Date of Birth: 27 May 1922, Belgravia, London, UK
Birth Name: Christopher Frank Carandini Lee
Nicknames: Christopher Lee
Sir Christopher Lee defined the macabre for a generation of horror film enthusiasts with his chilling portrayals of Count Dracula; in a career that spanned more than half a century Lee played the sinister vampire no fewer than nine times in productions including Dracula (1958), Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966) and The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973).
With his saturnine glamour and striking physique at a gaunt 6ft 4in he was a dominating physical presence with an aristocratic bearing, dark, penetrating eyes and a distinctive sepulchral voice Lee was an ideal candidate to play the bloodsucking Count. “Dracula is a very attractive character,” he insisted, “he’s so heroic erotic too. Women find him irresistible. We’d all like to be him.”
After almost 20 years of playing Dracula, Lee eventually tired of the role. He moved to the United States where he enjoyed a lucrative career in both films and made-for-television mini-series such as The Far Pavilions and Shaka Zulu. While in America, Lee resisted all offers of parts in soap operas including Dallas and Dynasty.
After decades in the film industry, Lee remained as eager as ever to take on new roles. At one point in his early seventies he appeared in 12 different films within 14 months. “I get restless and frustrated if I don’t work,” he explained. “I like a continual challenge.” In his eighties he gained a new audience, bringing sulphurous intensity to the role of Saruman in Peter Jackson’s epic Lord of the Rings films.
Lee’s one regret, he maintained, was his decision not to become an opera singer. “I was born with the gift of a very good voice,” he said, “and I have been asked to sing in various concerts but I’m too old now.” Late in life, however, he was persuaded to lend his rich bass tones as a narrator to various heavy metal records including those of the symphonic power metal group Rhapsody of Fire. In 2010 he released an album of his own, Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross, followed two years later by Charlemagne: The Omens of Death.
Christopher Frank Carandini Lee was born on May 27 1922 in Belgravia, London, the son of Lieutenant-Colonel Geoffrey Trollope-Lee of the 60th King’s Royal Rifle Corps. Lee’s father had fought in both the Boer and Great Wars and had later married an Italian contessa, Estelle Maria Carandini, a descendant of the Borgias whose parents had founded the first Australian opera company. Among Lee’s stories of his early life he claimed that his father was descended from a band of gypsies in Hampshire and that his mother was descended from Charlemagne.
Christopher’s parents were divorced when he was four and his mother remarried. Lee grew up in his stepfather’s house, where he was waited on by a staff of five (a butler, two footmen, a chauffeur and a cook). He attended Wagner’s in Queensgate and Summerfields, and sat for a scholarship to Eton before being sent to the more affordable Wellington College where he distinguished himself as a classical scholar.
Fluent in Italian and French, in later life Lee added Spanish, German, Russian, Swedish, Danish and Greek to his repertoire. When his alcoholic stepfather was bankrupted in 1938 Christopher was forced to leave school at 17 in order to find work. For the next 12 months he worked as a city messenger, licking stamps and making tea for a wage of £1 a week.
When the Second World War broke out, Lee joined the RAF and was promoted to flight lieutenant. He won six campaign medals, was mentioned in despatches and received decorations from Poland, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. He also worked for British Intelligence. “Serving in the Armed Forces was the best thing that ever happened to me,” he insisted. “I did not know how other people lived.”
After the war, Lee served with the Central Registry of War Crimes, work that took him to concentration camps including Dachau, but when he was demobbed at the age of 24, he remained undecided about which career to pursue. He toyed with the idea of becoming a ballet dancer, opera singer and diplomat before his cousin (at that time the Italian ambassador to the Court of St James) suggested he try acting.
Greatly against his mother’s wishes (“Just think of all the appalling people you’ll meet!” she warned him) Lee met the Italian head of Two Cities Films, part of the J Arthur Rank Organisation, signed a seven-year contract, and joined the Rank Company of Youth (otherwise known as the Rank Charm School) in 1946. He made his film debut with a bit part in Corridor of Mirrors (1948).
