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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Comic Cuts: The 2008 Wrap Party

2008 has been quite a year for fans of old British comics. The growth has been snail-paced—certainly slow-moving to those of us who remember running down to the shops every Saturday morning and finding an array of 50 new comics on the shelves—but growth is growth and we've had more reprint titles out this year than ever before.

The summer saw The Beano celebrating its 70th birthday and publisher D C Thomson pushed out the boat with the release of The History of the Beano: The Story So Far, possibly the finest book of the year for collectors. And a little frustrating because, fine as it was, looking back over the glories of the past seven decades made me wish that Thomson would risk, perhaps through its book publishing arm (Waverley Books), reprinting collections of individual strips: a whole book of Leo Baxendale's "The Bash Street Kids", "Minnie the Minx" and "Little Plum", or David Law's "Dennis the Menace", or Ken Reid's "Jonah". At the very least we might have a similar history of The Dandy to look forward to if it survives until its 75th anniversary in 2012.

In February, Titan announced that they had signed a deal with Egmont to reprint material from a range of titles, including Battle Picture Weekly, Action, humour comic Buster and girls' comics Tammy and Misty. We have since seen a couple of books featuring "Roy of the Rovers" (The Best of Roy of the Rovers: The 1980s, The Bumper Book of Roy of the Rovers) but little else, so let's keep our fingers crossed that the floodgates open in 2009. The much-delayed The Bumper Book of Battle is now scheduled for March and the winter schedule will hopefully see a few more.

March should also see the release of Century 21: Classic Comic Strips from the Worlds of Gerry Anderson Volume 1 and Volume 2 from Reynolds & Hearn. Marcus Hearn told me recently: "The books [will] be available in paperback and limited edition hardback. They're going to include strips from TV Century 21, Lady Penelope and Joe 90. The artists include Frank Bellamy, Martin Asbury, Frank Langford, Mike Noble and Gerry Embleton. Chris Bentley is putting these together for us, and we have a team of four designers working on the restoration. Work on that is now almost complete. Gerry Anderson is our consultant and he's written the foreword to the first volume. It's all looking beautiful, and I genuinely can't wait to see these in print." Marcus also promised that final covers would be ready shortly.

Carlton put out a range of five of their oversized pocket library reprints between August and October (Commando: Bandits at 12 O'clock, Against All Odds: War Picture Library Vol. 2, Let 'Em Have It!: Battle Picture Library Vol.2, Rick RandomSpace Detective, High Noon). Of these it's perhaps no surprise that the Rick Random volume generated the most comments here on Bear Alley although the one review I spotted (John Sutherland's fine, if a little factually flawed, analysis in the Financial Times) concentrated on the war volumes. Most people felt that the quality of the reproduction was better than for the 2007 volumes; it's still not perfect but that's a reflection of the source material rather than the work that went in behind the scenes at Carlton's studio. Although I'm not too keen to bite the hand that feeds, Carlton did manage to put out one of the most disappointing volumes of the year: they missed a great opportunity with The Best of 2000AD to do something special: the contents seemed to be chosen at random, the stories incomplete and it made my own Best of Boyfriend look like a masterpiece.

Orion released a second book of material based on the old Eagle comic, this time concentrating on the centre-spreads that appeared in the original comic. The Eagle Annual of the Cutaways was reviewed here on Bear Alley favourably, with one or two reservations, by Steve Winders. Steve also reviewed the audio drama Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future - Voyage to Venus Part 1 released by Orion in the summer. This was the first adaptation of the comic strip in this form for many years—if you ignore my efforts with "Princess Marigold"—and was a bit of a disappointment, although, as Steve says, "the story rises above misguided attempts to overact it."

The much-heralded revival of Dan Dare by Virgin turned out to be a bit of a dud out of proportion with the quality of the story and artwork. The real problem was distribution: the first issue emerged in late 2007 with a blaze of publicity here in the UK and not nearly enough copies to supply the demand. Retailer dissatisfaction with earlier attempts to revive British comics' characters played a part in this and the sales figures were poor as a result. See here for my own take on the failure of the series.

Virgin Comics has subsequently collapsed and Dan has been picked up by Dynamite Entertainment. We shall have to wait until the new year to see if there's any news that the new Dan Dare is to continue.

Book Palace Books put out two reprints this year and both have done well enough for more titles to be planned. Although there's no schedule as yet, some of the projects being worked on include a reprint of Arturo Del Castillo's "The Three Musketeers", which appeared in Film Fun (1961) and Lion (1963-64), a book possibly called Images of War (which was originally planned to be called The Art of War but that has been used recently), a third reprinting some of the best of Ron Embleton's work from Look and Learn, plus the long-awaited book Geoff's been working on about Fortunino Matania. As you would expect, getting a few enthusiasts together (and I think you could describe Geoff, Stuart and myself as enthusiastic!) generates a thousand possible projects because the first question isn't "What books are commercially viable?", it's "What books do I want on my shelf?" We've already put out a couple of feelers relating to other strips and if anything comes of them, you'll be the fourth to know (behind me, Geoff and Stuart).

