afternoons with Tarzan...
The image above is by Joe
magnificent illustration for TARZAN AND THE GOLDEN LION. I never went
to Saturday morning cinema -- there were two big cinemas in Gloucester
which showed films for children Saturday mornings, but Gloucester was
seven miles away, a bus ride before I got my bike, and there were
always other things to do. We would play football, for example, or
climb trees, or go up Cooper's Hill where they roll the cheeses down at
Whitsun. Always something to do. Like homework, of course. But never
Saturday morning cinema.When I did get to see a Tarzan film, it was in
the local fleapit cinema on the council estate. They showed all of the
big films there, just six months after they'd come out, six months
after they'd been shown in the big cinemas in the city. I remember
queueing for what seemed like hours to see THE DAM BUSTERS with Richard
Todd, and REACH FOR THE SKY with Kenneth More.The programmes changed
four times a week. Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Friday
evenings were reserved for films that were X rated, horror and adult
films with plenty of violence. Saturdays were always the big new films,
the ones that were only six months old, repeated on the Sunday. Mondays
you had two B movies, then another two B movies on Wednesdays. I think
it was a Wednesday evening that I went to see my first Tarzan film, and
it starred Lex Barker. Thanks to Yours Retro magazine, I now know so
much more about Barker, and what I've read didn't paint him in a very
back, I now know that the film bore no
resemblance to the
literary Tarzan of the Apes, but I was hooked. I went to the little
newsagents at the bottom of our road the following morning -- it was
probably a holiday week, half term or Easter, something like that --
and found a Four Square paperback of Tarzan of the
the fantastic Mortelmans cover. I devoured it quickly and greedily and
the following morning went back to see if they had THE RETURN OF TARZAN
-- the first book, in my humble opinion back then, was unfinished. I'd
fallen in love with Jane and I needed to know if the matter of Tarzan
and Jane was resolved in the second book, which, of course, it was. I
don't have my Mortelmans Four Squares any longer, more's the pity.
When we moved from Brockworth in Gloucester to Southend on Sea, I had
sell my collection of Tarzans, along with my Dennis Wheatleys, my
Saints, my Toffs, my Inspector Wests and my Whiteoaks because there
way we could take them with us in our little Standard Eight car.
Looking back, I think it more likely that my Dad didn't approve of the
books I was reading and made some excuse about there not being enough
room in the storage for them.
How I miss them!
Probably worth a fortune now. I do have many, many
copies of TARZAN OF THE APES and THE RETURN OF TARZAN, including the
most recent one from OUP, which I thought was going to be about the
book but turned out to be another reprint of the classic story, and, as
far as I'm concerned, incomplete because it doesn't include RETURN OF
TARZAN, although that has now been published as a separate title.
what he was doing when he wrote
THE APES. Already famous for UNDER THE MOONS OF MARS, the first John
Carter story, he had TARZAN serialised in the All-Story magazine, and
dropped the biggest ever cliffhanger in literature with the ending,
which more or less guaranteed that people would be back for more.
Burroughs invented the cliffhanger ending, it goes without saying. He
also invented pulp fiction and fantasy, in a way, because John Carter
and Carson of Venus and Pellucidar are more fantasy than science
fiction, and nothing quite like them had ever been written before.
this is about Tarzan and the profound influence he had on me in my
formative years. For as long as I can remember, I have read avidly.
Every opportunity for receiving books as gifts on birthdays and at
Christmas were seized upon. Every spare penny that didn't go on Bobby
Darin and Acker Bilk records went on books. By the time I was twelve
years old, the only Tarzan book I didn't have was TARZAN AT THE EARTH'S
CORE, and my friend James lent me the two shillings and sixpence I
needed for it when I saw it in the book basement of the five-storey
Bon Marché store in Kings Square, Gloucester. I remember my Mum being
quite angry that I had borrowed money from Jim, and gave me the 2/6d to
give to him the following day.
Four Squares weren't the only source of
Tarzan for me. There
were the films. I lapped them up, pausing only briefly to reflect on
the fact that Weissmuller, Barker, Scott et al didn't really represent
the Tarzan I knew from the books. I'm going to stick my neck out and
say that there has not yet been a Tarzan film that is true to the books
and portrays Tarzan of the Apes in the way he is portrayed in the
books. Which is why, when you mention Tarzan to people, they turn their
noses up and express an opinion that Tarzan is trash, rubbish, for
APES and THE RETURN OF TARZAN are
two of the
most original romantic stories in the entire literary world. You don't
believe me? Read them for yourself. It is classic literature, the like
of which has never been written since. It is pure fantasy, of course,
but it is brilliant literature, simple but effective, and nothing
whatsoever like any of the Tarzan films that have ever been made.