A succession of “walk-on” parts ensued until, in 1951, he appeared in a speaking part as a swarthy Spanish sea captain in Captain Horatio Hornblower RN. It was one of Lee’s last films for Two Cities and when his contract ran out neither he nor the Rank Organisation were eager to renew it. Instead Lee accepted roles in a television series made in Britain but shown first in America Douglas Fairbanks Presents, appearing in some 40 half-hour productions.
After a series of military film roles in the mid-1950s, including a lieutenant in Innocents in Paris (1953), a submarine commander in The Cockleshell Heroes and a captain in That Lady (both 1955), Lee landed his first horror role for Hammer Films. He played the Creature in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), a part which required him to be coated in artificial gangrene and which left him looking, in his opinion, “like a road accident”.
Described as “the first gothic horror film made by Hammer”, The Curse of Frankenstein was graphic in its depiction of large quantities of gore. The film was extremely popular and Lee, playing opposite the studio’s resident star Peter Cushing, was enormously successful as the monster. Realising that a film about Bram Stoker’s vampiric Transylvanian nobleman might prove equally successful, a Hammer executive, James Carreras, offered Lee the role of the Count in their next production, Dracula.
The film proved to be one of the seminal horror movies of the 1950s. Lee looked the part (tall and thin, as in Stoker’s novel) and imbued the character with a dynamic, feral quality that had been lacking in earlier portrayals. With his bloody fangs and bright red eyes ablaze, Lee made a frighteningly believable vampire. In contrast with Bela Lugosi’s eerie, somnambulistic count of the 1930s, Lee spoke his lines with crisp assurance and tried to portray what he described as “the essence of nobility, ferocity and sadness”.
With Cushing cast this time as the vampire hunter, Dracula (retitled Horror of Dracula in America) was a box-office success for Hammer and horror aficionados at the time labelled it “the greatest horror movie ever made”. Lee also regarded it as the best of the series of Dracula films which he made with Hammer. “It’s the only one I’ve done that’s any good,” he recalled. “It’s the only one that remotely resembles the book.”
With the success of his portrayal of the Count, Lee treated himself to a grey, second-hand Mercedes and became established as a horror star for the first time. He was swamped with offers of film roles and took leading parts in several films throughout the late 1950s.
In productions such as The Man Who Could Cheat Death, The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Mummy (all 1959), Lee played characters ranging from Sir Henry Baskerville to a 2,000-year-old corpse. He later claimed that the make-up for The Mummy was so uncomfortable that he swore never to submit to special effects again. The exceptions were the essential red contact lenses for his appearances as Dracula. Lee found the lenses excruciatingly painful but, as he had worn them in the first film, continuity demanded that he wear them in all subsequent productions.
Lee continued to be in demand throughout the 1950s and 1960s, starring in more than 20 films in only six years. Although he accepted some unlikely projects (including The Terror of the Tongs and The Devil’s Daffodil, both in 1961), he was also able to make films in which he had a personal interest. He had long wanted to play the Chinese arch-villain Fu Manchu and in 1965 he was offered the title role in The Face of Fu Manchu. The film was so popular that a series of four more were filmed, including Brides of Fu Manchu (1966), The Blood of Fu Manchu (1968) and Vengeance of Fu Manchu (1968). After roles in horror films such as Doctor Terror’s House of Horrors and The Skull (both 1965), Lee returned to his earlier incarnation in Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966).
He was less happy with this second film. He had become too expensive a star for the Hammer studios, and in a cost-cutting measure his scenes were kept to a minimum and remained devoid of dialogue. Lee was reduced to making a soft hissing noise which drew laughter from audiences when the film was screened. He enjoyed more success with the lead in Rasputin, The Mad Monk (1966). Although the film was badly flawed, Lee was convincing in the title role.
After The Devil Rides Out (1968), a suspenseful adaptation of a Dennis Wheatley novel with Lee as an aristocrat in pursuit of devil-worshippers, he returned to the role of Dracula in Dracula has Risen from the Grave, on the understanding that he would have well-scripted dialogue. The film made more money than previous Hammer productions and Lee was persuaded to appear in the 1970 project, Scars of Dracula. But he had by this time become disenchanted with the role. He feared he was being typecast and that the quality of scriptwriting had deteriorated to an unacceptable level.
