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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Walter & Leonard Townsend

In April 1930, two brothers were threatened with legal action by Sir Bernard Spilsbury, the Home Office pathologist. The brothers were authors Walter and Leonard Townsend, who had collaborated on a book about Spilsbury, as they had on two previous biographies. In September 1929, Albert E. Marriott & Son had published a well-received biography of the Prince of Wales and a biography of the Pope was due for publication in May 1930.

The Townsend brothers had been contracted by Marriott to write the book about Spilsbury. After taking the trouble to ascertain from official sources that no record such as they were compiling existed officially, Sir Bernard Spilsbury and His Famous Cases was completed and a set of proofs were sent to Sir Bernard.

It was then that Spilsbury acted, saying on Monday, 21 April 1930, "I shall take legal action to stop the publication of the book unless I receive within the next day or two an undertaking that it is to be withdrawn. The book is quite unauthorised by me, and until the proofs were submitted to me a week ago I had no knowledge at all of the publication."

The brothers expressed astonishment at the statement that Spilsbury was ignorant of the publication, claiming that they had written to Spilsbury making clear their intentions to write a book and asking asking the privilege of submit ting a questionnaire to him. "The letter to Sir Bernard was written on January 29th, and I know for a fact that it was posted. If it was not received by him, then it is a different matter. The postal authorities do sometimes misplace letters in transit, but not often."

Walter Townsend noted regarding the questionnaire that any points which were considered by Sir Bernard to be improper or of too private a nature could be deleted. When they received no reply, they assumed that Spilsbury was either not sufficiently interested in the matter to deem it worth while refusing, or he was indifferent as to whether the book was written on not.

"There is no doubt that there is some misunderstanding about the whole affair," Leonard Townsend told the Hull Daily Mail (22 April 1930). "With regard to the legal question we have no intention of withdrawing the manuscript in view of our letter to Sir Bernard, but we are securing a ruling from the Society of Authors."

Sir Bernard maintained that the book was "a disgraceful piece of work, entirely unauthorised and unwelcome. The manuscript was written in such a way as to lead me to understand that it had been written by an American. Many of the 'facts' are inaccurate, and it is full of the grossest flattery." According to the Yorkshire Evening Post, who carried the news on the day Spilsbury issued his statement, "Some of the details of Sir Bernard's cases are so intimately described, it is stated, that the impression might be gathered that the facts are taken from personal sources."

Answering this latter point, Leonard Townsend was quoted as saying: "We have no wish to imply that we are reproducing Sir Bernard's own case-book. One section, dealing with about 20 of Sir Bernard's most famous cases, we gave the title, "Sir Bernard's case-book," but only in a general sense and never thinking that it could be taken to imply anything actually associated with the written records of a doctor, which anyone should know would be jealously guarded."

Walter Townsend added. "We were asked by a member of a publishing firm to write this book, and have done so under contract. We completed it only last week, and the firm submitted it immediately to Sir Bernard Spilsbury. It was definitely understood between us and the publishers that after Sir Bernard read the manuscript, we would make any alterations he might suggest."

The Hull Daily Mail noted that "During last week-end frantic efforts were made to get in touch with Mr. Marriott, who was away yachting on the French coast. Several wires were sent to him on Tuesday at various points at which he might have called."

As soon as Mr. Marriott reached England (the report continued), he telephoned his London office and, on reaching London, he at once got into touch with Sir Bernard Spilsbury's solicitors. He then issued the following statement:
Mr Marriott has had a consultation with Sir Bernard Spilsbury's solicitors with reference to Sir Bernard's objection to the book which was shortly to be issued by Messrs Albert E. Marriott, Ltd., and which dealt with himself and the murder cases with which he had been connected.
    In view of the position in which Sir Bernard would be placed with the General Medical Council, Mr Marriott has agreed to withold the publication of this actual work and a new book is being planned to bear the title of 'Murder Will Out,' and in which Sir Bernard Spilsbury will be in no way connected.
Leonard Townsend confirmed the news to the Hull Daily Mail (23 April 1930), saying: "We are re-writing the book under the title 'Murder Will Out,' and the new version will be published as soon as possible."

