Death on the 9:13 to Birkenhead

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Fanfiction
Title: Death on the 9:13 to Birkenhead
Author(s): Agent 3.4-1/2/Mosby Singleton
Date(s): 1985
Length:
Genre: slash
Fandom: The Professionals
External Links:

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Death on the 9:13 to Birkenhead is a circuit Pros RPS (a very, very early example) by Agent 3.4-1/2/Mosby Singleton that was serialized in The Hatstand Express in five parts, in issue #3, issue #4, issue #6, issue #7, and ending in issue #8.

It was a story that caused a great deal of fannish discussion, most of it negative. Many fans were very unhappy with a RPS in general, and specifically "Death on the 9:13 to Birkenhead"; in issue #7, one fan furiously threatened to cancel her subscription.

a page from chapter #3 in The Hatstand Express #6

In issue #8, the author threatened to quit writing and leave the fandom.

A fan in issue #9 comments: "You were right to seal the center section. Bad taste admittedly designed to offend is best ignored."

After the story had been concluded in issue #9, the author wrote: "I really wasn't trying to trash the REAL people by any stretch of the imagination!"

Excerpt from Chapter One (from "The Hatstand Express" #3)

Unless the mention of the "Fire Island Choral Society" is an allusion to prurience, the first chapter is very benign

The story starts out in a vague fashion: Martin Shaw, using the name Marvin Shore, hires Agent 3.4 1/2 to track down the author of a novel which portrays he and his partner:
"Read it," he said.
I nodded irritably and read. "It was a novel of some sort -- all about a couple of actors named Collins and Shaw. It fell into two distinct sections -- Part 1 was how they met. Part II was how they got back together. The problem was, the Fire Island Choral Society was singing hums in the background all the way through, if you see what I mean.
I looked up. "So?"
"I'm here on behalf of Collins, he's a friend of mine. He doesn't like the story."
"Too fictional?"
He shook his head. "Too close to the mark. It means someone is talking. He doesn't like people who talk."
"I could tell just from reading the novel." A real man of action, or I would eat my Professionals decoder ring.

Excerpt from Chapter Two (from the "The Hatstand Express" #4)

Besides the editor, only one other fan comments about "Death on the 9:13 to Birkenhead" in The Hatstand Express #4, saying, "I don't like serials" -- this is probably due to the fact that chapter one was pretty tame and touched only briefly on Martin and Shaw. Chapter two is different, with an alluded-to sex scene over the phone, Shaw's partner unnamed.

In the background I could hear strange, snuffling noises. "Down boy," Marvin hissed sharply.
"Oh," I asked, "Collins has a dog, eh?" I felt kinder towards him. I could never dislike an animal lover.
"No."
I let that one go. Imagination is good for the soul, but should never be applied to clients. I might be right.
"Well," Marvin insisted, "are there any leads?"
"One or two," I was purposely vague. "It looks like its bigger than any of us thought."
Marvin's voice was muffled. "Er...yes...I...see...what...you... mean..."
I let that one go, too.
"It appears," I continued, "that the story was only mailed from Yorkshire. We'll have to go farther afield, investigate further, dig deeper..."
"OH YES!" Marvin cried."
Politely ignored him. "Are you sure you want me to continue?"
He was breathless. "YES YES YES!!!"
So you want to keep right on?"
He groaned. "A little to the left..."
I sighed. "I'll call you when we get to..."
Marvin cried out. "I'M THERE!!!"
The line went dead.
I hung up the phone. It was time to swing into action."

Excerpt from Chapter Three (from "The Hatstand Express" #6)

This chapter is far from explicit, nor does it have much to do with sex, implied or otherwise, except for this paragraph at the end:

Martin and Lewis made themselves thoroughly at home in the back seat... Frankly, all the "Oh god, YESSS!"'s, I was hearing were giving me a headache, but I let them be. 'Life', as the great Roman Philosopher Magnum once said, 'is hard — and then you die*. Life, it seemed, was eternally hard for Mart and Lew, and I certainly wasn't going to be the one to change it for them.

