OK, first item on the agenda is the second in our series reprinting the Sexton Blake Annuals of the 1940s. Actually, this one is the very first one and dates from 1938. Now, I know I've already published the 1940 annual and said that it was the second, so what happened to 1939?
Frankly I don't know. I've got a feeling that falling sales of Detective Weekly, in which Blake novellettes had been appearing each week, may have had an impact. Blake had earlier been dropped as the main lead character in favour of more generic detective tales, but was back to full-time lead status as of January 1939, shortly after the appearance of the first Sexton Blake Annual.
Now, this to me seems to say that the Annual was a success when it was launched in September and promoting Blake back to lead Detective Weekly reflected that success. However, it should be noted that these stories were reprints from Union Jack and the Sexton Blake Library... so maybe it was just reflecting falling sales and cost-cutting at Detective Weekly.
Add to this the problems faced by the Amalgamated Press due to the Second World War. In February 1940 it was decreed that no knew periodicals could be launched and a number of annuals may have been slashed due to both the paper shortage and the disappearance of the magazine they were based on. By a stroke of luck, the Blake annual had appeared in 1938, so it wasn't new and could be safely relaunched without contravening any laws. And it was tied in with an ongoing series, the Sexton Blake Library, which survived the war, unlike Detective Weekly, which was shut down in May 1940.
Somewhere in that hazy mess of information might be something approaching the truth.
Whatever the reason, this is one Annual that you'll want to get. There are some cracking yarns in the book, including a long novella in whch Sexton Blake crosses swords with Raffles the gentleman thief as written by Barry Perowne. Other authors include some of the best Blake writers of the era: Gwyn Evans, G. H. Teed, Rex Hardinge and John G. Brandon. Illustrators include Arthur Jones, Eric Parker and R. J. Macdonald.
The first issue is out today! When I spoke to Geoff on Wednesday, he was expecting delivery Friday morning and I'm hoping to have a copy in my sweaty paws next week along with a copy of the Denis McLoughlin book that has been put together by Peter Richardson and David Ashford. I love McLoughlin's crime noir artwork and this promises to be the ultimate collection.
As this is looking like a black & white special, my random scans today are illustrations rather than covers. I'm celebrating the work of the late Nina Bawden, who died on Wednesday. She's probably best remembered for Carrie's War, about two children evacuated to Wales, published in the 1970s. Her first novel, Who Calls the Tune, was a crime novel for adults published in 1953. Gollancz published her first children's book, The Secret Passage, in 1963. The following year they published On the Run, which was serialised in the pages of Look and Learn in 1965 with some terrific illustrations by Gerry Haylock.
Mike was also a hugely prolific fanzine producer - he did some pretty good rock fanzines, including one dedicated to Deep Purple - and you can't keep a good man down... so he continues to write a blog and has recently published his 100th magazine.
Mike told me that he had no intention of reconstructing the Where Eagles Dare site, so I have offered to host some of the interviews, which I'll be posting in the coming weeks. The first will be a 2004 interview with former Commando editor George Low. We should also have the latest update to the regular Recent Releases and Upcoming Releases columns.