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Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Caught in the Act: Henry Chalmers Roberts

Although there was a constant crossover of content between British and American magazines, it was only the introduction of the International Copyright Treaty in 1891 that ended the wholesale pirating of stories and features. Some American publishers had established London offices for the distribution of their titles, or struck deals with already established British publishers. Thus Harper's Magazine began a European edition in 1850 published by Sampson Low, Lippincott's Magazine was published by Ward Lock from 1890 and many other American titles were published by Frederick Warne, Macmillan, Hodder & Stoughton and T. Fisher Unwin.

Chalmers Roberts came to the UK in 1900 as a representative of Doubleday, Page & Co. to set up a deal to publish a British edition of Doubleday's The World's Work magazine, launched in American in  November 1900. The British publisher was William Heinemann, who had already forged links with Frank Doubleday in the 1890s.

The World's Work: An illustrated magazine of national efficiency and social progress (there was a brief period when the title became The World's Work and Play; the subtitle was later shortened to A Magazine of Today) debuted in December 1902. Initially edited by globe-travelling journalist and Liberal MP Henry Norman, MP, it would eventually run to 252 monthly issues until 1923 when it was retitled World Today.

Henry Chalmers Roberts was born in Austin, Texas, on 31 July 1870 [possibly 1869], the eldest son of Major General Albert Samuel Roberts and his wife Fanny Gordon (nee Chalmers). He was educated in private schools in Texas and Virginia before attending the University of Texas.

Roberts was sent to the American Legation, Constantinople, in 1893, as a junior diplomat. Here he became a war correspondent for the Daily News during the Turko-Grecian War of 1897; he later covered the Spanish-American War for the Daily Mail in 1898. As a journalist, Roberts contributed to Atlantic, Harper's, Everybody's and The World's Work.

Established in the UK, Chalmers Roberts became managing director of  World's Work Ltd., which was wound-up in November 1913 and relaunched as World's Work (1913) Ltd., based in Kingswood, Surrey, where William Heinemann had their print works.

The growth of cheaper, popular fiction magazines in the USA was reflected in the UK, with the British edition of Short Stories published by World's Work from March 1920. This proved so popular that it was published twice a month from 1922 until the outbreak of the Second World War. Further popular imports followed, including The Frontier in April 1925 and West in August 1926—all three titles relying heavily on westerns, which were proving hugely popular in Britain in the 1920s.

In the 1930s, World's Work continued to produce British editions, launching All-Star in 1931, based on the Doubleday title which folded soon after, leading All-Star to merge with Frontier; the merged papers folded in 1933, briefly making way for All-Star Detective Magazine.

World's Work began publishing their own titles alongside short-lived reprints of Modern Stories and All Western Magazine, most notably the Master Thriller series, which reprinted stories from Short Stories, Frontier and elsewhere mixed in with the occasional original. Spin-offs from this series included a number of highly collectable horror magazines and the science fiction magazine Tales of Wonder. The editor of the latter, Walter Gillings, would later recall meeting with Chalmers Roberts, describing him as "a large, bewhiskered man more than twice my age with a vast experience of the publishing world." ['The Impatient Dreamers 6 Year of the Blast-Off', Vision of Tomorrow, p.21]

This would have been in 1937. Chalmers Roberts had for many years lived at 25 Jermyn Street, London SW1 and was single. In 1944, Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge was published by Heinemann in the UK and Doubleday in the USA, which its author characterised as a thinly veiled true story. Roberts was reputedly the inspiration for the character Elliott Templeton, and was described by Maugham's biographer Selina Hastings as "a retired American diplomat [and] pederast." [Quoted in Gay Novels of Britain, Ireland and the Commonwealth, 1881-1981: A Reader's Guide by Drewey Wayne Gunn, p.38]

Roberts returned to America, where he died in New York on 2 April 1949, aged 79. A brief obituary in The Times (5 April 1949, p.6) noted that he "played an active part in the promotion of Anglo-American relations, on the committee of the English-Speaking Union and as a member of the Pilgrim Club, throughout the 40 years he spent in London."

Update: There is some question as to whether Chalmers Roberts came to the UK in 1900 in order to set up the World's Work magazine or whether he arrived later, as some sources state that he came to the UK in 1906. My source for 1900 is Who's Who Among North American Authors. Both the 1929 and 1939 editions state that he "Went to London in 1900 as representative of Doubleday, Page and Co., residing there since."

The 1906 date relates to when he took over the editorship of the magazine from Henry Norman, who was the founding editor and ran the magazine for five years. Chalmers Roberts took over as editor with issue 49, the fifth anniversary issue, dated December 1906. Roberts subsequently travelled between the UK and the USA fairly regularly, obtaining a passport in 1915 at which time he was said to have been working in Washington DC (having returned to the USA shortly after the outbreak of the First World War). He was listed as living at 25 Jermyn Street, London, as early as 1908, but I have been unable to trace his whereabouts earlier than that.

(* The Mystery Stories pic is from the FictionMags Index where a number of issues of the magazine still need to be indexed – so if you have copies of issue #12, 16, 17, 22 please get in touch.)

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