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“The literary archaeologists at Madame Eulalie have unearthed yet another rare Wodehouse tidbit from the distant past – a set of four playlets of political satire in pantomime form, jointly credited to Sir Plum and one Bertram Fletcher Robinson. The first, “A Fiscal Pantomime – The Sleeping Beauty” was published in the London Daily Express on Christmas Day 1903; the next was “Our Christmas Pantomime – Little Red Riding Hood; or, The Virtuous British Public and the Smart Set Wolf” which appeared inVanity Fair on December 8, 1904; “A Winter’s Tale – King Arthur and His Court” from Vanity Fair, December 14, 1905, and finally “The Progressives Progress – Some memories of 1906” which appeared inThe World, January 1, 1907.

For the uninitiated, pantomime is an art form rooted in antiquity and it has a strong link to Commedia dell’arte; it evolved as an English entertainment in the eighteenth century. Performed at Christmas, pantomime was (and is) a form of theatre incorporating song, dance, slapstick, cross-dressing, in-jokes, topical references and audience participation. Pantomimes are usually based on traditional fairy tales but adapted for comic or satirical effect as other characters and situations arise. Traditions include the leading male juvenile character (principal boy) to be played by a young woman, usually in tight-fitting male garments that make her gender evident; An older woman (the dame) is usually played by a man in drag. The animal is played by an actor in animal costume, often a horse or cow played by two actors in a single costume. Audience participation includes calls of “He’s behind you!” or (“Look behind you!”), and “Oh, yes it is!” and “Oh, no it isn’t!” The audience boos the villain and “awwwwws” the poor “victim” as in nineteenth-century melodrama.

The Wodehouse-Robinson pantos parody the debate in Britain surrounding tariff reform and proposed changes to tax law. The heroes (conservative) and villains (liberal) are variously represented: Little Red Riding Hood is played by “The Virtuous British Public” while King Arthur is “(Prime Minister) A.J. Balfour;” The Unionist Party is personified by “Queen Guinevere” and in Sleeping Beauty, The Tariff Reform League is portrayed by the “A dragon.”

Although they weren’t intended for actual production, while reading these farces the reader can certainly imagine himself amidst a raucous London Christmas audience of a century ago, delighting at the buffoons and heroes, the slapstick, the wicked political satire, the ridiculous costumery. Pantomime music most often combines well-known songs with lyrics re-written for the occasion, which encourage audiences to sing along as well. (Pantomime is seldom performed in the United States, and Americans misunderstand the word “pantomime” to refer to the art of “mime.”)

Bertram Fletcher Robinson (whose name evokes the recollection of how PGW sold “Something New” to the Saturday Evening Post under the grand name Pelham Grenville Wodehouse) was eleven years PGW’s senior. A well-liked writer of articles, satirical playlets, short stories, lyrics, numerous articles, poems and books, Robinson is today known primarily for assisting his friend Arthur Conan Doyle with the plot of The Hound of the Baskervilles….”

Read the full article here.

Bobbles and Plum, a PG Wodehouse Playlets Book by Paul R Spiring is available from all good bookstores worldwide including in the USA AmazonBarnes and Noble and Classic Specialities, in the UK AmazonWaterstones and Book Depository (free delivery worldwide).


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A World Without Sherlock Holmes? – That Would Be The Reality Without Bertram Fletcher Robinson

In 2011 we finally have the irrefutable evidence behind the success of the Sherlock Holmes character and it was unveiled by Devon author and Holmes investigator, Paul R Spiring. In a local newspaper articles from the Herald Express and Western Morning News and in a BBC Wales radio interview Paul revealed how he came across the letters that prove that Arthur Conan Doyle had more than a little help with the key story that launched Holmes worldwide.

Winding the clock back to the early 20th century and Arthur Conan Doyle had killed Holmes off and while the character had achieved some limited success, this was largely restricted to the UK. A lifelong friend of Conan Doyle’s was a young man, himself an accomplished writer, called Bertram Fletcher Robinson. Not much was known about Robinson, other than that he had died tragically young, before the acclaimed biography published in 2008 called simply ‘Betram Fletcher Robinson – A Footnote To The Hound Of The Baskervilles‘ written and compiled by Spiring and Brian W Pugh.

