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Saturday, July 01, 2017

Claude Hunter

A minor author who had a brief career as a writer in the latter days of the Second World War. I have never found any of Hunter's books – actually slim pamphlets for the most part with only one title that could be reasonably called a book – but did discover a little about him recently. Thanks to my research pal, John Herrington for getting this one started.

Hunter advertised in The Stage between July 1944 and September 1945. A typical early advert read:
REALLY Outstanding Monos, Sketches, Acts, all types, by well-known writer. Original and Individual to the Artist. Several "Star" clients. No cheap rubbish. Many works published. Material that will build your reputation,—Claude Hunter, 97, Church-road, Richmond.

Who these "Star" clients were, Hunter never mentioned, but he continued to advertise for over a year, expanding his small ads-style invitation into a box-ad in 1945. Between issues published on the 12th and 19th of April 1945, his address changed from 97 Church-road, Richmond, to 48 Cleveland-square, W2.

Hunter's slim booklets were published by a company named Quality Music Co., who gave an address of 21b Prince of Wales Terrace, London W8; they were later to be found in Denmark Street, the Tin Pan Alley of music in London. They were able to obtain a small supply of paper in 1944 and used it to publish three titles by Hunter: Collection of Monologues and Sketches (14 pages), Vent Act and One Act Play (16 pages, with J. O. Sones) and Collection of Six Stories (24 pages). It is unlikely that they published any further "books", but the company remained active; as Quality Music Co. Ltd. it was registered in May 1956 although it was eventually struck from the Company Register due to inactivity in 1977.

Hunter's final book was a collection of short stories, Murders While You Wait, published by Alliance Press in 1945, priced 1/6 for its 60 pages. Its scarcity means that even Al Hubin's Crime Fiction Bibliography doesn't list the contents of the book. The FictionMags Index doesn't list any short stories for Hunter, nor have I found any other stories from his pen. However, we do have a little background biography for him.

He was born in Portsmouth, Hampshire, on 12 September 1889, the third of five children of Thomas R. W. Hunter, a professor of music, and his wife Agnes. He grew up in Portsmouth and by the age of 21 had become a shipwright at H.M. Dockyard, still living with his parents.

He met Annie Daisy Francis—the daughter of tobacconist and hairdresser David Francis—during the war and they had a son, Kenneth Brandon Claude Hunter, born in June 1918; they married soon after and had a second son, Vernon, in 1920. Phyllis V. Hunter (later Connolly) followed in 1924 and a boy who died at birth in 1928.

Hunter was working as a representative for a combustion engineering firm living at 7 Pensford Avenue, Richmond, Surrey. In his early fifties, he served as an A.R.P. Warden during the Second World War.

Shortly after V.E. Day, Hunter's son, Vernon, was working as the manager of The Regal cinema in Foleshill Road, Coventry. Vernon had married Norah Lester Rands in 1941 but had separated from her and was living alone at 298b Foleshill Road. On Sunday, 22 July 1945, Claude Hunter received a phone call from a member of staff at the cinema saying that his son had not been seen for several days. Hunter took the night train from London and arrived in Coventry on Monday morning.

At first everything seemed to be in order at the house in Foleshill Road, but he received no answer to his knocking. He returned to the house later that morning and gained entry via a window; inside he found two letters on a table, one of them addressed to himself. Locating the source of a smell of gas, he found his son dead on a mattress in the scullery in front of the gas stove. Cracks under the door and window were stopped up with paper.

An inquest held two days later revealed that Vernon had been in poor health his whole life due to a poor heart; further strain had been put on his health by his A.R.P. work during the blitzes. Death had occurred three days before his body was found, and the Coroner recorded a verdict of "Suicide whilst the balance of his mind was disturbed."

Hunter's writing career seems to have come to an end shortly after. Hunter, who was also known as Kenneth Claude Hunter, was living at Mile End Cottage, Newton Poppleford, Devon, when he died on 14 December 1964 at The City Hospital, Exeter, Devon, aged 75.

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