Porpoises Rescue Dick Van Dyke

Frank Key’s brand new paperback, Porpoises Rescue Dick Van Dyke, is now available. Here, exclusively for The Dabbler, he explains the gestation of this masterwork.

It was an ordinary day in November last year. By consulting my records I can see that I made no attempt to log the rainfall, temperature, or other weather phenomena, nor did I list the birds seen swooping in the sky nor the ingredients of my breakfast. I did not even make note of the number of eggs counted by George Orwell on that day seventy years before. One thing I did do, however, was to read bits and bobs in a Berliner format rag called The Guardian. And one particular bit, or bob, caught my attention. It was this:

Porpoises rescue Dick Van Dyke

Mary Poppins star feared death after apparently falling asleep on his surfboard but friendly sea creatures pushed him to shore

On screen, Dick Van Dyke has been rescued from untimely death by flying cars and magical nannies. Off screen, the veteran star of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Mary Poppins had to rely on the help of a pod of porpoises after apparently dozing off aboard his surfboard. “I’m not kidding,” he said afterwards.

Van Dyke’s ordeal began during an ill-fated trip to his local beach. “I woke up out of sight of land,” the 84-year-old actor told Craig Ferguson on his TV chat show. “I started paddling with the swells and I started seeing fins swimming around me and I thought ‘I’m dead!'”

Van Dyke was wrong. “They turned out to be porpoises,” he said. “And they pushed me all the way to shore.” The porpoises were unavailable for comment.

Now, like everyone throughout Western Civilisation, I was aware of the film roles alluded to in the story, I knew that Dick Van Dyke had amassed a massive fortune by registering his initials so that he receives 50 cents for every DVD bought or rented anywhere in the world, and I had read, and reread, his 1970 book Faith, Hope, And Hilarity many times. In fact, I keep a copy on my bedside table in the event that I am jolted awake in the middle of the night by a spiritual panic attack. What was new to me, however, was the revelation that the octogenarian actor was given to paddling on his surfboard out into the vast and merciless Pacific Ocean. Had no one ever told him that worse things happen at sea?

The more I thought about the story, the more I felt it cried out for some kind of treatment. A novel? A stage musical? A low-budget art house film? A Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk? Obviously, I could turn my hand to any of these with practised ease, but I could not for the life of me work out the best way to approach it. The elements of the tale – elderly screen icon, imperilment on the high seas, porpoises – made for a heady brew indeed. How could I do it justice?

As ever, when faced with such a quandary, I sought the advice of a Jesuit. But on this occasion my old Father Confessor, Ninian Tonguelash S.J., could not help me. With typically Jesuitical casuistry, he claimed not to know who Dick Van Dyke was, at the same time as condemning his performance as a sweeper of chimneys in Mary Poppins (Robert Stevenson, 1964) as “unholy and abominable and very likely the work of Beelzebub”.

Winter closed in, the nights were long, I wore mufflings to stave off the cold. And still the key to the tale eluded me. Eventually, I gave up the ghost, gathered together a ragbag of yarns from my radio show on ResonanceFM, and cobbled those into a paperback instead. Chim-chim-cheroo!

Porpoises Rescue Dick Van Dyke : An Anthology by Frank Key is available from Lulu.

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About Author Profile: Frank Key

Frank Key is a London-based writer, blogger and broadcaster best known for his Hooting Yard blog, short-story collections and his long-running radio series Hooting Yard on the Air, which has been broadcast weekly on Resonance FM since April 2004. By Aerostat to Hooting Yard - A Frank Key Reader, an ideal introduction to his fiction, is published for Kindle by Dabbler Editions. Mr Key's Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives was published in October 2015 by Constable and is available to buy online and in all good bookshops.

12 thoughts on “Porpoises Rescue Dick Van Dyke

  1. johngjobling@googlemail.com'
    July 29, 2011 at 10:04

    Frank, the Van Dyke’s initials gag is the funniest thing I have heard since my bank manager asked me what I was doing about the millennium bug. Coincidentally he was called Dick. actually he wasn’t, he was a Dick.

