Wisbech author's latest book comes out fighting
Gangland violence, teenage sex and the explosion of Rock ’n’ Roll onto the streets of London in the 1950s have been graphically brought to life again by Wisbech author Richard Humphries.
His latest novel, The Elephant, the Oik and a ginger pussy, is published this week.
Drawing heavily on his own life experiences growing up in South London in the 1950s and 60s and then working as a newspaper reporter, the novel opens a window onto a world totally alien to our own.
Richard said: “You had to have grown up in the two decades after the last war to understand how grim life was. Imagine a world without all the things that make our lives function comfortably today - no computers, no mobile phones, no social media, no supermarkets, no fast food except fish ‘n’ chips, no ATMs, no credit cards, no washing-up liquid, no deodorants, just one black-and-white TV channel… the list goes on and on. The only good thing was that there were no drugs.
“London was run by gangs at every level. At the top you had ruthless, vicious people like the Krays in the East End and the Richardsons in South London.
“At street level the toughest bunch were The Elephant Boys from The Elephant and Castle. They were basically Teddy Boys who lived for violence. The police were largely ineffective, so it was a very scary time to be growing up.
“Knife crime - and worse - was just as much of a problem sixty years ago as it is now. It certainly wasn’t anything as romantic as West Side Story.”
The Elephant, the Oik and a ginger pussy follows the life of Gary Paysley who, along with his younger brother, is rescued from the misery of an East End children’s home by his grandparents and taken to live at the Elephant and Castle in South London.
The story charts, in his own words, his continuing family misfortunes and gradual drift into the criminal underworld, where he becomes a minor gangland enforcer and occasional executioner - an expendable ‘foot soldier.’ There can only be one outcome.
Along the way he discovers sex, love, misery and a social conscience in equal measure. But the one thing he craves - the love of the mother from whose arms he was wrenched as a child - always eludes him.
Richard said: “The 1950s and early 60s were fascinating years in many ways. When Rock ‘n’ Roll literally burst into our lives in England it was via the Elephant and Castle. It just elbowed aside the old Music Hall entertainment and lifestyle of the older generations.
“It was a time of massive social change for the better. After that we never looked back. The only thing good about the ‘good old days’ was that we never realised at the time just how miserable our lives were.
“The book is a bit near-the-knuckle at times but I have tried to recreate the events and the atmosphere of the times as faithfully as I can recall. I was there. It’s just all as it happened.”
The Elephant, the Oik and a ginger pussy is available from Amazon in paperback, priced £7.99 or as an e-book at £6.99 from the Kindle Book Store. The electronic version of the book has its own musical soundtrack, via YouTube links to the Music Hall and Rock ‘n‘ Roll songs of the time.