Bob Tanner is my absolute favourite fictional journalist ever.
“…his clothes were shabby and disreputable. One look and she had a strong suspicion that he was a tramp; he needed a shave, he smelt of drink and it wouldn’t have hurt him to have a wash, either.”
Bob is supposed to be covering a local fishing contest for the local Argus, which is apparently of such vast national interest that there’s “no room at the inn” in the local pub due to it being crowded out by other media. So Bob decides to do a bit of moonlighting, he’s also a stringer for Fleet Street as most local newspaper reporters are, and he fancies digging up a bit of sex and scandal.
Bob’s target is Liza Thurston, a former model who now runs a modelling agency, and has such a perma-frosted foo-foo after some dreary heartbreak in her teens that she hasn’t had sex for eight years. Despite this, and despite her quiet and exceptionally boring and implausibly respectable personal and professional existence, the newspapers are fascinated with her love life, and “the London papers would pay well for a news item about her”.
Liza has been hanging out with a bloke called Bruno, who is so screamingly, obviously gay (is it scientifically possible to be called Bruno and not be gay?) that he may as well be wearing a big flashing badge emblazoned with “Friend of Dorothy” and a rainbow jockstrap. But this is still the 1980s when no one is gay, so Bruno is described as a “playboy” despite his 100% lack of sexual interest in women.
For some reason Bruno’s family vastly disapproves of Liza, and Bruno’s asshole Uncle George/G K Gifford/Keir Zachary (I’m not making this titular trainwreck up, I swear) stalks Liza and has her investigated and spied upon. He never apologises for this. He justifies it with the claim that “these days, we’re all on file… somewhere there is always a computer record of your every movement.”
G K Chesterton is doubtless on the board of Facebook by now, but at the time of the novel he’s some kind of business magnate, and implausibly attractive, and an arctic explorer who can cook a gourmet meal by mixing a can of spaghetti hoops with a can of beans, and a star polo player despite being twice the age of all the other polo players (I was getting shades of a Rupert Campbell-Black/Sean Bean in When Saturday Comes hybrid here).
Why would the family of a feckless, idle (and gay) young man object to him dating a successful, respectable, quiet-living businesswoman who clearly doesn’t need his money and might even inspire him to develop some kind of work ethic? Your guess is as good as mine, but Liza Frosty-Fanny is apparently far too infra dig for Fabulous Bruno.
But let’s get back to Bob, the true hero of our story. Bob rocks up drunk at Liza’s cottage. He’s “short and heavy” and manages to get a foot in the door, before having a crack at Frosty-Fanny himself.
“Just give me a few quotes, and I’ll go, I promise, Liza! And I don’t blame Bruno, by the way – you’re a real knock-out, aren’t you? I go for blondes myself, always have.”
Sadly, Liza isn’t taken by poor old Bob’s “grinning, unshaven face”, and the next minute he’s been physically thrown out of the door by G K Chesterton.
Liza’s worried they’ve killed him, but she should know that Gentlemen of the Press are rather more tough than that. First thing next morning, Bob’s back outside the cottage, staking it out with a photographer friend. The snapper misses his chance to get a shot of G K Chesterton (we’re in that strange Romance Novel parallel world where two single adults spending the night in a cottage is a Huge Scandal – things haven’t apparently moved on since the days of Wilkie Collins) so he and Bob “pound up the path and start yelling and knocking”.
But Bob hasn’t given up. Later in the day, when Liza is off her guard, he’s back with his photographer, who actually manages to operate his camera this time, although Liza is “an experienced hand with cameras and managed not to be full face every time he snapped.” Given she’s utterly incapable of managing a “no comment” whenever the phone rings, this is not very plausible.
Poor Bob then gets pelted with tomatoes, one of which hits his forehead and bursts. (Note to younger readers: supermarket tomatoes were actually edible in the 1980s, you could bite into them without breaking your teeth. Today you’d need to open a can of tomatoes to achieve the same effect). And right after this indignity, Bob gets stabbed in the foot with a spiked umbrella.
But don’t despair! For Bob, like any newspaper reporter worth his salt, still managed to file the previous night and make the morning papers, with a great bit of copy about a “mystery man” staying at Liza’s cottage. Good for Bob. Back in the day, that would have probably been worth a couple of hundred quid. And these were the days when a couple of hundred quid could actually buy something.
After this, page 60, the book should really end, because there’s no more Bob. You can read on if you like, but with Bob’s exit, the glory really has gone out of it.