Call Me By My Name

Bryant and May

In the new baby name polls of 2020 for the UK, parents have gone traditional with Oliver, Harry, George, Edward, Noah and Arthur (hurrah!) back in vogue. Of course, the Victorians were prepared to experiment with names like Isambard and Brilliant, but in times of uncertainty we move back into our comfort zones.

However, last week I had a bit of a shock.

As you all know, I choose the names Bryant & May because of the matchboxes. The names are redolent of a smoky, sooty past and said exactly what I needed them to say. There was another Arthur Bryant, it turned out, a historian (and a bit of a fascist) but it doesn’t pay to overthink these things.

My sister-in-law was researching our family tree (such as it is – no disowned earls or baronets in that lot) and stumbled across a family secret. My mother was illegitimate, and being of an old-fashioned nature, utterly mortified by the fact. Now it turns out that her family name – and by extension mine – is…Bryant.

So I am my own fiction. Although the books are quite mad, they’re far more factually correct than most readers realise. Underneath the flesh of them, the bones are constructed from London’s real past. So to find out that the name I randomly chose is my own is a bit of a shock.

Over the years I’ve hidden plenty of friends’ names in the books, plus lots of tricks, jokes and recurring odd references (it’s the mischief maker in me; The headline of the Tenet review I posted last week was palindromic, just for fun). Using real names and events in books is tricky. For example, should the next novel feature the pandemic or avoid all mention of it? After all, it’s a world changer.

Or is it? When things return to a slightly different normal it will only be because the future has accelerated slightly to incorporate the changes which were almost here anyway; the end of being tied to large pointless offices, the end of cash etc.

What can’t change is London’s history, which is so rich and complex that it continues to provide me with raw material. Only now, the detective uncovering it will partly be me. I was always part Bryant, part May anyway.

Featured above; part of Gustave Doré’s terrifying vision of a hellish London.

50 comments on “Call Me By My Name”

  1. Daren Murray says:

    I think in honour of your newly found information you should change your phone’s ringtone to a Gilbert and Sullivan aria with immediate effect.

  2. John Howard says:

    Now that is quite fabulous. Whilst I don’t really know you at all, only what I think I may have picked up whilst I have read through the blogs and the writing I can definitely see you as part Arthur and part John.

  3. Cornelia Appleyard says:

    Is Arthur’s distant relative who writes books likely to appear in a future story?
    Learning obscure historical facts about London is much appreciated.

  4. Paul C says:

    Victorians used to name their kids after battles : there were people called Ladysmith and Mafeking.
    A tombstone in my local cemetery shows the forename Verdun for a woman born in 1918 !

    Could you point out a few of the jokes etc hidden in your books ? I’ve no doubt missed them……….

  5. Cornelia Appleyard says:

    I knew a man called Verdun. Born in 1916, I think.

  6. snowy says:

    So… it turns out your old Gran was a bit of a ‘flapper’!

    [That’s definitely an ‘f’, before anybody hits me, an ‘f’!]

  7. Martin Tolley says:

    With all due respect Paul C – I don’t think Mr F (or Mr FB/BF?) should tell all. When we have all shuffled off the mortal etc. it’d be a great task for a PhD student to find and document.

  8. Peter Dixon says:

    Don’t fall for this one Mr F. A coincidence is just that.
    I happen to like wearing hats – I’ve got about 5 working Trilby’s / Fedora’s and a couple of summer Panama’s.
    I never met my paternal grandfather (bear with me), he died years before I was born and I only had seen one photo of him until this year. During this COVID fun thing my daughter decided to do some family tree stuff and found a distant cousin who had a load of photos of my grandfather. On every photo he was wearing a Fedora or a Panama!
    Does this indicate some genetic hat trait within the male members of my lineage, or does it just show that most men in the 1940’s/50’s wore hats?

  9. Dawn Andrews says:

    My own family closet had a number of skeletons that rattled during tense family gatherings. Maybe one of the reasons I love a good mystery! The post war years must have been very odd, after all that terror, freedom and excitement to be back to repression and worrying about the neighbours.

  10. Nick says:

    On the subject of unusual names, I am fortunate to have an antecedent called Orange Ingersent Branton.

