Friday, 12 June 2015

Forgotten Book - Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm

Does anybody remember Cluff? This was a detective show on the BBC in the mid-Sixties. I have a vague recollection, but no more, of seeing it when I was young. Apparently the TV series sprang from a pilot episode of that wonderful anthology series Detective - but my memories of Detective really go back to the later shows, screened right at the end of the Sixties. Anyway, I've just read the first book featuring Sergeant Cluff, who was played on TV by Leslie Sands. And Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm is definitely a Forgotten Book that deserves to be read today.

The setting is Gunnarshaw, which is a thinly disguised version of Skipton. The author of the Cluff books,Gil North - whose real name was Geoffrey Horne - was born and grew up in Skipton, and spent his later years there after a long career in the British Colonial Service. Cluff is gruff and bluff, a typical taciturn Yorkshireman, but beneath the stubborn and uncompromising exterior lurks a man with genuine compassion, and a burning desire to see justice done.

In this story, which appeared in 1960, and was the first of eleven Cluff books, Cluff is determined to do justice on behalf of a middle-aged woman who is found gassed in her own bedroom. The obvious conclusion is that she has committed suicide, but Cluff distrusts obvious conclusions, and he determines to find out what has led Amy Wright to such a dreadful end.

The setting is strong, and so is the characterisation. Cluff is a sort of Geoffrey Boycott of detection - cussed and sometimes irritating, but gifted, and reliable in a crisis. There are strong hints of the Maigret books, and although Gil North wasn't anything like as prolific as Simenon, and had a literary style that was, perhaps, an acquired taste (Harry Keating, for instance, wasn't too keen on it) he could certainly write well. This is a short book, but it packs a punch.


Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Not heard of it Martin - initially I thought it said Cuff (as in Wilkie Collins) - ha, thanks for that brand new info.

Roger Allen said...

"a sort of Geoffrey Boycott... reliable in a crisis."
You're thinking of another Geoffrey Boycott.

Unknown said...

I certainly remember Cluff, Martin. In particular, I remember Leslie Sands, the go-to actor when the BBC were looking to cast a gritty northerner; (I think) I remember the opening credits in which Cluff wandered around the hills above ‘Gunnershaw' and I definitely recall him being accompanied everywhere by his dog. I seem to remember that Cluff was more at home with dogs than he was with people!

I don’t recall much about the dramatic content of the show because, like you, I was too young to take much of it in but I have an idea that the crime element in each episode played second fiddle to Cluff’s constant struggles with authority and, in that regard, he was arguably the original maverick cop!

This was the early 60s and so it was fairly dour stuff but Sands was always eminently watchable, the writing was good and nobody ever got bored looking at the Yorkshire countryside! I wish there was a DVD available so that I could see just how wide of the mark my recollections are!

Martin Edwards said...

Roger, amused as I am by your commetn, I still reckon there's only one!

Martin Edwards said...

John, I was very interested indeed by your recollections. I'm told that the shows don't stand up too well to watching these days, but I'd rather like to see for myself!