Friday, 1 October 2010

Barry Crump: Good Keen Man and Complex Individual

There are a small handful of personalities that have had, through their activities and relationships, a pervasive and influential effect on the direction and development of New Zealand's mid-to-late 20th century literary landscape. To this group must belong figures such as Allan Curnow, Frank Sargeson, and Charles Brasch, all notable in various capacities for their authorial, editorial and mentoring contributions to our literature.

However, one figure that is often overlooked in terms of impact and influence, both in terms of the popular audience but also amongst his peers, is that of Barry Crump.

Crump stands as one of a very few New Zealand authors to have sold more than quarter of a million of any given book (A Good Keen Man[1]), let alone of their entire output. He remains one of New Zealand's most popular and versatile writers ever, having produced a number of works of fiction (for both adults and children), memoir, verse, stage-plays, songs, having made numerous appearances in film and on television and radio, and even contributing to our national vocabulary[2].

Accordingly, we're happy to be able to make available online Rowan Gibbs' bibliography of Barry Crump, originally appearing in Kōtare Vol 4 No 2, 2001, and now part of the online version.

Gibbs' bibliography is exhaustive in capturing the range and detail of Crump's activities, collating his original works as well as detailing adaptations and reviews of these works, and covering many of his appearances in the media. This bibliography also refers to some of Crump's less well-known efforts, such as the assistance he provided to Dr Erich Geiringer in 1962 in promoting the benefits of cervical smear tests, after University authorities labelled pamphlets regarding cervical smear tests as obscene. As Gibbs relates:
In his periodical N.Z. Medical News 7 (29 May 1963), Geiringer prints a brief letter from "Barry Crump, North Queensland": "Dear Erich ... Why don't you publish details and results to date of the cervical smear campaign we did in Dunedin last year?". Geiringer replies that the number of smears done in Dunedin rose by 153%... "figures on beer consumption in Dunedin during our stay are unfortunately not available. I hope to publish some of the interesting details of our campaign in a leaflet to the boys who helped us. Please leave a few crocodiles alive to help the Medical profession weep for the women who still needlessly die of cancer of the cervix every year".[3]
Crump's literary career began with his novel A Good Keen Man, published in 1959 and written at the instigation of his good friend, Kevin Ireland. Crump's publishers, Reed, demanded extensive modifications to the manuscript, including changing the narrator's voice from third to first person, a move which was to result in Barry Crump becoming a cultural icon as well as an author.

A Good Keen Man was immediately popular, though popularity itself was not enough to gain Crump admission to the establishment. The radio adaptation of A Good Keen Man, broadcast in 1961, was voiced by Bernard Kearns after Crump was forbidden to narrate his own work on account of his accent. Any affront Crump might have felt was possibly ameliorated in 1967 when the Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind organised for Crump to narrate a sound recording for their listeners.

By the time Crump's third novel, One of Us, was published, he was on firmer ground, winning the Hubert Church Award for "the best prose published in the previous year," though the book had only been finished with the intervention of Crump's editor at Reeds, Ray Richards, as Crump had "gone bush"[4].

By the time of his fourth novel, Gulf (Crocodile Country), published in 1964, Crump was gaining considerable recognition overseas, having had earlier stories from his 1961 collection Hang on a Minute Mate translated into Russian[5], with an abridged Russian edition of Gulf being printed in a print-run of 100,000 in 1969 under the name of "Barri Kramp". It is hard to know how well Crump's iconoclastic vernacular was received by foreign-speaking audiences, but that it was received imperfectly can perhaps be seen by the fact that the title 'Hang on a Minute Mate' was translated into Russian as if it meant "hold on to your friend."[6]

Although the quality of Crump's output over the years was uneven, the early popularity meant that there was often a ready audience for his writing, and he managed to capitalise on this with forays into self-publishing when the terms of the established publishers weren't to his liking. He claimed that, by the mid-1960s, he was able to dictate a royalty equivalent "close to 20% of the retail price."[7]

