|Richard Widmark in Night and the City (1950)|
I was lucky enough to join the exodus north to the glorious city of Stirling last weekend for the Bloody Scotland crime writing festival for the panel, The Legacy of Brit Noir. Joining novelists Cathi Unsworth and Harry Brett and ably directed and moderated by crime writer, Douglas Skelton, the conversation was free-flowing and the audience ready to engage with the discussion at Q&A time. All in all a fantastic weekend with some interesting and thought provoking debate, great scenery, a healthy dose of end of the pier entertainment, and a few beers with old and new friends.
For the most part, the Brit Noir panel covered ground we knew well: in brief, an attempt to define noir in the US and European tradition, how the genre in Britain emerges from an influx of European artists, writers and film makers in the 1930s and 40s and, similarly, blacklisted writers and film makers forced to leave the US in the 1950s. The noir sensibility, particularly of the film-makers, permeates British writing of the 40s, 50s and 60s, and creates many of the staging posts between the earliest exponents of the British roman noir and the defining moment in 1970: the publication of Ted Lewis’s Jack’s Return Home, filmed in the summer of that year and released in 1971 as Get Carter. I don't think anything was quite the same after that.
Some of the references we discussed are well known and there are a handful of minor novels and films which I know were influential in Lewis’s writing. Adding in the varied knowledge of my fellow panellists and Doug Skelton, the book and film mentions were pinballing like a Soho arcade on a Saturday night.
So, for those unable to make it to Stirling, and for those who did and left wondering why we didn’t do a reading list*, these are the books I remember discussing, or at least were mentioned in conversation – the list is by no means exclusive of the genre, nor is it intended to be. Others may be able to fill in the gaps. Looking down the list, most of these were filmed at some point, often overshadowing the source novels, and a fair few remain out of print, but all are worth tracking down and re-reading.
They Drive by Night (1938) – James Curtis
A Gun for Sale (1936) Brighton Rock (1938) – Graham Greene
Night and the City (1938) – Gerald Kersh
The Third Man (film) – Carol Reed (1949)
The Long Memory (1951) – Howard Clewes
Hell is a City (1954) – Maurice Proctor
Hell Drivers (film) – Dir. Cy Endfield (1957)
Saturday Night, Sunday Morning (1958) – Alan Sillitoe
This Sporting Life (1960) – David Storey
The Criminal (film) – Dir. Joseph Losey (1961)
The Crust on its Uppers (1962) – Robin Cook (later to gain greater recognition as Derek Raymond)
Negatives (1964) – Peter Everett
The Whitsun Weddings (1964) – Philip Larkin
Burden of Proof (1968) – James Barlow
Jack’s Return Home / Get Carter (1970); Plender (1971); GBH (1980) – Ted Lewis
A Red File for Callan (1971) – James Mitchell
Laidlaw (1977) – William McIlvanney
He Died with His Eyes Open (1984); The Devil's Home on Leave (1985); How the Dead Live (1986); I Was Dora Suarez (1990) – Derek Raymond
*With thanks to Louise Fairbairn for the suggestion.