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The Collected Works of R. Bristow
He may be a humble buying clerk but deep in his heart he knows he is born to be a best-selling author (that is, if he doesn’t make it as a brain surgeon or become Chief Buyer). Bristow has been writing since first he joined the buying department. Sometimes it is hard for him to find a typist to transcribe his manuscripts. The authorities may even refuse to let him draw any more paper from the stores. But he writes on undaunted either by lack of talent or lack of imagination.
Why does he write? Why does he press on despite utter failure? In his own words "I want to be a best-selling author. I want my name up in lights. I want people to nudge each other when I walk by. And anyway it’s good to have another string to your bow"
A full bibliography may be impossible - who knows how many searing novels, soul-baring poems and nail-biting stories lie hidden in old files, forgotten filing cabinets and stuffed amidst piles of invoices (marked Urgent). Here are some of the gems that have surfaced, alas mostly to sink forever under the contumely of Alan Tasker, the despairing reviewer from Messrs. Heap and Trotwood (Publishers of Fine Works).
Living Death in the Buying Department
The seminal work about the sheer horror of office life. This epic, path-breaking, work seems to be the first product of Bristow’s pen. It is first mentioned in strip 93 when he has already been working for C-Ps for some seven years.
Bristow addresses the
And where does the title come from? It is a dedication to Jones.
Bristow goes on to explain the motivations behind the book (and the degree of prudence he feels necessary to maintain)
This book of mine is a shocker
The first draft of Living Death runs to 667 pages. How can it be rendered into type? Bristow uses his usual charm to persuade the hapless Miss Sunman ("She has plenty of spare time") to type up the manuscript. She extracts revenge by rewriting it as a romance
After the manuscript is typed Bristow removes Miss Sunman's edits, survives the scorn of Pilkington - strip 145 - and the cleaning lady ("brush up your descriptive passages and polish your vocabulary") and sends it to a publisher (in November 1962). It is not until April 1963 that we learn that it has been rejected.
After a long hiatus the manuscript resurfaces in a filing cabinet where it was filed under D for Dynamite. Bristow now claims that he wrote it soon after joining the firm. (Not long after, Jones accuses him of wasting four years over it - let us pass over these minor inconsistencies).
Living Death seems to have changed somewhat and is now the story of a buying clerk in a big company. It is a frank and shocking account of office life in which names are named and salaries revealed. Even after eight years in which the names have changed, the salaries are still the same.The acid test of any book is its beginning (according to Bristow). Living Death pulls no punches.
In the beginning Sir Reginald created the organisation. And the organisation was without form and empty. And Sir Reginald said, ‘let there be staff’ and there were staff.
When Bristow stumbles over the yellowing manuscript he knows he is on the verge of a small fortune - if only he can find a publisher. Miss Rouge helps to retype it. Then the manuscript goes missing - no problem, the firm's scapegoat can write it all out again.
The book might have even more impact if only it were not competing with certain superficially similar works - Living Death in Goods Inwards, Living Death in Production Control and Living Death in Costing come to mind. He then finds that a virtually identical work, Living Death in Personnel has been penned by Mr. Perkins and both authors have to balance their searing exposes with the somewhat limited nature of the market for such doorstops.
But how to publish? In February 1972 the plot thickens. Somehow he hears of Messrs. Heap and Trotwood whose reviewer, Mr. Tasker is destined to become very familiar with the output of his unwanted correspondent. Mr. Tasker always seems to be given Bristow's latest on a Friday. He always comes in on Monday, groans when asked about his weekend and sets about penning another rejection note. Living Death vanishes into the obscurity from which it should never have emerged.
One day Bristow discovers yet another first draft, written in his first few days at C-Ps and entitled Fun in the Buying Department - first line "I think I’m going to like it here". Of course the title is quickly changed to Living Death but the tone of this draft contrasts oddly with Bristow’s own experience at Effandee Holdings where he must already have learned to loathe being a buying clerk and everything to do with office life.
In July 1998 he was at it again, spicing up the yellowing manuscript by adding some chapters of explicit sex and putting in swear words everywhere. But as usual, he then has to find a typist. Miss Sunman is passed over and a Miss Teasdale recruited to the cause. It doesn't seem likely to make much difference.
The Lord of the Manor story
There was a time that Bristow was keen to write for the House Journal. His first piece of creative writing after Living Death is a powerful plea for social justice. The story about a cruel Lord living in luxury while his serfs suffer would surely have shaken the C-P management to the core - if only Bristow had not chickened out and commited it to the wastepaper basket (and if Hickford had dared to publish it. Yeah right).
"Buying clerk, buying clerk, where
have you been?
