Carry on Commando
James Delingpole’s Coward on the Beach, the first novel of 10 detailing the exploits of Second World War hero Dick Coward, will have you gripped with its knowingly posh derring-do.
So far in my brief life, I haven’t been able to translate any of my hobbies into surefire moneyspinners.
James Delingpole, however, has made a career out of turning his private self into the stuff of public consumption, scrawling out a screed of witticisms week-on-week right across the Tory press. One of his columns is a TV review for the Spectator, in which he struggles to interest himself in anything that’s not shown on the History Channel. Now Delingpole has turned this viewing monomania into a highly entertaining new novel.
Coward on the Beach is a war story, about D-Day. It is the first novel in a series of 10. Hints to further adventures proliferate in this, Coward’s first outing. Why does Coward have a German tattoo across his arse? What did he do to so upset the Nazis on the Eastern front? The first instalment, however, concentrates on painting a tally-ho portrait of the English upper classes, fighting to preserve their right to foxhunt, their status as top people, and their right to inhabit blissfully elegant country piles.
Hitler and huns, upper-class English broads, country-house inheritances, captains called Dangerfield, batsmen, bravura and jokes: they’re all in here. The book jacket – and all the hype surrounding the birth of Coward – alludes to Dick Coward being a twenty-first century version of George Macdonald Fraser’s ‘Flashman’; only Coward, despite his name, is a genuine hero. It looks to me more like the brilliant sort of teen-adult fiction that is likely to get commuters addicted, like Harry Potter did, as it is skilfully written, a tearing good read, with a magical sort of hero and a lot of heart (plus plenty more swearing and a dose of fellatio).
The story is as follows. Dick Coward is a Coward by name but not by nature. He narrates the book from beyond the grave. ‘Bugger me’, he says in the beginning, ‘so I’m finally dead’, and then goes on to explain episode one in what promises to be a series of epic World War Two tales: D-Day.
Landing on the beach, Delingpole conjures up the panic of war in full lurid gory glory. Imagine that feeling just before you’re about to puke, he writes, ‘when your skin has turned such a grisly green you can feel the chlorophyll leeching through your pores’, and then ‘imagine yourself tumbling down a scrambling net with rifle, Bangalore torpedo… and the near-certain knowledge that within the next hour you’re going to be emasculated, decapitated, eviscerated, pulverised or otherwise obliterated by any one of the numerous devices the opposition has thoughtfully included in your welcome package’.
And Coward’s hard ride doesn’t end on the beaches. Despite his heroic exploits, Coward is constantly underrated and misunderstood by his peers and superiors, his brilliant military smarts ignored and his valour never quite appreciated. The ranks all take the piss out of him, especially when he suggests that he’s fighting the war to preserve his right to foxhunt. He’s got girl problems, too, in the shape of a wet-dream of an heiress named Gina; and family problems, as his father has promised to bequeath the family estate to whichever of his sons has ‘the best war’. (And since his younger brother has an MC, the only chance Dick has of inheriting everything is by winning a VC – which, of course, are typically awarded posthumously.)
So the plot goes like this: Coward is dispatched to France by his beloved heiress, Gina, to protect her apparently pussy-whipped cousin Captain Dangerfield, and, under disgrace, stripped of his officer status, Coward can only really rely on his superior batman, Price (who is the real heart of the book), to get him out of trouble.
On this journey, there is plenty of the sort of derring-do that might be worthy of a ‘Carry On Commando’. Take this for instance:
[Coward has slipped across enemy lines, to drink some wine with Jean, a disabled member of the Resistance. While he is there, he manages to obtain a map which outlines, in full, the German positions, and suggests that one army unit is about to get blown to smithereens by the Germans.]
‘I’ve a feeling that luck might be about to change sir’, I say, passing him Jean’s map.
He stares at it with an expression of puzzlement, then brings it closer to his face to see if that helps. Then examines it from different angles.
‘The German defences, sir. Drawn by a member of the Resistance.’
‘By God they’re recruiting them young these days. How old was he? Three? Four?’
‘Chap who drew it didn’t have any hands.’
‘Were the Resistance wise to pick him as their cartographer?’
Expect to see your train carriage full of Delingpole paperbacks for a few years to come, as Coward fights and blunders his way through another nine volumes.
Emily Hill is staff writer at spiked and a blogger for Dazed and Confused.
Coward on the Beach by James Delingpole is published by Bloomsbury. (Buy this book from Amazon(UK).)