Short Stories

46 Beryl Bainbridge (1932–2010)

Biography

Dame Beryl Margaret Bainbridge was an English writer from Liverpool. She was primarily known for her works of psychological fiction, often macabre tales set among the English working class. Bainbridge won the Whitbread Awards prize for best novel in 1977 and 1996; she was nominated five times for the Booker Prize.

The summer she left school, she fell in love with a former German prisoner of war, who was waiting to be repatriated. For the next six years, the couple corresponded and tried to get permission for the German man to return to Britain so that they could marry. But permission was not granted and the relationship ended in 1953. The following year, she married artist Austin Davies. The two divorced soon after, leaving Bainbridge a single mother of two children. She later had a third child by Alan Sharp, a novelist and screenwriter. Bainbridge spent her early years working as an actress, and she appeared in one 1961 episode of the soap opera Coronation Street playing an anti-nuclear protester.

To help fill her time, Bainbridge began to write, mainly about incidents from her childhood. Her first novel, Harriet Said . . ., was rejected by several publishers, one of whom found the central characters “repulsive almost beyond belief.” It was eventually published in 1972, four years after her third novel (Another Part of the Wood). Her second and third novels were published (1967/68) and were received well by critics. She wrote and published seven more novels during the 1970s, the fifth o which, Injury Time, was awarded the Whitbread prize for best novel in 1977.

From 1980 onwards, eight more novels appeared. In the 1990s, Bainbridge turned to historical fiction. These novels continued to be popular with critics and were also met with commercial success. Among her historical fiction novels are Every Man for Himself, about the 1912 Titanic disaster, for which Bainbridge won the 1996 Whitbread Awards prize for best novel, and Master Georgie, set during the Crimean War, for which she won the 1998 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. Her final novel, According to Queeney, is a fictionalized account of the last years of the life of Samuel Johnson as seen through the eyes of Queeney Thrale, eldest daughter of Henry and Hester Thrale.

Bainbridge died in 2010.

Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie

Published 1985

You can read the full text here: “Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie” by Beryl Bainbridge [PDF].

Activities

Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie

Study Questions

  1. Define “pantomime” as it applies to British theatre.
  2. How does Alec treat his father?
  3. Why does Mrs. Henderson tell her husband he isn’t going to the theatre?
  4. Why do you think Charlie got angry with Alec about the treatment of Wayne?
  5. Did Alec deliberately drive the car at Charlie?
  6. List a few British words or phrases that sent you looking for definitions
  7. What happens to Charlie at the end of the story?
  8. What is the significance of the title?
  9. For the title, is Bainbridge referencing the 1925 song with the same title, written by lyricist Billy Rose (1899–1966) and recorded in a 1961 album by American jazz vocalist Ella Fitzgerald (1917–1996)?
  10. List some elements of “black comedy” that are featured in the story. Start with the Wikipedia article, which gives a definition and a broad overview of black comedy.

Activities

  1. If you are unfamiliar with the plot of J.M. Barrie’s play Peter Pan, it might be useful to read the brief Wikipedia article on Peter Pan.
  2. Look at this very short trailer for a recent “panto” Peter Pan.
  3. Listen to the MP3 audio of “Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie”, read in appropriate British dialect. Eac–h of the audio downloads is quite short.

Text Attributions

License

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Composition and Literature by James Sexton and Derek Soles is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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