Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn on location in Africa for the filming of ‘The African Queen’, 1951
A Goodreads reader kindly asked me, ‘who is your favourite fictional couple?’ As the author of five Sherlock Holmes novels I ought to say ‘Why, Holmes and Watson, of course!’. But there’s that adjective ‘favourite’ which makes all the difference. I could definitely say of dear old Dr. John H. Watson, he is a most likable fictional character, not only for me but umpteen thousands of others worldwide. A real English country gentleman. Well-mannered. A skilful surgeon. A member of several reputable London Clubs. But Sherlock Holmes? I am not sure I can call him my favourite fictional character. Brilliant detective. Admirable in his sense of justice, definitely. A pioneering chemist, yes. Astonishing in his range of talents – as a linguist, for example, even quite a violinist – no doubt whatsoever.
So who is my favourite fictional pair? Well, nolo contendere. Slam dunk. Charlie Allnut and Rose Sayer. Who?
OK, in real life Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn in the 1951 Hollywood movie ‘The African Queen’. There they were, Charlie Allnut and Rose Sayer, in a most un-Hollywood location: the sweltering jungle around the Ruki River, in the Belgian Congo (today known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo). They spent seven weeks filming the World War One romantic-comedy-adventure film. Bogie was a hard-drinking riverboat captain. Reluctantly he falls in love affair with a prim Christian missionary. The Belgian Congo wasn’t easy on Hepburn or much of the crew. One by one they fell ill. Bogart and the Director John Huston remained healthy throughout the shoot — probably because they drank far more booze than water. Hepburn received a Best Actress Oscar nomination — her fifth — while Bogart’s engaging performance as the cynical drunkard with a heart of gold earned him the only Academy Award of his storied career. Much deserved.
I should add a personal footnote. First, I spent some of the most dramatic years of my life aged 16-19 high up on Mt. Kenya in East Africa, among elephants and rhino and snakes and the Long Rains and the Short Rains and the same diseases which threatened Hepburn and Bogart in Central Africa. Second, my partner Lesley Abdela is the descendant of Isaac Abdela whose shipyards in Britain are said to be where the river-boat, the ‘African Queen’ (a.k.a. S/L Livingstone), was constructed. See http://www.thisisgloucestershire.co.uk/news/New-Stroud-canal-boat-follows-wake-Bogey-s-African-Queen/article-686448-detail/article.html