1 NOVEMBER 1963, Page 22

Brendan the Gab

Hold Your Hour, and Have Another. By Brendan Behan. (Hutchinson, 21s.)

THE dedication is to Brendan Behan's wife Beatrice (who is also responsible for the illus- trations, vaguely reminiscent of Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Monies); coupled with hers I would have liked to have seen the name of Jim MacGuinness, the editor of the Irish Press, who, in 1954, commissioned the weekly column from which this selection was taken. The Press also employed Lennox Robinson, who had published little since he had been one of the mainstays of the Abbey Theatre between the wars; it was something of an achievement to persuade' two writers of such distinction, not to mention readability, to contribute to a journal which had previously been more noted for its devotion to the causes of Mr. de Valera than to its interest in the wider literary scene.

Behan was not unknown as a writer before. He had won a reputation as a poet in the Irish language, and had written some short stories, in- cluding one which I once came across, to my surprise, in a Left Bank magazine of. the early 1950s. But the theme (though not such as the editor of the Press would have cared to try out on his readers) was conventional, and the style undistinguished; it was not until these Press columns that the racy, deceptively casual, con- versational style began to emerge which was to be one of the strengths of Borstal Boy.

There are also early intimations of the weak- ness which has left Borstal Boy with no com- parable successor. A raconteur of genius can get away with anything, for a time; if his audiences are sufficiently entranced they will accept ancient gags, and whispered puns, as part of the act— which they may well be. When the gag or the pun (or the song-and-dance routine) is put in simply to fill up space, or stave off imminent boredom, it begins after a time to look thread- bare. In a newspaper column, though, padding is venial. It is enough if there are the occa- sional flashes—'she smiled reminiscently, or re- arranged her wrinkles; the nearest thing to a smile you ever saw'; or—of a sheep Behan had unsuccessfully chased on Timahoe Bog—'I'd know her, and I'd know the sixth generation of her, if I caught her looking up at me fforn a slab in Moore Street, ten years from now, if God leaves either one of us our health.' For those of us who were addicts at the time, too, it is pleasant to meet Mrs. Brennan again, and Crippen and Maria Concepta, not to mention that character familiar to generations of Dublin journalists, -whose story, to anybody who would stay long enough to listen, invariably came round to how `Bobs' had come up to him at Bloemfontein and said, `Wipe your bayonet,

Kinsella, you killed enough.' BRIAN meals