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Friday, November 27, 2015

Comic Cuts - 27 November 2015

I lead a very dull and uninteresting life most of the time. It's why my hobbies can so easily take over every working moment of the day. I was trying to think back over the past week, searching for something exciting to tell you and I came up with this: my electric razor has a long hair trimmer that you have to push up to engage. I use it quite a lot, but, on Friday last, it jammed in the upwards position, making it impossible for me to use the razor in the normal way. On Saturday I had to buy a new one and was surprised at how expensive they were because it has been so damn long since I bought the last one.

Surprise at how expensive things are nowadays is a kind of default setting for me as I rarely replace anything that still has some life in it. Electrical goods have to be utterly unworkable and clothing... well, the odd odd bit of wear and tear is fine as long as it's not obvious or obscene. After all, I work from home, so it's not as if anyone is going to see me.

I replaced a pair of shoes earlier this year because I'd literally worn a hole through the sole; I've finally dumped some t-shirts, pants and socks that were little better than dish rags; and I'm keeping a careful eye on one of my jumpers where the stitching has gone under the armpit. I don't want you to picture me as some kind of latter-day Scrooge, but I suspect that I am probably some kind of latter-day Scrooge. I'd rather spend my money on things I like rather than things that really don't need replacing. To illustrate this point, earlier today I found a photo of myself taken at my Dad's on Christmas Day 1993 and had to laugh because I was wearing the same jumper as I put on this morning.

Twenty-two years on there's some grey in my hair, little Alex is now big Alex and the ghostly figure at the window really is now a ghost (it's my Dad, outside having a cigarette, eight years before he died). But the jumper is still the same one!

Happy, slim days! I suspect I was about 3 stone lighter back then.

I'm hoping to pick up the pace on Bear Alley a little ahead of Christmas and will hopefully have a nice surprise for readers... a lost British comic strip that I'm trying to sort out now. It might start next week, it might not. It all depends on how quickly I can sort out the strips.

For our random scans this week, I thought I'd offer a few British reprints of Gold Medal hardboiled yarns. New Fiction Press published editions of novels by Edward Ronns, Bruno Fischer and Joseph Hilton Smuth, who wrote the anonymous I, Mobster. The covers are all redrawn after the originals, some of them very nicely done. Artwork for the original Gold Medal editions: The Lady Kills is uncredited, Catspaw Ordeal is by Willard Downes, while both I Can't Stop Running and I, Mobster are both by Barye Phillips. I have no idea who repainted the artwork for New Fiction Press but they made a pretty good job of it.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Case of Two Hazel Adairs

Hazel Joyce Marriott, formerly Mackenzie, formerly Hamblin, nee Willett

If you look at the Wikipedia entry for Hazel Adair you'll discover that she was born Hazel Iris Wilson in Norwich, Norfolk, on 30 May 1900 [Note: This has since been corrected]. The source for this information is the Science Fiction Encyclopedia and their source was ... me! I included the birth date in a batch of information submitted to the editors way back in May 2008 which then made its way into the master files of the encyclopedia.

Almost five years on and I'm here to say that I got it wrong. There are two Hazel Adairs and they have been conflated. The reason is because they were both writers and it was assumed by no less an authority than the British Library that all the works under the name Hazel Adair was by a single author. The novel Stranger From Space – the reason why Hazel is included in the SFE – is clearly labelled in the British Library Catalogue as the work of Hazel Iris Adair in collaboration with Ronald Marriott.

Not so, as we shall see.

As mentioned above, Hazel Adair was born Hazel Iris Wilson in Norwich, the daughter of Cecil Wilson, an electrical engineer, and his wife Annie M. Wilson. She was the third child, her elder siblings being Lawrence Cecil Wilson (1895- ) and Gerald Howard Wilson (1898- ). Cecil, her father, was a successful employer, with a number of servants recorded in the 1901 and 1911 census returns.

In 1926 she married Eric Elrington Addis, a Scotsman born in Edinburgh on 19 May 1899, the son of David F. Addis, a retired Indian Civil Servant, and his wife Emily. Addis was a naval officer and the young couple lived in Waitemata, Auckland, New Zealand in the late 1920s where Addis was a training officer aboard H.M.S. Philomel. Addis retired from the Navy in 1928 and shortly after returned to England where he studied law, becoming a barrister-at-law at the Admiralty bar. His family by then included two children, Valerie A. Addis (1929- ) and Jeremy Cecil Addis (1931- ), both born in Norfolk; they lived at Charlwood, Oxshott, Surrey, throughout in the 1930s. Hazel and her children were in Milford, Auckland, N.Z., during the war when Eric was killed by enemy action on 31 August 1941. He had rejoined the Navy and served in the Mediterranean and the North Sea. He was at Narvik in the Warspite, being mentioned in dispatches. Addis was also a writer of thrillers under the pen-name Peter Drax.

Hazel and her children returned to  England in 1945 and in 1959 she was living in Stowmarket, Suffolk. Her death was registered in Stowmarket, in October 1990 where she died, aged 90.

US copyright records registration for one of Hazel Adair's novels

Publications by Hazel Iris Addis, nee Wilson 

Novels as Hazel Adair
Wanted A Son. London, Hutchinson & Co., 1935.
Mistress Mary. London, Hutchinson & Co., 1936.
A Torch is Lit. London, Hutchinson & Co., 1936.
All the Trumpets. London, Hutchinson & Co., 1937.
Red Bunting. London, Hutchinson & Co., 1937.
Over the Stile. London, Hutchinson & Co., 1938.
Sparrow Market. London, Hutchinson & Co., 1938.
Bendiz and Son. London, Hutchinson & Co., 1939.
The Heritage. London, Hutchinson & Co., 1939.
Cockadays. London & Melbourne, Hutchinson & Co., 1940.
Mahogany and Deal. London & Melbourne, Hutchinson & Co., 1940.
The Lady of Garth House. London, Hutchinson & Co., 1941.
John Manifold. London, Hutchinson & Co., 1942.
Escape to Peril. London, Hutchinson & Co., 1944.
The Enamelled Bird-Cage. London, Hutchinson & Co., 1945.
Quoth the Raven. London, Hutchinson & Co., 1947.
Mistress of One. London, Hutchinson & Co., 1948.
Challenge to Seven. London, Hutchinson & Co., 1949.
The Gentle Vagabond. London, Hutchinson & Co., 1950
We Only Wanted Peter. London, Hutchinson & Co., 1952.
No Bells Rang. London, Hutchinson & Co., 1953.

