Not an Armed Services Edition
At first glance this looks just like one of the US Armed Services Editions (ASEs) that were issued in their millions during the Second World War. It has the distinctive oblong shape, the brightly coloured panels on the front cover, and most strikingly of all, the slanting image of the original book. Even the circle on the bottom left of the cover for the words ‘Armed Services Edition’ is there. Except that it’s none of these things. It’s not an Armed Services Edition, it’s not even American, that’s not an image of the original book, and the circle is used for a portrait of the author. This is just a shameless borrowing of the design of the ASEs.
A Bear Pocket Book … and a genuine Armed Services Edition
The deception must be intentional, although it’s hard to see the commercial purpose, since the Armed Services Editions were not for sale. Buyers could hardly buy a Bear Pocket Book, mistakenly thinking they were buying an ASE. But presumably the ASEs were so familiar, even in Britain, that there was thought to be some commercial advantage in aping them.
Apart from the familiar cover design, it’s a very unattractive book, cramming 100,000 words into just 160 small pages. The writing is tiny – far smaller than the ASEs, which were often surprisingly bulky. Even the marketing blurb on the front cover is almost illegible. Perhaps the biggest surprise though is the price. Two shillings was a whopping price for a paperback at the time. Before the war, Penguins and most paperbacks had sold for 6d, a quarter of this price. The war had pushed up costs, so that by 1946 the standard price for a paperback was more like a shilling, but quite why anyone would pay two shillings for what looks like a very inferior product, is a mystery.
The series didn’t last long. It seems to have run to nine books between June 1946 and June 1947, including the immortal ‘The terror from Timorkal’ by Festus Pragnell.