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Monday, May 29, 2017

Brian Worthington-Stuart part 3

Books continued to appear from the pseudonymous pens of Brian Stuart and Peter Meredith during this period. When appearing at Ipswich Bankruptcy Court in April 1950, Stuart noted that Floodwater was about to appear and that one of his books, Invitation to a Ball, was "being considered by Hollywood."

Five books appeared while Stuart was incarcerated, although it is almost certain that they had already been completed before he was jailed. The reviews were as generous as before, as the following pair of reviews for The Serpent's Fang by Brian Stuart (1951) and Oasis by Peter Meredith (1952) show:
We have met Colonel Adrian Forester and his old friend, Colonel Grenier, before, and we are as well acquainted with Lieut.-Col Etienne Pomviens and Chief Det.-Inspector Ian Fleming, known to the underworld as "Never-let-go" Fleming.
    Again we meet them in another of their exciting and highly-dangerous jobs, all starting with Adrian Forester being sent to Grenier's flat to sort out his possessions, supposing him to have met a worthy but decidedly unpleasant death. With the discovery of a Moroccan in the flat, found to be murdered, Forester is immediately involved in a Moroccan anti-European plot.
    The story is actually placed in London, but Brian Stuart, having first-hand knowledge of Arab North Africa, has managed to give his tale a strong and authentic Eastern flavour, and the action, with its danger and excitement, owes nothing to the English background; thus proving the author's literary ability. (Buxton Advertiser, 31 August 1951)

Few things are as unpredictable as a mixed group of human beings faced with a major crisis. So often the most unexpected people show the greatest tact, or courage or endurance.
    This was evident in war-time experiences.
    Such a mixed collection of people Peter Meredith chooses as the characters for his adventure novel Oasis.
    An aeroplane containing a beautiful glamour girl, a young R.A.F. officer, a society girl, retired major, priest, and ex-batman, crashes in the African desert.
    The party are stranded until offered hospitality by a tribe of Arabs.
    Describing their trials at the hands of unfriendly tribesmen and the conditions of the African climate, the author gives a realistic account of desert travel.
    He brings out well the capacity of each person to contribute to the situation what he has learned from his particular way of life.
    The major offers his training in leadership, the batman a store of practical knowledge.
    Trouble also points the moral. The society girl is less snobbish after her experience. The glamour girl finds a way other than drugs to combat her problems.
    The story pictures vividly the beauty of primitive Arab tribal life along with the extreme cruelty of some of their customs. (Aberdeen Evening Express, 15 February 1952)
Stuart must have immediately returned to writing upon his release as a stream of new novels began to appear in 1953. They continued to garner very good reviews from newspapers, these three being typical:
Beth Takes Charge
A Queen's Messenger betraying his Diplomatic Bag... A Mayfair night club in direct contact with the worst thieves' kitchen known to Scotland Yard... The arrival in London of a notorious Communist agitator... Two ex-convicts out for diabolical revenge... Would these things have come to light before irreparable havoc had been wrought in Whitehall, if the Honourable Elspeth Lardner's anger and curiosity had not been aroused by a clumsy attempt to blacken the character of her old friend, Judy Ackland? Beth consults her friend Major Roger Kavanagh and Superintendent "Never-Let-Go" Fleming. But when Judy Ackland's body comes ashore off Chelsea Pier, "Beth Takes Charge." (Berwickshire News, 19 January 1954)

Diamond Cut Diamond
Captain Derek Villiers is a distinguished officer of the Dragoon Guards, temporarily denigrated for diplomatic reasons, who joins the Foreign Legion in order to carry out a special secret mission. His path is beset with danger, difficulty and unknown under-currents, through which his own quickness of wit and judgment are his only guides. His adventures make an exciting story, with all the necessary ingredients for keeping the reader in a state of eager expectancy—espionage and counter-espionage, skirmishes with Arabs, political intrigues in a cosmopolitan setting, and so forth—written in a virile manner by Brian Stuart, who excels in this type of fiction. (Berwickshire News, 10 May 1955)

The Case is Altered
The implications of Alastair Lardner's engagement to Poppy Finkel are bewildering and possibly sinister, for Poppy, a notorious Nazi spy, is even now working for a Nazi underground movement. Major Robin ("Knock-out") Kavanagh's proposal that Alastair, a Colonel in the Scots Guards, should be posted abroad, while Poppy and her supposed father are tracked down, is vetoed by the Prime Minister, who orders that under no circumstances is Lardner to leave the country. This surely can only mean that Lardner is suspected of being in league with Poppy and her confederates, which unpleasant thought Robin eventually steels himself to believe. Then action has to be taken, but the results are very different from those Robin had anticipated. The book is "To the Memory of Arthur Richard Pollard, Captain, The Devon Regiment, Who rests at Mareth." (Berwickshire News, 8 November 1955)
It is possible that Worthington-Stuart was writing under other names during this period, although I have been able to find only one. Many years ago, I jotted down notes from the collection of Panther Books held by the British Library, including the following for Francis Martin, author of two Foreign Legion stories in 1954, which advertised Martin as being "ex-Sergeant No.25293 2me Regiment Etrangere, 1930-34; Captain in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers; attd. G.H.Q. Forces Francais Libres; Beirut and Aleppo 1941-43."

The outline of Martin's career given above matches precisely that of Worthington-Stuart. Whether he contributed further books to Panther or any other paperback line is unknown. He did, however, begin writing non-fiction around that period. As well as his first book (Adventure in Algiers), Worthington Stuart (as Brian Stuart) had penned two other books about his days in North Africa, Far to Go (1947) and Desert Adventure (1954), also contributing at least one extensive article to Wide World Magazine in 1954 on the same subject.

With his desert adventures perhaps exhausted, he turned to his ancestors. Through his mother's he was related to the Bell family of Cookstown, Ireland, and in late 1955, A Family History Part 1 appeared, concentrating on the life and career of Harry Bell, who served in the Crimea. The book was warmly welcomed by The Sphere:
Why did Harry Bell, of Belmont, nephew of Lieut.-General Sir Orwell Bell and scion of a noble family, ride one night into Cookstown, Co. Tyrone, and, to the subsequent horror of his friends and relations, enlist as a soldier? The aggravating part of Brian Stuart's enthralling biography ... is that the answer to this question, known in Harry's day only to Lord Magherafelt, is not vouchsafed to the reader. It is reserved for Volume Two in this vivid family history, and we are told in a neat little postscript, boxed on the final page, that it was left to Harry's grandson to stumble upon the truth eighty years after the hero's death. Secret or no secret, this is a book of absorbing interest.
    When Harry Bell joined up with the rag, tag and bobtail of the Northern Irish counties he made his mark at once. Wise company commanders, who came to possess this treasure of a common soldier, with his knowledge of Latin, Greek, and half a dozen modern languages, soon had him in the orderly room ploughing through the welter of paper that was apparently just as fantastic a feature of the army of Crimean days as it is to-day. But Harry was not only a desk-bound soldier. He got shipped to the Crimea by a hideous mistake, one of a fatigue party which was embarked in error, and right through the war it was his fate to see our men battling not only against the Russians but against the chaotic inefficiency of that mad campaign, Harry was at the Alma, sitting on the grass all day with a field-glass and waiting for the order to advance while comrades fell in rows at the very cannon's mouth. Harry was in the Indian Mutiny, and wherever he went he sorted things out. Of his personal courage in the field there is ample testimony. It was at times a reckless courage no doubt linked with the secret that dogged his days.
    Not only is the book remarkable for its pictures of military life. It contains also the charming portrait of a happily married man; for Ann Bell was a truly wonderful woman, a grand lady, with no airs and graces, and shared with her husband the possession of a large-hearted humanity and an infinite compassion. (The Sphere, 12 November 1955)
The publisher was Richard Bell, possibly a company set up by the author or a relative. The family history was one of the company's first two books, preceded by Lumberjack, reprinting a 1934 novel by the American children's novelist Stephen Warren Meader. Richard Bell published only two translations of French books the following year (:'Art de maigrir by Albert Antoine became Slimming the French Way and La Vie privee des poissons by Maurice Constantin-Weyer became The Private Life of Fishes) and ceased publishing in 1961 after another four books. Worthington-Stuart's book was certainly in odd company.

