BLUE PLAQUE FOR RAYMOND CHANDLER UNVEILED IN AUCKLAND ROAD
A FORMER ACCOUNTANT, oil executive, paid soldier and teacher who turned to writing at the age of 50 is the subject of the latest blue plaque to be unveiled by English Heritage in the Upper Norwood area.
Raymond Chandler – author of such crime classics as Farewell My Lovely and The Big Sleep – spent four years at 110 Auckland Road – the house is immediately to the right of St John’s church – from around 1900 to 1904, attending Dulwich College at the same time.
He and his mother Florence had been given shelter by Florence’s brother Ernest Thornton, a lawyer whose main practice was in Ireland.
Sir Peter Bazalgette, of the English Heritage blue plaques committee, opening proceedings outside the house today (Tuesday) before an assembled audience which included Dulwich College pupils and local residents who had heard of the unveiling on Radio 4 that morning, told of the American boy, born in the Midwest and of the alcoholic father deserting his family.
“They were brought under the guidance and protection of his Irish uncle Ernest Thornton who paid for him and his mother to come here and for him to attend Dulwich College where he came under the tutelage of the legendary headmaster A H Gilkes who taught boys classics and essay writing.”
The unveiling ceremony heard that four years separated Raymond Chandler from P G Wodehouse, another former pupil at Dulwich College where the junior library is named after Chandler, the senior library after Wodehouse.
Master of Dulwich College Joseph Spence listed some of the authors that had followed them at Dulwich: C S Forester and A E W Mason; Michael Ondaatje (The English Patient) and Graham Swift (Last Orders, Waterland) through to Tom Rob Smith the first thriller writer to be nominated for a Booker prize and Tom McCarthy also nominated for the Booker prize.
What Chandler and Wodehouse had was an understanding of languages that allowed them to play games with it, he said.
“And playing games with it was what made Philip Marlowe by Raymond Chandler who speaks with a Los Angeles accent – but the syntax is Virgil’s Aeneid.
“Both P G Wodehouse and Raymond Chandler were brought to south London. “There’s something about a south London groundedness, the way they observe the World.”
Jo Akrill, English teacher at Dulwich College and a self-confessed Raymond Chandler aficionado, highlighted Chandler’s use of the cornflower, worn on the college’s Founders Day and how the college archivist Calista Lucy has made reference to Lindsay Marriot, a character in Chandler’s ‘Farewell My Lovely’ wearing a cornflower in his lapel.
“In a phrase which might sum up why this blue plaque is a fitting memorial to him he says: ‘Any man who can write a page of living prose adds something to our life’,” she added.
Chandler’s* biographer Tom Williams said 110 Auckland Road was not just the building where he lived but where the first ideas that would one day give rise to Philip Marlowe would be thought.
“Escaping the drunken violent father and husband, they shared the house with Florence’s mother who wasn’t kind and disapproved of the divorce – and made it known.”Chandler watched this all silently and it must have affected him deeply. “Mothers don’t come out well in his books, one of whom – like his grandmother – doesn’t serve wine.”
It was at Dulwich College that Raymond Chandler first encountered the Arthurian knights and particularly Sir Galahad and where he first came across the classics, said Mr Williams.
“It was here on this site that these threads begin to come together. (Others resulted in some terrible adolescent poetry.)
“Chandler showed crime writing could have purpose and literary intent.”
Mr Williams said he had walked past countless blue plaques and wondered what one had to do to get that honour.
“It’s right the people who walk past this house are reminded of what he did and what this small corner of south London contributed to English literature.”
Mr Williams and 17 year old Dulwich College pupil Sam Warren – Miell then unveiled the blue plaque ‘Raymond Chandler 1888 – 1959 lived here.’
Sam, who lives just down the road from Chandler’s home, was asked why he was picked to help perform the unveiling. “I think I was picked because I’m a promising creative writer” he replied modestly.
*A Mysterious Something in the Light: Raymond Chandler, a Life by Tom Williams Aurum Press 2012