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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Raymond Buxton

This latest episode in our occasional "Mysteries that have me mystified" series concerns Raymond Buxton and some comments he made in a letter to a fellow writer back in February 1950. At the time Buxton was living in north London — and for many years it was the only address for him that I could locate — and was acting as secretary of the Writers' Guild and as an author's agent.

In his letter, Buxton claimed that he had "published with quite a crowd under one of my seven names". A handful of books had been published under his own name up to that point but (and here's the mystery) not one of his seven names are known... although I do have one suspect. So who were the "crowd" that Buxton published with and what pen-names did he adopt?

Here's what I know. When I became interested in old British gangster novels many years ago, I was fortunate to pick up a nice little collection of books from Modern Fiction, the London-based publisher of Ben Sarto and "Griff". Buxton was also one of the early writers and his style was fairly distinctive, especially his use of ellipses in dialogue. The same style was visible in a handful of other novels published under house names in the early 1950s from the same publisher, although all after the February 1950 letter. I'm certain that Buxton penned novels under the names Hava Gordon, Spike Gordon, Griff, Don Rogan, Ben Sarto and Hank Spencer.

In 1952, Stanley Baker published a novel under Buxton's own name — a collaboration with sports writer Ben Bennison — which contained a note that read "Raymond Buxton is the author of No Gentle Lady, Hangman's Hill, Terror at Junniper, Broken Liebestraum, etc." Both No Gentle Lady and Broken Liebestraum had appeared under his own name, but the other two books (Hangman's Hill and Terror at Junniper) have never been traced. There was a novel, Hangman's Hill published in the USA by Dodd under the byline Franklyn Pell, but this was the pen-name of Frank E. Pellegrin. So that's the second mystery.

Buxton's earliest known book was Broken Liebestraum, published in 1944, a romance set in the fictional town of Ouldswark and surrounding villages of the Yorkshire Wolds. The story covers the lives and romances of a number of characters, the title derived from the German "liebesträum"("love dream" or "dream of love"); Franz Liszt's piano pieces under that title get a specific mention.

His next known novel was from Modern Fiction in 1947, the first of a series of tough crime yarns that would appear over the next couple of years. A list of those known novels turns up an interesting pattern...

Broken Liebestraum. London, Gerald G. Swan, Mar 1944.
Midsummer Madness. London, Modern Fiction, Oct 1947; reprinted with additional short story 'Where There's Dames There's Trouble' by Vale Tempest, Modern Fiction, Jun 1950.
No Gentle Lady. London, Modern Fiction, Mar 1948.
A Rope for a Gal Called Lou (Lou). London, C.M. & Co., Jan 1950.
Unhappy Souls (as Don Rogan). London, Modern Fiction, Apr 1950.
Dames Take to Crime (as Don Rogan; Lou). London, C.M. & Co., Jun 1950.
Gale Gallyon Takes a Hand (as Spike Gordon). London, Modern Fiction, Oct 1950.
Gunmen Die Hard (as Don Rogan). London, Modern Fiction, May 1951.
The Black Wraith; or, See How They Run, with Ben Bennison. Richmond, Surrey, Stanley Baker, Jan 1952; reprinted, Brighton, Sussex, Stanley Baker (Thriller Library 5), May 1955.
Caribbean Cutie (as "Griff"). London, Modern Fiction, Jun 1953.
I Don't Get It (as Spike Gordon). London, Modern Fiction, Jul 1953.
Dead on Arrival (by Hava Gordon). London, Modern Fiction, Nov 1953.
Bad-Luck Cutie (by Hank Spencer). London, Modern Fiction, Dec 1953.
Dumb Babes Don't Die (by Hank Spencer). London, Modern Fiction, Feb 1954.
Necks of Sinners (by Hank Spencer). London, Modern Fiction, Feb 1954.
Corpse in the Cabin (by Ben Sarto). London, Modern Fiction, Nov 1954.

There's an interesting two-year gap between the May 1951 publication of Gunmen Die Hard and the June 1953 publication of Caribbean Cutie. The only novel to appear in that gap was The Black Wraith, a collaboration with sports journalist Ben Bennison about dog track racing. So what was he up to?

This was pretty much where I was stuck at for some years until I stumbled across a little book by someone calling themselves R. Boyd. The title was Murder by Arrow, published by Len Miller in about 1949. It's a typical English murder mystery, not especially well written but with some stylistic similarities to Buxton's writing. This led me to Raymond Boyd, who was credited with a paperback and a couple of hardbacks, namely...

Death Joins the Party. London, Mellifont Press, Jul 1944.
Fetch Me a Rope. London, Hammond, Hammond & Co., 1947.
Murder is a Furtive Thing. London, Hammond, Hammond & Co., 1950.

... which slot in nicely with Buxton's known works. I've never read any of the above books, so don't take this as confirmation that Boyd is Buxton. It does, however, give us a first chink in the armour of that curious "one of my seven names" comment.