Enough said. But if you must, there is more under poetry
Mainly about strange and horrible happenings late at night in the offices of a large organisation. Stories that will curdle the blood of any buying clerk doing a spot of overtime around midnight whilst the bats are silhouetted against a sinister full moon and the ominous creak of a floorboard denotes the stealthy approach of a manic Chief Buyer... or something.
The stories are guaranteed to make your hair stand on end. They do not. But Bristow's claim, in strip 3679 , that the stories will make him an easy fortune is powerful stuff indeed.
Not, alas, a tale of mean streets and fast guns, a wisecracking detective and a Sidney Greenstreet type baddie as Mr. Heap (or is it Mr. Trotwood?) hopes. This is Bristow’s guide to dieting.
The Root of all Evil - an in-depth analysis of monetary policy and Economic Survival
"Wages are something you get every Friday in a brown envelope".
The Fiendish affair at Funboys Hotel (A story of murder and mayhem)
A gothic detective story inspired by a summer holiday at Funboys that was not an unqualified success. When this one is rejected Bristow retreats to his usual fall-back - strip 4199
The tale of a buying clerk leading a bunch of rabbits in search of a haven.
The tale of a gigantic buying clerk who terrorises the city.
Mr. Trotwood, (or is it Mr. Heap?) hopes this will be the behind-the-scenes intrigues of the world cup, 75,000 throats roaring as the teams run out onto the emerald turf. Unfortunately it is a buying clerk’s guide to desktop football.
Not quite intergalactic battles between the forces of good and evil, this is about inter departmental punch-ups between accounts and the buying department.
Strangely enough this is a profile of Sir Reginald Chester-Perry and appears to be Bristow’s attempt to out-Hickford Hickford. The allegations that Sir Reginald was involved in the Great Tea Trolley Disaster of '68 seem strangely out of place. After the rejection by Heap and Trotwood, Bristow seeks the opinions of his co-workers, unwisely:
from strip 3934 published in the Evening Standard November 1973 and in Bristow Extra
The Alice story
An untitled story in which a young girl called Alice encounters an office worker who tumbles down a subway, is invited to the Mad Accountant’s tea break, plays desk top football and meets a grinning Chief Buyer.
Heap and Trotwood’s rejection is worth quoting in full: -
"You ought, Mr. Bristow, the publisher
As is Bristow’s response
The arrogance of those publishers...accusing me of plagiarising one of Lewis Carroll’s books. Insolent pups! I’ve never even heard of the woman
The handsome prince story
An untitled story about this handsome prince who was turned by a wicked fairy into a buying clerk and the only thing that could break the spell was a kiss from a Kleenaphone girl. How Bristow obtains inspiration may be seen in strip 3592
Heap & Trotwood’s rejection note said "Unsuitable for children"
The Rip van Winkle story
An untitled story about a buying clerk who falls asleep at his desk for forty years (bearing in mind the amount of sleeping that Bristow does over his desk, this may be autobiographical)
The Chester-Perry Book of Records
Bristow seems to have been the first editor of this important work of reference. He had key assistance from an unusual source - strip 4146 Later in the strip he and Jones eagerly await its publication, so it seems that another hand has taken it over - possibly Hickford?
The Green Pestilence
Sadly not a dramatic science fiction novel about horrors from outer space, it is the story of a buying clerk and his window box.
Operation White Elephant
It is hard to see why Mr. Tasker was unmoved by this dramatic account of a buying clerk who kidnaps a postboy and then telephones the accounts department for a ransom.
The Balloon Goes Up
This should perhaps have been a dramatic account of trans-Atlantic heroism a la Branson. But it is about what happens to a buying clerk caught trying to sneak out from work early.
Possibly this manuscript was never submitted for publication. It is about a creature that terrorises a community. It is not in any way based on Jaws.
Living Death in the Buying Department II
It is curious that it took Bristow so long to realise the enormous potential of a sequel to his original blockbuster. Yet it was not until October 1981 that he revealed to an astonished world (or a bored and sceptical Jones, whatever) the existence of this hitherto unknown manuscript. It appears to be the story of how a wealthy heir to an American plantation is tricked into becoming a buying clerk. The possibilities of TV rights are discussed. Miss Sunman refuses to type it out without being paid. End of story.
The Office Worker's Guide to Fitness
We have been in this territory before (see Finish of the Fat Man) but the apparent success of a new exercise regime generates another attempt to show clerks everywhere how to lose weight. There is a heavy emphasis on office-based activities strip 6880 including the value of shifting from one foot to another during a dressing-down from the boss. But once the manuscript is on its way to Messrs. Heap and Trotwood the author's feet go up on the desk and those pounds soon come back.
The Plot to Blow Up the Chester-Perry Building story
Jones feels that the story about the office worker who assembles his own atom bomb owes something to a certain F. Forsyth and he is probably right.