Archive for the Books Category

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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Songs in the Key of Darkwood

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , on January 16, 2009 by mrtoppit

to Dr Bumble’s Magic Drone Machine and the Colony of Bees Perform Songs from the Darkwood

This, my readers, is a truly awful record. I discovered it digging through a second hand vinyl shop on Berwick Street and was instantly drawn to the sleeve illustration. At first glance it seemed to be inspired by the original jacket for Arthur Hayman’s final book in The Hayseed Chronicles, Darkwood. Lifting the record from the rack, my suspicions were confirmed.

Darkwood by Arthur Hayman

I immediately snapped it up and spent a giddy half hour on the bus home wondering what on earth it might sound like. However, the subsequent 62 minutes of actually listening to Dr Bumble’s Magic Drone Machine and the Colony of Bees performing Songs from the Darkwood was a little less fruitful. I was left feeling as if an hour of my life had been irrevocably lost and that the blame for this intense melancholy lay squarely on the shoulders of this so called ‘Doctor’.

Let me try to explain. The album consists of five songs or ‘movements’ in which the narrative of Hayman’s Darkwood is set unconvincingly to music. The album progs through one and a half sides of terminal mediocrity before culminating in a 15 minute finale consisting of Arthur’s now legendary closing line

And out of the Darkwood Mr Toppit comes, and he comes not for you, or for me, but for all of us

repeated ad nauseam in a delivery that makes David St. Hubbins sound Shakespearean by comparison. These words are violently accompanied by a quintessentially Wakemanesque keyboard and Theremin solo.

That said, its rarity is intriguing. I wonder how many are out there. Has anyone else had the pleasure?

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And out of the Darkwood Mr Toppit Comes

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , on January 13, 2009 by mrtoppit

This package from Penguin arrived today…

Package from Penguin

…complete with a message from the helpful gentleman in publicity

Message from Joe

…and a copy of Mr Toppit by Charles Elton.

Mr Toppit - Front Cover

They have reproduced the image from the boxset on the inside;  how did they managed to clear this with the Hayman Estate?!

Mr Toppit - Inside Front Cover

I wonder what Arthur would make of all this? I will get reading at once.

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Mr Toppit

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , on January 7, 2009 by mrtoppit

Mr Toppit

Thanks to Steve’s comments earlier today it has come to my attention that Penguin Books are planning to publish Mr Toppit, a novelisation of Hayseed phenomenon, in February of this year. After also receiving the following email from a fellow Hayseed fan, I decided to look into this a bit further.
 
I am awaiting with some trepidation Penguin’s publication of Mr Toppit which purports to tell the story of the creation of the Hayseed Chronicles and the aftermath of Arthur Hayman’s death. The author is apparently some TV producer called Charles Elton who works for ITV. Not a good sign. He has produced TV versions of classic children’s’ books like The Railway Children. How could anyone remake the classic film? This doesn’t bode well.
 
The National and Local press are a little more optimistic than our friend here, with the Observer,  Daily Express , and thelondonpaper, claiming it to be a potential highlight of the literary year.
 
To rectify my ignorance, I telephoned the Penguin Press Office, and spoke to reasonably helpful gentleman called Joe. Even after outlining my credentials and expertise on the subject he seemed slightly apprehensive to divulge too much, but he did agree to send me an advanced reading copy to review on the blog. I will keep you posted.

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Merry Christmas!

Posted in Books with tags , , on December 25, 2008 by mrtoppit

Signed First Edition of The Garden and the Wood

My wonderful girlfriend. Look what was waiting under the tree this morning. Lord knows how she found it. This is the signed title page from a First Edition of The Garden and the Wood. I’m lost for words, so this will be a short post.

Merry Christmas!

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