TV series, too, have attempted to
capture Tarzan on film,
but they've all made the mistake of setting their series in the present
day, with jeeps and so on. It doesn't work. Ron Ely is the best of the
TV Tarzans, and the only one worth mentioning.
starring Bo Derek and Miles O'Keefe sticks closest to the story but
misses out the most important part, the fact that Tarzan teaches
himself to read and write English, though not to speak it. He is later
taken to civilisation by the Belgian soldier whom he has saved,
Lieutenant D'Arnot, where he becomes a civilised man and later secures
birthright, the Greystoke estates in England. He does get to marry Jane
Porter, and they live in East Africa, where he is Lord of all he
surveys and not far from his beloved jungle and his original family,
the great apes, of whom he is and always will be the undisputed chief.
why the title of my article, SUNDAY AFTERNOONS WITH TARZAN? Well, back
the 1950s/1960s, the shops didn't open on Sundays. Only the newsagents,
and then only till about noon. There were no computers, no
computer games, no afternoon cinema. So what could you do on a Sunday?
Go to church in the evening, certainly, and listen to Hancock's Half
Hour on the wireless. Movie-Go-Round in the afternoon informed you what
films were coming up and that you would be able to see in six months'
time in that fleapit I mentioned earlier. If you were really lucky, you
could take some
hand-me-downs to relatives in Hucclecote, the next village down the
road on the way to Gloucester, where Aunty Grace and Uncle Les and
their seven children lived.
were really, really lucky, you'd come
back home with a bag
full of American comics. SUPERMAN, SUPERBOY, SUPERGIRL, BATMAN,
TARZAN. I didn't know it at the time, but I was reading Tarzan comic
strips drawn by Hal
Hogarth and Russ Manning,
three of the best Tarzan comic strip artists ever. Had I held on to
collection, they would be worth an absolute fortune. But that didn't
matter at the time.
was that here, in comic books, were
brilliant visualisations of Tarzan and Jane. I loved it when Jane was
featured in the picture story strips - she invariably ended up in a
bikini, sometimes leopard skin, sometimes lion-skin, but always
beautiful and a worthy mate for Tarzan and adversary for his enemies.
Like I say, pure fantasy, pure escapism. And what boy didn't need to
escape into those worlds in the 1950s? Below is Frank Cho's sensational
depiction of Jane wearing a leopard-skin bikini. Wow!
TARZAN OF THE APES,
along with Robin Hood and King Arthur, did more to
inspire me in the matter of courtesy, attitudes to girls, faithfulness,
chivalry and all of those things that make us better people than
anything else I can think of. Tarzan didn't sleep around, like people
were doing in the early 1960s as the sexual revolution spread. He was
true to his one and only love, even when it seemed he had lost her.
remained steadfast and fate threw them back together when she was
stranded on the African west coast with her fiancé, William Clayton.
Even after rescuing her and Clayton, Tarzan still did not lay claim to
her, because she was betrothed to Clayton and was a girl of her word.
Unheard of nowadays, but Burroughs was always a romantic, and
worshipped the notion of fidelity. It was only when Clayton died that
Tarzan was able to ask Jane to be his wife, and the rest is history.
Sunday lunch, Movie-Go-Round, Evensong, Hancock's Half Hour, and Tarzan
of the Apes. That was my Sunday afternoon pretty much sewn up. I
wouldn't have had it any other way.
formative years, inspiring heroes and the utterly fantastic Jane
Porter, soon to be Lady Clayton, Mrs Tarzan of the Apes. . . .
Fabulous. The stuff of dreams and
fantasies. In this
2021) if you look at The
Back Page, you'll find my
piece about the New
English Library edition of A Princess of Mars and how it inspired me in
all sorts of ways...
small print: Books
Monthly, now well into its 24th
year on the web,
is published on or slightly before the first day of each month by Paul
Norman. You can contact me here.
If you wish to submit something for publication in the magazine, let me
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n t e n t s:
The Front Page
& Science Fiction
up in the 1950s
Living with Skipper
The Silent Three
The Four Marys
Bilk Sleeve Notes
The Back Page