Saturday, September 24, 2011

Victor Canning... plural

Some while back I ran some columns headed "Mysteries That Have Me Mystified" and this could have been one of them... but I've managed to resolve it.

When I was running names for the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (shortly to appear online) one that I planned to return to was Victor Canning. Although both his birth date (16 June 1911) and death date (21 February 1986) were known, I had failed to turn up a record for his birth. Most frustrating.

Well, there's a reason. The family name was actually Cannings, as if it were a plural. His parents, Frederick Harry Cannings (a taxi driver), and mother, Mabel Jessie Goold, were married in 1910 and Victor, registered as Victor Cannings, was born in Plymouth the following year. A sister, Dorothy, followed in 1914; another sister, Sylvia Jean Cannings, was born in Plymouth in 1918. Sylvia – better known as Jean – married John H. C. Tearle; this excellent website about Canning notes that she died in 2010, aged 92.

Birth, marriage and census records confirm that Victor's father was called Cannings and that Victor and his sisters were born with that surname. However, when Frederick H. Cannings died in 1968, aged 82, his death was registered in Hemel Hempstead as Frederick H. Canning; Victor's marriage in 1935 (to Phyllis McEwen) and Sylvia's marriage in 1937 were also registered under the name Canning, which makes me think that the whole family changed their name officially some time between 1918 and 1935, and possibly earlier.

Canning's earliest published stories may have appeared in the late 1920s in boys' magazines; the earliest traced was published anonymously in 1932. His first adult story appeared in the Evening News in 1934, the same year his first novel appeared, both credited to Victor Canning.

When the Cannings family changed their name to Canning is perhaps unimportant... at least I've managed to solve the reason why I couldn't find his birth record.


  1. You work hard on your research, and I am impressed that you found the birth record.
    I spoke to a second cousin of Victor Canning's from Canada who told me the family were free and easy about the name, treating Cannings and Canning as spelling variants. It maybe that VC never bothered to change his name formally but just carried on once he had made Canning famous. As a holder of an s-ending surname myself I can see why he might have done so. There is a lot of uncertainty whether to talk about Higgins' books or Higgins's books, or to invite the Higgins or the Higginses to tea.
    By the way, I am intrigued that you were researching this for a science fiction website. Canning's only s-f novel is The Finger of Saturn. There was also a (not very good) novella called The Survival Man, which I have just republished in a collection called The Exotics.

    John Higgins

  2. Hi John,

    Thanks for the note. Canning's The Finger of Saturn and The Doomsday Carrier are both borderline SF thrillers, hence his entry in the upcoming online SFE3.

  3. Whatever its category, The Finger of Saturn is still a great read!



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