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The Brentford Mercury

An Interview with Robert Rankin

Robert Rankin nabbed at an art exhibition

by Michael Carroll


The Queen's dress designer

I mentioned that what's so nice about the books is that everybody is so down to Earth - they're all very real characters.

"They're all real people, that's why. I mean, John Omally is John Omally who I used to know as a teenager, who's still as big a bum now as he ever was, but I made him a much more romantic figure - the John Omally who he thought he was, rather than the John Omally we knew he was. And Jim Pooley is me, obviously, I have to be the slightly more sensitive lad whose bottle always goes at the wrong time. Not hero material.

"When they were talking about doing films and TV of these books, they said there's only one problem. The world will see this as a pair of drunken bums who run at the first sign of trouble. But that's that people do! But they're not drunken bums, they're noble, they've got a terrific bond of friendship. They would save each other's skins, or cry if one was injured, so they actually care."

I said that some of the most intriguing characters are those hinted at, like the other Norman Hartnell, who's never actually revealed.

"You mean you don't know who the real Norman Hartnell was?"

I had to confess my ignorance on the subject of things Hartnell.

"He was the queen's dress designer."

Suddenly, light dawned. How could we have been so forgetful? The queen's dress designer. That lad.

"You've never heard of the real Normal Hartnell?"

It's mumbled that we don't actually have a queen ourselves.

"He was a very, very famous fashion designer, for like thirty-odd years, or something.

"There is a very severe problem with what I consider, and what other writers consider, to be comic novels. People read my books, and there are people with my sense of humour, at my age, grew up in the same places I did, who see all the gags. And then there are other people who read a totally different book. I mean, what's the R101?"

Myself, Michael Cullen and Robert Elliott looked at each other, and once again had to admit ignorance.

"It's amazing, isn't it? It was that dirty great airship, you know. The one that crashed in Paris. You see, there's a generation difference. The R101 went down in something like 1915, or something - it was part of common history to me, something I grew up with. The history of air flight included the R101, the Hindenburg, these sort of things." He laughs. "What do they teach you people?"

We all mumble things about what we're taught in schools over here.

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