Novels as A. J. Heritage
The Happy Years. London, Hutchinson & Co., 1938.

Plays as H. I. Addis
New Plays for Wolf Cubs, with V. V. Vanston. London, C. A. Pearson, 1935.

We now come to our second Hazel Adair. If you want immediate proof that Hazel is unrelated to Hazel Iris Addis, you only need to look below at the following interview by Peter York conducted in July 2010 – twenty years after Hazel Iris Addis died.

Tracking down the origins of Hazel is a little more tricky than one might expect for someone with a Wikipedia entry – which we now know to be wrong – and lengthy credits at IMDB. At one point, Wikipedia noted that she was born in Darjeeling, India, on 9 July 1920, subsequently altered to match the Science Fiction Encyclopedia place and date. (Not by me, but ... oops!)

Hazel Adair began her career as an actress appearing in films My Brother Jonathan (1948), Lady Precious Stream (1950) before turning to script writing for television in the late 1940s. She collaborated with Ronald Marriott on Stranger from Space (1951-53), a TV series about an alien who befriends a boy on Earth, the 1953 novelisation of which is cited in the SFE. 

The Times announced that on 14 August 1952 Hazel Adair and Ronald Marriott had a son, a brother for Colin, which clue pointed to their marriage in 1950. Or, as official records would put it, Norman Ronald Marriott (born 12 August 1922) married Hazel J. Mackenzie or Hamblin or Willett.

This confusion of names is due to Hazel's earlier marriage. The "brother for Colin" leads us to his birth record: Colin G. Mackenzie, born in Hendon, Middlesex, in 1942, mother's maiden name Hamblin. However, a little further digging reveals that she was not Hazel Hamlin but Hazel Joyce Willett, the daughter of Edward Walter Willett (1881-1945) and Ada Charlotte Willett (nee Rhames). Edward was an engineer stationed in Calcutta, India, until his daughter was nine months old.

The parents divorced in 1923 and Ada C. D. Willett married Edward C. C. Hamblin in 1925, probably Edward Charles Clifford Hamblin, 1890-1953. The marriage may not have lasted as there is a record of Edward re-marrying in 1947.

To get back to Hazel, her marriage ended shortly after the war. She began concentrating on writing following the success of her early scripts for the likes of Mrs Dale's Diary and went on the pen At Your Service, Ltd. (1951), Sixpenny Corner (1955-56) and Emergency-Ward 10 in 1957. She penned the movie version of the latter, Life In Emergency Ward 10 (1959) and went on to write Dentist on the Job (1961) for Bob Monkhouse. In 1962 she teamed up with Peter Ling to write Compact (1962-65) and went on to co-create both Crossroads (1964-86) and Champion House (1967-68) with Ling.

In the 1970s, with the British film industry in the doldrums with the exception of horror and sex-comedies, Hazel launched Pyramid Films and worked on various titles, starting with Clinic Xclusive (1971), co-writing the screenplay and co-producing the film with Kent Walton as Elton Hawke. This was followed by Virgin Witch (1971), co-produced with Walton as Ralph Solomons with Hazel writing the script under the pen-name Klaus Vogel. Hazel again adopted the disguise of Ralph Solomons to work as production manager on Fun and Games (1971) whilst Elton Hawke was again used by Hazel and Kent Walton to co-produce Can You Keep It Up For A Week? (1974). Hazel took full credit as producer and scriptwriter for Keep It Up Downstairs (1976), which was novelised by Elton Hawke.

Hazel was producer and 2nd unit director on the thriller Game for Vultures (1979), starring Richard Harris and Joan Collins.

According to Wikipedia, Adair also wrote the novel Blitz on Balaclava Street about an ambulance driver in the Second World War.

Hazel and Ronald Marriott had five children: Charles, Craig, Carol, Janet and Maria. Marriott died in 1972 but Hazel is still alive and well.

Update: Hazel Adair died on 22 November 2015, aged 95.

Obituary: BBC News (24 November 2015); The Guardian (23 November 2015).

Publications by Hazel Joyce Marriott, nee Willett

Novels as Hazel Adair
Stranger from Space, with Ronald Marriott, illus. Antony Hart. London, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1953.
Life in Emergency Ward 10, with Tessa  Diamond. London, Anthony Blond, 1959.

Novels as Clare Nicol
Blitz on Balaclava Street. London, Macdonald, 1983.

Non-fiction as Hazel Adair
The Crossroads Cookbook, with Peter Ling. London, W. H. Allen, 1977.

Compact. Adapted by Janet Grey from the BBC Television series by Hazel Adair and Peter Ling. London, Icon Books, 1962.
Compact 2 adapted by Janet Grey from the BBC Television series by Hazel Adair and Peter Ling. London, Icon Books, 1963.

There remain some nagging queries that need to be answered. For instance, according to Wikipedia, the novelisation of Virgin Witch (Corgi, 1971) was penned by Crossroads producer Beryl Vertue using Hazel Adair's pen-name Klaus Vogel. Is that information correct? And who wrote the novelisation of Clinic Xclusive, published by Corgi in 1972 under the pen-name Elton Hawke. Was this also by Vertue, or perhaps by Hawke collaborators Adair and Walton?

Elton Hawke was also the credited author of the novelisation of Keep It Up Downstairs (Everest, 1976). Was this by Adair or could it have been novelised by her occasional writing partner Walton?

(* The photograph at the top of this column is from the website of Hazel Adair's granddaughter, Cate Mackenzie. Originally post 5 January 2013.)