His next publisher, G. Bell & Sons, was rather more established, having been founded by George Bell (1814-1890) in 1839. The chairman in the 1950s was Colonel Arthur H. Bell, grandson of the company's founder. While it would appear that they were not related, a case of nominative determinism seems to have applied, making G. Bell the perfect publisher for a book about Brian Stuart's grandfather, Sir George Bell. Soldier's Glory was a revision of Bell's own writing, but skilfully edited by Brian Stuart, according to The Sphere:
General Sir George Bell, who served through the Peninsular and Crimean Wars, saw garrison duty in Canada in the 1830s and, on retirement, published his Rough Notes of an Old Soldier. From it the best passages have now been arranged and edited by his kinsman, Mr. Brian Stuart, to form a magnificent story of courage, Soldier's Glory. George Bell was sixteen and still at public school when he was gazetted as ensign in one of George III's regiments and left his native Ireland for a brief sojourn at a depot in Yorkshire before embarking for Portugal, where, in spite of behaving "like a very imprudent young spoon," he soon gave a good account of himself, and went through campaign after campaign not only with a brave heart but, just as valuable from the reader's point of view, with a widely observant eye and a very lively pen. Wonderful reading, through all its 300-odd pages. (The Sphere, 5 May 1956)
This may have been Worthington-Stuart's last book.

Capt. B. A. Worthington-Stuart was still listed in the telephone book as living at 51 Albemarle Road, Beckenham, Kent, in 1947-58 but in truth Brian and Fanny Worthington-Stuart had moved to Denmark briefly in 1955; when Mrs. Worthington-Stuart's mother died in July 1955, she came into an income of between £800-900 a year from a trust fund set up by her late father (who had died in 1944). Difficulties arose getting the money over to Denmark and they decided to return to England. They arrived in England in November, staying in a hotel in Cheltenham before they were able to move to the Old Rectory in Upper Scudamore, Warminster, Wiltshire, in December. Two further children were born in the mid-1950s, David James B. Worthington-Stuart in 1955 and John Christopher B. Worthington-Stuart in 1956, bringing the total to eight.

Brian Arthur Worthington Stuart was brought up on nine charges before a special Court at The Town Hall, Warminster, on 18 September 1956. The charges related to obtaining credit during November and December 1955 without disclosing that he was an undischarged bankrupt. During the case it was revealed that Worthington-Stuart had claimed to some vendors that he required credit because although money was expected by his wife there was some difficulty getting the money out of Denmark. Worthington-Stuart had been first questioned in January and a summons served in June.

The defendant was committed for trial at Marlborough Sessions on 26 September on eight of the nine charges, but the case was postponed on the grounds that there had been insufficient time to prepare the defence. The trial took place on 31 October, with Stuart pleading "Not Guilty" to the charges. Mr. P. Malcolm Wright, for the defence, claimed that Worthington-Stuart had gone on a "spending spree" on arriving at Warminster, and that the credit was raised by his wife, and all the creditors were eventually paid in full.. The jury took twenty-five minutes to find Worthington-Stuart not guilty of the eight charges.

What happened to Brian Worthington-Stuart after that is sketchy at best. It would seem that the Old Rectory at Upper Scudamore was sold in 1958 and the family moved on. It is known that Brian changed his family name by deed poll and became Brian Arthur Martin-Stuart and it was under that name that his death in the Mendip area of Somerset in 1981 is registered.

PUBLICATIONS

Novels as Peter Meredith
Invitation to a Ball. London & Melbourne, Ward Lock, Mar 1949.
Floodwater. London & Melbourne, Ward Lock, Apr 1950.
Checkmate. London & Melbourne, Ward Lock, Oct 1950.
The Crocodile Man. London & Melbourne, Ward Lock, Jun 1951.
Oasis. London & Melbourne, Ward Lock, 1951 [Jan 1952].
The City of Shadows. London & New York, Frederick Warne & Co., Jan 1952.
Sands of the Desert. London & Melbourne, Ward Lock, Oct 1953.
The Denzil Emeralds. London & Melbourne, Ward Lock, Mar 1954.

Novels as Brian Stuart (series: Knock-Out Kavanagh; Col. Adrian Forester & Col. Grenier)
The Affair at Sidi Brahim (Kavanagh). London & Melbourne, Ward Lock, Jun 1948.
Knock-Out Kavanagh (Kavanagh). London & Melbourne, Ward Lock, 1948 [Jan 1949].
The Silver Phantom Murder (Kavanagh). London & Melbourne, Ward Lock, Apr 1950.
Mysterious Monsieur Moray (Forester & Grenier). London & Melbourne, Ward Lock, Sep 1950. 
The Serpent's Fang (Forester & Grenier). London & Melbourne, Ward Lock, Jul 1951.
Beth Takes Charge (Kavanagh). London & Melbourne, Ward Lock, Jan 1954.
Diamond Cut Diamond. London & Melbourne, Ward Lock, Apr 1955.
The Case is Altered. London & Melbourne, Ward Lock, Oct 1955.

Novels as Francis Martin
Ace in the Hole. London, Panther Books, Mar 1954.
Blood on the Sand. London, Panther Books, Jul 1954.

Non-fiction as Brian Stuart
Adventure in Algeria. London, Herbert Jenkins, Sep 1936.
Far to Go. London, W. P. Nimmo, Hay and Mitchell, Nov 1947.
Desert Adventure. G. Bell & Sons, Oct 1954.
A Family History: Part 1. Harry Bell. London, Richard Bell, Nov 1955.
Soldier's Glory, ed. Brian Stuart. G. Bell & Sons, Apr 1956.

Non-fiction as Brian Worthington-Stuart
Collecting and Breeding Butterflies and Moths, with a foreword by G. D. Hale Carpenter. London, Frederick Warne & Co., 1951.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Brian Worthington-Stuart part 2

On 6 April 1937, Brian Arthur Lewis Stuart (as he was now styling himself) married Fanny Elizabeth ("Betty") Worthington, daughter of Hugh Worthington, a retired cotton merchant, and his wife, Alice, at Lambeth, London. Fanny had been born in Macclesfield, Cheshire, on 2 August 1915. An announcement in The Times noted that he was late of The Border Regiment—which was untrue.

Following the success of his first book and his appearances on radio and in print, Brian A. Stuart (as he was credited) penned Knock-Out Kavanagh, a serial thriller in four rounds, starring Wilfred Pickles, Ursula Gilhespie, Fred Fairclough, G. H. Dayne, Donald Avison and Norman Partridge. The producer was Cecil McGivern. The serial was broadcast on 23 August to 13 September 1937 by the BBC's Northern service. Other stories appearing around the same time included "What Crocodile?" (Regional Programme, 1 April 1937) and "None So Blind" (Regional Programme, 28 August 1937)

Stuart and his wife had their first child, a daughter named Angela Windsor Patricia Stuart, in March 1938. As wartime approached, Stuart, then living at Vauxhall Bridge Road, Westminster, became an ARP Warden while his wife and daughter moved into the home of her family in Ruthin, north Wales, where a second daughter, Elizabeth S. J. Stuart, was born in 1940.

Stuart later claimed that he was with an AA battery in London before being attached to Intelligence and serving in Syria and Palestine. He obtained a commission in 1940 in The Royal Welch Fusiliers and was discharged in 1944 with the rank of captain on medical grounds due to a serious spinal injury.

Of these claims, I have been able to establish that Cadet Brian Arthur Lewis Stuart (28394) was serving with the Royal Welch Fusiliers in 1941.

After being discharged, Stuart penned "The Crocodile" for Mystery Playhouse (Light Programme),  broadcast on 21 August 1946, and on 18 October 1946 he gave a talk as Brian Worthington-Stuart on the BBC Home Service on the subject of "Desert Wanderers". He was regularly broadcast on the Children's Hour (Home Service), appearances including "Across the Strange Sahara" (4 eps., 16 October-6 November 1945), "A Walk in Jerusalem" (3 February 1946), "Some Dogs and a Couple of Cats" (26 February 1946), "A Walk in Damascus" (3 March 1946), "Belinda and the Bedouins" (2 eps., 19 July-26 July 1946), "A Visit to Nazareth" (1 December 1946), "A Visit to Bethlehem" (5 January 1947), "A Visit to Marrakesh" (5 February 1947) and "Timbuctoo" (12 February 1947). He also contributed a couple of stories to The World and His Wife (Light Programme): "A Day After Snipe" (13 May 1946) and "Among the Bedouins" (20 May 1946)

Brian Arthur Lewis Stuart, then living at "Penmillard", Hayes Lane, Beckenham, Kent, changed his name by deed poll to Brian Arthur Worthington-Stuart as of 30 April 1946. Following the birth of Arthur Peter H. Stuart in 1946, his next two children reflected his change of name: Rhoda Mary C. Worthington-Stuart, born in 1947, and Derek R. Worthington-Stuart, born in 1948.

