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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Robert Ludlum

Yet another obituary from the scrapbook. I love the Bourne movies. They gave the thriller a much needed kick up the pants after they had become too effects heavy—the last Pierce Brosnan Bond, for instance, was a disaster. I've enjoyed the revival of Bond with Daniel Craig and I'm looking forward to the latest outing, SPECTRE, which will hopefully not be spoiled by having an unutterably dumb central premise which spoiled an otherwise beautifully shot Skyfall.

Monday, July 27, 2015

James A. Michener

Another obituary from my scrapbook. James A. Michener wrote huge novels that never really appealed to me, but they clearly appealed to some. I do find the descriptions of his books in the Daily Telegraph obituary hilarious: "Alaska (1980) begins with a family of mastodons and devotes 100 pages to the titanic life history of a sock-eyed salmon." Now you see why I thought the books were not for me!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Daphne Fielding

More scrapbook clippings, this from the Times back in 1997. Most authors have dull lives these days but my own research has uncovered quite a few writers who had lively backgrounds and were not above living their lives like it was a novel. I suspect I clipped this because of the mention of Duchess of Duke Street, but it might equally have been the mention of her husband, who translated a few books, including Bridge on the River Kwai by Pierre Boulle. Which gives me an excuse to run a few pictures...

The two books above were translated by Xan Fielding.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Comic Cuts - 24 July 2015

I've been wearing my editorial hat this week, so there's little to report of note as my main research this week was into whether people were increasingly holidaying in the UK—and before it becomes a burning question in your life, the answer is yes, searches for hotels in seaside resorts jumped after the hot weather we had at the beginning of the month. You heard it here first.

On the side, I'm trying to find out more about the import of American magazines in the 1930s and the kind of numbers that arrived on these shores. It's proving difficult to get numbers, although I have found some examples that I might be able to use. My digging has also turned up the name of the guy who ran Atlas Publishing and Distribution, who had quite an important role in the history of British reprint editions of magazines and the distribution of comics in the UK, as well as publishing a few annuals. All will be revealed at some point.

While I'm still trying to maintain a level of research, I'm also trying to keep up with my exercise, although I seem to be stuck at the same weight for months on end. I didn't put on any weight during the winter (unlike the situation in 2014), but I've only lost a couple of pounds since March and I'd ideally like to be losing a pound a month.

That said, I'm still almost two stone lighter than I was two years ago, so... Yay! Go me!

I'm keeping up with the walks, which means that I'm watching the ever-changing, ever-developing landscape around my home. Although I'll walk in different directions—a poor attempt to keep things fresh—I do end up walking the same bits of roads every day or every other day. You become attuned to them and any changes seem more important than they probably are. For instance, a couple of months ago, the road around the corner had been deteriorating so badly that a hole had appeared near one of the drains. The drain cover was threatening to fall into the sewer below. Fixed now, but it took a couple of months.

I don't think I've ever been so aware of changes. Maybe it's something that comes with age. I don't remember noticing anything so trivial when I was a kid. They built a car park and shopping centre in the middle of Chelmsford... that I remember; I remember them building the new library and knocking down Hoffmans, but now I'm attuned to notices popping up all over the place:

My world has seemingly grown smaller over the years. I used to want to change our lives for the better. Nowadays, trying to figure out what the difference between a footpath and a footway is will fill most of one of my walks. Old age has crept up on me and turned me into a grumpy old man.

Our tomato count is currently: 9 Tumbling Toms, 5 Marmande Beefsteak and 8 Rosella Black Cherry. We have a second cucumber almost ready to pick and some beans starting to grow. For a pair who have always said we have the black finger of death rather than green fingers of gardners, Mel and I aren't doing too badly!

As I have been thinking about American magazine imports, I thought I'd use today's random scans to cover some American books that had British editions. Edward Ronns is today better remembered under his real name Edward S. Aarons, which he used for a long-running series of spy thrillers known as the "Assignment" series. His early hardboiled novels as Edward Ronns and Paul Ayres are little known these days, although they were often published in the hugely popular Gold Medal line of detective thrillers.

Two of the early covers here are based on the Gold Medal covers. The Decoy (originally Gold Medal 194) is an almost straight lift of the Barye Phillips original, but Passage of Terror (originally Gold Medal 217) has been extensively reworked from C. C. Beall's painting—which you can see at the top of this column—by a British artist.

Also below are a couple of others of slightly later vintage: the WDL (with a nice cover by Ron Smethurst) and the two Red Seals all date from 1960. The second has a signature, J. Coppin. Well, that's what it looks like to me (you can see it between the guy's legs).

