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Saturday, June 01, 2013

Dave Wallis

I've had an enquiry recently about whether I could track down any information on Dave Wallis, which reminded me of a piece written by Nick Jones a couple of years ago in which he also tried tracking down information. Nobody seems to have any details about his career, although a link provided by Nick led to a discussion in the early 2000s which contained some useful snippets.

There's also a quite astonishing coincidence that I wasn't expecting.

First, I have to correct a mistake I've perpetuated. The Bodleian Library lists Dave Wallis as David W. Wallis; I took this as gospel and sent it over as a addition to the Science Fiction Encyclopedia entry. Not true. The error may originate in the Bodleian mixing up two authors as the Library of Congress Catalogue has two authors named Dave Wallis: the Dave Wallis concerned here and a second whom the LOC identifies as David W. Wallis, an author of three books from an Arkansas-based publisher in the US.

Digging around US copyright records turns up the author's full name: David Capadose Wallis. And given his full name led very quickly to his year of death, 1990.

Wallis is best known for his novel Only Lovers Left Alive, which  was well-received in many quarters. Irving Wardle, in "The day of the teenagers" (Observer, 21 June 1964, p.27), claimed that "If the Rank studios ever decide to put out a commercial counterpart to Peter Brook's version of "Lord of the Flies," they will find all they need in Dave Wallis's Only Lovers Left Alive—a fable of England taken over by teenagers which, from its title and cover photograph of a ton-up gang besieging a suburban street with sten guns, already looks like a Rank product." Wardle's isn't a wholly positive review as he has mixed feelings about how the novel progresses:
The surprising thing is that no one has tackled the subject before: novels like "The Custard Boys" and "A Clockwork Orange" have cut into it from an oblique angle, but Mr. Wallis seems to be the first writer to have put the direct question, "What would happen if all the adults committed suicide tomorrow?", and taken it from there. And if one can swallow the bare-faced implausibility of the premise, the development is quite logical. Society splits into warring gangs who raid one another's manors with increasing ferocity as the stock of consumer goods dwindles away: when the last show-room motor-bike has been stolen and the final pop record has ground to a halt, the gangs quit the typhoid-infested ruins of London and move north, bartering their fast-vanishing hoards of cigarettes and nylons for meat until, finally cleansed of urban habits, they come to terms with the land.
    Mr. Wallis is on his strongest ground in the first half of the book where he shows the brutal destructiveness of the gangs as a reflection of the wasteful civilisation they have inherited: Windsor Castle, for instance, is occupied by a mob called the Kings who put into practice all they have learnt from war films and stories of the Gestapo. Following the pattern of Shakespeare's "Richard III," they demonstrate the governing impulses of their elders stripped of cam and self-deception.
    What muffles the effect is the author's habit of joining in the excitement on the teenagers' own level: instead of coolly showing how horror grows out of normal life (as a writer like Giles Cooper might have done) he treats it in the style of an adventure tale. Culminating in a petrol blaze that wipes out most of the Kings and a castration parade for the survivors, this part of the book is blurred by sensational writing. Thereafter Mr. Wallis has some success in tracing the growth of teenage subculture into tribal custom (though never gets round to giving them a god), but he takes a nose-dive into cliche by allowing his chosen gang the salvation of a return to nature. Thurber took the human cycle further in a single strip cartoon.
Daniel Stern in the New York Times (18 October 1964) praised the book, describing the premise as "irresistible", but he too had misgivings, saying, "It is only when one has finished the book that a certain dissatisfaction takes hold. There is, in spite of the excitement, a failure of vision. In the beginning we are shown the nihilism of a society without inner or outer centre. In the last third of the novel we witness a shift from such bitter truths to a kind of bucolic readjustment. Desperation (and acute shortages) have forced the gang to the herding of sheep. The cold-blooded psycopath, Ernie, is now a shepherd, and the devoted father of Kathy's child. Family life has been recreated; the bourgeois world is once again a possibility. All the holocaust has taught us is: plus ca change, etc."

Perhaps it was these mixed reviews, which seemed fullsome in their praise before pulling away the rug, that caused Wallis to stop writing – his next novel did not appear for another seven years. Perhaps it was disappointment that Only Lovers Left Alive failed to get off the ground as a movie.

In 1965 Nicholas Ray was attached to direct a film based on the book. In March 1966 it was announced that the Rolling Stones would receive the astronomical sum of $1 million to make their film debuts in said movie, with the Stones' business manager Allen Klein co-producing with their music producer Andrew Loog Oldham. At the time they were negotiating with a screenwriter, director and distributor and were planning to shoot in black-and-white and colour on location in the UK. And then, nothing...

David Capadose Wallis was born in Marylebone, London, on 27 November 1917. His father, Ferdinand Howship Wallis, had run away from home as a boy with the intention of serving as a drummer boy during the Boer War. Although he failed to reach South Africa, as soon as he came of age he joined the 1/5th London Regiment (London Rifle Brigade) and was a Sergeant Major with that regiment at the outbreak of the Great War. After receiving three awards for bravery, he was eventually invalided out as a Lieutenant-Colonel in 1919.

He married Gertrude Ethel Vera Money in 1916 and took his young family to Canada where he worked as a stockbroker in Montreal. The family prospered until the stock market crash of 1929 and Ferdinand and his family returned to England in 1933, when David was 15.

David Capadose Wallis worked for the Automobile Association Foreign Touring Department in London during the 1930s. He was a member of the Young Communist League, which estranged him from his father. He married Cecily V. Fearn in 1940, shortly after being called up for training at Catterick Camp. He trained for the Royal Signals and was posted to Egypt in March 1941. He was wounded in 1942 and hospitalized in Cairo, but for the most part was posted in Maadi, under canvas. Towards the end of the war, Wallis was posted to Germany.

