Peter Tinniswood Biography
Peter Tinniswood comments:
Nationality: British. Born: Liverpool, 1936. Education: Sale County Grammar School, 1947-54; University of Manchester, 1954-57, B.A. 1957. Career: Insurance clerk, Vienna, 1957; journalist, Sheffield Star, 1958-63, Thomson newspapers, London, 1964-65, Cardiff Western Mail, 1966-69, and Liverpool Echo, 1967. Awards: Authors Club award, 1969; Winifred Holtby prize, 1974; Welsh Arts Council bursary, 1974, and prize, 1975; Sony Radio award, 1988, for play; Writers' Guild Best Radio Comedy of the Year, 1991. Fellow, Royal Society of Literature, 1974. Agent: Jonathan Clowes Ltd., Iron Bridge House, Bridge Approach, London NW1 8BD, England.
A Touch of Daniel. London, Hodder and Stoughton, and New York, Doubleday, 1969.
Mog. London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1970.
I Didn't Know You Cared. London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1973.
Except You're a Bird. London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1974.
The Stirk of Stirk. London, Macmillan, 1974.
Shemerelda. London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1981.
The Home Front (novelization of TV series). London, Granada, 1982.
The Brigadier Down Under. London, Macmillan, 1983.
The Brigadier in Season. London, Macmillan, 1984.
The Brigadier's Brief Lives. London, Pan, 1984.
Call It a Canary. London, Macmillan, 1985.
The Brigadier's Tour. London, Pan, 1985.
Uncle Mort's North Country. London, Pavilion-Joseph, 1986.
Hayballs. London, Hutchinson, 1989.
Uncle Mort's South Country. London, Arrow, 1990.
Winston. London, Hutchinson, 1991.
Collected Tales from a Long Room. London, Hutchinson, 1982.
Tales from a Long Room. London, Arrow, 1981.
More Tales from a Long Room. London, Arrow, 1982.
Tales from Witney Scrotum. London, Pavilion-Joseph, 1987.
Uncollected Short Story
"Summer, New York, 1978—That's All," in The After Midnight Ghost Book, edited by James Hale. London, Hutchinson, 1980; New York, Watts, 1981.
The Investiture (produced Bristol, 1971).
Wilfred (produced London, 1979).
The Day the War Broke Out (produced London, 1981).
You Should See Us Now (produced Scarborough, 1981; London, 1983). London, French, 1983.
Steafel Variations (songs and sketches), with Keith Waterhouse andDick Vosburgh (produced London, 1982).
At the End of the Day (produced Scarborough, 1984).
The Village Fete (broadcast 1987; produced Scarborough, 1991);New York, S. French, 1995.
Napoli Milionaria, adaptation of the play by Eduardo De Filippo (produced London, 1991).
Radio Plays and Features:
Hardluck Hall series, with David Nobbs, 1964; Sam's Wedding, 1973; The Bargeman's Comfort, 1977; A Touch of Daniel, from his own novel, 1977; The Umpire's Thoughts Regarding a Certain Murder, 1979; Jake and Myself, 1979; The Siege, 1979; A Gifted Child, 1980; Home Again series, 1980; An Occasional Day, 1981; Crossing the Frontier, 1985; The Village Fete, 1987; M.C.C.: The Fully Harmonious and Totally Unauthorised History, 1987; Winston series, 1989-91; A Small Union, 1989; Call It a Canary, 1989; The Sitters, 1990; I Always Take Long Walks, 1991; Two into Two, 1992; The Governor's Consory, 1993; Tales from the Brigadoon, 1993; Uncle Mot's Celtic Fringe, 1994.
Television Plays and Features:
scripts for That Was the Week That Was and Not So Much a Programme series, with David Nobbs; Lance at Large series, with David Nobbs, 1964; The Signal Box of Grandpa Hudson, with David Nobbs, 1966; Never Say Die series, 1970; The Rule Book, 1971; The Diaries of Stoker Leishman, 1972; I Didn't Know You Cared, 4 series, 1975-79; Tales from a Long Room series, 1980; More Tales from a Long Room series, 1982; A Gifted Adult and At the Grammar (The Home Front series), 1983; South of the Border, 1985; Tinniswood's North Country, 1987; Uncle Mort's North Country series, 1987-88; Can You Hear Me, Mother?, 1988; Tinniswood Country, 1989.
In New Review (London), November 1974.
I write very short sentences.
And very short paragraphs. I try to make people laugh. I am a very serious writer, who has a gloomily optimistic outlook on life.
My books about the Brandon family contain all the above qualities.
* * *
Peter Tinniswood is a journalist, a television-script writer, and the author of a large number of popular novels and short stories. He is predominantly a highly skilled craftsman and his style reflects both his professional background and his own self-confessed northern English temperament. His works tend to be set in the north of England, thematically dependent on the northern ethos, informed by the happy morbidity of the stock comic conventions of the north, and filled with stock northern characters. Tinniswood is a great creator of the memorable character.
