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Letters to Planet Slade: 2012

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Murder Ballads
Secret London


One of the things I love about PlanetSlade is the bizarre letters it produces. Take this one from Nick Hiley of Kent University's British Cartoon Archive, which arrived on September 25, 2012:

"I have been e-mailed by the bibliographer Patrick Kearney, who published the classic study of the Private Case books in the British Library (those withdrawn for various reasons, including sexual content, libel etc).
"He is obviously still working on the Private Case material, because he says: 'I am researching a collection of books in the British Library that have, for various reasons, been withdrawn. One is Laugh Again With Andy Capp No 7 (1972). I have no idea why it was felt necessary to suppress this title'."

Nick couldn't answer that one either, but he knew my interest in Andy Capp from the interview I'd done with him earlier this year, and wondered if I could help. The BCA didn't have a copy of this particular Andy Capp volume, but Nick's enquiries had already established there were plenty in circulation. "Any idea why the British Library should have withdrawn it?" he asked me. "There's no reference that I can find to this in the Daily Mirror for 1972/73. Bizarre..."
Indeed. Laugh Again With Andy Capp was a Daily Mirror series reprinting only extracts from the main collections, so I'd never bothered to buy any of them. I found a cheap copy of number 7 on Amazon, however, and bought it straight away. I'm going to call it LAWAC7 from here on for the sake of brevity.
My first thought on reading Nick's letter was that Andy Capp was still quite a violent strip in 1972, with Flo still sporting a black eye fairly regularly, plus all the usual drinking and smoking. Given that cartoons are always assumed to be aimed at children, I wondered if some over-zealous librarian had removed the book in case it corrupted young minds. If that was the case, though, why remove just the 1972 volume but leave many earlier, far more brutal, Andy Capp collections untouched?
Nick thought it was more likely that the book had somehow found itself caught up in a libel action, and been withdrawn for that reason. "It does seem strange that the British Library withdrew the book, but I think it could only have been in response to external events," he said.
"Making a book available in a library is defined as publication, so the British Library would have to withdraw any book which had been declared libellous, or risk being prosecuted itself for publishing a libel. But I can't find any hint of legal action against LAWAC7. Even writing that sentence seems farcical!"
There was nothing I could do to investigate that angle until my Amazon copy arrived, so I set about Googling Patrick Kearney to see what I could discover about him instead. This revealed that he was the author of Private Case: An Annotated Bibliography of the Erotica Collection in the British Library, published by J. Landesman in 1981, and also had his own website ( investigating similar material.
He'd found LAWAC7 not among the Private Case's erotica, but in a separate category the British Library calls its "Suppressed Safe" list (SS). BL curator Alison Bailey defined this category for me as follows:

"The Suppressed Safe collection contains works which have been received by the Library but which have subsequently been withdrawn by the publisher or contain personal information which falls within the scope of data protection legislation.
"Some material has been subject to legal action which it is understood would make the Library liable should it disseminate the work. Also included are some works that were supplied on the understanding that an embargo would be put in place for a period of time in order to safeguard the publisher's ability to sell the item in its initial period of publication."

Many books by famous authors have been consigned to the SS list in one edition or another, including WH Auden's Selected By The Author (reason unknown), John Betjeman's Continual Dew (author's surname mis-spelt), Anthony Burgess' The Worm & The Ring (libel), George du Maurier's Trilby (libel), Robert Graves' Good-bye to All That (withdrawn by publisher) and Thomas Hardy's ode Compassion (reason unknown).
In most cases, these problems come to light in preliminary editions of the book sent in advance to reviewers and the British Library's copyright registration people. The problem can then be corrected in subsequent editions, which go into the library's general catalogue as normal, leaving the original flawed volumes to sizzle away on the SS list.
I dropped Patrick a line saying I'd heard from Nick but that I was just as baffled by the LAWAC7 listing as everyone else. Had he discovered anything else that might provide a clue?
"Since the SS is off-limits to the public, it is not formally catalogued and the only listing is a scrappy Excel spreadsheet designed for internal and administrative use," he replied. "I received a copy under the 2000 Freedom of Information Act, but discovering why individual items (and there are in excess of 600 of them) are included on it is more problematical. The British Library does not encourage enquiries on matters relating to the SS, which makes my work a trifle difficult."
Patrick had been using the fruits of his FoI request, together with other sources, to try and piece together a copy of the full SS list. The extract he obtained for LAWAC7 reads like this:

"Smythe, Reginald 'Reg' (1917-1998). Laugh Again With Andy Capp No. 7 (2 items). London: Daily Mirror Books, 1972. SS.Cup [?]"

"Oddly, the SS pressmark doesn't include a number, hence the question mark in square brackets," he told me. "And what '2 items' might mean I have no idea. Two copies? Two cartoons?
"What happens in some cases with SS books is that advance copies sent out for review and copyright registration are found to be defective in some way. These are silently corrected for the public issue, and the copyright libraries asked to get rid of the imperfect copies and replace them with good ones. The British Library won't get rid of books, so instead squirrels them away in the SS.
"This is why one often finds what appears to be the same book in both the SS and the General Catalogue - but not in this case. It's all a bit of a mystery."
So, that leaves us with three main contenders for why LAWAC7 might have finished up in the SS vaults, plus a couple of also-rans. Let's deal with them one by one.

1) Libel.
This is one very common reason for books being consigned to the SS lists. As Nick says above, keeping such books on the public shelves could otherwise make the British Library guilty of publishing a libel, and hence dragged into any legal action it produces.
Examples of books being consigned to the SS for this reason include an early edition of Norman Tebbit's 1988 memoirs Upwardly Mobile. "The publishers and I were sued for libel," Tebbit later explained. "In the circumstances, we judged it best to settle out of court and withdraw the pre-publication copies rather than go through the risks and disruptions of defending our case."

2) Serious Printer's Error.
By this, I mean a production cock-up severe enough to render early copies of the book unsaleable and demand they be pulped. Patrick's best example of a book withdrawn for this reason is Gregg Bear's 1995 novel Legacy.
"The first English edition was found to be missing the final page of text in the advance copies sent out for review and copyright registration," he told me. "Curiously, the author told me, the book got warm reviews despite its abrupt, surrealistic ending."
In the case of both Tebbit and Bear's books, the problem was corrected in the copies that actually went on sale, and the amended book placed on the library's public shelves as normal. The original, flawed volumes remained on the SS, however.

3) Privacy Concerns
Or "data protection" as we'd call it these days. Occultists at The Pan-European Fraternity of Knowledge carried a membership directory in one edition of their Baelder magazine, and that's probably what landed it in the SS vaults. Members may not have wished to advertise the fact that they'd joined, I suppose.

4) Miscellaneous
Books can also finish up on the SS list for a host of other reasons. These include:

* Indecency. The Indiscreet Confessions of A Nice Girl, written by an anonymous author in 1935, was withdrawn after being found indecent in a British court.

* Plagiarism. Cecil Henderson's 1933 novel Death In The Dark was withdrawn after judges decided it had "shamelessly plagarised" Dashiell Hammett's novel The Maltese Falcon, published just three years earlier.

* Public Safety. Colonel John Cundhill's 1889 book A Dictionary of Explosives was withdrawn at Home Office request after an anarchist was arrested with a ticket showing he'd recently consulted the British Library's copy.

* Defence of the Realm Act. AT Fitzroy's 1918 novel Despised and Rejected was withdrawn after a court found it contained statements "likely to prejudice the recruiting, training and discipline of persons in his Majesty's forces". The novel features a group of gay, bohemian pacifists.

Of all those possible explanations, the only ones that seem remotely plausible as far as LAWAC7's concerned are libel or printer's error. When my copy of the book arrived I scoured it for any sign of controversy, but found nothing.
There's one strip there which makes oblique reference to the BBC showing a lot of repeats, but even that doesn't mention the corporation by name. The only strip in the book that does name any real-world people or firms has Andy telling Chalkie last night's beer must have been off because he had a terrible nightmare.

