David Morris took this unusual picture last month when I was presenting a talk on my books in Chelmsford Central Library as part of the Chelmsford Ideas Festival. The talk was entitled Real Life Criminal Justice in the 19th Century, and consisted of a canter through Hatch, Smethurst and Murder in the Red Barn.
People ask me why all of my books are about criminal investigations. There was no plan; like Topsy, it just growed, but I am not planning another one of these any time soon...
In the autumn of 1965 I found myself in Italy barely scraping a living playing in a rock ‘n’ roll band. Money from gigs just about paid our hotel and food costs. Any work was welcome, and when we were asked to provide some music for a film, naturally we jumped at the chance.
The sound studio was enormous; it was full of musical instruments, microphones and musicians, the size of an old-fashioned cinema, with a very large screen at one end to show the film to which the music had to be synchronized.
The film was called Oggi, Domani e Dopodomani (Today, Tomorrow and the Day After), and was a sort of sequel to Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. Marcello Mastroianni starred in both, joined in ‘Oggi’ by Catherine Spaak, Virna Lisi and Pamela Tiffin. At the time I’m not sure we had heard of any of them, and as far as we were concerned it was just another job.
There were three ‘episodi’ in the film, three separate stories, and we were concerned with the third one, where Mastroianni attempts to sell his beautiful blonde wife, played by Pamela Tiffin, to a Middle-Eastern potentate. They are all having dinner, Arab style, and Mastroianni encourages her to get up and dance to the eastern music playing in the background. She warms to the idea and starts disco dancing. The eastern music then morphs into rock ‘n’ roll provided by the band and myself.
We saw the film once at the cinema, and with no subtitles could make little of the plot line, but our music did sound good though I say so myself; we were uncredited of course. I have just seen the film again on a DVD which I was able to purchase from Amazon, and our little contribution still sounds good fifty years after the event.
Apart from the spectacle of the gigantic studio, the one thing I do remember about that day happened during one of the long waiting periods between takes. I had very long hair then, down to my shoulders, and this was almost unprecedented in Italy in 1965. A short rather plump lady violinist was walking past where we were set up and was so taken with my hair that she entirely failed to negotiate a large microphone stand. She measured her length on the floor, but consummate performer to the end, held her violin up at arms-length and out of harm’s way.
My father, Norman Maggs, could write beautiful English; limpid prose that could rival that of George Orwell in its ability to express an idea in straightforward, uncomplicated language.
In his life, he never saw published more than a few articles, although he wrote a novel and an unfinished autobiography. I am endeavouring to rectify this by putting some of his work on this website in the section entitled ‘Memoirs of a BM Creeper’ – it can be found by clicking the ‘More’ button, top right.
I have travelled to India several times on business. The last time was probably more than twenty years ago, but it is a wonderful country and the people are warm and friendly. The appalling poverty aside – and provided you enjoy the food – it is a marvellous place to visit.
On one occasion I was in Bangalore, the high-tech capital in the south, and my hosts had taken me to dinner – always the high spot of the day – to a large semi-outdoor restaurant. We sat down and ordered. I noticed a western couple with a young girl in tow come into the place and sit down some tables distant from where we were. The girl was very pretty with a shock of red curls covering her head. I thought no more about the family, giving my entire attention to the food, when suddenly I was aware that the child was standing at my elbow. “I’m seven”, she announced, “My name’s Mary! What’s yours?” This in a Northern-Irish accent that you could cut with a knife.
Recovering quickly from the culture-shock, I proceeded to converse with Mary on and off for the duration of the meal, for the most part ignoring my hosts. I remember none of the things we discussed that evening, but she was most entertaining, and had a personality and level of confidence a good decade and a half in advance of her age. Her parents seemed entirely unconcerned that their young daughter spent most of the time there talking to a complete stranger. I went over afterwards and congratulated them on their offspring; as I recall they regarded her behaviour as perfectly normal. No doubt it was not the first time that she had interrogated strangers in restaurants.
