Creator / Derek Robinson
Derek Robinson is an English writer. He wrote three novels about World War I
, three about World War II
, and several more about spies and secret agents. Other works include Hullo Russia, Goodbye England
, about the British pilots who would have nuked Russia in any outbreak of WW 3
. He broke from type to produce Kentucky Blues
, a generational novel about the Deep South before, during, and after the American Civil War. All are Black Comedy
edging toward satire
Tropes in Derek Robinson's Books:
- Ace Pilot: Moggy Cattermole certainly, though he's just as much a Magnificent Bastard, with emphasis on the bastard. Also the Maverick Major Wooley, a foul-mouthed and insubordinate Ace who rose from the ranks. Flight Lieutenant Silk, who in twenty-two years service (on and off) is never promoted, but starts out in Hampden bombers in 1940 and finishes his career in Vulcan nuclear jets in 1962.
- Anyone Can Die: In just about all of his books. Frequently, nearly everyone ends up dead.
- Although it is hinted that the initially Biggles-like pilot, Barton, survives the war to fly the first of the jets.
- Specifically, only two of the original twelve pilots are still alive at the end of A Good Clean Fight. Out of more than twenty characters in Piece of Cake, four of them are still flying at the end. The body counts in some of the WWI novels — like Hornet's Sting — are even higher.
- Averted in Hullo Russia, Goodbye England as this is only a Space Cold War. But subverted in that if they ever have to do it for real - Everybody Dies. And that is very literally everybody. The only fatalities in this book are the bookie who tries to blackmail a pilot with gambling debts, and by inference, the Russian spy who tries to compromise Silk.
- Balls of Steel: inverted in "Baggy" Bletchley. Due to warm summer weather and the scrotal bag that earned him his nickname, he manages to get his testicles trapped between the seat and the pedestal of a toilet. Whilst in pain and figuring out how to extricate himself, a German fighter does a drive-by shooting of the airfield and presumably kills him - he is trapped inside a badly shot-up lavatory.
- Bedouin Rescue Service: In A Good Clean Fight, George the Greek is picked up by Bedouin after crashing in the desert. He stays with them a while, making friends with a shy young girl and learning their customs. Then the Germans find him and shoot him.
- Black Comedy: Pitch black, and very, very funny.
- The Brigadier: Air Commodore "Baggy" Bletchley fills this role to a tee. Although in the WW1 trilogy, a Brigadier appears who is competent, able and completely understanding of his pilots; he has risen through the ranks in the Royal Flying Corps, flown and survived combat missions himself, and is one promotion away from being a General even though he is only just over thirty. Testament to the incredible loss of life among combat pilots.
- Buzzing the Deck: Happens frequently in A Piece of Cake:
- One pilot buzzes ships on a French canal, forcing a barge to crash and a smaller boat to capsize. This is so that he can perform the feat of flying underneath a bridge, with feet to spare on all sides. He boasts about this and browbeats another pilot into doing the same. Unfortunately it has rained a lot since the successful feat and the river level has risen. so when the second pilot attempts to fly under the bridge...
- Later in the book, an officious Desk Jockey has his car repeatedly buzzed by the same pilot, overturns it, and is killed in the crash.
- In Hullo Russia, Goodbye England, a Russian "trawler" packed with electronic listening gear is buzzed at wavetop height by a Vulcan jet with all its electronic jamming gear full on. Between the jamming and the back-blast from the jet engines, it is left floundering in suddenly very choppy water in a deniable incident.
- Cassandra Truth: CH3, an American volunteer pilot who'd previously fought against the Luftwaffe in Spain, tries to warn his new RAF comrades but goes disbelieved and unheeded... because, y'know, the Spanish Republicans lost, dear boy.
- Catapult Nightmare: Fanny Barton's recurring nightmare about piloting an impossible plane with no airscrew, moving at impossibly fast speeds, with unresponsive controls which do not do what Barton expects them to do, and being unable to get out. He inevitably wakes sitting upright and sweating.
- Deconstruction: Most of his books could be read as deconstructions of military fiction.
- Goshawk Squadron tells us that a successful fighter pilot's job basically involved sneaking up behind an unsuspecting enemy and blowing his Precision F-Strike-ing head off. Word of God is that these were deliberately intended to subvert the Biggles philosophy.
- Damned Good Show is about Bomber Command in WW2. Not the killing machine that flied sophisticated four-engined heavy bombers; more the ramshackle outfit expected to fly pre-war designs over Germany in 1939 and 1940. The survivors get to risk things all over again in Lancasters. And one survivor of Lancasters gets to risk everything in the nuclear-armed jets...
- Piece of Cake makes the point that, despite what Churchill said, the pilots of the Royal Air Force during the Battle Of Britain were very much "daunted by odds".
- Death by Adaptation: Two of "Piece of Cake"'s more prominent pilots survive the novel only to be killed off toward the end of the TV adaptation. There's no sign of them in "A Good Clean Fight," however, suggesting that at least one might be a Type 2 Db A.
- The Real Life pilot that Christopher "CH3" Hart was based on, Pilot Officer Billy Fiske, died quite shortly after the point where Piece of Cake ends.
- Disabled Love Interest: In Hornet's Sting, Cleve-Cutler's girlfriend has one leg.
- Due to the Dead: subverted near the end of Piece of Cake when the survivors use the deceased characters' ready-room photographs as props for a "they're dead because they were stupid" lecture for their replacements.
