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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Douglas Leach

I'm hunkered down in my office working on the next collection of Battle Picture Library for Carlton today. Although it won't be out until next autumn, we're working well in advance of publication because these are big volumes, over 750 pages each, and that's a lot of artwork to clean up. There will be a number of these big volumes out around the same time (August/September/October) this year and I'll be posting more details as the selections get approval.

For the moment I've got the Battle selection in front of me and I'm putting together the introduction. As you'd expect, I've managed to sidetrack myself into some research into one of the authors and, although I've not found much, I thought I'd share it.

One of the more prolific authors listed in The War Libraries is Douglas Leach. When we compiled the listing I knew next to nothing about him outside of a list of his war libraries that I'd typed up. Because the information on the writers of those volumes is still patchy, it's impossible to say how many issues were written by Leach, although a fair guess would be around 100, including issues of War, Air Ace, Battle, War at Sea and Giant. In 1968, he was writing many of the 'Ironside' issues of Battle, which makes me suspect that he was also responsible for at least some of the issues featuring that character in the Fleetway Super Library. He was still writing for the libraries as late as 1973, thirteen years after his debut.

One of his stories -- "Fighting Blood" -- was included in the Death or Glory volume published last year.

According to my few notes on Leach, he had contributed anonymously to an old boys' story paper called Boys Broadcast in the 1930s and, under the pen-name Leonard Douglas, had written a lot of text serial stories in Radio Fun in the 1940s and 1950s, mostly westerns if the titles ("The Texan Goes to Town", "They Call Him 'Trigger Fingers'", "Wildcat City", "Outlawed by the Six Gun") are anything to go by, although some could be more general adventures ("Peril Island", "Behind the Headlines", "The Fighting Seahawk").

The pen-name proved to be a vital clue. Leach was born Leonard Douglas Leach in Marylebone, London, on September 8, 1898, the third son of Percy Leach, who ran a successful fruit business in the Hight Street of Marylebone, and his wife Kate Alice (nee Ward) who had married in 1883.

When work for the war libraries began to dry up in the late 1960s, Leach began writing novels and published at least three with Robert Hale in 1969-71. By the time the third was published he was already in his early Seventies and I suspect once his last known Battle Picture Library appeared in September 1973, around the time of his 75th birthday, he probably retired from writing entirely.

Leach fortunately had a fairly lengthy retirement. He later lived in Salcombe, Devon, where he died in late 1987, aged 89.

Novels
The Man On The Marsh. London, Hale, Jun 1969.
The Big Boys. London, Hale, 1969 [Jan 1970].
Three For A Killing. London, Hale, Aug 1971.

(* "Fighting Blood" was originally published as Battle Picture Library issue 20 (July 1961) with artwork by Roberto Diso [and almost certainly in collaboration with his long-time inker, Santo D'Amico]; the opening page appears at the top of this column and is
© IPC Media.)

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