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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hugh Munro

A little mystery has been raised by my mate John Herrington. Hugh Munro, the author of the Clutha detective novels, has an entry in Contemporary Authors in which he says "I have been beating a typewriter ever since my youth, turning out articles and short stories—and also adventure serials for boys' weeklies—but only within the last five years have I attempted novel writing."

As his first novel appeared in 1958 it strikes me that Munro could have been one of the anonymous contributors to the likes of Adventure, Rover, Hotspur and Wizard for D. C. Thomson, as they were among the few regular boys' adventure story papers being published in the 1950s.

Munro, who first names are variously given as Macfarlane Hugh or Hugh Macfarlane, was born in Glasgow, the son of George Michele Monro (a riveter) and his wife Margaret (nee Robinson). His year of birth is unknown but he was married on 16 September 1939 to Elizabeth Baird, implying he was born no later than 1923 and probably in the 1910s.

He was educated at Scottish schools, leaving at the age of 14 to work as a newsboy, farm hand, in shipyards and factories before becoming a freelance writer. "In a rather misspent youth my chief interests were chasing girls, playing soccer, playing the Highland bag-pipes and dancing, including Highland dancing. Nowadays fiction writing leaves little time for anything other than an occasional game of chess," he told Contemporary Authors, where he described himself as a Christian who was suspicious of all politics.

As well as writing articles, short stories and serials, Munro also contributed to radio and wrote plays for amateur drama festivals. He was also the editor of Scottish Bagpipe Magazine.

In his 1958 debut novel he created the character of Clutha, "as hard as a chunk of Aberdeen granite and as knobby as a tree root. Clutha was Scotland's answer to Philip Marlowe, a tough, bowler-hatted, uncrushable detective who worked for a Glasgow shipyard. He had a nice turn of sentimentality and a thorough knowledge of all kinds of infighting and trickery.

Clutha appeared in seven of Munro's ten novels, the last of which appeared in 1978. Whether Hugh Munro is still with us I've no idea (he'd be in his mid-eighties at least if he were). His last known address was in Saltcoats, Ayrshire, Scotland.

Update:

Jamie Sturgeon has located Munro's dates in a copy of The Glasgow Novel: A Survey and Bibliography by Moira Burgess (Scottish Library Association, 1986) where they are given as 1909-1982.

Novels (series: Clutha)
Who Told Clutha. London, Macdonald & Co., 1958; New York, Washburn, 1958.
Clutha Plays a Hunch. London, Macdonald & Co., 1959; New York, Washburn, 1959.
A Clue for Clutha. London, Macdonald & Co., 1960.
The Clydesiders. London, Macdonald & Co., 1961.
Tribal Town. London, Macdonald & Co., 1964.
Clutha and the Lady. London, Hale, 1973.
Get Clutha. London, Hale, 1974.
Evil Innocence (Clutha). London, Hale, 1976.
The Brain Robbers (Clutha). London, Hale, 1977.
The Keelie. London, Hale, 1978.

Note: Crime Fiction Bibliography lists Hugh Munro as one of the authors behind the house name Jason, which was used on a series of hardboiled crime novels featuring the character J. C. Jason. Munro set all his novels in Glasgow, bar one which took place in Italy (Get Clutha); Jason was a world traveller whose adventures had titles like High Litre Lolita, Honolulu Slay Ride and Three's a Shroud. They were published in 1958-59 by Webster of Sydney, Australia, and I cannot for the life of me see a connection.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hugh Munro is in fact my great grandfather on my mother's side. It is truly inspiring to see that he is being written about 50+ years on. My Gran will be so overjoyed to see this article and for that I thank you. Regards, Matthew Davis

Steve said...

Hi Matthew,

If either yourself or your Gran wants to get in touch, I'd welcome more information on Hugh's literary career. My e-mail address can be found just under the photo top left.

Regards,

Steve