Devotees of the literature of modern war will have noted, I’m sure, Faber’s recent publication of Ian Fleming’s Commandos by Nick Rankin: the story of the extraordinary ’30 Assault Unit’ devised and sent out into the theatre of WWII with conspicuous success by Fleming during his pre-Bond military intelligence career. The book was serialized with fanfare in the Daily Mail. William Boyd in the Guardian says it “reads like a Boy’s Own story, so flamboyant are the characters and so vivid Rankin’s accounts of the deadly scrapes and firefights the commandos found themselves involved in.” Douglas Osler in the Scotsman calls it“fascinating background to the Bond stories”.
In the Sunday Times Andrew Lycett said of Nick Rankin:
“He has a vast knowledge of covert operations, scientific innovation and the history of the second world war, which he combines to produce a convincing and entertaining account of a hitherto shadowy but influential commando unit.”
On which note, I’m pleased to say the Navy News has also stated of the book’s worth for posterity, “Be in no doubt of 30 Assault Unit’s importance to history.” And this is where J.A.C. (Tony) Hugill’s The Hazard Mesh enters the picture. Nick Rankin has stressed the merits of this precious primary text (now reissued by Faber Finds, with a new introduction by Nick) in the course of his publicity for the Fleming tome. The following extract from a recent interview gives a good flavour:
NICK RANKIN: Tony Hugill was a scientifically trained technical officer in 30AU who wrote a vividly authentic account of his part in the D-Day landings and the liberation of France. I’ve gone back to his original pencilled diaries, which he wrote in the field, and compared them with the self-censored manuscript that he delivered in 1946. (They’re all in the Churchill Archives at Churchill College, Cambridge.) I’ve identified the real people and fill in the background to some of the incidents investigating German radar and weapons. Only 500 copies of THE HAZARD MESH were printed then, but history buffs who order it from Faber Finds will see it is the real thing, and Hugill makes you feel you are there with him.
You can find an excellent biographical sketch of Hugill here alongside the listing of his archived private papers. The Hazard Mesh can be ordered from Finds here. And if you still hanker for the glamourised film account of combat heroism (which to a degree we all do?) you may have noticed that the recent film Age of Heroes treated the story of 30AU with a generous sprinkling of movie-dust…
The keenly anticipated and closely consulted end-of-year rounds-up have yielded a couple of very pleasing citations in the Herald newspaper for works restored to readers by Finds. Twopence Coloured by Patrick Hamilton has certainly proved to be one of our most gratefully received reissues, and novelist Dan Rhodes picks it in his selection with a great gesture of good cheer: ‘Hats off to Faber Finds for reviving Patrick Hamilton’s long-buried third-novel. What a treat.’ (I should add that The Oldie also celebrated this re-publication recently, noting that ‘Hamilton is much admired for his ability to conjure up an acute sense of place and also writes convincingly from a female perspective…’)
And then no less a luminary than William Boyd has indicated his pleasure in the discoverty of Joseph Hone’s The Private Sector, hailing it as ‘a Cold War spy novel worthy to rival le Carre.‘
We raise the first of many seasonal glasses to the spirit of Hamilton and to Joseph Hone, whose work is rightly enjoying an important reappraisal by current practitioners.
Nick Heyward in his popstar heyday ably documented in 'Starlust' (c) Janette Beckman
While we are on the subject of Faber Finds’ happy association with classic pop-cultural writings, we note with great pleasure an outstanding FIVE-STAR notice for Fred Vermorel’s Starlust in the Record Collector, the reviewer one Jason Draper:
‘You can look at it two ways: the alternately hilarious and terrifying ramblings of lunatics; or a study of fandom that both calls into question how far one will go to achieve their dream, and what pop stars owe us for letting us believe we could ever have achieved it in the first place … [Starlust] allows intensity to build through a housewife’s smirksome fantasy to possession, obsession and, ultimately, full tilt delirium. Like the old Wayne’s World tagline: you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll hurl. You’ll also not be able to put it down.’ *****
“… white with simple black type, nothing like the garish pink-green-light blue splotches emblazoning the 1985 original: A visual representation of the early MTV era’s shift from brash cultural usurper to museum piece, even if under protest. That fits. Rimmer’s book was originally marketed to teenyboppers but always had a different kind of mission. Like Punk Never Happened looks like a fan bio but it’s carried out like a manifesto. It’s the most penetrating book about ’80s pop ever written…”
Matos is right on the money about how well Dave saw in New Pop the ascent of business and the careful management of career, image and copyright. He quotes at length Dave’s assessment of Adam Ant’s special rigours in this department:
“[Adam] patented the image through the Merchandizing Corporation of America and did his legal best to try and control every last sleeve, badge, T-shirt, poster, or sticker bearing his face or his name… In the 1960s the Beatles lost millions through inept management and pirate merchandizing. Now groups started setting up merchandizing and publishing companies almost before they’d played a gig. A good business head was suddenly more important than the ability to play an instrument, though that helped too…”
Time appears to have been fairly kind to the pop stylings of Adam Ant, if the critical respect for his first couple of albums and the interest in his recent comeback are anything to judge by. A little of both aspects can be sampled below: