Saturday, May 18, 2013

Norman Lee

Norman Lee was a popular writer of American style thrillers in the 1950s, whose work owed elements to Marlowe and – as the popularity of Fleming's character grew – James Bond. "Norman Lee’s style never varied from the loosely constructed homage he paid to the American writers," writes David Latta (in Sand on the Gumshoe). "While Lee was a lightweight novelist who now has little appeal, there was a crisp action and pace in his work that was refreshing for its time."

Norman Harold Lee was born in South Norwood, 1898, the son of John James Lee, a gardner, and Mary Lee. Lee grew up in Leatherhead, and served as a private with the East Surrey Royal Engineers during the latter months of the Great War, having joined for duty in June 1918. A keen writer, he had his first story published at the age of 12.

His date of birth is given as 10 October 1898 at the BFI website, which notes "Checked birth and dead (sic) at Family Records Centre, London." A check of birth records would reveal only the quarter/year of birth and where the birth was registered. On the latter subject, the entry says "Born in Croydon", but then lists the birthplace as Sutton, Surrey, whilst the birth was registered in Croydon, 3Q 1898. South Norwood, given as his place of birth in the 1911 census and in the Author's and Writer's Who's Who, is an urban district in the Borough of Croydon. The IMDb also lists his birth as 10 October 1898 in Sutton, Surrey.

Lee's military enlistment record gives Lee's date of birth as 2 September 1899 and that his occupation was Inspector. He was, at the time (1918) living in Main Street, Marathon, New York, and was single at the time. That this is the same Norman H. Lee is proven by the listed next of kin: his mother Mrs Mary Lee of Church Walk, Leatherhead, England. His medical report, which gives his age on 4 June 1918 as 19 years and 254 days, indicates that he was born in around 23 September 1898 (not 1899). Elsewhere, his age was given as 19 years 8 months when he enlisted, which encompasses both September and October 1898.

Lee reputedly spent most of the 1920s in South Africa where he became involved in the film industry. A preface in one of his books refers to travelling to Africa twice. "On the first time I went with a filming party to make De Vere Stacpoole's The Blue Lagoon." Hal Erickson's All Movie Guide notes: "Lee also kept busy in the theatre as a director and revue writer until his permanent return to England in 1928, when he signed with Elstree Studios."

Lee began writing and directing silent movies. One of his earliest films - uncredited - was as a writer on Alfred Hitchcock's The Farmer's Wife (1928). Lee then wrote and directed various documentaries – The Lure of the Atlantic (1929), The Streets of London (1929), The Night Patrol (1930), The Song of London (1930) – mostly concerned with life in London. It is mentioned in one of his later books that Lee also wrote pseudonymous articles in Daily Chronicle, Film Weekly and London Opinion in this (1929-30) period.

Lee founded one of the earliest independent companies to capitalise on sound in the cinema, although Lees Novelty Sound Films Ltd. produced only one film, The Lady of the Camellias Big Moments from Big Books (1930).

Lee then became involved in writing a number of comedies for British International, including My Wife's Family (1931), Money Talks (1932), Strip! Strip! Hooray!!! (a.k.a. Fun with the Sunbathers, 1932), The Pride of the Force (1933), Doctor's Orders (1934) and A Political Party (1934). Lee was also involved in writing and directing films featuring Jimmy Josser, a character created by actor Ernie Lotinga, including Dr. Josser K.C. (1931), Josser in the Army (1932), Josser Joins the Navy (1932) and Josser on the River (1932).

Lee directed comedies for the Fred Karno Film Company, Argyle Talking Pictures and others in the late 1930s – mostly comedies but also including the occasional thriller such as Bulldog Drummond at Bay (1937), Mr. Reeder in Room 13 (1938, based on Edgar Wallace), Murder in Soho (1939), Wanted by Scotland Yard (1939), The Door with Seven Locks (1940). During the war he was involved in a number of films featuring George Formby: Wouth American George (1941), He Snoops to Conquer (1944) and I Didn't Do It (1945).

After the war, Lee was less prolific, his directing/writing credits including The Monkey's Paw (1948), co-written with Barbara Toy, with whom he had earlier collaborated on the play Lifeline (1943, both employing the pen-name Norman Armstrong) and The Case of Charles Peace (1949). His last known movie credit was The Girl Who Couldn't Quite (1950), about a girl tought to smile by a tramp (played by Bill Owen).

In the war and immediate post-war years, with the film industry in a much reduced state, Lee took up the suggestion of his agent and turned to writing books for boys, his titles including Action on the Rolling Road and The Hoodoo Ship. His entry in 1948-49 edition of Author's and Writer's Who's Who notes that he has written "thrillers and adventure stories" and contributed to Theatre & Cinema and The Screen Writer (USA).

Lee turned to writing thrillers for adults after writing fiction for boys and non-fiction books about sailing and film directing. He adopted the names Raymond Armstrong and Mark Corrigan, the latter in particular becoming hugely popular with readers of crime thrillers. Corrigan was a private eye based in Philadelphia who took on assignments for the American Secret Service; he later worked for them regularly until the last three books in the 30-book series [in addition Corrigan was also credited with a children's book, The Green Chateau, and a non-fiction book] where he becomes a troubleshooter for a television corporation. For most of his career, Corrigan has a regular assistant in the shape of the small, delectable Tucker Mclean.