Posts will probably be a little more patchy next week. We're heading towards the editorial deadline!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Tony van den Bergh

Another obituary from my scrapbook. Tony van den Bergh was not only an author but was a founder of Four Square Books, so this is a good excuse to run a few Four Square covers to brighten up the blog a little.


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Caught in the Act: Gomer and others (1942) part 2

Prosecuting the case for the County Solicitor, Mr. P. Prideaux stated by Ronald Gomer was the ringleader of the three men charged. He held the post of organist and choirmaster at a church and had been in the habit of befriending other members of that church and bringing them to his house in Wimborne.

The earliest acquaintance was Harold Miller, who he befriended as far back as 1929. Gomer used to stay at Miller's parents' house in Winton when he went over to perform church duties at the weekend. Gomer also struck up acquaintance with three choir boys, befriended them, and asked them to come to his house.

Having no desire to see others get into trouble, Gomer made a statement in which he explained very fully his mode of life—how he came to commit the acts and the circumstances in which photographs were taken and letters written. Det.-Sgt. Fudge, of Wimborne, gave evidence that a search of Gomer's house had resulted in the discovery of 17 negatives, which were subsequently developed.

Gomer, later described as a man of artistic temperament, had been the organist and choirmaster at a Bournemouth church for 26 years. An only child, he had developed an early interest in music and he later earned a living teaching music and as an organist at local churches. He attributed his behaviour chiefly to "a sense of loneliness"—following the death of his parents in 1932 he had "more or less" lived alone and devoted himself to his interests in music, poetry and art. He had produced a masque at Wimborne in 1934 and published some small books of poetry.

He had known Francis (Frank) Hart for some years and they had taken their holidays together. Hart was born in Wimborne and had been employed as an assistant teacher to a local school where he remained for 15 years. Early in 1941, he became headmaster of a school in Dorchester and had given every satisfaction in his employment and spent many hours in work of national importance. Since boyhood he had been a member of the church choir and had been very active in matters connected with the church. For 15 years he held the position of a Scoutmaster.

Hart and Gomer visited each other's homes, playing cards. During the trial, Gomer was described as having done excellent work in connection with church matters, having been vestry clerk at a Wimborne church, chairman of a Scout troop at the Bournemouth church, and honorary secretary of the Wimburnians Association. Everyone spoke very highly of his energies in these directions.

However, at his trial, Mr. Justice Lawrence said that "I have no doubt that you, Gomer, were principally responsible," when passing sentence. Gomer, for his part, had said that when taking the photographs, that it was all treated as a joke. At the time of the acts, he said, their seriousness did not register in his mind and, of the 81 letters he had written to Harold Miller, he admitted that quite a number were indecent, but they were intended to be read only by Miller.

Miller, a native of Oldham, had worked as a clerk before joining the R.A.F. in 1940. He was an energetic worker connected with a Bournemouth church, being sacristan and Scoutmaster for the church troop. He had first met Gomer at the age of 17 but nothing had happened between them until 1938. Gomer had shown a keen interest in his welfare and, whilst unemployed for short periods, had received financial assistance from his friend. Commenting on the letters, Miller said he believed they were a "mere fabrication of a lonely mind."

Mr. J. B. Carson, for Gomer, described how the latter believed he suffered a "medical kink" and that he had expressed a desire to try and undergo some treatment to stop these tendencies. Carson asked for leniency in view of the fact that this was so much a medical case.

Mr. Justice Lawrence clearly disagreed and on 19 January 1942 sentenced Gomer to three years penal serviture. Hart and Miller each received six months imprisonment in the second division. At trial, all three had pleaded guilty.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Caught in the Act: Gomer and others (1942) part 1

Despite the passage of seventy years, some of the details below might be strong for some. I'm posting this because it details the second and final case from 1942 involving obscene publications that resulted in a conviction and imprisonment in excess of 18 months. It helps chart the rise in prosecutions for indecent photos, although in many cases this was a secondary charge.

On Saturday, 19 December 1942, Francis John Thomas Hart (38), a schoolmaster of Blind Lane, Wimborne, was charged at a special Police Court at Wimborne with having committed an act of indecency.

On the same day, Ronald Gomer (52), a musician of 60 West Borough, Wimborne, was charged at Bournemouth Police Court with procuring a boy for the purpose of committing acts of indecency. According to Detective-Sergeant Jones, Gomer said, "I can't get away from it can I? It is right. It has only happened two or three times at the most. I should say several times. I don't want to tell lies about it."