Excerpt from Chapter Four (from "The Hatstand Express" #7)

Seymour seemed a trifle uncomfortable as well. "Yes, er, you see some of us--not ME of course, but some of us," here he glared at Percy (who added a look of belligerence to his previous expression of confusion and embarrassment), "well, thought that you two were...ah...well..." he floundered into silence.
Mart and Lew were gazing at Seymour in utter and complete horror as the meaning of his waffling sunk in.
"What??? Us?" in unison and then, even more horrified, "With HIM??? GOOD GOD..."
"So SORRY, old chaps," Seymour was the height of hasty urbanity.
"I should think so," Mart sniffed, "as if I'd ever."
"That goes double for me," Lew said.
"I mean, I know one reads about that sort of thing all the time, but I never dreamed that some people," Mart turned a look on Percy that would have stopped a herd of ICBM's in mid-flight and sent them screaming home to mother, "of an obviously warped turn of mind would think that our harmless--if loud--brainstorming sessions were anything else... Honestly, some people," Percy began to sink under the table, "are as bad as those bloody newspaper hounds from Fleet Street when it comes to fantasy..."
Percy disappeared under the table.

Excerpt from Chapter Five (from "The Hatstand Express" #8)

[unknown]

Some Remarks from Fans at the Time the Story Was Published

  • from The Hatstand Express #4:
I don't like serials. [1]
  • from The Hatstand Express #5:
...I love Agent 3.4-1/2's story... but I'm afraid there is no 9:13 to Birkenhead... the government, in its wisdom, closed down and demolished our railway station years ago... all travel has to be done via Liverpool -- you may have heard of the place? Some lads whose names escape me came from there... [2]
  • from The Hatstand Express #7:
Last issue's story "Death On The 9:13 To Birkenhead" made me furious. I have not now nor will I ever approve of stories containing the ACTORS. It is one thing to write slash stories whether they be B/D, S/H or K/S or anything else. But to write about Martin & Lew in such a manner is inexcusable. And I think, Ed., you could be letting yourself in for some trouble if you continue to print that type of story. I hope you just didn't know what was in the story when you printed it. Martin & Lew have a life, a family and a career to contend with and do not need stories of this type running around the circuit. If it ever got out they and us the fans could lose a lot of credibility. I am sorry to say this, but should this kind of story appear again in THE (which I love very dearly) I'll have no choice but I'll have to stop receiving the l/z and disassociate myself from it." [3]
  • from The Hatstand Express #7:
Death on the 9:13 to Birkenhead just gets funnier and funnier. Can't wait to see what happens next in New York. (The city may never be the same!) [4]
  • from The Hatstand Express #7:
When it started I thought, oh this is bright and seems quite funny...but now I feel it has gone downhill badly...dragging...then I read chapter...those caricatures of Martin and Lewis are so far out, unacceptable, no, I will say, snide and unfunny! Martin is not inarticulate...as anyone who has listened to him on numerous TV interviews knows, especially on BBC breakfast TV—in fact, he's alarmingly outspoken on occasions. Neither is he fey or languid...I agree he has lovely long fingered hands, he does indeed. Then Lewis, where does she get the idea he is stupid from' His portrayal of Bodie, well, Bodie isn't stupid, he'd be no use to Cowley or CIS if he were—they need brains as well as brawn! Bodie plays the fool on occasion, but that's to break the tension of the job, or amuse his companion. As for Lewis, well having seen him on the stage...talked to people who have met him or known him personally, I can say he is not the oafish gorilla of her story. Is she basing it on the fact he left school very early? Well, in that case, she is ignorant of the British school system which allows this to happen—it's quite common round here. As a fourteen year old school leaver from the same social level, I resent the implication. It's up to you, Ed, what you print of this, but I do feel the lads were badly treated here, and I'd like the writer to know my opinion." [5]
  • from The Hatstand Express #7:
I enjoyed ALL of the last issue, especially Death on... [6]
  • from The Hatstand Express #7:
I think... the stories, in ANY fandom, that deal with a '/' relationship between real people. It's not only dangerous, but it's the height of bad manners and bad taste as well. Consider: how would you feel if you found out that people you thought were friendly were telling stories (true or not) about your sex life? Stories that could get back to your friends and families?... We may own the characters we write about, but we do not own the actors who created them. Friends, this is libel!... This very ish I find that "Death On The 9:13 To Birkenhead" is using the names of two very real people in a very questionable way. I have to say that I'm not only surprised it would be submitted for publication, but surprised that the editor accepted it. I'm rather disappointed all the way around. It's not a humorous material it's deadly serious. If you've got to write the stuff keep it to yourselves and if you have to share it, why not have the courtesy to change the names. You can tell everyone who these folks are supposed to be, can't you? [7]
  • from The Hatstand Express #7:
I just can't, in all conscience, let this pass. I was quite shocked, last issue, to discover that the story "Death on the 9:13 to Birkenhead" contained not only the actors, but delineated a sexual relationship between them. I would never tell an author what she should or should not write; nor do I intend to discuss the ethics of writing -fiction involving real people without their permission. My criticism is that the story was published, especially in the same issue in which we were all told what [name redacted] did on that radio program. My god, the thought of that story ever falling into the wrong hands is a pretty frightening thing. It's potentially very dangerous, and I don't think it should have been published. I've been called over-paranoid, but I remember all too clearly the trouble we had in the early days of S/H. I don't want to see this fandom dragged out in the open over a libelous story involving the actors.[8]
  • from The Hatstand Express #9:
You were right to seal the center section. Bad taste admittedly designed to offend is best ignored. [9]
  • from The Hatstand Express #9:
At last an ending to this long bit of nonsense. [10]