  11. Ian Luck says:

    Peter – I’m with you on the hats. I found a really good online hat shop. I now have a couple of Pork Pie hats (of the sort worn by Jazz and Ska musicians – and the bloke from ‘Breaking Bad’ – which I’ve never watched – wears, apparently.), a couple of ‘Baker Boy’ flat caps (“Ey oop,” etc.); a grey Trilby, a very nice Fedora, a Homburg, a Coke (or Bowler, as most people call it), and two Breton Fishermen’s caps, which, if I wear one, a friend of mine immediately calls me ‘Johnny’, and asks if I’m going to throw a wobbly, if a certain very dark colour is mentioned, a reference to Charlie Higson’s artist character, Johnny Nice, from ‘The Fast Show’, who, if he’s to be believed, was kept in a cupboard, and fed pins. (Johnny, not Charlie).

  12. Wayne Mook says:

    If it’s any help Arthur Bryant’s is a famous restaurant in the US, Kanas City, and is known for the Barbeque sauce and burnt ends sandwich. They will even smoke your meat for you, really.

    Of course you now can have a bend sinister on you Bryant coat of arms.


  13. Peter Dixon says:

    Ian – sartorially, throw away the fisherman’s hats. Fishermen don’t wear them, only dodgy old folk musicians and, as you’ve been informed, amateur watercolourists. Or Bernard Cribbins on kids TV shows.

    I only wear a bowler or a straw boater at historic events or parties, although I do have a mortar board that can appear when I’m running a quiz.

    For the most part wear the others with aplomb and in season. Enjoy!

    If you want to get ahead – wear a hat!

  14. Jan says:

    Thats a very interesting thought Chris that the “normal” we will return to will be that of a slightly accelerated future. This is true of course the things that have happened ARE undoubtedly trends which already existed being accelerated into a sort of fast forward.

    Shopping via computer rather than on the High street, and home working are obvious examples but once you start thinking about it lots of smaller more specialised examples exist. the changes are all round us in local government, hospitals, schools and within a thousand other areas of work. Adaptations have been fast and radical. In some ways they can’t realistically be reversed.

    Ideas that were there that already which already existed in a sort of peripheral fashion have been put centre stage and focussed more clearly. In some way it’s similar to a sort of world war scenario things have changed quickly outmoded ideas have fallen by the wayside.

    Whatever happens next one things for sure if will be interesting.

  15. Richard says:

    The Bryant revelation is brilliant, coincidences like that always make the world seem just a bit more wonderful and strange. I’m not sure Dore meant those images to be hellish though, more reportage really. Ive always liked the one of Ludgate Circus. Some of the other plates in the book are much more depressing.

  16. Roger says:

    Peter Dixon: did you go bald young?
    That would make you more likely to wear hats.
    Early baldness runs in the family.
    Wearing hats runs in the family.

  17. admin says:

    A mate of mine’s favourite hat joke:

    ‘When we were young we were so poor we couldn’t afford any clothes and had to hide away at home. Then one day my dad bought me a hat so I could look out of the window.’

  18. Dawn Andrews says:

    I’m enjoying the hat parade.

  19. Peter Dixon says:

    Roger – no, I have a full head of hair and no signs of grey at the age of 64. I put it down to wearing a hat……

  20. Peter Dixon says:

    Roger – I have a full head of hair with no sign of grey at the age of 64. I put it down to wearing a hat…….

  21. Liz Thompson says:

    The only comment I have about hats, is thank god women aren’t expected to wear the damn things any more.
    And if you change your ringtone, it should be A Policeman’s Lot is not a Happy One.

  22. Jo W says:

    Christopher Bryant-Fowler, yes, I think that will look very good on your future books.
    Hoping you are keeping well,Chris and that ‘im(not)indoors,is enjoying himself in the Balearics.

  23. Helen Martin says:

    Fascinating about the name. My genealogist friend says that you should be prepared for anything when you start looking in the past. An ancestor of my husband’s was a Methodist minister (although I don’t hold that against him) who did a considerable amount of research back when you had to actually go to where the records were kept and was able to trace the family back to the first Elizabeth’s reign. Lo and behold he found a ship’s captain who held letters of marque and promptly burned his research because he wasn’t having anything to do with pirates. Didn’t change the facts, though.

