Thursday, 25 June 2015

Graham Greene's Brighton: an exploration

Graham Greene’s Brighton: an exploration

Looking for locations in Brighton Rock (the book) in the modern city

"The iron pillars stretched down across the wet dimmed shingle holding up above his head the motor-track, the shooting booths and peep machines . . . a seagull flew straight towards him between the pillars like a scared bird caught in a cathedral, then swerved out into the sunlight from the dark 
iron nave." From Brighton RockPhoto © Channel Light Vessel

There’s something slightly absurd about literary pilgrimages. What, really, are you looking for? The historical location as it actually was when the author knew it decades or centuries ago? The writer’s biographical links to the place, or their re-imagining of that place? Or the landscape you imagined when you read the book? All these are quite liable to evaporate when you confront the unforgiving ordinariness of the modern site, and find, for example, that there’s a fried chicken shack squatting on the precise location of the book’s most haunting scene. 

Even when a novel’s locations have survived the passage of time, there can be a sense of flatness when you finally stand in front of them. It’s as if you had arrived at a party to find it was over years ago. 
Despite all this, I still can’t resist literary tours. It
’s the idea that fiction is a parallel universe, and with a bit of luck, it might be possible to cross over and wander freely in the physical landscape of the book, to identify what the characters saw, and compare this with how you imagined it. Before I moved to Brighton, almost everything I knew about the city was derived from Brighton Rock - the city and the novel had merged, so this ‘tour’ was more like a rediscovery of somewhere I had known for a long time. 

Published in 1938, Brighton Rock remains compelling because of the way Greene places good and evil on one side (Rose and Pinkie), and what might be termed common decency (Ida Arnold) firmly on the other. Here, the battle is not between good and bad, as in a conventional crime thriller, but between the good, the bad, and the quite nice. 

Greene’s obvious loathing for the amateur detective he created, the self-righteous, self-indulgent champion of justice, Ida Arnold, springs from his perspective as an enthusiastic Catholic convert. Arguably, the most important conflict of the novel is between Ida and Rose, rather than Ida and Pinkie, or Rose and Pinkie. You are forced to consider whether is it better to do good things for selfish reasons (Ida), or bad things for noble ones (Rose). 

This ambiguity shifts the moral compass for the reader, so you have the sensation of being lost without a map or guide. On the other hand, Greene’s writing has an extraordinary visual confidence: it is impossible to doubt his authority when he is reporting how things looked during the action. Reading the book is like watching a film – which, of course, it was to become.

The beautiful Brighton Wheel on Madeira Drive.  Photo © Channel Light Vessel

Writers of fiction are free to change the geography to suit their own purposes. Some are cavalier with the physical facts, while others alter place names to avoid complaints from pedantic readers (Thomas Hardy being the obvious example). Greene seems to have been fairly accurate about Brighton, though he did compress it – for example, Pinkie and Dallow walk from Brewer’s house by the (now demolished) viaduct on the Lewes Road back to the seafront in a remarkably short time. There are also some odd inconsistencies (see the section on Nelson Place later in this article).

It is easy to become literal-minded when touring literary landscapes, and to forget that Greenes Brighton was an imaginative creation (a point he makes himself in Ways of Escape). Perhaps the most interesting question is whether anything of the mood, or tone, of Greenes city survives in modern Brighton. I think it does - despite the ridiculous house prices, the place has not succumbed to the commodification and artful packaging that has overtaken many of the more attractive British towns and villages. It is not self-conscious or twee, and still has, to quote Greene out of context, a dangerous edge.    

The murder of Charles 'Fred' Hale


“Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him.” 
This must rank as one of the most instantly compelling first lines in fiction. But this dark opening is followed directly by a lyrical passage on the exhilarating beauty of Brighton, the holiday crowds down from London, emerging into “the fresh and glittering air”:
“The new silver paint sparkled on the piers, the cream houses ran away into the west like a pale Victorian watercolour. . . an aeroplane advertising something for the health in pale vanishing clouds across the sky.”
Right from the first page, the distinction between the carefree, breezy, daylight city and its menacing undercurrents is made clear - the cheerfully ordinary is shadowed by a sense of dread. 

