The trouble with Jack Trevor Story, by special guest columnist Alan Moore - Mustard comedy magazine
The trouble with Jack Trevor Story

Cult Corner

The trouble with Jack Trevor Story

by special guest columnist Alan Moore

That face, those teeth, like a chamois-leather trying to engulf a baby grand. Jack Trevor Story was the funniest, most heartbreakingly human 20th century author working in the English language, and yet is today almost entirely unremembered (or in Iain Sinclair's memorable verdict 'reforgotten'), less than 20 years since his demise. Even a fair percentage of his audience seemed to think that his name was Jack Trevor and the things that they were reading were 'Jack Trevor Stories'.

Born in 1917 during the last years of a First World War which would ensure that he grew up without a father, Story's origins were resolutely working class and all his later writings had the glorious delinquent energy that marks a self-taught chancer. Borrowing initial chops from his great hero William Saroyan, he took the honourable pulp adventure route to literature by writing Westerns or submitting stories to the Sexton Blake detective series in the company of his longstanding mucker, Michael Moorcock.

Graduating to the slightly more respectable enclosures of the comic novel, in the early 'fifties he received attention for his slender gem The Trouble With Harry, the trouble with Harry being that he's dead and that a number of his neighbours make their lives more complicated with their various reactions to his inconvenient cadaver.

When Story's agent told him an unnamed director had paid somewhere in the realm of £100 to buy the film rights, Story was initially delighted to be the recipient of this unexpected cash. Obviously, when he discovered the director to be Alfred Hitchcock, his appreciation of the sum of money was adjusted somewhat. Story went to Hitchcock's hotel and made an attempt to renegotiate the paltry deal, to be met with assurances that since the papers were all signed then there was really nothing anyone could do. This kind of faintly absurd disappointment was to be a regular recurring feature in the Story story.

The trouble with Harry

In 1963 and 1964 Story created one of his most memorable characters, the hopeless and philandering hire-purchase salesman Albert Argyle, in a trilogy of novels that included Live Now Pay Later, Something for Nothing and The Urban District Lover. The appallingly behaved and yet poignantly doomed protagonist, as with many of Story's partly self-based leading men, is a perfect illustration of the late Ian Dury's comment that 'a sense of humour is required amongst the bacon rind.'

By the late 'sixties and the early 'seventies, the same would be true for his more openly autobiographical creation, hapless jobbing writer Horace Spurgeon Fenton, inhabitant of those corridor-towns that lead from the metropolis up to the English midlands and star of I Sit in Hangar Lane and the hilarious One Last Mad Embrace (which features a wretchedly funny assisted suicide attempt, its hero eloping with a twelve year-old girl, and a genuinely frightening roll of toilet paper).

Following this last work, on his way home from a Boxing Day with Moorcock, Story and his then-girlfriend Maggie McDonald were arrested and, according to the author, brutalised by Ladbroke Grove police. Clearly traumatic, this gave rise to Story's paranoiac masterpiece The Wind in the Snottygobble Tree, serialised in Moorcock's excellent New Worlds and marking the start of a decline in Story's three-time wed, occasionally bankrupt and always-chaotic life. His '70s Guardian columns were a string of sweet and lovelorn missives to his by-then ex, Maggie McDonald, and during that decade he moved into his flat above the Milton Keynes Museum of Rural Life, where he'd remain until his death in 1991.

A Memorial Prize in his name was inaugurated shortly afterwards, £200 awarded on the understanding that recipients would ensure, in reference to a notable Story remark at one of his bankruptcy hearings, that the dosh was gone within a fortnight without anything to show for it.

Jack Trevor Story was perhaps our greatest comic novelist and an extraordinary writer with whom you should instantly familiarise yourselves. His last words, scrawled exuberantly underneath a typed 'THE END' on his last manuscript, completed only minutes before suffering a fatal heart attack at his typewriter, were 'And I'm in Love!!' He was a genuine National Treasure... on a strict hire-purchase arrangement.

~ Alan Moore

Illo: S.C.


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