasted brighter colours than the local council's chlorine blue paint, which fought a losing battle against the encrustations of salt and the eruptions of rust. Maybe once the white planks which filled in the lower parts of the frame had not been pitted and scratched and aerosoled with lewd invitations. Maybe once the windows had not been mended with flapping strips of polythene and none had rattled, puttyless, like old teeth in shrunken gums. But in 1977 the Winter Gardens was a building which had given up the will to live.
Perversely, Charles felt quite cheerful. The depressing nature of his surroundings seemed, by counterpoint, to enhance his sunny mood.
It was nice being with Frances. That was the main thing. They were together, in another attempt to mend their marriage, which had never been quite the same after Charles walked out sixteen years previously. Since that time there had been so many attempts to mend it that the marriage, like an old tea-service, was bumpy with rivets. Each attempt started well, in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance, but soon degenerated into the old cycle of bickering. After each failure Charles left again, depressed, convinced that an acting career was incompatible with a settled home-life. And each time he drifted into some inferior affair, which gave him even less than the flawed marriage.
But this time it seemed to be working. At least, after three days it was still working. Maybe it was just that they were older, with Charles turned fifty. Maybe it was being in unfamiliar surroundings, in the anonymity and slippery nylon sheets of the Waves Crest Guest House, Hunstanton. Whatever it was, Charles didn't want to analyze it or talk about it in case it went away.
They bought a programme and found their seats well in advance of the rest of the audience, who were delayed by wheelchairs, crutches and other obstacles such as their feet.
âWell, what delights have they to offer to our jaded intellects?' asked Charles as he opened the programme. âHmm. It's a packed variety show, I see. Bill Peaky in
Sun 'n' Funtime.
Since I haven't heard of the star above the title, I'm not very optimistic that I'll know any of the others.'
âI'm sure I've heard of Bill Peaky.' Frances wrinkled her brow. âSeen him on television or something. Comedian with a guitar, isn't he?'
âNo idea. As you know, I don't watch television much. Only when I'm on. Which means hardly ever.'
âThere must be someone in the show you know, Charles. After all, you're in the same business.'
âDifferent ends of the same business, dear lady.' In his best Actor Laddie voice. âI am an act
in the legitimate theatre; these are mere variety artistes. Oh, things haven't been the same since Equity merged with that Variety lot.'
âComes to the same thing really. It's just different forms of showing off.'
âWith that attitude to my art, it's hardly surprising that you weren't the ideal wife for me.' But it was said without malice, just teasing. How long was it since they had been sufficiently relaxed together to tease each other?
âAnyway, who else is on the bill? Good God, programmes these days get more and more advertisements and less and less about the show. Ah, here we are â just between âLadies, for the very best in Modern Hairdressing, go to Dorita's' and âAfter the show why not enjoy the best Tandoori chicken on the East Coast?'. Now, who is there? Hmm. We start with These Foolish Things (whatever they may be), then Karamba and Judy, Vita Maureen (accompanied by Norman del Rosa), Mixed Bathing, Lennie Barber and â Good God â that couldn't be Lennie Barber of Barber and Pole, could it?'
âOh come on, Frances, even with your limited knowledge of show business, you must remember Barber and Pole. All those radio shows after the war. And then telly.
The Barber and Pole Show.
It was one of the first big variety shows on the box. In the fifties. You must remember.'
âOh yes, I do. That's right, they had all those terrible catch-phrases.'
Charles dropped into a gormless Lancastrian accent. âBepardon?'
âOf course, your party trick.'
âYes, my one and only show business impersonation. Wilkie Pole of Barber and Pole. I used to do it all the time.'
âYou can say that again. Particularly when you were drunk.'
âIt's all coming back. What was that other catch-phrase Pole had? Oh . . . um . . . Oh yes.' Again the accent. âYou're rushing me.'
âI remember that one too. God, it seems a long time ago.'
âWhy did they break up, Charles?'
âBarber and Pole? Wilkie Pole died. Right at the peak of their popularity. Late fifties. Then I seem to remember they tried to launch Lennie Barber on his own, but it just didn't work.'
âWhat's he done since then?'
âDon't know. Kept reading about him in the papers in the early sixties. Bad publicity mostly. Divorce, arrests for drunkenness, that sort of thing â all the symptoms of a successful career suddenly gone wrong. Then nothing. I suppose he's been on the bottle ever since. And who knows . . . maybe touring the clubs all that time, going lower and lower down the league. What a way to end up though â if it is the same Lennie Barber â playing way down the bill to some jumped-up comic nobody's heard of.'
âBut everybody will have heard of him soon.' Charles and Frances turned in surprise to the voice from the row behind. âSorry to have been rubbernecking, Charles. I couldn't believe it was you.'
âGood heavens â Walter Proud. How are you?' Charles reached out and the two men shook hands. âYou know Frances, don't you? My . . . er . . . er . . . my wife,' he concluded with some surprise.
âOf course I know Frances.' The man leaned across and kissed her effusively, enveloping her in the fumes of a rather good lunch.
From Frances' expression she didn't share the recognition. Charles came to the rescue. âWalter's a television director at the BBC. I worked with him on â'
âYou're out of date, Charles. I left the Beeb last year. We . . . um . . . didn't see eye to eye. I've gone over to the other side, gone commercial.'
âWhat, you're part of the Brain Drain? On the staff of one of the . . .'
âNo, no, freelance. I'm only on a three-month contract at the moment, as a producer, but, if the project I'm on goes well, it's bound to lead to other things.'
âSounds good. You enjoying it?'
âWell, er . . . Do you know Paul Royce?' The producer indicated a dark young man who was studying the programme by his side.
âNo, I don't. Hello, I'm Charles Paris.'
âPaul's one of the brightest new writers I've come across for some time. Straight out of . . . where was it? Oxford?'
âYes, and already been nominated for a UEF award for his first series. Radio thing, of course. Did you ever hear
The Three-Legged Giraffe Show
The Two-Legged Giraffe Show
,' Paul Royce corrected testily.
Charles said sorry, he didn't listen to the radio that much and, anyway, what the hell was Walter doing at a matinÃ©e of a summer show in Hunstanton?
âAh, Charles, that brings me back to where I interrupted you. We've come down to see Bill Peaky. The project on which I'm working is a fifty-minute special with him. Bound to go to a series, should be very big. Paul here's going to be doing some writing for the show.'
âNot if Mr Peaky thinks the same of the rest of my material as he did of the first batch I sent,' Paul Royce interjected sourly.
Proud was momentarily thrown. âThat remains to be seen, eh? But, Charles, have you really not heard of Bill Peaky?'
âHe came out of
âThe talent show that ATV do. He won the All-Winners. I tell you, he's a very hot property. Going to be very big. We're going to see him after the show, talk about our series.'
Music tinkled upwards from the pit. Most of the pensioners had been tucked into their seats. The show would be starting in a moment. Charles felt he should say something else and flicked through his mind for subjects. Oh yes, domestic life. âAngela and the girls well, Walter?'
âAngela and I got divorced two years ago.'
âOh, I'm sorry.'