Walking in Chaplin’s Newcastle
The fiftieth anniversary of the publication of The Day of the Sardine has brought with it a welcome revival of interest in Sid Chaplin’s much-loved Newcastle novel. Following the fortunes of teenager Arthur Haggerston through a troubled and frequently comic passage into adulthood, the novel transports us into the landscape of 60s Newcastle. Sardine was the featured novel on Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime in September, adapted by Sid’s son Michael Chaplin and read by the North East actor Joe Caffrey, and events have continued through the autumn. It’s good to see it on the shelves of bookshops again.
On a crisp October morning a couple of weeks ago, Michael Chaplin led a guided walk through the novel’s key settings. Starting in the Victorian Jesmond Old Cemetery, where Sid is buried, and continuing through Sandyford, Shieldfield and the Ouseburn, the walk was a fascinating way of deepening our appreciation for the novel and gaining an insight into Chaplin’s way of constructing a story from the world around him. It was also a chance to think about how the city has changed – the transformation of the Ouseburn from the decaying landscape patrolled by dangerous gangs depicted in the novel to today’s hub of creative industries and fashionable pubs seems especially striking. The novel is a reminder that Newcastle’s history is beneath our feet and in the buildings around us.
Michael Chaplin has since given a talk at the Lit and Phil about his father’s writing life and the challenges of adapting the novel for radio, and is set to appear at the Durham Book Festival this week.
In 2012, The Watchers and the Watched, Sid Chaplin’s follow-up to The Day of the Sardine, will also be half-a-century old. Watchers returns to the city and introduces us to another young protagonist, Tiger Mason. Fiercely independent, Tiger fights against the conflicts presented to him by marriage, adulthood and the shifting social fabric of the great industrial city. It’s a haunting and fast-paced urban classic with many unexpected moments and, like its predecessor, made all the more relevant by Chaplin’s adeptness at creating vivid and real scenes that remain refreshing to read today.
‘Here, as elsewhere in Chaplin’s work, drifts the scent of a tremendous fugitive lyricism.’ D J Taylor, The Guardian