To the left, traditional relaxation in the sunshine. But where is that darkly dressed figure
 on the right hurrying to?  Photo © Channel Light Vessel

Fred Hale would have arrived at the station along with the Whitsun crowds, to start his patrol as ‘Kolley Kibber’ for the Daily Messenger newspaper, waiting for the challenge: “you are Mr Kolley Kibber and I claim the Daily Messenger prize.” The station itself does not feature much in the novel, though the film has some amazing footage of crowds arriving in 1947. 

Brighton Station today probably looks more beautiful than it ever has, with the soaring curves of the ironwork painted blue and white, sunlight diffusing through the glass roof, and outside, the pale terraces ascending in steep bands to the right, with the sea glimpsed at the end of Queen’s Road. In the 1930s the station would have been blackened by soot from the steam trains. 

The beauty of Brighton Station, designed by David Mocatta in 1840, built by the London
 and Brighton Railway.  Photo © Channel Light Vessel

Lonely, hunted, sick with fear, clinging desperately to thin shreds of optimism, Fred Hale is tormented by the sunny normality of bank holiday Brighton all around him: “he had come out of the same streets, but he was condemned by his higher pay to pretend to want other things, and all the time the piers, the peepshows pulled at his heart.” 

Greene does not identify the pub just off the seafront where, near the start of the book, Fred encounters both the tipsy Ida Arnold and Pinkie’s gang, but the 1947 film used the bar of the Star and Garter hotel, now Dr Brighton’s on Little East Street (below).

The inside of Dr Brighton's is modern and airy today, with little resemblance to the pub of the film or book, but there is no shortage of older-style pubs if you look around.

The sense of sweaty menace and nauseating anxiety builds, and Fred spots Cubitt, one of Pinkie’s gangsters, “leaning carelessly against a pillar-box. . . Hale knew exactly what he’d do. . . He’d simply link his arm with Hale’s and draw him on where he wanted to go.” 

Imagine my surprise when I moved to Brighton and spotted this:

 I have never come across the surname 'Cubitt' anywhere else.  Photo © Channel Light Vessel

In the film, Hale is murdered on a trip in the ghost train on the Palace Pier, appropriately named ‘Dante’s Inferno’, and his body thrown into the sea. The pier has a suitably sinister modern equivalent, the ‘Horror Hotel’ (below).

The real Dante's Inferno.  Photo © Channel Light Vessel

It is more difficult to identify the murder scene in the book, because both the method and the location of the murder are hinted at rather than explained. According to the post-mortem, Fred Hale died of heart failure, putting the police off the scent. It is heavily implied that his murder involved a stick of Brighton Rock, perhaps forced down his throat. 

In the final hour of his life, Fred attaches himself to Ida Arnold, who for Fred represents “shelter, knowledge, common sense” and protection from the mob (I always wondered why Fred didn’t offer Ida or another woman the full Messenger prize to persuade her to stay by him, but perhaps his conscientious newspaperman scruples got in the way). Ida leaves Fred Hale waiting at the entrance to the Palace Pier while she visits the lavatory. “I’ll be here. Just here. By this turnstile. You won’t be long, will you?” he says to her. 

The turnstile itself has gone – you now walk straight through onto the pier, but it would have been here:

The Palace Pier entrance: this is where Fred Hale would have waited for Ida.  
Photo © Channel Light Vessel

Ida’s public lavatory also seems to have gone – perhaps it used to be at the bottom of the steps to the left of the pier. 

When Ida comes back up the steps less than four minutes later, “cool and powdered and serene”, Fred has vanished. 

The action then shifts and follows Pinkie Brown on to the Palace Pier. He enters a ‘Palace of Pleasure’ full of peepshows and slot machines, engaging the owner of a shooting gallery in conversation to establish an alibi. He wins a prize, and chooses a doll that reminds him of the Virgin Mary, which he holds by the hair. 

The Palace Pier today has a large amusement arcade which is unremarkable until you look up at the roof, a dome with graceful wrought iron beams, painted green and white. It creates an odd contrast with the gaudy flash and beep of slot machines below, a contrast that Greene might have appreciated. 

