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Thursday, 1 April 2010
Good evening, everyone!
A J Alan was the pseudonym of Leslie Harrison Lambert, a Foreign Office official, amateur magician, former Royal Navy officer and cryptographer in Hut 8 (the Enigma team) at Bletchley Park. Phew. Well, why did he need a pseudonym, you'd like to know, and the answer to that is that he made occasional broadcasts on the wireless in the '20s and '30s, spinning tall tales that he wrote himself and pasted onto large squares of cardboard so as not to disturb the audience with the sound of rustling pages. Lambert - that is, Alan - always turned up at the BBC in full evening dress, and with his own candle and matches as contingency in the event of a studio light failing.
Now the reason I'm telling you all this is that I was introduced to Mr Alan's - I mean, Mr Lambert's - stories many years ago by my friend William Burton, who was read them by his housemaster at school who might very well have been one of Alan's original listeners. The stories made a strong impression on me. They are shaggy dog tales for the most part, often but not always steering away at the last moment from anything as vulgar as mere plot resolution. Some have a delicate touch of the supernatural about them, though only in the way a chap might tell you about an actual spooky experience, nothing so overtly supernatural as in an M R James tale. In the most part the stories are very effective at doing just what the storyteller intended, namely letting you pass an agreeable half-hour in the company of an amusing raconteur who's spinning an elegant verbal picture of how he went gadding about on various outré and/or outrageous adventures. All of them are charming and whimsical, and definitely took their place along Dunsany's tales of Jorkens as a big influence on Mirabilis.
Anyway, I recently noticed that A J Alan breathed his last in a Norfolk guest house seventy years ago. Which I'm sure was quite a tragedy, especially for Mrs Alan (well, Mrs Lambert, of course, is who I mean) who followed her husband soon after, poor woman. But time heals all wounds, and the silver lining in this case is that A J Alan's stories are now in the public domain. We talked a bit about publishing rights yesterday - well, here's a fine body of work in which everybody has publishing rights. It no longer need languish, secured by the strangling chain of copyright. Now the A J Alan oeuvre can enjoy a new lease of life.
Obviously it's too much to hope that the BBC would have kept the original recordings. These are the fellows who wiped Tomb of the Cybermen, after all. But possibly somebody at Broadcasting House will have the bright idea of getting Hugh Laurie or somebody to re-record the stories, if indeed they can still afford him. In the meantime, doing my bit, I shall bring you some of A J Alan's stories here, starting with "The 19 Club" tomorrow.