Worthington-Stuart's first two novels appeared from Ward, Lock & Co. in 1948. The Affair at Sidi Brahim and Knock-out Kavanagh both appeared under the name Brian Stuart and both featured the character he had created for radio, Major Roger "Knock-out" Kavanagh. The first was reviewed as "an attractively written and lively yarn. While basically it may be said to be another story of the Foreign Legion, it is modernised by being set against a pre-1939 background of apprehension of war and the activities of the now notorious fifth column. Needless to say, all goes well for the chief character, the ex-Indian Army officer, who joins the Legion and, as a British secret agent, rounds up the gang of Hitlerites and criminals." (Daily Mail (Hull), 19 June 1948)

Soon after, Worthington-Stuart launched a second pen-name with Invitation to a Ball by Peter Meredith (1949). C.E.L. of the Western Morning Post (11 April 1949) said that the book did "not stint the condiments—a wife hard-pressed by debts and blackmailers, a husband in pursuit caught up in the Foreign Legion and war. With such garnishing the tale could not fail to thrill." In the Yorkshire Evening Post (29 April 1949), the reviewer describes the book as "a chaser indeed. Andrew gives his erring wife chance after chance, but in vain. She runs off. He pursues her over the Continent, gets caught up in the first Great War, and joins the Foreign Legion! After he has been presumed dead really striking events occur."

Meredith's next novel, Floodwater (1950) was also well-received:
Nothing is more likely to lure a black sheep back to the fold than a tasty morsel from a substantial will. In Floodwater, Peter Meredith gives the not unfamiliar theme a new twist, and works it up into an engrossing story. The setting is a successful farm in Africa, where peace and prosperity prevail until the black sheep arrives and is allowed to stay. Drama and intrigue culminate in a suitably startling climax. (Daily Mail (Hull), 12 May 1950)

The black sheep of a family, who is long believed dead, turns up in a happy prosperous farmstead in Africa and takes his place in the family circle on the basis of the old argument that blood is thicker than water. In this case the argument is disproved after a welter of thrilling adventure and just the right amount of romance. Mystic mumbo-jumbo from an old witch-doctor forms an intriguing background to this powerful novel. (Western Daily Press, 26 August 1950)
Peter Meredith's next novel, Checkmate appeared later that same year:
Checkmate has nothing to do with a quiet game of chess, its keynote is crime! Peter Meredith's new thriller presents an uncomfortable situation which could happen to anyone, even more so when father and daughter suddenly meet in a room with a dead body in it, and suspect each other of murder. The solicitor father and his daughter Diana are well-drawn characters and the novel situations make the book very readable. (Daily Mail (Hull), 17 November 1950)
Meanwhile, Brian Stuart's next two books had also appeared:
Whatever other criticism they make, readers of The Silver Phantom Murder by Brian Stuart cannot complain for lack of excitement or gruesome detail. Within the first 10 pages we have a body on our hands which, before being stabbed in the back, had had his eyes burnt out with molten sealing wax. So much for detail.
    This is an up-to-the-minute thriller complete with M.I.5 and, of course, the atom. Bill Roydon, a secret service man, is the murder victim, and his old friend, Knockout Kavanagh, joins with Scotland Yard in tracking down the killer. It is a hard and long chase which brings us up against a diabolical political organisation, but it is nevertheless a successful one. (Daily Mail (Hull), 26 May 1950)
In Mysterious Monsieur Moray, the heroes, Colonel Forester and Colonel Grenier, discover a Nazi plot to start another war.

On a completely different tack, Brian Worthington-Stuart, F.R.E.S., was credited as the author of Collecting and Breeding Butterflies and Moths (1951), reviewed in the October-December 1951 issue of The Naturalist thus:
This latest addition to the Wayside and Woodland series should find its way into the hands of all lepidopterists. The author first deals systematically with the various aspects of collecting, setting and arranging specimens, and then with the more fascinating (though more arduous) problem of breeding. The hints and suggestions are obviously the result of experience and are worth careful consideration, but as the author points out collectors who have achieved success using other methods will doubtless remain faithful to them. That does not detract in any way from the value of the advice given; there must be some fundamentals on which the newcomer can build experience.
    As regards the various methods described, the reviewer has only one criticism and that is the absence of any reference to chloroform vapour as a killing agent. It is his opinion that it is one of the most reliable, safe to handle and cheap substances available and does not cause brittleness in the specimens. The novice should not be dismayed by the rather formidable list of apparatus suggested at various stages. It is possible to start in quite a modest way and the various accessories will gradually accumulate.
    The book is readable and the diagrams well chosen but occasionally one gets a rather uncomfortable impression from the author’s style that he is inclined to credit his readers with a shortage of common sense — and that is irritating! These are minor points, however, and the book should be a great help to those interested in the subject and in particular to those who have just begun to explore the possibilities of the lepidoptera.
By the time the book saw print, Brian Worthington Stuart was in jail.

The London Gazette for 17 January 1950 records that Brian Worthington Stuart, The Rectory, Blo Norton, near Diss, Norfolk, author, lately residing at 51 Albemarle Road, Beckenham, Kent, was receiving orders under the Bankruptcy Acts, 1914 and 1926. Another notice gave his name as Brian Arthur Worthington-Stuart and noted that he had also previously resided at Penmillard, Hayes Lane, Beckenham, Kent.

But the case took a curious twist and the 48-year-old author found himself at Ipswich Bankruptcy Court on Friday, 21 April 1950 where he declared his debts as £3,125 7s 9d. and his assets as 3s 3d. Stuart had made his own petition for bankruptcy on 11 January.

His income was derived from writing novels and from a disability pension of about £85 4s. a year. Asked by Mr. K. E. Fisk, the Official Receiver, "You have known for some considerable time that you could not pay your debts in full if asked?" Stuart responded "I have known since the summer of 1948." "And you went on contracting nearly all the debts in your statement of affairs?" "Yes," Stuart said.

Stuart was brought before a special Court at East Harling on 23 August to answer nine charges of issuing cheques with no means to meet them and obtaining credit while an undischarged bankrupt. Stuart angrily stated: "I consider the whole of this enquiry stinks of vindictive persecution. I gave a complete explanation during the public examination to which I have nothing to add."

Stuart had left a trail of bounced cheques beginning in July 1949, shortly before moving to Norfolk in August. In one instance, he owed Messrs. Leeson and Sons, a chemists in Bury St. Edmund's, £1 4s 7d. and had obtained £15 in notes from them by writing a cheque for £16 4s 7d. He immediately used the £15 to file his own petition for bankruptcy.

He was committed to appear at the Norfolk Assizes in October. Unable to produce a surety, he was remanded in custody. Bail was set at £50 plus one surety of a similar sum.

The trial took place on 16 October 1950 when it was revealed that Stuart's problems had grown since his bank returned a number of cheques; Stuart had opened accounts with other banks—nine in all—drawing cheques on them, although overdrawn.

In his defence, Mr. F. T. Alpe  revealed that Stuart was suffering from family troubles, his spinal injury and the drugs he had taken. "He has not spent this money on betting or drinking. It has all gone into keeping the family," observed Mr. Alpe.

"These were deliberate, wicked frauds which have involved innocent people in losses which they could ill afford," said Mr. Justice Hilbery, He sentenced Stuart to three years imprisonment on each of the eight charges of obtaining money and goods by false pretences, and to one year on each of the charges of obtaining credit while an undischarged bankrupt and one under the Debtors Act of obtaining credit by false pretences. The sentences were to run concurrent. "I cannot remember a more systematic and deliberate fraud," said the Judge during sentencing, adding that his only doubt was whether he ought not to impose a more severe punishment.

(* In part 3: Brian Worthington-Stuart's writing career continues, before suddenly coming to an end. Plus, another court case and another change of name.)

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Brian Worthington-Stuart part 1

There are some authors who are just made for Bear Alley. Brian Stuart is definitely one. Beyond a list of 16 novels under two pseudonyms that appears in Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction Bibliography, no broader bibliography has appeared anywhere. The only available biographical information easily available is the brief note (also written for Hubin's Bibliography): "Birth name uncertain; was known as Brian Arthur Lewis Stuart when he changed his name to Brian Worthington-Stuart, and later changed it again to Brian Martin-Stuart."