For me 2008 has been memorable for one or two of the wrong reasons. My work at Look and Learn came to an end and we had a nightmare summer coping with building work while I was trying to write sections of the Sci-Fi Art: A Graphic History book. I was involved in putting 15 books together in 2008, a boom year, but financially it has been a bust. That's something I hope will turn around in the new year.

2009 will at least start off on a much more positive note, with the release of the aforementioned SF book and the last two volumes of the Trigan Empire collection coming out. I'll be getting my head down and working on the various Book Palace volumes—so if Bear Alley isn't updated every day, don't panic. I'm just working.

Hope you've all enjoyed reading Bear Alley in 2008 and I'll take this opportunity to wish you all the best for a fantastic year in 2009. Wrap up warm, drink sensibly and have yourselves a great evening.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The return of Sexton Blake

There's good news for fans of old-style detective yarns with the announcement that Sexton Blake will be back on our shelves and in our ears in the spring of 2009.

The Casebook of Sexton Blake, edited by David Stuart-Davies, is to be published by Wordsworth Editions on 7 March as part of their cheap line of paperbacks—the retail price is £2.99 and it's already being offered cheaper by Amazon. Here's the publisher's blurb, to which I've added a couple of notes:
Welcome to the breathtaking adventures of Sexton Blake! For the greater part of the 20th century, the countless escapades of super sleuth Sexton Blake kept millions of readers on the edge of their seats. Together with his faithful sidekick, the youthful Tinker, and his intelligent bloodhound, Pedro, he stood firm against an onslaught of crime and villainy, defeating his enemies with his extraordinary powers of deduction, iron fists and unyielding determination. This thrilling collection presents seven exploits from his 'golden age'.

"The Slave Market" by Cecil Hayter (1907)—In the dangerous depths of Africa, Blake races to the rescue of an old school friend!
"A Football Mystery" by W. J. Lomax (1907)—Blake and Tinker join the England team to beat the cheating opposition!
"The Man From Scotland Yard" by Ernest Sempill (1908)—Blake has his first encounter with the greatest super-villain he would ever meet!
"The Law of the Sea" by W. Murray Graydon (1912)—Blake goes down with the ship in his own version of the sinking of the Titanic!
"The Brotherhood of the Yellow Beetle" by G. H. Teed (1913)—Blake grapples with oriental cunning in the form of Prince Wu Ling!
"A Case of Arson" by Robert Murray Graydon (1917)—A master crook is at work but Blake is on his trail!
"The Black Eagle" by G. H. Teed (1923)—A wronged man is out for vengeance. Can Blake stop him before it's too late?
The book will have additional notes by Mark Hodder who runs the excellent Blakiana website. It's a good line-up, with some fine choices: (Teed is one of my favourite Blake writers and Sempill's "The Man From Scotland Yard" is acknowledged as one of the best Blake tales ever penned.

Add that to the announcement that Radio 2 are to broadcast a Sexton Blake radio drama at Easter and it's a bit of a revival for the detective who entertained millions with his stories from the 1890s to the 1960s. Maggs' involvement in a Blake project was announced back in 2006 when it was described as "a tongue-in-cheek series" featuring Simon Jones (star of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) as Blake, Wayne Forester as Tinker and other characters played by Andrea Sadler and Graham Hoadly.

The show is being produced by Perfectly Normal Productions and BBC Audiobooks and an audiobook version (ISBN 978-1408410547) has already been announced by BBC Audiobooks for release on 7 May. Here's the blurb from Perfectly Normal Productions:
SEXTON BLAKE! A name that spells thrilling adventure for fans across the world,many of whom are still alive.

SEXTON BLAKE! A name that spells certain doom for villainy, no matter how fiendish or dandied.

SEXTON BLAKE! A name that spells mild, lingering confusion for country vicars advertising for a general officer.

A baffling crime — a hapless victim — the cry goes up, “Call SEXTON BLAKE! also some kind of medical representative.”

Now, exactly thirty-eight years, four months and eleven days after his final broadcast,the world’s mightiest and most popular detective returns to the air in the all-new THE ADVENTURES OF SEXTON BLAKE. Accompanied in his breakneck hurtle to justice by doughty (not doughy) assistant Tinker, Sexton Blake battles diabolical masterminds — beautiful jewel thieves — mechanical Stalins — in locations as exotic as a portable Congo — a second, secret London Underground — an uphill avalanche. Encountering peril at every turn, only Blake can save the day and solve the case by outwitting his enemies in the head and outpunching them in the jaw.
(* Sexton Blake © IPC Media.)

Trigan Empire The Collection

In 1965, one of the finest of all British comic strips began with a bang… or, rather, a crash. On 18 September, in the debut issue of Ranger, readers were introduced to ‘The Rise and Fall of the Trigan Empire’ in one of the most bizarre openings of any comic strip. A spacecraft of alien design crashes in the Florida Everglades… the inhabitants are humanoid but twice the height of the average human. The craft and its dead pilots are studied intensely, as are a collection of records written in a wholly alien language. One man, Richard Peter Haddon, spends seventy years on the task before he is finally able to translate the first of these records, the first book that related the founding of the Trigan Empire.