The Townsends had already penned two biographies for the same publisher, making their debut with Marriott with the first complete biography of the Prince of Wales. To insure the accuracy of the book, the manuscript was forwarded to St. James's Palace for the attention of Sir Godfrey Thomas, K.C.V.O., Principal Private Secretary to H.R.H. the Prince of Wales. Sir Godfrey not only read and corrected the manuscript before publication, but also supplied certain facts and details of the greatest use to the authors.

The writing had not been easy, reported the Yorkshire Post (27 September 1929): "Interviewed yesterday, they said they experienced great difficulty in collecting material for their biography of the Prince, as many people in a position to give information declined to do so. Sir Godfrey Thomas, private secretary to his Royal Highness, had been most helpful, they said, in correcting the proofs. Cuts were made, chiefly of anecdotes, but they say that out of 85,000 words Sir Godfrey did not cut out more than 1,000 words.

Described as "unpretentious in their appearance and demeanour", Walter and Leonard Townsend, of 67 Princes Avenue, Hull, were well known local authors, having published articles in a number  of newspapers that had received favourable criticism and reviews as widely as Canada, South Africa and America. Before taking up writing as a profession, they were both accountants of Yorkshire Bank Chambers, Princes's Avenue. They were invited to undertake the biography of the Prince of Wales after the publisher, Albert E. Marriott, after publishing a series of articles on the centenaries of certain celebrities. Some of their work had been published anonymously, but they were credited with two books at that time: An Introduction to Finance and Lucrative Hobbies.

The various titles they wrote for Marriott included The Biography of H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, The Biography of His Holiness Pope Pius XI (which, they claimed, was "an unbiased biography without any grinding of personal religious axes, or prejudiced by active participation in the rites of any definite Church.") and, belatedly, Black Cap, subtitled Murder Will Out.

Their father, Walter Leonard Townsend (1873-1943), was the librarian of the Hull Central Library and was for 12 years on the staff of the Leeds Public Libraries.Walter had married Florence Gertrude Monkman (1872-1950) on 4 August 1897 and had five children: Hilda Gertrude Townsend (1898-1966), Walter, Leonard, Elsie (1903-1904), who died before she was a year old, and Frank.

Walter junior was born in Hull on 16 December 1899 and his brother Leonard was born two years later in late 1901. As well as being partners in commercial business and as writers, the two made a splash locally on 9 February 1933 when they celebrated a double wedding at St. Augustine's, Queen's Road, Hull. Walter and Leonard married respectively Lilian Ellen East, daughter of Mr & Mrs T. A. East, and Mary Marjorie Pease, daughter of Mr and Mrs Charles Pease. The only thing the grooms did not share was their honeymoon destinations: Leonard went to Whitby and Walter to Scarborough. They were also living apart, Leonard in Hall Road and Walter in Allderidge Avenue.

It was noted at the time that they had collaborated on "several light novels", presumably published under pen-names. The earliest known novel written by the pair is Luck of the Course, published by Hornsey Journal as part of their FP Racing novels series in October 1934. A second, A Shadow on the Course, followed four months later. Four more novels appeared in the same series in 1940-42.

Little is known about their output at this time. The two brothers were still writing after the war and a report in the Hull Daily Mail (22 February 1945) reveals that they had were still collaborating, giving a joint talk to the Hull Publicity Club where they recounted the worries and humours of their literary partnership. "It was evident that the partnership is a happy and productive one which has lasted 25 years." The two had recently been elected members of the Royal Society of Literature.

A report from August 1945 noted that the brothers had three books due to go to press: Secret of the Sands ("a new analysis of some famous unsolved real-life mysteries); Wreckers of the Range ("a conventional Western thriller"); and Happy Holidays ("a book for boys, [which] has been copiously illustrated in black and white by the authors"). As far as I am aware, only the second of these appeared.

The news item also revealed that the brothers Townsend were "at present engaged on rather more serious literary work, for they have been invited by a well-known Indian firm of educational publishers to write a series of English Grammar books for Forms I. to VI., to be used in Indian schools." Whether these appeared, I have no idea.