  24. Christine says:

    Hell no! A double surname looks so awfully pompous.

  25. Jan says:

    Helen in the UK they have actually built massive container ports and warehousing from scratch to deal with container traffic. Our original docks even the updated 1960-70s versions could not cope with the traffic volume.

    The old docklands of various cities – Salford and London being the places I know best have undergone massive conversion largely into very chichi residences which command eyewatering prices on the property market. Bermondsey being a good example.

    Interestingly the North West in the twin cities of Manchester + Salford “Salford Quays” was first developed for residents in thec early 1980s and pretty much this same area of Salford docklands also later became the new base for the BBC. BBC ‘s Media City is essentially part of the old docklands. Not far at all from the Manchester Ship Canal. The decision taken by the BBC to largely move out of London was absolutely massive (and C4 similarly has taken the decision to move up to Leeds) in many ways over time this could result in a more even view of the importance of many different parts of our nation. This initial move by the Beeb being enabled by the release of large volumes of centrally located land at relatively cheap price. Isn’t it strange how different phases of industrial development sort of play into each other and enable further steps forward?

  26. Maria says:

    OH, how I love all the comments – what wonderful, bright, quirky, people – except – I cannot agree re hats. I love hats and wish I was more confident wearing them. I am sad we women don’t wear them any more as they can look so swish as does wearing gloves…….which I also wear – but sadly I am not swish, just like gloves ( and hats – I am getting boring). Also sorry, I am not sure all the changes are good ones following Covid – are we really supposed to like being apart from one another and hugs? Also working from home is not necessarily a wonderful thing for all. Some people miss the company of others – the opportunity to discuss things while walking along a corridor = of simply seeing other people. Not everyone has the space or facilities to work from home, nor even, perhaps the self discipline. Sorry I am getting into rant mode – will get back to the joy of hats and gloves

  27. snowy says:

    Hair-dos are the new hats, glitzy nails the new gloves; the link?

    You pay once for a hat or a pair of gloves and they are yours forever, Hair and nails require constant expensive maintenance, to achieve a look that lasts a matter of weeks.

    [The secret to wearing hats with confidence is getting a decent fit and the possession of a quality hatpin].

    [Changes of post title to reference a Luca Guadagnino flick could really confuse a stupid person you know… I thought my computer was broken.]

  28. Jan says:

    I like hats I wear a straw hat in summer and a Woolly one in winter.

    Unfortunately I look a bit like Ermintrude from the magic roundabout in the straw summer one. From a charity shop in Bridport 50p (bargain) a thing of beauty in itself if not with me wearing it.

    My sister’s dog bit of a chunk out of my woolly grey winter hat which we found when we were out walking near the Thames. Both me and the dog had a bit of a tussle over it consequently there’s been a bit of unravelling luckily not destroying some green embroidery which indicates that it was originally the property of a member of the Sheen Park Tennis club. A bit of the knittings got mangled. It’s got a lovely like shamrock on it which Salmi didn’t digest and it’s very cosy even though it’s clearly got a huge doggy bite Mark near the crown. That dogs a menace at times. Grey woolly hat green shamrock and lettering. Makes the wearer look extremely athletic I feel. This Shamrock might even be three tennis balls together I’m not sure.

    I’ve got another multicoloured winter woolly creation with a big cream coloured bobble on the top knitted out of very thick chunky wool. I found that one on a very busy train in Shropshire I think it was. I did chase after the owner to try and give it her back and tried to give it to the conductor who ignored me. Even though he checked my pensioners travel pass and all my bargain train tickets very thoroughly. I’m not so fond of it but in very snowy weather it has it’s moments even though it lacks a certain style. It doesn’t suit me probably + didn’t suit the original owner who took the opportunity to dump it. Probably doesn’t suit anyone much. I bet the conductor would have binned it if he could even have been bothered to take it off me. Might suit a person who was of Aztec or Mayan descent.

    I never meant to discuss headwear but really to apologise for posting gobbledygook about the redevelopment of city docklands into the wrong thread. I never think most things on here are really interesting till a day or two after they appear. Consequently errors occur. Surprised I don’t do this more often.
    Sorry for the mix up.