I had put together a few notes some time ago after discovering a court case, but it seemed that each time I thought I had discovered all I could, something else would turn up. I have no doubts that there is more of Brian Stuart's story still  to be told and I would love to hear more. For the moment, this is as full a picture of Stuart's jigsaw life as I have been able to put together.

Brian Stuart's name first began to appear in the 1930s. An author and journalist, Stuart was described as having joined the Foreign Legion and was later to become the first Englishman to be offered a commission. He made a lone trek across the Sahara, made money dowsing for water in the desert, was offered a wife as part payment for his services, encountered thieves and murderers, and had his life saved by sorcery.

Of an early radio broadcast M.C. of the Manchester Guardian (8 November 1934) said: "Mr. Stuart is a wanderer by temperament, and he started his wanderings one day when he had become bored with his position as a clerk in the Bank of England. He has served in the Foreign Legion, and has worked and wandered in India, Canada, and other countries. The talk was most entertaining and amusing, for he seems to have a natural gift for telling stories of his travels, and his manner is rather laconic and dry, so that he makes an effect of humorous understatement."

His novels, written under the names Brian Stuart and Peter Meredith, were well reviewed and appeared popular. As Stuart he had created the character "Knock Out" Kavanagh's whose "gentian blue eyes no longer humorous or twinkling behind the quite unnecessary monocle" take on a steely glint at the first sign of danger. Stuart's favourite characters seemed to be former army officers with experience in the Middle East or India. Stuart built up a small group who appeared in a number of his books, including Chief Detective Inspector Ian Fleming, known as "Never-Let-Go" Fleming, and Colonel Adrian Forester and his friend, Colonel Grenier.

Stuart's writing career had started in the 1930s but came to an abrupt end in the mid-1950s, after which no trace of any further work has been found. Whether he continued to ply his trade as an author and journalist I have yet to discover. On the other hand, his origins and pre-writing career can now be revealed.

Stuart was born Arthur Lewis Martin in Stroud Green, London, on  6 March 1902. He was the son of Arthur William Martin, born in Battersea in c.1872, and his wife Louisa Mary Bell, born in Fermoy, Cork, on 31 December 1871. Married on 15 December 1896 at Crouch End, London, Mr. Martin was a staff engineer (1st class) with the General Post Office. His wife (who had worked as a telegraphist for the G.P.O.) was related to Sir George Bell (1794-1877), an Irish-born soldier who had served in the Peninsular and Crimean Wars during a long and distinguished career which he brought to wide attention in a two-volume autobiography, Rough Notes by an Old Soldier (1867).

Arthur Lewis Martin's upbringing remains a bit of a mystery. At the time of the 1911 census, when he was aged 9, he and his parents were visitors at the home of Charles Emil Ramspott at Mooredale, Epsom Downs, Surrey.

What we know of Arthur Martin's early career is from later newspaper reports which reveal that he joined the Bank of England as a clerk in 1920, leaving in 1926 to travel to India as a clerk to a firm of stockbrokers, which subsequently went broke; he then went to Canada, also with stockbrokers, before returning to England.

In January 1930, some local newspapers carried a report that one Arthur Lewis de Vere Martin Bell, an accountant, was arrested on Wednesday the 22nd at Lapford Rectory, in Lapford, a small village in Devon. Sergeant Squire and Constable White brought Bell before the Bench at nearby Northtawton on Thursday and he was remanded pending the arrival of an escort.

Bell had been arrested on a warrant issued by the Metropolitan Police for the alleged obtaining of goods by means of a worthless cheque. Bell was remanded in custody by Mr. Gill at Westminster Police Court on the 25th of obtaining a gun and case, and a cigarette case and matchbox, valued at £24 6s 6d. by false pretences from the Army and Navy Stores in Victoria Street, S.W.

Detective Smith told the magistrate that a quantity of property was brought to London with Bell—including an Oxford M.A. hood, a cheque book, a passport in the name of Arthur Lewis Martin, an order book on the Army and Navy stores, and clothing—and a further charge was to be preferred. Smith said that Bell had stated: "I wish to clear the matter up now. I did obtain the gun, the cigarette case and matchbox from the Stores. I pawned them the same day in the Strand, but I have lost the tickets."

That this was Arthur Lewis Martin cannot be doubted. The name De Vere Bell was probably concocted from his similarly named uncle, Warwick De Vere Bell, born in Devonport, Devon, in 1866, a civil servant and son of Harry Humphrey Bell, Martin's grandfather.

Mention of Martin's passport makes me wonder if any of the following is related to our author: in 1929, one Arthur Martin, a 27-year-old accountant giving his address as c/o Holt & Co., 3 Whitehall Place, London, travelled to Canada aboard the Ausonia, arriving in Montreal on 29 October 1929; similarly, a 27-year-old clerk with the address 134 Regent Street, SW, left London on 9 May 1930, bound for New York aboard the American Farmer; and, later, on 10 January 1934, aged 32, accountant Arthur Martin (now of 254 Upland Road, E.Dulwich  SE22) again travelled to Canada via New York from Southampton aboard the White Star's Olympic. While speculative, hopefully connecting these trips is an educated guess. Martin claimed in court that he worked for a stockbroker in Canada around this time.

Martin had been a member of the Territorial Army Reserve since the early 1920s; late of the Inns of Court O.T.C., he was made a 2nd Lieutenant of the 17th Battalion (4th London Regiment)  on 28th March 1924. He was later made a Lieutenant on 17 December 1932

It was said that it was through his connection with the 4th London Regiment that he became attached to the French Foreign Legion. He was said to be in the Consul's office in Oran, on the coast of north-west Algeria, the setting for his book Adventure in Algeria (1936).

The book was generally well-received, a typical review appearing in The Observer (10 January 1937):
Here is one of the freshest and most winning books of travel offered for a long time. Mr. Stuart writes with such a perfect unconsciousness of his public and such a disregard for all the mannerisms that are supposed to be “literary,” that a schoolboy’s letter could not be more frank, intimate, or revealing. He never tells a story or exhibits a humorous situation that does not at once yield its full value.
    Part of his tale is occupied with a journey on foot well into the interior of French Africa. It is plentifully studded with odd and picturesque experiences, and in the course of it he drank out of a tea-cup once given to his Arab host by General Gordon, and had Miss Amy Johnson swoop down upon him from the skies in the course of her homeward flight from the Cape. But the pages that arrest attention most sharply are those describing his service in the Foreign Legion and stripping from that corps many popular and invidious legends.
    Bad characters would find it very difficult to get in, and piety is not unknown in its ranks. “In the company in which I finished up my service, a Russian corporal-farrier held a Bible class for anyone who cared to attend.” As for “brutality,” the author declares that “Field Punishment No.1” of the British Army in the Great War was far and away more severe than anything the Legion knows, and the only complaint he makes of its regime is that the food on active service is not what it should be. The “horrors” that invest popular conception of the Legion are the creation, Mr. Brian Stuart maintains, of “deserters and similar cowards.” It will be interesting to see whether his vindication goes unchallenged.
Some reviewers felt that "a little inconsistency here and there, however, shakes one's confidence in his own story." (Western Morning News, 7 October 1936) He related how he had joined in 1931 and found the Legion very welcoming. "The barracks at Ain Sefra were absolutely the last word in cleanliness and comfort," he revealed. The food was delicious.

Although marked out for rapid promotion and the unusual honour of a commission even before he had begun training, "Stuart" did not stay long in the Legion. He was rejected on account of bad eyesight after about six months. Thereupon he sought adventure by himself in the desert and the second and larger part of the book described his experiences.

Arthur Lewis Martin returned to England in 1933 and, using the pen-name Brian Stuart, began writing about his experiences, with articles such as "Foot-Loose in the Sahara" for Blackwoods and "Across the Sahara on Foot", for Pearson's Magazine in 1934. That same year he began broadcasting on the BBC, with "Legend of the Foreign Legion" broadcast on 7 September 1934, followed by two contributions to the "Rolling Stone" series:  "Banks, Barracks, and Bivouacs", broadcast on 7 November 1934, and "Footloose in the Sahara", broadcast on 12 December 1934. These and other articles for the likes of Windsor, which became the basis for Adventure in Algeria. While establishing himself as a writer, he was also spent some time between 1933 and 1935 selling vacuum cleaners in London.

