Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Peter W. Batten

Back in the early 1980s I was lucky enough to travel up to the British Library regularly and one of the publishers I tried to checklist was Aldine Publishing. A regular byline for Aldine's Boxing Novels, Racing Novels and Football Novels series was one Peter W. Batten. I was reasonably sure he was also the author Peter Woodruff and it didn't take too much to discover that Peter Woodruff Batten was born in 1893.

I've done bits of research ever since to see what else I could discover about the author and thought I had enough to write up a little biographical sketch six or so years ago. I'm very pleased to say that I've recently had the opportunity to correspond with Tony Batten, Peter's son who has been kind enough to fill in a number of gaps.

Peter Woodruff Batten was born in Tranmere, Cheshire, on 26 June 1893 and educated at a private school in Yorkshire and Baldock College, Herts. Batten was the fourth child (and second son) of John Thomas Batten, who worked for the Inland Revenue as a supervisor of an excise department, and his wife Mara Mira Swannell Batten (née Woodruff).

During the Great War Batten served in Gallipoli with the 5th Bn. The Manchester Regiment and in France at the first Battle of the Somme with the Cinq Ports Bn. of the Royal Sussex Regiment. He was attached to the Tank Corps as a Section Commander at the Battle of Cambrai where his tank was destroyed and he had to lead his troops to safety on foot. In 1918 he was awarded the Military Cross.

After demobilisation in 1920, he turned to writing and wrote some 40 novels between 1923-31 for Aldine Publications (Richard Worth being another of his pen-names). Aside from these, he also contributed to John Bull, the Sunday Express, Star and Daily Express. After working on the staff of the Daily Express, Batten joined the Sunday Dispatch as News Editor in 1926; he was the Chief Sub-Editor of the Sunday Express, 1929, before becoming Editor of the Sunderland Echo, 1930-32.

At the same time, Batten had a third career: as well as being a journalist and novelist, he was also acting on stage and radio and made uncredited appearances in the movies The Arcadians (1927, which also featured Phyllis Calvert in an uncredited role) and The Triumph of the Scarlet Pimpernel (1928), He was most proud of his appearance in Dawn (1928), the story of Nurse Edith Cavell, portrayed by Dame Sybil Thorndike.

Despite these multiple careers Batten went into bankruptcy in January 1932.

Batten had married Sarah Eva Pritchard in 1911 with whom he had three sons and a daughter. The couple divorced in 1925 and Batten married Gladys Maud Daniels in 1926 with whom he had a further eight children. In the 1920s and early 1930s, the family was living at 12 Claverton Street, Pimlico, London. Batten left the UK for Australia in around 1934/35 to work as a sub-editor on The Truth, the Sydney Sunday newspaper. Batten did not get on with the paper's editor, the notoriously abusive Ezra Norton, and returned to the UK after a year.

In 1936, the family moved to Colombo where Batten took a job as chief sub on The Times of Ceylon, leaving in 1940 to emigrate to Melbourne, Australia, to work as a sub-editor for The Age. During this time he joined the Volunteer Defence Corps and, in 1941, talked his way into the Royal Australian Air Force. As an Intelligence Officer, he was sent to Perth, Western Australia, where he served until late 1942 when it was decided to send him to the tropics. This meant taking a medical and, with blood pressure of 200+, Batten found himself a civilian once again.

In Perth, he joined the Mirror as chief sub and was also an accredited War Correspondent. Post-war, he was made editor of the Mirror's sister paper, the Sunday Times. In 1947 he moved back to Sydney to become chief sub on the ABC Weekly where he remained for some years, although he continued his association as a regular contributor. In later years he was also a feature writer for the Sydney Morning Herald.

Whilst in Ceylon, Batten and his wife had started a children's radio programme and this experience led to him becoming the news editor of Radio 2GB in Sydney in about 1950, a position he held until shortly before his death. His work varied, from announcing to acting in radio plays, reading the news to reading 15-minute extracts from novels, broadcast at 8.45 am for people to listen to just before work. He also performed on stage (usually in farces).

"In later life he was, sadly, a heavy drinker and a gambler," recalls Tony, "though he never missed a day's work and performed in his various roles without a hitch. He was a great cook and Sunday lunches were expected to be attended by his children well after we were married.

"He was a wonderful raconteur and had the ability, on occasion, to predict the future. Recently, my brother Michael and I recalled his saying to us of a neighbour 'He'll be dead in six months' when no one even knew the man was ill."

Working two jobs constantly would eventually take its toll and Batten, who had only recently retired from 2GB, having reached the age of 65, died at Bellvue Hill, New South Wales, on 28 September 1958.

Novels (series: Dixon Brett)
Game to the End. London, Aldine Publishing (Boxing Novels 4), 1925.
The Needle Match
. London, Aldine Publishing (Boxing Novels 7), 1925.
The Wizard of the Wing
. London, Aldine Publishing (Football Novels 8), 1925.
Bred in the Bone
. London, Aldine Publishing (Boxing Novels 15), 1926.
From Prize Ring to Palace. London, Aldine Publishing (Boxing Novels 18), 1926.
The Knock-Out Fisherman. London, Aldine Publishing (Boxing Novels 22), 1926.
The Stolen Girl!
(Brett). London, Aldine Publishing (Dixon Brett Library 4), 1926.
Dan of the Rovers. London, Aldine Publishing (Football Novels 24). 1927.
The Airman Half Back
. London, Aldine Publishing (Football Novels 45), 1928.
The Greenhorn Champion. London, Aldine Publishing (Boxing Novels 45), 1928.
The Speed-King Centre. London, Aldine Publishing (Football Novels 61), 1929.
Champion in Spite of it All. London, Aldine Publishing (Boxing Novels 69), 1930.
Nobbled!. London, Aldine Publishing (Racing Novels 101), 1930.
The Pit-Boy Centre
. London, Aldine Publishing (Football Novels 78), 1931.

Novels as Peter Woodruff
The Fighting ‘Parson’. Aldine Publishing (Boxing Novels 10), 1925.
The Battling Champ. London, Aldine Publishing (Boxing Novels 13), 1926.
A Fight to the Finish. London, Aldine Publishing (Boxing Novels 20), 1926.
Ploughboy Champion. London, Aldine Publishing (Boxing Novels 23), 1926.
The Great Invincibles. London, Aldine Publishing (Football Novels 27), 1927.
The Dandy Goalkeeper
. London, Aldine Publishing (Football Novels 31), 1927.
Dr. Jim, Full Back
. London, Aldine Publishing (Football Novels 33), 1928.
The Twin Centre. London, Aldine Publishing (Football Novels 36), 1928.

Novels as Richard Worth (series: Dixon Brett)
Last of Her Line. London, Aldine Publishing (Racing Novels 15), 1923.
A Gallop to Fortune. London, Aldine Publishing (Racing Novels 26), 1924.
The Young Corinthian. London, Aldine Publishing (Boxing Novels 3), 1925.
Fighting Mac. London, Aldine Publishing (Boxing Novels 5), 1925.
Pride of the Fancy. London, Aldine Publishing (Boxing Novels 8), 1925.
A Boxing Squire. London, Aldine Publishing (Boxing Novels 11), 1925.
The Star of Hope
. London, Aldine Publishing (Racing Novels 30), 1925.
A Bantam Champion. London, Aldine Publishing (Boxing Novels 14), 1926.
A Footballer’s Romance. London, Aldine Publishing (Football Novels 16), 1926.
The Mystery Centre
. London, Aldine Publishing (Football Novels 22), 1927.
What a Fighter!. London, Aldine Publishing (Boxing Novels 32), 1927.
The Murder in the Fog
(Brett). London, Aldine Publishing (Dixon Brett Library 8), 1927.
The Actor-Footballer
. London, Aldine Publishing (Football Novels 35), 1928.
The Midget Winger. London, Aldine Publishing (Football Novels 42), 1928.
Twins of the Pigskin
. London, Aldine Publishing (Racing Novels 94), 1930.

(* My thanks to Tony for the information and the photos of his father. Very much appreciated!)

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