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Spaceship Away #37 (Autumn 2015)

The latest issue of Spaceship Away has landed on my doormat and is, as usual, a winner from first—a Don Harley cover featuring Dan, Dig and Sir Hubert under attack in a scene from Terra Nova—to last.

Tim Booth provides two ongoing tales of Dan Dare & Co., with 'Mercury Revenant' and 'Parsicular Tales' reaching episodes 12 and 21 respectively. Booth's two tales continue to be thoroughly entertaining and, even though 'Parsicular Tales' is celebrating its fifth birthday, having started in the Autumn 2010 issue, it can still surprise readers, in this issue revealing the secret identity of Scobal, the man behind the latest telesender technology.

Jet Morgan reaches episode 3 of his latest adventure drawn by Terry Patrick and Ron Turner provides the artwork for episode 3 of "Planet of Doom", a Nick Hazard story based on the 1954 Vargo Statten novel A Time Appointed.

The connection between Turner and Statten (John Russell Fearn) is explored by Phil Harbottle in an article that begins in 1950 with the publication of Turner's first SF book covers for Scion, where Fearn was about to begin a five year association that would see him produce over 50 SF novels. Although Fearn died in 1960, Harbottle has been indefatigable in keeping the author's books in print. As he was also a fan of Turner's art, he commissioned many new covers and recreations of old covers over a period of fourteen years until Turner's death in 1998. These were used on both reprints of old titles and on new works based on the Fearn legacy and continue to appear to this day.

Andrew Darlington explores the Dan Dare of the Eighties, revived in the pages of the New Eagle in 1982 and drawn by Gerry Embleton, Ian Kennedy, Oliver Frey and Carlos Cruz – fine artists all but hampered by the decline of the British comics industry which saw sales of the new Eagle fall by a third after its launch, causing the publisher to drop gravure printing... and Eagle became just another letterpress comic. Darlington will continue the story next issue.

The third and final article comes from the pen of Alan Vince and tells the story of Eric Eden, the quiet and unassuming artist once fired by Frank Hampson for being a "disturbing influence". He returned, Hampson having apologised, a couple of years later and later found himself scripting the strip for Don Harley and Bruce Cornwell. Eden's other great work was on "Lady Penelope" for TV Century 21, which he drew for a year, but after struggling to find work in the early 1970s, he took on a full-time job with the British Museum.

Rounding out the issue is the cartoon 'Davy Rocket' and a centrespread featuring another Don Harley illustration, this one imagining a meeting between Frank Hampson and Frank Bellamy.

You can find out more about the magazine, buy back issues and subscribe to the latest issues at the Spaceship Away website.


Friday, November 20, 2015

Comic Cuts - 20 November 2015

I spent a long weekend recording some audio for a project I'm trying to get off the ground but which won't be ready for some while, so I can't really go into details. As usual, I'm my own writer, narrator, sound-recordist, editor and music director, which is why everything I do takes so damn long.

My favourite bit is the research and writing. Most writers will say that the research is the best part of being a writer, but in my case, because most of my longer pieces are about subjects where there's very little known, the act of writing is almost like putting together a jigsaw puzzle and there's a lot of fun to be had building these pictures.

Putting structure to these pieces can be part of the fun. Back in the 1990s – especially 1994 to 1997 – I was writing huge amounts for various magazines, some of which I was editing. Comic World was one, and, faced with a fresh blank page every morning, I'd occasionally need to do something to keep my interest up or, even more often, just to find a way to get myself typing. I did a lot of interviews and found that I could often spark an idea by thinking about the subject of the interview and finding a related quote in a Book of Quotes. I often used this method to find titles and, once I'd typed in the title, the sentences seemed to flow.

Sometimes I would try structural tricks just to please myself. My favourite was an article that covered the release of five or six different new comics for which I had done nine (brief) interviews. I wasted a whole morning wondering what to do with mass of information... whether I should do five or six separate articles or whether I could do two or three and then do more the following month. The more I looked at it, the more confusing it got. Until I had a flash of inspiration and went out and bought a copy of Alice in Wonderland. Reading through the book I managed to find five or six little quotes which related to the five or six comics. So I used the quotes to get into a few paragraphs about the comics, topped and tailed the article with the beginning and the end of the book... and that's how the article was published a couple of weeks later. Nine interviews, all linked with quotes from Lewis Carroll.

I've just finished writing a roughly 6,000-word piece about an author. That's probably the longest piece I've written since May. I'm working on a couple of other longer pieces that will probably take a month or two to research – lots of reading, but of books that I'm looking forward to reading – and then a couple of weeks to write everything up. I've also had to spend some money on certificates, which I've now received and which proved very enlightening. There's one author I've been seeking information on for thirty-five years and he grows more interesting the more I learn. I can't wait to get the results written up.

As I was in town on another trip to the dentist on Wednesday, I dropped into one of the charity shops that I don't visit on a weekly basis as their turnover of books isn't great. They do, however, occasionally have pre-decimal paperbacks and I managed to pick up a couple. Enough for another themed set of random scans.

This time it's Corgi Books... I managed to pick up four, which I'll reveal in chronological order. A Night to Remember is Walter Lord's famous telling of the sinking of the Titanic. It was horribly creased but it looks great now I've attacked it in Photoshop. Its a beautifully moody cover, almost black and white, although I've seen other copies where the blue shows through a little better. No idea who the artist is, but I imagine that the book sold a lot of copies as it was tied in to the 1958 movie.

Next up, The Clydesiders by Hugh Munro, set in the Glasgow shipyards in the 1930s, written by a Scotsman who had worked in the shipyards. I've written about Munro before, so go take a look if you'd like to know more about him.

I produced a war-themed set of random scans a couple of weeks ago and I found another couple of novels from the same period when Sven Hassel was proving so popular that every publisher had to have their own series about German soldiers. Willi Heinrich's books were translated from German, the first in 1956 as The Willing Flesh, which was later filmed by Sam Peckinpah as Cross of Iron. His early novels are said to be very good, The Savage Mountain amongst them, although his later work was more pulpy and sexy to attract audiences in the Seventies and Eighties.

Lastly, The Big Red One by Sam Fuller, who appeared here on Bear Alley back in July when I was sorting out some old paperwork. I'm not sure which came first... whether Sam Fuller filmed his own novel, or novelised his own film. I think they developed at the same time, as both film and book came out in 1980 and the book has a post-script by Fuller discussing the making of the film.

I also found another Heinz Konsalik novel at the same charity shop. I still haven't figured out who the cover artist is, but I know I like him, so I thought I'd use it as this week's column header. This one dates from 1978. The Richard Burton biography (above) was also part of the same batch – 3 for a £1, so I had to find a sixth book.


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Commando issues 4863-4866

Commando issues on sale 19th November 2015.

Commando No 4863 – Legacy Of The Eagles
While researching his family history for a book, Ryan Carrick found out that he was descended from a long line of warriors. During World War II, however, he was stuck in a reserved occupation but eventually found a way to join up.
   From D-Day to the Battle of the Bulge, Ryan worked as a vehicle mechanic but also saw action. When two unscrupulous fellow soldiers discovered that their families could be disgraced if Ryan’s book were to be published, they set about trying to silence him. An age-old feud that had raged for centuries was about to end — once and for all.

With only a few notable exceptions — step forward the Convict Commandos — recurring characters have been rare on the pages of Commando over the last 50-odd years. However, we were of the opinion that you, our readers, might like a series which carried the story over more than one issue. With the pen of Ferg Handley recruited to do the writing, we decided that a historical saga spanning many generations would hit the spot.
   This saga began two years with the publication of “Eagles In Battle” (No 4655) in November 2013 — with twelve further instalments, including this, following after.
   As always, sincere thanks go to our comic creators. Ferg’s set of scripts were excellent and for one author to craft an ongoing story that began in Roman times and ends in the 20th Century was no mean feat. Thanks also to artist John Ridgway, who drew the first three stories, and, of course, to Keith Page for illustrating the rest. They all rose to the occasion.
   So, our century-striding, epic tale of three inter-linked, entirely fictional families has now reached its conclusion. This has been an ambitious project, something a little different for Commando but one that we hope you thought worthwhile. Enjoy the final chapter.—Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor

Story: Ferg Handley
Art: Keith Page
Cover: Keith Page

Commando No 4864 – Desert Traitor
Thundering across the desert wilderness came the savage band of Tuaregs-veiled warrior horsemen. Suddenly their mounts faltered, shied and pulled up, to stand trembling. Amazed, the Tuaregs cocked their rifles and looked around for signs of an enemy. Nothing! Then, from beyond a high ridge ahead came again the strange, unearthly sound that had frightened their mounts. A kind of music, it seemed to be.
   They dismounted and crept over to the edge of the bowl-shaped depression. One by one their heads came up, until the hollow was ringed with them. Every Arab was pop-eyed at what he saw down there!

This quirky classic from 1965 features a maverick Scottish captain, in charge of a tough team who specialise in hit-and-run raids. Sound familiar?
   No, this is not an unseen tale from half a century ago featuring our popular “Ramsey’s Raiders” squad.
   Desert Traitor’s main protagonist, Captain Rory Maclean, may have some similarities to his fellow officer, Jimmy Ramsey, but these are genuinely coincidental, however surprising.
   So who knows, if such a thing as a parallel universe is ever discovered — perhaps its Commando readers are still enjoying the continuing adventures of “Rory’s Raiders”?—Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor

Story: Bounds
Art: Vasquez
Cover: Scholler
Originally Commando No 173 (July 1965)

Commando No 4865 – Viktor’s War
A proud Red Air Force pilot, Lieutenant Viktor Petrofsky flew his Yak-9 fighter above the skies of the Eastern Front, facing-off against the Luftwaffe and their deadly Focke-Wulf Fw190 aircraft.
   However, soon disillusioned by his squadron’s harsh treatment at the hands of their feared NKVD political officers, and then shot down by the Germans, Viktor’s allegiances were thrown into serious doubt.
   Now, technically a traitor, how would Viktor’s war end?

Story: Steve Taylor
Art: Jaume Forns
Cover: Ian Kennedy

Commando No 4866 – No Way But Down
If you’re an army glider pilot. You’ve got a dodgy job — landing yourself and your troops in the teeth of anything the enemy throws at you.
   Hazardous at the best of times, it’s grimly suicidal when thick flak is coming up, the exploding shells chucking your frail Horsa all over the sky.
   If an unlucky burst cuts your tow-rope long before you reach your landing ground, there’s only one way to go — down…and fast!

This story packs a real punch, with a fictional insight into the dangers of flying into battle as part of a glider squadron. No Way But Down is brimming with aerial action, vividly brought to life by veteran Commando interior artist Gordon Livingstone.
   Gordon’s good friend and fellow veteran artist, Ian Kennedy, provides a stunning, moody cover, featuring his trademark aeronautical illustration the likes of which has been so highly regarded by comics fans throughout a career that has spanned decades and continues to this day.
   Superb stuff.;&mdsash;Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor

Story: Mclean
Art: Gordon Livingstone
Cover: Ian Kennedy
Originally Commando No 1052 (August 1976), re-issued as No 2387 (August 1990)

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Space Ace volume 5

It's always a pleasure to receive the latest volume of Space Ace and John Lawrence must be heartily congratulated for keeping his collections of Ron Turner's 'Space Ace' going and for maintaining the quality of each full-colour issue. The quality is a reflection of John's undying enthusiasm for Ron's work and we're lucky to be able to be able to share that enthusiasm in magazine format!

The fifth volume (October 2015) contains another 6-part serial combined into one full-length, 24-page story. 'The Nine-Bomb Menace' is a follow-up to the previous volume's 'The Island Universe' storyline, and we will be discovering what happened to the Methanons, the aliens from the earlier tale whose home planet Space Ace had destroyed with their own planet-busting bomb.

