Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Gerald Biss

Edwin Gerald Jones Biss was born in Cambridge in 1876, the fourth son of Cecil Yates Biss, a Harley Street physician who was a pioneer of the open-air treatment of consumption. Educated at University College, Leys School, Cambridge, and Trinity Hall, Cambridge, matriculating in 1895. He was originally intended for the Bar but, like many other budding barristers, he drifted into journalism and found himself with a very successful career, particularly his articles on the relatively new sport of motoring. His articles appeared in The Strand, Tatler, Daily Mail and Evening Standard and he was the motoring correspondent for the Sunday Times, the Sketch
and a special correspondent for Vanity Fair (New York). One of his most popular columns, 'Motor Dicta' concerned "odds and ends of automobilism" appeared in the Evening Standard and The Sketch.

An ardent student of criminology, he could boast a large collection of criminal books as well as some interesting relics. According to one brief biographical sketch. "He studies the subject thoroughly scientifically, both from the medical and legal point of view," attributing his success largely to the fact that he can never "play the fool with his public."

"I aim at making all my plots, however unusual, appear credible," he once said. "I wish my reader to think, 'Well, this might have occurred,' or 'This might have happened to me at any time.' I try to create and preserve the illusion of probability and I frequently draw on life for my plots. The main idea in Branded -- one of the five novels I have written -- is based upon two famous criminal cases that thrilled the world a few years ago."

Biss was a popular writer of the feuilleton, writing serial stories for many leading magazines. "Serial writing has now become a habit with me, and I am afraid I am incurable," he said.

His best known novel, The Door of the Unreal, was his only supernatural yarn. Published in 1919, it appeared long before Hollywood established many of the conventions that nowadays are associated with werewolves. The novel was noted by H. P. Lovecraft in his 'Supernatural Horror in Literature' as handling "quite dexterously the standard werewolf superstition." The story is still in print from at least two different publishers and is available as a PDF download here (part 1), here (part 2) and here (part 3).

Physically large, Gerald Biss died suddenly at the age of 46, collapsing from a heart attack on 15 April 1922 whilst visiting a friend, A. E. Manning Foster, at his flat in Davies Street, Berkeley Square. Biss married Sarah Ann Coutts Allan (1878?-1952) at East Preston, Sussex, in 1905, and had a son, solicitor Godfrey Charles D'Arcy Biss (1909-1989) and a daughter, Couttie Margaret Janet Biss (1907-1988).

Of 'Gerry' Biss, a correspondent to The Times said, "It is seldom given to any man to have so many intimate friends, so many acquaintances who, in all walks of life without, perhaps, knowing him intimately, nevertheless, instinctively felt real, deep affection for this most jovial and kind-hearted of men. Gerry Biss was the friend to all. A writer of remarkable distinction, a man who set 'people' above 'things', gifted with just that imagination and enthusiasm which made his articles, in whatever paper, in whatever style, shine out with an individuality all their own."

The Dupe. London, Greening & Co., 1907.
The White Rose Mystery. London, Greening & Co., 1907.
Branded. London, Greening & Co., 1908.
The House of Terror. London, Greening & Co., 1909.
The Fated Five. The tale of a tontine. London, Greening & Co., 1910.
The Door of the Unreal. London, Eveleigh Nash Co., 1919; New York, G. P. Putnam, 1920.

Motor Dicta. London, Greening & Co., 1909.


  1. Hello, I live in East Preston West Sussex and some time ago carried out a bit of research on Gerald Biss. Although his wedding was recorded in East Preston, it did not take place in there. At the time many event in the district were recorded in this way. He married in South Stoke, a hamlet to the north of Arundel near the farm of his future father-in-law. The 1901 census also shows Gerald staying at the farm. His wedding certificate is available on Ancestry and I have a copy of the census, obtained from West Sussex archive. You are welcome to copies but they are subject to copyright.

  2. The information is enough; a date would be useful, but I don't need to see the wedding certificate itself. I can also access census records now which weren't easily available back when this was originally written.



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