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Printers’ Pie – the Hutchinson years

‘Printers’ Pie’ had started in the early years of the twentieth century as a way to raise funds for a Printers’ charity.   It continued until at least 1918, sometimes twice a year, with Christmas issues called ‘Winter’s Pie’, but stopped publication soon after.   There may have been one or two publications in the 1920s called the ‘Sketchbook and Printers’ Pie’, but information is scarce.

1916 Printers Pie not my copy

An issue from 1916 – cover illustration by George Studdy

In 1935 it was revived (see this earlier blog post) to raise money for the King George’s Jubilee Trust and then for other charities, now using the titles ‘Christmas Pie’ and ‘Summer Pie’.  So far as I can tell the final issue in this series, published by Odhams, was in 1939.

Summer-Pie-1936

Summer Pie for 1936 with a Bruce Bairnsfather cover

But then after a gap of three or four years, it appeared again in 1943 under the original title, this time published by Hutchinson.   The publication marked Walter Hutchinson becoming Festival President of the Printers’ Pension, Almshouse and Orphan Asylum Corporation, the original charity for which ‘Printers’ Pie’ had been created, and was to raise funds for them.

It was now in a small paperback format, and selling for the relatively high price of 2s 6d.  Pre-war issues had sold for 6d and in 1943 most paperbacks were selling for around 9d.  But as well as being for charity, this was on unusually good quality paper for a wartime publication, featured a colour cover and several pages of glossy photographs in two sections.  There were stories by H.E. Bates, Howard Spring, L.A.G. Strong and James Hilton among others.

It was followed by ‘Christmas Pie’ at the end of 1943 in a similar format, again selling for 2s 6d.  This time there was an appeal for donations to the same Printers’ charity, but no direct mention that the proceeds or profits from the publication would go to the charity.  Most issues from then onwards contained no mention of being for charity, but on the other hand the price came down to 1s 6d.  The exceptions were the Spring Pies for 1945 and 1946, with the price raised to 2 shillings and profits going first to the Bookbinders’ Cottage Homes and Pensions Society, and then to Toc H.

The format instead seemed just to be adopted by Hutchinson as part of their series of Hutchinson Pocket Specials.  From Autumn 1944, there were more or less regular issues five times a year, titled as Spring Pie, Summer Pie, Autumn Pie, Winter Pie and Christmas Pie, published roughly in March, June, September, November and December.

Each issue had a colour portrait of a girl on the cover and inside a mix of articles, short stories, cartoons and photographs. mostly in a light-hearted tone.  The style feels very similar to ‘Lilliput’, then a popular monthly magazine.

In April 1946 there was an extra issue called Pie’s Film Book, with Vivien Leigh on the cover as Cleopatra, from one of the big films of the year.  It was printed entirely on glossy paper, lavishly illustrated with black and white photos of film stars, and selling at two shillings.  Pie’s Film Book No. 2 appeared the following year in similar format, with Margaret Lockwood on the cover, but that seems to have been the end of this venture.

There were other attempts to modernise the format.  Colour appeared internally for the first time in the Christmas 1947 issue, with  four reproductions of Dutch paintings and in 1948 many of the black and white photographs were replaced by colour illustrations of various kinds.  But perhaps it was still not modern enough for the post-war world.   The Summer and Christmas issues of 1948 experimented with some discreet nudity, but it was too late or too desperate.

So far as I know, the 1948 Christmas issue was the last until it reappeared in a slightly larger format and at the reduced price of one shilling in December 1949 as ‘Winter Pie’. The editor is now shown as Barbara Vise and the cover illustration is by (presumably related) Jenetta Vise.  Inside there’s no longer any colour, but the layout looks less cramped.  The content though is less than riveting, featuring articles such as ‘Why I like going to the cinema’ by the Bishop of London, alongside articles on suits of armour and portrait miniatures.

It was followed by ‘Spring Pie’ in April 1950 in a similar format, although this time with a centrefold featuring colour photographs of pottery and porcelain.  But then this too seems to have died.

After that, Hutchinson seem to have given up any ambitions to continue the series.  Both the ‘Pie’ title and the aim of raising money for good causes seem to have passed back to Odhams, the publisher of the pre-war issues.  They published at least one more issue in 1952 in the larger pre-war format, as ‘Summer Pie, in aid of the National Advertising Benevolent Society.  That may well have been the last of the Pies.

1952 1 Summer Pie 1952

 

Bound for the Services – from Harrap

Almost all Services Editions are paperbacks, mostly very thin, cheap paperbacks on poor quality wartime paper.  Apart from the need to reduce costs in wartime, there was also the practical matter of fitting into a battledress pocket.