As you might guess from the title, there is something of a thematic continuation in this latest story. The Discovery is making its way to Libra, a new planet that has been discovered on the outer limits of the solar system, with Space Ace commanding the escort vehicles also making the journey.

As the huge spaceship descends into the atmosphere, it is attacked. A space battle ensues with all but one of the enemy craft destroyed, which Ace takes care of by ramming it. Aboard the wreckage they find a robot pilot.

The Discovery is ordered back to earth but, as Ace nears the planet, the robot awakes and attacks; Ace needs to keep the robot intact if he's to find out anything about the natives of Libra, and in subduing the robot answers one of the mysteries of the age: do robot antennae have Edison screw or bayonet fittings?

Questioning the robot, the earthmen discover that Libra has been taken over by the Methanons and a nine-part bomb is to be used to destroy the inhabited planets, leaving the Sun to Libra. Earth puts together a plan of action: to land on the dark side of the invading planet and make an overland sortie to the bomb sight and disable the weapon.

You can see strong reflections of the (then recently fought) Second World War in the command structure and action in Space Ace that date the story. But reading Space Ace in 2015, sixty years after this story's first appearance in Lone Star, is about the fun to be found in its storyline and the simplicity of its conflict.

John Ridgway deserves a word of praise for his efforts in turning the original black & white art into seamless colour, recapturing the essence of Turner's old Vargo Statten covers. Oddly, this strip appeared at a time when Turner thought that science fiction was losing  traction with publishers; the SF paperback boom had come to an end, as the cheap paperback firms disappeared; his Tit-Bits Science Fiction Comic had faded away after only six issues and even his regular post on Rick Random was not safe. To counter this, Turner poured every effort into Space Ace in the hope that it would survive.

And survive he did, as proven by the second story this issue, 'Space Ace and the Magnetic Meteor', which appeared two years later. The issue also includes extracts from John's conversations with Turner, offering some interesting insights into the main story, and a lively letters column.

You can get hold of this latest volume for £8.95 (UK) or £14.00 (Overseas) including p&p — and that's pretty much at cost, I can assure you — with payments through Paypal via spaceace.54 AT or by cheque or postal order to John Lawrence, 39 Carterweys, Dunstable, Beds. LU5 4RB.


Friday, November 13, 2015

Comic Cuts - 13 November 2015

This column's theme tune! Play as you read...

My Irish PLR statement showed up this week. Here's how much I earned: "Total: €0.00." Not a penny... or, rather, not a point seven one of a penny, which is what the cent is currently worth. I think that will tell you all you need to know about how well this writing game pays.

Not that I help matters. I've spent most of the week writing a lengthy, 6,000-word piece about an author almost nobody will have heard of. And just to rub salt in the wound, I'm doing two more pieces about all-but-forgotten authors. One I've written about in the past but I've had a breakthrough and was able to confirm some background about the author and his family; I've also confirmed when he died, which has been a mystery to me for thirty-five years. I had to cough up £40 for certificates to confirm all this, and I'm going to have to buy a few more over the next couple of weeks. I've also just spent another £45 on books that I need to read; once all my ducks are in order, I'll post some hopefully interesting essays but I may have to think hard about trying to get some sponsorship of some description.

Or product placement.

Which is my not so subtle way of saying that I went to see SPECTRE during the week. I've been a James Bond fan ever since my mate Richard and I went to see Thunderball and From Russia With Love as a double-bill at the Odeon in around 1968 or 1969. We were taken by Richard's Dad, Mr. Wood—I don't think I ever knew his Christian name—and they were by far the greatest films I had ever seen. I added Ian Fleming to my inappropriate-for-my-age reading list and it was through my quest to find a copy of Goldfinger that I discovered Valiant comic... but that's another story.

I remember having jigsaw puzzles of the underwater battle scene from Thunderball and of Bond hiding behind a rock preparing to shoot at a helicopter, a scene from From Russia With Love. The paperback of Thunderball had two die-cut bullet holes in the cover which fascinated me, maybe because the first time I discovered the book—probably on my dad's shelf and long before I had a desire to read it—I could poke a bit of my finger through. Not like the sausages I call fingers these days.

I became particularly obsessed with the razzmatazz surrounding Roger Moore taking over the role for Live and Let Die. There were reports in every paper and magazine, and photos of a boat leaping over a spit of land and crashed through a police car. I knew Moore as The Saint and as Lord Brett Sinclair in The Persuaders (which still has one of my all-time favourite theme songs). When The Man With the Golden Gun came out the papers were just as full and I couldn't wait to see the car chase in which the car does a 360 degree roll as it flies across a river. What should have been a heart-stopping moment was utterly spoiled by having the barrel roll accompanied by a slide whistle, as if Bond was driving some kind of clown car.

Thankfully they didn't do this in SPECTRE although they do manage some dumb moments. There's a scene towards the end where Bond is running through the old, about to be demolished MI6 building to rescue Lea Seydoux. As he runs he passes pictures of Le Chiffre, Raoul Silva, M, Vesper Lynd and others and I'm not sure whether they were supposed to be projections of his tortured psyche or whether Blofeld actually wandered around the building with printouts of everyone's face, blu-tacking them to the walls of corridors where James Bond might see them in passing.

But as that's probably my biggest complaint, I have to say that SPECTRE is Spectre-acular (see what I did there?) and carried me along on a wave of excitement that my 7-year-old self would have loved, too. There were nuances that my older self appreciated, especially as I rewatched all of the Daniel Craig Bonds just ahead of seeing this new one.

It also made me wonder why Ian Fleming Foundation, who control the rights to the books, aren't putting out novelisations any more. Casino Royale I can understand as the movie did an effective job of filming the book. But Skyfall could so easily have been novelised, as could the latest. There are still novelisations out there... most, if not all, of the Marvel movies—Iron Man, Avengers, etc.—have been novelised, as were the Transformers and Star Trek movies. So why not Bond?

Talking of novelisations, on my way back from seeing the movie, I dropped into a charity shop and found a bunch of novelisations that I'm using as today's random scans. The first is The Adventurer, the old Gene Barry ITC series which had a fantastic theme tune by John Barry, which I hope you're listening to right now!