Crump's work divided the reviewers, and opinions were not always as evenly divided as we might expect. Jim Henderson is possibly a typical example of the pro-Crump faction, claiming that Hang on a Minute Mate was "a book to cherish, to read to your sons. Many Kiwis will reckon this is THE New Zealand novel: she's sneaked up on us ... out of the scrub..."[8], while on the opposite side we find David Yerex, reviewing A Good Keen Man for the NZ Dairy Exporter opining that it was "good reading [for deerstalkers]... I doubt [others] will appreciate more than a paragraph or two"[9] and Denis Taylor seeing in Crump's work "... fluency of New Zealand idiom and material... [but] has not... fully realised his material... has hold of a myth equal to the way of life he described... [but] has constructed no organic action to bring it into full meaning. New Zealand must wait yet for its Voss..."[10]

However, a number of well-respected literary identities did see value in Crump's writing, with Dennis McEldowney seeing in Crump "a line that goes back to Samuel Butler and to Lady Barker's shepherd's yarns ... artfully artless..."[11] and James K. Baxter claiming that "One cannot dismiss Crump as a raconteur ... I suspect that One of Us is the satire on New Zealand manners and morals which nobody else has written, except Sargeson in an occasional equally wry fable..."[12]

Others in the literary scene saw Crump's writing style as something not necessarily to be emulated, and Maurice Duggan's reference in Along Rideout Road that Summer to "a genuine crumpy conversation" is probably best understood by the comments of Duggan's biographer, Ian Richards, that Duggan "had been watching Crump's rise in New Zealand literature since 1960 with quiet dismay"[13] and that Duggan "happily assumed [Fleur Adcock's poem 'Cold moon shining'] to be an attack on Barry Crump."[14] Crump possibly gets the last laugh on Duggan, by being referenced by C.K. Stead in the introduction to Duggan's Collected Stories: "I know of only two who have lived for any significant period of their lives by writing fiction and they are Barry Crump and Ngaio Marsh."[15]

Observing a balance of desirable and undesirable in Crump's writing, others were more circumspect: Patrick Evans, in the Penguin History of New Zealand Literature, noted that "Crump wrote too much ... but his fiction represents one possible way out of the limitations of the provincial novel."[16]

Although Crump became quickly identified with the humorous and care-free archetype of the New Zealand bloke, his private life was more convoluted, and Crump the individual was a much more complex and often darker character than his reading public realised, and was on occasion a less than ideal husband and parent. His five-month marriage in 1962 to Fleur Adcock was brief and tempestuous, as Adcock herself relates:
"...In January 1962 I met Barry Crump, a best-selling author of picaresque, anecdotal sagas about deer-culling, rabbit-shooting, and life in the bush or the pub, told in the casually colourful Kiwi male vernacular: not my kind of literature at all, nor my kind of man. A month later ... we were married. This was lunacy ... A year of confusion and melodrama followed ...black eyes, bruises, and chipped teeth..."[17]
Crump was survived by a number of children to various partners, and during his life was not able to find time for them all; one of his children, Harry Crump, told a magazine in 1985 that he never knew his father well, and that he "learned about him by reading the newspapers,"[18] while a Dominion Post article of 6 July 1991 observes that "Two Raumati children had never met Barry Crump but were proud to be his grandchildren."[19]

That Barry Crump was larger than life owes quite a lot to the determination of many New Zealanders to identify with the traits of Crump and his characters that are seen as likeably roughish and maybe even anti-authoritarian. Therefore, in spite of the effort that Crump put into creating and promoting his persona, we need to also credit a willing audience, as is probably best evidenced by the popular reception to the series of television advertisements that Crump starred in alongside Lloyd Scott for Toyota between 1982 and 1995. We should also recognise that, as well as the person in the street, many in New Zealand's literary scene were also prepared to elevate Crump, with Graeme Lay for example stating that "The Australians had to invent Crocodile Dundee. We had a real one..."[20]