Gomer was remanded as Inspector Fisher gave details of a second arrest in Wimborne and said it seemed desirable that Gomer should be handed over to the Wimborne police as both men lived in Wimborne. The Bench agreed. Following a second appearance at Bournemouth on Monday morning, Gomer was arrested by Detective-Sergeant C. Fudge at noon at Bournemouth Police Station and was brought up at the Police Court at Wimborne before Major Eric T. H. Hanbury-Tracy, OBE, that same afternoon.

Superintendent J. Dark, when applying for a remand in police custody until Thursday, said that he hoped by then to have arrested others involved. He also said that it was almost certain that other charges would be preferred. When the Magistrates' Clerk (Mr. M. J. Raymond) granted the remand, Gomer said: "I don't think I wish to make an application for bail."

Meanwhile, Hart, who had been arrested on the Friday evening, was also remanded until Thursday and his bail extended. A hearing was scheduled on that day for New Year's Day and whilst Hart's bail was renewed, Gomer remained in custody at Dorchester Gaol.

A third man was arrested on Boxing Day morning. Harold Miller (31), an aircraftman and native of Oldham who was living Edgehill Road, Windon, was arrested at Cleethorpe, Lincolnshire, and charged with having committed gross indecency with Gomer at Wimborne.

All three were brought before a special court on New Year's Day and again remanded, although Supt. Dark said that the charge against Gomer of gross indecency with Miller would not be proceeded with; instead they would be charged jointly. Bail was extended for Hart and Miller and Gomer was returned to Dorchester Gaol. The following Monday, all three were committed for trial at Dorset Assizes (at Dorchester).

The case against the three involved twelve charges. Ronald Gomer was charged with acts of indecency with Harold Miller; Francis Hart was charged with two acts of gross indecency with a boy, two indecent assaults on another boy, one indecent assault on a third boy, and three offences under the Post Office Act, namely the sending of indecent photographs, articles and an indecent communication in the form of a poem through the post. Both Miller and Hart were charged with gross indecency with Gomer.

At the close of the prosecution's case, Gomer pleaded guilty to the ten charges against him; Miller and Hart pleaded not guilty and reserved their defence.

Continued in our next.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Thomas Narcejac

More from my scrapbook of paperwork... an obituary of French author Narcejac whose collaborative novel Les Diaboliques was filmed by Hitchcock as Vertigo. I've added a couple of covers to brighten things up.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The House of Daemon

The House of Daemon is beautiful in many ways: the fictional house itself was designed by Bellini of Rome and had such extras as a hidden swimming pool under the lounge, although the breathtaking views out over the ocean are ruined by the broken windows, torn wallpaper and cobwebs that deck the main bedroom; it is also beautifully written by Alan Grant and John Wagner and stunningly drawn by Jose Ortiz.

House of Daemon was one of the comic strip highlights of the early issues of Eagle comic when it relaunched as a primarily photo story magazine, following on from that other Ortiz classic, 'The Tower King' (also available from Hibernia). The story's opening owed much to Poltergeist, which was released in the UK in September 1982, coinciding with the start of the story, but had debuted in the USA. in early June. Elliot Aldrich reveals that his wife Cassandra's family had been troubled by a Poltergeist when she was a child, making her sensitive to the supernatural influences in the dream house that he has bought her.

As they explore the house, a demonic presence makes itself felt and Elliott brings in an expert, parapsychologist Doctor Cormack, who brings with him a couple of students who set about trying to find the demon known as Daemon. Before long, they are all transported to a nightmare world that constantly reshapes itself

The key element to a horror story is: is it scary? And the answer is... not really. It has many of the same elements as a classic horror movie—the creepy creature trying to drag the beautiful young wife through the mirror, the tap that drips blood, doors that won't open—but in a comic aimed at kids, there's none of the graphic, visceral elements that a movie can rely on, no bumps or strange noises, no guiding soundtrack and no adrenaline rush excitement that reaches a crescendo. Quite the opposite, in fact—there's a seven day gap between episodes and in the four pages allotted to the story, it's difficult to build up the tension, let alone the heart rate, blood pressure and respiration increases that a movie can cause.

That said, it's still worth reading as a comic. Grant and Wagner made sure it was an inventive, fast-paced tale that confounded expectations—in the nightmare world of Daemon they are eaten by a worm and encounter American soldiers in a twisted nuclear war setting; even when they return to the real world, the floor dissolves into an ocean and... well, to say any more would be revealing too much. The big reveal is an unexpected twist, the characters reject sanctuary and risk eternal torture in order to return to their own world and the journey is not an easy one.