So what are we to make of the Harrap Services Editions, a hardback series issued towards the end of the war?  These are not only hardbacks, but some of them very substantial books, certainly not pocket size.

Hardback Harrap Wild-Cat Branning

Of course there were hardback books in Service libraries throughout the war.  Many of the early books were donated by the public and came in all shapes and sizes, as well as being on all manner of topics, many of them of little interest to their intended readers.   On the other hand it was precisely because many of the donated books were unsuitable, that the new series of paperback Services Editions were launched in 1943.

Those paperbacks were a huge success and were so widely read and passed around that many of them simply disintegrated, one of the factors making them so scarce today.  Some units developed their own solutions, providing homemade hard bindings to make them last a little longer.  But perhaps as the war moved towards an end in 1945, it became clear that there was a need for something more durable.

Did the armed forces commission a series of hardbacks from Harrap, or was it an initiative from the publisher?   By 1945 the dominance of the two long series of paperback Services Editions, from Collins and from Guild Books, was coming to an end.  Several other publishers were starting to produce Services Editions, presumably under some sort of contract with the Services that at least enabled them to access the necessary paper ration.  But I suspect individual publishers still had a fair amount of discretion over exactly what they published as Services Editions.

Hardback Harrap 5 books

In the case of Harrap, all they seem to have done is take some of the books that they were publishing anyway and stamp Services Edition on the front cover.   There is nothing in the printing history that suggests a specific printing for the services.  The only evidence that they are Services Editions at all is that stamp on the front board.  Nor is there any evidence that they were a series in the normal sense.  They come in all shapes and sizes and all types of book.  The five examples I have come across include two spy novels by Helen MacInnes, an oilfield novel by Robert Sturgis, the semi-fictionalised account of life in Thailand that later formed the basis for the musical ‘The King and I’, and a biography of General Allenby, a miltary leader.  Are there many others?

Four of these five books were printed in 1945, and the fifth in 1946.  Judging by the scarcity of the books today, the numbers printed (or the numbers of those printed that were stamped “Services Edition”) must have been small.  Almost all Services Editions are now difficult to find, even those paperbacks printed in editions of 50,000 copies.  But while it’s relatively easy to make 50,000 poor quality paperbacks disappear, that seems more difficult with hardbacks.  If even 5,000 copies of each book were printed, you might expect several hundred to have survived.  But if they have, I don’t know where they are.

Two of the copies I have show clear evidence of Services use.  One other has the half-title torn out, often seen with Services Editions, presumably to remove evidence of Services ownership.  So unlike some later Services Editions, they do at least seem to have reached their intended market.

    Hospital Ship Maine - Harrap Anna and the King

I’d love to hear from anyone who knows anything more about these unusual and rather surprising books.

Albatross and the Third Reich. A Strange Bird, but a wonderful book.

‘Strange Bird’ is a wonderful new book by Michele Troy, subtitled ‘The Albatross Press and the Third Reich’.  It vividly recounts the difficulties of a business publishing modernist British and American literature in 1930s Germany under the Nazis, and the lives of the key people involved as they cope with the sometimes brutal consequences.

Strange Bird

Michele Troy is Professor of English at Hillyer College at the University of Hartford in Connecticut.  On one level her book is a meticulously researched academic study, where every assertion is backed by detailed research referenced in copious footnotes.   But on another level it’s more like a novel, following the lives of a whole cast of characters, but particularly the three main founders of Albatross – John Holroyd-Reece, Max Christian Wegner and Kurt Enoch.

Kurt Enoch (right) with novelist Erskine Caldwell, in the US after the war

The book is beautifully written, again more like a novel in places, but the story the author has uncovered is almost too implausible for the plot of a novel.  There are twists and turns as the business has to adapt to Nazi control and suspicion, and the team is then split apart by restrictions on Jewish ownership of property in Germany.   I won’t include too many spoilers, but the story reaches a climax with the German occupation of Paris in 1940.  The contrasts in the experiences of the main participants at that point are almost heartbreaking, but there is far more to come.  Triumph turns to disaster and disaster turns to recovery in very personal terms as well as in political, military and business terms.