Ranger was absorbed into the educational magazine Look and Learn after only 40 weeks, but the adventures of the Trigan Empire were to continue until 1982, a run of 17 years.

The story was written by Mike Butterworth, a thirteen-year veteran of comic scriptwriting and long-time editor at Fleetway Publications, the publishers of Ranger. Butterworth, who had recently turned freelance, worked with Leonard Matthews—head of the juvenile publications department—to create a range of strips for the new paper. It was Matthews who found an artist to provide the two colour pages each week. Don Lawrence had produced a story in colour for the 1964 edition of Lion Annual which led to a colour strip for Bible Story. Impressed, Matthews asked to meet the artist and Lawrence was invited to draw the strip. With the occasional break, Lawrence drew the strip until 1976.

The story was set on the distant planet of Elekton where a war was about to break out between the technologically advanced Lokan race and its neighbours on the continent of Victris. The heroes of the story were three brothers who led one of the nomadic tribes that wandered the harsh deserts and mountain passes of Vorg. Trigo, Brag and Klud were each very different in personality: Klud was a schemer, Trigo a dreamer and Brag a plodder with little imagination. It was Trigo who had the vision to see that the nomadic life of the disparate tribes was soon to be threatened from beyond the borders of Vorg. He also saw a solution: bring together the tribes and create a city, gaining strength and security from unity.

Trigan City was built after many setbacks, thanks in part to the aid of a scientist fleeing from neighbouring Tharv. Peric, who is also an architect, helps create the mighty city and assists when Vorg is attacked by the Lokans. By capturing the Lokan air fleet, Trigo averts disaster, foils the invasion and—as they now have a strong military presence on Victris—begins expanding his empire. Not through military might but by offering protection to, and trade with, other nations. Trigan City becomes the hub of the globe-spanning Trigan Empire.

Comparisons with Rome are inevitable: the title itself was inspired by Edward Gibbon’s 18th century study, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; if the title hasn’t stuck, most people remember it for its mixture of horse-riding warriors, Roman and Greek architecture, slave, gladiatorial games and modern war machines.

Although Trigo was not a warmonger, he never backed off from a fight and, over the next few years, the Trigan Empire would have to contend with spies in their midst, battles against rogue states, the ever-present Lokan underground, who emerged regularly to attack the empire, and alien invaders; it was probably the first science fiction epic in British comics in which the hero gets married and has children (with, of course, disastrous consequences when one falls under the thrall of an alien). To broaden the scope of the stories, Butterworth and Lawrence introduced the Emperor Trigo’s nephew, Janno, and his two friends, Roffa and Keren, all three pilots in the Trigan Air Fleet.

For eleven years, with the occasional break, Butterworth and Lawrence charted the rise of Trigo’s empire. And, despite many pitfalls, it was a rise that saw the look of Trigan City change dramatically over the years. As story followed story, readers were able to see how the empire was developing, from its relatively humble horse-riding—or kreed-riding as it was on Elekton— beginnings to the development of motorised transport, roads and monorails criss-crossing the once desolate plains. Tower blocks rose in parts of Trigan City, blocking from sight the villas that dotted the hills. Nuclear power and space travel were amongst the scientific advances made by Trigan scientists.

Lawrence filled his frames with imaginative detail, whether it was a crowded marketplace or a sun-drenched landscape. More importantly, he was a master of archetypes when it came to drawing people: his elderly patriarchs had brows furrowed by the weight of years, the enemies of the empire looked evil, sneaky, angry, greedy and cunning; the heroes, by contrast, were virile in the Hollywood tradition of Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn.

The partnership between Lawrence and Butterworth was one of the finest ever in British comics. The two men only ever met twice—which was perhaps for the best as their second meeting ended in a heated, drink-fuelled argument, thankfully some years after the partnership was dissolved. Lawrence departed in 1976 after discovering that the Trigan Empire strip was being syndicated successfully around Europe; neither of the creators received a share in this success and Lawrence, despite having won an award sponsored by his publisher acknowledging him to be their finest artist, was offered a meagre pay rise. Impulsively, Lawrence quit.

The latter years of the strip were produced by a succession of artists. Ron Embleton, Miguel Quesada and Philip Corke had all stepped in other the years to fill-in when Lawrence required a holiday, but Oliver Frey was the first permanent replacement, drawing the strip until 1978 when Gerry Wood took over. These final stories were penned by Ken Roscoe, under whom the Trigan Empire became more of a galactic empire with many stories taking place off-planet.

‘The Trigan Empire’ remains one of the most popular comic strips ever to appear in the UK. Its appearance in Look and Learn, purchased by parents with ambitions for their children rather than out of the pocket money of the intended audience, meant that it was one of the most widely seen of all picture strips; Look and Learn could be found in many schools and waiting rooms; being an educational magazine, copies were often kept, sometimes in the binders offered by the publisher, for years. The occasional reprint—by Fleetway in 1973, Hamlyn in 1978 and Hawk Books in 1989—has kept the story alive for a newer generation. Abroad, most notably in Holland, it is still possible to buy the complete series in album form. An ambitious project to release the complete Mike Butterworth and Don Lawrence era stories as a set of twelve deluxe volumes, begun in 2004, should see completion in 2009.

