Sunday, October 15, 2006

Ernest Dudley

Last one tonight.

E. Coltman was the author of a story in Swift Annual 7 (1960) and I struggled for a while trying to remember where I knew the name Coltman from. Took a while before it came to me... Ernest Coltman was one of the names used by author Ernest Dudley, real name Vivien Ernest Coltman Allen, born in Dudley, near Wolverhampton, on 23 July 1908.

Ernest was a regular visitor to the London book fairs. I think the first time I met him he was already in his nineties, although you wouldn't have guessed; although he used a walking stick he walked bolt upright without any sign of infirmity; it was some years since he ran the London Marathon (which he did five times, as well as the New York Marathon) but you got the feeling that he'd do it again at the drop of a hat. He was chatty, he smiled easily and had no pretentions.

Sadly, Ernest died last February at the age of 97. Some very good obituaries appeared in the newspapers soon after so I need not repeat the basics of Ernest's life -- just take a look at the obits in The Times, The Independent (via, The Guardian and The Stage.

Through his attendance of various book fairs, Ernest met Phil Harbottle who was able to get some of his novels back into print through Wildside Press, with covers by Sam Peffer (himself in his eighties). The first was Alibi and Dr. Morelle and I was more than pleased to have a copy signed by both Ernest and 'Peff' a couple of years ago.

Apart from creating the ascerbic Dr Morelle, Ernest was one of the few living Sexton Blake authors, having prenned two stories for Detective Weekly in March 1939 in which Blake co-starred with Syd Walker, one of the stars of the radio show Mr. Walker Wants to Know. Syd, played by Gordon Crier, was a genial Cockney rag and bone man, pushing his "barrer" around the streets of London and regailing listeners with mysterious crime yarns which would come to a seemingly insoluble predicament when Syd would ask, "What would you do, chums?" That catchphrase became the title ('What Would You Do?') of a second Blake yarn a few weeks after the first and the two stories were revamped to become Ernest's first novel, Mr. Walker Wants to Know (1939).

Ernest also wrote the first Sexton Blake radio play, Enter Sexton Blake, starring George Curzon, which ran for 12 episodes between 26 January and 13 April 1939. The show was based on a story, 'Three Frightened Men' by Berkeley Gray (Edwy Searles Brooks), originally published in the Sexton Blake Library in 1938 and subsequently serialised (as 'Enter Sexton Blake') in Detective Weekly to coincide with the run on radio.

Ernest was also the star of comic strips in the 1950s. In 1942 he starred as 'The Armchair Detective' in his own radio series which mixed reviews with dramatised chapters of the latest novels and discussions of real life crimes. The show became a 1951 film (starring Ernest himself) and a variety hall tour with Ernest solving mysteries between various acts; it also inspired a newspaper column in the Daily Express (illustrated by Carl Giles) and a series of five comic books in the Super Detective Library (1953-55), drawn by Reg Bunn and W. Bryce Hamilton.

The photo shows Ernest in conversation with Maurice Flanagan and was taken by me at the Paperback Book Fair in Victoria, London, in October 2003.

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