An extensive and candid interview (by Julian Putkowski, Revolutionary History, Vol. 8 No. 2. Summer 2002) by Wallis about his wartime experiences as a Communist sympathizer in the ranks can be found online here.

After being demobbed in 1946, Wallis turned away from Communism and eventually joined the Labour Party. He began working as a teacher – according to his younger brother, Jim, he "taught English in French schools and French in English schools." He was teaching in North London in the 1960s and in 1971-75 taught English and French at Earls Colne Grammar School in north Essex. At that time he was living near Pebmarsh, Braintree, Essex. Julian Putkowski noted that his interview with Wallis occurred in June 1983 in Wivenhoe, which presumably was where Wallis was living at the time and – here's the coincidence I mentioned earlier – where I'm sitting right now, typing this.

Wallis published his first novel in 1958, using his experiences in Egypt to pen Tram-stop by the Nile, a story set in Cairo. His second novel was set in London and was more widely reviewed.
The satirical title, Paved in Gold, is, perhaps, a little ambitious to be applied to Mr. Wallis's competent account of shady goings on in the City, coupled with a sad little love story which leaves Carole Brockett stranded almost as sadly in her bed-sitter as was her employer Sir Henry after the disastrous "take-over" of his interests by the unscrupulous Thorpley. It may be thought that the pattern of the story is rather too regular and contrived to be altogether probable, but there is little doubt that Mr. Wallis knows what he is writing about. The shabby business deals he describes are as unattractive as they are realistic. ("New Fiction", The Times, 4 February 1960, p.13)
Philip Oakes found the book "Shrewd, funny and absorbing and absorbing story of young lovers—both hauling themselves up the social ladder by way of big business—whose affair is mangled by a takeover bid. Clearly written by someone in love with London (including the City) and whose ear is keen enough to catch the whimpers beneath the post-war boom." (The Observer, 7 February 1960, p.21)

The American rights for Paved in Gold were sold to America (where it appeared as A Girl with Class), but it was not successful enough for Heinemann, who declined his next book because "we didn't think it showed any marked advance on his previous work." Tom Maschler, the editorial director of Jonathan Cape, turned it down because "I don't think the book is a terribly good idea." The book was sold to Anthony Blond who risked a 10,000 first printing, which was considerable for a little-known author in his late forties then working as a supply teacher.

Blond's faith in the novel immediately paid off. Before publication, Blond had sold the paperback rights to Pan for £1,750, the US hardback rights for $3,000 and the US paperback rights for $25,000. A film company optioned the novel for £1,500. (I should add that before we snigger at Tom Maschler's lousy foresight, he did take what was thought a considerable risk in publishing John Lennon In His Own Write, which one of his rivals bet him would be a "dead duck" from a commercial point of view. It was a considerable best-seller.)

The financial success of the novel far outweighed its critical success:
In Mr. Dave Wallis's Only Lovers Left Alive the plot depends on all the "oldies" committing suicide and the teenagers taking over. This is a vigorous tale, with a central idea a little overworked, but it maintains a good narrative pace. The anti-social helmeted figures on the motorcycles, riding on their quests to plunder and attacking one another's strongholds, one of which is Windsor Castle, have a quality oddly like Malory's, and Mr. Wallis obviously enjoys drawing the parallel between his youngsters thrown on their own resources, learning how to live in the ruins of the sophisticated adult world, and the story of mankind settling down in the west after the barbarian invasions of the dark ages. The reader may regret that Mr. Wallis found it necessary to employ such a grotesque premise for his novel; his excellent knowledge and understanding of young people today might have been convincingly brought to bear in more realistic form. ("New Fiction", The Times, 9 July 1964, p.15)
Wallis published only one further novel, The Bad Luck Girl, published by Macmillan in 1971 and reprinted in paperback by Mayflower in 1973. It would seem that Wallis eventually retired to Clifton Terrace, Wivenhoe, Essex, in the late 1970s and continued to live in the area for the rest of his life, later moving to Freda Gunton Lodge, Balkerne Gardens, Colchester. He died on 12 June 1990, aged 72.

8 Clifton Terrace, Wivenhoe

PUBLICATIONS

Novels
Tram-stop by the Nile. London, Heinemann, 1958.
Paved with Gold. London, Heinemann, 1959; as A Girl with Class, New York, Coward-McCann, 1960.
Only Lovers Left Alive. London, Anthony Blond, 1964; New York, Dutton, 1964.
The Bad Luck Girl. London, Macmillan, 1971.

(* Background on Wallis from The Education of Jim Wallis by Jim Wallis, Brunswick, Maine, Camden Writers, 2010; information about sales of and quotes regarding Only Lovers Left Alive from "The New Men" by Paul Ferris, The Observer, 7 June 1964, p.23)

2 comments:

David Pringle said...

That's a really interesting piece, Steve -- thanks. One glitch, however:

"The book was sold to Anthony Blond who risked a 10,000 first printing, which was considerable for a little-known author in his late thirties then working as a supply teacher."

In his late thirties? If you're correct about Wallis's birth date (November 1917), then that means he would have been 46, going on 47, when _Only Lovers Left Alive_ was published in 1964.

Quite an old guy, really, considering it was a "yoof" novel -- and, coincidentally, it also makes Wallis nearly the same age as Anthony Burgess, author of the slightly similar _A Clockwork Orange_, who was also born in 1917 (tho' earlier in the year).

Steve said...

You're right, of course. I meant to say late forties, not late thirties.