Over twenty-five years after its demise, The Rise and Fall of the Trigan Empire remains as magnificent and glorious as ever, one of the finest stories ever told.

Trigan Empire 1: The Invaders from Gallas. Oosterhaut, Don Lawrence Collection, Jan 2009.

The Trigan Empire 2: Revolution in Zabriz. Oosterhout, Don Lawrence Collection, Mar 2007.

The Trigan Empire 3: The Reign of Thara. Oosterhout, Don Lawrence Collection, Nov 2006.

The Trigan Empire 4: The Three Princes. Oosterhout, Don Lawrence Collection, May 2006.

The Trigan Empire 5: The Red Death. Oosterhaut, Don Lawrence Collection, Apr 2008.

The Trigan Empire 6: The Puppet Emperor. Oosterhout, Don Lawrence Collection, Nov 2007.

The Trigan Empire 7: The Rallu Invasion. Oosterhout, Don Lawrence Collection, Aug 2006.

The Trigan Empire 8: The Prisoner of Zerss. Oosterhout, Don Lawrence Collection, Aug 2004.

The Trigan Empire 9: The Curse of King Yutta. Oosterhout, Don Lawrence Collection, Dec 2005.

The Trigan Empire 10: The House of the Five Moons. Oosterhout, Don Lawrence Collection, Jun 2005.

The Trigan Empire 11: The Sun-Worshippers. Oosterhout, Don Lawrence Collection, Feb 2005.

Trigan Empire 12: The Green Smog. Oosterhaut, Don Lawrence Collection, Jan 2009.

(* Trigan Empire © IPC Media.)

Monday, December 29, 2008

Comic Cuts: Bestselling British Annuals

Although I've no firm figures for sales, the The Bookseller's Top 50 best-selling books for the week ending 20th December showed that annuals were still a popular tradition over the Christmas period, with The Beano Annual placed at #19, followed by The Official Doctor Who Annual (#20), High School Musical: The Annual (#26), Match! Annual (#35), Hannah Montana Annual (#37), Top Gear Annual (#38), In the Night Garden Annual (#43), Oor Wullie Annual (#45), WWE Annual (#46) and Private Eye Annual (#49). To achieve these positions, The Beano and Doctor Who sold approximately 27,000 copies, High School Musical followed close behind, selling around 26,400, whilst Private Eye, at the lower end of the list, sold around 15,300.

The number one slot was (I guess inevitably) held by J. K. Rowling, whose The Tales of Beedle the Bard sold almost 160,000 copies, a 64,000 lead over the #2 title, Dawn French's autobiography, Dear Fatty.

Amazon's various sales charts are a good guide to the popularity of titles. Here's a snapshot of the bestselling annuals as of 29 December (with Amazon sales position in brackets).

Top 50 Annuals
1 The QI Annual 2009 (57)
2 Top Gear Annual 2009. (70)
3 Strictly Come Dancing The Official 2009 Annual. (122)
4 Doctor Who: The Official Annual 2009. (159)
5 The Beano Annual 2009. (160)
6 Oor Wullie Annual 2009. (201)
7 The Dandy Annual 2009. (752)
8 Viz: The Last Turkey in the Shop. (772)
9 Hannah Montana Annual 2009. (792)
10 Peppa Pig: The Official Annual 2009. (927)
11 Match Annual 2009 (956)
12 Blue Peter Annual 2009. (1,277)
13 High School Musical Annual 2009. (1,422)
14 The Official Manchester United Annual 2009. (2.145)
15 Match of the Day Annual 2009 (2,181)
16 The Official Liverpool FC Annual 2009 (2,460)
17 Horrible Histories Annual 2009 (2,843)
18 Doctor Who Storybook 2009 (2,941)
19 The Girls' Annual 2009. (3,021)
20 Wallace and Gromit Annual 2009. (3,044)
21 WWE Annual 2009. (3,119)
22 The Official Arsenal Calendar 2009 (3,379)
23 The Official Chelsea Calendar 2009 (3,526)
24 Shaun the Sheep Annual 2009. (3,792)
25 Star Wars Annual 2009. (3,997)
26 Ben 10 Annual 2009. (4,249)
27 The Bash Street Kids in Space Cadets. (4,515)
28 The Official Tottenham Hotspur Annual 2009 (4.634)
29 Bunty for Girls Annual 2009. (5,468)
30 The Rupert Annual [2009]. (5,559)
31 Disney Pixar Annual 2009: Wall-E (5,584)
32 The Brownie Annual 2009. (5,832)
33 Pokemon Diamond and Pearl Annual 2009. (6,827)
34 The Boys' Annual 2009. (7,503)
35 Dennis the Menace Annual 2009. (7,513)
36 Star Wars: The Clone Wars Annual 2009. (7,709)
37 Fireman Sam Annual 2009. (8,438)
38 In the Night Garden Annual 2009. (8,703)
39 Horrible Science Annual 2009. (8,999)
40 Animals and You Annual 2009. (9,529)
41 The Hot Shot Hamish Annual 2009. (11,221)
42 Shoot! Annual 2009. (12,586)
43 SpongeBob Squarepants Annual 2009. (15,654)
44 Bob the Builder Annual 2009. (17,239)
45 Power Rangers Annual 2009: Operation Overdrive. (20,996)
46 The Backyardigans Annual 2009. (22,063)
47 Fifi and the Flowertots Annual 2009. (24,662)
48 Barbie Official Annual 2009. (32,015)
49 Lazy Town Annual 2009. (35,765)
50 Thomas and Friends Annual 2009. (39,431)