The domed roof of the amusement arcade.  Photo © Channel Light Vessel

The green and white painted pillars and screens in the amusement arcade are as impressive as anything in the Pavilion.  Photo © Channel Light Vessel

There is a shooting gallery too, but it does not have dolls as prizes; instead I found dolls being dispensed from a machine. They were princesses Elsa and Anna from the Disney film Frozen:

Frozen is based (very loosely) on 'The Snow Queen', a story by Hans Christian Andersen. The story of Kai, the boy whose heart is pierced and frozen by a splinter from a distorting mirror that makes everything in the world appear ugly and evil, and Gerda, the girl who never loses her faith in saving him, has obvious parallels with the story of Pinkie and Rose.

It was also Graham Greene who famously remarked that "there is a splinter of ice in the heart of the writer." Perhaps 'The Snow Queen' was an influence on Greene and Brighton Rock. 
Photo © Channel Light Vessel

Pinkie then meets up with the other three members of his little mob in a café at the end of the pier. It is obvious that the murder has just been done, but we have to wait until later to find out exactly where and how.

Spicer, the ageing gang member who just wants out, is drawn back to the scene of the crime (part 3, end of section 2). He stands where Fred had been standing, looking across at the Aquarium, imagining the police coming to inspect the crime scene: “he could see anyone in the hot empty midweek afternoon who went down below the Aquarium. . . to the little covered arcade where the cheap shops stood between the sea and the stone wall, selling Brighton rock.”

When I read this, I initially concluded that Pinkie and the mob seized Fred at the turnstile, hustled him down the steps to the left, and killed him in the little tunnel that runs from the underbelly of the pier, under the road, to the sunken entrance to the Aquarium. They could also have killed him right under the pier, but then why mention the tunnel at all? 

This tunnel still exists, though there are no stalls selling rock either inside or outside it. There is however a shuttered and apparently defunct fish and chips cafe at one end, which suggests that there might have been shops and stalls under here. 

The tunnel leading from the Aquarium entrance through to the beach beside the Palace Pier. 
Photo © Channel Light Vessel

Shuttered shops and café at the beach end of the tunnel. 
Photo © Channel Light Vessel

This theory comes unstuck later in the book, however. When Rose and Pinkie are walking on the pier after their marriage, the ‘tunnel’ seems to refer to a larger area under the pier. Rose suggests that they walk along it, and Pinkie recoils, thinking for a minute that she has intentionally chosen the scene of the murder for a stroll. “The long tunnel under the parade was the noisiest, lowest, cheapest section of Brighton’s amusements”, Greene writes, adding that the amusements were on the landward side and the seaward side taken up with shops selling Brighton rock and shellfish. The lights were always on in this tunnel, he says. 

This sounds too big an area to be the tunnel I mentioned before, especially as Greene says it included a ghost train (part 6, chapter 2, p. 194). Perhaps there used to be a long covered section, running under the pier and extending beyond it on each side. Or perhaps Greene invented or adapted it. 

Also unclear is how the mob got Fred’s body, without being noticed, to the glass shelter on the parade, where, according to the novel, it was found. 

What is clear is that the murder took place somewhere in the area below the pier. 

It is still striking how the atmosphere changes instantly when you venture underneath the pier from the beach or the promenade, especially if the day is warm and bright. Immediately, you are in deep, chilly shade; the shouts and laughter from the beach recede, as if they are coming from miles away, footsteps echo, and the sea sucks at the cold stones. The blue sky is forced into the distance by black pillars draped with seaweed and strips of ancient plastic.

The "dark iron nave" under Palace Pier, complete with seagull (top centre left).  Photo © Channel Light Vessel

If you want to experience the contrast between the two Brightons of the book, this is a good place to come. More than once, Greene compares the structure under the pier to a church or cathedral, “a dark iron nave” where the occasional seagull “half vulture, half dove” flies between the pillars “like a scared bird caught in a cathedral”. It is a sinister sort of church, though.

There is also a dank, empty stone area separated from the shingle, with brown stalactites hanging from the iron beams (this section was recently fenced off in June 2015). Perhaps this formed part of the 
tunnel of amusements and shops selling rock, where the gang murdered Fred Hale. 

