Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Curious Case of the Mayfair Mystery

Harold Ellicott Scarborough, c.1920

A few weeks ago, a curious case of plagiarism was mentioned on one of the lists I'm on. The author concerned was Gilbert Collins (1890- ), a Southampton-born writer of crime novels and tales of the Far East. Gilbert Henry Collins was the son of Henry Collins, a merchant, and his wife Harriett and was educated at King Edward VI School in Southampton. He worked for the British Consular Service in China, 1919-22, and appears to have begun writing at that time, his first book—the brief Sidelights of Song—appearing in 1920. His first novel, Flower of Asia, appeared in 1922 and he kept up a steady supply of new titles until 1937, including, amongst the last, a study of swimming, which was one of his passions; Collins was founder and chairman of the Saturday Night Swimming Club in Bournemouth, which was where he was living in the 1930s.

Gilbert Collins disappears rather suddenly in 1937 following the publication of Mystery in St. James's Square, published by Ward, Lock & Co. The explanation would appear to be connected with a court case and the death, two years earlier, of an American author called Harold Ellicott Scarborough.

The court case was covered by The Times. On 11 November 1937, it was reported that a settlement had been announced of an action taken by widowed Mrs. Gladys Mary Scarborough against publisher Ward Lock and author Gilbert Collins for infringing the copyright in her late husband's novel, Mayfair Mystery. The novel had never been published and Mrs. Scarborough was "horrified" to receive a royalty payment in respect of a novel entitled Mystery in St. James's Square which, she discovered, was a rewrite of her husband's unpublished manuscript, rewritten by Collins.

Gladys Scarborough accepted that the fault was not with Ward Lock, who had accepted the novel in good faith since it had been "obtained from a source which they had no reason to doubt"—the source was not revealed but was probably an agent. However, "it was extremely distressing for Mrs. Scarborough to find her husband's work rehashed up—the word was not used offensively—in language which was not her husband's, but was clearly a breach of copyright and a plagiarism of her husband's novel."

A payment of £175 had been paid into the Court by the defendents and it was agreed that this, along with the immediate delivery up of all copies of the manuscript and copies of the novel and an injunction on its further publication, was acceptable.

Mrs. Scarborough accepted that Gilbert Collins had no idea that she, as copyright holder, had not given permission for the novel to be rewritten; however, despite the settlement, the resulting negative publicity of being dragged into court may have put Collins off further writing—under his own name, at least. We've yet to establish when Collins died or whether he carried on writing under another name.

The court case was a further sorry addition to the story of Harold Ellicott Scarborough. Born in Belair, MD, on 25 October 1897, he was the son of Harold Scarborough (1861-1944), a correspondent with the Baltimore Sun and publisher of The Union News, and his wife Frances E. (nee Fantom, c.1868- ), who had married around 1893. Both their children, daughter Katherine C. and son Harold E., went into the newspaper business. By 1917, Harold was working as an editorial writer on the Baltimore News before joining the New York Tribune in 1920.

Scarborough initially came to Europe to do publicity work for the League of Red Cross Societies in 1920 and was married to Gladys Mary Jones at Christ Church, Brondesbury, in London on 16 April 1921. He was for some years London Correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune and President of the Association of American Correspondents in London in 1929-30.

In the 1920s, Harold also wrote a number of books, including Stephen, the Well-Beloved, published in 1923 by T. Fisher Unwin as part of their 'First Novels Library'. Unwin also published The Immortals (1924) and both books appeared from New York publisher Appleton in 1924.

A further book, England Muddles Through was published by Macmillan Co., New York, in 1932, erroneously credited by the Library of Congress to Harold Elliott Scarborough (1897- ), rather than Ellicott.

In the 1930s, Scarborough resided at 115 Gillingham Road, Golders Green, Middlesex, and Corringham Road, Hampstead, N.W. and was the European editorial manager and head of the London Bureau of the New York Herald Tribune. However, for reasons unknown he was recalled to Manhattan to write editorials. Instead, he resigned to freelance in London.

On 7 November 1935, the Berengaria, bound from New York to Southampton, was off the Isle of Wight and 38-year-old Scarborough was seen placing his passport and a wallet on the deck and then fall into the sea. The liner was stopped, lifebelts thrown overboard and a motor lifeboat lowered. After three-quarters of an hour, the search was called off.

(* My thanks to Jamie Sturgeon for the cover scan for The Immortals. Jamie also points out an interesting side-note: the counsel representing Gladys Scarborough in the case was Henry C. Leon, later a judge and (as Henry Cecil) himself an author.)

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