Max Christian Wegner

Max Christian Wegner, after the war

Holroyd-Reece, Wegner and Enoch all had very successful publishing careers separately from Albatross, both before and after the war, and they worked together for only a few years.  I’ve long believed that in that short period they were able to create something really special, and that the Albatross series was a remarkable achievement in both literary and business terms.  But I had little idea before picking up this book of quite how remarkable it really was.  It needs the context of time and place, of everything that was going on in 1930s Germany, followed by the war and the post-war chaos, to understand the extent of their achievement.  ‘Strange Bird’ brings together the context and the achievement and ties it together with the intertwining personal life stories of three remarkable men.

Holroyd Reece Christmas Card 8 and 9

John Holroyd Reece in his Paris office, drawn by Gunter Böhmer for a 1938 Christmas Card

All three died many years ago, but as well as researching many archives, Michele Troy has tracked down relatives and uncovered personal reminiscences that transform the book from a dusty academic work to a spellbinding thriller.  Above all it’s the stories of the people that you come away with from this book.  They’re engaging stories and engaging people, for the most part sympathetically drawn characters, despite all their faults.

The book is part history, part biography, part novel, part academic treatise, part detective story, part bibliographical research, but above all it’s a thoroughly enjoyable read.   I hope many more people will read it.

White Circle Westerns in Services Editions

By the time war broke out in 1939, the Collins White Circle series was well established as a serious competitor to Penguin, particularly in the area of genre fiction – crime, mystery, westerns and romantic novels.   The Crime Club section of the series had published around 80 titles and the Westerns were up to 30 or more.  Titles continued to be added throughout 1940 and 1941, but gradually paper rationing started to bite.  Books had to meet the War Economy standard and the flow of new titles slowed to a trickle.

A paper quota was available though for the paperback Services Editions, and this was one area where Penguin had got it wrong, launching the misconceived ‘Forces Book Club’ and then withdrawing from the market. It was an opportunity for Collins to make an impression, and their product was in some ways ideal for it.  Romantic fiction was not going to work, for what were then almost exclusively male armed forces, but the other categories in their White Circle series could carry straight across.  Crime novels and Westerns were just what the Services wanted.

  White Circle 116  Collins c215

White Circle Westerns in standard format and in Services Edition

Over the period from 1943 to 1946 the Collins series of Services Editions published 164 titles, including at least 33 Westerns, and probably 36.  I don’t know exactly how many because I have no idea of the titles of the books numbered c327, c328 and c330.  If anyone does know, or even better has a copy of any of these books, I’d be delighted to hear from them.  The other books with similar numbers are Westerns, so it seems likely that these are too, but I can’t be sure.

Certainly the series started with eight Westerns in the first sixteen titles.  See my post on the early Collins Services Editions for more detail.  It’s enough for now to say that those first eight Westerns have almost disappeared without trace.  In over 25 years of searching for them, I have found only one in first printing and two others in reprints.

Collins c216

An almost unique example of a Wild West Services Edition from 1943

The next batch through to the end of 1944 is not much better.  I have found copies of just four of the twelve books, but I do at least know the titles of the others, although not their series numbers.  Any evidence of the books below in Services Editions would be welcome.

Curran, Tex Riding fool
Dawson, Peter Time to ride
Ermine, Will Watchdog of Thunder River
Lee, Ranger Red shirt
Lee, Ranger The silver train
Robertson, F. C. Rustlers on the loose
Robertson, F. C. Kingdom for a horse
Short, Luke Ride the man down

That leaves a further thirteen, possibly sixteen, Westerns published in 1945 and 1946.  I have copies of seven of them, some of which I’ve seen more than once, so I suppose they’re a little more common, which is what you’d expect, but they’re still frustratingly difficult to find.

Collins c325

That’s true of almost all Services Editions, but Westerns do seem to be particularly rare.  It’s true for the smaller number of Westerns in the Guild Books series of Services Editions as well.  I’m pretty sure that the Westerns were printed in at least as large quantities as other titles, but they seem to have survived less well.   I can only assume that’s because they had more use, they were read more avidly and more often, passed around more or borrowed more often from unit libraries.  Services Editions were printed on poor quality paper, and often stored and read in battlefield conditions, and in hot damp climates, so they wouldn’t survive repeated use for long.

Or possibly Westerns were just seen as more disposable, and have continued to be seen in that way.  When service libraries were being cleared out, were Westerns more likely to be thrown away?  If they survived that clear-out and were accepted into somebody’s home, were they still more likely to end up in the bin than other types of fiction?  If they got as far as a second-hand bookshop, would bookdealers have considered them worthy of a place on the shelf?  Or would they have ended up in a box in a dark corner or have been consigned to a cellar to moulder and die?

