FOR anyone who remembers the hugely popular 1960s TV series Cluff – which followed the trials and tribulations of gruff Sergeant Caleb Cluff from ‘Maigret of the Dales’, there’s a chance to rediscover the books the show is about was based. But, for the uninitiated, be warned, they are not for the faint of heart.
Sgt Cluff’s books were written by Skipton-born Geoffrey Horne, who wrote under the pseudonym Gil North.
Son of the city clerk, he attended Grammar School in Ermysted, before going to Christ’s College, Cambridge. He joined the civil service, and served in Nigeria and Cameroon, before eventually returning to Skipton to write. He died in 1988.
The books are set in the fictional Gunnarshaw, actually Skipton, where filming also took place for the BBC television series.
When Horne was first approached by the BBC about adapting Cluff, he was far from enthusiastic and refused to attend a meeting in London, a place he hated. Instead, BBC executives came to see him. He personally wrote every episode and script for two TV series.
They starred Bradford-born Leslie Sands as Sgt Cluff, and included an appearance by Leonard Rossiter, star of Rising Damp and The Fall and Rise by Reginald Perrin. Although it regularly attracts 12 million viewers, there was only the wo series, which ended in 1965.
Although the first series has been lost to posterity, the second series survives in the BBC archives, although it was never commercially available on DVD.
In 2016, a review of North’s work was organized at the Skipton Library, with copies of the books donated by the British Library, to coincide with the centenary of the author’s birth. It was presented by writer Julia Chapman author of The Dales Detective book series, based in Bruncliffe – Settle – where Julia lives.
Award-winning crime writer Martin Edwards is a big advocate for Cluff and has been a strong supporter of why people need to rediscover and reconnect with such hidden gems.
He said: âCluff is a distinctive and impressive character, and the crisp, concise stories about him retain their power to this dayâ¦ (the author) focuses not on hoaxing for the sake of playing, but on playing. human condition. His work shows the influence of Georges Simenon, and his most famous character, Inspector Jules Maigret.
Now four of the books have been reissued by Bradford-based Great Northern Books, and they may well capture a whole new generation.
The books paint a very vivid and recognizable portrayal of Skipton – although thankfully today the slums, the stinking canal, yet to be cleaned up, with its garbage bags of stinking dead animals and its poverty-stricken inhabitants are more with us.
North’s Skipton is certainly not a city likely to be promoted by the city tourism board.
Sgt Cluff, in his Burberry mac, hat and stick with his trusty border collie, Clive, his constant companion, stands guard over his town atop the High Street.
He stands as steadfast as the statue outside the library – it can only be the statue of Sir Mathew Wilson.
He knows everyone from the traders in the main street market to the inhabitants of the most expensive houses far from the city center, the mill workers and the inhabitants of back-to-back terraced houses, where families struggle to survive.
An alarming number of wicked murders come his way. There is the murder of the owner of the local estate, and the rector found in his bath with his wrists cut off.
In another, one young woman after another is found dead. One is dismembered and its members are dispersed in an attempt to cover up the crime. An enraged Cluff is chasing the killer, the local dentist who has a sideline in illegal abortions. Determined to find him, he pursues him across the moors and follows him into a pothole in a cave. There is no escape from determined Cluff.
In another, he travels from Gunnarshaw to Liverpool to interview residents of the city’s most seedy areas, including a prostitute, with his intention of shedding light on yet another scandal plaguing his beloved city and its people. that he seems to consider his children.
The books are amazing. Most certainly from another era and not for everyone. But the descriptions of the city, its ginnels, its alleys and its canal are fascinating.
It’s hard to think of the canal, now such an accessible place for walkers on the towpath and all manner of craft on the waterway itself, as Gill describes it. A dirty, smelly place with only an occasional cruise ship trying to make its way through the weeds.
Great Northern Books reprinted Sergeant Cluff Goes Fishing, More Deaths for Sergeant Cluff, The Blindness of Sergeant Cluff, and Sergeant Cluff Laughs Last. They are priced at Â£ 7.99 and are available at www.greatnorthernbooks.co.uk