Sidelong Glances At The PCU Characters: Raymond Land

Bryant and May

The character of unit chief Raymond Land in the Bryant & May books has an unexpected genesis that began with ‘One Thousand And One Nights’. The archetypes from those tales gathered from Persia and Arabia (names so much more evocative!) inhabited a fanciful world of jinns and sorcerers, but their bawdiness, realism and the tales’ variety of subject matter also anchored them to everyday life. For every emperor there was a lowborn thief, for every princess a harem girl.

One of my favourite characters from these tales is the archetype of the lazy sultan. Easily confused and easily amused, happy with his many wives and his quiet life of luxury, he was kept a virtual prisoner in his apartments while the kingdom was run by the Vizir. The character had its basis in truth; the weakling sons were imprisoned by their matriarchs, the Grande Valide Sultanas, while their stronger brothers ruled.

From the excitable, childlike sultan in ‘The Thief of Baghdad’ to the silken-robed midget in ‘Amarcord’, you find this not unintelligent but sybaritic archetype in many surprising forms. Mr Grace of Grace Brothers in ‘Are You Being Served?’ is the sultan, of course.

I wrote about one such sleepy ruler in ‘The Man Who Wound A Thousand Clocks’, and again in ‘Calabash’. Artist Keith Page tackled some sketches for ‘The Foot on the Crown’, my half-finished fantasy epic about London, and found himself drawing from the same Arabic sources that attracted me. 

Raymond perfectly fits the role of sultan without the sybarite side; disingenuous, naïve, easily sidelined and distracted, virtually a prisoner of his kingdom, he absolves responsibility to his foot soldiers but can’t resist interfering. And as I have with the sultans, I have a soft spot for him, so I allow him moments of redemption.


23 comments on “Sidelong Glances At The PCU Characters: Raymond Land”

  1. Liz Thompson says:

    I’ve always seen him as the fall guy. All the flack from above descends on him, as he vainly tries to control the uncontrollable Bryant and May, plus their enthusiastic supporters on the staff. Pathos is what I see.

  2. Dawn Andrews says:

    Raymondo’s briefings are some of my all time highlights, as were his reactions to the Crowley murals and his pigeon foe. He’s a kind of everyman, bemused by the machinations that constantly surround him. I can’t help liking him.

  3. davem says:

    Will ‘The Foot on the Crown’ ever materialise?

  4. Brooke says:

    Keith Page can draw a straight line between 2 points and it would be a fabulous drawing.

  5. Jo W says:

    Chris, those drawings at the top of your post today, I thought I was going to read more about Calabash. They look remarkably like how I imagine that country when I read the book.
    I also love Raymond’s “Private and Confidential” memos which, like staff notices in most offices, nobody reads.

  6. Brooke says:

    Nobody reads Raymondo’s staff notices….Au contraire: I do …Am not alone; I believe his memos are now models used by presidents and prime ministers — I name no names.

  7. Jo W says:

    I was saying that the members of the PCU don’t pay attention to Raymond’s memos, in much the same way as notices on boards in other offices are “missed”.
    It seems that if one has a secret, the best place to hide it is on a notice board.

  8. Peter T says:

    “It’s very difficult working with an idiot.”
    – “You should discuss it with your superior.”
    “If by superior, you mean the man who thinks that he’s my line manager, I’ve tried. He can’t help.”
    – “Why?”
    “Because he’s the idiot.”
    – “Do you behave nicely toward him?”
    “No. I treat him as an idiot.”
    – “That’s rather cruel.”
    “What else can I do?”
    – “Do you want his job?”
    “No. I’m not an idiot and don’t want to become one. Not even for a pay rise.”
    Life goes on and we look back with a little regret.

    Brooke – I’m sure that a few in the PCU pay attention to Raymondo’s notices before choosing to ignore them.

  9. Jan says:

    No I forgot Raymondo

    He’s THE BUSINESS. Far and away the comedy highlight of these books …. and you can’t help but like him and sympathise with him .

