The Gin Lane Gazette

21 May 2012

Unbound is a really intriguing concept whereby writers can pitch projects to the public and amass paying supporters to fund it. This is a really great throwback to the days when wealthy subscribers would fund books, although nowadays you don’t have to be wealthy as Unbound support starts at £10 and goes up to £1,000, with the supporters getting increased amounts of benefits in return for their cash.

I’m really excited that one of the current Unbound projects is Ade Teal’s raucous, colourful and florid GIN LANE GAZETTE, about which he says: ‘Many of us think of the ill-behaved celebrity and the tabloid splash as inventions of the modern world, but the antics of Premiership footballers and C-list soap stars are as nothing when set alongside the peccadilloes and hell-raising of 18th-century celebs.

The first flowering of the great age of newspapers and caricature gave us boozy Prime Ministers and party leaders who settled their political differences with duels in Hyde Park (when they weren’t gambling, or writing essays about farting); peers of the realm who sat the unburied corpses of their cherished mistresses at their dinner tables; entertainers who rode horses standing upright in the saddle, while wearing a mask of bees; and celebrity courtesans who ate 1,000-guinea banknotes stuffed into sandwiches, simply to make a point. Before it was dashed from their lips by the Victorian party-poopers, our Georgian forebears drank deep from the cup of life.

The GIN LANE GAZETTE will be a compendium of illustrated ‘best bits’ from a fictional newspaper of the latter 1700s. It will contain some of the most sensational headlines and true stories of the period. The presses will be presided over by inky-fingered hack Mr. Nathaniel Crowquill, the editor and proprietor, whose premises are located in Hogarth’s chaotic Gin Lane, and who has devoted fifty years to sniffing out scandal and intrigue. His drunken acolyte, Mr. Jakes, supplies merciless caricatures and engravings for every page. Sports reports, obituaries, fashion news, courtesans of the month, book reviews, and advertisements for bizarre – and often alarming – goods, services and entertainments will also feature in a riotous mélange of metropolitan mayhem.

Sounds brilliant, doesn’t it?

I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to interview the very charming Mr Teal about his work, inspiring Georgians, tattooed buttocks, The Baboon Incident and snogging Kitty Fisher for this here blog…

1. What first sparked your interest in the 18th century?

I saw one of the many Hollywood versions of the mutiny on the Bounty story in the early 1990s, and became vaguely curious about how much the historical reality differed from the cinematic myth-making. I became hooked on the Bounty very quickly, and was increasingly frustrated by the lack of a contemporary portrait of the chief mutineer, Fletcher Christian, so I spent three years researching family resemblance in portraits of his closest relations, finding physical descriptions of the chap, and studying hairstyles and unifoms of the period. I hired an anatomically-trained portraitist to paint a likeness based on all this, and it ended up in a biography by Fletcher’s direct descendant, Glynn Christian. You’ll see it crop up in articles and documentaries now and again. This was my slightly odd route into the 1700s.

2. Are you planning any more books similar to GIN LANE in the future?

Yes. Kind of. There is talk of a collaboration, with an eminent historian of the more depraved aspects of the Georgian period, about which I can say NOTHING.

3. That sounds intriguing but I won’t pester for more information! Who is your favourite Georgian?

Charles James Fox. He is the 18th century made flesh. He drank, gambled away an absolute fortune, womanised, shared mistresses with the Prince of Wales, married a courtesan in secret for love, and fought a duel with a political opponent. Ed Miliband – take note.

4. Ah, I love Charles James Fox too. If you could actually go back to Georgian times – would you?

If it were for a limited period – six months, say – then yes. If I found myself requiring any sort of medical assistance, I think I’d be looking for the escape button next to the time-portal pretty damned quickly.

5. Kitty Fisher, Georgiana of Devonshire and Perdita Robinson – which one would you snog/marry/avoid?

Snog Kitty Fisher, because she was a good laugh, by all accounts. Marry Perdita, because she was beautiful beyond words, intelligent, bookish, and her heart was in the right place, I think. Avoid Georgiana – she’s trouble, that one. I enjoyed Foreman’s biography, but I didn’t warm to her as a character one iota. A spoilt madam.

6. Oh, Kitty Fisher! Who WOULDN’T?! Anyway, who would win in a fight between the cast of The Only Way Is Essex and the members of the Hellfire Club?

Probably the TOWIE folk. Dashwood’s boys would make a good fist of it, but they’d be let down by the Earl of Sandwich. He was a big girl’s blouse. He’s involved in a baboon incident in the Gin Lane Gazette, which is very revealing.

7. There’s a wonderfully Rowlandson like quality to your work – a kind of florid raucousness and irreverence. Has he always been an inspiration to your drawing?

My main inspiration is Gillray. He was outstanding. He invented the modern political caricature almost single-handedly, and we haven’t really moved on as cartoonists since. He was merciless and hated everybody. Someone once described him as ‘a caterpillar on the leaf of reputation’.

8. If you could go back in time, not just to the 18th century, and draw anyone at all – who would you pick and why?

Fletcher Christian (see above). I’d want to see how close we got to a true likeness. He had tattooed buttocks, incidentally. I wouldn’t be too fussed about sketching those, though, to be honest.

9. What is your absolute favourite tale of scandal, woe and posh doom from the Georgian period?

The one I always tell when I’m explaining the book is about Juliana Popjoy, mistress to Master of Ceremonies at Bath, Beau Nash, who was so distraught when he died that she lived for the rest of her days in a hollowed-out tree. Everything in the 1700s was done with commitment and panache. We always see headlines on the cover of glossies where a C-list celeb ‘Tells Of Her Pain’. However much pain they claim to be in, they don’t go and live in a tree. Juliana was known in Bath as ‘Betty Besom’, because she used to gallop about on a horse which she propelled with a many-thonged, besom-like whip.

10. Crikey. Can you imagine the Daily Mail if Jennifer Aniston had gone to live in a tree after being ditched by Brad Pitt? Lawks! Anyway, are you going to dress up for the launch party?

Yes. No. Maybe. We might make it ‘fancy dress optional’. I’m hoping two lady Twitter chums, starting a 1700s-themed business, are going to turn up in all their Georgian finery. Watch this space.

Thanks so much Ade for your entertaining answers! I honestly CANNOT WAIT to find out what happened with the Earl of Sandwich and the baboon.

You can find out more about the GIN LANE project and also lend your support here. It starts from £10, which will get your name in the back of the book, access to the virtual ‘author’s shed’ and an e-book edition of the completed work. A £20 pledge will get you all this and a hardcover copy and so on. I’m SERIOUSLY MIFFED that I can’t afford the £250 pledge, which entails a GEORGIAN PUB CRAWL, tickets to the launch party where Ade Teal may or may not be dressed up in Georgian finery and a caricature of myself as a Georgian aristocrat. A GEORGIAN PUB CRAWL. Wow.

Thanks again to Ade and GOOD LUCK with the book!