    Some years ago Northumbrians (think Geordies but with shoes) were disturbed by a southerner in a wet suit, a frequent visitor to the coastal town of Amble (think Nagasaki circa 1946) who played offshore with the local celebrity, a tame dolphin with whom, it turned out the above mentioned southerner was ‘having relations’, or so said the local magistrate when referring the sad chap for psychiatric reports.

    This left the Northumbrians thinking that…

    A…All southerners wore wet suits.

    B…All southerners were fish shaggers

    C…If it was good enough for southerners it might be good enough for them.

    D…life was becoming tedious, after years of suffering the porridge scoffers coming over the border and interfering with their sheep now the southerners were fiddling with their dolphins.

    E…Who was making wet suits with zip-up flies

    The unfortunate dolphin, not having access to the NHS family planning clinic gave birth to twins. Any suggestion that they are in fact Ant and Dec would of course be libelous.

  2. Worm
    July 29, 2011 at 10:25

    Can’t wait to read the book, although in this instance literature’s gain is mime’s loss, I feel

  3. law@mhbref.com'
    jonathan law
    July 29, 2011 at 11:41

    As I remember it, the Amble fish-shagger was acquitted in Crown Court: dolphinologists gave expert evidence that the male bottlenose will often extend its penis in friendly greeting, rather as we might use the hand. Others reported seeing Freddie, the dolphin, quite happily pulling swimmers through the water using its large hooked todger as a sort of grappling device.

    So you don’t like Amble, Malty? I’ve got inlaws there and have become fond of the odd, shabby, windy, child-friendly little place: estuary, rockpools, puffins on the island and the best fish n’ chips down by the harbour. Although it seems that total aunt the 12th Duke of Northumberland has well-advanced plans to wreck the place, along with much of the county that bears his name …

    • Worm
      July 29, 2011 at 12:48

      “the male bottlenose will often extend its penis in friendly greeting, rather as we might use the hand”

      so basically you’re saying it was a case of crossed porpoises?

      • Gaw
        July 29, 2011 at 17:21

        Yes, a rather sticky cetacean.

    • johngjobling@googlemail.com'
      July 29, 2011 at 16:57

      Ah jonathan, one of life’s certainties, where your in-laws hail from comes with the territory. I lived in Morpeth for some years so Amble was kinda, well, a drive thro’ on the way to Warkworth place really.

      Passable on a sunny day though.

      Our plumber (I say our……) plumified the dooks brand new hidey hole way up in the back of the Lammermuirs, famous for lucy and Lucia, Walt and Gaetano, dookie built an outdoor pool, George the s-bend told him it would leak, dookie laughed. They had to import the water, many tanker loads, the local stuff was apparently very peaty and full of sheeps piddle, the pool leaked. As this was going on the dookess was building Alnwick Castle Gardens, a sort of leafy cash generator, mainly with our dosh, fool that I am for asking.

  4. hooting.yard@googlemail.com'
    July 29, 2011 at 13:03

    “Porpoises” is of course how DVD’s cheery Cockney sweep would pronounce “purposes”, so you’re right, Worm.

  5. andrewnixon@blueyonder.co.uk'
    July 29, 2011 at 13:10

    In the interests of scientific accuracy, I would like to point out that dolphins are not fish, so the lesson from Amble should have been that all southerners are in fact Aquatic Mammal-Shaggers.

    • johngjobling@googlemail.com'
      July 29, 2011 at 16:27


      • Gaw
        July 29, 2011 at 17:17

        I think the distinction may be crucial as I’m pretty sure fish don’t have penises.

        • johngjobling@googlemail.com'
          July 29, 2011 at 18:52

          Rick Stein will be mortified.

  6. johngjobling@googlemail.com'
    July 30, 2011 at 09:25

    There was a happy ending to this tail, the dolphin’s police liaison officer, a haddock called Gerald, stated some time later that the victim was now enjoying a well deserved retirement, guiding Dutch tourists around the Farne Islands and spent his evenings on the Alnmouth bar, like Spencer Tracy’s Cuban fisherman, recounting to the younger dolphins stories of southerners wearing Gul wet suits and called Smiffy who holidayed on a diet of Craster kippers and plonker pulling, some of the young dolphins, growing weary, listened to the whales on their ipods.

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