Literary Review: W. A. Harbinson - Deadlines

Paperback Cover - Deadlines

W. A. Harbinson


First published by New English Library, London, 1981
This edition published by Custom Books Publishing / W. A. Harbinson, 2009

ISBN: 1449528589
EAN-13: 9781449528584

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Date Reviewed:



In the age of the literary desert, any re-publication of a W. A. Harbinson novel - or, indeed, any new Harbinson work - is a most welcome event indeed that is akin to at last stumbling into a refreshing oasis. It is perhaps doubly so when the work in question is a comic novel, a rare beast indeed in the modern literary landscape. W. A. Harbinson's Deadlines was originally published in 1981. Why it has ever been out of print seems utterly incomprehensible. Especially so perhaps in an age when we desperately need (good) comedy more than ever.

But then, it is equally incomprehensible why an author of the calibre of Harbinson has not, so far, received the much wider recognition that is undoubtedly due him. The fact that any major Harbinson work should ever have fallen out of print speaks volumes regarding the utter desolation that is the modern literary and publishing world.

The comedy of Harbinson's Deadlines is black, very black indeed. Deadlines satirises the world of 'men's magazines' and is set in the 1970s, when these enjoyed the peak of their popularity. The era of 'moral campaigners' such as Mary Whitehouse and Lord Longford, whose campaigns only succeeded in popularising male interest magazines and pornography even more - indeed, at the height of the Mary Whitehouse era, a somewhat downmarket magazine was even named Whitehouse after the good lady. Ingeniously, Harbinson even weaves an oblique 'tribute' to Mrs. Whitehouse into Deadlines, in the form of an extremist feminist organisation with the acronym COCK. (For those not familiar with the Mary Whitehouse saga anymore, her first campaign initially was proposed to bear the name of Clean Up National Television - no need to spell out the acronym here.)

The era covered in Deadlines also was that of some of the most rampant and hysterical Women's Lib, and of the beginnings of that dreadful instrument of the suppression of free speech, if not thought, post-Stalinist 'political correctness.'

In Deadlines, W. A. Harbinson writes as an 'insider' as it were. He was the Chief Associate Editor of some of Britain's best-regarded male interest magazines of the era, Paul Raymond's Men Only and Club / Club International from 1973 to 76, during which time he was responsible for some of those publications' finest literary content. However, he skilfully uses his 'inside knowledge' to turn the true world of male interest magazine publishing upside down and inside out to exploit the (at least, then - if not even now) popular perception of this world to the fullest and to its satirically rip-roaringly funniest.

Harbinson engages in merciless - and mercilessly funny - urine extraction with Deadlines, taking the aforementioned fluid out of the world of men's magazines as well as hysterical Women's Lib and 'political correctness.' The results are as hysterically funny as most of the characters are hysterical.

The use of language is always skilful and outstanding, as well as often beautiful in its own right, with Harbinson. In Deadlines, this language naturally enough often reflects the world of men's magazines, and four-letter words do abound. Even the dreaded L-word, love, rears its ugly head here and there! But the use of this language is never designed to titillate, it merely reflects the environment of the setting and is not offensive. Indeed, the use of some good old Anglo-Saxon vocabulary is essential here in order to reflect the milieu, and were it dispensed with would leave the story utterly castrated.

As ever, W. A. Harbinson proves himself the master storyteller. If the opening Internal Memo from 'the Ed' doesn't have you in stitches already and doesn't leave you itching to read the rest of Deadlines preferably in one sitting, then alas, there may be little hope for you. It would suggest a terminal humour impairment and perhaps that you might be a total loss to the world of reading. Please consult a doctor most urgently.

Deadlines is set in a world where men are still men, of a sort anyway - male chauvinists one and all at least to the point where protecting their gonads suddenly takes priority and in itself becomes the cause of their virtual emasculation. Even the absolute terror of the word 'deadlines' is as nothing to their near-paralytic dread of the shapely shock-troopers of COCK. However, there is also the almost mesmerizing aspect of S/M and the dominatrix - the concept of the latter possibly inspired by what was perhaps the ultimate dominatrix of her time, a certain leaderine at the time Deadlines was written who shall remain nameless and who seems to have had most of the male population of Britain under her spell at the time.

All of this - and a lot besides! - is laid bare in Deadlines, the complete sexual mores of the era and more. And all to hilarious effect. Let the battle of the sexes commence!

One of the most 'politically incorrect' novels since that ghastly concept (re-) appeared in the modern world, W. A. Harbinson's Deadlines is also the funniest black comedy of the late twentieth century and remains unsurpassed. Indeed, it remains one of the best comic novels of all time, and it is easy to see why Deadlines is the author's and his daughter's favourite among his works. It certainly is a firm favourite here as well, read in record time, a little more than an afternoon (I am a fast reader), as I just couldn't bear to stop.

While I don't normally comment on the covers of books - they are usually at least fairly irrelevant anyway and in any event one should never judge a book by its cover - I find it impossible not to do so in the case of Deadlines. The cover is just about perfect. In no way tasteless, the high-key, soft-focus image of the back of a model just perfectly reflects the typical and stereotypical average 'blonde bimbo' so characteristic of the pictorial content of men's magazines of the time. Rarely has a cover complemented the content of a book so well.

More than just compelling, W. A. Harbinson's Deadlines is an absolute must read for anybody with an intact, healthy funny-bone.

© 2009 Rainlore's World of Music/Rainlore. All rights reserved.

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