His assignments, both private and for U.S. Intelligence, take him around the world with adventures taking place in England, north Africa (Tangier, Casablanca, Egypt), France and Venice.

As Raymond Armstrong, writing for John Long, Lee penned a series of novels featuring Laura Scudamore, known as the Sinister Widow, and her ongoing battle with Chief Inspector Dick Mason.

In June 1954 a rather odd notice appeared in various Australian newspapers:
MELBOURNE. June 1 – British author Norman Lee, who has written 36 novels since 1943, has arrived in Australia "to write four or five more."
    Mr. Lee, who came in the Strathnayer, said that British readers were tremendously interested in novels with an Australian background.
    Neville Shute's novels about Australia had been a great success in England.
Lee stayed in Australia for some time, writing up his escapades as Australian Adventure (by Mark Corrigan). Australia also became the setting for many of his books over the next few years: The Big Squeeze, Big Boys Don't Cry, Sydney for Sin, The Cruel Lady (all by Mark Corrigan), The Sinister Widow Down Under (by Richard Armstrong) and the two investigations of Inspector Grant Vickary, The Case of the Shaven Blonde and Dangerous Cargos, under the byline Robertson Hobart.

Hobart was also used as a byline for Blood on the Lake (1961) which featured an Adelaide insurance investigator named J. Earle Dixon. J. Earle Dixon then became the byline on the novel Killers in the Sun (1962). Curiously, the novel by J. Earle Dixon had the following biography about the author (who was also the lead character)
    The author of Killers in the Sun is an Australian who made up his mind at an early age to see the rest of the world first. He has travelled since he was fifteen; has been twice round the world and, since he was twenty, has each year visited at least one foreign country. J.E.D. lives on the Blue Mountain ridge, near Katoomba, where exists, he says, one of the most exciting views in New South Wales.
    J. Earle Dixon writes of insurance because he knows it; he began his working career with a South African insurance concern in his youth. He has been married three times but isn't working at it now; he claims women are unpredictable and unreliable.
    He has two paramount desires: to direct films and write for the Saturday Evening Post.
Whether this claim of three wives also related to Lee is unknown. At that time the entry for Author's and Writer's Who's Who was being compiled, around 1947-48, Lee was married to Bobbie Hunter and had three sons. I haven't been able to trace a marriage between a Norman H. Lee and anyone called Hunter. It may be that the name was a nom-de-theatre. It is possible that Lee married three times and that one marriage was to Rita M. Booker in Surrey in 4Q 1949.

The 1962 Author's and Writer's Who's Who mentions Lee's use of the names Robert Armstrong and Mark Corrigan but not of Robertson Hobart or J. Earle Dixon. It is known that Lee also co-wrote a play as Norman Armstrong and it seems plausible that he used other pseudonyms, with suspicion falling on Norma Lee, whose byline appeared on four novels from T. Werner Laurie in 1953-54. Like Mark Corrigan (who was also published by T. Werner Laurie at that time), Norma Lee was both author and character, known as Norma "Nicky" Lee, the beautiful gunner.

Norman Lee died in Surbiton, Surrey, on 2 June 1964, aged 65.


The "Four Winds" Mystery. Dublin, J. J. McCann & Co., 1945.
Action on the Rolling Road, illus. S. Drigin. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1945.
Deputy Wife. Dublin, J. J. McCann & Co., 1946.
The Hoodoo Ship, illus. A. E. Morley. London, Hollis & Carter, 1946.
Peril at Journey's End. Hounslow, William Foster, 1947.
The Terrified Village. A tale of the Kent and Sussex smugglers. London, Lutterworth Press, 1947.
Ship of Adventure. London, Charles Skilton, 1948.
The Ship of Missing Men, illus. Arnold Bond. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1948.
The Legion of the Eagle. London, Lutterworth Press, 1948.
The Phantom Buccaneer. London, Lutterworth Press, 1949.
Johnny Carew, Youngest Agent in the Secret Service. London & Melbourne, Ward, Lock & Co., 1951.
Seaway to Adventure. London & Melbourne, Ward, Lock & Co., 1956.

Novels as Raymond Armstrong (series: Insp. Dick Mason; Laura Scudamore; J. Rockingham Stone)
Dangerous Limelight (Mason). London, John Long, 1947.
Sinister Playhouse (Mason). London, John Long, 1949.
The Sinister Widow (Scudamore). London, John Long, 1951.
They Couldn't Go Wrong. London, John Long, 1951.
The Sinister Widow Again (Scudamore, Mason). London, John Long, 1952.
The Sinister Widow Returns (Scudamore, Mason). London, John Long, 1953.
Midnight Cavalier (Stone). London, John Long, 1954.
Cavalier of the Night (Stone). London, John Long, 1956.
The Widow and the Cavalier (Scudamore, Mason, Stone). London, John Long, 1956.
The Sinister Widow Comes Back (Scudamore Mason, Stone). London, John Long, 1957.
The Sinister Widow Down Under (Scudamore, Mason). London, John Long, 1958.
The Sinister Widow at Sea (Scudamore, Mason). London, John Long, 1959.
Murder of a Marriage. London, John Long, 1960.

