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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Geoffrey Mark

Better to Die by Geoffrey Mark (Digit Books D268, 1959) Cover by R. A. Osborne
Here is a story of the terrible battle of the barricades when the Red armour smashed back into the City and with it came Mongolian infantry and the vengeful Secret Police. Budapest in her travail!
__We read of the bravery of the Freedom Fighters and the high tide of victorious ecstasy that filled the capital... only to be dashed to the ground when the enemy execution squads went to work!
Geoffrey Mark was the author of two other novels: The Girl and the Barbarian was a historical involving Mongol tribesmen; and The Veils of Fear is a thriller described thus: "The discovery of a white girl cowering beside an oil pipe-line in a Middle Eastern desert is the start of a chain of events which brings to light a staggering twentieth century traffic in slaves. To find the links in the chain Tyler, a British investigator, heads a team of international agents to uncover an organisation reaching from the French Riviera to the Persian Gulf."

A biographical sketch of Mark in the latter reveals the following:
Geoffrey Mark, who is married with three children, was born in London in 1928. His father was a cinema executive and his mother an American stage actress. On leaving Eton he went to Gainsborough Pictures as an Assistant Director. Following his army service he joined Granada Theatres, but decided that indoor life was not for him and subsequently took jobs as a labourer in a market garden and as a truck-driver.
__After his marriage he went to the Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester and then bought and farmed a Cornish hill farm. A frequent traveller abroad, he now lives in Buckinghamshire and script-writes for a film company.
The problems with this begin with his place and year of birth... no Geoffrey Mark born in London in 1928. Which makes me suspect that Geoffrey Mark is a pseudonym or only a partial name.

We can make some assumptions from the biography published above. One is that, if Eton educated, he probably did not leave school at 14 or 15 as many did before 1973 when the leaving age was raised to 16. So it seems probable that he was educated up to the age of around 17 or 18 and left Eton (where he was likely a contemporary of politician Alan Clarke and assistant director of the RSC John Barton) at around the time the War ended. This would make him as assistant director for Gainsborough around 1946. National Service was introduced in 1947, at first requiring service for a year, increased to 18 months in early 1949 and two years in 1950 (the last intake of National Servicemen was in 1960). Given that Mark turned 18 in 1946, he likely only saw 12-18 months of National Service and joined Granada Theatres in the late 1940s.

He was probably married in the period 1949-53 and had three children by the end of that decade at least some of whom were likely born in Cornwall. And he was a screen-writer living in Buckinghamshire around 1960.

I can't find any likely suspects amongst the assistant directors at Gainsborough in the late 1940s, nor anyone who attended Eton and the Royal Agricultural College who isn't a politician, a soldier or a peer. Which leaves only one final clue: Better to Die is dedicated to Olwen. If it's a first novel, it may be that Olwen is the author's wife. Unfortunately, a search for women called Olwen marrying in 1949-53 turns up 1,240 results, at which point even I give up.

On the off chance that "Geoffrey Mark" were the author's first two names, I did a search for "Geoffrey M." born in London in 1928 which turned up 6 names:

Geoffrey M. Anderson (b. Hampstead, 4Q 1928)
Geoffrey M. N. Foley (b. Marylebone, 4Q 1928)
Geoffrey M. Gardner (b. Hackney, 1Q 1928)
Geoffrey M. Neil (b. Islington, 3Q 1928)
Geoffrey M. Ostrer (b. St. Geo. H. Sq., 4Q 1928)
Geoffrey M. Willis (b. Lewisham, 2Q 1928)

Lo and behold... there's a marriage between Geoffrey M. Ostrer and Olwen E. Parker registered in North Surrey in 2Q 1949. And even better there are three children: Mark S. Ostrer (b. N. Surrey, 1949), Karen E. Ostrer (b. Launceston, Cornwall, 1954) and Carla O. Ostrer (b. Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, 1958).

Geoffrey M. Ostrer was the son of Mark Ostrer (b. 4 November 1892), described as a merchant banker of 80 Portland Place, London, in 1930, and his wife Florence M. (nee Peterson, b. Chicago, c.1903; d. London, 1940). Florence was born in Chicago, which ties in with the comment about her being American. Mark Ostrer, meanwhile, was one of three brothers (Isidore, Maurice and Mark) who administered the affairs of Gaumont-British, founded in 1927 in the wake of the Cinematograph Films (Quota) Act. Isidore became President of Gaumont-British in 1929; Mark Ostrer was Chairman. Maurice Ostrer was also a director of Gainsborough Pictures, where "Geoffrey Mark" became an assistant director. When Mark Ostrer died on 5 November 1958, an obituary in The Times noted that Mark had married Florence Peterson ("an American actress") in 1927. "Their two sons [Geoffrey M. and Edward M.] are both in film production."

(Of no consequence to this piece on Geoffrey, his uncle Bertram was a writer and producer whose screenwriting credits include Park Plaza 605, based on the novel Daredevil Conquest by "Berkeley Gray" (Edwy Searles Brooks) and Mystery Submarine, which starred Laurence Payne, later to play Sexton Blake, and thus has connections to two major boys' story paper heroes.)

Probate records for Mark Ostrer confirm that his sons were named Geoffrey Mark Ostrer and Edward Mephi Ostrer. (And it might be worth noting that the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is in error when it states that Ostrer's two sons were from his second marriage to Olivia May Venning, whom he married in 1943.)

Geoffrey Mark Ostrer died in Chichister, Sussex, in 1975.

The Veils of Fear by Geoffrey Mark (John Long, 1960). Dust Jacket by Chavasse
The Veils of Fear (Panther, 1962). Cover by Barye?

Better to Die. London, Jarrolds, 1957.
The Girl and the Barbarian. London, Jarrolds, 1958.
The Veils of Fear. London, John Long, 1960.

(* With thanks to Jamie Sturgeon and John Herrington.)


Anonymous said...

Mr. Holland,

Bravo! for your fascinating research on Geoffrey Mark. Riveting and a trail I couldn't stop reading.

Also well done on the rest of your site. I'll definitely return again. It's rare to find a site which is dedicated to researching lesser known illustrators / authors but who are most definitely worthy of attention.


Michael clark said...

A good friend of mine. I was his doctor in the early 60s when he lived in Bourne End, Bucks. A beuatiful person. So sad he died so young. I was away in Canada at that time. Dr. Michael Clark.