Sidelong Glances at the PCU Characters: Arthur Bryant
It began with my former creative partner, the other half of my brain; unreconstructed and shamelessly old-fashioned, usually right about everything, motto; ‘The world would be a better place if everyone did what I told them.’ And generally speaking it would have been. The physical embodiment of Arthur Bryant, whom no-one dares to call by his first name except John May and occasionally, Janice Longbright.
A lifelong chain smoker, Jim died at 63 of lung cancer. Bryant smokes a pipe, of course, the nuclear option for those choosing to bung up their bronchioles. Bryant is also an amalgamation of other people I admire; a mixture of brilliant academics without social skills, backroom girls and boys, and risk-takers.
His tragedy, of course, is that Bryant never took a degree in one of the specialist subjects that fascinate him, so he remains a gifted amateur. Held back by his working class background and brusque manner, he was overlooked and ignored through the very years when he could have been of the most use, so part of his errant behaviour nowadays can be traced to a desire for revenge on so-called superiors, although he would never admit that.
One of the most delightful characters of modern times is Gustav H in ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’, and while Arthur would love to be as suave as that Mâitre D’ he knows he is trapped in a dumpy failing body. But to him John May is that character, the smooth part he would like to be. Together they make a whole.
Beneath Bryant’s rudeness is kindness, obviously. But a sense of mischief and frivolity always shines through, because he is a trickster and admires the same quality in others – hence his friendship with magicians and fraudulent street characters. He knows he’s an outsider, and having finally accepted the fact now revels in it.
One of the more unexpected problems I encountered was dealing with Bryant’s shifting timeline. I’ve had several goes at explaining it, but now I think I’ll let it go. Fiction means you can make shit up. If I wanted to I could slide the entire shebang into a China Miéville-like alternative London, which would be the London I most want to exist in, where the best of the old (an emptier city, where ‘The Fosdyke Saga’ and ‘Clive and Augusta’ are still in the papers) and the best of the new (café society, new openness) exist together in a blurred shared world (as it does in my mind).
But that would perhaps be drifting into esoterica, and you’ll see the pitfalls of that when a few revelations come out in the next B&M, ‘London Bridge Is Falling Down’.