The dank area under the Palace Pier (now fenced off). Possible site for the murder of Fred Hale. 
 Photo © Channel Light Vessel

Mr Colleoni - grand hotels and razor gangs

Mr Colleoni, the rich, established mobster, appears throughout the novel as Pinkie’s infinitely more successful enemy and the source of bitter envy, but the characterisation is slight. Colleoni is likely to have been based on on a real gangster, Charles ‘Derby’ Sabini, who ran racecourse protection rackets (among other rackets) across southern England during the interwar years, notoriously using razor attacks to intimidate victims. By the time Brighton Rock was published in 1938, the racecourse crime at Brighton was more or less over.

Greene installs Colleoni in a permanent suite at the ‘Cosmopolitan’ Hotel on the seafront, where he is luxuriously cocooned from the squalid violence he orchestrates. The Cosmopolitan was based not on the Grand Hotel or Metropole, but a hotel called The Bedford, built in 1829 in late Georgian style. According to The Encyclopaedia of Brighton by Timothy Carder (1990), the hotel was considered the most distinguished late Georgian building after the Royal Pavilion. Its interior included a Grecian hall with Ionic columns and a glazed dome, and famous guests (apart from Mr Colleoni) included Charles Dickens, who wrote Dombey and Son there. 

The Bedford Hotel, model for The Cosmopolitan in Brighton Rock. This photo is undated, but looks to be from the late 1920s or early 1930s, so this is how it would have looked to Pinkie, Rose, Ida, and Mr Colleoni.  Photo: Channel Light Vessel

This postcard - probably 1930s - shows the Bedford Hotel in context on the seafront (looking east). The hotel is the first building on the left. Note the sunken gardens - this is where the paddling pool is now. Photo: Channel Light Vessel

Sadly you cannot visit the Bedford Hotel now, because it burned down in mysterious circumstances on April 1, 1964. The previous year had seen controversy over a proposal to replace it with a tower block. Two people died in the fire. 

The Bedford/Cosmopolitan was replaced by this building below, which is my least favourite piece of architecture in Brighton. It is now occupied by the Holiday Inn.

The tower block that replaced the Bedford Hotel after it burnt down in 1964.  Photo © Channel Light Vessel

The only reminder of the old Bedford Hotel is this plaque 
on the building that replaced it.  
Photo © Channel Light Vessel

Colleoni likes to boast of his wealth and position, telling Pinkie that Napoleon III used to stay in the room he occupies, with the Empress Eugenie.

“ ‘Who was she?’ ” asks Pinkie.

“ ‘Oh,
 Mr Colleoni said vaguely, ‘one of those foreign polonies.’ ”

Colleoni, Pinkie and all the mobsters use this word ‘polony’ to refer to women, sometimes varied with ‘buer’. ‘Polony’ originates from Polari slang, which was used by fairground workers, Romanies, and gays, as well as a variety of underworld characters, and is also spelt ‘palone’. According to Wikipedia it derives from ‘straw bed’, though it could also relate more crudely to polony sausage. The etymology of ‘buer’ is even more obscure. It obviously means loose woman, rhymes roughly with whore, and is apparently still in use in Ireland: buer.

Nelson Place and Paradise Piece

The bond between Pinkie and Rose is based on their Catholicism, but also on a shared background of extreme poverty. They come from the same huddle of streets - decaying terraces of tiny houses hidden from the glittery holiday town. This was the densely populated, steep district around Carlton Hill, one of the poorest in the city. 

©QueenSpark Books/Brighton and Hove Museum
Nelson Place, where Rose lives in Brighton Rock. This photograph dates from the 1930s; the street was demolished toward the end of that decade. 
Reproduced with permission from QueenSpark Books. 

Nelson Place, Rose’s home in Brighton Rock, was a real street. It was demolished, probably in the late 1930s, as part of the comprehensive clearance of the area and replaced with flats. The original photograph of Nelson Place in the 1930s is from the book Backyard Brighton (from QueenSpark Books, fascinating), and shows street architecture that is still quite typical of some smaller streets in Brighton: flat-fronted houses on one side of a narrow alley, each with a small front yard enclosed by low stone walls. You can see a similar design in Camden Terrace, for example, off Upper Gloucester Road (just down from the excellent Duke of Wellington pub):

Camden Terrace. Photo © Channel Light Vessel

Nelson Place in the 1930s photo certainly looks shabby and poor, but not quite as desperate as the scene Greene paints of Rose’s house, with its cracked panes and “the awful little passage which stank like a lavatory”. The windows look intact, there is no rubbish lying about. You can see a woman peering out of her front door, an elderly man standing in his front yard, a dark-suited figure retreating up the lane with his hands in his pockets, and a cat running toward the camera. 

