Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Raymond Sheppard and the hunt for the hairy frogs

"Hunt for the hairy frogs" -
Lilliput October 1954 p.36
In amongst my many alerts on the Internet, I tripped over one I had seen previously but forgotten. I knew I'd get round to it one day, and that day has arrived, thanks to the lovely reproduction on the Howgill Tattershall Fine Art site - used with permission - check out their other Sheppard pieces for sale here .

I have previously written about some of Gerald Durrell's stories in Lilliput magazine which Raymond Sheppard illustrated, (he also did some for Durrell's stories in Everybodys - keep reading).

Lilliput October 1954 Cover by Victoria
Lilliput October 1954 (Vol: 35, 4, # 208 for those who want to be precise) contained an unusual story - "Hunt for the hairy frogs" by Gerald Durrell. It's another tale from The Bafut Beagles published in the same year, 1954, (the excellent Reprojackets has a lovely copy of the first edition dustjacket to view).

Lilliput October 1954 p.36
The town of Bafut is in the Northwest Province of Cameroon and Durrell writes how he came to choose it for his specimen-collecting adventures:
I was not certain which part of the grasslands would be the best for me to operate in, so I went to the District Officer for advice. I explained my dilemma, and he produced a map of the mountains and together we pored over it. Suddenly he dabbed his forefinger down and glanced at me.
'What about Bafut? ' he asked.
'Is that a good place? What are the people like?'
'There is only one person you have to worry about in Bafut, and that's the Fon,' he said; 'get him on your side and the people will help you all they can.'
'Is he the chief?'
'He's the sort of Nero of this region,'
said the D.O., marking a large circle on the map with his finger, 'and what he says goes. He's the most delightful old rogue, and the quickest and surest way to his heart is to prove to him that you can carry your liquor. He's got a wonderful great villa there, which he built in case he had any European visitors, and I'm sure if you wrote to him he would let you stay there. It's worth a visit, is Bafut, even if you don't stay.'
Lilliput October 1954 p.37
The Fon is portrayed affectionately, sometimes from the naturally, for the time, imperialistic white perspective. The character is so well 'drawn' he is very memorable.

So who or what are the Beagles of the title? Durrell explains:
In order to hunt for the various members of the Bafut fauna, I employed, as well as the four hunters the Fon had supplied, a pack of six thin and ungainly mongrels, who, their owners assured me, were the finest hunting dogs in West Africa. I called this untidy ensemble of men and dogs the Bafut Beagles. Although the hunters did not understand the meaning of this title they grew extremely proud of it, and I once heard a hunter, when arguing with a neighbour, proclaim in shrill and indignant tones, 'You no go shout me like dat, ma friend. You no savvay dat I be Bafut Beagle?'
Lilliput October 1954 p.38
If you're interested in the New Scientist information on our hairy frog, follow this link, to see how the claws work; how the 'hair' appears and how Cameroonians eat the frog after roasting it.

As I've sat down to write this I thought I might as well add the only other Durrell story that I have illustrated by Sheppard which appeared in the large sized Everybody's  of September 1, 1956.

Everybody's September 1 1956
The cover, with Arthur Askey, (remember him, boys and girls?) gives no clue that the wonderful Durrell story "High jinks in the jungle" appears within.
Everybody's September 1 1956, pp.14-15
Durrell writes about his adventures, this time, in South America. They tell the amusing story of trying to catch a skunk - I'm now reminded of the wonderful PepĂ© Le Pew and a quick distraction during the festive season never goes amiss. Ah, nostalgia!

"Round and round the skunk I didn't want, pranced our barking, frenzied dog, Sortito"

"Another of the author's captive specimens was an ibis
he christened Dracula becuae of its funereal black plumage"

The next snippet is about a crab-eating raccoon, nicknamed, Pooh, who turns out to be an escapologist who gets bored easily and despite his rotund appearance is very active.
"Pooh, the raccoon, would play for hours with old cine-film,
scanning it like a producer with his latest epic"
After a lot of chasing, Durrell's cook has a rail cornered under the bed. Durrell, on return, provides some water in a cigarette tin and straight away the bird pierces the tin with its beak!

"Our short-tempered rail stabbed at the cigarette tin of water I put in his cage
His beak went completely through the metal"
"The horned toad with its vice-like jaws caught my thumb in a most painful way "
The last tale is of how Durrell, trying to impress on his cook that these toads are not "wicked animals" demonstrates by placing his thumb in a horned toad's mouth... with painful results!