Andy: "I was marooned on a desert island wi' Liz Taylor and Sophia Loren."
Chalkie: "What was so terrible about that?"
Andy: "I was Doris Day."

It's hard to see either of those gags sparking a libel action, and harder still to imagine one from Taylor, Loren or Day failing to make the papers. It's possible that the British Library's early edition contains a problematic cartoon that the publishers had already removed before my copy reached the presses, of course, but Patrick didn't fancy my chances of checking that any further.
"If it was libelous, then it's unlikely you will be allowed access to the book itself," he warned. "Technically, the BL would be guilty of a libel [just by showing it to you]. It's for this reason they are so touchy on the subject of the SS in general. They may, however, tell you it's libelous and, given some nudging, might let you know, generically, who was libeled - eg "a publican" or "a barmaid".
The particular copy I'd received had no sign of any printer's error that I could see either, but once again that may be because I was looking for something that had already been fixed.
I got Sean Garnett from the current Andy Capp team to ask around his colleagues at the Mirror for me, but no-one there knew anything about an Andy Capp volume running into trouble with the British Library. Ken Layson, the Mirror's former cartoon editor, who worked closely with Reg Smythe on the strip for three decades, told me he'd never heard of the affair either. His first thought, like mine, was that someone at the British Library may have taken offence at Andy's violence in the strip.
All that was left was to check in with Alison again. "I have traced a record for Laugh Again With Andy Capp No. 7 (1972) on the finding list of the material in the Suppressed Safe collection," she confirmed. "It is described as 'damaged' on this finding list, and appears to have been withdrawn from use in 1984. Although there was an intention to acquire a replacement copy, I have been unable to trace such a replacement, and will follow this up."
Was it possible, I asked Alison, that the book had ended up on the SS list because it was too damaged to remain on the public shelves, and the only alternative would have been to chuck it in the bin? Being "just" a cartoon book, perhaps the plans to replace it were forgotten or derailed in some way, and the SS list is where it's remained ever since?
"It would certainly appear that the book was placed in the Suppressed Safe collection simply because of the physical damage and that the intention was to acquire a replacement copy to be made available for reader use," she replied.
Patrick had been mulling the issue of damaged books ending up on the SS for some time, and confessed he'd never been able to fathom it. "The BL has excellent restoration facilities, and if the damage was too bad to be repaired why not simply toss them and replace them with new copies?" he asked. "A quick check on ABE, eBay etc. reveals that most of the damaged books could be quite easily and cheaply replaced.
"The odd thing about Andy Capp is that the entry in the SS catalogue has '2 items' included it. Does this mean two copies? Or that the book is in two parts - i.e. has been torn or broken in half?"
Nick was sceptical about my theory too. "Maybe the damage in question isn't simply a broken back, but written comments or additions which make it impossible to issue the book for reasons usually associated with the SS - particularly obscenity," he said. "That might re-route a damaged book to the SS. I can't otherwise see why a damaged book shouldn't simply join a long queue for repair."
Sadly, it seems we'll never know for sure. I contacted Alison again, gave my British Library reader's card number, and asked if I could come in and see their copy of LAWAC7 for myself. Twenty-four hours later, she got back to me with a blanket refusal. "Material in the Suppressed Safe Collection is not available for consultation," she said.
And that - crashing anti-climax though it is - seems to be where our story ends. Laugh Again With Andy Capp Vol. 7 is indeed on the British Library's Suppressed Safe list, possibly in two pieces, where it rubs shoulders with the various pornographic, mangled or legally perilous titles mentioned above.
Probably, the reason for Andy Capp's inclusion on this list is a perfectly innocent one, combining simple wear and tear with a touch of human error. But because the British Library won't let anyone come in and see the book for themselves, we can't rule out the more sinister alternatives of libel or indecency. This is how conspiracy theories get started, you know.


Message board round-up

The source threads for our latest collection of PlanetSlade blurbs ("Happy hordes here hail.") can be found below. Sometimes there's quite an interesting discussion attached.





No Depression

Reaper Forums

Retro Man

Sound of the World


My thanks to everyone who entered PlanetSlade's competition to win one of Fantastic Voyage's new Crime & Punishment double CDs. All the entries are now in, the draw's been made, and we have our winners.
I asked you to tell me whether Frankie Baker killed her pimp boyfriend in (a) St Louis, (b) St Lucia, or (c) St Leonards. The answer of course was (a), and that's the option most of you chose. The three winning entrants are:

Stuart Mason of Los Osos, California;
Joe Offer of Applegate, California, and;
Margaret Schneider of University City, Missouri.

Congratulations to those three worthies, whose prizes are already in the mail. The discs comprise a fine selection of what the label calls "bloody ballads, prison moans and chain gang blues", featuring tracks from Johnny Cash, Leadbelly, The Everly Brothers, Woody Guthrie, Billie Holiday, John Lee Hooker, Lightnin' Hopkins, Paul Robeson, Sonny Boy Williamson and many more. Full details appear on Fantastic Voyage's own site.

July 28, 2012. Roger Kettle, who wrote Andy Capp's Mirror strip from 1998-2010, writes:
"Paul, I can't tell you how much I enjoyed your history of Andy Capp and tribute to the genius of Reg Smythe.
"Back in the nineties, I had the great pleasure of having lunch with Reg and he was the most modest, charming and entertaining company you could ever imagine. He even indulged me in my starry-eyed questions about his work - I had grown up with his wonderful strip and it had been a huge influence on my own career. A gent and a genius.
"Shortly after Reg's death, Ken Layson, the cartoon editor at The Mirror, asked me if I'd be interested in trying to write Andy Capp. I remember answering that if I managed to get ONE strip published, I'd be delighted. As it turned out, I ended up writing Andy Capp for over ten years and I am extremely proud of that. It was never a question of emulating Reg's work but trying to keep the spirit of the strip alive and I hope I did that.
Because I write two other daily strips of my own creation, the workload was always going to be difficult to handle and, after a decade of writing 1,000 strips a year, I reluctantly asked to be replaced as Andy's writer. While this probably saved my sanity, I still miss that Novocastrian old bugger!
"I've never felt that Reg Smythe got the credit he deserved for creating the worldwide comic phenomenon that is Andy Capp. Well done, Paul, for putting that to rights with your splendid essay."

The two other strips Roger mentions are The Daily Star's Beau Peep and The Mirror's A Man Called Horace, both of which he produces with artist Andrew Christine.

Paul Slade replies: Thanks for that, Roger, and I'm delighted you enjoyed the piece.
I've been a fan of cartooning as a medium all my life, and felt for many years that I'd like to write a really substantial piece explaining just how under-rated Reg Smythe is and encouraging people to look again at the remarkable strip he created. I've had some wonderful feedback from the piece, which suggests it may have gone some way towards achieving that.
We have you, Ken Layson and Roger Mahoney to thank for the fact that Andy wasn't simply shut down when Reg died. I think you and Roger did a wonderful job of continuing the strip's tradition while acknowledging just enough of the modern world to prevent Andy becoming a museum piece. That's a tricky line to walk, but I think you negotiated it very well - just as Lawrence Goldsmith and Sean Garnett are doing today.
And speaking of Sean...

July 25, 2012. Sean Garnett, one of the two co-writers who handles Andy Capp's strip in The Mirror today, writes:
"I'd just like to say what a fantastic essay you wrote on Andy Capp. I read every word and found myself gripped, particularly by the account of Reg Smythe's early days.
"You certainly put a shift in to come up with all that detail. I've flagged it up on Andy's Twitter page and Lawrence put it on Facebook too. I think he may even be speaking to the syndication people at some point to see if it can somehow be shared with a wider audience."

