The ‘art’ of stealing presented as English heritage

Simon & Schuster should be ashamed to have published Bob and Brian Tovey’s The Last English Poachers. There is nothing romantic about stealing from the rich — it’s a crime like any other

13 June 2015

9:00 AM

13 June 2015

9:00 AM

The Last English Poachers Bob and Brian Tovey, with John F. McDonald

Simon & Schuster, pp.288, £16.99, ISBN: 9781471135675

The publicity blurb about the two unpleasant criminals whom this dismal book romanticises says that they are ‘continuing their ancestors’ traditions, reluctant to surrender the old ways of sourcing food from nature’. Imagine a book about two men who were being celebrated for ‘continuing their ancestors’ tradition of beating their wives, raping them when necessary, treating them as their private property and forcing them into a life of drudgery and subjection’. Morally, this one is just as bad, and as a work of literature it is a joke.

Bob Tovey and his son Brian have shared their way of life with a writer called John F. McDonald, who in a lachrymose afterword noting the death of Tovey senior describes him as ‘a legend’. McDonald also patronises his subjects by inserting the occasional grammatical error, when he remembers to do so, to remind us that we are listening to the voices of genuine peasants. There are ethically stunted people who revere the likes of Reggie and Ronnie Kray and ‘Mad’ Frankie Fraser and write books about them, and this book about two professional thieves is of the same sort.

Tovey senior was brought up to regard landowners as the enemy, and the book drips with his and his son’s demented class hatred; substitute Jews, or blacks, or Muslims for ‘toffs’ and I doubt this book would ever have seen the light of day. One wonders how much of their story is fiction; I suspect quite a lot. If the phrase ‘agrarian feudalism’ ever tripped off a Tovey tongue, rather than that of his ghostwriter, I should be amazed.

One supposedly ‘hilarious’ anecdote — that blurb again — describes a gamekeeper calling his employer (an earl) ‘your grace’ in a ludicrous moment; but no keeper would ever address his employer, nor one of his employer’s guests, so wrongly, precisely because every keeper I have ever met has a perfect understanding of the gradations of the class system of the sort that inspires hatred in the minds of the Toveys. Lords, earls, toffs, stuck-ups and those who don’t hate them — let us say synonyms for people who don’t in general resort to crime for a living — are all berated by the Toveys.

Tovey senior seems to have seen himself — with the help of his gullible ghostwriter — as a cross between Robin Hood and a branch of English Heritage. His almost pompously self-righteous descriptions of the ‘arts’ of poaching seem to be crying out for a lottery grant. He steals food to distribute, he alleges, to the deserving and in need: but no one is as deserving and in need as the Toveys. The rhetoric with which they defend their criminal way of life suggests an England before the 1832 Reform Act, not a democracy with a welfare state. Describing having successfully killed and stolen the meat of a deer belonging to the Berkeley estate in Gloucestershire, the Toveys say it was ‘sold and distributed amongst the people who owns [sic] that deer just as much as the earls of bloody Berkeley Castle’.

There hasn’t been an earl at Berkeley Castle since 1942, but that is not the worst illustration of the authors’ ignorance. They would have us believe that the birds and animals on landed estates choose to turn up there, to be killed and feasted upon by rich people from the highest social classes. In fact, there are birds and animals for eating on most estates in England because the landowners have spent a great deal of money rearing them or managing them. And the business of game shooting gives jobs to thousands of men and women all over the country, who choose to work honestly rather than to steal: these are the people these degenerates call ‘bum-lickers’. So stealing game is no different from someone walking into the Tovey household and stealing food they have just bought from Tesco — or stealing anything else, for that matter. Of course, the Toveys are too thick to see it that way, and McDonald either shares their problem or is stitching them up.

Tovey senior was a bore who bragged about how good he was at fighting, how good he was at drinking (20 pints a night, until he became an alcoholic and gave up) and how he loved putting one over on authority, which was, whatever form it took, by definition evil. Tovey junior, described at school as ‘feral’, had a lucrative sideline in stealing tiles off roofs until he went to prison for it. Remarkably, he was allowed to keep a shotgun licence, though I trust the publication of this book will change that. The grilling the rest of us now get when renewing a firearms licence leads us to believe that even forgetting to clean a gun adequately would lead to a ban, let alone using it in the furtherance of crime.

If you like books that celebrate people who have, through choice, pursued lives of crime and who invent justifications for doing so that only just held water in the 18th century, this pile of rubbish is for you: or give it to someone you really dislike for Christmas. I can see no other use for it, and Simon & Schuster should ask themselves whatever possessed them to publish it.