Comic Cuts: Aces High: 10 of the best from Air Ace PL

A post-Christmas present for you. I'm pleased to announce that a collection of 10 stories from the highly collectable Air Ace Picture Library is to be published on 1st June by Prion. Aces High contains ten of the best yarns from the series including stories drawn by Joe Colquhoun, Ian Kennedy, Mike Western, Luis Bermejo, F. Solano Lopez, Ferdinando Tacconi, Juan Zanotto, Leopoldo Ortiz and Kurt Caesar. Only nine artists because I just couldn't resist picking out two by Ian Kennedy.

Above is the provisional cover which might change before the book is finalised.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Paperback Fanatic #8

Although I spend more time on Bear Alley talking about old British comics, I've not lost my love for old British paperbacks. I do the occasional cover gallery to keep that side of my life afloat, although they take so darned long to put together that I don't produce that many.

Thankfully, there's also The Paperback Fanatic, Justin Marriott's superb fanzine, to keep the torch burning. Issue 8 (December 2008) has just appeared, filled to the brim with fine features and an interview with Terry Harknett as a centre-piece. There are articles on various New English Library horror novels, a look at Jim Sterenko's book covers, a feature on the men's adventure series SAS Malko by Gerard de Villiers and a look at 1970s paperback editions of Edgar Rice Burroughs, which was a real trip down memory lane for me as I had most of them. A lively letter's column wraps up the issue.

If any of this brings back memories, give the magazine a try. Its popularity has meant that most of the earlier issues are now sold out, although I spy at the Paperback Fanatic website that issue 7 is still available. This new issue was, I believe, to have been relaunched by the folks behind Crikey! with a new first issue (see the cover scan below). Nice clear layouts and good cover reproductions have been a feature of the magazine since its inception, and this issue is no different. It's a steal at £3.99.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Alistair MacLean cover gallery

Alistair MacLean was one of the finest thriller writers Britain has ever produced. Critics over the years have said that his talents were in creating gripping situations rather than any particular writing ability: his style of storytelling was fairly straightforward, setting up a series of situations which would climax with a revelation, somewhat akin to the crime novels of the golden age. MacLean himself was modest about his writing talents and insisted that he was a storyteller rather than a novelist. His talent was to grab you with the opening paragraphs and never lessen the grip until the last page.

Alistair Stuart MacLean was born in Glasgow on 28 April 1922, the third of four children born to the Reverend Alistair MacLean, a Church of Scotland minister, and Mary Lamont MacLean, a singer. Alistair grew up in Daviot, near Inverness, speaking Gaelic in the family home until he was 15. He was educated at the local primary school and, following his father's death and a move back to Glasgow, obtained a bursary to Hillhead High School. He left school in 1939 and took a job with a shipping firm before enlisting in the Royal Navy in 1941.

His experiences as a torpedo operator aboard HMS Royalist, an escort ship for convoys taking supplies to Russia, were later vividly recreated in his first novel, H.M.S. Ulysses. The Royalist also served in the Mediterranean and the Aegean, taking part, in September 1944, in the bombardment of Nazi-occupied Greek islands—the setting for The Guns of Navarone—and subsequently in the Far East, taking part in the liberation of Singapore. This latter provided background for South by Java Head.

Released from the Navy in 1946, he began studying English at Glasgow University, supporting himself with work in a post office and sweeping streets. He obtained a second-class honours degree and graduated with an M.A. in 1950. By then he had met his future wife, a nurse called Gisela Heinrichsen, who moved to Glasgow and worked at Mearnskirk Hospital while MacLean studied to be a teacher. They married in July 1953 by which time MacLean was teaching English, history and geography at the all-boys Gallowflat Secondary School in Rutherglen.

He began writing in his spare time and his first story appeared in Blackwood's Magazine in 1954. Another story, "The Dileas", a tale of a dramatic rescue off the West Highland coast, won a £100 prize in a competition run by the Glasgow Herald. The story had a great emotional impact on the wife of Ian Chapman, then working at the Glasgow offices of Collins, who decided to track down the author. He invited MacLean to write a novel and, although reluctant at first, the birth of his son (Lachlan, named after his late elder brother who had died some years earlier from cancer) persuaded him to begin H.M.S. Ulysses in September 1954. Published a year later, it sold a quarter of a million copies within six months.

MacLean was catapulted into the ranks of best-sellers: serial rights were sold to Picture Post, an American edition appeared in 1956, and movie rights were sold for £30,000, although no movie was ever made. With the success of his second novel, The Guns of Navarone, MacLean gave up teaching to write full-time, moving his family to Switzerland to escape British taxes ahead of the publication of South by Java Head. Collins almost rejected the novel and had sent Ian Chapman to Switzerland to demand major changes but Chapman arrived to find a telegram awaiting him: the movie rights to the manuscript had sold and Collins would publish it unchanged.

