Cary Grant was once sent a telegram, ‘How Old Cary Grant?’ To which he replied, ‘Old Cary Grant Very Well Thanks.’
Reader Jane Abbott says: ‘I’m curious to know how old Bryant and May are in the present day? I’m new to them, and I’m on my third book – Seventy Seven Clocks – and thoroughly enjoying it. But sometimes I get the feeling that they might be a bit to old to be capering about like this!! Replies are eagerly awaited.’
It’s a question I get a lot…
There are three answers to this, Jane – one is revealed in ‘The Memory of Blood’ (I think), when Raymond Land questions the accuracy of the dating of Arthur Bryant’s memoirs (which, it is revealed, these tales are). We suddenly realise we’re seeing everything through Arthur’s rheumy eyes, and knowing his playfulness, we get the sense that he lies about details like age to make the story better.
Two – I know modern 80 year-olds whose activity levels would seem inconceivable to the previous generation, and I wanted to have detectives who could fight entrenched ageist attitudes. Having said that, John May is a cancer survivor, and I think if memory serves Bryant had a heart attack, plus there are many ailments they must deal with. As Bette Davis said; ‘Getting old is not for sissies’.
And three – you could argue that although certain elements move on due to the span of the writing of the series – like technological improvements – the stories could all conceivably take place in the course of a single year with the exceptions of Vols 1 and 3. And I do make concessions to Bryant’s age; he avoids stairs, uses a stick, takes inappropriate naps and is generally cantankerous!
Actually, there’s a fourth point – it’s fiction, and they don’t have to age at all. Like Miss Marple or Bart Simpson or David Cameron, they’re not real. The biggest problem is the finite date of the Second World War, which straddles the 20th century dating everything. It’s something that marks everyone born in England, a peg upon which family memories are hung.
So, how old are they? Aged, but hopefully timeless.