Morbid Mayflowers

Horror & Supernatural paperbacks ’60’s & ’70’s

Gordon M Williams – The Siege Of Trencher’s Farm

Posted by demonik on August 20, 2007

Gordon M Williams –  The Siege Of Trencher’s Farm (Mayflower 1971,  Secker & Warburg 1969)



Straw Dogs has an unshakable connection with A Clockwork Orange. The films were released within months of one another between November 1971 and January 1972, causing various critics to write to the Times to defend ACO and hope it wouldn’t get caught up in the controversy surrounding SD. Both films concerned thuggery, rape, house-breaking. Both were made by name American directors and set in Britain. ACO concerns a violent person being forced to give up violence against his will. SD concerns a non-violent person being forced to use violence against his will. SD is rural, ACO urban. Both directors were castigated by Leslie Halliwell in his ’76 Film Guide for removing any reference in the films to their titles.The Burgess novel dated from 1962, Williams from 1969. Inspired by ‘mad axeman’ Frank Mitchell’s escape from Dartmoor whilst ex-journo Williams was living in Devon, Gordon churned out TSOTF in 9 days – an exercise in ‘hit and run’ pulp. Amazing considering, of his earlier novels, one had been short-listed for the all-new Booker Prize and another had been picked up by Hollywood for a tidy sum. Williams had ghost written the autobiography of Bobby Moore, and become friendly with Terry Venables. A detective series, Hazell, was co-written by Gordon and Terry. Williams is dismissive of Peckinpah and the film – and later gave up writing because he ‘got bored’.

Comparisons between the film and book are inevitable. Despite being advertised by one paperback publisher as ‘the famous novel of rape and violence’, there is no rape in the book. Henry Niles (film) is an amiable bumbling village idiot who seems to have done something dodgy with gurls in the past He accidentally strangles teen temptress Janice Heddon who has led him on somewhat. In the novel he is a convicted child-killer and rapist taken to hospital from the Bedlam in which he is incarcerated, for some injections. The ambulance crashes in foul weather and Niles wanders into the snow. Janice Heddon (novel) is eight years old, handicapped and subject to fits. Frightened by the vicar dressed as Santa Claus at the village childrens’ party, she also flees into the blizzards.
George Magruder is an American historian with an English wife, Louise. Normally resident in the USA, the family (the Magruders have a young daughter) have travelled to England for a Sabbatical. It has given Louise a chance to visit her roots, and George a chance to prepare a book on Branksheer, an English academic and rakehell, in an authentic setting.

Things aren’t good between husband and wife. English/American, Man/Woman, order/chaos, routine/spontaneity squabbles are commonplace, and their daughter is not enjoying her stay. There is tension between the Magruders and the local villagers, particularly the lower echelons. The dispossessed, poor, envious, ill-educated and parochial have nothing but suspicion for the ‘professor’, a high and mighty Yank.

Things come to a head when, returning from the party, the Magruders run down Niles in their car. Not realising who he is, they take him home and attempt to revive him, whilst seeking help. During this time his identity is revealed and this information reaches the irate menfolk, who have all been hitting the booze and fruitlessly searching for the lost Janice Heddon. They quickly reach the conclusion that Niles is responsible for Janice’s disappearance and head for Trencher’s Farm, temporary home of the Magruders.

The scene is now set for the siege – an incredibly tense onslaught wherein all manner of emotions, hatreds and problems surface to hinder all concerned. George and Louise alternate between defending Niles and wanting to throw him to the wolves. The villagers inadvertently murder one of their own (albeit of a higher caste) and so have nothing to lose. George, the mild mannered, prissy, history man has to look into himself and decide whether he is man enough to subdue his wife, defend his territory and, if it comes to it, kill those who would besiege his castle.
The presence of the young daughter heightens suspense, what with Niles in the house – outwardly a pathetic harmless little man, but whose shocking history is known to all.

What would you do?

It’s interesting to note that that the novel refers to contemporary issues such as the moon-landing and the abolition of capital punishment. Niles, to me, seems to be partly inspired by the Moors Murderers and the public outcry against them.

GMW gives both sides of the story – providing the villagers with plenty of motivation for their actions.

The film has inspired much controversy and newsprint. The novel less so, but the basics are there – a very powerful piece of story-telling.

Review by Franklin Marsh of Vault Of Evil. see the Vault Siege Of Trenchers Farm thread here.

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