Millennium is a series I keep promising myself I'll watch again. I've seen the whole thing through twice, once on the TV and once as I bought the DVDs, but I'm sure the gloomy world of Frank Black will withstand a third viewing. I picked up the novels because, by coincidence, I'm half-way through watching The Lone Gunmen, which was an X-Files spin-off, but far more comedic... which made me think of the doom-laden Millennium (that's the weird way my mind works). And Space: Above and Beyond was the creation of X-Files alumni Glen Morgan and James Wong, cut tragically short after only one season.

I'll end on another Robert Miall (John Burke) novelisation from the ITC days, Kill Jason King. Now, there's another jaunty little theme tune. Not John Barry this time, but Laurie Johnson who did the music for The Avengers and The Professionals.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Comic Cuts - 6 November 2015

I've made a couple of nice breakthroughs with my research for the new project. The main theme is how British readers developed a taste for American gangster fiction, but a lot of bits of biography of various authors will be woven in. There are a couple of authors that I'm really interested in who have proven difficult to tie down as far as biographical details are concerned. One in particular I've written about a couple of times in the past but I've never been able confirm anything about his life and career.

This week I had a breakthrough: I now have a firm grasp of his birth and death dates, shortly to be confirmed as I've ordered up forty quid's worth of birth, death and marriage certificates—it's an expensive game, this research! I'm also having to pick up quite a bit of reference material that I can't get hold of through inter-library loan, so I'm going to have to think of a way of making a bit of extra cash to pay for the all this.

* * * * *

It's the end of the growing season for our tomatoes and cucumbers. The final tally was quite amazing:  129 Tumbeling Tom tomatoes from a single hanging basket; 21 Marmande Beefsteak tomatoes and 199 Black Cherry tomatoes. Nearly 350 in total... for a pair who usually manage to kill off any plants that come near the house that's pretty damned good.

We also had five really nice cucumbers (and a sixth that was nibbled at by snails which we threw away), and 24 runner beans. Unfortunately, the latter arrived in ones and twos, so we never really managed to get a meal out of them, just threw them in with the other vegetables.

* * * * *

This week we heard that Victor Berch has died at the age of 91. I had known Victor for thirty years as a more off than on correspondent. I remember receiving his letters, starting in the mid-Eighties, neatly hand-written on yellow notepaper, densely packed with information. Some of my old paperback publisher lists that I produced for Richard Williams owed a lot to Victor, the early Hamilton & Co. listing in particular.

It's a very sad day when someone like Victor passes away. I have to confess that sometimes my first thoughts aren't for the family but for the loss to the community of researchers, not only of a friend but of knowledge that might never have been shared or put down on paper. Thankfully, Victor was always keen to share what information he could dig up and, as the internet spread to take over from "snail mail",  he contributed greatly to the likes of Mystery*File and especially Al Hubin's monumental Crime Fiction Bibliography as part of the little circle of researchers trying to keep the latter as up-to-date and accurate as possible.

Kenneth Johnson has written a fantastic tribute to Victor at the Mystery*File website.

* * * * *

Today's random scans are a handful of war-themed novels I picked up in a charity shop last week. I have an earlier edition of the last one, Goshawk Squadron by Derek Robinson, and I've written about Robinson previously. The others are from the 1970s, the earliest a 1970 edition of Fred Majdalany's Patrol, previously published by Panther in 1966 and in hardback in 1953. Majdalany (1913?-1967) had been a journalist and theatre publicist who had written The Monastery, a well-received book about the Battle of Cassino. After the war Majdalany found work as a film critic for the Daily Mail.

Both Patrol and Reign of Hell have covers by Michael Codd. I found myself writing about Sven Hassel a few months ago for a project that doesn't seem to have come off. Shame, as it would have been fun. The research won't go to waste, tho'.

Heinz Konsalik was the pen-name of Heinz Günther (1921-1999), a German war correspondent who turned to writing novels. According to Wikipedia he wrote 155 novels, which is an astounding number if they were all war novels. One of the copies I picked up was so poor that even I couldn't be bothered to put in the hours it would have taken to clean up a cover scan to my usual quality threshold. It's a shame as I rather like the anonymous cover artist Tattoo (an imprint of W. H. Allen) used for these novels.

(* The photo at the head of today's post is of the Colne Barrier, taken last Sunday during our morning walk. Actually, it's four photographs stitched together in PhotoShop.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Commando issues 4859-4862

Commando issues on sale 5th November 2015.

Commando No 4859 – The Duellist
At the controls of his trusty Airco DH2 biplane, Lieutenant Andrew Maxwell of the Royal Flying Corps was used to duelling with German pilots high above the trenches.
   However, after being shot down and taken prisoner by a deranged, sword-wielding enemy officer, Andrew soon wondered which type of duel was more dangerous — in the air or on the ground.

Story: Steve Coombs
Art: Rezzonico
Cover: Ian Kennedy

Commando No 4860 – Hero’s Badge
It was a jewelled armlet, a family coat of arms. It had been presented to the warrior de Marneys at Agincourt in 1415 by a grateful king and carried into battle by the family sons ever since.
   All the de Marneys were fighting furies who either conquered or died gloriously. Then came the Second World War, and young Desmond de Marney, the last of the line. He was no hero — he wanted to be a farmer instead of a soldier. How would he learn overnight to be a leader of men, to wear with honour the “hero’s badge”?

Not many of our stories feature the Battle of Agincourt. Therefore, we thought we’d celebrate the 600th anniversary of that major victory in the autumn of 1415 for King Henry V against the French during the Hundred Years’ War.
   The first handful of pages of this classic from 1965 are almost like a mini-history of British warfare throughout the centuries. Soon we reach World War II and a warrior legacy passed down the ages in the form of an historical artefact — a family coat of arms.
   Hero’s Badge is stirring stuff, I hope you agree.—Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor

Story: Clegg
Art: Sostres
Cover: Davis
Originally Commando No 193 (December 1965)

Commando No 4861 – Day Of The Werewolf
Although the War in Europe was over by June 1945, some groups of fanatical S.S. soldiers caused chaos for the occupying Allied forces. These rogue Nazis were known as “Werewolves” and would never surrender.
   Major Rick Hogan of the Office of Strategic Services had a plan to deal with a ruthless Werewolf group who attacked army bases and robbed banks, preying on military and civilian targets alike. He would infiltrate them, using a German spy under his command, and bring down this guerrilla threat once and for all.

