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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Cyril Protheroe

When Phil Harbottle and I were compiling information for our book on British SF paperbacks, one of the names that caused some head-scratching was Cyril Protheroe, who is known to have written a single a novel under the pen-name Rand Le Page. The story is in the tradition of the films Destination Moon and Rocketship X-M, with an ill-assorted crew making an attempt to land on Luna, explore the surface and then return home. It's let down by some lame science... for instance, the space helmets feature a little shutter, which the crew men open so they can speak to each other. Oddly, this was not a feature of the NASA space suits when the Apollo missions went to the Moon... something about there being no air so voices wouldn't travel. And you'd die. But at least Protheroe thought about it, even if the solution was impractical and terminal.

I was looking around for information on another author this evening when I thought I'd give Cyril Protheroe a look, just to see if anything popped up. And, to my surprise, Cyril Protheroe turns out to be a rather uncommon name. In fact, I can only find four people called Cyril Protheroe born in the UK:
  1. Cyril Protheroe (b. Wolverhampton, 2Q 1899)
  2. Cyril Ray Protheroe (b. West Bromwich, 3Q 1908)
  3. Cyril Protheroe (b. Pontypridd, 3Q 1909)
  4. Cyril James Protheroe (b. Pontypridd, 4Q 1909)
Of these #3 died shortly after birth and #2 died at the age of one, leaving only two possibles to be our author.

Of these we can learn a little about Cyril James Protheroe through the pages of a book entitled Directory of British Scientists, Volume 2, published in 1966. He has an entry which reads:

Protheroe, Cyril James (retired), 89 Tattenham Way, Burgh Heath, Tadworth, Surrey (Burgh Heath 51119): BSc 1930; DipEd 1931 Wales (Cardiff); Head Horley Cty S Sch [Horley County Secondary School], Horley, Surrey. Late Head, Caterham Hill Cty S Sch [Caterham Hill County Secondary School], Caterham, Phys M, Glyn Gr Sch [Glyn Grammar School], Epsom.
A bit of additional digging turns up the fact that he was born on 21 August 1909, married Miriam A. Evans at Camberwell, Surrey, in 3Q 1935, and died in January 1991 at Chichester, Sussex, aged 81.

The remaining Cyril Protheroe was the son of Ernest Hanley Protheroe, a schoolmaster born in Dudley, Worcestershire, in 1866, and his wife Alice (nee Chatwin), who were married in West Bromwich in 1889. Cyril was the last of four children (Dorothy, Alan and Marjorie being his elder siblings). The family were living in Surrey by the time of the 1911 census.

Cyril Protheroe married Alice J. Kirrage in Surrey in 3Q 1945. They had two children, Christopher A. (b. 1948) and Raymond J. (b. 1953). His death, at the age of 65, was registered in the London borough of Wandsworth in 1964.

So we have two suspects. I have to admit that I've no way of telling which of these might be our author. However, a little educated guesswork might be in order.

The obvious one would be the teacher/scientist as there is are many examples of science teachers writing science fiction, H. G. Wells and Isaac Asimov to give just two examples. But would a teacher of physics have made such basic scientific errors as the hatch in the helmet? Surely he would have known that radio communication would be possible on the moon.

Which means our author is likely to be Cyril Protheroe (1899-1964), whose occupation I don't know. If I can find out anything else about him, I'll update.

The Rand Le Page house name was also used by a number of other authors. John Glasby, Denis Hughes and William Bird are known. Like Cyril Protheroe, two of the other authors who used the name are unknowns: Brian Holloway and David O'Brien. If anyone knows anything about these guys, get in touch.

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