Nevertheless Hammer were eager to continue with Lee as their horror star and persuaded him to make two more Dracula films that year. After rapidly completing Taste the Blood of Dracula and The Magic Christian, Lee devoted himself to non-vampire roles for a period.
Later in 1970 he played Sherlock Holmes’s brother Mycroft in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (“so commandingly good,” reported The Sunday Telegraph, “that this must surely be the end of shabby Draculas for him”) and followed it with a tiny appearance as Artemidorus in Julius Caesar in 1971. After four more Dracula films, including a modern interpretation titled Dracula AD 1972 and The Satanic Rites of Dracula the year after, Lee was increasingly unhappy with the manner in which the character was being portrayed. “It’s ridiculous,” he complained, “you can’t have Dracula in a modern office block, it completely undermines the original idea.”
Taking another break from the Count, Lee appeared in one of his favourite films, The Wicker Man (1973), playing a Scots laird who practises human sacrifice in the 20th century. He then went on to play the evil one-eyed Comte de Rochefort in both The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974) before appearing in his first Bond film as the assassin Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun (also 1974). Lee was finally persuaded to make one more Dracula-style film in the 1970s, Dracula Père et Fils (1976), before giving up the role for good.
Despite his physical likeness to the Count, Lee’s affinity with his baleful character stopped there. Throughout his career he had a reputation for being a long-winded raconteur whose reminiscences tended to focus on himself. In 1976, when Lee left Britain for the US, the move prompted an acquaintance to joke that “the population of Los Angeles were dusting out their bomb shelters in anticipation of a barrage of anecdotes”. According to another account, on one occasion an actress got off an aircraft looking ashen and exhausted. Questioned about her health by airport staff, she explained that she had been seated next to Lee and that he had not stopped talking about himself during the 10-hour flight.
Through the late 1970s, Lee continued to make films at a prodigious rate, appearing in 10 in two years. He accepted roles as diverse as Captain Rameses in the science fiction film Starship Invasions (1977) and that of the head gypsy in the Second World War drama The Passage (1979).
In the 1980s, Lee combined his film career with a return to television, appearing in mini-series including Charles and Diana: A Royal Love Story (1982) and The Far Pavilions (1984). In 1985 he suffered a heart attack, returned to London and underwent heart surgery. Instead of seeing this as a signal to retire, Lee was back at work within a year and had returned to the horror genre for the dreadful The Howling II (1986), subtitled Your Sister is a Werewolf in America.
Although Lee continued to work prolifically throughout his life, he never again enjoyed the same success as when playing Dracula. He made some fatuous comedies in the mid-1980s such as Rosebud Beach Hotel (1985) and Jocks (1986), and continued into the 1990s with a starring role in the spoof horror film Gremlins II The New Batch.
He starred in the title role of Jinnah soon after the 50th anniversary of the founding of Pakistan in 1997, and was Count Dooku in Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones (2002). He returned to the same role in Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith in 2005, and was the wizard Saruman in two of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films (2001-2002), in two of his Hobbit series (2012-14) and in various video games.
With Uma Thurman, Lee was due to appear as a retired surgeon in The 11th, a film about the lead-up to the September 11 terrorist attacks, to be shot this autumn.
Reflecting near the end of his life about the role of Dracula, Lee said: “There is a lot of misunderstanding about me in that role. It had never been played properly before that. With me it was all about the power of suggestion to make the unbelievable believable.”
He published two volumes of autobiography Tall, Dark and Gruesome (1977) reissued as Lord of Misrule (1997) and was appointed CBE in 2001. He was knighted in 2009 and made a fellow of Bafta in 2011.
Date of Birth: 12 November 1943, Kingston, Jamaica
Birth Name: Lester Errol Brown
Nicknames: Errol Brown
Errol Brown was the lead singer of Hot Chocolate, the British soul band best known for the 1975 disco anthem You Sexy Thing; the group’s funky and harmonious sound was defined by Brown’s seductive voice and charismatic stage presence.
Bald-headed and slinky-hipped, Brown was a master of the art of the come-hither look (and gently come-hither lyrics) but when he originally wrote You Sexy Thing it was intended to be a B-side for Hot Chocolate’s single Blue Night. The band’s producer, Mickie Most, remixed the song several months later and it became an instant hit, reaching No 2 in the British charts and No 3 in America. It was, Brown later recalled, “a joyous song. I remember when I thought of the title I had a shiver go through me. Because it was such a nice way of using sex in a title without it being crude.”