Paul Slade replies: Thanks very much, Sean. I'm very pleased you and Lawrence thought I did the subject justice. I've been very pleasantly surprised to discover just how many Andy Capp fans there are out there (on both sides of the Atlantic) and I've heard from quite a few of them who wanted to share their favourite Andy stories or just recall a cherished strip.
This particular article made July 2012 break all PlanetSlade's previous traffic records with ease. Then I added a single-page version which was kind enough to recommend, and that made August 2012 busier still. The combined effect has been to increase PlanetSlade's average monthly visits by about 28% and the average number of unique visitors per month by just over 40%. They're by far the biggest figures the site's had in its three year history, and that's very gratifying.
That boost has come largely from people who've read the piece passing its URL around, so I'm always grateful for help like your Twitter and Facebook plugs.

August 1, 2012. Roger Mahoney, who's drawn Andy Capp's Mirror strip ever since Reg Smythe's death in 1998, writes:
"I've now read your very comprehensive history on Andy Capp. I can honestly say I have never seen so much useful information all in one place.
"This must surely make your website one of the main scources of reference for all things Andy Capp. I'm sure the Americans will soak it up! Perhaps as a Sunday newspaper feature?
"I'm very pleased to have been given the opportunity to add my small contribution. Thanks, Paul."

Paul Slade replies: And thank you, Roger. I think that makes it a full house!

August 6, 2012. Dr Nicholas Hiley, who runs the British Cartoon Archive at Kent University, writes:
"I'm just back in the office after a holiday, and have had great fun reading your Andy Capp essay. A fine piece of work - congratulations.
"I will have to read it more carefully and add a link on our website, as it contains a huge amount of new material. This is the sort of cartoon scholarship that usually appears only in the USA, and I'm very pleased to find it here."

Paul Slade replies: I'd love a link to the essay on the BCA site, Nick, so that would be great. I hope people will also use the link I've added in your letter to investigate the wealth of Reg Smythe's original art you have on view there.

August 17, 2012. Stan Laundon of Hartlepool in County Durham writes:
"A really cracking read. I am sure Hartlepudlians all over the world, will love this. With your permission, I will forward it to some locals in far off places. Perhaps a mention on my Andy Capp page too if that's OK with you?"

Paul Slade replies: Thanks, Stan - and thanks again for your help when I was researching the piece too. I'd love to have a link to the article on your Andy Capp page, and please do feel free to pass the link on to anyone you think might be interested too. It's the town's story just as much as it is Reg and Andy's really.

July 26, 2012. Jim Kohl, of Saddle Brook, New Jersey, writes:
"I am in the middle of reading your essay on Andy Capp, and I just wanted to say thank you. I draw a comic called Happy Hour, I have dealt with the rejections that follow a comic about drinking and I always said to myself, 'Well, Andy Capp does it'. But, for the longest time, that was my only opinion of Andy Capp: I thought he was a drunk.
"Your essay has really opened my eyes, and I am upset I can't get a whole set of Andy Capp's strips and really scour the history Reg gave us. I also hope your writing helps to bring some much-deserved attention Andy's way.
"If you are interested in reading my comic, it's called Happy Hour, and it's online Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. But I am not here to self promote. I just wanted to write and let you know this article has had a great effect on me thus far."

Paul Slade replies: Thanks very much for getting in touch, Jim, and I'm pleased you're enjoying the article. You were too modest to include a link to Happy Hour in your letter, so I'm going to add one here instead.
Webcomics are interesting, because it turns out that the daily comic strip is a form that's perfectly suited to the internet. One of the things to emerge from my interview with Sean and Lawrence, Andy's current writing team, was that The Mirror's executives have recently started to value Andy more for precisely that reason.
"The strips are doing well on the website now," Lawrence Goldsmith told me in April. "They're being displayed much better, and they're pulling in quite a bit of traffic. The web editor says it's absolutely vital that the strips and the puzzles and the horoscopes are updated every day, because that brings people back. The casual viewer looking through a news website comes and goes, but people come back every day for their Perishers or their Andy Capp. That's very valuable for a website, because it increases the advertising revenue."

July 29, 2012: Jim Kohl adds:
"I finished the entire essay, and I thought it was brilliant. I really enjoyed what I learned, and have a much deeper appreciation for the character and Reg as a whole.
"I appreciate you including a link to my work. That means a lot to me. If you are still friendly with Sean and Lawrence and you don't mind forwarding them my link, I'd love to hear what they think of my work. I'm even toying with a week of strips that mention Andy Capp. But we'll see ... maybe my characters can just visit his bar."

July 26, 2012: Michael Grosvenor Myer of Haddenham in Cambridgeshire writes:
"Regarding your Andy Capp story, in particular page 9 and footnote 71. I distinctly recall, though could not possibly try to date, the cup-handle incident you mention being used in a strip in the Mirror.
"Flo brings Andy breakfast in bed on a tray.
"Thought balloon: 'That flippin' woman! If it isn't one thing it's another'.
"Andy shouts: 'Florrie!' She enters, worried: 'What's up?'
"Andy replies: 'What's up? What's up? Me cup handle's round the wrong way! That's what's up!'
Flo then gives the reader one of those magnificently drawn 'Well what can anyone do?' looks. I have just found this strip in The Andy Capp Spring Collection on page 31. Does anyone else remember it?"

Paul Slade replies: You're dead right, Michael. I've just dug out my own copy of The Andy Capp Spring Collection (published in 1960) and there it is.
That cartoon slipped my mind when I came across the Reg & Vera story Ken Layson tells in my article, and so I relied on using the much later Jack & Andy strip for my comparison instead. Yours offers a much closer parallel to the real couple's behaviour, so I'm grateful for the chance to set the record straight here.
While we're on the subject of corrections, there's a couple of other small errors I should clear up too. On page 1 of the piece, I say Andy is "known as Andre Chapeau in France", a piece of information I took on trust from one of the published sources I used in researching the essay. A Metafilter poster called Elgilito rightly took me to task for this, saying: "I see this little tidbit repeated everywhere but it's false". In France, he adds, Andy is actually called Andy Capp, as this scan of one of his French books shows.
It's a fair cop, and I've corrected the mistake now, using only those names I've actually seen for myself on the covers of Andy's various foreign collections. Incidentally, I'd still love to speak with a translator who's worked on Andy one day. I'd be fascinated to know how they deal with Andy and Flo's particular accent and all the class implications that carries in the English strip.
Finally, over on the Mudcat board, Bainbo pointed out my claim on page 11 of the article that James Bolam is a Tynesider. "I know the rest of the country won't care," he writes. "But it's of major significance in this tribal corner of North East England. James Bolam, although he seems to go to great lengths not to acknowledge it, is from Sunderland, and therefore a Wearsider, not a Tynesider."
I'm going to let that one stand, as correcting it in the article would require an extra paragraph spelling out that Sunderland and Newcastle are only about 11 miles apart and that people in the rest of the UK often use "Tyneside" as a generic term for the whole region. I did know that James Bolam came from Sunderland, because I came across that fact somewhere in my research, but my ignorance as a lifelong Southerner stopped me appreciating the importance of this distinction. I'm very happy to give Bainbo his due here.

Message board round-up

You'll find the sources for all our latest blurbs ("Incoming items indicate...") below. Sometimes there's quite an interesting discussion attached.