Story: Shane Filer
Art: Vicente Alcazar
Cover: Janek Matysiak

Commando No 4862 – Prisoners Of War
They were escaped prisoners-of-war, desperate to risk anything rather than be recaptured. They had even put on enemy uniforms, armed themselves with enemy weapons. There was nothing they would not do to avoid going back into captivity.

A former Commando staffer once told me that he almost used to dread whenever the much-loved 1963 war film “The Great Escape” had been on television. Long before satellite movie channels, streaming, or even DVD, the antics of Steve McQueen, James Garner et al were solid, reliable Christmas/Easter/Bank Holiday entertainment on the British small screen.
   The latest viewing usually led to a flurry of hopeful story synopses identical to the movie (as if the staff were unaware of it) or queries as to whether Commando had “done” that particular tale — and if not, why not?
   So, as you’ll see here, Commando does occasionally do prison camp stories but they have to be different to the aforementioned Hollywood classic. This one delivers the goods. It has a fairly dark edge, which is enforced by Ian Kennedy’s magnificent, moody cover.—Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor

Story: Lomas
Art: Dalfiume
Cover: Ian Kennedy
Originally Commando No 1093 (January 1977), re-issued as No 2419 (November 1990)

Monday, November 02, 2015

Eardley Beswick

Eardley Beswick seemed destined for success as a writer when his debut novel appeared. Original Design received many glowing reviews—not only the UK—and was a fine example of what Orwell might have reluctantly called proletarian literature. The book was acclaimed by Compton Mackenzie as "the most irresistibly absorbing novel for a twelvemonth" and was the first recommendation of the Book Society.

More than one review compared the novel to Arnold Bennett's Imperial Palace, which followed the inner workings of a hotel based on the Savoy Hotel; in Original Design we followed the activities of a large iron factory in the Midlands at the beginning of the Depression. It introduces scores of characters and shows their lives and loves against the background of Jabez Perriman, Sons & Co., the factory in which they all work and on the success of which they all depend.

The factory, employing 1,200 men, is headed by Henty Perriman, compelled to assume the position on the death of his brother Jabez who "had killed himself patriotically making money too strenuously during the war." Through the novel the reader meets members of the board, the general manager of the works, department heads, draftsmen, secretaries, foremen, typists and artisans.

The chief character followed is Reggie Pernett, the draftsman who invented the original design of the title for presses that can be used to manufacture unbreakable glass which save Perrimans from going into bancruptcy. Due to Pernett's innocence and financial hardship, Henty Perriman is able to take the credit and the profits.

Elmer Davis in Saturday Review, observed "as it should always be in a good novel, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; the real excellence of the story is its picture of an industry; the type of all Industry, in prosperity and depression."
The Technocrats can find a good deal of nourishment in this book; and if the Marxians only knew it, its dispassionate picture of the five greedy and stupid men who dispose of the capital of Perrimans' stockholders and the lives of its employees is far more effective collectivist propaganda than conscientiously "proletarian" fiction. Mr. Beswick, apparently, has no panaceas; his only hope is in "a society immunized against this cumulative environmental hardening of the hearts... the fact that the author has no axe to grind makes his grimly disinterested picture of things as they are all the more effective."
Beswick followed up this worthy and well-received novel with a series of thrillers under the pen-name Fareman Wells and under his own name. Christine in Murderland was "an ingenious and amusing detective fantasy." Describing the book as "A refreshing book to read," Aberdeen Journal (21 February 1933) says of the plot:
It was Christine’s fortune to fall in with Smith, a lunatic author, who deluded her so successfully with tales of persecution and plots that she thereafter spent some of the most enjoyably hectic days of her life. It is a lively and exciting tale quite out of the usual, with plenty of incident, some danger, and a real love interest.
The Fareman Wells byline was used on the newspaper serials "Speed Boat" and "Five Crooked Chairs", the former about a first-class but near-destitute motor mechanic named Tanner trying to find work in Essex. The latter stars a solicitor's clerk whose hobby is experimenting with wireless and who discovers a new wireless ray, falls in with a girl he has admired from a distance and becomes involved in a plot involving five Spanish chairs.

Under his own name, Beswick penned The Lorry Lady as his "second" novel—ignoring his work as Fareman Wells. It was the story of Madie Scaife, a girl of great charm and good education who, forced to earn her own living, took over a couple of lorries and conducted a transport business. She drives a rattling five-tonner and is her own business getter.

After the publication of a collection of twenty-three stories (Hundreds and Thousands) in 1935, Beswick's third and final novel  appeared. Pennine (1936) is another novel about industry telling the stories of how Tom Loman made his fortune as a contractor by shrewd jobbery and how his son, Percy George, squanders it. Many other characters are woven into the tale set in a smoke-hazed Lancashire on the edge of the grim Pennines.

His follow-up was the serial "Mark 1702" which features an Investigation Officer for the War Office named Geoffrey Hendringham, who is testing a new appliance when his workshop is shattered by an explosion. The appliance is known only as Mark 1702 and foul play is suspected.

This turned out to be Beswick's last known serial and he seemed to disappear as a writer as Britain geared up for war. Robert Eardley Beswick was born in Manchester on 2 September 1885, the son of William Henry Beswick (1859-1925), a surveyer and civil engineer, and Ada (née Eardley, 1858-1952). His siblings were Ada Lilian Beswick (later Roberts, 1884-?), William Eardley Beswick (1886-1888) and Kenneth Eardley Beswick (1895-1980).

