I’ve mentioned before that I’m chairing a panel at this year’s Bloody Scotland on the Legacy of Brit Noir.
There, I’ve just mentioned it again, in case you missed it previously.
Anyway, it’s set me to thinking about what influenced me to start reading and writing crime.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to go all Freudian on you, and detail a dark and tragic childhood. I’m thinking more about fictional influences.
The earliest book I can recall reading is Enid Blyton’s Two Doggie Tales, so that can’t be it.
I didn’t read Sherlock Holmes until I was in my teens.
Robert Louis Stevenson perhaps? I did read Treasure Island as a nipper and it’s got crime in it (murder, piracy, mutiny – all crimes, by the way).
The comics I read perhaps had criminal elements in them but mostly they were more interested in war and sport. Abiding memories are The Wolf of Kabul wielding ‘Clicky-ba’ with considerable accuracy and force and Alf Tupper sprinting to the finish line despite having been up all night making briquettes to save a pal’s factory, eating a fish supper as he ran to the stadium AND being knocked down halfway round by some toff.
TV, it was, I think. The Saint, The Baron, Man in a Suitcase – especially the latter. I recall my pals and I all practising smoking cigarettes (sweetie ones, I hasten to add) like McGill (small c, big G).
It also had one of the all-time greatest ever themes, and I still fester over it being hi-jacked by Chris Evans.
But there was also Sexton Blake.
This was a kids’ series running from 1967 to 1971 on ITV. Laurence Payne played the debonair and unflappable sleuth, Roger Foss his sidekick, Tinker.
Incidentally, Payne was blinded in one eye during filming when a sword fight went wrong. He also wrote detective novels, one of which was filmed as The Girl in the Headlines (1963) and starred Ian Hendry.
I lapped up the serial as a youngster, even read some of the books, not knowing then that the hero had a lineage longer than 60s telly.
Blake was, quite simply, a Sherlock Holmes rip-off that became, by the 1930s, even more popular than Conan Doyle’s creation. Like Holmes, he lived in Baker Street, he smoked a pipe, had a housekeeper. Oh – and he solved crimes.
From 1893, Blake appeared in books, stories, plays, films, radio dramas, comic strips and, of course, the telly series.
He was created by Harry Blyth, who received the princely sum of nine quid for the first story ‘The Missing Millionaire’, which appeared in a pulp magazine called The Halfpenny Marvel. As Hal Meredith, Blyth went on to pen further stories for magazines.
But he never really profited from his creation because he signed away the rights.
In total, almost 200 authors penned Sexton Blake stories, including Edgar Wallace and John Creasey.
There was even a dedicated imprint, the Sexton Blake Library, which kept the name alive until 1963.
And then came the TV series and a whole host of new fans, myself included, became entranced.
However, Sexton Blake had another link to my youthful reading which I did not discover until I began digging around for this blog.
But that, dear reader, is a tale for another day….
I’m such a tease.
The Legacy of Brit Noir panel can be seen at Bloody Scotland on Saturday September 22. I’ll be chatting to Nick Triplow, Harry Brett and Cathi Unsworth.