In the biography Spiring and Pugh talk about the great friendship between Robinson and Conan Doyle and how they had ‘collaborated’ on ‘The H0und’ and that Robinson was often referred to as the ‘assistant plot producer’ for the book. The biography talks about a very talented writer who also collaborated with such big names as PG Wodehouse – you can read their main works in the 2009 book ‘Bobbles and Plum‘, and Max Pemberton on ‘Wheels of Anarchy‘ , but it was his friendship with Conan Doyle that is of the greatest interest.

Without a doubt if it wasn’t for ‘The Hound‘ there would be no Sherlock Holmes today. No movies, no BBC TV series, no legions of fans around the world. It was the story that turned Holmes into the worldwide phenomenon that has led to millions of fans, many films, hundreds of books and and ongoing legacy for Conan Doyle.

So what has Spiring uncovered? Quite simply the written proof that Conan Doyle paid his friend the modern day equivalent of £45,000 [£500 at the time] for his help on the story. Conan Doyle was due to receive an estimated £1/2m in modern day values for the story so the payment to Robinson was about 10% of what Conan Doyle was to get. This proves, beyond reasonable doubt, that Robinson made a significant contribution to the storyline. It is well documented that Conan Doyle lent on friends and particularly family for ideas and indeed characters for his storylines but for him to go as far as handing over such a huge sum of money for the input is significant.

What a shame it is that Robinson was taken from us at such a young age, dying shortly after from poisoning [in his biography Spring and Pugh go into the accusations that Conan Doyle was the one that poisoned him]. He was a very talented writer of similar storylines to Conan Doyle as well as the playlets he wrote with Wodehouse. You can read twenty of his stories in ‘Aside Arthur Conan Doyle‘ which was also compiled by Spiring.

So in summary, all Holmes fans need to give a big thanks to Bertram Fletcher Robinson, without whom they would not have their wonderful character – and personally a big thankyou to Paul Spiring for proving it once and for all.

ACD, Sherlock Holmes and Devon

ACD, Sherlock Holmes and Devon

Bertram Fletcher Robinson

Aside ACD


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Rugby Football History – The Orgins vs The Game Today

I have to admit to being a late convert in life to the game of Rugby – well into my thirties. Coming from a football family I didn’t realise the huge gulf between the preening primadonnas and big money of the modern game of football, and the more gentleman’s game of rugby football. Every game I watch reinforces that it’s all about the game – not the hype around it.

It has been a delight to publish the re-release of ‘Rugby Football in the Nineteenth Century‘ originally published by the Isthmian Library back in the late 1800s when Rugby split into two codes. Here Graeme Marrs M.B.E comments on the book and how historian Paul Spiring has brought this amazing book back for today’s rugby fans:

It is both a privilege and a pleasure to write the Foreword to this fascinating addition to the library of Rugby Books. I am particularly delighted as Bertram Fletcher Robinson was a relation – admittedly much further up the family tree – but a relation nevertheless and one who obviously had the true ethos of the game very much in his heart.  I shudder to think what he would make of today’s game, with its professionalism and all the disadvantages that brings. I admit to being firmly in Will Carling’s ‘Old Farts’ camp. The ‘amateur’ game is for me, albeit one cannot stop progress.

Apart from family, I also connect with Bertram Fletcher Robinson in rugger terms.  He won three Rugby Football Blues for Cambridge University during the early 1890s:  today the Anti Assassins (periodically described as the poor man’s Barbarians!) play Cambridge University at Grange Road every year in the Lent Term:  I just happen to be the current Honorary Secretary of the AAs!

I can only describe this book as a thoroughly entertaining read – not only entertaining but instructive and it gives the reader a thorough insight into how the game was played and the spirit in which it was played at that time.  Paul Spiring has done a splendid job both in researching the subject and producing such a readable volume:  all credit to him.

I commend this book to all – one does not have to be a rugby enthusiast to derive enjoyment from the read, although it should be mandatory reading for all involved with the Rugby Football Union!

The book was released on the 16th February in Europe, USA, and Australia.

Rugby Football In The Nineteenth Century

Rugby Football In The Nineteenth Century

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Posted by on February 13, 2010 in Book Launches, Rugby History


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