Novels as Mark Corrigan (series: Mark Corrigan in all)
Bullets and Brown Eyes. London, T. Werner Laurie, 1948.
The Green Chateau. London, Lutterworth Press, 1949.
Sinner Takes All. London, T. Werner Laurie, 1949.
The Golden Angel. London, T. Werner Laurie, 1950.
Lovely Lady. London, T. Werner Laurie, 1950.
The Wayward Blonde. London, T. Werner Laurie, 1950.
Madame Sly. London, T. Werner Laurie, 1951.
Shanghai Jezebel. London, T. Werner Laurie, 1951.
Baby Face. London, T. Werner Laurie, 1952.
Lady of China Street. London, T. Werner Laurie, 1952.
All Brides are Beautiful. London, T. Werner Laurie, 1953.
Sweet and Deadly. London, T. Werner Laurie, 1953.
I Like Danger. London, T. Werner Laurie, 1954.
Love for Sale. London, T. Werner Laurie, 1954.
The Naked Lady. London, T. Werner Laurie, 1954.
The Big Squeeze. London, Angus & Robertson, 1955.
Madam and Eve. London, T. Werner Laurie, 1955.
Big Boys Don't Cry. London, Angus & Robertson, 1956.
Sydney for Sin. London, Angus & Robertson, 1956.
The Cruel Lady. London, Angus & Robertson, 1957.
Dumb as they Come. London, Angus & Robertson, 1957.
Honolulu Snatch. London, Angus & Robertson, 1958.
Menace in Siam. London, Angus & Robertson, 1958.
The Girl from Moscow. London, Angus & Robertson, 1959.
Singapore Downbeat. London, Angus & Robertson, 1959.
Lady from Tokyo. London, Angus & Robertson, 1960.
Sin of Hong Kong. London, Angus & Robertson, 1960.
Danger's Green Eyes. London, Angus & Robertson, 1962.
Riddle of Double Island. London, Angus & Robertson, 1962.
Why Do Women...? London, Angus & Robertson, 1963.
Riddle of the Spanish Circus. London, Angus & Robertson, 1964.

Novels as J. Earle Dixon
Killers in the Sun. London & New York, Abelard-Schuman, 1960.

Novels as Robertson Hobart (series: Insp. Grant Vickary)
Case of the Shaven Blonde (Vickary). London, Robert Hale, 1959.
Dangerous Cargoes (Vickary). London, Robert Hale, 1960.
Blood on the Lake. London, Robert Hale, 1961.
Death of a Love. London, Robert Hale, 1961.

Money for Film Stories, with a foreword by Sydney A. Moseley. London, Sir I. Pitman & Sons, 1937.
A Film is Born. London, Jordan & Sons, 1945.
Landlubber's Log: 25,000 Miles with the Merchant Navy. London, Quality Press, 1945.
Amateur Dramatics, with decorations by Kris. London, Oxford University Press, 1947.
I Want to go to Sea: Careers in the British Merchant Service. London, Jordan & Sons, 1947.
My Personal Log of Stars (mostly glamorous) people (famous and infamous) and places (of the world). London, Quality Press, 1947.
Log of a Film Director. London, Quality Press, 1949.

Non-fiction as Mark Corrigan
Australian Adventure. London, Robert Hale, 1960.

Lifeline: a play of the Merchant Navy in three acts (with Barbara Toy both as by Norman Armstrong; produced 30 November 1942). London, Samuel French, 1943.

?Novels as Norma Lee (ascription uncertain; series: Norma "Nicky" Lee)
The Beautiful Gunner. London, T. Werner Laurie, 1953.
Lover—Say It with Mink!. London, T. Werner Laurie, 1953.
Another Woman's Man. London, T. Werner Laurie, 1954.
The Broadway Jungle. London, T. Werner Laurie, 1954.


  1. Norman Lee was , my and my two brothers step father. He was at the time married to my mother to Sadie Helen Hunter (Bobbie) which covered the period when he wrote the play Lifeline with Barbara Toy and wrote the script and Directed The Girl who couldn't Quite. Bobbies father Philip Vassar Hunter was a Director of BICC and leading Electrical engineer, and some time "angel" They divorced and Bobbie married John E Lockett who had been a production manager with John Argyle.

    It is rarely mentioned that Norman was also an excellent artist and had worked on drawing film cartoons during his early career in the USA.

  2. Thanks, Terry. If you have other memories of Norman that you would like to share, please write again; if you prefer you can drop me a line directly at the address below my photo at the top left of the page.

  3. In Melbourne, Australia possibly about 1961-2 I attended a creative writing course at the Council for Adult Education which was conducted by one Norman Lee, crime writer. I remember him saying that he wrote under various names. I imagine this is the same person.

  4. You may wish to read this 1956 article to find more information about Mr Lee and some of his wives:

  5. Thanks for the tip. I really need to take another look at Lee and revise this piece as more information has come to light in the six years since it was written.



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