The Transmogrification of Toby Pickles by Wilf Tilley is a journey back in time to 1960’s Britain where the swinging sixties, laced with post-war austerity and conservatism were very much on a headlong rush to culture clash. Mick is an Assistant Stage Manager for a small theatre company based in Skipborough. Seen as important to the preservation of culture in a devastated post-war Britain many of these small companies flourished, funded by local councils and putting on a collection of serious and humorous plays, plus, of course, the obligatory holiday pantomimes for the local hoi-polloi and summer tourists to the coastal regions. Mick wants to be part of the “players” but it seems he is forever destined to work behind the scenes. Life for Mick is simple, straightforward and humdrum; from rehearsals, to drinks at the pub with his co-workers, to regular dalliances at the pictures with the local lasses, Mick is young and ready for life. When his gay, theatre pal and man of mystery Toby Pickles is knocked out in a fight and hits his head on the concrete, putting him into a coma, Mick’s life begins to change as a new, weird and extremely colourful cast of characters come into his life. Suddenly Mick and his cohorts are thrust into a world of the elite; “Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen” plus a mystery that takes them into the London criminal underworld inhabited by the likes of the Kray twins along with a good dose of international espionage. Coupled with Mick’s fall for a certain Jamaican nurse, life gets much more complicated.
As someone with a British heritage and television upbringing, I was able to fully enjoy the humour, innuendo, double-entendres and colloquial language of both the period and the place. The style that author Wilf Tilley has used in The Transmogrification of Toby Pickles is reminiscent of the extremely popular 60’s movie franchise “Carry On…” with even some references to those movies and actors, in the text, with a dose of the “Benny Hill’s” thrown in for good measure. One particular scene late in the story of Matron’s running from the law did bring Benny Hill’s famous chase scenes to my mind’s eye. I enjoyed the, at times, clever double-entendres and the Cockney rhyming slang which leant authenticity to the time and place of the tale, however, I wonder how effective this story will be to those outside of the British Empire. That having been said, the story is one long collection of “mishaps” which lead our characters to understanding more about themselves. I liked Mick, especially, as the main character because he was, in many ways, naïve and innocent of the wicked ways of the world and yet he worked in an industry that was notorious for its gender misappropriation and its general sexual shenanigans. Don’t expect political correctness here; mid 60’s Britain was the polar opposite of political correctness, especially with the cultural clash between those who went to war and the new generation of baby-boomers. I did enjoy this book and can certainly recommend it.