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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Hank Janson on Midsomer Murders

Post number 50 according to Blogger. Frankly, I'm amazed, although a lot of them have been pretty short and dashed out at the end of the day. It's quite theraputic as a lot of what I've been doing over the past few months has involved long-term projects which don't have any end in sight. Banging out a quick entry here usually means 20 minutes digging and maybe 20 minutes organising what information I've dug up. Beginning, middle and end. Or open ended, as I'm always hopeful that someone will stumble across these notes and be able to add something to them.

So, I was wondering what to write about for the momentous occasion of episode 50 and the subject fell in my lap. I was watching an episode of Midsomer Murders -- ITV have been repeating them at lunchtime -- and today I was watching an episode entitled 'Blue Herring' which opens in an old people's residential home. Someone is looking through some old books and, just visible in the corner of the screen is a Hank Janson! The title wasn't shown but those legs were unmistakable: it was a copy of Situation--Grave!, published by Alexander Moring in 1958 -- actually a reprint of Sweetheart, Here's Your Grave! from 1949 (one of the two books from the original run to have covers by someone other than Heade).

The other books in the shot included hardcover editions of Faked Passports by Dennis Wheatley, The Beckening Hand by Margery Allingham and two Saint novels by Leslie Charteris, both Hodder & Stoughton Yellowbacks including Call for the Saint (C78, 1953) and one I couldn't quite make out. A few other books turn up over the course of the episode, although I didn't make a list.

Hank Janson is one of my many obsessions. I was lucky enough to correspond with the creator of Hank, Stephen D. Frances, and, a few years ago, wrote a biography all about Steve F. and Hank J., The Trials of Hank Janson which, if you don't have a copy (shame on you!) is still available from Telos Publishing. (You can find the book in their 'Crime Fiction' section for a mere £12.99.) Telos also reprinted 12 of the original novels and I put together an anthology collecting a number of shorter Hank Janson stories, When Dames Get Tough, which has an absolutely classic Heade 'brawling dames' cover, well worth the price alone.

Some random news:
  • I've just seen the first proofs for the introduction of the next volume, Trigan Empire--The Collection, The Reign of Thara which contains two of my favourite Trigan yarns, 'The Reign of Thara' and 'The Invasion of Bolus' from 1967-68, plus a neat little yarn called 'The Alien Invasion'. Superb artwork from Don Lawrence as always. If you're a Don Lawrence/Trigan completist, make sure you subscribe to The Best of Look and Learn as we will be running episodes of Trigan Empire as part of the line-up. We're gearing up for the launch of the magazine: the first mailing (including a facsimile of the very first issue of Look and Learn plus the free gift that accompanied it) goes out in December and issue 1 follows on 9 January 2007 and then twice a month for the next two years. We're limiting the Best of to 48 issues at present, although there's plenty more material for a second series. And if The Best of Look and Learn goes well, who knows: The Best of Ranger, The Best of Playhour, The Best of Treasure... we have plenty of options.

(* The Radio Manchester interview almost collapsed again. The last time we tried this they set up a link with BBC Essex in Chelmsford rather than the Colchester studio I was sitting in. We rescheduled for Monday (16th) at 10.30. I arrived on the dot, only to find the doors locked, the studio in complete darkness and nobody around. After hammering on the door for five minutes I decided to phone the Manchester studio to let them know there was... a... slight... problem!

(Which is how I found myself in the offices of a neighbouring chartered accountants trying to explain why the interview might be off for a second time. A few frantic phonecalls flew between stations and we eventually found out that the engineer who was supposed to be in the studio was off sick and a replacement was on his way. I raced back to the studio and into the booth and we were all set to broadcast when the phone in the studio started ringing. I'm waving frantically at the engineer (who was changing his clothes) through the window and trying to listen to what's happening on Radio Manchester through the headphones; eventually I gave up and went out to the office to warn him about the phone. He comes racing in and rips out the phone line just as I was being introduced.

(Everything went smoothly after that! It was actually a very pleasant interview (thanks to Eamonn O'Neal and Dianne Oxberry who are the presenters) and hopefully nobody noticed any of the panic that we'd just gone through. I got in a good plug for the Look and Learn web site. I'm pleased to see we're getting quite a few entries in our kid's art competition. If you're reading this and you have a child aged between 5 and 14, get them drawing. It's free to enter and you could win a prize.

(I'm hopeful that there will be some more good news about some other Look and Learn related publishing soon, although the publishing world tends to move with glacial slowness. We don't have a date for Look and Learn: A History of the Classic Children's Magazine, although I'm hopeful that it might be out early next year around the same time as Fleetway Picture Libraries Vol.1: The War Libraries. The titles might not be terribly exciting but they do just what they say on the tin!

(Enough of this rambling. What do you expect at 1 o'clock in the morning? Something that makes sense?)

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