It was hard to believe the coincidence. I wanted an obscure, slightly silly but real English name for a character in Blackshirt Conspiracy. Much was my surprise when I bought a copy of Dorothy L. Sayer’s The Nine Tailors in a second-hand bookshop this weekend, and noticed she had made the same choice 90 years ago. Sayers of course did not have access to the internet, but it had taken me some scouring of the web to find the perfect name; Shufflebottom or Smellie were a bit too ‘Carry On’, the symbolism of Pratt too modern. Although there are darkly humorous moments during Hugh Clifton’s investigations, there is no comedy in a fascist plot to take over the country.
Fascists are a pompous bunch, so in order to be taken seriously British Union bruiser Alf Hardcastle had to leave behind his original surname which was ‘less hard and castle-like’. His gentler brother remained Neil Gotobed, prompting amusement as the Agents of Room Z investigate the case the pair are wound up in.
Gotobed sounds as though the name has venerable origins, and inhabitants of a small community such as that depicted in Sayer’s book would have grown used to it. Her church sexton’s name only sounds comical to newcomers, such as Lord Peter Wimsey. The Nine Tailors was published in 1934 as a contemporary novel, with clues in the text indicating that events take place around 1930-31. BlackshirtConspiracy is explicitly set around the Abdication Crisis of autumn 1936. The very week my new book appeared on pre-order, I experienced a spine tingle picking up that yellow-jacketed book and spotting the eerie coincidence. Where fiction meets truth, both can feel strange.
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