It Always Rains On Sunday. By Arthur La Bern

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It Always Rains On Sunday. By Arthur La Bern


Fri, 08/05/2015 - 12:31


The Ealing Studio poster for the It Always Rains on Sunday film
The Ealing Studio poster for the It Always Rains on Sunday film
07 May, 2015

WHILE the “Kitchen sink” wave of authentic, working-class voices of John Osborne and Alan Sillitoe in the 1950s are rightly celebrated, it is often overlooked that they were following a well-established path.

In the 1930s, the novels of Gerald Kirsch, James Curtis and John Sommerfield were bestsellers – but dropped out of print and were forgotten by all but a handful of British noir fans.

They now have a champion in the guise of publishing house London Books, who, as well as issuing contemporary novels about life in the capital, also find and re-print classics of the pre-war period.

Published this month is Arthur La Bern’s novel It Always Rains On Sunday. It is a story set during one day in 1939, a multi-layered crime drama telling of one family’s struggles in an archetypal East End home.

The novel’s foreword is written by contemporary crime writer and journalist Cathi Unsworth (pictured, right) – and she tells the story of its author, a man who grew up in Camden and Islington (pictured, left), and who wrote a series of successful novels during British crime’s heyday. 

Cathi says La Bern’s crime-writing peers were those whose books portrayed a well-heeled society. “People first consider 30s writers as those who Alan Bennett described as writing about ‘snobbery with violence’,” she says.

This meant Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie are seen as the only people who wrote crime stories in the inter-war years. 

“This simply isn’t the case,” Cathi says.

As London Books’ catalogue reveals, some of the most exciting and best-written novels of British noir were by those who knew London’s seedier side – and Arthur La Bern was such a man.

La Bern was born Arthur Labern, the son of Leonard and Lizzy, in 1909. Leonard came from Holborn, while Lizzy was from Clerkenwell, and they were members of the Italian community of the neighbourhood. 

Cathi’s research into Arthur’s early life shows he did a number of low-paid jobs as a young man, and saved up enough to buy a typewriter. In the 1930s, he worked as a reporter for the Evening Standard, Evening News, Daily Mirror and Daily Mail. He became a war correspondent for the Standard and then went to the Far East with the Fleet Air Arm to continue reporting.

“During his time on Fleet Street, he worked on a crime beat,” writes Cathi. This brought him directly into contact with the law courts, police officers – and plenty of gangsters.

He drew widely on this experience in later years. After the success of It Always Rains On Sunday, he penned 11 more novels and non-fiction books. 

“Ealing Studios made It Always Rains On Sunday into a big commercial success, and another six were made into films,” says Cathi. “Arthur was doing very well for himself.”

But the success was not to last. “Towards the end of his life, he ended very much on his uppers,” says Cathi. “Like so many characters in his novels, Arthur enjoyed the high life but found it impossible to keep control of the money that had flowed in at the start of his career.

“According to his nephew, Peter, he travelled the entire arc from living in Chelsea to sewing mailbags in prison, serving time as an undischarged bankrupt,” she says. “He was once arrested for vagrancy after sleeping on Brighton beach and wrote angrily to the Argus, comparing his current circumstances to the glory days he once knew, drinking champagne outside the Grand Hotel.”

Cathi was drawn to the book by research she was doing for her own novel, Bad Penny Blues, about a series of violent attacks in London during the blackouts of 1942.

“I was reading and watching as much as I could about the 1940s,” she recalls. “It Always Rains On Sunday was really evocative. 

He made it a very physical book. He even made the rain sound beautiful. It just feels very authentic ... he uses the colloquial dialogue that was how people spoke. It is in direct contrast with Christie and Sayers, and makes it feel like their books are written for the stage.”

And it is hardly surprising that the book is riddled with observations of the world the working class lived in during those dark days of the Great Depression. “These books were written for working-class audiences so they had to be authentic,” she says. “It means communists appear. It means there are working-class Jewish characters. It would have made the book look like it was written in a vacuum if it did not include such things.” 

• It Always Rains On Sunday. By Arthur La Bern, London Books, £11.99

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