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Friday, June 06, 2008

W J Roberts

One of the artists I've been looking at recently, albeit briefly, was W. J. Roberts, who drew pulp-style sf covers for the first serious British pulp magazine, Tales of Wonder. I've always wondered what those initials stood for.

I took the opportunity of working on the Sci-Fi Art book to do a little digging and, although I've not turned up much, I can at least answer that one question.

W. J. Roberts appears to have lived his whole life in South London. His birth, on 27 July 1898, was registered in Stepney, and I was able to trace some of his movements through the London phone book: 411 Norwood Road, Streatham SE.27 [1930], 125A St. Juliaus Farm Road, Streatham SE27 [1932/34] and 43 Mount Ephriam Road, Streatham SW16 [1935/76]. It was his disappearance from that last address that gave me the clue to his year of death and a quick search in records for around that period showed that only one W. J. Roberts was registered as having died in London: Wilfred Joseph Roberts, whose death was registered in Lambeth in the second quarter volume for 1976.

I dropped a line to Mike Ashley who says: "I remember asking Wally Gillings about him and I recall he called him by a less than common name. In other words he wasn't Will/Bill or Wally, and I'm pretty sure he did call him Wilf—but it's a fleeting memory of 30+ years ago."

Roberts' covers appeared on a number of pulps from World's Work (1913) Ltd., including issues of the Mystery Thriller series, Mystery Stories, Tales of Terror, Fireside Ghost Stories, Tales of the Uncanny, Tales of Ghosts and Haunted Houses and Tales of Wonder. One cover was used three times.

Scans for this little gallery have come from the Galactic Central page for World's Work. If you have any better scans (or you have magazines not shown and want to submit some scans), let me know. (The full list of magazines covered at GC can be found here.)

It's a shame that the war intervened and Tales of Wonder was forced to use a standardised cover design for its final few issues. W. J. Roberts presumably had a career outside these pulps, although the only other cover illustration I'm aware of is the dust-jacket for Quick Curtain by Alan Melville (London, Skeffington, 1934). There may be dozens, even hundreds, of further examples of his work hidden away in anonymity or on long discarded dust-jackets. A shame, as he was a very capable and imaginative artist.

Update:

Another cover (see Comments): LoveAnd Forget by Molly Waring (London, Wright & Brown, 1943). I've had to tidy up the image a lot from the photograph I spotted on eBay. And below is a possible Roberts cover for Mystery at Friar's Pardon by Martin Porlock (Philip Macdonald) (London, Collins, 1931) spotted by Jamie Sturgeon. The signature looks different (it could almost by 'Robb')—but signatures do change. I thought I'd share it anyway.

Any more out there?

1 comment:

  1. Wright and Brown cover for 1943 novel Love - and Forget by "Molly Waring" (Kathleen Lindsay) was signed W J Roberts. You can probably get a scan of some book ad - I did. Best wishes, David Redd

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