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  • Marie

    Sounds like a horrible book celebrating trashy people.

    At the same time, there’s no recognition here of the underlying reason folks like poachers — it’s not envy, it’s not the love of the criminal. It’s the enclosure acts, and the many things like them that the modern world is built on.

    All the modern law that is justified based on safety or good management and has the practical effect of concentrating the means of production (for example, licensing laws as bars to entry into professions or food laws that kill small family farms) are an ongoing frustration to free-minded men. This book keys in to that sentiment.

    Some of the equivalencies here are also a turn off. Even outright theft is hardly in the same category as rape. And hating a guy for being in the elite (a category not based on inherent genetic qualifications but one that can be obtained to either through diligence or through dishonesty) is far different from hating him for being black or Jewish.

    Trying to make two low rent poachers look like the equivalent of racist rapists is hardly any better than making them into Robin Hoods, and doing so makes the author of the article look like he is part of the “tosh” world, viciously throwing anything to hand against anyone who questions his right to his position. Which is exactly what books like this are going for.

    Love the illustration, also, which is certainly a nice piece of class propaganda from the era.

    • Roy

      Good comment.

    • ‘Folks’ emphatically don’t like poachers.

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    • Caractacus

      Roald Dahl’s Danny the Champion of the World is emphatically not an exposition of true to life; lovely, friendly, happy real life poachers.

      • Marie

        Of course not, that’s true.

        But what it is, is evidence that some people find some kinds of poaching attractive or admirable.

        There’s a reason for that, and this article thinks the reason is because those people are envious criminals, in the same category as racist rapists.

        I think the reason is because people believe in free market capitalism and they know enclosure and the concentration of the means of production through manipulation of the government by an oligarchy is in opposition to it.

        They know that gathering most power and wealth into a relatively few hands and then telling everyone else to be happy because the dole offends human integrity.

        Real poaching may be unsavory, and those who practice it no Robin Hoods. But this angry review characterizes this book as a propaganda piece for envy and theft, refusing to recognize any of the history of the issue. Even if you consider the most egregious form of global poaching, the poaching of gorillas in Rwanda, if you read Diane Fossey’s accounts you will see she found the practice tragic and fought all her life against it, but she never demonstrated the disdain for the poachers that this article does about a few guys taking a deer now and then.

    • mikewaller

      Careful, your kind of breath of vision could give poor old Heffer a cerebral hemorrhage!

      • Marie

        Hah! A bit of bluster from me won’t hurt him one bit!

        • mikewaller

          You do not understand the seriousness of his condition. Today’s contribution from “Wordsmith” is “Jerusalem Syndrome, which is defined as a phenomenon in which a visitor to a holy place suffers from religious psychosis, such as believing him- or herself to be a messiah.” It is my belief that SH has got it bad and contributions such as yours could seriously destabilise him. You have been warned! [:-)]

  • Suleiman

    “There is nothing romantic about stealing from the rich — it’s a crime like any other”.

    Cheating, stealing, robbing, perverting the course of justice, committing perjury, all these are indeed typical British crimes, part of “British values”. They are committed mostly by the rich and powerful, that is – by the establishment. But unlike the idea of “it’s a crime like any other”, which means that it should be punished, our establishment criminals go unpunished. They are above the law. For example : quite a number of British judges.

    • Ed_Burroughs

      Where did you get your third class degree in boilerplate?

      • Suleiman

        I got my degree in a Middle Eastern country. Why, do you think your degree is better than mine ? – have sweet dreams.

        • Ooh!MePurse!

          Probably because you write utter tosh.

          • Suleiman

            “you write utter tosh”.

            And what exactly is incorrect in what I have written ? (Grammar apart). I write things which are not pleasant for the supporters of the British establishment to read, but I do not write anything which I know to be factually incorrect just for the sake of writing it.

        • Ed_Burroughs

          I haven’t got a degree. Are you having trouble remebering which country? 😉

  • Hamburger

    There you go again Mr Hefner, undermining British values again.

  • We really must bring back the lash. It’s a traditional form of sexual sadism in our schools and has excited the male population for centuries. None of this revisionism.

  • KenMac

    Only people with heffer’s views should be allowed to publish books. Then I would have an excuse for never bothering to read.

  • Partner

    At last….. a book that the Guardian and Simon Heffer both hate with a vengeance.

    I can think of no finer recommendation.