Beau Peep Notice Board (Camel Dung)

The Browser

The Cartoonists' Forum

The Comics Curmudgeon

The Comics Journal

Andy Capp's Facebook page

Go Comics






Those nice people at Fantastic Voyage Records have sent me three copies of their new double CD compilation Crime & Punishment: Bloody Ballads, Prison Moans & Chain Gang Blues to give away as competition prizes.
It's a deliciously deadly deluge of blues, country and folk songs, covering the period 1925-1960 and including tracks from Johnny Cash, The Everly Brothers, Woody Guthrie, Billie Holiday, John Lee Hooker, Lightnin' Hopkins, Paul Robeson and Sonny Boy Williamson. The selection's been made by ZigZag's Kris Needs, who also supplies some useful and informative sleevenotes.
As far as murder ballads are concerned, Needs includes Frank Hutchison's Stackalee, Mississippi John Hurt's Frankie, The Louvin Brothers' Knoxville Girl and The New Lost City Ramblers' Tom Dooley. Not to mention The Murder of the Lawson Family by The Carolina Buddies, Duncan & Brady by Dave Van Ronk and Down on the Banks of the Ohio by The Blue Sky Boys. There's some new discoveries there too - at least for me - including Homer Harris' I'm Gonna Cut Your Head Momma and Jimmie Patton's rather wonderful Okie's in the Pokie.
You'll find a full track list at the link above. All you have to do to win a copy of this tantalisingly transgressive treat is answer the following question:

Frankie Baker killed her pimp boyfriend in:  (a) St Louis   (b) St Lucia   (c) St Leonards

Send your answers to PlanetSlade, using the e-mail link here. I'll draw three entries at random from all those received by midnight on August 31 (London time), notify the winners by e-mail and get their CDs in the post next day. I won't pass your contact details to anyone else, although I may use them to send you five or six PlanetSlade e-mails a year announcing new content on the site. If you'd rather I didn't do that either, please just let me know.
It's a good compilation, this, so don't miss your chance to win a copy.

July 18, 2012: George Gierer of Westchester County, New York, writes:
"Hey, Paul. I hope this finds you well. This is George from South County. I contacted you awhile back on the No Depression forum about doing a version of The Execution of Nathaniel Mobbs.
"I do have the chord progression, chorus and melody worked out. I'm now trying to pare down the verses to a manageable number and length. I checked out your link to the actual court transcripts of the case, which are wild to read all these years later. I might draw from that and use multiple witnesses and singers. I'll have to see how feasible that is, so that's where we are.
"Since I contacted you, we released our second album and I wanted to share a track with you. It's called Nellie Cane, and it was inspired by Gillian Welch's Caleb Meyer. Jon Sternfeld (lead vocals) and I came up the idea from the song years ago and finally got a chance to record it. I think it's right up your alley. Great story of getting what you deserve. Here's the link:
"Let me know what you think."

Paul Slade replies: Thanks very much for getting in touch again, George. It's great to know South County is still planning to do Nathaniel Mobbs, and I can't wait to hear the result.
They've got a fantastic selection of transcripts on that Old Bailey site, haven't they? The church pictured on my own Nathaniel Mobbs page is still standing just opposite the Bailey in London, and I visited both that site and the street where he'd lived when researching the tale. Goodman's Yard is just a busy traffic junction now, but it's still an odd feeling to think you're standing on the very spot where the murder was committed.
I dug out my copy of Welch's Hell Among The Yearlings to listen to Caleb Meyer and remind myself of the story before I listened to your own track. It's a sort of answer song, isn't it, really? I started off thinking we were just seeing the events from Caleb's angrier perspective, then after three listens I started to wonder if he'd actually wanted Nellie to kill him all along. The musical saw is a nice, eerie touch - I thought it was a woman's keening voice for a second - and that guitar solo at the end's a bit of a scorcher too. Excellent stuff.
For the past couple of days I've been reading The Outlaw Album, Daniel Woodrell's new collection of short stories. He's the guy who wrote the novel Winter's Bone was filmed from, and the stories are set in precisely the same world that all these dark bluegrass songs inhabit. My favourite one so far is a story called Uncle, and that's the only name its lead character ever gets. Caleb could be him as a younger man, and old age has made him even more disturbing. The book's well worth investigating for anyone who's enjoyed PlanetSlade's Murder Ballads coverage, and you'll find more details on the publisher's website.

May 18, 2012. Roisin Power of Kildare, Ireland, writes:
"I'm doing a musical theatre exam later this year and was wondering if you knew of any ballads that came from musicals or music hall?
"I thought picking a theme of horror would be more original than the more typical love theme that most people do. But one of the songs must be from before 1920, of which I know none.
"Thank you for your time and I also would like to say that I found your website very interesting. Victorians had a very twisted sense of enjoyment I guess."

Paul Slade replies: Thanks for your letter Roisin, and I hope the exam goes well. I can think of many pre-1920 songs with a murderous theme, and a few post-1920 ones from musicals which fit the same bill. It's finding something that matches both your criteria that's tricky.
I would suggest you try something from Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, but he wrote that in 1979. Cole Porter's song Miss Otis Regrets concludes with a lynching, but that dates from a 1934 show.
What else? Well, Mrs Dyer The Old Baby Farmer (1896) was certainly sung as a music hall song, and you'll find plenty about that on PlanetSlade. Elsa Lanchester's recording (linked here) is sung in full-blown music hall style, so you should certainly hear that. There's full details of the song and the true story that inspired it my Broadside Ballads section, but it's pretty bleak stuff so don't read it if you're prone to nightmares!
John Gay's 18th century work The Beggars' Opera has a character called Macheath, who Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill turned into Mack The Knife (a sort of Jack The Ripper figure) for their 1928 musical The Threepenny Opera. Macheath (and therefore Brecht's character too) was based on a notorious London crook called Jack Sheppard, who lived from 1702-1724. The people of London idolised Sheppard for his daring prison escapes, and turned out in huge numbers to wish him well when he was finally hanged at Tyburn.
Mack The Knife is quite a well-known song, of course - Bobby Darin took it to the top of the UK charts in 1959 - but I guess it's a bit too recent for your purposes. I don't know The Beggar's Opera very well, but I think Macheath gets a couple of his own numbers there, so maybe that would be worth investigating?
Finally, for horror of an altogether different kind, try some of the darkly satirical songs the poor bloody infantry sang in the trenches of World War I. Hanging On the Old Barbed Wire is a particular favourite of mine. It's a genuine soldiers' song from that period, the humour's black as pitch, and it has a very powerful sting in the final verse. Chumbawumba has a splendid cover version on YouTube here.
That's all that springs to mind at the moment - hope it helps.

May 27, 2012: Diarmid Mogg of Edinburgh writes:
"I've just finished your Tom Dooley piece, which is - like all the articles on the site that I've read so far - an exemplary piece of research and presentation. Loved it.
"I thought I should let you know that I spotted a few errors that you'll probably want to fix. Pages 9 and 11 have 1837 instead of 1867, and page 10 has 1957 instead of 1857. I've done exactly the same thing myself - probably countless times. Last month, someone emailed me to ask whether I meant to suggest that a guy I'd written about was three years old when he went to jail. Very funny.
"Anyway, thanks for publishing all those great stories online. I look forward to reading the rest of the site, and any new pieces you put up. Absolutely fascinating stuff."

Paul Slade replies: Glad you're enjoying the site, Diarmid, and thanks also for your own excellent work on Small Town Noir. It's one of those sites I don't dare dip into too often, because that'd be half the day gone, but anyone who likes PlanetSlade should definitely check it out.
I've now fixed the three errors you mention. As you say, that 1800 / 1900 mistake is so bloody easy to make - at some point your fingers just type what they're used to typing whether your brain's actually giving them that data or not. I can't explain how I let the 1837 date slip past me, because Dula wasn't even born then, let alone being sung about.
Still, one of the great things about the 'net is that stuff like this can be corrected, and I'm always very glad when a letter like yours gives me a chance to do so. Give me a few more years of this process, and I might just manage to purge the site of typos altogether!

[Diarmid's site reproduces dozens of police mugshots from New Castle, Pennsylvania, all of which date from the period 1930-1960. Someone rescued them from the trash when the town's police department threw them out, and Diarmid has pieced together the story behind each one by studying back issues of the town's newspaper. All human life is there.]

