Max Decharne at the Spectator offers a piece on the biography of crime writer Ted Lewis, the author of Jack’s Return Home, the great crime novel behind the great crime film Get Carter.
If you search Google Images for Ted Lewis, the results show an American jazz-age band-leader in a battered top hat, or the determined features of the world champion boxer Ted ‘Kid’ Lewis, the ‘Aldgate Sphinx’. In between falls a picture of the crime writer Ted Lewis perched on a stool at a cable-strewn film location in 1970, portable typewriter on his knees, cigarette on his lip, and a sardonically knowing look which says that after years of struggle, overnight success has finally arrived. The film was Get Carter, anote-perfect transcription of Lewis’s hardboiled masterpiece Jack’s Return Home, published in February that year.
Alfred Edward Lewis — Edward to his parents, Ted to his friends — was born in Manchester in 1940, but grew up in the Lincolnshire town of Barton-upon-Humber, close by the southern end of the Humber Bridge, where he roamed as a child with a group of friends called the Riverbank Boys. For more urban excitement, there were Hull and Scunthorpe nearby, and despite the film’s distinctive Newcastle and Gateshead locations, the home to which Jack returns in Ted’s book is essentially Scunthorpe, with a side order of Grimsby.
One of the most valuable aspects of Nick Triplow’s welcome new book — the first biography of Lewis — is the care he has put into finding a wide variety of the author’s family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances. From Ted’s earliest days at school, through his time at Hull Art College, playing piano in local jazz bands, working as an illustrator in London and on the animated Beatles film Yellow Submarine, there are many first-hand reminiscences of a man whose story was previously very sketchily known. If only someone in the mid-20th century had put equal effort into locating people from the formative years of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.
The portrait which emerges is of an innovative and profoundly talented writer who had difficult relations with many of those around him, not least because of his lifelong attachment to alcohol. He was a regular pub-goer from the age of 14, so it is hardly surprising that his evocations of dismal bars with ‘singing till 10, fighting till 11’ are pin-sharp.
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