Jose Ortiz's artwork is superb throughout: he was a master of horror stories, as his years working for Warren proved, and he brought those well-honed skills to 'The House of Daemon'. So the strip might not be scary, but it is creepy and that, along with the quality of the writing and artwork, is enough to make this a little gem that's well worth rediscovering.

'The House of Daemon' is available from Hibernia Comics via their Comicsy website, price £9.00.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Spaceship Away #36 (Summer 2015)

The Summer issue of Spaceship Away contains two fine articles to accompany its usual compliment of comics strips. I must admit that these were the first things I dived into when the issue arrived. First up was 'The Bruce Cornwell Story', based on Cornwell's own words from previously unpublished recordings arranged by Bruce's son, Anthony. The details of Bruce's wartime experiences are fascinating, as are his memories of working in the comics industry.

A second article explores the forgotten-by-most early work of Dave Gibbons in the pages of Hotspur and Wizard. In 1974, Dave's first professional appearance in the 'Big Two'—outside of lettering and ghosting—made its debut in Wizard in the shape of 'The Wriggling Wrecker', an alien fungus that threatens catastophe when it begins to spread. He continued to work for Thomsons for a few years, drawing 'Year of the Shark Men', 'The Spy in the Sputnik' and the popular adventures of crimefighter 'Spring Heeled Jackson' amongst others.

Tim Booth provides the regular Dan Dare content of the magazine, two stories each of four pages. He is perhaps Spaceship Away!'s finest discovery as he maintains the feel of the original strip without losing the energy that a page of artwork needs to draw in the eye. The only shame is that there's always a four month gap between episodes and the story 'Parsicular Tales', which has now reached episode 19, has now been running for five years.

This latest issue also continues the adventures of Jet Morgan and Nick Hazard and has a centre-spread by Gerry Embleton and a front and rear cover by Don Harley.

This issue has a bonus A5 booklet containing the 20-page first chapter of Operation Tau Ceti by Denis Steeper, who has written a number of other Dan Dare stories in the past. This one tells the tale of Spacefleet's first interstellar expedition.

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

Friday, July 17, 2015

Comic Cuts - 17 July 2015

On Monday I hopped back on the Hotel Business treadmill to catch up on e-mails that had built up last week. About 650 of them. After lining up a number of stories on the paper's website on Monday morning, I cracked on with the mail and wiped out around 200 before the day's end. Lots of them are irrelevant—news from abroad, news that's going to be way out of date by the time the next issue appears in mid-August, or just plain bugger all to do with us.

Despite new mail arriving at a rate of 50-80 press-releases a day, on Tuesday I managed to get the mail levels down to around 120 by close of play. Wednesday was a nice change of pace: I'd built up a few stories supplied by our ad department and spent a good part of the day chopping them down to a reasonable and readable few paragraphs. By day's end I'd also cracked on with the mail and had kept it down to about 130 unread.

And that brings us up to date as I'm writing this on Thursday afternoon, having spent this morning working on the last bit of the current crop of Caught In The Act research, which I'll post either over the weekend or during next week. It concerns another court case and is the last of this first batch of research notes for the book; we've now covered all the cases from that period (1938-42) that resulted in jail sentences of over 18 months.

There may now be a little pause while I get into the next bit of research: the distribution of US pulps and magazines in the UK.

When I'm not in front of the computer, I've been keeping tabs on our latest crop of tomatoes. We have three plants this year, all of which are blooming. In fact, we've started picking this year's crop, having plucked three black cherry tomatoes from the plant yesterday. Not only that, but we've also had one huge cucumber—gorgeously crisp and perfect in a sandwich with some nice strong cheese we had sitting in the fridge.

Judging by the clusters of flowers on these plants we can expect plenty more tomatoes, cucumbers and beans—I'm especially looking forward to the first of the Marmande tomatoes, which are weirdly segmented. One of them looks almost ready for picking.

Today's random scans are a trio of saucy novels from the 1930s, in keeping with the research I've been doing for the book. Gramol published over 100 of these novels in 1928-30 but they're so scarce these days that I've never been able to compile a complete catalogue of the authors—I think I'm ten shy at the moment, so if anyone has any of these, perhaps they'll know the names of the authors of Sweet Surrender, It Happened In Paris, The Easiest Way, A Daughter of Joy, Passion Seekers, Satan's Temptress, Prairie Passion, Professional Love, The Call of Youth and The Garden of Passion.

If anyone has any of these old Gramol titles of any description [crime, romance, westerns, etc.] I'd love some scans; even a decent photograph might be of use as it's an area I'm poor in when it comes to copies and cover scans. Unbelievable to think that Gramol published over 660 books, of which I have maybe half a dozen!