June 11, 2012. Nia Ashley of New York writes:
"I've been given a grant to write a musical screenplay telling the story of Harry Pace, WC Handy and Black Swan Records. I came across your article and the subsequent letters, in my research, and would love to get in touch with you to discuss this incredible story.
"You have a unique, well studied perspective on this man and his life that has completely altered the way I feel I must tell his story. Please get in touch at your earliest opportunity."

Paul Slade replies: Wow - what a great project! I interviewed the producer behind Five Guys Named Moe's Broadway run once for another story, and he got very excited about the prospect of a Harry Pace stage musical. Nothing ever came of that, but there's definitely a great opportunity there.
I've always envisioned one scene where an idealistic young black musician talks his way into Harry's office, and is excited to hear the band he knows as Ladd's Black Aces playing behind the door of an adjacent studio. Suddenly, the music stops, and Harry makes a flustered effort to get rid of his visitor. The lad begs and pleads to stay just long to glimpse his heroes, then the studio door opens, and out file The Original Memphis Five - every one as white as snow! The young musician is crushed, disillusioned, shocked and appalled! How could Harry betray him like this...
Well, something like that anyway.
I also met Harry's great-grandson in San Francisco a few years back, who was telling me about the whole experience of having his family's true racial identity revealed after so many years and the struggles this set off in his own mind. He was shooting some video interviews with older members of his family and hoping to eventually turn these into a documentary, but I don't know where that project stands at the moment. Feel free to drop me a line at this address any time. I'd be glad to help in any way I can.
July 4, Stuart Mason of Los Osos, California writes:
"I stumbled upon your link in the No Depression community. Your site is wide and deep, with lots of interesting content to explore.
"I too have a fascination with old-timey murder ballads. I just thought I'd inquire if you might want to do a short review of my new CD for fRoots? You can listen to it here: I'm happy to mail a hard copy if you like what you hear."

Paul Slade replies: Thanks for getting in touch, Stuart. I take it you saw my No Depression thread asking for contributors to PlanetSlade's Gallows Ballads Project?
If so, please do consider tackling one of the ballads with Little Black Train or one of your other bands - I'm very keen to get both some full band recordings and some US contributors at the moment, and you'd be ideally qualified on both counts. You'll find more details on the PlanetSlade pages here and here, so please have a think about it, and spread the word to any musician friends you think might be interested. Solo versions are welcome too.
The rules on fRoots dictate that I can only review those CDs allocated to me by the editor, I'm afraid. Without that, I guess they'd get a lot of duplication and problems with conflicts of interest. Your best bet of getting a review there would be to send a copy direct to the magazine itself, sticking to the guidelines it spells out here.
In the interests of helping musicians to earn a living, I splashed out $10 on your Little Black Train album, and I must say I like it a lot. If I were to review it, I think the first two words I'd jot down in my notes would be "sprightly" and "charming". I loved your Fair Molly comic too, which reminds me of the comics Jeffrey Lewis sometimes includes with his own CDs.

Message board round-up

You'll find the sources for all our latest blurbs ("Justly jubilant journals...") below. Sometimes there's quite an interesting discussion attached.



PG Music Forums

West Ham Online



Many thanks to everyone who entered PlanetSlade's competition to win tickets for the Victoria & Albert Museum's current British Design 1948-2012 exhibition here in London. The show will give Kit Williams' Golden Hare medallion from his 1979 puzzle book Masquerade its first ever full-scale public exhibition.
All the entries are now in, the draw's been made, and we know who the winners are. I asked you to tell me whether the veteran rock star who wrote the songs for Masquerade's 1982 run as a London stage musical was: (a) Rick Wakeman, (b) Rod Argent, or (c) Pete Townshend. The answer of course was (b), and that's exactly what most of you replied.
The two lucky names drawn from a hole in the ground at Ampthill are:
David Darlington of Sydenham, South London, and;
Stephen Miller of Newbury in Berkshire.

Congratulations to those two gentlemen, each of whom win a pair of tickets to the V&A show. There, they'll be able to see not only the Golden Hare medallion itself, but more than 300 other items besides, including a 1961 E-type Jag, a Brownie Vectra camera, the original photo from David Bowie's Aladdin Sane LP, and an Alexander McQueen evening gown.
Thanks also to the V&A for donating these tickets as PlanetSlade prizes. You'll find full details of the four-month show at the museum's own website here.
February 24, 2012. David Darlington of Sydenham in South London writes:
"I'm someone with a strong interest in Kit Williams' Masquerade. Today, I interrupted a ludicrously busy work schedule to visit Ampthill for the very first time - the reason being that today is the 30th anniversary of the (purported?) unearthing of the hare itself.
"Masquerade mania strikes me about once every year or two, and I can think of little else till the itch is scratched. As I said to my Facebook friends today:
'In the noonday shadow of this cross, on August 7, 1979, artist Kit Williams hid a jeweled golden hare, the prize at the end of his Masquerade treasure hunt. The hunt was solved and the jewel was found - not necessarily by the same person - and on February 24, 1982, at 2.45pm, a man calling himself Ken Thomas dug the jewel out of the ground in which it had lain buried for over two years. Thirty years later, to the precise minute, this photograph was taken, on the exact same spot. The sun set, and the day was over'."

Paul Slade replies: Thanks very much for your letter. As you'll have gathered from PlanetSlade, I get fairly obsessed with one subject or another myself from time to time, so I do recognise that need to scratch an itch which you mention. And speaking of Masquerade...

February 10, 2012: Shaun Jman of London writes:
"I read your blog while scouring the internet for info on Kit Williams' hare.
"I make jewellery for a hobby and am always looking for new ideas. One day the radio alarm went off and there was a BBC radio program about Masquerade. I forgot about it for a while, but then had some time on my hands, did a bit of research and bought the Masquerade book.
"I intend to make a replica of the original medallion, but I've also made a smaller version in silver. You mentioned that the original was 5½ inches, which was a big help.
"Here's my attempt at a silver hare:"

Paul Slade replies: Thanks for your letter, Shaun. I'm not sure how Kit Williams would feel about you using his design in this way, but if you'd like me to, I could pass on a copy of your letter and ask if he's happy for me to run it here. I'll stress that you don't seem to be doing this in any cynical or greedy way, and let you know what he's got to say.

February 12, 2012: Shaun Jman of London writes:
"Thanks for the reply. I don't intend to sell the full size replica: it's similar to copying a drawing, just for my own amusement and to show that if someone had their own design I could make something to their spec.
"I make YouTube videos of the process of making jewellery. They aren't that popular, I just try to make the kind of videos I would like to watch. I'm afraid I haven't got the ability to create original artwork like Kit Williams, just a little skill and some tools to make things.
"There are a few items I've seen around the net and on that use the Masquerade hare for inspiration, so I didn't think there was a problem there. If you do take the time to talk to Mr Williams and he doesn't like the idea of what I'm doing, just drop me a line and I'll move onto something else. He seems a decent bloke, and I'd hate to think I'd offended him."

[I contacted Kit's wife, explaining I wanted to avoid either stamping on Shaun's creativity or implying that the original hare design was now public property. Here's her reply.]

February 12, 2012. Mrs Williams of Somewhere in England writes:
"Thank you for your consideration and sensitivity in your response to Shaun's work and e-mails. It's a difficult area to deal with. Kit is not someone who would willingly put anyone else down, but would rather encourage them in other directions and to find their own voice.
"He has asked me to send to you his feelings on this matter, which would apply to anyone doing this kind of thing. All he asks is that if you forward to Shaun what he says. Thank you!"