Backyard Brighton includes an interview with a former resident of Nelson Place named Amelia Scholey, whose family were the last to move. “We didn’t want to move,” she says. She describes her father’s business growing watercress, and how Nelson Place was used for smoking herrings. Charlotte Storrey, living in nearby Nelson Street, adds that “we were very unhappy when we had to leave the area because we had a good business there.” 

These accounts give a rather different picture of life in Carlton Hill compared to Greene’s version, which is of a living hell of squalor, violence, sadistic child gangs, and despair. My guess is that Greene went walking one day (his knowledge of Brighton seems quite extensive, typical of someone who likes to walk for the sake of it) and wandered into the Carlton Hill district by chance. Here he would have been shocked by images of derelict streets and poverty, the sudden change from the elegant Regency terraces below, “the shabby secret behind the bright corsage, the deformed breast”. His own wealthy upper-middle class background would have made the experience much sharper. 

I could not verify whether Pinkie’s nightmarish home, the inaptly named Paradise Piece, ever existed under that name. Greene locates it as just around the corner from Rose’s home in Nelson Place. The website Streets of Brighton and Hove does list Paradise Piece as a “now vanished part of the Carlton Hill area slums”, but there are no details.

In Brighton Rock, Pinkie returns to this district on the way to ask Rose’s parents for permission to marry. The hated memories suck him back in, until he reaches “the top of the hill, in the thick of the bombardment – a flapping gutter, cracked windows, an iron bedstead in a front garden . . . a municipal notice announced new flats on a post stuck in the torn gravel and asphalt facing the little dingy damaged row, all that was left of Paradise Piece. His home was gone.”

There’s an odd moment later in the book, where Greene seems to be telling us that Pinkie lived in Nelson Place, like Rose, not Paradise Piece. Pinkie has a nightmare on his wedding night, dreaming that the Palace Pier is sinking like the Titanic, and that he falls down “into his bed in Nelson Place” listening to his parents having fumbling sex in the next bed. Waking in black darkness beside Rose, “he could see nothing and for a few seconds he believed he was back in Nelson Place.” (Part 6, chapter 2, page 203). Was this a mistake by Greene?

At the top of Carlton Hill today, you come to a street called Mount Pleasant. I wondered if this was the site of the half demolished street Greene named Paradise Piece, especially given the similar flavour of the names. Mount Pleasant, I should add, is now a genuinely pleasant road, with amazing views of the sea. Carlton Hill is now a mixture of architecture from all decades since the 1930s, with a few surviving earlier buildings. One street of flats is named ‘Nelson Row’.

Nelson Row, part of the development that replaced Nelson Place and other streets 
around Carlton Hill.  Photo © Channel Light Vessel

Mount Pleasant, at the summit of Carlton Hill.  
Photo © Channel Light Vessel

Frank's: the gang's lodging house

The squalid lodging house that serves as the gang’s base seems to have been, rather to my surprise, in Montpelier Road. This street sweeps down a steep hill from Seven Dials to the sea, and is full of tall, attractive houses (some of them grade 2 listed) and mature trees (the street is marred only by the heavy traffic).

Elegant architecture in Montpelier Road. It is difficult to imagine this street as the location for a seedy lodging house in the 1930s.  Photo © Channel Light Vessel

But Frank’s must have been in Montpelier Road. After Pinkie and Rose marry, they try to get a room at the Cosmopolitan, and are first ignored, then denied a room by the snooty receptionist (this is one of the rare scenes where it is possible to feel sorry for Pinkie). The couple then walk up from the sea “through Norfolk Square towards Montpelier Road. A blonde with Garbo cheeks paused to powder on the steps up to the Norfolk bar.” 

Looking south to the sea from Norfolk Square. Pinkie and Rose walk up from the seafront through here after their wedding, on their way back to Frank's.  Photo © Channel Light Vessel

The east side of Norfolk Square.  Photo © Channel Light Vessel

Again, Pinkie is described waking early the next morning and walking down to the sea from Montpelier Road, while on page 237, Greene actually identifies the house number: 63. 