    If anyone is particularly interested I will describe my Micky mouse skiing hat which actually has big beautiful furry black mouse ears and is blue in colour like the one Micky wears in “Fantasia” when he has trouble with them mops. It’s pointed like a wizard’s hat. It has stars which used to light up at the the front and the star lights flashed. But not any more they don’t the magic faded or the battery has run out one of the other. It is about 17 years old. The magic fades in the end.I love that hat it’s my favourite.
    Bought it at Eurodisney and it’s lovely.

  29. Ian Luck says:

    I suffer from Male Pattern baldness – it’s never bothered me, and I’m not vain enough to hide it – indeed, the only cut I have at the barbers’ now is a #0. I then go over it with a razor when I get home. And I don’t give a tinker’s cuss about being fashionable any more, so I’ll keep the practical fishermen’s caps – if they are good enough for ‘National Treasure’, Bernard Cribbins, whom I have always liked, then they are good enough for me. My late father loved hats, and had (the amusing to my brother and I, intensely annoying to my mother) habit of trying on any hat he found, including once, a hideous old ladies’ hat, in British Home Stores (R.I.P.). Dad’s hats could always be identified by oil and hydraulic fluid, and paint stains. It was a rite of passage for any hat he owned.

  30. Ian Luck says:

    Jan, or Wayne – Is it true that the square in front of the BBC in Salford, is known as the: ‘Piazza De Stan Ogden’, after Coronation Street’s greatest layabout, or is it an amusing invention of Messrs. Mark Radcliffe and Marc Riley (the artist formerly known as ‘Lard’)? I so wish it to be true. I was rather touched, that there is now a ‘Tony Wilson Place’ in Manchester. He’d have loved that.

  31. Dawn Andrews says:

    The only hat I have ever felt comfortable wearing is a beanie, in which I look like a mildly intoxicated pixie, according to my better half.

  32. Dawn Andrews says:

    I always remember poor old Corrie Stan being ill in bed upstairs when everyone knew he was dead in real time, that was very odd!

  33. Dawn Andrews says:

    Jan, re found hats, I came across a sea bleached fisherman’s hat in a rock pool walking the Devon Coast path one year, I loved wearing it and never found another like it. Something magical about finding things like that.

  34. Jan says:

    If it isn’t Ian then it should be! Super Stan!

    Tony Wilson apart from his record, clubland + musicl exploits was a local newsreader on “Granada reports” our local itv evening news programme when I was in my teens I think. Not very nice of me to say it as the poor blokes gone now but he never came over all that well on the telly nobody round our way seemed to particularly rate him as a presenter he was a bit smarmy.
    Apparently though he was a proper good bloke in other ways and did a lot for Manchester especially the music scene obviously.

  35. Ian Luck says:

    Jan – Tony Wilson’s Factory Records – Ideas and innovation, absolutely first rate.
    Business acumen – chaotic to the point of being a complete farce. The case in point being New Order’s classic single ‘Blue Monday’. The best selling 12″ single of all time. However, the die-cut sleeve, which looks like the then (1983) modern floppy disc, has to go to two different plants to get the holes cut, meaning that the sleeve is horrendously expensive. Every single sold, loses New Order ten pence. The more they sell, the more money they lose. They sell millions. Another band, The Stockholm Monsters, don’t sell many records at all – so Factory decide to release a single, with nine different sleeves. Section 25 had an album released housed in a sleeve made using special card manufactured in Italy. Brilliant, fascinating, and utterly frustrating.

  36. Ian Luck says:

    Tony Wilson also got the best warning from a boss, ever. Having featured the great Iggy Pop on his ‘So It Goes’ show, and Iggy being a force of nature not appreciated by Granada TV’s Chief, who was frankly horrified by his antics on early evening TV, hauled Tony over the coals, but said he could continue, finishing with words to the effect of:
    “…But If I ever see that bloke with the horse’s tail sticking out of his arse again, you’re sacked.”

  37. Jan says:

    Dawn it is a funny thing I always get fascinated by abandoned hats and even more so when I see one lying about in the roadway, pavement or greenery SHOES. Do you not always think to yourself OOooh there must be a story here whats that shoe doing there? There’s something about a solitary shoe turning up…..