It was during this period, shortly after his return to England, that Martin became embroiled in another court case. On 9 May 1934, the Highgate Sessions heard the case of Mrs. Doris Blodwin Hudgell, who was applying for a separation order against her husband, Frederick Louis Hudgell. The case was complicated by her husband's cross petition asking for custody of their daughter. The couple had married in April 1929 and daughter Barbara was born in 1931. Mr. Hudgell worked as a motor-fitter for the L.N.E.R., earning £2 18s. a week.

Mrs. Hudgell revealed that Mr. Hudgell had been "difficult to manage" on New Year's Eve and had smashed a panel of a kitchen cupboard, knocked her against the fireplace and nearly broke her back. On April 24 he had flown out of bed in a mad rage, ripped her pyjama coat from her, picked her up bodily and kicked her in the stomach several times. He left her the following day.

Mrs. Hudgell also alleged that her husband had been carrying on with another woman, and came home in the early hours of the morning. In the course of the previous three months he had assaulted her several times.

She had scrubbed floors to help pay off her husband's debts and, earlier in the year (1934), she had taken in a lodger at her husband's request. The lodger was Arthur Lewis Martin.

Martin, then living at the London Central Y.M.C.A., gave evidence that he had met Mrs. Hudgell at a Lyons Corner House and later responded to an invitation to tea with Mr. and Mrs. Hudgell. Later, arrangements were made for him to lodge at their home at 11 Woodside Grove, North Finchley. He was there for three weeks but left, he said, because he could not stand the way Hudgell treated his wife, and he did not think she should be left alone in the house with him. "Hudgell treated her abominably," he said. "I have seen him hit her frequently and squeeze her in the throat until she went red in the face. I have seen her knocked against the kitchen wall, and he pretended to cut her throat with a razor." Hudgell would threaten to injure her and then commit suicide. On one occasion, Martin had come into the kitchen and found Hudgell there with a girl on his knee.

The magistrate eventually decided that the case should have been settled by voluntary separation and that the summons for cruelty had not been established and was therefore dismissed. However, the two were back before the magistrates on 6 June 1934, with Mrs. Hudgell claiming desertion and alleged wilful neglect of their daughter; she also asked for custody of the child. The case was again adjourned as Mr. Lincoln (appearing for Mr. Hudgell) had not passed on material relating to an allegation of misconduct by Mrs. Hudgell. When the case resumed two weeks later, Mr. Ricketts (for Mrs. Hudgell) said that the promised material had only been handed over the weekend before the case was to be heard and it appeared that the husband was "trying to starve his wife into submission." The case was again adjourned.

Eventually, on 4 July, the case was heard. Mrs. Hudgell strenuously denied having had an affair with a man named Hopton in 1932. Nor had she misconducted herself with the lodger, Arthur Lewis Martin.

Giving evidence, Mr. Hudgell said that after he had been living with them for some time, Martin had told him that he liked his wife and wanted to marry her. Martin, said Hudgell, suggested that he (Hudgell) should go away with another woman and commit adultery with her so that his wife could get a divorce. Martin had appeared at the May hearing during which he had said, "I am not going to pretend I am not in love with Mrs. Hudgell, partly in sympathy owing to the treatment she got from her husband. The fact that she is married I cannot help. Nor can I help the fact she is not in love with me."

The case was eventually found in Mrs. Hudgell's favour and she was given custody of the child.

(* In Part 2: Arthur Lewis Martin becomes Brian Arthur Lewis Stuart and begins writing novels... and ends up in jail.)

Friday, May 26, 2017

Comic Cuts - 26 May 2017

For someone who lives a relatively quiet life stuck at home either in front of the computer or the TV, this has been an exciting week. On Sunday we headed into town to see comedian Susan Calman, who you probably know from The News Quiz or her solo show Susan Calman is Convicted on Radio 4, lathough she pops up on TV with surprising regularity, appearing regularly on CBBC and hosting an afternoon quiz show called The Boss, which despite her every effort is just terrible.

We last saw her on her Lady Like tour, way back on 24 October 2014. Looking back at the Friday column after the gig, I see that it wasn't even mentioned, the column dominated by the demise of our washing machine and the need to generate a few book sales so we could afford a new one. I think I had reached a point where I knew I was going to have to sort out a paying job at some point and lack of funds was weighing on me.

Fast forward two-and-a-half years and I was pretty much in the same boat until a fortnight ago. I've just started work on a new project for my old boss at Look and Learn. I don't want to say much as it's not my project and not up to me to reveal all but it basically revolves around the idea of producing an illustrated dictionary for modern day social media consumption.

I've only been working on it for a few days, but I have to admit that I'm rather enjoying it. Mind you I'm only a couple of hundred entries in. Let's see how I feel once we pass the couple of thousand mark.

This doesn't mean the Valiant book is on hold. I should be able to do the two together, although I did take a couple of days off (Thursday through Sunday of last week) to write a three-parter that will be starting here at Bear Alley tomorrow, all about a writer named Brian Stuart... only he wasn't named Brian Stuart originally. I thought I'd be able to tackle him fairly quickly, but every time I thought I'd found everything, something else would turn up which shed new light on him.

But you can start reading all about him tomorrow. My point is that the article was utterly consuming as far as time was concerned, so I put in a couple of days on another side project that I've been doing, which is to index old annuals... and if you've listed the contents of an annual you'll know that it, too, is surprisingly time consuming. Especially if, like me, you spend a couple of hours trying to figure out where all of the strips and features were reprinted from (as was the case with many annuals from the 1970s); that can be made doubly hard if the strips were originally Italian.

I managed to catch up a bit, completing the original run of Eagle Annual from 1952 to 1975, and mailed off the results to fellow collectors who are also involved in this madness. Wednesday involved the first trip to the dentist in quite some while, and, bar a trip to a hygienist in June, that should be it for another six months. All I can say is, kids, don't take up smoking. I did, and although I gave up a few years ago, I'm still paying the price of a thirty-a-day, thirty-five year habit.

Monday night we were out on the town again, this time to a book launch. Or books, plural, launch as it was for the latest novels by James Garbutt and Henry Sutton. Both are better known as James Henry, although they only collaborated on one novel under that name, the first of a series of prequels based on R.D. Wingfield's Jack Frost character (famously played by David Jason in the long-running TV series). James then took over the name and has subsequently written three more Frost novels—the latest one released this month—and a stand-alone featuring another policeman which was set around the local Colchester area (Blackwater, just out in paperback).

Meanwhile, Henry has just published his tenth novel and, looking to start a new series, has written it under the name Harry Brett. I'm not revealing any deep, dark secret... he's plugging the book on his website.

The two make an excellent double act and the chat was full of anecdotes and insights into their writing processes and how those different processes caused problems when they came to collaborate. It was a highly entertaining hour and I got the latest Frost signed for my Mum as she's enjoyed the previous three and it was her birthday this week. I haven't seen her to pass it on, yet, so it'll be a nice surprise [I can say that because she doesn't have a computer and isn't reading this!]

Following on from last week's cover scans, here are a few more books by comedians.


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Search/Destroy: A Strontium Dog Fan Film now online

The Strontium Dog fan movie Search/Destroy has been released and is available online:




In the far future strontium-90 fallout has created a race of mutants, outcasts from society, despised by the ‘norms’ and given only the dirtiest job - bounty hunting. Johnny Alpha is one such mutant, working for the Search/Destroy (Strontium Dog) Agency, hunting down criminals for the Galactic Crime Commission, aided by his trusty Viking sidekick, Wulf Sternhammer.

Search/Destroy: A Strontium Dog Fan Film, is an unofficial, not for profit project, based on the work of John Wagner, Carlos Ezquerra and Alan Grant. The short film is produced by the team behind the Judge Dredd based fan film - Judge Minty, and follows Johnny and Wulf as they investigate a spate of Strontium Dog disappearances.

Featuring Matthew Simpson as Johnny Alpha and Kevin Horsham as Wulf Sternhammer, preview screenings and production images have received positive reactions from co-creators John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra. The film received its premiere at 2000 AD’s 40 Years of Thrill-Power Festival, on February the 11th 2017 and is now available to view online for free.

