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David Bean ~ Remembering an Author

From June 1985 to June 1986 I lived in Castle Carrock, a small village in Cumbria, Great Britain. I rented a small cottage in the village and across the narrow street was a pub called the Duke of Cumberland. The pub was run by Lynn and John, a married couple from Edinburgh. Lynn had been a journalist and John an architect, both giving up the fast life to run a small country pub, at least for a while.

It was in this pub that I met David Bean. I don’t remember how it got started, but I gathered with a small group of men each Tuesday early evening for our “Tuesday Seminar.” The group consisted of a doctor, an architect (John, also pulling pints behind the bar), an ophthalmologist, a minister (me, at the time), and an author (of course, David Bean). We talked about life, the universe, and everything as we drank pints of beer, and the occasional whiskey (it was the doctor, Hugh, who introduced me to Macallan).

I was in the village on a year’s leave from the San Francisco Bay Area supposedly writing my Ph.D. dissertation. For reasons not important now—in fact they hardly matter anymore it was so long ago—I never did get my proposal accepted and instead turned to writing a somewhat mediocre novel (if only I had known at the time).

David BeanI’m pretty sure, unless your British, you will have never heard of David Bean. Nonetheless, he was a human being worth knowing and an author worth reading. He’s certainly worth remembering. David and I became passing friends during that year. He smoked a pipe and I remember the first time I got in his small somewhat beat up red car the floor, on both the driver and passenger sides, was completely carpeted with Swann matches—his match of choice for lighting his pipe. When I knew him he had brown hair and beard, and a face that was both intelligent and kind. We talked books and plays. He gave me a copy of his books Sounding Brass and The Hard Case. I would recommend both, though The Hard Case is the better. I believe his first published novel was The Day of the Bugles. I haven’t read it yet, but did find a hardback copy on

David died at the age of 80 in hospital. I found part of an obituary in The Journal (Newcastle, England) but unfortunately there was not a date included. Nonetheless, David worked for various newspapers when he went north from London to live. In 1960 he went freelance and wrote for The Guardian and the BBC. He wrote plays for Radio Four and films for the BBC. His novels include: The Day of the Bugles; Sounding Brass; The Hard Case; The Big Meeting; Waster’s Sabbath; The Restoration; The Chronicles of Boggerthwaite: An Everyday Story of Lakeland Folk; and more. (That’s all I got from the obituary because I could only read a portion. To read the rest would have meant joining Questia for an outrageous cost.)

When I remember that year in Castle Carrock the two people I think of the most are John (the Duke of Cumberland) and David. Towards the end of my year, during a beautiful summer, David asked me to listen to a play he had written being performed on Radio Four. I said I would, but I didn’t. I don’t remember why, but I do remember the look of disappointment on his face when I told him I had missed it. No BBC on demand back then, so the play was gone. Here was a man who made his living by writing, and he had respected me enough to ask me to listen to his play so we could then discuss it. What makes it even worse is I had asked him to read my novel, and he did!

The novel was entitled The Night is Nearly Over. David’s first comment when we were sitting outside at The Duke on a sunny day under an umbrella was that he wasn’t overly impressed by the title. He had written ten comments about my book, three of which he said were major and seven minor (the comment about the title actually made eleven). We sat drinking our pints and he graciously, kindly, intelligently, respectively talked about my book. When he was done he said something like this: “Those are my thoughts. I could be wrong. It might sell a million.” It didn’t.

David Bean at the Duke of CumberlandThe Night is Nearly Over never got published, though I still have a copy which is sitting on the desk to the left of my computer staring me in the face as I write this. It’s a story of locked in syndrome, lucid dreaming, religious fundamentalism, political intrigue, and love (of course). It begins: “Arthur Mohandas Desai found himself on the corner of High and George IV in Edinburgh, Scotland. It was the twilight hour. The streets were empty.” Perhaps now you have an idea why it was never publish. And was the reference to Scotland really necessary?

I kept a journal that year and only made one reference to David Bean:

I have read The Hard Case and it was very good. David agreed to read The Night is Nearly Over. I have, of course, mixed feelings about this. On the one hand I am very pleased. It is my hope that he likes it and also gives me tips. On the other hand, he may hate the book and give me reason for depression. I have a hope to learn the art of writing. I need some reason to continue.

Poor me! I must have been scared to death. “Need some reason to continue,” indeed. There was no reason to be nervous. David Bean was a kind soul and a good writer. He was not famous, but he did good work, and a lot of it. As The Journal wrote: "Since 1959, Mr Bean is said to have written more than 500 documentaries for television and a comparable number for Radio Four." He wasn’t wealthy, but he made his living and made a difference to people. To ask for more in life might be a bit boorish.

I will always remember his smile, his pipe, the Swan matches, sitting in The Duke of Cumberland drinking more than one pint of bitter, certainly his books, but most of all sitting at the outside table of The Duke talking about my first novel. Too bad about the play.

Copyright © 2018 Dale Rominger

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