Invisible Ink: No 70 - Maurice Richardson

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The Independent Culture

Here's a forgotten author, Maurice Richardson, with a single remembered book to his name – but what a book! The paper shortages of the Second World War gave rise to Lilliput magazine, a diminutive periodical that survived thanks to the quality of its writers and illustrators, who included Richardson, Nancy Mitford, Stephen Potter, Mervyn Peake, VS Pritchett, Ronald Searle, Robert Graves, Aleister Crowley, Patrick Campbell, Gerard Hoffnung and Sir Max Beerbohm. It helped that they published fairly saucy (for the time) pictures of unclothed ladies. Every cover featured a scene combining a man, a woman and a dog.

Maurice Richardson was born in 1907, a manic-depressive, ex-amateur boxer and journalist who hung out with a pretty low-life crowd. He reviewed books throughout his life and died in 1978. A classic example of a talented man with too many interests, most of Richardson's writings and books, such as Little Victims, Fits and Starts and The Fascination of Reptiles have left no trace. His great success was unexpected; a compendium of linked pieces that has remained in print through the decades. The Exploits of Engelbrecht was loved by JG Ballard, and is certainly one of the most unusual books ever published.

Engelbrecht is a dwarf surrealist boxer who goes 10 rounds with a grandfather clock (needless to say, his opponent gets punched in the dial) but he's an all-round sportsman who'll tackle any game, no matter how peculiar it gets. We first meet him taking part in a witch hunt that unfolds like the Glorious 12th, then at a golf game which takes him around the world in one course. When he battles a demon bowler, the bowler is, naturally, a real demon – the innings closes at 3,333,3333 for 9. The surrealist sporting calendar is filled with alarming events such as the Interplanetary Challenge Cup, where Engelbrecht and team-mate Salvador Dali thrash the Martians on the Moon.

Engelbrecht may take all night to wrestle the Kraken and get involved in an angling competition with the nightmarish quality of a Hieronymus Bosch work, but he is also a man of culture; he attends the Plant Theatre and the Dog's Opera (the contralto is a Great Dane and the libretto is in Dog-Latin) before eloping with a cuckoo clock.

The Exploits of Engelbrecht is currently available in an illustrated edition from Savoy Books, who have supplemented it with a wedding report involving Holmes, Moriarty, Dracula, Frankenstein and Poirot.