Rebellion Releases (2000AD)

Rebellion releases 24 May 2017

2000AD Prog 2032
Cover: D'Israeli
Judge Dredd: Sons of Booth by TC Eglington (w) Nick Dyer (a) Chris Blythe (c) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Defoe: Diehards by Pat Mills (w) Colin MacNeil (a) Ellie De Ville (l)
Brink: Skeleton Life by Dan Abnett (w) INJ Culbard (a) Simon Bowland (l)
Scarlet Traces: Cold War - Book 2 by Ian Edginton (w) D'Israeli (a) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Cursed: The Fall of Deadworld by Kek-W (w) Dave Kendall (a) Annie Parkhouse (l)

Monday, May 22, 2017

Illustrators #18 (Spring 2017)

Mort Drucker, who leads off the latest issue of Illustrators, is famous for his caricatures of movies, TV shows, stars and celebrities. To anyone who has ever stumbled across MAD Magazine his work is instantly recognisable. His strength is that he not only produces spot on caricatures but that he places them in richly detailed and realistic settings. This maybe reflects his earliest artistic experiences drawing backgrounds for 'Debby Dean, Career Girl' for six months in 1947.

The 18-year-old had no formal art training but soon found himself working on the staff at National (later DC Comics) before going freelance in the 1950s, which led him to work as a cover artist (notably for Time), poster artist and illustrator for books, magazines, comics and advertising for the next six decades. Answering an advert in 1956 led him to MAD Magazine and launched a 55-year relationship which saw him parody everything from Saturday Night Fever to Star Trek.

Not so well known is Ernest Garcia Cabral, a Mexican cartoonist who trained in Paris and learned to tango in Buenos Aires. He brought Art Nouveau and Art Deco painting to South America, acted in movies and was one of the leading newspaper and magazine illustrators of the 1920s to the '60s.

 
This is followed by my favourite piece in this issue: a look at the origins and art of Puffin Books. The famous imprint was launched by Penguin Books-creator Allen Lane in 1939 at the suggestion of Country Life editor Noel Carrington when they met over lunch a year earlier. With Puffin Picture Books a success, 1940 saw the arrival of Puffin Story Books, but the line only became a phenomenon with the arrival of Kaye Webb, who grew the publishing line from 150 titles to 1,200 in her 20 years in charge.

Somewhat cheekily, this issue includes an interview with Illustrators editor, Peter Richardson, himself an illustrator, while the issue is wrapped up with a brief piece on Katyuli Lloyd, who found early success with her illustrations for Virginia Woolf's Flush: A Biography, which earned her a number of award nominations and commissions from The Folio Society. The issue closes with a short appreciation of John Watkiss.

 
For more information on Illustrators and back issues, visit the Book Palace website, where you can also find details of their online editions, and news of upcoming issues. Issue 19 will feature James (Dinotopia) Gurney, Erik Kriek, J.O.B. and Philip Mendoza.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Alexander Wilson

Alexander Joseph Patrick Wilson was born in Dover on 24 October 1893, to an English father (Alexander Wilson, 1864-1919) and an Irish mother (Annie Maria, nee O'Toole, 1866-1936), who were married in Hong Kong in 1886. His father had had a 40-year career in the British Army from 15-year-old boy bugler to Colonel in the Royal Army Medical Corps when he died in 1919. His father served throughout the Boer War, receiving the Queen Victoria and King Edward VII medals. He was mentioned in despatches for his managing and supplying of hospital ships and trains from the Western Front. In the final year of World War I he was responsible for all medical supplies to the British Army in Europe.

In his childhood Alexander Wilson's family followed his father to Mauritius, Singapore, Hong Kong and Ceylon. He was educated at St. Joseph's College, Hong Kong, a prestigious public school, and St Boniface's Catholic College in Plymouth where he played amateur soccer.

Wilson was a Naval Cadet in 1911-12, training at Devonport. He served in the Royal Navy at the start of World War I. A reference in a War Office document indicated he had been in the Royal Naval Air Service and crashed his plane. He was then commissioned in 1915 in the Royal Army Service Corps escorting motor transports and supplies to France.

On 2 March 1916, Wilson married Gladys Ellen Kellaway (1896-1991), the daughter of Frank Herbert Kellaway, a retired postal clerk, and Ellen Mary (nee Collier). Gladys lived at Foxbury, Lyndhurst, and Wilson at the time was living in Princes Crescent, Lyndhurst, the two marrying at the local church.

That same year, Wilson received disabling injuries to his knee and shrapnel wounds to the left side of his body before being invalided, and received the Silver War Badge. He attempted to re-enlist, pretending he was perfectly fit when he arrived at a recruitment office in 1917. Wilson's first son, Adrian, was born that same year.

In 1919, Wilson joined the merchant navy, serving as a purser on a requisitioned German liner SS Prinzessin, sailing from London to Vancouver via South Africa, China and Japan. He was arrested on his arrival in Vancouver, accused of stealing £151 and sentenced to six months with hard labour at Oakalla Prison Farm, British Columbia.

Wilson and his wife were actor-managers of a world-renowned touring repertory company in the early 1920s, during which time they had two more children, Dennis (1921) and Daphne (1922).

Responding to an advert in The Times, Wilson—now using the name Alexander Douglas Gordon Chesney Wilson—went to India to become Professor of English Literature at Islamia College, the University of Punjab in Lahore (now part of Pakistan). He began writing spy novels while in India and received his first contract for The Mystery of Tunnel 51 from Longmans and Green Co. in 1927. His fictional chief of the British Intelligence Service, Sir Leonard Wallace, first appears in Chapter IX from page 59. There is no documentary evidence that Wilson himself had any connections with MI6 (The Secret Intelligence Service), MI5 (The Security Service) IPI (Indian Political Intelligence in London) or the Indian Intelligence Bureau in Delhi at this time.

While in the post at Lahore, he travelled around the North-West Frontier, learned Urdu and Persian and was appointed an honorary Major in the Indian Army Reserve while in command of Islamia College's UTC (University Training Corps) which amounted to half a company. In his application for the Emergency Officer War Reserve in 1939 he said that during these years, he also spent time in Arabia, Ceylon and Palestine. Wilson had a leading role in Lahore's only all Muslim College that educated and trained for the British Indian Army the sons of Waziristan Chiefs and farmers from the North West Frontier. The Soviet Comintern was active in subversion and supporting insurrection. Between 1928 and 1932 the British authorities were combating a heightening of terrorist plots and assassinations. Tensions were raised by hunger strikes and the Lahore Conspiracy Case during which pro-independence activists died and were sentenced to death.

He was interviewed and appointed as an English professor by the then principal of Islamia College, Abdullah Yusuf Ali (an author, academic and educationalist who went on to translate the Quran). Wilson provided a positive and sympathetic portrait of Abdullah in his second novel The Devil's Cocktail (1928), as the principal of a fictional Sheranwalla College, Lahore. He succeeded Yusuf Ali as principal of Islamia College in 1928 until he resigned in 1931.

His first spy novel, The Mystery of Tunnel 51, featuring the character Sir Leonard Wallace, was published in 1928. The struggle by Wallace and his intelligence officers and agents to battle against the Soviet Union, terrorism and subversion in the British Empire, the tentacles of global organised crime, and Nazi Germany would feature in eight subsequent novels. That same year he also published The Devil's Cocktail.

Wilson's first four books were published by Longmans Green & Co in 1928–1931 and in addition to the two spy novels first featuring Sir Leonard Wallace and the British Secret Service, Murder Mansion (1929) and The Death of Dr. Whitelaw were both crime thrillers.

It was during this period that Wilson met Dorothy Phyllis Wick an actress and singer who arrived in India with the Grand Guignol Theatre Company. As early as 1928, newspapers in Lahore were giving her name as Mrs. Dorothy Wilson, although no record has been found of a marriage. Her husband began editing a daily English-language newspaper in Lahore in 1931 while Dorothy returned to England.

Alexander followed in 1933 and, in October 1933, Dorothy gave birth to a son, Michael Wilson. The family lived in Little Venice in London W9, but after 18 months Alexander Wilson returned to his first wife and family, now living in Southampton. After a further 18 months, in 1935 Wilson moved to London, telling Gladys that he intended to find somewhere for them all to live. Instead, he returned to Dorothy.

