Tuesday, March 07, 2006

(10) Alekhine’s best games book, and a stairway to Heaven

On September 22nd 1985 I played in a rapid chess event in London which went on throughout the night.
During it I mentioned to Andrew Martin that I was intending to write a book about the nature of modern chess and to include in it some of my own games.
I mentioned that some would be annotated in full and that others would be included parenthetically as snippets. I mentioned that former World Champion, Alexander Alekhine had used this format in My best games of Chess 1924-37.

This was not an obvious book to spring to mind in that context, for although the author does partly use this method of exposition, there are only a very few examples of it in the book.

After the event finished, at 7 a.m., I trekked across London to visit Bob Wade OBE. I also mentioned to him the planned book and its similarity with Alekhine’s.

Late that night I watched on BBC 2 a film from 1946 starring David Niven which I had not seen before: A Matter of Life and Death (Stairway to Heaven in America).


Niven plays the part of an airman who has suffered head injuries when his plane crashed and who now hallucinates that he is in on trial for his life in Heaven.

Note, in the second Youtube clip, Officer Trubshawe was actually Niven´s good friend the actor Robert Coote, who not long after the film´s release was pictured with him at Niven´s wife´s memorial service.

The reference to Trubshawe was also an ongoing joke re Niven´s old army friend Michael Trubshawe. Many Niven films would deliberately feature a Trubshawe - even once a dog of that name.
Trubshawe himself later, perhaps inspired by Niven, became an actor, featuring for instance alongside David in The Guns of Navarone.

To my surprise I discovered that a collection of Alekhine’s games plays quite a prominent part in the plot.

Right at the end a Heavenly envoy, played by Marius Goring, throws it down an (imaginary!?) stairway to Niven, calling out "Peter! Here is your book back!"

Alekhine died in 1946, as did Niven´s beloved first wife, Primmie.

She died through head injuries sustained by a fall down some stairs.

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