John Humber, in his regular column in the Hull Daily Mail, commented that the brothers were "versatile writers about whom items have appeared in these Notes over the years," had had one of their short stories translated into Danish with such success that they had been invited by a Danish literary agent in Copenhagen to write stories especially for the Danish reading public. "In addition to their latest enterprise," Humber continued, "demands have come this month for their literary work from Malaya and Burma." Their publisher in Stockholm had managed to get their annual royalty cheque through to Hull without a break during the six years of war.

In November 1947, the two brothers were elected Fellows of the Royal Geographical Society. This followed the publication of several officially sponsored guides to rural England which the brother had written since 1945. These were published anonymously – possibly by Century Press, who published an extensive run of Rural Guides in the late 1940s and early 1950s. "In their researches they have set down not only populations and rural rating notes," said one newspaper report, "but have redescribed well-known beauty spots, rural industries, traditions, and hopes for the future. They have set themselves the task of delving into every rural district in the United Kingdom."

The last traced books written by the Townsends are poles apart: Costing for Builders, with illustrations prepared by Walter's son, Robin, was published in 1948 and revised in 1957; their last known fiction, Gipsies in the Wood, was a short novel for children published in 1953.

The brothers were still active at least until the late 1940s when Leonard was listed in The Author's and Writer's Who's Who 1948-49. The entry noted that he was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and that his recreations included touring, fruit-growing, music and bridge. An earlier (1930s) entry for Walter noted that he was the local representative for several trade journals and had contributed to over 90 newspapers and magazines. He listed his recreations as swimming and chess.

Walter died in Hull on 6 June 1972, aged 72. Leonard died in Beverley, Yorkshire, in 1986, aged 84.


Novels as W. & L. Townsend
Luck of the Course. London, Hornsey Journal Printing Works (FP Racing 172), Oct 1934.
A Shadow on the Course. London, Hornsey Journal Printing Works (FP Racing 180), Feb 1935.
Judy’s Horse. London, Hornsey Journal (FP Racing 305), Apr 1940.
The Thoroughbred. London, Hornsey Journal (FP Racing 311), 1942.
A Long Chance. London, Hornsey Journal (FP Racing 317), 1942.
The Wonder Horse. London, Hornsey Journal (FP Racing 319), 1942.
Secret of Blue Gully. London, Martin & Reid, Nov 1948.
Gun Branded. London, Martin & Reid, May 1949.
Riding High. London, Martin & Reid, May 1949.
Rex the Rectory Mouse, illus. Vera Rice-Jay. London, Thames Publishing Co., 1950.
The Round House Mystery, illus. Joyce Johnson. Huddersfield, Schofield & Sims, 1951.
Gipsies in the Wood, illus. J. W. Tate. Leeds, E. J. Arnold & Son, 1953.

Novels as Wal Leonard
The Buckaroo Rides Out. London, Piccadilly Novels 223, 1945.
Trouble Trail. Leicester, Fiction House, 1951.
Nevada Pay-Off. Leicester, Fiction House, Feb 1952.

Novels as Leonard Walters (series: St Hal's [Jack Barry & Co.])
Wreckers of the Range. London, Martin & Reid, Nov 1945.
The Gold Trail. London, Martin & Reid, Apr 1946.
Yellow Streak. London, Martin & Reid, Apr 1946.
The Boss of Gray Flats. London, Martin & Reid, Feb 1947.
The Bounder of St Hal’s. London, Martin & Reid, 1947.
The Rift at St Hal’s. London, Martin & Reid, 1947.
The Rebel of St Hal’s. London, Martin & Reid, 1947.
The Snob of St Hal’s. London, Martin & Reid, Dec 1947.

Non-fiction as W. & L. Townsend
An Introduction to Finance: a book for the average man. London, Crosby, Lockwood & Son, 1927.
Lucrative Hobbies. London, G. Allen & Unwin, 1927.
The Biography of H.R.H. the Prince of Wales. London, A. E. Marriott & Son, 1929.
Black Cap. Murder Will Out. London, A. E. Marriott, 1930; in 2 volumes, Black Cap and Murder Will Out, London, Mellifont Press, 1938.
The Biography of His Holiness Pope Pius XI. London, A. E. Marriott, 1930.
Mystery & Miracle Plays in England. London, Henry Hartley, 1931.
Costing for Builders, illus. prepared by Robin Townsend. London, E. & F. N. Spon, 1948; revised, 1957.

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