The majority of MacLean's future novels would be adventure-thrillers: The Last Frontier concerned a British agent sent behind the Iron Curtain; Night Without End a murder-mystery set in the Arctic as a small group survive a plane crash and make a grueling journey to safety; Fear is the Key is a story of vengence set on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

Although financially successful, MacLean was stung by criticism of his writing and set out to publish future books under a pen-name to prove that his writing alone would sell books, not his name. As Ian Stuart, The Dark Crusader and The Satan Bug appeared to poor sales and he returned to his own name for the publication of The Golden Rendezvous and Ice Station Zebra, the latter considered one of his best.

MacLean delivered the latter novel with the intention that it would be his last. He returned to England, buying Jamaica Inn (made famous in the novel by Daphne du Maurier) and two other hotels. The venture proved a financial disaster and MacLean moved back to Switzerland and began writing When Eight Bells Toll. Approached by an American film producer, MacLean then began work on an original screenplay which he turned into another best-selling novel, Where Eagles Dare.

Thereon, MacLean averaged a book a year, writing them at his home at Villa Murat, near Geneva. By 1971 he had sold 23 million copies of his books and his next work was a biography of Captain Cook. During this period his marriage finally broke down and his divorced in 1972; he married former actress Marcelle Georgeus that same year, although they separated in 1976 and divorced in 1977.

One noticeable thing about MacLean's novels around this period are the number of cynical drunks. MacLean was himself a heavy drinker and from the mid-1970s on, his novels began to show a decline in quality. Although he claimed to dislike the film industry—and poked fun at it in one of his last good novels, Bear Island—too many of his later books read like novelisations of potential screenplays. He certainly churned out a great many scenarios for movies. Burt Nodella had the task of turning one, Air Force One is Down, into a screenplay and described the MacLean of 1978 as "charming, articulate and bright when he's sober. But difficult otherwise." Nodella also quoted MacLean drunkenly saying "I'm the world's greatest living writer but I write rubbish."

With Nodella, MacLean wrote eight scenarios for a series featuring UNACO (the United Nations Anti-Crime Organization). MacLean cannily retained all book rights to these and to other scenarios and screenplays he created or co-wrote.

Separated from his second wife and re-aquainted with his first, MacLean bought a flat in Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia, in 1978 where he was to now spend the majority of the year, taking trips elsewhere to research his novels (he had first visited Dubrovnik whilst researching Partisans, which was to appear four years later). However, despite his heavy research, the resulting books seemed to lack the realism that had carried the plots of earlier novels. Too many revolved around the popular movie notion of disasters, ranging from Goodbye California's terrorist attempt to cause an earthquake along the San Andreas Fault, to the sinking of Schiphol Airport in Floodgate. MacLean tried to recapture some of his earlier success with titles like Seawitch and San Andreas with their familiar settings (oil rig, World War II convoy), but the results compared badly. They still sold incredibly well: in 1978, his novels had sold 21 million in paperback, equalling Fontana's sales of Agatha Christie; by 1983 it was reported that at least 16 of his novels had sold over a million copies.

In 1983, aged 61, MacLean was awarded an honourary doctorate by Glasgow University; it was one of the few rewards, beyond the obvious financial rewards, that he was to receive for his writing. 27 years earlier, another Scottish institution, the Daily Record, had called his first novel "drivelling melodrama" and stated that it was an insult to the Royal Navy. MacLean ignored his critics, trusting in his talents to tell a story. Although it was a talent that was diminished by the later books, his ability to entertain and thrill readers was undeniable.

MacLean suffered a series of strokes in January 1987 whilst on holiday in Munich with Gisela. He was taken to hospital in a coma from which he did not recover. He died on 2 February 1987. He was buried after a private funeral at Celigny, Switzerland.

The first MacLean novel I read was When Eight Bells Toll and it has one of the finest openings of a thriller. After briefly outlining the history of the Peacemaker Colt in the first paragraph, it continues:
[W]hen a Peacemaker's bullet hits you in, say, the leg, you don't curse, step into shelter, roll and light a cigarette one-handed then smartly shoot your assailant between the yes. When the Peacemaker bullet hits your leg you fall to the ground unconscious, and if it hits the thigh-bone and you are lucky enough to survive the torn arteries and shock, then you will never walk again without crutches because a totally disintegrated femur leaves the surgeon with no option but to cut your leg off. And so I stood absolutely motionless, not breathing, for the Peacemaker Colt that had prompted this unpleasant train of thought was pointed directly at my right thigh.
It's heading towards thirty-five years since I read that and it's still one of the best openings I can remember. MacLean wasn't a writer of literature but, once picked up, it's almost impossible to put one of his books down again until you've finished the last page.