Wilson's next novel, The Crimson Dacoit, appeared in 1933 from Herbert Jenkins, who thereafter became his main publisher of novels for the next seven years. The novel was well-received by The Scotsman, who described it as
... a romance of modern Indian politics and crime by a writer, Major Alexander Wilson, who has considerable knowledge of the field and the subject. A series of risings, accompanied by outrages, occur in a district of the Punjab in which Ian Hunter is a superintendent of police. They culminate, to his mind, in the abduction of an English girl in whom he takes a personal interest. In the quest, zealous and efficient help is rendered by another, but a native, member of the Indian police, Rai Bahadur Surdar Gopal Singh, and suspicion falls on a certain Ram Chandra Jawaya Pal, a graduate of Cambridge, as being a secret agent of the Revolutionaries, although behind him is perceived the mysterious figure of the "Crimson Dacoit," so called because he keeps his face partially covered by a crimson veil. Failing other means of tracing the headquarters of the gang, where they have hidden Vera Saunders, Hunter and his two friends, Lambert and Chesney, set out on a private quest, very ill provided, as quickly turns out, with the means of accomplishing their purpose. They succeed, however, in tracing the dacoits to a cave in a nullah in the hills, where a thunderstorm and flood come in a timely way to their assistance; and, as the acute reader of the story may have come to suspect, the real villain of the piece is discovered in the immaculate Gopal Singh. (The Scotsman, 23 March 1933)
Two months later, T. Werner Laurie published another story by Wilson, which could not have been more different. Confessions of a Scoundrel appeared under the pseudonym of Geoffrey Spencer, the same surname used by the first actual 'C' Mansfield Smith-Cumming when renting the MI6 headquarters at 2 Whitehall Court. The book was a dramatic autobiography of a jewel-thief, forger, burglar and murderer, which some reviewers took to be factual. "Ericus" of The Bystander offered his blunt opinion:
Villainy, unmitigated and unashamed, is the main-spring of Confessions of a Scoundrel by Geoffrey Spencer. This is, I imagine, fiction founded on a modicum of fact, though how much of it is fact and how much fiction, I would not like to say—and, anyway, who cares about that? The central figure of this autobiography was set on the downward path by a pious fraud of a parson and early acquired that craving for women and the excitement that goes, as he says, with making money unlawfully, which brought him inevitably to the stickiest of endings. A crude, callous, and somewhat naive record of the glittering underworld of Europe, Australia and America, of card-sharping and forgery and jewel-thieving and brothel-keeping, ending with the violent extinction of the clergyman who began it all. (The Bystander, 31 May 1933)
Wilson's biographer, Tim Crook, has noted that the book "bears very close resemblance to the text, plot and theme of a novel published a year later by Herbert Jenkins titled ‘The Sentimental Crook’." Wilson's 1934 novel featured Michael Granville, who specialises in card-sharping and forgery and shows considerable ingenuity in planning his 'coups'. The Scotsman (28 May 1934) thought it daring to make such a character the hero of the book, but "There was something to be said for the young man, but not much. The excitement of the game meant more to him than its rewards, and he had been brought up very neglectfully. At any rate, his exploits are thrilling enough, but it is a pity that his eventual reformation is caused by a realisation, following a spell in prison, that the game is not worth the candle, rather than on moral grounds."
Tim Crook notes that only one New Zealand journalist appears to have noticed the similarities between the two books:
...here's a case of two novels which, although the books have different titles, were brought out by different publishers, and bear different names of authors, are almost identical, except for some pages at the beginning and the end of the volumes.
The reviewer for the Evening Post (26 September 1935) noted that "Certain incidents have been given a slight 'twist' in detail, but generally the settings and characters are the same. When approached on the matter of this 'coincidence' neither publisher would make a statement; they were 'going into the question.'"

Clearly Herbert Jenkins had no problems with the situation, as Wilson's books were proving very popular with the reading public and, one has to assume, none of the reading public had complained. Wilson had reintroduced Sir Leonard Wallace in a series of books that appeared throughout the 1930s, beginning with Wallace of the Secret Service (1933), a collection of stories which ranged through Egypt, Morocco, Russia, Greece and India, Get Wallace (1934), a novel involving the theft of national secrets in the UK, and His Excellency, Governor Wallace (1935), which saw Wallace solving a plot to undermine British control in Hong-Kong.

The following review of Wilson's next novel will give you an idea of how popular his books were with contemporary reviewers:
Alexander Wilson in “Microbes of Power” paints for us a picture of possibilities for a future war, when some ruthless power may utilise the  myriads of disease germs to cripple a rival nation.
    Certainly in this yarn,  when Sir Leonard Wallace, Head of the British Secret Service, and his subordinates get on the track of obscure events in Cyprus, they did not think they were being led up to a gigantic conspiracy to lay the world in ruins. The narrative is couched in the most exciting vein, with unexpected twists to the theme. It is hackneyed to say that it is impossible to put such a book down, but this only comes into this class. Adventures and death build up to a terrific climax in a burning house , and he will be a very exacting reader who does not get his money’s worth out of “Microbes of Power.” (Gloucester Citizen, 3 August 1937)
The next Wallace novel, Wallace at Bay (1938), took place in and around Little Venice, an area very familiar to its author, where Wallace tackles international anarchists. Wallace Intervenes (1939) dealt explicitly with Nazi Germany – even featuring a huge swastika on the cover – and concerned a British agent who has fallen in love with a confident of Marshal von Strom, who has him imprisoned and the girl sentenced to death.

This was followed by the collection The Chronicles of the Secret Service (1940), containing three novellas set in Hong-Kong, Afghanistan and London.

He also published under two further pseudonyms. Under the name Gregory Wilson, writing for The Modern Publishing Company, he authored The Factory Mystery and The Boxing Mystery in 1938. Under the name Michael Chesney he wrote a trilogy of further spy novels of imperial adventure featuring the central character Colonel Geoffrey Callaghan 'Chief of Military Intelligence' between 1938 and 1939. Callaghan of Intelligence, "Steel" Callaghan and Callaghan Meets His Fate were published by Herbert Jenkins. The novel Double Masquerade and the previously mentioned Wallace collection, both published by Herbert Jenkins in 1940, proved to be his last.

It was Michael, Alexander Wilson's son by his second marriage, who, in 2005 at the age of 73, began the investigation into his father's past. He had changed his name by deed poll to Mike Shannon when setting out on his career as an actor and poet. When he was only nine years old his mother and her family told him his father had been killed in the Battle of El Alamein and he did not discover the truth until 2006.

Michael suspected his father was involved in intelligence activities as an agent in the 1920s and 1930s and he based this supposition on his memory of seeing his father meet Joachim Ribbentrop at the German Embassy in Carlton House Terrace, London in the spring of 1938 and other meetings with mysterious men to whom his father spoke fluent German. It is certain that Wilson was in MI6 in 1940, by which time he had left Michael's mother Dorothy and met his third wife, Alison McKelvie, a secretary in MI6.

They were married on 8 September 1941 in Kensington, London (Wilson using the name Alexander Douglas Gordon Wilson), a few months after the death of Alison's father, George Lockhart McKelvie, a solicitor. The couple had been living together for some months and a son, Gordon, was born in January 1942.

In 1942, Wilson told his wife Alison that he was dismissed from MI6 to go into the field as an agent. He said his subsequent misadventures, including being declared bankrupt, though never discharged, and being jailed for petty crime, were part of the cover he had to adopt for operational reasons.

In May 2013 a second tranche of Foreign Office files connected with intelligence matters was released to the National Archives at Kew. This included a file marked 'The Case of the Egyptian Ambassador,' and concerned an MI5 investigation into alleged espionage by the ambassador and his staff in London from the beginning of the war. The papers refer to an SIS/MI6 translator who was accused of embroidering his record of eavesdropping on telephone calls to and from the Embassy. Although the translator's name is redacted it is likely to refer to Alexander Wilson since the details disclosed match those included in the first part of Alison Wilson's memoir written for her two sons and quoted from in Tim Crook's biography of Wilson, The Secret Lives of a Secret Agent, published in 2010.

The file reveals that the translator of Hindustani, Persian and Arabic had joined the service in October 1939 and been dismissed from SIS in October 1942. It was reported that he had faked a burglary at his flat and been in serious trouble with the police. The Director General of MI5 Brigadier Sir David Petrie stated that the fact he was no longer in the service was: '...perhaps some small compensation for the amount of trouble to which his inventive mind has put us all. A fabricator, such as this man was, is a great public danger.' The then Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, Sir Stewart Menzies wrote: 'I do not think it at all likely that we shall again have the bad luck to strike a man who combines a blameless record, first rate linguistic abilities, remarkable gifts as a writer of fiction, and no sense of responsibility in using them!

During the war, with the publishing industry in chaos, Wilson, then living at 32 Craven Hill Gardens, London W2, went into bankruptcy in January 1944. He was receiving financial aid from his eldest son Adrian around this time, although his bankruptcy notice reveals that he is "temporarily employed in a Government Department".