He was educated at Manchester School of Technology and worked as a civil and mechanical engineer and was a member of the Institute of Production Engineers. He lived in Exmouth for 18 years, where his father was employed by the Exmouth Local Board of Health, and subsequently lived in Essex. He was married to Marjorie Shaw (1892-1974) in Chelmsford in 1912 and had three daughters. The family lived in Hornchurch, Sussex, and then in the small village of White Notley, near Witham, Essex, for many years.

His writing career spanned the decade of the 1930s, his stories appearing in the Manchester Guardian, John o'London, the Sketch, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, Cornhill Magazine, 20-Story Magazine, Lovat Dickson's Magazine, The Grand Magazine, Windsor Magazine, Illustrated London News and elsewhere.

Despite his success, Beswick seems to have returned to his engineering background. His brother was the founder of K. E. Beswick Ltd. and brother Robert may have worked with his sibling during and after the war. In December 1940 he filed an application for a patent for a quick action attachment for objects that need to be held tightly but temporarily; in September 1946 he applied for another patent, this time for a “Quick action nut”—a nut that could be secured or released with a small angle turn.

Nothing more was heard from Eardley Beswick as a novelist, outside of a few reprints, after 1939. It is presumed that continued to work in the engineering industry until his retirement. He subsequently moved to Exmouth, Devon, where he died on 1 January 1979, at the age of 94.


Original Design. London, Grayson & Grayson, 1933; New York, Minton, Balch & Co, 1933.
The Lorry Lady. London, Gramol Publications, 1936.
Pennine. London, William Heinemann, 1936.

Novels as Fareman Wells
Christine in Murderland. London, John Long, 1933.
Five Crooked Chairs. London & Dublin, Mellifont Publications, 1936.

Hundreds and Thousands. Tales, illustrated by Doris Boulton. London, Grayson & Grayson, 1935.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Comic Cuts - 30 October 2015

I've had a quiet week with the occasional minor frustration and the occasional minor triumph to punctuate the days. I've been putting in a lot of effort to piece together the story of an author who worked in both the UK and USA and whose writing career came to a tragic end. There are still a few gaps that I need to fill and I'm trying to figure out what would be the best way to present the results.

It's going to take me a while to write up the results anyway because I'm back to the grindstone of Hotel Business and I need to think about not only the December issue, but also the January issue, where the deadline is fairly close to new year and I'll need to get as much in before Christmas as possible. So the rather patchy appearance of new articles on Bear Alley is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. If I can find subjects that I can cobble together quickly, I'll do so, but a lot of the research I'm doing at the moment requires a lot of research for very little reward... every paragraph can take an hour to write as I have to fact-check every single sentence. Who'd'a thought Wikipedia could be so unreliable or lacking in detail? That Google searches could turn up nothing? We're so used to just looking up things on the internet nowadays – and I'm doing it constantly for work – that it can be quite  a blow when the answer isn't instantly available.

While I'm thinking about problems... one of the main ones is that I'm not a bottomless money-pit and I'm having to spend a little cash on reference material. This week I tried to purchase three books only to find that two of them were unavailable; the third, I'm pleased to say, arrived well-packaged and safe, so it's not all bad news. It was, however, a little frustrating as it's not the first time I've ordered things online only to find they've sold... and, indeed, the two books I tried to buy are still listed as available.

Since the cheapest copies aren't available (I need them to read, so condition isn't always vital), I'll have to figure out what my next move is. I like to have books to hand, but as the price rises, it begins to make more sense for me to spend the money on a train ticket and head down to the British Library, especially if I have three, four or more books to check out that would otherwise cost a fortune. It's nice to have the books conveniently in my possession to refer to, but sometimes the cost just isn't worth it.

The research is taking me down all sorts of odd alleyways. At the moment I'm quite interested in the language used in gangster thrillers in the 1930s. There are phrases or slang terms that I've stumbled upon that I know nothing about as they're not commonly used these days. For instance, a "Parthian shot" is an archaic version of what today we would call a "parting shot", perhaps a rejoinder made just as you leave. It makes sense that some folks, mishearing "Parthian shot" would say "parting shot". But apparently, "parting shot" predates "Parthian shot"... at least that's what Wikipedia says.

The other term that I learned this week was "taxi-dancer", which I hadn't heard before but which I'd seen only recently when I watched They Drive By Night, the 1938 movie base on a novel by James Curtis. The term appeared in a James Hadley Chase novel published in 1939 but was actually quite common in the 1920s. In the days of the Palais-de-Dance, dancers were available to hire for a fee, often in the form of tickets paid for at the door.

In Man Bait (1927) Marie Prevost played an alluring shop girl who is fired after she fends off with her fists the advances of a customer; she ends up as a taxi-dancer in a cheap dance hall where she meets the son of a millionaire. Joan Crawford in The Taxi Dancer (1928), Barbara Stanwyck in Ten Cents a Dance (1931) and Nancy Carroll in Child of Manhattan (1933) all played New York taxi dancers.

In 1933, a Reuters news report on the low wages paid to women in Shanghai, noted that "Many Russian girls have been forced to earn their living as "taxi" dancers in cabarets, but so far no British women has sought this means to make money." Apparently, Shanghai's taxi-dancers were notorious; they certainly caught the eye of Harry Greenwall when he penned Pacific Scene (1938) about his travels in the far east.

In They Drive By Night, recently released from prison, Shorty Matthews (Emlyn Williams) goes to visit his former girlfriend only to find her dead in her apartment. Fearing the police will pin the murder on him, he goes on the run; he first heads north, hitching a lift with a lorry driver (hence the title), but after a run-in with the police en route decides to return to London to clear his name. This he does with the aid of Molly (Anna Konstam), who questions clients at the dance hall where she works as a hostess.

Interesting where a single phrase can take you... and now I've spent even longer explaining it. Now you see why researching a book takes me such a horrific amount of time!

Our random scans this week are a bunch of steampunk titles by George Mann, although inspired by my stumbling upon a copy of K. W. Jeter's Infernal Devices when I took my Mum down the pub for lunch on Tuesday. Any excuse to show these off.