"When I first started out as an artist, I worked with an old craftsman who gave me a valuable piece of advice. He said, 'Make sure that whatever you do can never be mistaken for anyone else's work'. It is something I have always endeavoured to do and it is a piece of advice that I would gladly pass on to anyone.
"Now, in this world there are copies, reproductions, replicas, fakes and downright forgeries. But inspiration is quite an other thing. Every artist, scientist and craftsman hopes that others who come in contact with their work may be inspired to create something even more wonderful. There is nothing so gratifying as to have made something that is truly one's own." - Kit.

February 12, 2012. Shaun Jman writes:
"First, got to say many thanks. My original email was just to say thanks for the info on your site that helped me in my little project. I had no idea that it would end up with some advice from Kit Williams!!
"I'm not sure if I will make the [full-size] replica now. I think I've covered the part where no one could mistake it for my idea. Half the focus is that the design comes from the Masquerade book, and the other part is just an interesting (I hope) video of something being made. I've got lots of ideas going all at once, so it would be easy to let one go.
"Thanks for taking the time to listen to me and pass on the message to Mr Williams: It's really appreciated."

March 5, 2012. Spencer Bayles of Yorkshire band The Housekeeping Society writes:
"I came across your fantastic essay on the tale of Lobby Lud while researching some seaside-themed stories for my band's new album. Having been initially tipped off about Lobby by my partner's father, I was keen to unearth further information; the account on your site was a huge inspiration for the resulting song.
"Seaside Mystery Man will appear on the new Housekeeping Society record, entitled Postcards, which will be released in May 2012. A song cycle about the rise and decline of the British seaside, it sees Mr Lud rub shoulders with B&B owners, wistful holidaymakers and bereaved fishermen's wives."

Paul Slade replies: Thanks very much for that, Spencer - I'm glad I could help. Your song's got just the right sunny, innocent feel to it for this particular tale, I think. If you're curious to hear what the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain's George Hinchliffe's did with Lobby's original Victorian song, you cam find a link to his recording in PlanetSlade Music.

February 16, 2012. Jan Joos, of Pepingen in Belgium, writes:
"[PlanetSlade] is a very interesting website indeed. I'm mostly interested in Dylan-related stuff though.
"Dylan is an artist first of all: a poet and a singer. The details of your Hattie Caroll report could never ever be poured into a song. Nor the rights and wrongs, the 'what ifs', the forensics, the testimonies, and the rest of your research. In 1964, Dylan was a young man, with some fame and some money. But he was vulnerable still financially, and he depended on his record company.
"Is it not odd that Zantzinger never sued Dylan, the newspapers, the Afro American and whoever he could in an attempt to clear his name, or have his voice be heard? He had the wealth (or the family did) to do so. Yet they, and he, remained silent. [...] Is it not your opinion that the Zantzingers decided not to take any actions, just because of the truth, which really lies beneath Dylan's words in the song? Maybe they felt they had already enough bad publicity. Or could it be that the family said to themselves, 'Enough with that spoilt brat of ours...'
"Does it really matter if Mrs Carroll died directly or indirectly from the cane of Mr. Zantzinger? A rich, drunken young man, with a great future ahead, hit a woman after treating her as a 'black bitch' and she dies. Maybe - just maybe - the Dylan song isn't accurate enough, but what does that change in the facts?
"Dylan is not a lawyer. He's a poet and singer. [...] In the song, a 'diamond ring finger' sounds much better than, 'a rich man'. Since when does a poet or singer have to be a reporter? Let the facts be the facts, and the song be the song. [...] I believe that Dylan's song did more good to the world in general than Zantzinger's cane."

Paul Slade replies: Thanks for your letter, which I hope you'll forgive me for editing a little here. I say several times in my piece that I think Hattie Carroll is a masterpiece, so we can certainly agree on that much. Also, please don't read anything I've written as an attempt to defend Zantzinger. He behaved like a spoilt, racist thug on the night in question, and I've no sympathy for that whatsoever.
My nagging doubt about the song is how much responsibility Dylan (or any other songwriter) has to get his basic facts right when singing about something that really happened. Should we assume that's a core part of the job, as it would be for any responsible journalist or historian? Or is he more like a novelist, who may take a newspaper story as his spinning-off point, but is then free to ignore or change any facts which don't fit where his imagination leads him?
I'm thinking here of facts like Zantzinger never actually being charged with "first degree murder" (as Dylan states) let alone convicted of it, and facts like Hattie Carroll's exact cause of death being considerably complicated by existing health problems. When it comes to a criminal trial, distinctions like that matter quite a bit, and any print journalist would quite rightly be expected to get them straight. I'm not clear why we should exempt songwriters from this responsibility just because they happen to set their own accounts to music.
That said, the song's certainly artistically true and it unquestionably captures the spirit of Zantzinger's revolting behaviour in a powerful and expertly-crafted way. Again, I do acknowledge this in the piece, making exactly the point you raise about the economy and elegance of Dylan's "diamond ring finger" image.
I'd be quite happy to put Dylan in the novelist's category and give him all the leeway that implies if it weren't for the fact that he's often introduced Hattie Carroll as a true story on stage, and been happy to take the extra little frisson of excitement which this gives the song. He can't have it both ways, can he?
One of the joys of researching a subject like this is that the real story always turns out to be so much more complex and interesting than the pop culture version that everyone thinks they know. I'm glad my account engaged you enough to make you want to challenge it.

February 15, 2012. Debra Cowan of Massachusetts writes:
"I just saw your thread on Mudcat. I have audio on-line of myself performing Frank Proffit's Joshuay, a version of The Maid Freed From the Gallows, Prickly Bush etc. You can hear it and download it for free on here.
"Great website and I know I'll enjoy perusing what you've come up with."

Paul Slade replies: Thanks so much for the link - I love your voice on that track.
I first came across this song as Gallows Pole on a Led Zeppelin album of my youth, and that led me back to investigate many of the earlier versions. Robert Plant used to enjoy tweaking critics' expectations by referring to LedZep as "the world's loudest folk band", and Gallows Pole proves his point admirably.
The gestation period was quite a long one, but it was this song as much as any other which eventually started me thinking about PlanetSlade's content in the first place.

[Debra is a full-time singer/songwriter with three solo albums to her credit. She's worked with Fairport Convention's Dave Mattacks and Dave Pegg, and I'm hoping I might persuade her to do one of our Gallows Ballads songs before too long.]

February 10, 2012: Simeon Peebler of Chicago, Illinois, writes:
"Hello Paul! I came across your website by way of
"I am very interested in writing some music and recording it based on one of the gallows ballads. Can you point me to one or two that have yet to be recorded or that you think might be of most interest to you? I've enjoyed some of the songs recorded so far and it would be a lot of fun to try to tackle one!
"You can hear some of my music at or"

Paul Slade replies: Thanks so much for getting touch. I've just been listening to your album, and I'd be delighted if you'd like to tackle one of the ballads.
I wouldn't presume to tell you which to pick, because the important thing is that you find one that especially appeals to you. You'll have a far better idea which ones would suit your style best.
Whichever song (or songs) you choose, please do feel free to tweak the lyrics here and there if you find that's necessary to make them performable. The guys who wrote these things were very down-to-earth jobbing hacks, and not remotely precious about their work. They're all written in ballad format, which means they're half-way to a musical setting already.

[As I write this at the end of March 2012, PlanetSlade readers have posted their own recordings of six songs from the site's Gallows Ballads section on-line, with another six recordings promised soon. For a list of links taking you to all the recordings so far, and details of how you can add your own contribution, please visit PlanetSlade Music here.]

Message board round-up

The sources for my latest selection of blurbs (Keyboard kings' kudos...) can be found below. Sometimes there's quite an interesting discussion attached.

