reviewed by Robert Kirkpatrick
Herbert Allingham was one of hundreds of writers who helped fill the pages of magazines, papers and comics during the heyday of cheap periodical publishing. Most of his fellow–hacks lived, and died, in obscurity, but thanks to a bit of good fortune, in that Julia Jones was given access to 16 boxes of Allingham’s diaries, account books, letters, manuscripts and published stories, we now have not only a biography of Allingham but also a unique insight into the relationships between writers, editors and readers.
Allingham was born in 1867 to James Allingham, founder of the Christian Globe, a non–denominational one penny monthly newspaper, which Herbert later edited for a while. His first earnings as a writer were for a serial he contributed to the New Boys’ Paper, a weekly story paper launched by his uncle, John Allingham (better–known as “Ralph Rollington) in 1886. In 1889, he became editor of the London Journal, founded in 1845 by George Stiff, and one of the foremost fiction–based periodicals of its time.
But it was a writer that Allingham found his bread and butter. He contributed stories and serials to both the Christian Globe and the London Journal; he found work as an advertising copywriter; he wrote numerous stories for boys’ story papers, most notably the Aldine Publishing Company’s True Blue and then for many of the papers and comics issued by the Amalgamated Press; and finally for women’s magazines such as the Family Journal, Home Companion and Poppy’s Paper.
All this is delineated in some detail – not for nothing is this biography sub–titled The Working Life of Herbert Allingham. But the book offers far more than just a chronological account of Allingham’s fiction. There are valuable insights into how one serial was re–used and re–packaged, depending on the readership of the periodical it was being published in. (Julia Jones identified 98 full–length serials which were published at least 299 times in various formats – reprinted, abridged, re–written – in at least 58 different publications). This is partly explained by changing social conditions and attitudes, coupled with the effects of the First World War, new roles for women, the rise and fall in disposable incomes, the whims and preferences of editors, and the internal politics of the Amalgamated Press, all of which are explored in some detail and which help place Allingham’s work in context.
There are also revelations about authors’ fees and the occasionally unscrupulous methods used by editors to limit their financial outlay. Finally, and no less importantly, Julia Jones also looks at the readers of Allingham’s stories – who they were, what they did, what they earned, and how he and why his relationship with them changed over the years.
Allingham died in 1936. None of the periodicals for which he wrote mentioned his death. Like almost all of his contemporaries, he died with no public recognition. As almost all of his output was anonymous, or written under pseudonyms, he never really existed as a “real” person. Now, thanks to this biography, he does.
Fifty Years In The Fiction Factory: The Working Life of Herbert Allingham by Julia Jones. Chelmsford, Golden Duck (UK) Ltd. ISBN 978-1-899262-07-6, 388pp, £17.99.