- Everyone Dies; just about.
- Good Is Not Nice: See the bit above about "sneaking up behind your enemy and blowing his head off". Hick Hooper, the token American in A Good Clean Fight, develops a skill in blowing up German ambulances — whether or not they're full of ammunition. Moggy Cattermole, the Ensemble Dark Horse of Piece of Cake, once shot down a Luftwaffe rescue plane, then doubled back and strafed the dinghy it was trying to rescue. Moggy is so psychotic even is fellow RAF pilots hate him.
- Insufferable Genius: Skull Skelton, the intelligence officer who's too intelligent for his own good.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: In just about every book. Each ensemble usually consists of the pilots in a fighter squadron - about a dozen to begin with - and their replacements.
- Potty Emergency: A constant source of worry for pilots, considering the length of flights and lack of facilities. In Piece of Cake, one pilot remarks that "if you see a pilot standing lopsided, it's because one leg has shrunk in the wash." In the RFC novels, many pilots take to dosing their morning porridge with whisky or schnapps in order to counteract the laxative properties of the castor oil that gets blown in their faces from their engines.
- In Hullo Russia, Goodbye England, Flight-Lieutenant Silk is bluntly told during conversion training to Vulcan jets that this isn't a Lancaster - you can't get out of your seat, nip down the fuselage and use the Elsan as these planes don't have an onboard toilet. "So see your bladder is empty when you get aboard as I want no bottles of piss spilling out over the wiring".
- Running Gag: Owing to the chaos caused by the retreat out of France, the consequent scattered postings of squadron personnel to other jobs, and the frequent moves between bases in the South of England, the military bureaucracy has lost all the paperwork and none of the Piece of Cake pilots are, at the moment, even being paid for putting their lives on the line. This situation persists for a good five months. This leads a character to put an alternative meaning on Churchill's big speech: Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few...
"He must be talking about our back-pay, then."
- SandbagFuneral: On more than one occasion, the funeral rites for a dead pilot are made problematical by the fact that if a man is burnt to death in a flamer a mile up, or if his plane explodes in mid-air or buries itself deep into the ground in a crash, there tends not to be much left in the way of mortal remains. In such cases, the few bodily parts that can be located are placed in the coffin which is then ballasted out with sandbags to approximate the weight of a full adult male corpse. Grieving relatives are then shielded from the full awful truth, and pallbearers at the funeral are seen shouldering a coffin that does not look suspiciously lightweight. This expedient works, provided the relatives do not ask to open the lid to look upon their beloved's face one last time, and that the load does not shift inside the coffin...
- Series Continuity Error: Quite a big one. In A Piece of Cake, the bluff and energetic Air Commodore "Baggy" Bletchley appears to die a painful and embarrassing death - he is trapped in the toilet when a German fighter raids the airstrip, and the portable lavatory is seen bowling across the field in a hail of machine-gun and cannon fire. While it is not expressly stated that Bletchley dies, the circumstances would seem pretty conclusive. He would have to have been an immortal Houdini to have got out in time. Yet he re-appears, seemingly undamaged, in A Good Clean Fight to carry on delivering impractical, confused, contradictory and pilot-killing orders to Squadron Leader Barton...
- Those Wacky Nazis: Surprisingly few, considering that six of the books take place during the war.
- Toilet Humour: In A Piece of Cake, Steele-Stebbing's way of getting back at his tormentor Moggy Cattermole is to wait until Moggy is in the portable lavatory, and then connect it with a chain to a large truck. Which he then drives around the airstrip. The results are a bit messy.
- The death of Bletchley (above). this is compounded by an embarrassing quirk of his anatomy - the reason for his nickname "Baggy", in fact - which traps him in the toilet, and delays his getting out in time.
- Shoot the Dog: Squadron Leader Rex's dog Reilly receives a mercy killing halfway through Piece of Cake while pining for his dead master. Although it might have been because Reilly was constantly pissing on everyone's legs.
- Spot of Tea: They're British, after all. In Hullo Russia, Goodbye England, Squadron-leader Quinlan says, only half-jokingly, that if the Russians were gentlemen they'd delay Armageddon for a few minutes, to let us finish our tea first. (The Vulcan duty aircraft are at dispersal and their planes ready to be in the air within ninety seconds).
- Token Religious Teammate: Lieutenant Gabriel in Goshawk Squadron, whose form of progressive madness involves speaking in Bible quotes, reciting psalms whilst killing Germans, and eventually taking the persona of the Angel of Death from Revelations and killing everybody, regardless of nationality.
- Unfriendly Fire: in Piece of Cake the pilots allow Squadron Leader Rex to dive into a German formation unsupported because they've become convinced his inflexible adherence to impractical prewar tactics is going to get them all killed.
- World War I: Goshawk Squadron, War Story, and Hornet's Sting. All feature the exploits of the Royal Flying Corps.
- World War II: Piece of Cake, A Good Clean Fight, and Damn Good Show. Mostly about the Royal Air Force, with cameos from the Special Air Service, the Afrika Korps, and several reporters.
- Also, Kramer's War, The Eldorado Network, and Artillery of Lies, though these are about noncombatants. Has since written a novel Hullo Russia, Goodbye England about the Vulcan Bombers of the 1960's, then Britain's primary nuclear deterrent, and the sort of pilots who would have nuked Russia.