I recently tried to nail down further information on Buxton, this time taking a different approach. I believe he was based in London after the war at two addresses: 38 Chalcot Square, Chalk Farm N1 [1946-48] and 387 North Circular Road, London NW10 [1949-50], although the latter is the only confirmed address.

At that time (February 1950) he was secretary of the Writers' Guild and here we can glean a few more clues. There were a number of publications related to the Writers' Guild, namely the poetry magazine Troubadour, which appears to have run irregularly between 1949 and 1956, and the anthology series Modern Story. At least one issue of the latter was published by Modern Fiction under Buxton's editorship in 1949. The Writers' Guild was also linked to the Society of New Authors, established around 1948, who published their own magazine, SONA.

The poet and politician Phyllis Shand Allfrey, best known for her novel The Orchid House (see her brief entry on Wikipedia) was a member of the Writers' Guild whilst living in London and I quote from Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert's Phyllis Shand Allfrey: A Caribbean Life:
Her membership in the Writers' Guild and Society of New Authors suggested way in which politics and literature could be integrated. The Writers' Guild brought together an assortment of professional and amateur writers of Leftist persuasions—reviewers, children's story writers, reporters, poets—all sharing an interest in meeting in a friendly spirit to discuss one another's work and offer support. The group would often meet at her Fulham flat and occasionally visit Penhurst. It had even formed a small press to publish members' work. Phyllis's "The Untanglers," the tale of Marion's marital woes, was published as a booklet under the auspices of the guild.
The Writers' Guild published only a handful of booklets over the years as far as I can tell.

London Renewed by Florence L. Wickelgren. Upton Bishop, Writers' Guild, 1953; reprinted, Ross-on-Wye, Raymond Buxton, n.d. [1959].
Contrasts: Poems by Phyllis Shand Allfrey. Barbados, Advocate Press for the Writers' Guild of Great Britain, 1955.
The Real Democracy by M. Enoch [pseud]. [Ross-on-Wye, Writers' Guild], 1956.
Some Gems of Early Lyrical Poetry by Florence L. Wickelgren. Ross-on-Wye, Writers' Guild, 1956.
Sunflakes and Stardust: Caribbean and other poems by Hilda Macdonald. [Ross-on-Wye, Writers' Guild], 1956.
The State Within the State by Usha Mahesvari Mahendran. Gloucester, Writers' Guild, 1956.
Prose and Poetry from the Painted Room by members of the Oxford Writers' Circle. Gloucester, Blackfriars Press, for Writers' Guild, 1957.
Healing Hands by Marjorie Phyllis Lane. Brockhampton, Herefordshire, Writers' Guild and Society of New Authors, 1959.

The place of publication gives us a clue as to what happened to Buxton after 1950. By 1954, he was living at Guild House, Upton Bishop [1954-59] before moving to Guild House, Brockhampton, How Caple [1960-61], both Herefordshire villages. The map below (a screen grab from Google Maps) shows the location of the two villages (A is Upton Bishop, B is Brockhampton) with nearby Ross-on-Wye to the south.

That Buxton named his home Guild House perhaps tells us that the Writers' Guild was a vital part of his life. Buxton is listed in the 1961 phone book as living in Brockhampton, near How Caple, but afterwards disappears off the radar again. He might have moved again, or maybe he died, although the only suspect I have is one Frank R. Buxton, whose death was registered in Bromyard, Herefordshire, in 2Q 1961, aged 77. (Bromyard is 10-15 miles north of Brockhampton.)

What happened to the Writers' Guild and the Society of New Authors? Florence Louise Wickelgren, born in 1875 and for much of her life a school teacher and headmistress, died in 1963; Phyllis Shand Allrey, born in 1916, died in 1986. But perhaps other references to the guild and to SONA might be found.


Update: 14 March 2012
Jamie Sturgeon has pointed me in the direction of another twist in the Buxton story. After briefly living in Brockhampton, it seems that Buxton moved to the Isle of Wight, as a number of writers' directories and adverts give his address as 63 St Mary's Road, Cowes, in circa 1962 and subsequently 9 Osborne Road, East Cowes, circa 1963-68. In the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook for 1965 Buxton is still described as the Hon. Sec. Genl. of the Writers' Guild. The Guild was said to have been founded in 1939 and, by the mid-1960s, was claiming: "WG has for 25 years championed the cause of new and unknown authors. This international writers' fellowship is keenly interested in new writers, and WG services are designed to advance beginners. Advice on novels and plays, "ghosting", revisions, MSS edited and marketed."

The President of the Guild was Kennedy Williamson, M.A., F.R.S.L., who wrote a number of books on the subject of writing stories and articles in the 1930s. His full name was William Kennedy Williamson (1892-1979).

I have the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook for 1966 and can find no trace of Buxton or the Writers' Guild, so it is possible that it folded around 1964/65 and later mentions elsewhere are simply a hang-over from earlier listings.

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