“Kite had opened the door to No. 63 and the first thing he’d seen was Dallow embracing Judy on the stairs, and the first thing he had smelt was Frank’s iron in the basement.” This suggests that the Montpelier Road area, now quite gentrified, was a district of poorer lodging houses.

Unless the street numbers have changed since the 1930s, No. 63 Montpelier Road was ‘Frank’s
. The house is larger and grander than the book suggests. It is also possible, of course, that Greene was being mischievous in identifying this house. 

No. 63, Montpelier Road: presumed location of Frank's.  Photo © Channel Light Vessel

Trains, viaducts, and basements: Brewer's house and Prewitt's house

Early in the story, Pinkie and Dallow call on Brewer, a bookie who is behind with his protection money. The scene in the little house, with Brewer’s sick wife groaning in bed upstairs, establishes Pinkie’s cruelty – he slashes Brewer with his razor on the way out. Brewer “had a house near the tram lines on the Lewes Road almost under the railway viaduct.” This viaduct was demolished in 1976: you can see some excellent photos of it before, during and after demolition on the website MyBrightonandHove.

The splendid London Road viaduct to the west, however, is is alive and well:

The viaduct over London Road.  
Photo © Channel Light Vessel
Exploring the streets around the London Road viaduct, I was convinced that I had found the location for Prewitt’s house, because the whole area, though now gentrified, corresponded to the picture I had formed while reading the book. Prewitt, you will remember, is the shady solicitor who takes care of Pinkie’s ‘business’, likes to punctuate conversation with quotes from Hamlet, and mourns his social descent from public school to life in a dingy house “shaken by shunting engines” and showered in soot from the tracks. 

Streets below the the London Road viaduct. 
Photo © Channel Light Vessel 
But Dr Geoffrey Mead of Sussex University, an expert on the changing Brighton landscape of the interwar years, places Prewitt’s house much closer to the centre, backing onto the railway lines behind Aldi on the southern end of London Road. 

This area has been substantially redeveloped in the last decade, but it’s not difficult to find alternative models for Prewitt’s house, and imagine Prewitt’s glowering wife in the basement.

Brighton is a city of interesting basements.

The roadhouse

The Black Lion at Patcham. This building dates from 1929. 
Photo: Nigel Cox/Wikimedia Commons 

Geoffrey Mead also suggested that the original for the roadhouse visited by Pinkie, Dallow and Cubitt was the Black Lion at Patcham. It is here that Pinkie, having recently murdered Spicer, fails to lose his virginity in a Lancia with Spicer’s girlfriend. During the 1920s and 1930s, roadhouses like these were springing up all over Britain as the use of private cars grew. The Black Lion is now a Harvester restaurant.

Roedean School

Roedean school for girls, on the clifftops east of Brighton. The building is visible for miles.  
Photo © Channel Light Vessel

Roedean, the exclusive girls’ public school, is mentioned a couple of times in the novel (though not by name) underlining the sense of parallel worlds existing alongside each other in the town. Roedean versus Nelson Place. 

On the day of the races, Greene describes the girls coming out to play hockey while the crowds from Brighton make their way up to the racecourse: “through the wrought-iron main gates they could see the plebeian procession, those whom the buses wouldn’t hold, plodding up the down, eating buns out of paper bags.” 

Greene then deftly links the disparate components of the scene in this superb paragraph: 
“The junior girls took to their heels like ponies racing on the turf, feeling the excitement going on outside, as if this were a day on which life for many people reached a kind of climax.”

Roedean school looms up on the clifftop east of Brighton. The sheer size of the building is remarkable and can be seen for miles down the coast. On a dark rainy day, viewed from the bus to Rottingdean, it can look quite intimidating. Fees are around £10,000 a term for boarders. 

Roedean.  Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Snow's restaurant

s, the café where Rose works as a waitress, is a crucial location in the novel. This is where Spicer slips one of Kolley Kibbers cards under the tablecloth to create a false alibi, and where Ida Arnold comes to interrogate Rose.

When Rose is dressing Pinkie’s wounds in the back room at Snows after he has been carved up by Colleonis men, Greene writes that a bus could be heard going by in West Street. This suggests that Snows was either on West Street itself, or on the corner of West Street and the seafront. 