    Unfortunately very very (very) occasionally there is a pretty bad story accompanying a solitary “discarded” shoe. ….
    which is definitely nowt to do with “Cinderella”.

    No I’ve sealed a couple into evidence bags in me time.

    Apparently a long long time ago there was a sort of idea about shoes being important in some sort of magical way maybe they got sole and soul a bit mixed up. Or perhaps rather because of something in this old belief that’s why the words are similar in the 1st place…………

    In the Moslem world it is such a major insult to throw your shoes at someone it’s like one of the worst things you can ever do. . There was video of some Arab guys bunging their shoes at President Bush Junior once do you remember? Means little to us now – a cultural thing.
    Seemed to not exceptionally worry Bush back then (who seems such a decent guy in retrospect in comparison with todays president) but it was for the Arab world a BAD terrible insult.

    If you look at a lot of Anglo Saxon church carvings there’s (for some reason) great emphasis on feet. Honestly not winding you up the feet are always pretty much out of proportion to the rest of the body. Unless that is some of these Anglo Saxons were in fact Hobbits.

    Fairy stories feature shoes too don’t they? Not just Cinderella with the awful background of foot binding and partial heel or toe removal which is dreadful.

    There are other ideas like the Seven League boots.

    I loved that story as a kid I thought about it a lot.
    Seven League Boots were quite the footwear for me. Still would be! Just wish I could find a pair of them( size six 6 wide fitting hopefully) by the wayside – in red preferably. I would n’t be fussed though long as I could do the big long seven league strides.

    Stopping rambling NOW

  38. Jan says:

    Ian am reading your T.W. Stuff

  39. Helen Martin says:

    Came here to check on Jan’s comments about the docks – always fascinating – and am now in full hat mode.
    I wear hats all the time and was even referred to by a couple of people as ‘the hat lady’. I tend to favour cloches of various sorts but will stretch to anything that suits.
    Snowy, the hat pin only works if you have long enough hair to secure it. No problem when my hair came past my waist and I braided it but not so much now that it is bobbed short.
    My husband always wears a hat – felt in winter, straw in summer – and he invariably gets comments. There is something handy about a man’s hat. Just think of a 17th century noble bowing to someone and the different emotions he could put into it. Even women can use brimmed hats as handily as a fan.
    Gloves. Why haven’t women gone back to wearing gloves during all this concern about contagion? There’s a set of instructions in an old Threads magazine on making gloves and I’m really tempted to dig it out and make some to go with various items.
    Jan and Ian, interesting stuff about the docks. Before our dispute was settled shippers used a 100 mile rule that stated that as long as the whole container was destined to a single spot within a hundred miles the shipper could have it hauled straight from the ship. Vancouver destined ships went to Seattle and Seattle ones came to Vancouver. The haulage was unbelievable and didn’t go on much longer. Must ask Ken about the demurrage charges here at that time.

  40. Jan says:

    Until I visited Vancouver a few years back I never really Twigged how close together Seattle and Vancouver actually were. Is it Puget sound ( which I’ve never spelt right) the stretch of water between them?

    I think that’s a lovely part of the world really.

    You make a good point regarding the wearing of gloves Helen but here they’ve actually put out information advising folk NOT to wear protective gloves whilst out shopping because of possible transference of the offending virus on glove surfaces. I dunno how valid this pearl of knowledge actually is. On the quiet I reckon.The British Government are still unsettled about the possible shortage of. PPE equipment within nursing and care homes plus the industries where folk now have to wear protective gloves @ work.

    As you say though would the wearing of cotton gloves come amiss? I dunno at all really I would have thought not.

    Cloches are beautiful hats. I tell you who used to wear beautiful cloche hats Sarah the Duchess of York whilst she was still a Royal personage type person. She wore some lovely cloche type hats when she cut her hair shorter.

    It’s a big factor in hat shape and styles is hair length. All the beautiful 1920s style titfers the cloche shapes needed short bobbed hair to work. Were never really possible prior to that era.

    Same with clothing really until undergarments changed and the restrictive corsets worn by the middle class and upper class females were abandoned what we perceive to be modern streamlined styles couldn’t be created. I supposed the Great War which created a requirement for more females within the workplace was the catalyst for the changes.

