Hard Up - click for a bigger version

  • Marks out of 10 for Cover

 A single male bicep gripping a penny? Not sure who they were trying to kid - but it's hard to fathom how WH Allen/Star could have misjudged the audience so badly when they took on the series from Futura. The covers had gone from being "Russ & a scantily-clad lady" on Mayflower, to just "a scantily-clad lady" on Futura. Apart from the obvious lack of female flesh to catch the eye of the casual browser, I don't even know what this cover was supposed to be portraying. When has anyone ever gripped a penny with their bicep? Answers on a postcard. 0/10

Also of note, this is the first of the Tobin series since Come Again Courier to not mention Tobin's name in the title. Lower sales perhaps meant they wouldn't make that mistake again?

  • Cover Notes

" Russ Tobin's back in London - skint. The economy is groaning under the weight of his monstrous overdraft. It's all of £2.42 and the country can't take any more! So Tobin turns salesman for disreputable ZIP Electrics. But his massive talents remain undiscovered by all those housewives. Disaster strikes - the electric mixers explode, the vacuum cleaners don't suck, and he's booted out on the street with hoots of derisive laughter. Until his luck turns. Then his equipment's back in full working order, and the sensational Gerta Gottlieb makes all his efforts worthwhile…"

  • Brief Description of the Plot

 The book starts, as is tradition now - with Russ about to board a plane. He's finished his stint at Balltatty Castle in Ireland after 6 months and his heading back to London for a a relaxing couple of weeks in London.

Somewhat ironically Russ tries to make out that he never has any luck on aeroplanes, and always gets stuck sat with weirdos. The frequent Tobin reader would surely disagree! This journey is no different as, although he misses out on a seat with the hoped-for lady, he does end up making another immediate life-long friend in Dennis Hopper (it's not clear if this is in any way a homage to the actor, or just a random name that Stan come up with - not realising there was an American actor of that name). As Tobin side-kicks go, Dennis is easily the most forgettable. Over eager and a little in awe of Russ, he is however integral to the direction of the plot now, through his job as a salesman at ZIP Electrics.

The month of Russ's arrival is given as June, but Stan makes one of his wholesale changes to the timeline by giving the year as 1977 on Page 86 (the year the book was written) and confirming that Russ is still 26 (Page 123). Which means that the action has been contiguous from Russ's December 1974 arrival in the Bahamas (Tobin In Paradise), shortly after he turned 26 - through Christmas in Canada (Tobin for Hire), New Year in Las Vegas and January 1975 in Australia (Tobin Down Under). Yet here we are in London, in what should be June 1975 and it's miraculously 1977! Even though the books were being written at a pace of 2 per year, it was difficult to lag the story line to still be stuck in the past. And of course no one would ever notice would they?

So when, on Page 19, Russ merrily heads to the bank to withdraw some of his savings, it's not really a surprise to the reader to find that he's two pounds overdrawn and broke. The title of the book, and the back cover blurb have already given that much away. Russ puts this down to his careless overseas spending and not receiving any bank statements while travelling, but what is never explained is how he can have worked for 6 months in Ireland with no accomodation expenses and yet have nothing to show for it. Are we to assume that he did the Ballytatty job as unpaid voluntary work?? Nonetheless he is indeed "hard-up". Title-wise, that seems like it was perhaps intended as a (rather vulgar) double-entendre but by this point in the 1970s I suspect subtlety was not in great supply (or demand)

In desperation he goes back to what he knows and Dennis gets him a job selling electrical goods with ZIP. His first day selling on the Monday goes horribly wrong, but once given a second chance he starts to turn it around, and by Friday he has made plenty of sales and his last call is to try and sell Gerta Gottlieb a Film Projector. Inevitably she pulls out some mucky films and forces Tobin to watch them before thoroughly seducing him (of course). Afterwards, as Russ bemoans his money troubles, Gerta suggests that he could easily make a living by entertaining bored housewives like her, to which Russ replies "I'd make a lousy gigolo, I couldn't do this for money". It is like he has already forgotten the plot of Tobin Down Under - where he is postively thrilled to be working as a male escort!

Russ is chuffed to have finished the week having made what he calculates to be £110 (about £700 in today's terms) and then totally deflated to discover that with deductions for tax, NI and the van/petrol etc - he's only made £37. Funnily enough this was around the time that Stan moved to Ireland to take advantage of their more generous taxation scheme, so it was obviously a sore point! Anyway - Russ is gutted further when he tries to call Gerta and arrange another meet up to discuss the idea she had for him to save up and go to Hollywood. She reckoned he could make it as an actor and she had some contacts in the industry who she could fix him up with. So when her maid informs him that she has gone away somewhere for at least a few days, he's about ready to give up.

Of course, all is well that ends well, when he returns to his digs to find that she has popped by and left him a note along with a single airline ticket to LA! All Russ has to do now is to earn enough to save £500 - how hard can that be? I'm sure we'll find out in the next book...

  • Page at which Russ Tobin first reminisces about a previous adventure

 Page 5 (which is actually the FIRST page)

  • Page at which Russ Tobin first eyes up a lady

 Page 6 on the plane (of course)

  • Page at which Russ Tobin first gets to know a lady in the biblical sense

 Page 96 - The storyline takes over and leaves little opportunity for Russ to indulge his passion. If the regular readers were disappointed by the cover then they'd have probably been furious by Page 95

  • Page at which Russ Tobin first drinks a Vodka Tonic

 Russ breaks with tradition and enjoys a Scotch with his new buddy Dennis Hopper on page 43. He doesn't hit the vodka tonic until Page 82, after his first terrible day of selling at ZIP

  • Serious points raised

 That all bank managers, bosses and the Inland Revenue are all total wankers. And "what goes up, must come down" I suppose.

  • Rating on the MORGANOMETER

 A strange one in the canon, as it mainly serves to lay the groundwork for the final run of books. Gone is the high-paced adventure theme, and we're back to Russ being broke, unhappy and selling appliances door-to-door. Despite Stan bringing back Patrick in the last book, Russ's previous London wingman, Tony Dane is not even mentioned here. A shame but you can see that he was superfluous to the story arc. As always though, no matter how poor he is financially, Russ is still rich in the love department. The girls were never interested in his money anyway.7/10