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Story Reviews

Tales of Flitterwick Harbour Story Reviews

Dustjacket cover of Tales of Flitterwick Harbour
Book cover (left) with a 'message' from the author's daughter (inside dust jacket)

Flitterwick Harbour

 

The first story is an introduction of sorts to the main characters: Dinger, Flip, Sandy, Donald, and of course Tubby (see character profiles).

 

Tubby To the Rescue

 

Tubby is dispatched by the Harbour Master to rescue a stranded Percy, but in his haste and pride to do so, forgets the tow-ropes! Too late to turn back, Flip lends him the necessary equipment. Once rescued, (to the adulation of Percy’s Passengers), Percy’s captain orders Tubby's captain to cast off the tow, lest someone sees them being towed into Flitterwick by a lowly tugboat. The demand  is ignored. As they arrive into the harbour, the other ships provide a rousing welcome with their horns and sirens, whilst the crowds assembled on the jetty, including the mayor, cheer  wildly. Percy’s grateful passengers make a collection which raises enough money to have Tubby repainted.

Tubby rescues Percy Paddle
Tubby rescues Percy Paddle

The Proud Gentleman or Mr. Lordly Goes Fishing

 

Mr. Lordly is having a very bad day in which everything seems to be conspiring against him. He cuts himself whilst shaving, he burns his tongue drinking hot coffee, his daughter Jane dawdles causing him to be six minutes late.  His coat is caught in the car door once he's on the ferry, then his hat is blown into the water. When he forgets to set his car's brake, Mr. Lordly's bad luck culminates with his car going overboard into the sea during the crossing. With the help of Flip’s crew and passengers, the car is eventually recovered, fish swimming about inside and all, much to a recalcitrant Mr. Lordly’s delight.

Mr. Lordly's car slips into the sea
Mr. Lordly's car takes the plunge! note the headlights ;-)

Fireworks

 

Tubby wishes that he could participate in Flitterwick Harbour's annual Regatta, especially to watch the evening's fireworks display. Thanks to Tommy, Tubby is permitted to be part of the Regatta – as a tea tent, on the condition that he is ready to work if called upon. As luck would have it, Tubby  is sent out to retrieve a sailing ship. Because he is dressed as a tea tent, Tubby suffers through relentless teasing. He returns to the harbour just as the last fireworks rocket's glare flickers out, and is very disappointed to have missed the show. Seeing his friend sad, Tommy later sneaks aboard and dumps a collection of fireworks into Tubby’s funnel in order to cheer him up. The spectacular and noisy results  rouses  the harbour's citizens from their sleep. The just-awakened Harbour Master is furious, with Tubby’s Captain promising corporal punishment against Tommy. Tubby intervenes to claim that the fireworks actually did him some good by cleansing his funnel of accumulated soot. All is forgiven, and so ends the last story of the book.

Tubby provides entertainment
Tubby is host to a late-night fireworks display.

MY OVERALL IMPRESSIONS OF TOFH

 

Tales of Flitterwick Harbour was written in 1955,  one year before C R Dalby left the Railway Series. Sadly, this was this new author's first and final foray into children's literature.  

 

What surprised me most about this one-and-only volume were Dalby’s illustrations. Before reading ToFH, I fully expected to see vivid color illustrations on par with those Dalby had drawn  for the Railway Series. Instead, the artwork was inked in black and white, and when colors were used, they were solid brown, yellow, red, black and blue. Accustomed as I was to the rich hues of his Railway Series work, these were typical for children's storybooks from the period  and printing process used to keep production costs down.

 

Another interesting observation is that none of the mechanical characters were drawn having 'faces'. The only hints of anthromorphism are seen in the illustrations of Tubby in 'Fireworks' - where Tubby appears to have 'irises' in his cabin's fore portholes, and in the seemingly forlorn look of Mr. Lordly's car as it slips into the sea in 'The Proud Gentleman'.

 

As for Reginald Dalby's writing style, the stories could be easily read by a parent to a younger child, and Dalby interspersed his writing with his characters audibly expressing themselves in their own mechanical way with bells and whistles. The author also included a few short songs, undoubtedly added to liven up the storytelling as seen from this verse excerpt from Tubby's Song,

I'd rather be a little boat

And Sail the ocean wide.

And never sink but keep afloat

With Sandy by my side.

The interaction between the characters is also charming. There's this cute exchange between Tubby and Tommy in Fireworks abridged below:

"We must both have a very special think," said Tommy...

"That is a very good idea, Tommy," said Tubby. "We'll have two separate thinks."

So they were both very quiet, having a special think.

"I've thinked of something," said Tommy, and then, "No, that wouldn't do."

"And I've thinked of something," said Tubby, "and that won't do either."

Having read Tales of Flitterwick Harbour, I can say that I have a greater appreciation for Dalby's artistic contribution to the Railway Series. Despite the technical errors that sometimes crept into his illustrations, the vivid artwork undoubtedly contributed to the success of the early RWS volumes, and set the bar for future artists.

 

A quaint little book with entertaining stories, the map drawn by Dalby found in the cover's endpapers make me wonder whether additional stories were planned. Smugglers' Island, the Boatbuilders' Yards, Lilliford, Minister Regis all offered a promise of  potential storylines, locales and characters.

 

In the end, Tales of Flitterwick Harbour was our first and last glimpse into Dalby's imagined world. Had the stories been illustrated in the same genre and quality as his work on the Railway Series, perhaps – just perhaps the book would not have faded away into obscurity.

 

But then again, perhaps ToFH isn't gone forever. With fan-fiction, Flitterwick Harbour may just be revisited someday - who knows, one of this fansite's many visitors may be inspired to take us there!  ;-)

C. Reginald Dalby's map of Flitterwick Harbour
Map of Flitterwick Harbour
Were the landmarks depicted on the map to be used for future story settings?