  41. Ian Luck says:

    Jan – here’s an odd thing: next time you see a single shoe lying in the road, stop and take a look at it – there is an extremely high possibility that it will be a shoe for a left foot. I saw three, miles apart, on my way home from work the other day. All left feet. It was mentioned in the ‘Fortean Times’ a long time ago, and I’ve always looked since, and yes, more often than not, it will be a left foot.

  42. Jan says:

    That ‘s interesting I’ve never weighed that up before will start paying attention. Wonder why – because most folk are right side dominant and when inebriated are more likely to experience difficulties with coordination in left side movement?

    Also I think it’s more likely to to be ladies shoes lost because of the too high heel decorative nature of the shoes which add to difficulties keeping the ruddy things on.after a few bevies. Not that I’d know of course. Also makes you more inclined to take them off when walking gets more complicated – that just came to me that insight!

    I lost one of of the nicest pair of white summer high heeled shoes I ever had. They were so nice open toe nice design with little scallop shapes around the open toe area. Would you believe I lost the right one getting onto an intercity train at Euston station. I was so fed up they were nearly new as well which added to the general delight.

    I wasn’t even p****d the shoes were a bit slack but I liked them so much I bought em. Was the the right one I lost (but am left handed) I was just getting self and luggage onto Manchester train
    Fell into the gravel on the track right by the platform. Bummer..

  43. Jan says:

    That’s the right shoe that fell not me.

  44. Andrew Holme says:

    Jan, I remember TW on Granada reports where he constantly took the mickey out of Elton Welsby and his cowboy boots. They had a item about strawberry farmers once and Wilson introduced the piece thus “… no apologies for playing this. It’s the best.” and ‘Strawberry Fields Forever came blasting through the telly ( Redifusion hire). Bliss

  45. GeoffreyW says:

    Jan – RE: Shoe found beside roads. I suspect the story behind is rather more prosaic than intriguing. An obstreperous child flinging a shoe from the car window. My wife has lost several shoes this way as her unruly offspring (nothing to do with me!) had a penchant for doing just this; his own and others. Only one shoe! The little rugrat!

  46. Jan says:

    Yeah you are most probably right Geoff my sister has a bad habit of leaving her shoes on her front doorstep where they have been known to go missing the culprit being foxes. Quite often just one turns up down the street …..

  47. Helen Martin says:

    Stray shoes here tend to be pairs of runners (trainers) with the laces tied together and the whole thrown over the power wires. Our driving instructor tried to convince us that people are often hit so hard by cars that their shoes are thrown right off them. Being a 40 something adult I wasn’t having that and asked how the laces got tied. The class of 16 year olds were grateful. I don’t mind a little exaggeration but that was just too much. Instructor wasn’t pleased.

  48. snowy says:

    There are unconfirmed tales that lone shoes are all the work of ‘The Green Pixies’. Victims all report similar tales, they had been for a night out and having left the pub or club they suddenly became dizzy for reasons that they didn’t understand.

    They then recall noticing a strange flickering blue light and the arrival of ‘Green Pixies’, strange creatures that always appear in pairs, fours or even eights, but never stand still, always seeming to swim about even if the victim tries to look at them directly. They always ask the victims lots of questions they can’t understand, like: “How many have you had?”, “Have you taken any pills?” and “Is that puddle of urine yours or are you just keeping it warm for a friend?”.

    The shoe link was harder to tease out, it took many accounts to discover the facts. Pixies it seems really don’t like people throwing up on them, and if they do the pixies take revenge by throwing a shoe out of the window.

    Or so I was told by a man in a pub.

  49. Helen Martin says:

    If you have to drive to get to your liquor outlet there aren’t as likely to be shoes left on the pavement. On the other hand, I think I’d rather the side effects of the drunken pedestrian than the drunk driver.

  50. Ian Luck says:

    On naming children, we ought to be like Iceland, where, for a great many years, you can only name your children from a list of names approved by the government – so nothing stupid, disrespectful, obnoxious, or taken from a character on the parents’ favourite TV show or pop artiste. Remembering too, that surnames are still suffixed with ‘Sson’ for a male child, and ‘Dottir’ for a female child. I like that.

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