Geoffrey Mead has found Sweetings Ltd oyster merchants and restaurant, grill room, luncheons and suppers listed at 66 West Street in an old street directory, Pike’s Blue Book, Brighton and Hove & District, 1925. 

Number 66 is the corner of West Street and Kings Road (the seafront), and therefore seems a likely candidate for Snow’s.


“Dona nobis pacem,” says Pinkie.
“He won’t,” says Rose.
“What do you mean?”
“Give us peace.”

This exchange occurs in the car as Pinkie drives out with Rose at night along the cliffs to Peacehaven toward the end of the story. His intention is to get her to commit suicide and shoot herself, but it is at Peacehaven that he meets his own annihilation. Blinded by vitriol, he plunges over the cliff  “as if he’d been withdrawn suddenly by a hand out of any existence, past or present, whipped away into zero – nothing.” 

Throughout the book, in a reversal of the Faust story, Pinkie is tempted by God, often via music, Pinkie’s Achilles heel. He expends a huge amount of energy stamping on the tiny green shoots of compassion when they try to force their way into his mind. This happens for the last time on the road to Peacehaven:

“An enormous emotion beat on him; it was like something trying to get in; the pressure of gigantic wings against the glass.” 

He resists this final temptation, though. 

Friar's Bay, Peacehaven.    Photo © Stacey Harris, Geograph/Wikimedia

A few thoughts on Ida Arnold: why did Graham Greene loathe her?

Why did Graham Greene hate his character, Ida, with such passion? It is difficult to think of another novel where a central character has inspired such consistent loathing in its creator. Whenever Ida appears, Greene never misses a chance to hammer home the message about her implacable complacency and middlebrow tastes, her “remorseless” optimism, her cookie-cutter ethics. 

Ida is the eternal Insider, a stranger nowhere and to no-one.  She’s the secular counterpoint to Pinkie and Rose’s puritanical and drastic Catholicism; Greene uses her faith in ouija boards to indicate that a debased, cosy superstition has been substituted for religion. Her compassion is described as self-indulgent and “merciless”.

The pressure on the reader to dislike Ida is as relentless as Ida herself. But Greene’s real problem with Ida is a question of motivation. Ida takes a frank pleasure in her quest for justice and pursuit of Pinkie. She does it in the name of what is “right”, but for her it is also fun. Fred Hale, as an individual, soon fades from Ida
s memory as she is caught up in the thrill of the chase. By contrast, Rose’s motives are as pure as Ida’s are corrupt: Rose knows Pinkie is destined for Hell, but chooses to damn herself in solidarity. 

While Ida
enjoyable distress at Freds fate is certainly repellent, like her patronising treatment of Rose, it is also Ida’s bullish persistence that uncovers the murders. Without her, Pinkie’s violence would presumably have continued, with Rose’s support, and the murder of Fred Hale would always have been filed as a suicide.  

It seems to depend whether, in doing good, you think motives really matter - or matter more than outcomes. Greene, as a Catholic, clearly thought that they do.

Ida Arnold is alive and well in Brighton. Walk past any pub on a weekend, and you will hear that loud carefree laugh echoing down the street, “full of beer and good fellowship and no regrets”. 

Brighton Pierrots, by Walter Sickert, 1915. This painting, for me, captures the Brighton of Brighton Rock, and particularly of Ida Arnold, more powerfully than any other. In the 1947 film, Ida (played by Hermione Baddeley) is seen performing as a pierrot.  Sickert stayed in Brighton in 1914 at number 4, Bedford Square. 

Greene in Brighton

The entrance to Embassy Court, a block of flats designed by Wells Coates and built in 1935. There is a story that Graham Greene lived here or stayed here for a while, but I have not been able to confirm this. The building caused outrage locally when it was first built. Photo © Channel Light Vessel

Graham Greene’s association with Brighton began in childhood.  In A Sort of Life, he mentions his aunt Maud taking him to Brighton for his health. He visited throughout his life, often staying at the Royal Albion Hotel on the corner of the Old Steine (which Greene spells ‘Steyne’ in Brighton Rockand the seafront. Brighton also features in Travels with My Aunt (1969) and The End of the Affair (1951).