  10. Brooke says:

    Peter T: Arthur reads them…probably red pens the idiot parts. Btw, the conversation above is almost word for word, my all to recent conversation with a client whom I was asked to coach. Unfortunately, she is right about her boss.

  11. Helen Martin says:

    Anyone who has worked under “supervision” will recognize Raymond – a dear, sweet man, but an idiot. Even the pigeon knows it. You can’t help feeling sorry for him, though, even while you close his door, cut off his phone and reroute his emails. His stream of consciousness memos are the first thing I look for. The only thing worse than working for Raymond is working for any of the characters we’ve met from the Home Office. I often hear echoes of Yes, Minister/Prime Minister in those characters.

  12. Penelope says:

    Jan, I agree completely! Raymond is wonderful. (It doesn’t really surprise me that he comes from such impressive origins). And like all comic geniuses, he has that touch of tragedy. He doesn’t fit in with the PCU; he isn’t respected; his personal life is a shambles. It’s pretty awful! But it’s very funny. That scene with the pigeon is hysterical !

    I know comparisons are odious, but the exchanges between Raymondo and Bryant remind me of my beloved Rumpole and Soapy Sam “Bollard”, who is pathetic without the sweetness.

  13. Stephen says:

    I agree with you.

  14. Jan says:

    Yes Penelope I nearly mentioned the poignant pigeon scene I would have done but was in a rush it was v. V. Funny. Thing is we’ve all occasionally worked for folk like that and we’re all scared cos there’s a wee bit of that same uncertainty in everyone including ourselves which makes it even funnier (and sadder)

    Maybe the ballroom dancing teacher will tire of his Mrs and return her to sender, or that woman guvnor who got her claws into Raymondo will decide to make him a permanent fixture…there’s so much left to happen to the poor man.

  15. Ian Luck says:

    As I’ve said before, if I read anything featuring Raymond Land, I can only see him as the wonderful actor Mark Heap, who provides Raymond’s voice, too.
    Raymond Land is a great character, and you always write him beautifully, and make him real – in ‘The Lonely Hour’, you could feel his anguish about Crippen the cat – as a lover of cats (although, as David Quantick correctly observed: “Cats are bastards.”), it brought a tear to my eye. The way he flatly announces the cat’s death, will be familiar to anyone who has lost a cat. It’s exactly how dad told us about the deaths of our cats. I was struck how sad Raymond was about the death of Crippen. Possibly because of all the people in the P.C.U., Crippen was the only one who ever listened to him, or even acknowledged his prescence.

  16. Peter T says:

    Helen has noted the tragedy of Raymond and so many like him. He’s the person who should be scheming a way for his team to survive the evil characters further up the system, yet he can’t outwit a pigeon. Fortunately, the PCU has a remarkable resilience.

  17. Jan says:

    All things considered its probably for the best that the wonderful Raymondo doesn’t think about the future of the unit at all or scheme to save it. It’s would probably be like sounding a death knell if he thought he’d managed to get it all sorted.

    That C of London woman will probably have him ear marked as a permanent partner in her future life and his role in her fantasy future might guarantee everyone a few more paypackets. But as to being its saviour ………possibly not.

  18. Helen Martin says:

    Reading – surfacing for a snack and a drink – reading – more reading.

  19. Nick says:

    Ian – SPOILERS!!!

  20. Helen Martin says:

    Nick, we’re only careful to avoid spoilers of the current book.
    Chris, I remember Raymond being described as having some sort of biology degree and being a quite competent forensic scientist. What happened?

  21. Ian Luck says:

    Sorry – I thought that everyone would have read TLH by now. I put it in as it shows that Raymond, despite ignoring Arthur’s constant jibes, to the point of Mr Spock like stoicism, is, under it all, a caring, feeling, human being. I like him as a character, and the way he deals with things here, made me ‘get something in my eye’.
    Apologies again.

  22. Penelope says:

    Not me! Still waiting for a copy on hold at the library! Oh boy can’t wait.

  23. Nick says:

    Helen / Ian – my last one is Strange Tide, I’m playing catch-up as best I can! 🙂

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