Fanfare for Tin Trumpets by Margery Sharp – a 1932 picture of London life reprinted by Dean Street Press

Fanfare for Tin Trumpets by Margery Sharp

Alistair French is a young man of ambition and planning. He is the main character in this charming book which originally appeared in 1932 and which has been reprinted after eighty years by the wonderful Dean Street Press. A gently funny book of youthful mishaps in 1930s London, this is a world of characters who live within a small area of the city, preoccupied with each other and the small scandals of life. A fascinating insight into lives in exciting times, this book sets out to show the pressures on people in a time when women were working, theatrical life was exciting and a young man could be easily distracted. The genuine characters that Sharp creates and peoples this book with retain the interest of the reader throughout, including the lovely Winnie, easily influenced and excitable, loyal and thoughtful. Alistair is the sort of man who is easily influenced, especially by a young actress called Cressida. Sharp has obviously found a lot of satisfaction in creating this little world and especially the pains of love for the hapless Alistair, describing the clothes, the drinks and the expenditure of a world which has long disappeared. The setting, on the streets, boarding houses and the parks of London, is carefully described, with the splashes of colour from the special clothes desired and worn by some of the women. It is an enjoyable book that I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review.

The book begins with Alistair planning what he can do with a small inheritance from his rather distant father. With one hundred pounds he can afford to take a small room in Paddington, and live while he writes for a year. In that time, he believes, if he practices a strict economy, he can write “two full-length novels and about forty short stories” and thereby establish his career as an author. To aid his financial plans he decides to share a room with his friend with his friend Henry, a student teacher of modest means and ambitions. From the beginning he finds much to distract him from his earnest writing ambitions, including the informal and overcrowded gatherings organised by Winnie and her “Ma” , a redoubtable older lady with “a startlingly disreputable old eye”. Winnie is quite a local character, with quite an entourage of young men who follow her around. This makes social events quite lively in the old lady’s rooms, and prove a major distraction to Alistair’s writing. The lodgings at Bloom street are a fertile place for making connections of all kinds, and Alistair is soon introduced to not only those who live there, but some of their contacts. A Miss Tibbald is a chance acquaintance, but her presentations to the cultured life soon introduce Alistair and Henry to a literary society called the Embryo Club, which holds long and involved meetings which lead onto other events, and eventually Alistair meets the picturesque Cressida and instantly falls in love. A would-be actress, she takes delight in arranging herself in becoming attitudes, and when no better entertainment is available, welcomes the slavish devotion of the besotted Alistair. To be fair she tells the young man that she will only marry to further her career. Nevertheless, Alistair has already decided to become a playwright, and hits on the idea of writing a play that will be a vehicle for Cressida to become a real star. Unfortunately entertaining the young woman and generally following his inclinations is eating into Alistair’s time and funds. 

This is a vivid story of a man’s progress in a memorable world of characters and London in the interwar period. It is funny, intriguing and effortlessly descriptive. Elizabeth Crawford’s informative Introduction points out Sharp’s own time spent in a London flat at the beginning of her writing career, so there is  a real basis for her observations. I enjoyed this story as very much of its time, and one which provided real insights into an interesting period in British life.