A Fan Asks the Author to Not GAFIATE Over the Whole Issue

  • from The Hatstand Express #9:
I hope that by now you [the author of this story] have had enough personally delivered supportive comments, and that this issue of T.H.E. contains sufficient "don't go" messages that you will decide to return to the "land of B&D", at least after some time to let the hurt die down. Those who wrote to criticize what they felt you were doing had the right to raise the issue, as those who wrote had very strong feelings about the issue, but some could have stated their case in a less personal manner. Until that point, T.H.E. had not been a particularly critical forum. Lists and topics have been of best and favorite types, and disagreements handled in terms of "in my universe, it's this way, not that way". Aside from a few "where's my zine" comments to the two Karens, this was the first negative splash, and I think it stood out, and "sounded" louder than it should due to the over all light tone of the zine.[11]

Regarding the Ending and the Segments

A fan asks the editor of "The Hatstand Express a question, and the editor responded.

Were you expecting any backlash on the Birkenhead names issue? As I read both sections, I was wondering if: a) reading the "explanation" right after the "incident" it did not appear as a "red flag" and b) who made the segment divisions—you or the writer? [12]
My own opinion at the time the segment appeared was, that in a less totally farcial setting, use of the actors' names would have been inappropriate, but the story was so "far out" that it did not matter here. I am glad that the "explanation" in the next segment was part of the original, and not a change dictated by the letters. [13]

Comments by the Author: 2012

Singleton likes to think she may have helped start the now common trend for RPS, back in the day. In any event, like it or not, the genre came to stay. She considers promoting ocean-going, Volkswagon-driving sheep and real actors in the same story as one of her greatest accomplishments in Pros fandom. Well, that and causing adults to write rather scathing retorts about using real ACTORS' names in letters to the poor zine editor. Singleton was then, and is now, of the opinion that there are some folks who need to have their knickers twisted on occasion. She deeply regrets, however, her newbie threat at the time, to flounce out of fandom, as it was silly and terribly bad form. [14]

References

  1. from The Hatstand Express #4
  2. from The Hatstand Express #5
  3. from The Hatstand Express #7
  4. from The Hatstand Express #7
  5. from The Hatstand Express #7
  6. from The Hatstand Express #7
  7. from The Hatstand Express #7
  8. from The Hatstand Express #7
  9. from The Hatstand Express" #9
  10. from The Hatstand Express" #9
  11. a fan addresses the author in "The Hatstand Express" #9
  12. a fan asks the editor of "The Hatstand Express" in issue #9
  13. from "The Hatstand Express" #9
  14. see her comments at Mosby Singleton