City of New Babbage

Comics Beat

The Fake Life





Penny Arcade


Small Town Noir


Those nice people at London's Victoria & Albert Museum are staging a British Design show later this year, and one of its prize exhibits will be the exquisite golden hare medallion Kit Williams made for his 1979 puzzle book Masquerade.
Aside from one very brief appearance when it was auctioned at Sotheby's in 1988, and another at Williams' 2009 gallery show, this will be the hare's very first public display. It'll be on show at the V&A from March 31 to August 12 this year, and they've donated two pairs of exhibition tickets for me to give away.
The hare spent 30 months buried in a park near Bedford, sparked a global craze among the world's treasure hunters and sold over a million books. It launched a scandal when it was finally found, had to be sold in a bankruptcy auction and was then spirited overseas by the anonymous buyer. It took two BBC documentaries - one of which I helped to make - before the hare could eventually be brought back to England and reunited with its maker. You'll find the full story here.
All you have to do to enter our competition is answer this question:

Who was the veteran rock star who wrote the songs for Masquerade's 1982 run as a London stage musical?

Was it:    a) Rick Wakeman     b) Rod Argent     c) Pete Townshend     

Send your answers to PlanetSlade, using the e-mail link here.

The tickets are valid for any date during the exhibition's four-month run. I'll draw two entries at random from all the correct answers received by midnight on March 31, 2012 (London time), notify the winners by e-mail and get their tickets in the post next day.
The V&A show, titled British Design 1948-2012 will have more than 300 items on display, including a 1961 E-type Jag, a Brownie Vectra camera, the original photo from David Bowie's Aladdin Sane LP, and an Alexander McQueen evening gown. It will also include work by David Hockney, Laura Ashley and Brian Long.
The period it covers has been chosen to span the years from Britain's Austerity Olympics of 1948 to the Games' return here in July. "As people around the world will be focussing on the UK in the summer of 2012, this is an ideal moment to showcase British innovation, taste and creativity," says V&A director Martin Roth.
October 27, 2011. Stephen Miller, an explosives consultant with Live Action FX in Newbury, Berkshire, writes:
"I just stumbled across your account of Masquerade, and spent two hours reading it all in detail. Being a fan of Kit William's work and the original treasure hunt, I knew most of the story already, but had never seen such an eloquent portrayal of the whole saga.
"Thank you very much for producing this excellent write-up and spawning the radio documentary which eventually led to the hare returning briefly to Britain. I happened to catch the BBC Four programme, and I remember the emotion from John Rousseau when the hare was revealed at the Portal gallery. Would you mind if I suggested that the Armchair Treasure Hunt Club linked to your write-up from their website?"

Paul Slade replies: I really enjoyed writing and researching the Masquerade story in all it's various incarnations, and I'm delighted you enjoyed it. I don't think I've ever had a letter from an explosives consultant before either, but what a great job description to have on your business cards!
The more people link to PlanetSlade, the happier I am, so please do contact the ATHC guys and recommend the site by all means. Any PR help I can get is always much appreciated, and that's why I've just added the Twitter buttons you'll now find at the top of every PlanetSlade page.
So far, my bulletins have included news of fresh content on the site, updates from my research trips, capsule reviews of the hundred-odd plays I see every year, love-struck gibberings about various new albums and any little snippets I think might make people laugh. To sign up, just click here.


December 3, 2011: Robert McLaren of King's College, London, writes:
"I'm writing a piece on The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll and I'm using your essay as a source, since it seems to me to be the most detailed and well-sourced account.
"I'm interested in the reactions of the guests of the Spinster's Ball to Zantzinger's behaviour. In the Washington Post profile of 1991, it's written that "when a black waitress failed to address him [Zantzinger] as 'sir', he hit her across the buttocks with his cane, then hit her again, harder, until somebody grabbed him and she fled in tears to the pantry" (my italics).
"As you know, nothing in this profile is referenced - and it makes some factual errors elsewhere - so I am little sceptical. Do you know anything about this? And is there anything more you could tell me about what you have learned about the reaction of the staff and guests at the time? This would be a great help."

Paul Slade replies: Thanks for your letter - I do try to research and source my stuff as carefully as possible, so I'm glad you found that useful.
I've just looked through my Hattie Carroll file to check the earliest newspaper reports of her death, but I can't find anything that seems to provide a source for the italicised section of the
Washington Post paragraph you quote.
The waitress in question was Ethel Hill, and there's several reports published immediately after the ball itself which mention Zantzinger hitting her with his cane and her fleeing to the pantry as a result. I can't find any reference confirming that someone grabbed Zantzinger at that precise point of the evening, but the suggestion is consistent with other first-hand accounts from the ball. Efforts to restrain Zantzinger may well have been sporadic or half-hearted, but they were there nonetheless.

Time magazine's edition of February 22, 1963, for example, reports that someone punched Zantzinger in the stomach after he'd drunkenly lunged at the wine waiter and deliberately snagged that waiter's neck chain with his cane. The Afro-American of December 14, 1963, reporting Jane Zantzinger's disorderly conduct trial, quotes court testimony that another guest "knocked Zantzinger cold" when the drunken farmer took a swing at him.
Both those incidents happened before he attacked Carroll herself, and it was that attack which prompted Hal Whittaker to finally wrench the cane away from him and break it into pieces - an intervention first reported in March 23, 1963's Afro-American.
These are the closest we have to direct first-hand accounts of what happened that night, and while none of them directly confirm the Washington Post's assertion, they certainly suggest there's no reason to disbelieve it either. At this distance in time, I think that's about the best we can do.

October 26, 2011. Tyler Dolan of DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, writes:
"I am currently researching the Pearl Bryan murder and I was wondering if you could help me out. I noticed that you included quotations from Dr. Carothers' unpublished memoir in your piece.
"If you could help point me in the right direction to obtain a copy of this transcript, or let me know where it is located, that would be very much appreciated. Thank you so much and I look forward to hearing from you."

Paul Slade replies: The only copy of Dr Carothers' memoir I've ever seen is a photocopy of some sheets in his own hand-writing, which I think I was given by one of the staff at Campbell County Museum in LaFollette, Tennessee. They have a small collection of Pearl Bryan material there, which I assume must include Carothers' original document.
Your other option would be to contact Cincinnati's Public Library, and ask them to dig out The Cincinnati Post of May 2, 1956, from their records. This issue includes an article headlined "Old Notes Bare Details of Pearl Bryan Slaying"which reproduces some long extracts from Carothers' memoir. He'd just died at that point, and no-one knew the memoir even existed until it was found among his effects.
Good luck with your research - it's a fascinating story, isn't it?

Message board round-up

The sources for my latest selection of blurbs (Lots of literate luminaries...) can be found below. Sometimes there's quite an interesting discussion attached.


Bowery Boogie


Fortean Times

Lorne Bair

Moorcock's Miscellany


Sing a Song of Murder

Incoming items indicate I impart immense interest

On Andy Capp
"Check it out." - Scott McCloud, author of Understanding Comics, via Twitter.

"This is great stuff, and fascinating for those of us who grew up with Andy Capp." - Former Andy Capp writer Roger Kettle, Camel Dung.

"Is there any kind of honorary degree in comics studies? If so, this deserves it." - Thelonius, Metafilter.

"An extensive, well-researched piece [.] Some fascinating details." - Sean Kleefeld, Kleefeld on Comics.

"Well researched, enlightening and interesting. I particularly like the analysis of the structure of the gags." - Bainbo, Mudcat.

"Any serious Andy Capp fan should read it." - Fanolio, Go Comics.

"What a great piece! I found it fascinating." - Private Eye cartoonist Andrew Birch, The Cartoonists' Forum.

"A huge, brilliant essay." - Lee Grice, via Twitter.

"I really loved your article, Paul." - Rob Lamb, The Comics Journal.

"I'd love to read a full biography on Smythe [and] your project is as close as one can get." - Xingcat, Metafilter.

"A fantastic read." - DD Degg, Kleefeld on Comics.

"Fascinating." - Musket, Mudcat.

"Tons of stuff which is new to me." -Gweedo Murray, Go Comics.

