The literary legend of Patrick Hamilton is dark and morose, vicious at times, tinged with violence, and most often perceived through the ambers of a bottle or a glass. Alcohol ended Hamilton’s life and it coloured his work, not least the novel that is perhaps his most famous, Hangover Square (1941). His gift for murder stories, expressed in his celebrated stage/film successes Rope and Gaslight, is probably only a sidebar to his true and enduring cult following.
The terrible road accident of 1932 that left him disfigured is perhaps a marker-post in a life that came to be plagued by depression: it’s possible Hamilton never really ‘recovered’. Until that point he had undoubtedly made something of himself from unpromising beginnings. As his biographer Sean French has noted, ‘Hamilton came from a family of failed writers’, a quite particuliar form of genteel underachievement. He was a 15-year-old school-leaver (though the school in question was Westminster), after which he knocked around for a fair bit. ‘I did all sorts of things’, he later wrote, ‘anything I could get hold of; working for the army and at the law. Had a sister who was on the stage and that led me into that sort of life. Took perfectly rotten jobs in the theatre, nothing that amounted to anything more than giving me barely enough money to live, but it did give me a pretty clear knowledge of that class of people…’
The theatre work consisting on provincial touring with the company of Andrew Melville, as an assistant stage manager and occasional actor. Hamilton didn’t stick it for long; stenography became his wage-labour thereafter. But he was already writing by then, and would succeed in publishing 3 novels before he was 25. The third of these, Twopence Coloured (1928), was his ‘theatre’ book, and it found him on the cusp of what would be his breakthrough, achieved the following year with The Midnight Bell (based on his relationship with Lily Connolly) and the stage premiere of Rope. Twopence Coloured, though, remains one of the rarest items in Hamilton’s bibliography, and Finds is thrilled to be returning it to print this month.
BTW: Hamilton fans who are gladdened by its reappearance may also be keen to see the return of his very first published novel Monday Morning (1925); if so, I would ask them to contact me through the Comments feature of this page…
The writer Joseph Ridgwell admires Hamilton so much that he recently convened the Inaugural Patrick Hamilton Literary Pub Crawl through Central London; its proceedings may be inspected below.