The London of my mind’s eye is still shabby and industrial. It is not built on the reality of its modern identity but from its documentation and portrayal in older books, television and film, even more so than ever due to lockdown. This London is not one filled with looming, luxury high-rises like the horrors in Nine Elms, nor is it the city that turned Battersea Power Station into an air-space office quarter for Apple, but it is one filled with working docks, industry and busy pubs for blue collar workers. This same world had a fruitful underbelly, making it the perfect setting for noir. I think of it as a city filled with criminality thanks to the novels of Arthur La Bern and Patrick Hamilton, series like The Sweeney and Villains, and films like Robbery (1967), Sitting Target (1972) and The Squeeze (1977). This is just the tip of the iceberg thankfully with endless material to enjoy and discover. This world, however, was never darker than when it was explored in the work of writer Derek Raymond.
I won’t write a biography of Raymond (or Robin Cook which was his real name) as he’s done a good job of that himself. Suffice to say his life was an eccentric one which saw him fall from the highest of privileges (dropping out of Eton) to the very real dangers of the underworld. It imbued his subsequent work with both darkness and authenticity, disturbingly so in fact. Few London novels can shine a light on the sheer grim horrors present in Raymond’s work, in particular the first four of his five Factory novels following the unnamed sergeant working in A14, the Department of Unexplained Deaths. Their stark mixture of pessimistic philosophy and violence made them a unique enterprise, more in line with Cormac McCarthy and the most extreme of Giallo films than Arthur Conan Doyle and Dixon of Dock Green. After reading the second of these, The Devil’s Home On Leave, the urge to do something film-wise with them was irresistible. But how to go about it? I had no budget, no cast, the London of his novels has virtually vanished and a pandemic was soon to hit. The answer came from archive Television.
I’ve harboured an addiction to television from the 1960s to the 1980s for years now, as evidenced by the writing on this site. My addiction is given healthy support from home release companies like Network and the BBC Worldwide. My viewing habits are more akin to a student living in 1976 than a struggling writer in 2020. Suffice to say, that same world that Raymond used as the backdrop for his stunning novels was used in a wealth of television shows too. I had already gathered a few clips in preparation for attempting to make a trailer for a fake sequel to Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg’s Performance (1970). It was watching an episode of the anthology series The Frighteners that finally tipped it. I had long been considering who I would cast as the anonymous sergeant that narrates the Factory series. I had thought of Ian Hendry who had come to mind when I first read them, especially after seeing his small role in McVicar (1980). Seeing Tom Bell in the Frighteners episode, The Minder (1972), was the revelation I needed, not least because it used extensive footage of the since-demolished Brutalist Oliver Close estate in Leyton. It was a typically Raymond-esque estate.
The trailer came together with added footage from Villains and Thriller, finding an endless stream of quality character actors that seems to my mind unbelievable to be working all at the same time. The trailer could have been twice as long because of this. British viewers of the 1970s were spoilt rotten with talent. I edited it together, imagining Brian Glover as the main villain, seeing him as either one of the club owners from I was Dora Suarez or the gangster who has hired McGruder in The Devil’s Home On Leave. The soundtrack was taken from Delia Derbyshire’s work, in particular the segments which are likely most famous for their use in the Doctor Who story, Inferno (1970). I hope the trailer satisfies Raymond fans and shows the screen potential that is there in abundance in Raymond’s work. More than most, his novels deserve a good shot at a television series, and I can just imagine the sharp, uncompromising cut a Factory series would make through the dirge of bland prestige television today.