There is also a story that he lived or stayed in Embassy Court, (photo above), but I have not been able to confirm this. Terence Rattigan, with whom Greene wrote the screenplay for the film of Brighton Rock, certainly lived in Embassy Court, but not until 1960. 

In the 1980s, Embassy Courts most famous resident was the novelist and journalist Keith Waterhouse, who said that Brighton has the air of a town that is perpetually helping the police with their inquiries.

One of Greene’s favourite pubs in Brighton was The Cricketers on Black Lion street (below). The pub has a room upstairs, ‘The Greene Room’ where a number of letters from Greene to his old friend in Brighton, Michael Richey, are displayed. Richey, a Catholic like Greene, was director of the Royal Institute of Navigation. 

Bizarrely, Graham Greene shares the Greene Room’s space with Jack the Ripper.  

© Josephine Gardiner 2015 

The Cricketers, with the 'Greene Room' upstairs.

* * * * *

Many thanks to Dr Geoffrey Mead, of Sussex University, who generously gave his time for free, talking about possible locations, and giving specific information about the sites of Brewers house and Prewitts house, the mob's roadhouse, Derby Sabini, and the Carlton Hill area. 

Geoffrey Mead also runs historical and cultural tours of Brighton. 

Useful Links

QueenSpark Books
My Brighton and Hove
Brighton history website
Graham Greene Birthplace Trust


Two films have been made of Brighton Rock. 

The 1947 film Brighton Rock is excellent. Directed by John Boulting and with a screenplay by Graham Greene and Terence Rattigan, it starred Richard Attenborough as Pinkie, Carol Marsh as Rose, and Hermione Baddeley as Ida. The murder of Hale, and the ending, differ from the novel, but otherwise it captures the book brilliantly, and is a work of art in its own right. 

Another version of Brighton Rock was made in 2010, directed by Rowan Joffe. I have not seen it, so I cant comment on its quality. In this film the historical setting was changed, from the 1930s of the novel to the 1960s.


  1. This is a really interesting article. Fascinating to read and enhanced by the wonderful images. It immediately made me want to re-read Graham Greene's Brighton Rock.

  2. Many thanks for your comment, glad you enjoyed it.

  3. I re-read Brighton Rock earlier this year - I'd only intended to skim through it, looking at the slang for a work project on Polari (so good to see that mentioned), but i got drawn back in, just as I had aged 14 or so. This is a wonderful tour both of Brighton and a writer's imagination: I liked the odd connections that come up - like the 'Frozen' fairground one - and I particularly liked the way you deal with how a writer's imagination transforms things, but is still rooted in a particular place. Must now explore Brighton properly. Loved it.

    1. Thank you very much for your kind comments.

      Re Polari - I only touched on this in the article, but would definitely be interested to hear more about your work project on it.

  4. Very interesting indeed. And the 2010 film is execrable. Unbelievable that Helen Mirren is in it - by far the worst film she has ever appeared in.

    1. Thanks for commenting - I only just saw your comment, apologies...

      I've now seen the 2010 film and like you wasn't particularly impressed. Helen Mirren as Ida was a spectacularly bad bit of casting - she is completely wrong for the part, and her interpretation of the character was weird - all steely and businesslike and none of Ida's self-indulgent hedonism. Sam Riley was simply too good-looking and felt too middle-class for Pinkie, and Angela Riseborough also perhaps too pretty as Rose, though I thought she did the best job. Setting it in the 1960s rather than 30s didn't bother me overmuch, but why use Eastbourne as the location? Still plenty of cinematic scope in Brighton!

  5. The solicitor's name is Drewitt, not Prewitt.

    1. No it's definitely Prewitt in my copy (Penguin) and all others I've seen.

    2. Yes his name is drewitt in my copy. And the pinkie mob boarding house is owned by Billy, not frank.

    3. I can't believe you have waited two years to post this again! Unless you have a rogue edition, you are wrong. It is Prewitt, and Frank's boarding house. Maybe you are confusing Prewitt (the solicitor) with Cubitt (one of Pinkie's mob. If you keep posting this, I'm afraid I'll have to block you.

  6. Thank you for the excellent article. I always imagined that Nelson Place is referred to by Greene as an area or district rather than a particular street.