“Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him.”
For the tenth instalment of the Curiously Specific Book Club podcast, we travel to the southern coast of England for Graham Greene’s ‘Brighton Rock’. We discover the Brighton of the 1930s, a place of seedy glamour shoved up against repulsive poverty, a town of razor boys, prostitutes, gangsters and dodgy lawyers.
We find the tunnel where Fred Hale is done in by Pinkie, Dallow and Cubitt, and take tea in the same cafe where the killers eat fish and chips and ponder their next move. We hunt for Snow’s tea rooms, and ponder the meaning of good and evil in a Brighton shelter. We also wonder if the name Pinkie Brown is Greene’s only toilet joke, and why his horror of farting led him to try and take his own life.
Up on the hill above the Old Steyne we find the slums in which Pinkie and Rose spent their childhoods, and then we sit in the empty grandstand of Brighton racecourse, before following Pinkie’s desperate tracks as he scrambles down into the outskirts of Brighton, pursued by Collini’s razor boys.
We end up at Peacehaven, and find an astonishing coincidence of dates as well as the marker stone of the Prime Meridian, the spot where Pinkie Brown, his face bubbling with acid, leaps to his death in the sea below.
Each month we road test a work of fiction that appears to be curiously specific about dates and locations. We go to the places mentioned and see if descriptions are accurate, journey times credible, dates and days all in order. Along the way, we learn things, about the book, and its author.
Sources & credits
Excerpts from the film Brighton Rock, 1971: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FezBxUfWWXo
Graham Greene speaking in BBC Arena documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqOpurufruQ
Clearing the Slums, British Pathé, 1935: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ex1nKk39vsw
Jonathan Franzen on Overrated Books: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K5FvI33QH1M
Now My Heart is Full, by Morrissey: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vRiQ1uIq-V8
Brighton Rock, by Tony Crombie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VwkxsYXB-uk
By The Sea, 1910: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SwXuEdYULdM
Anthony Burgess on Graham Greene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gcpf-Q2Udmc
Graham Greene’s Brighton: An exploration – https://emeraldlamp.blogspot.com/2015/06/graham-greenes-brighton-exploration.html
Pinkie: out on the dangerous edge of things: John Carey – https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/book-review-pinkie-out-on-the-dangerous-edge-of-things-john-carey-considers-the-background-to-the-1476157.html
Lobby Lud – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lobby_Lud
Old Police Cells Museum: Race Course Gang – https://www.oldpolicecellsmuseum.org.uk/content/category/history/race_gangs
My Brighton and Hove: Places – https://www.mybrightonandhove.org.uk/category/places
Carlton Hill, Brighton – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carlton_Hill,_Brighton
Bedford Hotel, Brighton – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bedford_Hotel_(Brighton)
Whit Monday – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whit_Monday
I Wonder What It Feels Like to Be Poor – https://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=82442Braithwaite engines: https://cybermotorcycle.com/euro/wikig/Braithwaite.html
A Tour Through Graham Greene’s Brighton: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/broadcast/read/6838
Railway Time: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Railway_time
Colly Cibber and Kolly Kibber: https://curiousfactsonline.blogspot.com/2007/04/colly-cibber-and-kolly-kibber.html?m=1
The Smallest A.1. Two Valve Receiving Set in the World! – a joke circa 1916: https://www.rubylane.com/item/1491561-Receivingx20potties/Smallest-1-Two-Valve-Receiving-Set
Charles Sabini: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Sabini