Collins c357

Most of the Westerns in the series were written under pseudonyms, and around a third of the books came from a single author, Charles Horace Snow.  He contributed books under three different names – four books as Ranger Lee, four as Gary Marshall and three as Wade Smith. Another eight books came from two brothers – four by Frederick Glidden under the name of Luke Short, and four by his brother Jonathan under the name of Peter Dawson.

I don’t think any of them are much read now.  Westerns were enormously popular in wartime and in the postwar years, but interest in them seems to have gone down and down.  Finding copies of these books, or even any information about them, is a race against time.

Just think what Toucan do

Having recently written a post about the Jarrold’s Jackdaw Library, it seems appropriate to follow it up with one about the Toucan novels.   The two series seem to go together in several ways.  They both came from the Hutchinson group of publishers, and they share a physical similarity, not only with each other, but with almost all the new paperback series launched in those few years after Penguin’s breakthrough.  They also share, with each other and with Collins, the use of a white circle as the main title panel.

And of course they both use a bird as their brand and series title.   They were far from the only series to do so in the period after the launch of Penguin Books.

  toucan-1-dw  jackdaw-16-dw

Toucans and Jackdaws – birds of a feather

In choosing a Toucan as their brand, Hutchinson may have had one eye on Penguin and on Jackdaw, but they probably had the other eye on Guinness, whose famous toucan had appeared just two years earlier.  What would previously have been a rather obscure bird, had been propelled to the centre of media attention by the Guinness advertising campaign.

guinness-toucan-advert-1

In reviewing Jackdaw, I asked the question why Hutchinson needed another paperback series in October 1936.  At that point  they already had the Hutchinson Pocket Library, the Hutchinson Popular Pocket Library and the Crime Book Society series, all launched within the previous 12 months.  So it’s even more strange that just 4 months later they launched yet another new series and another new brand.  Was there really a market space left for the Toucan Novels when they appeared in February 1937?

I can’t work out whether it was a deliberate strategy not to put all their eggs in one basket, or just a lack of strategic co-ordination within the group.

 Hutchinson-PL5  hutchinson-ppl10

Other Hutchinson 6d series from 1935 / 1936

Toucan at least showed some evidence of co-ordination, as the books came from several different publishing imprints within the Hutchinson Group.  Most of the first group of titles came from Hurst & Blackett, although there were two from Hutchinson itself.  Then a group of books from Stanley Paul and another from John Long.  But like Jackdaw, and like several other new paperback series in the 1930s, there was then a pause after an initial rush of titles.  It took time for the market to adjust to yet another new paperback series, and time for the initial print run to sell out.

After volume 20 appeared in June 1937, there were no new titles for almost a year, then a small group of titles in summer 1938, but it was not until May 1939 that the series really got going again.  The main publisher in this second phase was Stanley Paul, although there were also books from Hurst & Blackett and a few from Skeffington & Son.

The covers of the early books were printed in two colours to highlight the Toucan’s yellow beak, and most of the early books were in a purply crimson colour, with a few in green. The group of books from volumes 17 to 20, all published by John Long, are missing the yellow highlighting on the book covers, although it is still there on the dust-wrappers.  Was this an economy measure, saving on two colour printing in a place where it would not normally be noticed by the purchaser?  Or was it just a mistake?

  toucan-17  toucan-17-dw

Front cover and dust-wrapper of volume 17

It turned out, perhaps inadvertently, to be a herald of the future.  From around volume 32 onwards, possibly earlier, all or almost all books were printed with yellow covers.  This allowed the toucan’s beak to be yellow without the need for two-colour printing, although it did lose some of the earlier impact.  A little while later, dust-wrappers were dropped, and then prices started to creep up, with some volumes selling for a while at 7d, before wartime economy measures really started to bite.

  toucan-6  toucan-62

An early Toucan in green and a later one in yellow

By mid 1940 it was impossible to continue on anything like the pre-war basis, and the numbered series came to an end with volume 62.  A few more books were published during the war, effectively as one-offs, but they had to meet the war economy standard, which meant low paper quality, small fonts and small margins, making the most of the paper rationing that was hitting all publishers.   I know of two wartime Toucans at 9d, although there may well be others.  Then later, at least three books at 1s 3d, and post-war others at 1s 6d.

The books published in the Toucan series had no great literary pretensions, and few of them are much remembered today.  The authors are generally pretty obscure, although there is one Edgar Wallace title and perhaps most significantly, two of the Maigret books by Georges Simenon.  Simenon was at that time so little known in Britain that he had to be described on the book cover as ‘The Edgar Wallace of France’.