I often wonder what happened to Mary with her devastating personality and charm; I’m not even sure that that was her name, my memory is hazy. She would be in her late twenties or early thirties now and I’ll bet stunning looking and a high achiever. I doubt she remembers that dinner in Bangalore but I do, and the extraordinary experience of being a world-weary businessman enjoying a mature and intelligent conversation with a fiery-headed seven-year-old from Ulster, under the tropical skies of South India.
Around 2006 I was doing the research for my first book, Henry’s Trials. Gradually, I uncovered more and more material; I recall the Eureka moment when I found an unexpurgated copy of the transcript of the prosecution case and the full version of Thomas Plummer’s letter to the Bishop of Winchester in the British Library.
As I narrated Henry's woes, finding more and more evidence of the extreme injustice done to him, it seemed to me that the World would want to know about Henry John Hatch, the six months he spent in Newgate Prison, and the outrageous, drunken behaviour of Caroline Plummer during the trial of her twelve-year-old daughter.
To date, I have sold, perhaps 300 books. I know that a few of them have been read, and I have received some good feedback. But I am determined that Henry’s story should be brought before a larger audience. I have come back to writing a TV script on the case because I am convinced that it would make brilliant TV drama. Also, regular readers of this blog may have noticed that the footer of each page on this website now carries the legend: “Henry John Hatch was innocent, OK!”
It is time to inform the world about Henry.
Update 10 December - I have removed the slogan for the moment, preferring to concentrate on publicity for my latest book on the Red Barn murder. But Henry John Hatch was innocent, and I will restart that campaign in due course.
In the interests of balance, I should report that 'Jamie D' from Microsoft, via a chat line, installed a new account on my computer in Windows 10 in a half-an-hour session; that allowed the Windows upgrade to kick in - a process that took best part of an hour - and that appears to have fixed the problem. The start menu has also been cleaned up and looks much better. So far, so good; watch this space...
Ever the optimist, I decided to accept the free upgrade to Windows 10 on my desktop, hoping it would sort out a few irritations in Windows 7. Initially it was brilliant; new useful features, the computer seemed to boot up much faster than before and the whole thing appeared to be great.
Then the Start menu stopped working. A quick trawl on Google indicated that this was an endemic problem with many fixes suggested. I have tried most of them, so far with 100% lack of success. Other things started going wrong: it is impossible to set my browser, Firefox, as the default. One of the fixes suggested involves setting up a new user account: Windows 10 will not let me.
The final insult, my excellent backup to a ‘cloud’ server, allows inspection and individual downloads of backup files. Guess what? Try to do that in Windows 10 and I get the message ‘memory full, delete some files or close apps’. Needless to say the process works perfectly on my laptop still safely operating Windows 7.
So there you have it. I have Windows 10 that does not work, no way of fixing it, and of course it is more than 30 days since I installed it so there is no easy way back.
I will send a snotty message to Microsoft; after all, if one bought a car and the windscreen wipers stopped working after two months, with no way of getting them going again, there would be an outcry. But then the upgrade was free – where is my leverage? I’m not expecting a response from Microsoft anytime soon but I’ll tell you this, it’ll be a cold bloody day in Hell before I accept another free ‘upgrade’ from that company.
Quite by accident I found myself in the middle of Chelmsford today just before 11:00 am. Everyone in the pedestrian precinct had stopped to listen to the Last Post being played on a single trumpet, before a loud report from the park announced the start of the two minute silence.
It was strange, gratifying and very moving to see several hundred people, mostly there doing their daily shopping, standing in perfect silence.
Some people are opposed to Remembrance Day, saying that it glorifies war. I prefer to think of it as a permanent memorial to the ordinary men, the slaughtered Tommies on the Western Front, barely trained, sent over the top into murderous machine-gun fire or blown to pieces by artillery shells, gassed or drowned in the mud of Flanders. So many young men, many having volunteered and lied about their age, but keen to serve their king and country, and cruelly mocked by, in Wilfred Owen’s words: “The old lie, Dulce et Decorum est, Pro patria mori…”
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs