Friday, June 08, 2007

Herbert F. Inman

A few years ago I compiled a a little chapbook entitled Dixon Hawke--Detective for Norman Wright which included listings for the contents of Dixon Hawke Library and the Dixon Hawke Case Book. At the end of the introduction I said "It seems unlikely that the true authorship of each book will ever be known (but stranger things have happened)."

Well, strange things have happened over the past couple of years. Firstly, thanks to the generosity of a fan of Dixon Hawke, I've been able to look through a vast number of stories that appeared in the Dixon Hawke Library and in the boys' story paper Adventure. About three years ago I reached a kind of 'critical mass' where I had copies of enough stories to spend time going through them, looking for characters who turned up in different tales and looking for clues to who may have written them. A few stylistic quirks stood out in a number of stories, enough for me to spot the hand of one prolific author behind many of the early Dixon Hawke Library yarns, including the very first number, 'The Flying Major', published in July 1919.

The story introduced a number of characters -- The Tiger, girl reporter Molly Connor and Inspector McPhinney -- who would turn up a time and time again over the years. Molly and Inspector McPhinney were back in issue 5 (September 1919), for instance, and The Tiger returned in issue 7 (October 1919), which also introduced Solomon, Dixon Hawke's bloodhound. The appearance of these characters, along with clues in the style of writing, has helped identify quite a few stories from the same pen.

After a year or so being known as 'Author A' on my lists, I was able to put a name to the unknown hand. D. C. Thomson, the publishers of Hawke's adventures over a period of 88 years, had no records dating back to the period I was interested in; however, a member of staff did turn up some notes relating to Adventure, jotted down by a former editor, including a couple of authors' names. Cross-referencing those names against my own jotted notes I discovered that my mysterious 'Author A' was probably someone called H. F. Inman.

Fast forward a couple of years and I've recently been in correspondence with Carol Tucker, a relative of Inman who has been researching her family tree. Thanks to Carol, I've now been able to piece together a little about Inman. I've also dug around in census records to come up with the following...

We have to start with his father. Herbert Escott Inman was born in Paddington, London, in 1860, the second son of Robert Ford Inman (a clerk in an accountants office) and his wife Ann (nee Bott), who had married in Kensington on 18 March 1852. He was Christened at Holy Trinity, Paddington, on 2 September 1860. Curiously, his father is listed as Michael F. Inman in the 1861 census. Even more curiously, the family are listed under the name Lamond in 1871, although children Alice Lucy (b. 1863), Arthur B. (b. 1866) and Annie B. (b. 1870) were all born Inman. (In those days, census records were collected by census takers and their notes were later transcribed so a lot of errors did creep in.)

Robert Ford Inman died in 1875 at the age of 51 and, by the time of the 1881 census, the family were living in West Ham where Herbert was working as a chemist's assistant.

Herbert Escott Inman married Clarissa Elizabeth Long (b. Erith, Kent, 1855) at West Ham in 1881 and had three children, Ivy Clarice (b. 1883), Herbert Ford and Frederick Seymour (b. 1887), all born in Dulwich.

The Inmans were living in Camberwell, South London in 1891 and 1901. By 1891, Herbert (still a chemist's assistant) was also a Baptist Minister; in 1901 he is listed as a Baptist Minister and Author.

Herbert Escott Inman wrote a wide variety of titles, amongst them books of fairy tales and boys' adventure and school stories before expanding his output to include romance stories for the Sunday Companion. Inman also wrote a number of Sexton Blake stories which introduced the character of Henri 'The Snake' Garrock for Union Jack in 1913-14. He died shortly afterwards, in 1915, at Herne Hill, aged 54.

Herbert Ford Inman was the second of the Reverend Inman's children, born in Dulwich in 1884. In 1901, still living with his parents, he was working as a mercantile clerk. He was married in Camberwell in 1908 and had a son and a daughter.

The earliest writing I can trace for H. F. Inman are his contributions to the Dixon Hawke Library in 1919. He would continue to write the adventures of Hawke and his assistant Tommy Burke until at least 1938 in both the Dixon Hawke Library and the boys' story paper Adventure. It seems highly likely that Inman also wrote other stories for the same publisher, D. C. Thomson, although anonymity was prevalent in the Thomson papers and tracing Inman's full output is likely to be an impossible task now that records have long disappeared.

For many years, H. F. Inman was connected with the Masons: he was a Master of a Lodge in 1921-22 and by 1927 was listed as Assistant Director of Ceremonies. Inman became an expert in Masonic ceremonies and wrote a number of books on the subject which became standard texts; some (Emulation Working Explained and Royal Arch Working Explained) are still in print.

The Inman family lived at various addresses -- Stradella Road, Herne Hill, 23 Springfield Road, Thornton Heath, 125 Knolly's Road, Stretham -- in the 1920s and 1930s before settling at 15 Clarendon Villas, Hove.

After the war, Inman turned to the hardback market and wrote crime novels for Ward Lock and Rich & Cowan under the pen-names Edgar Hale and Harman Long, writing 3 books a year until his death in Hove on 11 January 1949, aged 64.

Although his connection with Dixon Hawke has been unknown until now, Inman is quite an important figure in the Hawke saga. When stories featuring Hawke began appearing in 1912 he was firmly based in Glasgow. With the success of the Sexton Blake Library pointing the way, Thomsons launched the Dixon Hawke Library as a direct rival. The books were smaller (10 x 14 cm) and slimmer (96 pages compared to 120) but to help Hawke's chances in the south, his base of operation was moved to a comfortable flat in Dover Street, near Piccadilly, where he acquired a housekeeper and, not long after, a bloodhound to rival Blake's Pedro.

This kind of major shift in direction must have been a conscious decision by the editor of the new title and it seems unlikely that the editor would have handed the task to an author unknown to him. I would say it is highly probable that Inman was a leading writer of Hawke stories for the Sporting Post before 1919. Unfortunately, that's an area where I'm completely at sea. Mind you, until about two years ago I'd never heard of H. F. Inman and, until two weeks ago, I knew almost nothing about him. Maybe something will come to light in the future.

(* Many thanks to Carol Tucker. The photo comes from a book of Masonic officers (c. 1927) which Carol very kindly sent a copy of. Dixon Hawke and the Dixon Hawke Library are © D. C. Thomson.)


  1. So can we say that he created Dixon Hawke, then?

    Fantastic work, btw, as is the rest of your blog.

  2. A valuable two weeks' collection of data, Steve. So little seems to be on record about the Dixon Hawke stories. That's probably because the output, though vast, was imitative of the more illustrious Sexton Blake, and because of the ever-prevalent Thomson anonymity policy you mention. SB has fared much better, though I'm sorry to find Mark Hodder's extensive website is no longer obtainable. Very unfortunate. Can anyone shed light? More on your findings about Dixon Hawke and his authors would also be welcomed.

  3. Jess,

    I've no evidence that Herbert F. Inman wrote the first story to feature Dixon Hawke ('The Great Hotel Mystery', Saturday Post, 6 April 1912) but I do think he wrote some of the stories that appeared in Saturday Post (which became the Sporting Post in 1914). That's pure speculation, of course, but I can't imagine that Inman would have been asked to write the first novel in a new series unless he was familiar with the character and the editor was familiar with his work.

    As for the Sexton Blake website, I also noticed that it had disappeared. I must admit that I was a little nervous of its survival once the host started selling CDs of Blake stories on eBay. That's a sure way of getting noticed by the copyright holder, especially when that copyright holder is Time-Warner who are still making money out of the character.

    What I'd like to know is... what's happened to the Dirk Maggs Sexton Blake podcast we were promised? Actually, I can answer that one myself: The Adventures of Sexton Blake is due to be broadcast on Radio 4 in 6 parts in December starring Simon Jones as Blake and Wayne Forest as Tinker.

  4. This is resurrecting an old thread! DC Thomson have put out new collections of Dixon Hawke stories. I am proud to have been involved in the trawl through the DC Thomson archive to get them. The DCT archive is like a vast Aladdin's Cave. The Hawke stories aren't new, they are reprints of 1940s tales, but new in a sense! They are available in the DC Thomson shop, but will be released to all booksellers too.



Click on the above pic to visit our sister site Bear Alley Books