|Born||20 September 1916
23 Bolckow Street, Shildon, County Durham
|Died||11 January 1986 (aged 69)|
|Notable work(s)||The Day of the Sardine|
Tribute to Sid Chaplin
It is a commonplace that writers often exploit their families ruthlessly for material; Durham Literature Festival's tribute to Sid Chaplin, turned the tables and gave the writer's family and friends a chance to talk about him. Sid's son Michael Chaplin (himself an experienced journalist and screenwriter) had put together an evening which had the coherence and structure of a dramatic performance, but all the warmth and directness of a family conversation.
There was a graceful acknowledgement of the audience, too: one purpose of the event was to celebrate the reissue by Flambard Press of Sid Chaplin's two Newcastle novels, The Day of the Sardine and The Watchers and The Watched, but, said Michael "I thought that coming to Durham to talk about Newcastle wasn't a terribly polite thing to do." Instead, he planned to focus on the area where Sid had lived for much of his life, in the pit villages of County Durham: "Welcome to Sid Chaplin's pit village".
The first speaker was Sid's youngest brother, Colin Chaplin. There was an age difference of seventeen years between them, and in some ways his elder brother had taken on almost the rôle of a father: Colin recalled Sid bringing him to Durham to walk along the riverbank under the cathedral, hunting for conkers. This must have been the period of which Sid wrote in the introduction to The Leaping Lad, his first collection of stories: "I served my apprenticeship in bed" - that is, he had learned his craft as a storyteller at night, when it was his task to lull his brothers to sleep with narrative.
Colin's recollections were counterpointed with murmurs of recognition from the audience; many of them remembered the times, people and places he described. Michael's mother, too, was clearly impatient to enlarge on his account, and her turn came next: Rene Chaplin's first recollection of the man she was to marry was that he had spoken at chapel, and had impressed her as altogether too sure of himself!
Edith Kirtley's acquaintance with Sid Chaplin also had its origins at the local Wesleyan chapel; the young people were not always enthusiastic chapelgoers, but "We didn't mind going to hear Sid - I suppose he was telling us stories." She spoke of Sid's involvement with the Spennymoor Settlement, an extraordinary social, artistic and educational resource set up in the 1930s for the benefit of the people of Spennymoor, many of whom were unemployed. Sid's studies at the Settlement, and its library, enabled him to go to Fircroft College to study economics. His plan was to make a career in politics or the labour movement, but with the war he returned to Ferryhill, to work in the Dean and Chapter Mine, and continue to write.
Rene Chaplin recalled that during this period Sid had built up a substantial collection of rejection slips, but eventually made his first sale: his poem A Widow Wept was published by Penguin New Writing. They paid £5 for it, and Sid spent the money on a dinner service, a gift to his parents for their silver wedding anniversary.
John Bate first met Sid Chaplin during the war, and corresponded thereafter, and since John had kept all of Sid's letters over a period of 46 years, Michael Chaplin was able to read his father's words to the young man who had written to him, hoping to found a magazine, and suggesting they meet. Sid had sent directions about how to find him, and suggested that they might also go to the cinema. It was fascinating to hear this informal scrap of the writer's conversation.
But this was not the only time in the evening that Sid's voice was heard: Live Theatre's Laura Norton read extensive extracts from his writings with freshness and conviction; the young voice fitted perfectly the writer's descriptions of scenes from his boyhood. Her reading of the moving Grace Before Meat, set in the hard times of the 1926 General Strike, showed how regrettable it is that Sid Chaplin's short stories are not currently in print. Laura admitted she had not previously known Sid Chaplin's work, but had greatly enjoyed reading the Durham stories, and as a Newcastle lass herself was now looking forward to reading the two Newcastle novels.
Read David Whetstone's Journal article about this event.
His son is Michael Chaplin.