As a final comment, seven books in the Hutchinson Group series of Services Editions were also referred to as Toucan Novels in a brief mention at the top of the cover.   It’s not entirely clear what the point of this was, as there was no other Toucan branding, and only one of the books had previously appeared as a Toucan novel.  Indeed three were from a publisher, Rich and Cowan, which had not previously contributed books to the Toucan series.  But it’s one of many examples of confusion in branding within the Hutchinson Group at that time.

hutchinson-se-ttn4

 

America’s Overseas Editions

By March 1944, the Council on Books in Wartime, the body responsible for publishing the US Armed Services Editions, was already starting to think about the need for books in post-war Europe.  Not in an entirely disinterested way, of course.  This was a project sponsored by the Psychological Warfare Branch, made up of members of the US Army, the Office of War Information and the OSS, a wartime intelligence agency that was the predecessor of the CIA.  In the words of the official history of the Council, ‘Books were wanted which would give the people of Europe a picture of what Americans are like and what we had been doing since communications were closed’.  Not to put too fine a point on it, this was a propaganda exercise, and one that led to a substantial publishing programme.

overseas-edition-f8

The Americans were undoubtedly right though to identify the need for books, and to prepare for it.  Within a relatively short time the US, along with the other Allies, found itself directly administering some quite large areas of Europe, and present in much wider areas.  Its ambitions were far more than just to keep the peace.  It wanted to do what it could to ensure there would never be another European war, and in pursuit of that goal it wanted to spread what it saw as American values of freedom and democracy, and suppress what remained of the philosophy of totalitarianism.

Within the directly administered areas in Germany, Austria and Italy, the US took wide-ranging control of almost all aspects of the media, through the Information Services Branch (ISB).  Press and radio were tightly controlled, as were other aspects such as theatre, cinema and even art.  But publishing was clearly an important area for the spread of ideas and as well as trying to influence and control the output of local publishers, the Americans issued their own publications, as did the British.

overseas-edition-g16

For the British, the series of Guild Books editions, published in Germany and in Austria, were the gentlest form of propaganda.   The American equivalent, the ‘Overseas Editions’, were both more political and more explicit in their aim.  As John Hench described it in his ‘History of the Book in America’, the books were “intended  to reacquaint Europeans with the heritage, history, and fundamental makeup of the USA, plus a picture of our role in the war.”

overseas-edition-e6

Overseas Editions were produced by a subsidiary of the Council on Books in Wartime, and shared some of the same production methods and some of the same titles as the Armed Services Editions.  But in other respects they were very different and posed particular problems.  The most obvious difficulty was the intention to publish in foreign languages.  That required translations, which took time, and it also required typesetters competent in those languages, who were in short supply.  Plans to publish in both Chinese and Japanese had to be dropped at a late stage.

Finance was also a significant problem, only solved in the end by an offer from Pocket Books to use its credit, in return for having its imprint on the finished books.  When this led to further problems though, Pocket Books waived its rights and no imprint appeared.

overseas-edition-i2

In shape and size, the books were closer to Pocket Books than the unconventional oblong shape of the Armed Services Edition.   In one respect though they differed from both  Pocket Books and Armed Services Editions and almost all other American paperbacks of the time.   US paperbacks were almost defined by the colourfulness, even brashness  of their covers.  Yet the Overseas Editions have an extraordinarily restrained standard typographical cover, with just a small logo.   Did the Americans decide that brashness would not go down well in a more sober Europe, or was it just inappropriate for the more serious subject matter here?

Most of the books, including the Italian translations, but interestingly not the German ones, carry a short message on the front cover referring to how free publishing had been ‘interrupted by Axis aggression’.

A total of 72 books were published – 22 in English, 22 in French, 23 in German and 5 in Italian.  Some of the same titles appear in all four languages, but there’s also some variation.  Most of them are unashamedly patriotic works – Stephen Vincent Benét’s ‘America’, Bernard Jaffe’s ‘Men of Science in America’ and Walter Lippmann’s ‘US War aims’ were typical selections.  But there was also room for a small number of novels, notably Hemingway’s ‘For whom the bell tolls’ and William Saroyan’s ‘The human comedy’.

overseas-edition-e19

Over 3.6 million books were printed, all of them in 1945, with the final shipment in November 1945.  The overall cost was $411,000, equivalent to around 11½ cents each, and as the books were sold at retail prices in each market, the project produced a profit for the Government, something that wasn’t in its original objectives.  Indeed a note in the books is quite specific that they are published by a non-profit organisation.

