Everyman’s England by Victor Canning

51-rzGPbd6L Victor Canning was a thriller writer, churning out factory lines of potboilers like The Golden Salamander, which was turned into a film and apparently rendered him the money to buy a country pile in Kent. That is what such money is there for. Everyman’s England features no exotic brushes with death (although there is one night in a ditch) but instead consists of a series of pen portraits of places in England. Pretty random places actually, from Berwick-on-Tweed to Dorchester via The Potteries and the Fens, with nothing to link them except Canning, and he is good company. These articles were first published in the Daily Mail but even that shouldn’t put you off. They are a long way from the Daily Hate’s output these days. Lord Rothermere was busy sucking up to Hitler in 1936 when the pieces came out, as many in Britain’s monied classes were. Canning did his bit when hostilities came, and wealth came after. The most extraordinary thing: he sounds like an old countryman in Everyman’s England but was in fact only 25 when this collection was published. But he’d been a paid writer since his teens and shows off his tricks, for example: ‘If I have wronged Silloth I apologise, but rather would I have wronged it than have chanced spending a night in the town.’ His writing includes wonderful tangents. He has always wanted to see the Wirral, in much the same way as he has always wanted to go to Mexico. He feels very let down after he finally gets there. (The Wirral this is, not Mexico). ‘It is not always wise to visit the places which one dreams about,’ he muses sadly. But is there not something almost madly admirable about a man who felt he might not be let down by a visit to the Wirral? But while he is no enemy of whimsy, he is clear-headed about much of what he finds. Industries from Cornwall to Cumberland were disappearing then, taking families’ livelihoods with them. ‘If ever men begin to pride themselves upon their efficiency and high civilisation let them think of the peoples of such stricken towns and be ashamed,’ he writes. As I say, good company.

 

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