On 2 October 1944, as Alexander Joseph Wilson, he was charged at Marylebone with masquerading as a colonel in the Indian Army with seven decorations, to four of which he was not entitled.A detective said that he stopped Wilson when he was wearing the uniform, R.A.F. wings, D.S.O., D.S.C., the laurel leaf for mention in despatches, and the Croix-de-Guerre, in addition to the three decorations from the Great War to which he was entitled. Wilson told the magistrate he hated being out of khaki at this time, and this masquerade was sheer madness. He admitted the charge of wearing the uniform contrary to the Defence Regulations, and was remanded.

During his trial at Marylebone later that month, Detective-Sergeant Manning said that the accused was living far beyond his income from writing and had been under police observation for some time because he had been posing as a colonel. Wilson said that he was keen to get back into the army and it played on his mind when he was not accepted. The Magistrate said it was a scandalous thing to do and fined Wilson £10.

Wilson found work as a cinema manager, but was prosecuted in 1948 for embezzling the takings from one of the cinemas. He subsequently worked as a porter in the casualty unit of West Middlesex Hispital. Whilst there, he met and, in January 1955, married a 27-year-old nurse, Elizabeth Hill, with whom he had another son, Douglas. Elizabeth and Duncan later moved to Scotland, although she kept in touch with her husband, who continued his parallel life, living with Alison.

She had suffered greatly from Wilson's fantastical lies, one of the earliest that he was a relative of Winston Churchill and his grand home had been requisitioned and would be returned once the war was over. His arrest in 1944 occurred as they were leaving Sunday Mass, Alison pregnant with their second son, Nigel. After his second period of imprisonment, they were forced to move regularly: 17 times in  17 years. His compulsion to lie continued: in later life he claimed he was returning to work for the Foreign Office when, in fact, he obtained a job as a clerk at Sandersons Wallpaper factory in Perivale, Ealing.

Wilson died at 13 Lancaster Gardens, Ealing, W13, of a heart attack due to atheroma on 4 April 1963, aged 69. While Alison was aware of his affairs, and knew of Dorothy (from whom she believed Wilson was divorced) and her son Michael, she only found out about Wilson's first wife and children whilst dealing with his papers. Wilson was buried in Milton Cemetery, Portsmouth, where Alison first met Grace – pretending to be distant relatives to keep the truth from Alison's sons.

At first with no tombstone, although one was erected in 2008 following a gathering of Wilson's extended family.

Sam Wilson, a BBC journalist, wrote a lengthy article for The Times in 2010 that explored the impact of his grandfather's complicated private life on his various families."In total he had four families; four wives and seven children ... None of the families was aware of any other. But he tended to them all – lavishing the same love and attention on them [all] ... he was a loving dad, generous, fun and a sincere Roman Catholic."

Wilson made a number of attempts to revive his literary career in later life, four unpublished manuscripts surviving him: the thriller Murder in Duplicate, a western The Englishman From Texas, a spy thriller Out of the Land of Egypt (written in the late 1950s as by Col. Alan C. Wilson; the author previously used the title in Wallace of the Secret Service) and a handwritten MS dating from 1961.

In 2015–16 Allison & Busby republished nine of Wilson's Wallace of the Secret Service novels. The Daily Mail said of the re-issue of The Mystery of Tunnel 51 "prepare for a romping read," and that it was the "first of nine fast and furious adventures."

PUBLICATIONS

Novels
The Mystery of Tunnel 51. London, Longmans, Green and Co., 1928.
The Devil's Cocktail. London, Longmans, Green and Co., 1928.
Murder Mansion. London, Longmans, Green and Co., 1929.
The Death of Dr. Whitelaw. London, Longmans, Green and Co., 1930.
The Crimson Dacoit. London, Herbert Jenkins, Mar 1933.
The Confessions of a Scoundrel (as Geoffrey Spencer). London, T Werner Laurie, May 1933.
Wallace of the Secret Service. London, Herbert Jenkins, 1933.
Get Wallace! London, Herbert Jenkins, 1934.
The Sentimental Crook. London, Herbert Jenkins, Apr 1934.
The Magnificent Hobo. London, Herbert Jenkins, 1935.
His Excellency, Governor Wallace. London, Herbert Jenkins, 1936.
Microbes of Power. London, Herbert Jenkins, 1937.
Mr Justice. London, Herbert Jenkins, 1937.
Double Events. London, Herbert Jenkins, 1937.
Wallace At Bay. London, Herbert Jenkins, 1938.
The Factory Mystery (as Gregory Wilson). London, Modern Publishing Company, 1938.
The Boxing Mystery (as Gregory Wilson). London, Modern Publishing Company, 1938.
Callaghan of Intelligence (as Michael Chesney). Herbert Jenkins, 1938.
Scapegoats for Murder. London, Herbert Jenkins, Mar 1939.
"Steel" Callaghan (as Michael Chesney). London, Herbert Jenkins, Mar 1939.
Callaghan Meets His Fate (as Michael Chesney). London, Herbert Jenkins, Nov 1939.
Wallace Intervenes. London, Herbert Jenkins, Dec 1939.
Double Masquerade. London, Herbert Jenkins, Mar 1940.
Chronicles of the Secret Service. London, Herbert Jenkins, Aug 1940.

Non-fiction
Selected English Prose Stories for Indian Students, with Mohammad Din. Lahore, Shamsher Singh & Co., 1926.
Four Periods of Essays. Lahore, Rai Sahib M. Gulab Singh & Sons, 1928.
Selected English Essays (From Steele to Benson). Lahore, Uttar Chand Kapur & Sons, 1930.

(* I picked up a novel by Alexander Wilson on Saturday and, knowing nothing about him,  checked him out on Wikipedia. His life and various careers proved utterly fascinating, hence this column, which is partly based on his Wikipedia entry – they've lifted plenty from Bear Alley, so I think it's only fair – although I've added many additional details. Further details about his work can be found at Tim Crook's website, Alexander Wilson – Author, Adventurer and Spy)

Friday, May 19, 2017

Comic Cuts - 19 May 2017

After my production slowdown of last week, I've managed to pick up the pace somewhat, with some actual, honest-to-god paying work being squeezed in alongside my various projects.

Chief amongst the latter, of course, is the Valiant index, for which I've still got to think of a title. At the last count my notes for the introduction ran to 37,000 words, which is way beyond what I was anticipating. Admittedly Valiant ran to many more issues than some of the titles I've tackled over the past few years (Ranger, Boys' World, Countdown), but I was expecting the text to run to around 40,000 total, not with five years history still to cover. It does at least explain why it is taking me so long to put together.

I had hoped to have the book out in time for the arrival of One-Eyed Jack, the Rebellion reprint, but I'm definitely going to miss that deadline by a mile. Could I have the book out in time for the release of The Leopard From Lime Street, which follows on the 12th of July? I very much doubt it, as the longer text also means more pages to design, more words to proof, etc. But hopefully by July I'll be getting close.

Rebellion, incidentally, have released a new cover image and also announced a 200-copy limited edition hardcover which will include a numbered bookplate and art print. You can pre-order the books via Rebellion's new Treasury of British Comics website.

There are a number of other British comics reprints on the horizon and not limited to the titles announced by Rebellion back in March. Titan are also publishing a new Dan Dare volume, continuing the series of earlier titles, in October. I'm not sure what the precise contents will be but the volume seems to pick up from the last (Trip to Trouble, published in 2010) in the middle of Eagle volume 11 (1960), so I'm guessing it might include "Mission of the Earthmen" and "The Solid Space Mystery", the latter reintroducing Dan's nemesis, The Mekon.

At the moment, the promo cover has a slight error, giving the title as "Mission of the Earthman" (singular) rather than the "Earthmen" (plural) of the original Eagle strip. An easy mistake to make, but it will hopefully be fixed before the book goes to print. At the moment, the book is due out on 24 October 2017.

The Amazon entry for the book unhelpfully lists the authors as Frank Hampson and Frank Bellamy, neither of which had anything to do with the strips at that point. Don Harley and Bruce Cornwell were the chief artists for the next couple of years, with Eric Eden writing scripts.

A month before that, on 12 September, we should be getting Hook Jaw: The Complete Original Collection, which is described as running to 160 pages... so it will certainly be more complete than the previous Hook Jaw collection from Spitfire Books, which ran to only 96 pages. I'm not sure if the book will include any strips from annuals or holiday specials, of which there were quite a few.

Rebellion have Marney the Fox out in September, too, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that these titles will all do well and we'll start seeing a few more reprints of old British comics on the horizon.

Random scans. I picked up a couple of books by comedians recently, then realised I had a few others from months gone by already scanned, so to lighten your day...