Many of Tinniswood's novels are continuations of the same characters. The Brigadier is the acerbic narrator of Collected Tales from a Long Room, Tales from Witney Scrotum, and all of those works bearing his name. He leaps from the pages bristling with the kind of prejudice which can only stem from a military background coupled with the thoroughly English belief that the game of cricket is the only proper foundation for all social, sexual, moral, and intellectual judgments. Since the ultimate test for such a mind lies not with the conquering of the Antarctic, with war, with art, nor yet with Margaret Thatcher's Britain, but takes place between Lancashire and Yorkshire every summer, a comic perspective is created for what might otherwise be considered serious. Similarly, in Tinniswood's work, the more working-class prejudices of the Brandon family form a comic filter through which the changing face of the north of England in recent decades can be viewed.
A Touch of Daniel, I Didn't Know You Cared and Except You're a Bird, all novels which feature the Brandon family, are potentially the most seriously comic of Tinniswood's novels and perhaps the most intrinsically northern. Les and Annie, Uncle Mort, who is Annie's brother, Carter, Les and Annie's son, and Pat, Carter's girlfriend and later his wife are all stock northern characters. The women feed the men with Yorkshire puddings, treacle tart, and porridge with brown sugar. They keep their blood clear with sulfur tablets, their bowels free with Gregory powder, their complexions clear with bile beans, and colds at bay with daily doses of halibut oil, wheat germ oil, cod-liver oil, and Virol. The men wait for the women to serve their food and grumble. "Isn't it rum the way women think catering's the way to a man's heart?" says Uncle Mort. "I don't like these onions" says Les, "They make me sweat." Carter, of the second generation, flirts with the idea of running away and freedom, as he flirts with the idea of sexuality with the voluptuous Linda Preston, but ultimately he wants neither: "I don't want to run away. I want to stay here. I want things to be simple and clear-cut like what they used to be. I want it to be like when I was a nipper. I didn't have to make no decisions then." The pathetic exploration of entrapment and futility is eschewed by Tinniswood in favor of the comic. Carter retreats into characteristically passive disobedience before his wife and his moments of introspection and self-knowledge are confined to conversations with Daniel, his much younger cousin who dies of pneumonia when Carter takes him out in the rain. Pat, who hopes by carefully rationing her sexuality to achieve her dream of a new house, a "young executive" lifestyle, and the attention she craves, is also disappointed. Even her pregnancy is offset by other events; a silver wedding, her mother's courtship, Uncle Mort and Olive Furnival, or Carter's football team. "It's not fair" says Pat, "Well what about me and baby? Why can't we have the field clear for ourselves? Why can't we have all the limelight?" The Brandons are, as they would say in the north, set in their ways.
The blighted lives of the Brandon family are played out against the slow erosion of a way of life. This is epitomized in the novels by the new housing estate on which Carter and Pat live, and by Uncle Mort's trenchant refusal to sell off his allotment to developers. The emphasis is placed not on the intrinsic seriousness of stunted lives and stunted relationships, but on imaginative verbal flights informed by the cheerful misery of stock northern humor. "Life's not worth living is it?" reflects Les. "No" agrees Uncle Mort, "I wish there were summat else you could do with it." Tinniswood is at his best when tossing words and logic about without reference to the actual living of life. In this sense his novels are not realistic, but rather full blown caricatures of northern life. It is a sense of humor not always easily exported however, and drove one New York Times book reviewer to declare that Tinniswood's work should be read when "ready for a good chuckle at the expense of old age, deformity, sickness and death.…" Death is as sudden, frequent, and funny in Tinniswood's work, as sex is serious, infrequent and if possible to be avoided altogether.
The treatment of elementals in Tinniswood's work is entirely blasé. The form and style of his work allows their discussion to take place with all of the intensity normally accorded to the need for a nice cup of tea. When Uncle Mort says that Olive Furnival has been fatally injured falling off a bus, as was his wife, he is driven to consider that he "never did have much luck with public transport," "'Is your bust tender?' asks Mrs. Partington of the pregnant Pat. 'Yes' she replies. 'Well don't let Carter play with it."' It is a style which will not ultimately cope with seriousness, not even that demanded by the good parody and satire. Thus Shemerelda, a satire on beautiful and spoilt American womanhood, fails insofar as it is unable to emulate and parody the form of the brief dialogue that has been perfected by those working in the tradition of Twain and Hemingway. The Stirk of Stirk, an attempt to parody the epic fable loses humor in the telling of a straight narrative, while the characters remain stereotypical and superficial. When seriousness is attempted in the Brandon novels, usually via Carter's moments of introspection, it allows the misogyny latent in stock northern humor, and therefore in most of Tinniswood's writing, to break through and reveal its unfortunate aspect. For the most part however the accent remains strictly on the comic. It is no accident that the Brandon household, when transferred to the timeless medium of the television situation comedy where neither change nor resolution are to be expected, have become something of a television classic. It is this medium which allows Tinniswood to excel.
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