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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Guy Ramsey

Guy Ramsey has led me a bit of a merry chase. I thought this would be an easy one, but then noticed that even Al Hubin's Crime Fiction Bibliography wasn't certain of his dates, with question marks against both his year of birth and year of death. Nor does any library in the UK appear to have a copy of the above book.

His mother was Alice Ramsey, born Alice Joanna Royston in Chelsea, London, on 31 August 1864, the daughter of William Haylett Royston, a hotel keeper, and his wife Isabel. She adopted the name Alicia by the time she was married to actor Cecil Ramsey in Kensington in 1891. Ramsey's real name was Sanderson Henry Walker (b. Louth, Lincolnshire,1866) and the couple were living at 12 Leyndhurst Road, Hampstead, when their son, Guy Haylett Walker, was born on 12 January 1900. (His birth registration gives the erroneous spelling Hayelett.)

At the time of the 1901 census, the family had a visitor in the shape of actor and author Rudolph Ferdinand de Cordova (b. Kingston, Jamaica, 10 June 1859), with whom Alicia had been collaborating for some years. Their first play, appeared as early as 1895, the popular Monsieur de Paris at the Royalty, about a romance involving the daughter of an executioner in Paris. The two continued to collaborate on other plays, including As a Man Sows (Grand, Islington, 1898), Password (Imperial, 1904) and others. By 1908 the two were running their own company which appeared at the Empire, Ardwick Green, the Hippodrome, Oxford Street, the Coliseum, Charing Cross, and Camberwell Empire in 1908-11, performing plays such as The Organ-Grinder, Edmund Kean and The Guardian Angel. Alicia's play Wedding Night was performed at the Coliseum in 1913.

Cecil Ramsey (i.e. Sanderson H. Walker) died in 1914, aged 47. That same year Alicia travelled to America where she married de Cordova, who, in 1916, wrote and was assistant director on the movie Romeo and Juliet starring Francis X. Bushman and Beverly Bayne. Their plays had already had some success on Broadway, amongst them The Shadow Behind the Throne (1905), John Hudson's Wife (1906) and Eve's Daughter (1917).

Alicia and Rudolph co-wrote A Daughter of the Old South (1918), and Alicia had a solid number of credits to her name writing scenarios for Famous Players-Lasky Corporation and Vitagraph. Guy, meanwhile, was living with his mother and step-father in New York City, and was a student at college. He joined the US Army in September 1918 but it is unlikely he saw any action. He returned to England in January 1920, shortly after his 20th birthday.

Alica and Rudolph also returned to the UK where they wrote for Gaumont British and Stoll Picture Productions. Rudolph's credits include Roses in the Dust (1921), whilst Alicia's included Rob Roy (1922), A Prince of Lovers (1922, about Byron), Bonnie Prince Charlie (1923, starring Ivor Novello and Gladys Cooper) and Young Lochinvar (1924). Their play, Dr. Abernethy--His Book, was a popular radio play and broadcast many times in the 1930s and made into a TV play as Doctor 'My Book' for the BBC in 1938. Both were also regular writers for magazines, De Cordova contributing to Pearson's, The Strand, Harmsworth London Magazine, Windsor, Grand, The Rapid, Young's and Munsey's, Alicia contributing to Ainslee's, Young's, Snappy Stories, Smart Set, Argosy and Novel Magazine over the years.

Alicia also wrote two popular novels, The Adventures of Mortimer Dixon (London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1913) and Miss Elizabeth Gibbs (London, Mills & Boon, 1915). The former was a rollicking adventure pitting the title character against a horde of Chinamen in a case of kidnapping that moves from Mayfair flats to the Whitechapel slums. One reviewer at least found the character so engaging, and his adventures told with such verve, that (s)he wanted to see more of Dixon. However, Alicia's next novel was a more sedate and sentimental affair of which the Manchester Guardian reviewer said "the gorge of the sensible Briton is apt to rise at description after description of the highly elaborate toilettes, adorable face and childlike mind of a woman as distinct from the soul of the women of England ... as a merry-go-round is distinct from a lifeboat." (3 Oct 1915)

Alicia died in Kensington on 7 May 1933. A collection of three short novels, The Three Cocktails, and other stories (containing "The Three Cocktails", "The Little White Cat" and "The Peace Maker") was published posthumously (London, John Heritage, 1933), well praised by the Liverpool Echo: "These stories are all exhilarating, beautifully written, unusual, and each has an occasional mythical flavour. Their psychological penetration is remarkable."

Rudolph has also had a sideline career in books, having published a variety since the turn of the century: Royalties of the World. Being a series of portraits in colour of reigning families of the civilized world (London, George Newnes, 1901, originally issued in parts), biographical sketches for the Parts I Have Played series (Westminster, Abbey Press, 6 pts., 1909), Contract in a Nutshell (London, Grayson & Grayson, 1932) and editing Dame Madge Kendal, by herself (London, J. Murray, 1933). He died in Kensington, London, on 11 January 1941, aged 81.