The books were widely sold, not only in occupied Europe, but also in North Africa, Syria, Turkey, the Philippines, China and Japan.  They’re still relatively easy to find in second hand markets in Europe, in Holland and Belgium as well as in Germany, France and Italy.

overseas-edition-spines-german-language

Overseas Editions in German, numbered G1 to G23

 

 

 

 

When books went to war

I’ve spent a good part of my life collecting, researching and generally championing the Services Editions, issued to the British Armed Forces during the Second World War.   I’ve always felt that they have been unjustly neglected, particularly in comparison with the American Armed Services Editions, which are well known, well-researched and widely collected, including a full collection in the Library of Congress.

That contrast is heightened by a fascinating new book on the US editions, ‘When books went to war’.  Amongst other articles and research, there have already been at least two quite significant books published on the Armed Services Editions.  The war was barely over before ‘A history of the Council on Books in Wartime’ was published in 1946 (written by Robert O. Ballou from a draft by Irene Rakosky).  Then forty years after the launch of the series, an event to celebrate them was held at the Library of Congress in 1983 and a selection of papers published the following year as ‘Books in Action’, edited by John Y. Cole.

Books in action

The first of these works is referenced extensively in Molly Guptill Manning’s new book, while the second is surprisingly neglected.  The major new resource she has unearthed and used though is a wide variety of letters written by servicemen to authors and to the Council on Books in Wartime.  These are what make the book, transforming it from a dry bibliographical history or reference book to a vibrant and uplifting story of triumph and adversity – at times almost an emotional read.  It’s clear that many soldiers appreciated the books enormously, even to the extent that they transformed the lives of some servicemen, opening their eyes to a wider world and to new post-war possibilities.  The narrative of the book is also helped by setting it in the context of the Nazi book-burnings, contrasting American freedom and liberality with Nazi censorship and destruction.

When books went to war

It’s a very entertaining read and I’d recommend it to a much wider audience than most books about books, which are usually pretty dry and specialist. My one real reservation is, perhaps not surprisingly, that it again fails to give due credit to the UK Services Editions.  As usual, they’re mostly ignored, but in one section on the British publishing industry in wartime, the author claims that ‘book shortages … rendered distribution of free reading material to members of the Royal Army and Navy impossible’.   British troops are said to have gaped at the crates of Armed Services Editions (ASEs) supplied to American forces, marvelling at how well taken care of they were.   ‘Many British soldiers were left wondering: Why didn’t their government care for their morale needs by supplying paperback books?’

The answer of course is that the British Government did supply paperback books.  Not only did they supply around 500 different titles as Services Editions, but they were ahead of the Americans in doing so.  It seems likely that the ASEs were at least in part inspired by the British experiences in this area, although there is no acknowledgement of this.  The Penguin Forces Book Club issued a series of 120 paperbacks between October 1942 and September 1943 (on a subscription basis for army units, but effectively free to servicemen) and the main programme of Services Editions with wide distribution started in July 1943.  The first ASEs did not appear until September of the same year.

Penguin FBC5 Tarka the otter

Penguin got there long before the Americans

Of course it’s possible that ASEs reached some locations that British Services Editions never got to, leading to admiration or jealousy from the British forces.   And the Americans certainly had a greater range of titles and longer print runs, meaning the books are much easier to find today, but they were not the first.  They may even have been behind the Germans too, who published ‘Feldpostaugaben’, although on a slightly different basis, and I’m not sure over what period.   And the Swiss, who were not even fighting in the war, issued a series of paperbacks described as Soldaten-Bücherei, or Soldiers’ Library, at least as early as 1939.

Feldpost - Mensch und Geschichte  Soldaten-Buecherei - Reisebilder

Of course all of this is just my personal hobbyhorse.   It will be a minor or irrelevant point for most people reading the book and I doubt it will detract at all from their enjoyment of it.  In the end this is a story, more than a bibliographical work, and as a story it’s well written and enjoyable.  I hope many more people will enjoy it.

The Arsenal Stadium Mystery

Writing a detective story with football as a background seems such a good idea that it’s surprising it hasn’t been done more often.  Dick Francis, and before him Nat Gould, made an entire career writing crime stories based on horse racing, but football-themed crime stories seem thin on the ground.

There is though ‘The Arsenal Stadium Mystery’, written by Leonard Gribble and first published by Harrap in 1939.  It was made into a film later the same year and it’s perhaps the film that’s now better remembered than the book.  My interest though comes neither from the film nor from the first printing of the book, but from its later issue as one of the early Services Editions for the British Armed Forces.