As well as being mythologised in real life, Crump also appeared directly and indirectly as a character in other people's works of fiction. Jean Watson, an early partner of Crump, used Crump as a model for Abungus, a character in Stand in the Rain  who "played the guitar like a Maori and had a face like the god Pan."[21] One of Crump's later wives, Robyn Lee-Robinson, wrote "a novel focusing on a battered wife suffering abuse from a man who goes by the name of Mullet... describes Crump's sudden death as 'extraordinarily frustrating ... Now he's dead, the personal risk is diminished, but the myth is harder to beat'."[22]

In terms of looking to Barry Crump as a solution for a search for a local identity, it should be noted that Crump was himself looking for identity through much of his life. Jean Watson talks about her and Crump "following some dream of an ideal existence without being quite sure what this was,"[23] and in the 1970s Crump became a Baha'i, being quoted in an article in the Auckland Star in 1980 as saying "I suppose my personal attitudes to life have changed since I gave it all away seven years ago......quite suddenly ... I got sick of the scene ... there was no challenge left... Baha'i seemed to have all the answers." In another article he states that "I've superficially changed the way I live", and that he "was pretty careless morally beforehand. I was prejudiced about women, now I'm more realistic."[24]

If there is a philosophy to be detected in Crump's life and fiction, it possibly can be illustrated by an anecdote from the former owner of the Monde Marie coffee bar in Wellington, appearing in the Evening Post:
"... She had her fair share of embryonic celebrities: Barry Crump. He was with a drunken Maori lady and she got cross, I don't know why. And she stood in the middle of the place and tried to slug me. I really wanted to slosh her one. But one thing I couldn't face was vomit, so I said to Barry, who was sitting there with a silly grin on his face, 'Get her out of here!', and he said 'Oh Mary, you've got to observe life.' and I said 'OK I'll observe life but you hold the basin'."[25]
Jason
References
All references below are taken from Rowan Gibbs' Barry Crump: A Bibliography, appearing in Kōtare Vol 4 No 2, 2001: http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-Whi042Kota.html

1. B1: Crump's list in Life and Times gives total sales by Sept. 1991 as 275,000 copies. Ray Richards (Tribute p.74) talks of a total to 1996 of "300,000 copies ... and six million dollars (retail value)".

2. H188: Elizabeth and Harry Orsman's New Zealand Dictionary cites Crump as the source of several expressions, including 'Taking to one's scrapers'.

3. K: Crump and the Cervical Smear Campaign

4. B4: Ray Richards recounts that "I had to write the final chapter ... because Crump had 'gone bush' and the printers were waiting".

5. B2: As Gibbs observes, 'The Pahau Valley pub' and 'Not guilty, sir' were translated into Russian by la. Berlin as 'Gostinitsa Pakhau-Velli' and 'Ne vinoven, ser' in E. Dombrovskaia, ed. Novozelandskie Rasskazy, Perevody s angliiskogo. Introduction by V. Rubin. Translations edited by N. Gal'. Illustrated by A. Beliukin. Moscow: Isdatel'stvo Khudozhestvennoi Literatury, 1963.446pp. Pp.417-24, 425-8.

6. B2

7. H171

8. G2

9. G1

10. G2

11. G1

12. G4

13. H258

14. H258

15. H97

16. H159

17. H28. An interview with Adcock, appearing in The Guardian 29 July 2000, describes her as displaying "all the foresight and prudence of a lemming". The interview's writer, Sally Vincent writes that it was "...the most horrifying thing she could think to do to persuade herself out of more obsessive liaisons. He was soon routinely smacking her in the mouth. 'They do that, don't they?' she says. 'Manly men. They're fine in the pub telling jokes and stories, but in an argument they're not so good at the old logic, so that's when they smack you across the mouth.' The marriage lasted five months. By way of a divorce settlement, Mr Crump agreed to pay her passage to England, less the £30 she'd already salted away for the purpose ...".

18. H112

19. H220

20. H252

21. H34

22. H248

23. H34

24. H87

25. H224