H.M.S. Ulysses (London: Collins, 1955; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1956)
Fontana 253, 1960, 319pp, 3/6.
Fontana 1013, 1964.
----, 23rd imp., Sep 1973, 287pp, 35p.
Fontana 0-00613512-9, 25th imp., Oct 1974. Cover by Paul Wright


The Guns of Navarone (London, Collins, 1957; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1957)
Fontana 332, 1959.
----, 2nd imp., Dec 1959
----, 3rd imp., Apr 1961, 255pp, 2/6. Cover: still
----, 4th imp., May 1961, 255pp.
----, 5th imp., Nov 1961.
----, 6th imp., May 1962
----, 7th imp., Sep 1962
----, 8th imp., Apr 1963
----, 9th imp., Jan 1964
----, 10th imp., Jun 1964
Fontana 1159, 11th imp., Aug 1965.
----, 12th imp., May 1966
----, 13th imp., Oct 1966
----, 14th imp., Apr 1967
----, 15th imp., Jul 1967
Fontana [for Scholastic Publications] nn, 16th imp., Oct 1967, 255pp, 3/6. Cover: still
Fontana 2507, XXth imp., 1971. Cover: photo
Fontana 0-00615400-X, 1978.
Fontana 0-00616160-X, 1980.
Fontana 0-00617247-4, 1985.


South by Java Head (London, Collins, 1958; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1958)
Fontana 457, 1961.
----, 2nd imp., Aug 1961, 2/6.
----, 3rd imp., Oct 1963.
----, 4th imp., May 1964
Fontana 1160, 5th imp., Aug 1965
----, 6th imp., May 1966, 254pp, 3/6.
Fontana 1904, 1968.
----, 12th imp.,1969.
----, 15th imp., Jun 1970, 254pp, 5/-. 
Fontana 3395, c.1973. Cover by Paul Wright
----, 26th imp., Feb 1974, 254pp, 35p. Cover by Paul Wright
Fontana 0-00617248-2, c.1985.

The Last Frontier (London, Collins, 1959; as The Secret Ways, Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1959)
Fontana 540, 1961.
----, 2nd imp., Jul 1961
----, as The Secret Ways, 3rd imp., May 1963, 253pp, 2/6.
Fontana 978, 5th imp., Mar 1964, 253pp, 3/6.
----, 6th imp., Jun 1964.
----, 7th imp., Apr 1965.
----, 8th imp., Jul 1965.
----, 9th imp., Apr 1966.
Fontana 2741, 19th imp., 1971, 253pp.
Fontana 0-00615749-1, 1981.

Night without End (London, Collins, 1960; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1960)
Fontana 665, 1962, 221pp, 2/6. Cover by Henry Fox?
----, 2nd imp., Nov 1962.
Fontana 937, 3rd imp., Mar 1964, 221pp, 3/6.
----, 4th imp., Jun 1964.
----, 5th imp., Apr 1965.
----, 6th imp., Jul 1965.
----, 7th imp., May 1966.
----, 8th imp., Dec 1966.
----, 9th imp., Jul 1967.
----, 10th imp., May 1968.
----, 11th imp., May 1968.
----, 12th imp., Nov 1968, 221pp, 5/-.
Fontana 1911, [c.1969]
----, 18th imp., Mar 1971, 221pp, 30p.
Fontana 0-00614185-4, 29th imp., May 1976, 221pp, 65p. Cover by Paul Wright
Fontana 0-00616122-7, [c.1980].

Fear Is the Key (London, Collins, 1961; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1961)
Fontana 790, 1963.
Fontana 1014, 2nd imp. Aug 1964, 224pp, 3/6.
----, Xth imp., 1967.
Fontana 0-00613255-3, 24th imp., Oct 1973, 224pp, 35p. Cover: photo
Fontana 0-00615991-5, c.1979/80.
----, 30th imp., Jun 1986, 224pp, £2.50.

The Dark Crusader by Ian Stuart (London, Collins, 1961; as The Black Shrike, New York: Scribners, 1961)
Fontana 771, 1963.
----, 2nd imp., May 1963
----, 3rd imp., Jan 1964.
----, 4th imp., Feb 1964.
----, 5th imp., Jul 1964.
----, 6th imp., Jan 1965.
----, 7th imp., Jun 1965.
----, 8th imp., Jul 1965.
----, 9th imp., May 1966.
----, 10th imp., Aug 1966.
----, 11th imp., Nov 1966.
----, 12th imp., Mar 1967, 223pp, 3/6.
Fontana 2059. c.1969.
----, 21st imp., Dec 1970, 223pp, 6/-.
Fontana 00-0616543-5, 1982, 223pp.


The Satan Bug by Ian Stuart (London, Collins, 1962; New York: Scribners, 1962)
Fontana 915, 1964.
----, 2nd imp., Feb 1964.
----, 3rd imp., Jun 1964.
----, 4th imp., Jan 1965.
----, 5th imp., Jul 1965.
----, 6th imp., Sep 1965.
----, 7th imp., May 1966.
----, 8th imp., Dec 1966.
----, 9th imp., Apr 1967.
Fontana 1730, 10th imp., Jun 1968, 223pp, 3/6.
Fontana 2510, Xth imp., 3/6. 1970. 
----, 17th imp., 1971. Cover: photo
 ----, 24th imp., 223pp, 35p. Cover: photo
Fontana 0006-15750-5, 1980.

