Monday, 13 October 2014

Nigel Balchin and Better Dead

I can't quite believe it, but it seems to be more than five years since I last mentioned Nigel Balchin on this blog. At one time of day, Balchin was a big name, a high calibre writer who wasn't afraid to write commercial and popular fiction, and who seemed to reap the rewards. Yet nowadays he seems to be forgotten by most people. I guess the last time his name was in the spotlight was almost ten years ago, when Separate Lies was released - a film written and directed by Julian Fellowes, and based on Balchin's book The Way Through the Wood.

I've been interested in Balchin since my teens, and for a very specific reason. It so happened that by chance, when my parents were out, I watched a Saturday evening drama on television that was a detective story. I found it engrossing, and I was especially struck by the memorable final twist. The show was called Better Dead, and it was really a sort of Golden Age mystery, updated to the Sixties. Ron Moody, a wonderful actor, played the amateur sleuth. Because I was the sort of teenager who notices these things, I spotted on the credits that the play was written by Nigel Balchin (I know, teenagers shouldn't care about credits, but I always wanted to know about writers, not actors or celebrities...)

Having enjoyed Better Dead very much, I set out to find what else Balchin had written. A good friend of mine told me about a novel by Balchin that he happened to have read - the excellent Seen Dimly Before Dawn - and I soon discovered Balchin's masterpiece, The Small Back Room, a thriller about a bomb disposal expert, as well as other books like Darkness Falls From the Air. None of these, however, were whodunits, and after a while, I drifted away from Balchin, though I've always admired his writing.

In recent times, I've come into contact with Derek Collett, who  has set up an excellent website about Balchin, and has also written a biography of the author, which I very much hope will be published before too long - I'm dying to read it. I've quizzed Derek about Better Dead - he hasn't seen it, though he's shared with me what he knows about it - and I have started wondering if I'm the only person, after all these years, who has any memory of it. I now think that Balchin was toying with the idea of writing a Golden Age TV series featuring Moody's character - but it didn't happen, because he died, and in fact Better Dead seems to have been the last thing he wrote. What I'd really love to do is to track down the script - but it seems the family don't have a copy, and Anglia TV, which produced the original show, is no more. If any reader of this blog can point me in the right direction to find the screenplay, or more information about it, I'd be most grateful.



Clothes In Books said...

I've always liked reading a Balchin book from time to time, and you have reminded me of why I like him. There's still plenty of them left for me to try I think...

Martin Edwards said...

I very much look forward to reading your NB reviews in future, Moira!