Guild S19

First though the story and its background.  Arsenal were the dominant football team of the 1930s, winning the league title 5 times, including three consecutive wins in 1932-33, 1933-34 and 1934-35.  They were managed by the great Herbert Chapman until his death in 1934 and from the 1934-35 season by George Allison.   Both Chapman and Allison and many of the Arsenal team from those years would have been household names, as familiar as Jose Mourinho or Cristiano Ronaldo today.   The story features all of them, with a significant role for the manager, George Allison, and the book starts with a page of autographs of all the team.

Guild S19 autographs

Geroge Allison

George Allison

Without giving away any plot spoilers, the obvious difficulty is that real people featuring in a detective story can hardly be either the victim or the murderer (or the detective), and if they can’t be the murderer, it’s difficult to make them credible suspects either.  So inevitably they have a limited role.  To provide plenty of suspects, the author has to invent a fictional team for Arsenal to play against, and a more dysfunctional team you could hardly imagine, despite the author’s insistence that building the team has been a fantastic achievement.

Having been first published in 1939, just before the outbreak of war, ‘The Arsenal Stadium Mystery’ was an obvious candidate when the British Publishers’ Guild, an association of publishers, was looking for books that could be added to its series of Services Editions – paperbacks published for distribution to the armed forces.   They wanted popular fiction, including crime fiction, and they wanted up-to-date books, preferably not previously published in paperback.

The first two books to be provided by Harrap were this one, published as volume S19 in the series, and ‘Murder at Wrides Park’ by J.S. Fletcher, published as volume S20, both books appearing in 1943.  The print run was probably 50,000 copies of each book, but they are both almost impossible to find now.   Even the reprint of ‘The Arsenal Stadium Mystery’ printed in a wider format by The Amalgamated Press (possibly another 50,000 copies?), with spare copies sold on by W.H. Smith after the war, has almost completely disappeared.  The printing history on the reprint is not updated, so still says 1943, but it is certainly later, probably 1946.  The narrow first printing, printed by C. Tinling & Co. Ltd., is like all early Services Editions exceptionally rare (although sadly, probably not very valuable).  My copy was found only after almost thirty years of searching.

Guild S19a

The wider reprint edition from 1946

When I did find it though, it came with a letter written by the author, and dated some 15 years later.  Leonard Gribble seems to be answering a letter that asked for information about the pseudonyms he wrote under.  He refuses to answer, saying he is bound by contractual terms, but refers his correspondent to Who’s Who.   The modern equivalent, Wikipedia, suggests he wrote under a series of names including Leo Grex, Piers Marlowe, Bruce Sanders, Dexter Muir, Sterry Browning, Louis Grey and Landon Grant.   Few of his other works though achieved the success of ‘The Arsenal Stadium Mystery’, and he came back to the idea of football themed mysteries in 1950, publishing ‘They kidnapped Stanley Matthews’, again featuring Anthony Slade as the detective.

Leonard Gribble

Leonard Gribble (photo: Fantastic Fiction)

Guild S19 interleaved letter

A New Zealand White Circle

New Zealand is a stunningly beautiful and successful country with much to celebrate in its own right, but seen from much of the rest of the world its fate is often to be considered as an add-on to Australia, a mere 1000 miles away.  Travellers plan a trip to Australia, and think about whether they can visit New Zealand on the way home.  Politicians talk to the Australian Prime Minister and wonder if they should contact the guy from New Zealand as well – if only they could remember his, or her, name.  Businesses set up in Australia and then think about whether to add on a New Zealand branch.  Publishers issue Australian Editions – and wonder if they should think about New Zealand.

It’s far from alone in this.  Scotland has long suffered from being seen as an afterthought to England, and the Australia / New Zealand relationship parallels the England / Scotland one in very human terms as well.  There are still a lot of New Zealanders of Scottish descent, and a lot of Australians with English heritage.  So the Scottish publisher Collins had good reason to remember New Zealand, when it started to issue Australian editions during the Second World War.

CC Cheyney Dangerous Curves War Savings

Advertisement in a Collins White Circle New Zealand edition

The move by British publishers to print local editions in their former export markets was driven by the introduction of paper rationing in Britain.   It no longer made any sense to print books in Britain and send them on a long and hazardous journey around the world.  So Collins started to print its White Circle paperbacks locally in Canada, in India, in Ceylon (India’s New Zealand?), in Australia … and of course in New Zealand.  Canada, India and Australia got long series and a wide choice of titles.  Ceylon and New Zealand had to settle for just a handful of different titles.