The Golden Rendezvous (London, Collins, 1962; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1962)
Fontana 932, 1964, 223pp, 3/6.
----, 2nd imp., Jun 1964.
Fontana 2561, 26th imp., 1971, 223pp, 35p. Cover: photo
Fontana 0-00615069-1, 1977.
Fontana 0-00616259-2, 1981.



Ice Station Zebra (London, Collins, 1963; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1963)
Fontana 1105, 1965, 254pp, 3/6.
----, 2nd imp., Jul 1965.
----, 3rd imp., Nov 1965.
----, 4th imp., Aug 1966.
----, 5th imp., Nov 1966
Fontana 1838, c.1968. Cover: film still

----, 16th imp., Jan 1975, 254pp, 45p. Cover: film still
Fontana 0-00614421-7, 21st imp., Jun 1978, 254pp, 80p. Cover by Paul Wright
Fontana 0-00616141-3, c.1980


When Eight Bells Toll (London, Collins, 1966; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1966)
Fontana 1611, 1967, 223pp, 5/-.
----, 2nd imp., Apr 1968.
----, 3rd imp., Apr 1968.
----, 4th imp., Apr 1968.
----, 5th imp., May 1968.
----, 6th imp., Sep 1968.
----, 7th imp., Nov 1968.
Fontana 2483, 1971. Cover: film still
----, 19th imp., Jan 1975, 223pp, 40p. Cover: film still
Fontana 0-00615811-X, 1980.

Where Eagles Dare (London, Collins, 1967; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1967)
Fontana 1961, 1969. Cover: film still
----, 20th imp., Sep 1974, 219pp, 40p. Cover: film still
Fontana 0-00615804-8, 1980.


Force 10 from Navarone (London, Collins, 1968; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1968)
Fontana 2272, 1970, 223pp, 5/-. Cover: photo
Fontana 2824, 5th imp. 1972.
Fontana 0-00616433-1, 1979.


Puppet on a Chain
(London, Collins, 1969; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1969)
Fontana 2741, 1971. Cover: photo
Fontana 0-00615751-3, 1981.

Caravan to Vaccarès (London, Collins, 1970; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1970)
Fontana 2851, 1972, 189pp, 30p. Cover: photo
Fontana 0-00615748-3, 1980, 189pp.


Bear Island (London, Collins, 1971; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1971)
Fontana 0-00613186-7, 1973, 288pp, 40p. Cover by Paul Wright
----, 9th imp., Sep 1974.
Fontana 0-00615829-3, 1979.
Fontana 0-00616434-X, 1981.


The Way to Dusty Death (London, Collins, 1973; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1973)
Fontana 0-00613835-7, 1975, 190pp, 50p. Cover photo by Andy Seymour
Fontana 0-00615135-3, c.1977.
----, 21st imp., nd (1986?), 223pp, £3.50.

Breakheart Pass (London, Collins, 1974; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1974)
Fontana 0-00614132-3, 1975, 192pp, 60p. Cover: still [FC: Charles Bronson]. *MTI edition; *Continental edition
Fontana 0-00615905-6, 1976.
----, 9th imp., May 1981, 192pp, £1.25. [FC: Charles Bronson]. *MTI edition

Circus (London, Collins, 1975; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1975)
Fontana 0-00614889-1, 1977, 191pp, 70p. Cover photo by Malcolm Easter
Fontana 0-00616735-7, 5th imp., 1982, 191pp, £1.50.

The Golden Gate (London, Collins, 1976; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1976)
Fontana 0-00614494-2, 1976, 224pp, 80p. Cover photo by Andy Seymour

Goodbye California (London, Collins, 1977; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1978)
Fontana 0-00615360-7, 1980.
HarperCollins 0006-15360-7, Apr 2009.


Seawitch (London, Collins, 1977; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1977)
Fontana 0-00616474-9 1979. Cover: photo
----, 7th imp., 1982, 192pp, £2.50.

Athabasca (London, Collins, 1980; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1980)
Fontana 0-00616266-5, 1981, 252pp, £1.35. Cover: photo
----, 15th imp., nd (c.1987?), 252pp, £4.99.

River of Death (London, Collins, 1981; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1982)
Fontana 0-00616496-X, 1982, 216pp, £1.50. Cover by Paul Wright

Partisans (London, Collins, 1982; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1983)
Fontana 0-00616763-2, 1983. 
----, 9th imp., Aug 1988, 224pp, £2.95.

Floodgate (London, Collins, 1983; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1984)
Fontana 0-0061911-2, 1984, 315pp, £1.75.

San Andreas (London, Collins, 1984; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1985)
Fontana, 1985. Cover by Paul Wright

The Lonely Sea: Collected Short Stories (Glasgow: Collins, 1985; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1986)
Fontana 0-00617277-6, 1986, 222pp, £2.50. Cover by Paul Wright

Santorini (London, Collins, 1986; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1987)
Fontana 0-00617453-1, 1987, 220pp, £2.95.

(* Spin-off novels will be covered in another post.)