Guy, meanwhile, appears to have worked in various journalistic and editorial roles over the years. Like many journalists in the 1930s, he spent a time in the court of bankruptcy, a petition filed in November 1935, from which he emerged in February 1948.

During the war he was a War Correspondent embedded (as we would say now) with the Allied forces at Oran and in Algiers which led to the publication of One Continent Redeemed in 1943. He had earlier written a novelisation of the movie Ships With Wings, directed by Sergei Nolbandov, about a pilot (played by John Clements) whose reckless actions lead to the death of the brother of the girl he loves. Disgraced, he leaves the service of the Fleet Air Arm, only to become embroiled with a German spy in Greece, which gives him a chance to redeem himself.

His interest in Bridge led to Ramsey becoming an active member of the English Bridge Union when it re-established itself after the Second World War. Ramsey was editor of the E.B.U.'s Contract Bridge Journal and on the advisory council of the Tournament Bridge Association and President of the International Bridge Press Association in 1958-59. He was also Bridge Correspondent for the Daily Telegraph as well as being a distinguished literary critic for the paper throughout the 1950s.

His only original novel, Stop Press Murder, published in 1953, concerned a female journalist, who sleeps with anyone and everyone to steal their stories, who is found spiked on the editor's desk.

Guy Ramsey died in October 1959. He married twice, first to (the Hon.) Cicely Sylvia Molesworth (daughter of the 9th Viscount Molesworth) in Chelsea, Middlesex in 4Q 1927, then Celia Marjorie Dale in 4Q 1937 in Hampstead, Middlesex. He was survived by his second wife, who wrote a number of novels under her maiden name, and his sons Valentine (b.1928) and Simon J. (b.1944).

Writing in The Times, E. Arnot Robertson wrote, "No one who worked with Guy Ramsey in Fleet Street could ever forget him as a colleague. he was the most generous, warm-hearted man I ever knew in that world where fame and success are written in yesterday's by-lines, and no ink fades quicker in memory, so that envy and uncharitableness is rarely far to seek. But Guy Ramsey was incapable of envy. Through the years when we were working on the same paper, I never knew him to say or do a mean or petty thing. He liked liking people, and was genuinely delighted to hear of a fellow-writer's good luck. And when luck failed, he helped practically."

PUBLICATIONS

Fiction
Ships With Wings, adapted from the screenplay by Patrick Kirwan, Austin Melford and Diana Morgan. London, Hutchinson, 1942.
Stop Press Murder. London, Andrew Dakers, 1953.

Non-fiction
Come and See Britain. London, British Publishers Guild, 1942 [translated into various languages]
One Continent Redeemed. London, G. G. Harrap & Co., 1943; as Springboard to Victory, London, Digit Books, 1957.
Aces All. London, Museum Press, 1955.
Epic Stories of the Second World War. London, Odhams Press, 1957.
Epics of Modern True Adventure. London, Odhams Press, 1958; abridged as Epics of True Adventure, London, World Distributors, 1960.

Others
The Pageant of the Century, edited by Henry E. White, associate editor Guy Ramsey; foreword by H. V. Morton. London, Odhams Press, 1933.
The Squeeze at Bridge by H. G. Freehill, preface by Guy Ramsey. London, Faber & Faber, 1949.
Sure Tricks by George S. Coffin, edited with an introduction by Guy Ramsey. London, Faber & Faber, 1952.
Bridge Play from A to Z by George S. Coffin, edited with an introduction by Guy Ramsey. London, Faber & Faber, 1954.
The Ballades of Trevor Blakemore, introduction by Guy Ramsey. London, N. Spearman, 1955.
Bridge for Three. Rules and tactics of trio bridge, the official form of three-handed contract bridge by George S. Coffin, edited with an introduction by Guy Ramsey. London, Faber & Faber, 1955.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

My name is Triff Skepelhorn and I am the daughter of Valentine Ramsey. My dad and I were searching information on Cecil Ramsey and found your blog. Thanks so much for making my dad so happy!
All the best
TRIFF
triff@lolly-agency.co.uk

Steve said...

Hi Triff,

My pleasure. If you or your dad care to share any personal memories, you are more than welcome to drop me a line (the address is below the photo, top left).

David Vann deCordova, Jr. said...

Dear Sir: I'm a relative of Rudolf deCordova, and have been working on the family genealogy. If interested, I'd be happy to share access with you. Thank you for the article. It proved a bonus to my research!

Regards,

Vann de Cordova
Texas

Dai Williams said...

Guy Ramsey also wrote for the Daily Mail. I have an article by him dated August 13th 1948 in which he discusses what to expect at the Edinburgh Festival