What a Strange World We Live In

Posted in Books, Television with tags , , , , on May 1, 2009 by mrtoppit

Mr Toppit Paperback

In April 1981, times, as they say, were a-changing. Daylight saving time is introduced in the USSR, the rock band Yes broke up and at the McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket the Red Wings and the Red Sox battled it out in what became the longest professional baseball game in history.

More importantly April 1981 also saw the end of children’s author Arthur Hayman’s life, as he was knocked down and out of this world  by a cement mixer truck on the streets of Soho. After his death his books remained dark curios for a few interested fans  until American chat show host Laurie Clow brought The Hayseed Chronicles to millions.

Now, exactly 28 years on from the day of his death, two popular British chat-show hosts, Richard & Judy have announced that Mr Toppit, a novelisation of Arthur and his family’s story, will feature as part of their Summer Reading programme. I guess Oscar Wilde was right; life does imitate art far more than art imitates life.


The Times, Penguin Books and Mr Toppit

Posted in Books with tags , , , on February 5, 2009 by mrtoppit

Mr ToppitThe Times, 5th February, 2009

A few weeks ago, in the run up to Penguin’s publication of Mr Toppit, I posited the question “what would Arthur make of all this?”. Now, as then, we will never know, but while the cruel scythe of Death silenced Arthur’s tongue all those years ago, his surviving family have risen from anonymity and found full voice in the form of a Public Announcement in today’s Times.

Having now finished reading Charles Elton’s Mr Toppit, I can certainly see why it has touched a nerve. Perhaps it is a little too close to the bone. It’s an extraordinary read, and yes, of course it exaggerates the truth a little, but in time I believe that the Haymans will come round to the fact that Charles and Penguin have done quite a service in preserving the Hayseed legacy.

Have you read it yet? What do you think?

Meeting Graham Carter

Posted in Books, Investigations with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 3, 2009 by mrtoppit

Graham Carter

Last week I lunched with a legend. Without this man’s guile, temerity and good grace we, the people of the world, would not have had the pleasure of reading Arthur Hayman’s Hayseed Chronicles.

Graham Carter, Arthur’s onetime editor and publisher, now divides his time between his role as a literary agent and family life. During the leisurely lunch Graham, a natural raconteur, regaled me with his recollections of Arthur, Martha (pictured below in the Darkwood), Luke and Rachel as well as his experience of the Hayseed phenomenon in the 1980s.

Martha Hayman

While he turned down Charles Elton’s request for an interview (out of respect for the Hayman family) he is, like myself, curious to see if Penguin’s publication of Mr Toppit will spark a revival of his ‘old books’ as he calls them. As shrewd as ever, he has suggested to his successor at The Carter Press to rush through some re-editions of all five books of The Hayseed Chronicles.

Carter Press Catalogue

After lunch, Graham took me back to his rather palatial office on the Strand to show me some of his own ephemera, which he kindly allowed me to photograph and reproduce here. My particular favourites are these samples of his correspondance. In a letter from Arthur to Graham, Arthur notes his humbling pleasure at receiving finished copies of Garden Grown.

Letter from Arthur Hayman to Graham Carter

Martha’s caustic wit is on full show here, as she argues with the direction the dutch publisher’s design department are taking with their edition.

Letter from Martha Hayman to Graham Carter

His collection also included this wonderful Poloroid of Luke Hayman standing uncomfortably next to the actor Toby Luttrell, on set at the BBC. As a slight aside, I have just read about this very moment in Mr Toppit, and Charles Elton does have a knack for conjuring the excruciating awkwardness this incident produced in Luke.

Luke Hayman and Toby Luttrell

As lunch drifted into late afternoon, and the sun began its decent over the Thames, I thanked Graham for his time and kindness. He had given me so much in those brief hours I was in awe and indebted. As I made my way from his office I left this remarkable man, blue in the lip from wine and wet in the eye from memories of a dear old friend, long gone, but not forgotten.

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Journey into the Darkwood

Posted in Investigations with tags , , , , on January 29, 2009 by mrtoppit

[Disclaimer: After several attempts of sountracking the below narrative to the above video, I have dear readers, given up. I reproduce the original script below for your pleasure.]

On a cold January morning I took a journey into the Darkwood. To Linton in Dorset. To the Hayman estate. Where Arthur wrote his great works, where Luke outwitted Mr Toppit and where Martha still lives to this day.

Upon arriving at the Hayman House I found the gate open but marked private, strictly no access. I guessed this was to prevent fans like myself from walking up to their door. I decided to follow the road round to enter the Darkwood from a bridleway a few miles from the House. On route I passed the now legendary graffiti warning on the periphery wall.

On entering the Darkwood I noticed a ‘T’ made up from sticks on the floor, I presumed I wasn’t the only fan talking a walk through the woods that day.

What started as a bright sunny day quickly turned bitter. I noticed several markings in the trees, ‘Mr Toppit was here’, I followed them to see where they lead. As more appeared, I thought I must be getting close to the Hayman house.

As I ventured deeper into the woods, I came across a series of strange pyres and bivouacs, perhaps built by other fans camping out in the Darkwood in search of Mr Toppit, or a rare glimpse of Martha Hayman.

At last, I caught sight of the Hayman House. But a strange lady with a dog shooed me away, the dog’s eyes were ablaze with warning. I took one final photograph of the house and then rushed back through the woods to safety.

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What Does Mr Toppit Mean to You?

Posted in Investigations with tags , on January 28, 2009 by mrtoppit

Last weekend I took it, as they say, to the streets. I was interested to hear what the people thought of The Hayseed Chronicles and the imminent publication of Mr Toppit.

Here’s what I found out.

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Remembrance of Things Past

Posted in Films, Investigations with tags , , , on January 23, 2009 by mrtoppit


Continuing my investigations, I recently spoke to two very kind archivists at White City. William Hammond and Phillip Birch are currently buried deep in the bowels of BBC head quarters digitising a wealth of old Radio programmes for posterity. After some intense cajoling they were persuaded to rummage through a cavernous hard drive of untold terabits to find and pass on this absolute gem of a recording.

The following sample is from a long forgotten staple of the BBC’s Home Service, Film Time. Originally airing in 1949, the quintessentially BBCish Mr Lewis discusses and (somewhat) favourably reviews Arthur Hayman’s Love’s Capture, a film he describes as a ‘challenging exploration of contemporary British mores’.


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In the Spirit of the Day…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on January 20, 2009 by mrtoppit

Yes I Hayseed

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