I’m sure that today book-buyers in New Zealand have just as wide a choice as those in Australia.  But back in the 1940s their choice may have been severely restricted.  Presumably the logic for issuing only a few titles was that they needed a long print run to keep the price down and the only way to sell a long print run in a small market was to restrict the choice.  Penguin did much the same, publishing a long series of books in Australia during the war and a much shorter series of titles in New Zealand.

So from Collins, New Zealand got a selection of titles that may have been as few as 6.  There’s no record of what they published and there’s no advertising for other titles within the books themselves, so the only way of knowing what exists is to find them.  John Loder’s pamphlet on the White Circle books in Australia lists 6 titles known to exist and I only have a copy of one of those.

CC Cheyney Dangerous Curves

It’s a Peter Cheyney novel, in an unusual Crime Club cover.  Unusual because in the UK, Cheyney’s novels were not published in the Crime Club.  They were considered Mystery novels, published in a separate Mystery series with its own cover style.  That distinction, which seems to have been important in the UK, for reasons that I don’t understand, rather broke down outside the UK, and there are several examples in Australia too of books appearing in the ‘wrong’ cover style.

CC Cheyney Dangerous Curves Colophon

Otherwise the books look very like UK, or Australian, or Indian White Circle editions.  Appropriately they were printed in Dunedin, a city named after the Gaelic name for Edinburgh, in another reminder of the historic links between Scotland and New Zealand.

Collins White Circle in Australia

I’ve recently come across a small pamphlet by John Loder on the Collins White Circle editions published in Australia.   The books themselves I’ve seen from time to time and without trying to collect them systematically, I’ve put together a small group of them over the years.   I’ve never known much about them though and certainly never had any knowledge of what titles existed, or how many.   So it’s great to find that somebody else has had enough interest to produce a checklist and a short history.

White Circles in Australia

As I’ve found before with series that are little researched, there are more books than you might think.  They’re not numbered, so there’s no easy indication of how many there might be, and most are also undated, so I wasn’t even sure when they were published.  It’s no surprise that they come from the 1940s, starting around 1942, possibly even a bit earlier.  But I am a bit surprised to find that there are over 100 different titles.  That includes several I have copies of that are not in John Loder’s checklist, so there are probably still other unrecorded ones as well.

The stimulus for the creation of the series was probably  the introduction of paper rationing in the UK and the increasing difficulty of shipping books out to Australia.  At much the same time, and for the same reason, Collins started local printing of paperbacks in Canada, in India and in Ceylon, Penguin started local printing in the US, Australia, New Zealand and Egypt, and Guild Books also started an Australian series.  The Australian market must have been getting quite crowded.

All three of the UK publishers starting to print locally in Australia stuck with their basic UK format.  Penguin’s launch in 1935 had transformed the UK market, with standard designed covers almost universally adopted, so that was what Australia got too.   Over the years the design of White Circle covers in Australia gradually diverged from the UK original, but they never seem to have followed Canada or India in rejecting the UK orthodoxy and adopting fully illustrated covers.

The basic UK design with some unusual colour combinations

 As in the UK, Australian White Circles come in different sub-series – Crime Club novels in green, Westerns in yellow, Mysteries in purple / magenta and ‘Famous Novels’ in mauve / lilac.   There were about 30 to 35 titles in each of the first three sub series, but only around 13 titles in the Famous Novels series, which seems to have been principally aimed at women, combining the general fiction and romance categories in the UK.  I think it’s fair to say that few of the titles could be described as famous today.

I’ve never quite understood the distinction between Crime novels and Mystery novels that applied in the 1930s and 1940s, although I imagine it was something to do with the rules of fair play between author and reader in classic stories of detection.  In Australia though the rules seem to have been slightly different, with more than one title switching to a different category from the one applying in the UK.

The books sold at 1s 3d, equivalent at the fixed exchange rate of the time to 1 shilling in British currency. This was more or less in line with post-war prices for paperbacks in the UK, although double the standard pre-war price.  Only around half of the titles published in Australia were also in the UK White Circle series, but the others are mostly books published by Collins in hardback in the UK and quite a few also appeared in the Canadian White Circle paperbacks.  There are though a few by local Australian authors, which were not all published elsewhere by Collins.  In particular, two ‘Jeffery Blackburn’ thrillers by Max Afford and two novels by Eleanor Dark.

I’m sure there’s much more to discover about the Australian editions, so I’ll come back to this another time.  Some day there are also a few New Zealand editions to investigate.