Many Deal locals as well as visitors
to the Conservation area have been puzzled by a plaque
on a Beach Street house in honour of Nathaniel
Gubbins, the wars leading humorist who lived there
from 1946 1957.
Certainly as a twentieth century humorist,
Gubbins lacked the celebrity status of Charles Hawtrey,
the Carry On actor whose plaque in Middle
Street is a tourist attraction, although Hawtrey himself
was not widely admired in Deal and was barred from most
of its public houses.
Yet for those of us who remember the 1940s, Gubbinss
articles in the Sunday Express captured the mood
of an England exhausted by bombs, threats of invasion,
rationing, queues and government propaganda. Certainly
all our family looked forward keenly to Gubbinss
Sunday column as we did to his colleague J.B Morton;
or Beachcomber in the Daily Express.
Soon after the plaque appeared, I found that two of
my friends in Deal, Nick and Audrey Roethenbaugh were
not only fans of Gubbins but possessed the only existing
anthology of his writing The Best of Nathaniel
Gubbins, selected and introduced by Godfrey
Smith, published by Blond & Biggs in 1978.
In his introduction, Smith laments that even twenty-five
years ago, none of the wartime Gubbins collections
were still available in a library, bookshop or even
the publishers store room: Poor Gubbins
seemed to need the services of an archaeologist rather
than of an anthologist. The hero of the Eighth Army
and the darling of Lord Beaverbrook whose words were
once savoured by millions, broadcast by the BBC and
honoured by countless leaders in The Times is
now well-nigh forgotten.
In his opening column in 1933, Gubbins introduced himself
to his readers as a run-of-the-mill suburban chap:
I am 5ft 10 inches tall, weigh 13 stone and dont
look a day over ninety at six o clock in the morning.
I hate regular meals, musical comedies, vivacious women,
stewed steak and Christmas.
Although food figured large in Gubbinss life,
especially during the hungry years of war and rationing,
he did not really mind vivacious women as long as they
stuck to his favourite low taverns and did
not intrude on the home life ruled by his wife and her
snobbish friends, especially the gas manager.
As early as 1936 and the Coronation of George V1, Gubbins
liked to present himself as a Worm under
the harrow of domestic disapproval.
Halfawake Worm hears his wife talking
about Coronation. Hears mention of seats on route and
mutters under bedclothes theyre seats only for
very rich, much too expensive for clerk worms. Roused
and fully awake Worm astonished to hear he is Bolshevik.
Appears that Worms refusal to buy expensive Coronation
seats has cast reflection on Worms loyalty. Patronising
gas manager has already bought seats and lucky gas managers
wife has new Coronation dress, but Worms wife
who has misfortune to marry low socialist Worm who mixes
with sweepings from the gutter will now be ashamed before
whole of Worms Avenue.
Holidays are another cause of grievance to Worms
long-suffering spouse. Not content with keeping
wife chained to Pigsty at Christmas, trying to make
Christmas dinner out of skinny chicken and two ounces
of bacon, while gas manager and his wife went to Switzerland;
not content with taking wife for coach ride at Easter,
while gas manager and wife went in limousine to Cornish
Riviera, Worm is now going to take worn-out wife for
week in cheap boarding house at Margate, while gas manager
takes his wife for month to super hotel at Bournemouth
with dwarf page boys in white jackets, lift to all floors
and porter in scarlet and gold.
Perhaps because he still hankered after those super
hotels, Gubbins chose to retire across the road from
the Royal in Deal. Like Mr and Mrs Pooter in The
Diary of a Nobody, who always preferred to holiday
in Good old Broadstairs, the Gubbins were
horrified by Margate. First morning in boarding
house, Worm and wife arrive for breakfast. Arrival greeted
by loud clapping led by Bouncing Blond who
is acknowledged boarding house wit and life and soul
of party. Worm seated next to Bouncing Blond who
observes it is a great life if you dont weaken.
Appreciative Worm giggles. Bouncing Blond, encouraged,
takes first bite of boarding house fishcakes and says,
well weve only got to die once.
As a Great War veteran, Gubbins joined the Home Guard
to fight off the threat of invasion in 1940. Whether
or not he enjoyed himself, Home Guard Worm received
little thanks for his military service.
After a morning of bayonet fighting in gas mask,
attacking imaginary enemy over rough country, scaling
walls and scrambling up steep sides of tank traps, Home
Guard Worm returns exhausted with sore feet and pain
in back. Home Guard Worm announces proudly that he has
joined Tough Squad.
Oh, so sickly middle-aged Worm has joined Tough
Squad has he? Wife might have known that show-off Worm,
who is not even fit for fire-watching, would hardly
be content with catching death of cold and spending
half night prowling in dark after other Home Guard worms.
Nathaniel Gubbins articles on the Home Guard
were so well received by the services as well as civilians,
that he was asked to report on life at sea, first on
an oil tanker in a convoy leaving a Thames Estuary port
and then on a Royal Navy mine layer, apparently in the
Although the reports of sailor Gubbins are mostly concerned
with the usual jokes about sea- sickness, cheap naval
gin and whether to wear a life-jacket in bed, he does
not let us forget that the voyages are in earnest. Here
on the tanker menaced by German torpedo vessels, it
is midnight and we are in E-boat Alley.
When he was not at sea or with his Home Guard platoon,
Gubbins chronicled the everyday lives of the people
of South-east London. After the threat of invasion in
1940, the subsequent Blitz and later rocket attacks,
all of which were concentrated on Kent, Gubbins addresses
the more mundane problems of getting about on public
transport, keeping warm in winter and getting enough
food to put on the table and giving an occasional treat
to the cat.
If Nathaniel Gubbins was the wars leading
humorist as is claimed by the plaque on his Beach
Street house, his fame and Sunday Express column
did not long survive the outbreak of peace. With his
openly left-wing sympathies, Gubbins was not at ease
on the paper owned by Lord Beaverbrook, a Tory cabinet
minister and financial buccaneer.
But if Gubbins was acceptable during the war when the
country was under a national government, his open delight
at Labours victory in the 1945 general election
must have got up the noses of the Sunday Express
readers. It was time for the Worm to retire
to Deal and its wealth of low taverns.
©2006 DEAL today