"A truly comprehensive history of Andy Capp." - Peter Dredge, The Cartoonists' Forum.

"Editor's pick." -

"Immense, assured, sprightly essay." -

"Awesome." - Conor Lastowka, via Twitter.

"This is weirdly intense. It's only page three and I already feel invested in Flo's redemption." - Postcommunism, Metafilter.

"Most interesting!" - Eliza, Mudcat.

"Fascinating and informative [.] A must read for any true Andy Fan."- Sandfan, Go Comics.

"Loved it." - Paktoons, The Cartoonists' Forum.

"Interesting read." - Adamatsya, via Twitter.

"This is a great essay." - Rumple, Metafilter.

"Interesting." - Gnu, Mudcat.

"Great essay." - Eldo, Go Comics.

"Rather splendid." - Nigel Sutherland, The Cartoonists' Forum.

"Epic." - T, via Twitter.

"Wonderful article." - JHarris, Metafilter.

"Quite exhaustive." - Conor Lastowka, via Twitter.

"Yay! This is great!" - DarlingBri, Metafilter.

"You have got to read this article." - Reena Jaglall, Facebook.

"Long and well-researched." - Mr O'Malley, The Comics Curmudgeon.

"Fine reading." - Leigh P, Twitter.

"Interesting article." - Daniel C Parmenter, The Comics Journal.

"Explores the strip, its history and its impact in incredible detail." - Taquitos, Reddir.

"This was really interesting!" - Mmmbacon, Metafilter.

"An unexpected treat. I loved it." - Fred Sanders, Twitter.

On Planet Slade
"Keep up the great work. I've been reading your [site] all weekend." - Jody Avirgan, editor at, via e-mail.

On Pearl Bryan
"Very interesting. I really learned a lot." - Jeff Kazor, The Crooked Jades, via e-mail.

Justly jubilant journals jabber joyful judgement

On PlanetSlade
"Very good site ... interesting info on murder ballads." - Gordon Baxter, via Twitter.

"A wonderful website." - Arcaic,

On Murder Ballads
"[We] love murder ballads and your site is great." - Blackbeard's Tea Party, via Twitter.

"Paul Slade does a remarkable job. [...] Highly recommended for a clear, informative, well-wrought style." - Amos, Mudcat.

"Amazing." - Anonymous guest, Mudcat.

On Frankie & Johnny
"A great piece to read." - Colm Kill Paul,

On Tom Dooley
"Very interesting and readable." - Jan Kronsell,

On Pretty Polly
"A great history of the song." - Mootsman, PG Music Forums.

On Gallows Ballads Project
"A fine job of delivering this chilling ballad to the 21st Century." - Charlie Noble, Mudcat, on Sedayne's recording of The Silent Grove.

"I'm loving RTim's Baby Farmer recording." - KingBrilliant, Mudcat, on Tim Radford's recording of The Old Baby Farmer.

"Kudos to Mary for her rendition." - Artful Codger, Mudcat, on Mary Humphreys' recording of The Sister & The Serpent.

On Necropolis Railway
"A truly fascinating bit of forgotten London." - Stranded,

On Masquerade
"Caused quite a storm in treasure hunting circles." - Roger Lintott, Armchair Treasure Hunt Club, via e-mail.

Keyboard kings’ kudos kindle keen kerfuffle

On Pretty Polly
"Great work, Paul. Loved reading that." - Kristin Hersh, Throwing Muses, via e-mail.

"A fascinating read." - Katie Jane Garside, Ruby Throat, via e-mail.

"A compelling and creepy song with an irresistible melody. Thanks for this." - Miko, Metafilter.

On Planet Slade
"I love your site." - Matt Milton, Mudcat.

"Interesting site. Right up my street." - Adam Donovan, The Jetsonics, via e-mail.

On Murder Ballads
"It's an interesting concept, (and) very well executed too." - Thomas Campbell, Headpress Books, via e-mail.

"Thoroughly gripping." - Nick Churchill, via e-mail.

On Knoxville Girl
"Good long piece [...] Fascinating." - Diarmid Mogg, Twitter.

On Gallows Ballads Project
"Please keep it up." - Andy Turner, fRoots.

"An excellent project." - Neil King, Fatea.

On Necropolis Railway
"Has almost more info than you would ever need, and also a lovely little side article." - Stargirl MacBain, City of New Babbage.

"An interesting history." - Tepid Harlequin, City of New Babbage.

"Interesting material." - Queer Hermit, City of New Babbage.

On Masquerade
"Goes into that crucial bit more detail, and in an interesting fashion." - David Darlington, via e-mail.

On Insect Horror
"Fabulous." - Jenny, moderator, QI

"If you ever picked up a rock to see what was underneath, you'll appreciate this webcomic. " - Anonymous, The Beat.

"What's amazing is that it's real. " - Disrupted Capitalist, Penny Arcade.

"Creepy and wonderful " - Doug, The Fake Life

"This is awesome. " - BugBoy, Penny Arcade.

"Pretty great." - The Internet Is Gay, The Fake Life.

"Liked this. " - Cartoonist Matt Gross, Fantagraphics.

Lots of literate luminaries laud lessons learned

On Planet Slade
"Fantastic website ... especially the Secret London section." - BTNG, Mudcat.

"Paul Slade's wonderful murder ballads site." - Neil King, Fatea.

"Follow @PlanetSlade." - Crow Jane, Sing a Song of Murder, via Twitter.

"Fascinating reading." - Theyitthian, Fortean Times.

"Really a remarkable work-in-progress - well worth a regular visit." - Lorne Bair, Lorne Bair Rare Books.

"Excellent site!" - Eburacum, Fortean Times.

On Murder Ballads
"What a fascinating book. I can't believe the research you put into it. I'm very impressed and I learned a lot of stuff, too!" - Emma Parker, Authonomy.

"You write well, your material is engaging and as a whole it's a fascinating topic." - Ben Clark of literary agents LAW, via e-mail.

"Brilliant. I have a friend who will LOVE your website." - Marie Benton, The Choir With No Name, via e-mail.

On Stagger Lee
"Good stuff." - Max, Mudcat.

On British Broadsides
"The story behind the ballad it is one I'll definitely be telling!" - Storyteller Bill Dawson on The Liverpool Lodger.

"This fascinating account." - James Whitehead, Fortean Times, on Mary Arnold.

On Necropolis Railway
"One for the steampunks amongst us." - Porcus_Volans, Moorcock's Miscellany.

On NYC Murals
"A handy collection." - Elie Perler, Bowery Boogie.

Many masterful messengers mouth my merits

On Pearl Bryan
"Very impressive." - Robert Wilhelm, Murder By Gaslight, via e-mail.

"Great Research." - Becky in Tucson, Mudcat.

"Truly a fascinating read." - Fort Thomas Matters website.

"Fascinating!" - Nancy King, Mudcat.

"Good job." - John Mendell, via e-mail.

"Great." - 999, Mudcat.

On Murder Ballads
"An original spin.I've never come across anything quite like it." - Ross Brodie, Authonomy.

On Stagger Lee
Great article, well presented." - Cartoonist Kim Deitch, The Comics Journal website.

"Great article," - Patrick Ford, The Comics Journal website.

On Lobby Lud
"A marvellous feature." - Weaver, UK Game Shows website.

On Necropolis Railway
"Amazing to believe we have a history like this that has been largely forgotten."- VirginPRO, RailUK Forums.

"Very interesting, if a little strange." - DarloRich, Rail UK Forums.

A good, long article." -

"It is very interesting." - Klambert, Rail UK Forums.

On PlanetSlade
"Fascinating reading." - Spleen Cringe, Mudcat.

On Insect Horror
"Rather perverse." - Tim Hodler, The Comics Journal.

"Insects are weird." - Hayley Campbell, Gosh Comics.