Many many years ago, more than I care to remember, my mother, sister and I used to sit and listen to the Sunday afternoon serial on the radio, in those days it was the Light Station. Every week at 4.30pm a book was adapted and one of these that has remained in my mind very clearly was Children of the Archbishop by Norman Collins. I remember borrowing the book after listening to the radio and being enthralled by the story. Now over 45 years later I re-read it, courtesy of Bloomsbury (lovely peeps) on my Kindle while on my Australian visit and, as with the Lorimer Line which I reviewed earlier, was wondering how I would find it after all this time and slightly worried that it would seem dated and trivial. Well, it wasn't and one rainy day when it was impossible to go out, Australian rain is something else, I stayed indoors and read and read and read and loved this book all over again.
The setting for this story is an orphanage, founded by an archbishop, and the prologue introduces us to various characters on the No 14 bus trundling through London. Though we are given background on most of them these are shadowy figures we will never see again, save one, a young woman who leaves the bus and disappears into the fog to the orphanage where she leaves a bundle on the doorstep. The baby is clearly loved and warm and the mother kisses the child before vanishing. All that is left is this new born child with a label attached to the shawl saying "Sweetie".
And so Sweetie's life in the orphanage begins. The thing that struck me about it this time was that its staff and workers were positively Trollope. Pretty sure that Norman Collins must have been familiar with his works as some of the characters shrieked Barchester Towers. It is not a harsh place, no Dotheboys Hall here, the children are well cared for and it is run by the first of the Trollope figures - Canon Mallow. He is definitely The Warden, Mr Harding, with his sweetness of nature and his kindness but slightly bumbling inefficiency. He loves all the children but he is soon to retire and his place is taken by a new appointee, Dr Samuel Trump who I immediately saw as the Dean in Barchester Towers. He is determined that St Mark's will be run efficiently and on proper lines and is appalled at the inefficiency and disorganisation he sees before him. At first the reader is encouraged to dislike Dr Trump but then we are privy to his inner thoughts and we realise that he is a good and well meaning man, nervous and worried that he will fail in his post, and we begin to warm to him.
The Children of the Archbishop follows the life of Sweetie and another little boy, a holy terror, Ginger, when they strike up a friendship. Ginger is a beguiling character, up to all sorts of mischief and tricks who even manages to climb over the wall at night and go 'up West' on forays into the big wide world. He is the bane of Dr Trump's life as no amount of punishment or detentions seem to have any effect on him whatsoever and Sweetie, who has an adventurous streak in her as well, cause a lot of upset for the new Warden.
This story is full of the most wonderful characters: Dame Eleonor, one of the trustees of the Orphanage is Mrs Proudie to the life and at first we find her dislikeable but, as with Mrs Proudie, we come to understand her better as she has a hidden sorrow in her life; Mr Pretorius, the organist with a chequered past who has been kicked out of the church, has bits of Obadiah Slope in his make up though he too has a hidden life and then there is Mr Dawlish, shabby, ash all down his clothese, egg stains on his tie, who is the Rev Quiverful to the life.
The Children of the Archbishop was written in 1951 and it has that immense readability that many of the Persephone published books of that period also display. When reading I found it enormously comfortable and enjoyable to read - words that should apply to a book but nowadays are attributes somewhat despised - and found it had echoes of Richmal Crompton and Dorothy Whipple who, of course, were contemporaries with Collins. The reader plunges in, is taken along on an irresistible wave of sheer pleasure and I, for one, found it almost impossible to put it down until I had finished.
This was the only Collins I had ever read but after finishing I went online and found that Bloomsbury have other titles of this author on their ebooks list. Having already begged for freebies to review my conscience smote me and I decided not to cadge again, but just to buy and I downloaded Anna, an Elizabeth von Arnim type book and a total contrast to Children, which I also enjoyed and which I will write about later.Bond Street Story which would make a wonderful TV series as it is set in a fictional department store (though with The Paradise and Mr Selfridge this has probably now been done to death). I then got hold of London Belongs to Me which I gather is regarded as his finest book and I finished that yesterday and will also review in due course.
It seems that Norman Collins, as well as writing over twenty successful books, worked for the BBC and was responsible for Dick Barton, Secret Agent, which I used to listen to and can even now remember the theme music. His success as director of radio programmes led to him being appointed Controller of the BBC Television Services. Goes without saying that he fell out with the Beeb when he was not given the promotion he deserved, and resigned. Nothing changes there it seems. However, he certainly got his revenge - he went off to form the company ATV as he felt that the BBC's monopoly of television should be broken. Collins became the deputy chairman of of ATV but, once again, did not get the top job. He came up against Lew Grade and anybody who remembers this redoubtable gentleman will understand why....
So once again I have rediscovered a book which I loved as a teenager and now love all over again and, what is more, discover more titles awaiting my attention. I have simply loved reading Children of the Archbishop again, this time with new eyes and with a knowledge of Trollope which I did not possess before and which enhanced my enjoyment even more, and I am looking forward to reading more of Norman Collins. I have learned my lesson however and will not be rushing through them but will take my time and savour them as there will be no more when I have read the lot. No binge reading. Yes, well we shall see.
Please do try this book or any others by this author and, if you do, let me know what you think as I would love to find others who have enjoyed Collins. Pretty sure there are lots of you out there...