The Long Memory tells the story of Philip Davidson (John Mills), released from long imprisonment for murder, who returns to his old haunts on the Thames marshes, near Gravesend, nursing a grudge. He wants to get even with two witnesses - his ex-girlfried Fay Driver (Elizabeth Sellars), and the old boxer Tim Pewsey (John Slater) - who testified against him during his trial for the murder of a people trafficker, Boyd (John Chandos). The police and press are watching him, with the further complication that Lowther (John McCallum), the policeman involved in the original case, has a personal stake in the situation: he's now married to Fay, and has increasing suspicions that she may have perjured herself.
|The misleadingly lurid film poster|
|Dell paperback cover|
The settings are explicit: Jackson and Davidson first meet in the derelict Shornemead Fort (I feel sure that Clewes chose this location because of its identification with the deserted gun emplacement where Magwitch hides at the beginning of Great Expectations), and the main location of "Morocco Bay" appears to be based on the real-life Egypt Bay (which fits Clewes' description of it facing Blyth Sand, and being a mile from St Mary's Bay). Some 15 miles from Gravesend, it's a very desolate location on the present Saxon Shore Way; check out Ruth's Coastal Walk (UK), Stage 31. Gravesend to Egypt Bay for an idea of the landscape here. A number of web accounts identify Egypt Bay as the location where a prison hulk was moored, thus inspiring Dickens. But books such as The Oxford Companion to Charles Dickens (page 319) note more convincingly that that Dickens was conflating Egypt Bay, where there was a coastguard hulk, with the prison hulks he knew of as a child at Upnor.
On a bright afternoon early in November, some eighteen months ago, Philip Davidson walked along the track which follows the bend of the river east of Gravesend where the lonely marshes sweep up into Higham Bight and the white towers and turrets of the cement works at Cliffe rise out of the mist like those of a legendary citadel, bald and inscrutable.
Morocco Bay is about a mile from St Mary's. It faces Blythe Sand, which is in fact a mud flat stretching from Lower Hope Point to Yantlet Flats and the Isle of Grain, and is covered by a few feet of water at high tide. It is a sad, forgotten place—hardly more than a creek, and it has been used in the past as a burial ground for old barges, which are as a rule long-lived; indeed so long do they last that when they are finished they are scarcely worth breaking up; so the owners, to save the coast of breakage, are wont to run the hulks into the reeds at high tide, towing them there at night (since the practice is illegal) and, having stripped them of their identity, to leave them there to rot away. In the course of time the horizontal timbers spring and warp and fall off or are ripped off by scavengers who saw them up for use as fuel; so that at least only the spines of the ships are left, buried in the mud, and the verticals, which rear up above the reeds like gargantuan ribs, turning slowly white in the sun and wind; you would think the place a graveyard of elephants which had come there one by one to die, or a beach where a school of whales, thrown up by the sea, had expired on their backs.
- The Long Memory, Howard Clewes, 1951
|The derelict spritsail barge where Davidson lives|
Both book and film - which I never tire of rewatching - provide a wonderfully intense evocation of a time and place. I suspect I like it because the landscapes have a strong resemblance to the creeks of Gosport and Portsmouth harbour I remember from childhood. The Thames Marshes at least haven't changed.
Here are a couple of clips on YouTube, and some stills.
|"the white towers and turrets of the cement works at Cliffe ..."|
|Opinion seems to be a bit divided about where this is; Reel Streets|
says Stangate Creek on the River Medway.