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3 – THE POST-WAR RENAISSANCE
With the war at an end, Hamilton returned home to Rose Lawn after five years absence and found the place in "a shocking state" of neglect. "Fences were down – chimney-pots fallen – the garden a jungle. But no real damage had been done in the little hamlet: though places close by had been badly bombed. Frank, at any rate, had the luck to find his house still standing." (Richards, p188)
And although the paper shortage was ravaging the publishing industry, Hamilton found a number of new, small publishers had sprung up, tied down by a small quota but sometimes topped-up by ‘black market’ paper from printers selling their own quota or selling ends of rolls or other publishers who found it more profitable to sell their supplies rather than print on it.
Hamilton demanded the same rates as he had received from writing the Magnet, 30 shilling per thousand words, no more, no less, which was significantly higher than some firms cared to pay. Gerald G. Swan, whose output during the war and post-war years was phenomenal – due to his foresight in stocking up a warehouse full of books just before the hostilities started (and therefore having a relatively high quota for a one-man operation) and his printing on absolutely anything he could get hold of, however tissue thin – received a phone-call from Hamilton with the offer of a new school series. But Swan only paid a pound a thou. to all his authors, whatever their status, so nothing came of it.
However, other publishers were more than happy to meet Hamilton’s needs, and whilst his output was nowhere near what it had been, Hamilton’s typewriter was once again busy.
* * * * *
Having been suddenly thrust into the limelight by George Orwell and the Evening Standard, ‘Frank Richards’ fame began to spread even wider. Hutchinson’s Summer Pie for 1944 had featured an article on Hamilton by Eric Hiscock, followed that Winter by the first of Hamilton’s Carcroft stories, and in January 1945, Hamilton was writing:
But although I shall never again write Tom Merry or Billy Bunter, I shall not be idle: I am now writing "Carcroft" for a publisher whose manners and customs are very different from those of the Amalgamated Press: and anyone reading "Carcroft" may be quite assured that what he finds under the name of Frank Richards will really be written by Frank and by nobody else. During the continuance of War not much else can be done: but some short stories of my new school are appearing in Pie, and there is a happy prospect of publication on a wider scale when the war comes to an end…
Frank Richards hopes – as hope springs eternal in the human breast! – that "Carcroft" may take the old place of Greyfriars, and that his readers will like his new school. My own opinion is that Carcroft goes one better: and if my readers agree, then all will be calm and bright. (Letter to Eric Fayne, 18 Jan 1945)
Carcroft was, according to writer Tony Glynn,
…a vaguely Greyfriars-like school and the hero of this tale is Dudley Vane-Carter, called V.C. for short, in tribute to his courage. He is rather languid and given to taking risks like going down to a pub called The Lobster Smack to place a bet. What strikes me about him is that we’ve met somebody rather like him elsewhere – our old friend Herbert Vernon-Smith of Greyfriars. Dudley Vane-Carter, however, seems to lack the vicious streak the Bounder sometimes displayed.
Come to think of it, there are others on the scene who look like pale shadows of old friends. The ‘Carcroft Co.’, made up of three fellows named Compton, Drake and Lee, seem to have some of the characteristics of five famous fellows we used to know at Greyfriars. There is Lord Talboys, who is not likely to replace dear old Mauly in my affections, and there is a fat boy called Turkey Tuck who steals other people’s grub."
Perhaps the writing is a shade slicker than the average Frank Richards’ tale in The Magnet, but Pie is a sophisticated quarterly and not specifically a boys’ magazine. (Collectors Digest 212, Aug 1964)
Hamilton, trying to invigorate a new cast – and revive his own fortunes – fell back to the style he had developed over so many years of writing and recreated Greyfriars under a different name. And not once, but again and again. By June of 1945, Hamilton was writing to Eric Fayne,
It may interest you to hear that another scholastic establishment has now come into existence – Frank Richards is never short of a new school when required, and can produce one like a rabbit out of a hat! This time it is "Sparshott School" – and the stories are to be published in little 1/- volumes. Paper shortage limits the size while expanding the price: one can only hope that the reader will consider the quality atones for the quantity – or the lack thereof. It is rather a curious story: the publisher is an old Magnet reader who fancied the idea of publishing Frank Richards – and being now in the publishing line, is able to carry out that idea! – while Frank, being no longer held in bondage by the Amalgamated Press, is at liberty to supply the stories. At the same time he is contemplating a series of schoolgirl volumes by "Hilda Richards". (Letter to Eric Fayne, 21 Jun 1945)
The publisher in question was William C. Merrett, of 355 City Road, London E.C.1, who had launched a series of ‘True Crime’ booklets in 1944 with titles like True Gangsters, Real Detective and Front Page Detective, the stories drawn from American magazines and quickly following the trend towards the increasingly risqué title as more small publishers flooded the market with similar offerings. By 1946, Merrett was publishing Thrilling Love, Daring Detective and (even more blatantly) Virgins in Hell.
Hamilton’s stories were rather more tame. Again, Sparshott was closely modelled on Greyfriars even down to cover by R. J. Macdonald. I was lucky enough to pick up a good run of these stories recently, so a fuller review of the series will follow shortly. For now, here’s a list of the six titles that make up the only printed history of Sparshott:
Sparshott Series* by Frank Richards
1 – The Secret of the School (1945)
2 – The Black Sheep of Sparshott (1946)
3 – First Man In! (1946)
4 – Looking After Lamb (1946)
5 – The Hero of Sparshott (1946)
6 – Pluck Will Tell (1946)
* The first two numbers were designated ‘Schoolboy Series’
Hamilton was initially quite surprised that the books were priced at 1/- for a pocket-size booklet of 36 pages, but pleased to later reveal "the edition so far printed went off just as the old penny numbers used to." (Letter to Hubert Machin, 9 Jan 1946)
Only six issues of Sparshott appeared over a period of a year, partly due to the paper shortage and partly because Hamilton was also writing plenty of other series to strain Merrett’s paper quota. Most fans will instantly recognise the name of Hilda Richards, which was attached to three issues of the Headland House series, but less obvious were Winston Cardew, author of five Romance novels, and Michael Blake, author of the single issue of Crime Series.
