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CHEAPJACK Paperback – 1 Mar 2010

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Product details

  • Paperback: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Golden Duck (UK) Ltd; 2nd Revised edition edition (1 Mar. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1899262024
  • ISBN-13: 978-1899262021
  • Product Dimensions: 13.8 x 2.5 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 832,322 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Format: Paperback
Philip Allingham was born into respectability. His father was a writer, his mother was a writer, his older sister Margery went on to become one of Britain's most popular crime novelists. Young Philip, sadly, distinguished himself at very little - unless you count flunking his Oxford entrance exam in heroic fashion as an achievement. What Philip did possess, though, was an uncanny ability to "read" people, and one day in 1927, tired of failing in a succession of boring, dead-end jobs his family connections had found for him, he decided to put that talent to use.

"Cheapjack" recounts Allingham's efforts to earn a living as a palmist and fortune-teller, initially in the pubs of London and then as an itinerant showman at fairs and markets the length of the land. It's a tale of rogues and charlatans, gypsies and fairground folk, tick-off merchants, pitchers and waver-workers. Allingham recalls his adventures among a cast of memorable characters - Three Fingered Billy, a hard-drinking Geordie, the Little Major, a walking encyclopaedia of every fairground trick in the book, and the appalling Alfie Holmsworth, theatrical "agent" to the gullible and deluded.

More than that, "Cheapjack" is a fascinating slice of social history. Studded with rich fairground slang, it evokes a pre-war era when every community had its thriving market, entire towns shut down and went on holiday during their "Wakes Weeks", and working people took their enjoyment collectively at the fairs and festivals that marked the passage of the seasons. It's a world that's all but disappeared now, but one that lives on in Philip Allingham's poignant memoir, which is often touching, occasionally hilarious, and never less than thoroughly absorbing.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Philip Allingham - the brother of Margery Allingham, the English writer of detective fiction who is best remembered for her "golden age" stories featuring gentleman sleuth Albert Campion - being bored by a succession of office jobs to which he was ill suited, stepped out of his own social class and set out on the open road to work as a fortune teller.

Unlike George Orwell and Monica Dickens (Orwell lived as a tramp and a plongeur in Paris; Dickens worked as a servant in the 1930s, and in a munitions factory in the 1940s), Philip made no secret of his class origins and was usually immaculate in evening dress complete with top hat.

"Cheapjack" is Philip's story of life on the road as a fortune teller, grafter, knocker, and mounted pitcher in the markets and fairgrounds of 1920s England and Wales. A memorable encounter with a preacher helps Philip to realise he has the gift of the gab, and he then goes on to mesmerise crowds into buying fountain pens, patent medicines, stain removers and - most successfully - curling tongs.

It's a wonderful book that is filled with fascinating anecdotes, bizarre characters, and the boom and bust nature of a life on the road lived on wits. Philips vivid descriptions of the characters he meets and befriends, and their rich slang (much of which has subsequently passed into common parlance) and ingenious scams is a continuous delight. If getting to know the likes of Three-fingered Billy, Madame Sixpence, Cross-eyed Charlie, the Little Major, Ezra Boss the king of the gypsies, and many more, doesn't make your heart soar then you may need to check your pulse.

"Cheapjack" was understandably a best seller when it was first published in 1934.
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Format: Paperback
One day in the early summer of 1928 Phillip Allingham, a 21-year-old from a good family, looked out of the window of the room he had rented in an office in London's Coventry Street, and considered his options. He had failed at school, then failed to get into Oxford; and then, despite being from a family in what we would now call the media, he had failed at every copywriting and publicity job he had tried. He was now freelancing but there was no work, and he was down to his last few shillings.

He decided, in desperation, to do the one thing he had always been quite good at, though he had never done it in earnest: read palms and tell fortunes. After a trial run in West End pubs (with mixed results), he bought a tent from Gamages for 35/- (£1.75), put on his top hat and tails (the image, don't you know), and hit the road. Cheapjack, first published in 1934, is his story of his first years on that road.

Not all goes well. At his first pitch two ladies of the night steal his day's takings. At Southend he has no luck at all, but spies a pleasure cruiser and persuades the crew to let him tell fortunes for the day-trippers at sea. He then becomes the only person on board to be seasick, and vomits over the side while wearing evening dress. But bit by bit he learns his trade, and makes many friends. Cheapjack is a cornucopia of palmists, showmen, Gypsies, conmen, landladies, and general odd characters. There are the travelling boxers. There are the "windbag" workers, who sell people envelopes that might contain a watch, or a cheap trinket, or nothing at all; it is a form of gambling, and of course the odds are loaded.
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