Headland House Series by Hilda Richards
1 – Girls of Headland House (1946)
2 – Under Becky’s Thumb (1946)
3 – Winifred on the Warpath (1946)
Romance Series by Winston Cardew
1 – Peg’s Angel (1946)
2 – The Man Who Came Back (1946)
3 – For Love of a Land Girl (1946)
4 – The Girl from Monte Carlo (1946)
5 – Love Wins at Last (1946)
Crime Series by Michael Blake
1 – Death in the Dark (1946)
The first of these series – Sparshott School – had been created in mid-1945, although the paper shortage held up publication until late that year. Hamilton, however, was clearly inspired by this new outlet for his work and by January 1946, had created two new series featuring Harry Trent and his friends at Oakhurst and Tom Bright of Ferndale, although whether these ever appeared in print is uncertain. However, his writing was about to receive another huge boost, this time from Hulton Press’ Picture Post, which ran a 3-page article on May 11, 1946, entitled "Do You Remember Billy Bunter?" complete with photographs – probably the first time Hamilton’s many readers had seen a photograph of their favourite boys’ writer – and which propelled him into the limelight yet again, and by late summer was able to boast "at this very minute, a Manchester publisher has over 400,000 words of my copy, which he has nobly paid for in advance, ad which he cannot find paper to print as yet." (Letter to Jack Overhill, 1 Oct 1946).
The Picture Post article was to have a far-reaching significance to Hamilton’s future – which we will explore in our next chapter. Its immediate effect was to prompt other small publishers to set their sights on Hamilton, and he was soon turning his hand to two new series featuring Topham School and St. Olive’s under the now increasingly familiar Frank and Hilda Richards pen-names. The two Mascot series’ were published by John Matthew (Publishers) Ltd. of Blomfield Street, E.C.2. Matthew was – in truth, the printer/publisher Martin & Reid masquerading under a new name, as they had a habit of doing to avoid ‘quota’ difficulties over their paper ration – and both debuted in late 1946. Top Study at Topham introduced Bob Hood, and deals with his first meeting with Harry Vane, a new chap, whom he meets on the train heading towards Topham in Buckinghamshire (and not to be confused with the Topham in Surrey occasionally introduced into the Magnet). The headmaster is one Dr. Chetwynd, and once again there is an overweight pupil, this time by the name of Bunny Binks. It seems that Topham was, initially at least, an attempt at a weekly series, since the third book refers to Harry Vane’s third week at the new school, but even with only 20 pages for 4½d, the publishers could not obtain enough paper.
Shoppers in Woolworth’s, where the books were distributed, could also find Pamela of St. Olive’s – Pamela being Pam Duncan. The stories were Greyfriars and High Cliffe revisited, as before and as can be seen from this example from The Jape of the Term:
"I say, I never knew that you had jam-roll!" said Peg. "I came to speak to you about something else. But I’ll have some, if you like. I’ll let you girls have something out of my hamper from Pipping Park – when it comes."
"When!" said May. "Do you mean if?"
"No, I don’t," snapped Peg. "I mean when! Hampers get delayed in the post these days, you know. It may come any day from Pipping Park."
"If any!" murmured May, and Pamela laughed. The St. Olive’s juniors had heard a great deal from Peg about Pipping Park. It was, according to Peg, a most magnificent residence. Even Wentworth Hall, the stately home of Isolda Wentworth, the wealthiest girl at St. Olive’s, was, according to Peg, a mere trifle in comparison. Peg was always on the point of receiving a hamper from Pipping Park. But the hamper never seemed to materialise.
Paper shortages and the rather ugly covers (by George R. Ratcliff) put paid to the series after four and three issues respectively, a disappointment to Martin & Reid, who had attempted to corner the market somewhat by issuing two other series – the Arrow Schoolboys Series and Arrow Schoolgirls Series written by Leonard Walters and Mary K. Douglas respectively – which had also folded before the year was out.
Mascot Schoolboy Series by Frank Richards
1 – Top Study at Topham (1946)
2 – Bunny Binks on the War-Path! (1947)
3 – The Dandy of Topham (1947)
4 – Sent to Coventry (1947)
Mascot Schoolgirls Series by Hilda Richards
1 – Pamela of St. Olive’s (1946)
2 – The Stranded Schoolgirls (1947)
3 – The Jape of the Term (1947)
The winter of 1947/48 was a particularly brutal one, with trains at a standstill and power cuts a regular occurrence. Even when paper could be found there was no guarantee that the printers could run their presses or get the finished product to distributors. This often caused months of delay, and many of the smaller publishers found the going tough. Too tough in some cases. Although Hamilton had manuscripts for many more adventures (he mentions in a letter in March 1947 that he has been "piling up a mountain of "Topham" and "St. Olive’s".") no further stories appeared. In August 1947, Hamilton was bemoaning that "Last year I had no fewer than six series going on happily – but the paper famine has cut them off in the bloom of their youth." (Letter to Tom Johnson, 11 Aug 1947)
However, fans looking for their ‘fix’ of Frank Richards were not to be disappointed because by the time the Mascot series’ came to an end, because by then Billy Bunter and Greyfriars were back.
© 2001,Steve Holland
Last revised: 13 April 2001
The digital photos on this page were taken by Wayne Paton and are used by permission.
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