In 1997 the track underwent a renaissance when it featured in the film The Full Monty, which told the story of six unemployed steel-workers from Sheffield who decide to form a striptease act. The scene in which the actor Robert Carlyle grinds his hips to You Sexy Thing attracted a new generation of fans and gave Brown’s career a major boost.
“There’s no doubt about it,” he said, “it relaunched my career and took me back into the Top 10. Then at my first gig in Scotland shortly after its release I was rushed on stage by about a hundred screaming girls it was like the old days. I played more gigs the year after the film than I’d ever previously done over a 12-month period.”
In 2005, buoyed up by the renewed adulation, Brown released an album titled Still Sexy. The promotional video for the single, Still Sexy (Yes U Are), showed a still dapper Brown, impeccably dressed in a grey silk suit and grooving in the back of a limousine with two attractive young women, while You Sexy Thing played in the background.
“You Sexy Thing is a hook that’ll last for decades and decades,” he explained, “because it’s such a nice, pleasant thing to say to somebody.”
Lester Errol Brown was born on November 12 1943 in Kingston, Jamaica, where he spent his early childhood before his mother brought the family to London. When he was in his early teens his mother took him out of secondary modern school to attend a private school, where, as he later recalled, “everyone there was very wealthy and I came to appreciate good clothes and good food. You could say I was a teenage yuppy”.
At this stage, Brown showed very little interest in the music business, although he liked singing. He preferred the prospect of a proper job with a regular payslip and for a time did temporary clerical work at the Treasury, which he found unrewarding.
In his early twenties he met and became friends with Tony Wilson, a Trinidad-born musician, who suggested they should try writing music together. “Tony and I used to go out 10-pin bowling,” Brown recalled, “and while driving I’d start to sing. When asked what I was singing, I’d tell him it was just a tune I had in my head. This happened a few times and Tony suggested I try writing songs with him so we did and that’s how I got into songwriting.”
Brown could not play the guitar at this point, but he soon picked it up and within six months he and Wilson had cut a demo of John Lennon’s Give Peace a Chance, performed in a reggae rhythm. He sent the tape to the Beatles’ label, Apple, and Lennon signed the pair called The Hot Chocolate Band virtually on the spot.
Their recording of Give Peace a Chance failed to make any impact on the charts, but the next single, Love is Life, proved more fruitful. Brown’s verve, flair and musical imagination were essential to the band’s success. He refused to be pigeonholed as a black musician, preferring his music to reflect the multi-racial mixture of West Indian and British influences in his cultural background. To this end he included strings and a rock guitarist in the band.
“It was never my intention to make black music,” he said. “I just wanted to make music. You have to understand, the only reason I’ve survived so long is because I make music that’s true to me… I’m influenced by all the things I listened to growing up and that’s what comes out in my music.”
The Hot Chocolate Band was quickly taken over by the British record producer Mickie Most and his Rak Records label. Most, who had a sharp ear for a hit, had been responsible for acts including The Animals, Herman’s Hermits, Lulu and Suzi Quatro. The first thing he did was to shorten the name of Brown’s group to the snappier “Hot Chocolate”. Under Most’s tutelage the band for most of its life a five-piece led by Brown, with his distinctive shiny shaved head became a regular fixture in the UK Top 40 through the disco era of the mid-1970s, with Brown and Wilson writing most of the songs.
Harvie Hinsley was taken on in 1970 and the principal other members were Tony Connor, Larry Ferguson and Patrick Olive. Love is Life reached No 6 in Britain in September 1970. You Could Have Been a Lady fared less well, then I Believe (in Love) entered the Top 10.
All in all Hot Chocolate recorded more than 20 hits at a rate of roughly one a year, among them Every One’s A Winner, It Started With A Kiss, No Doubt About It and So You Win Again, a soulful, funky ballad which was, in 1977, the band’s only No 1.
By the early 1980s Hot Chocolate had become a treasured part of British culture: as an indicator of their status, they were invited to perform at a reception in 1981 at Buckingham Palace to celebrate the imminent marriage of the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer. Three of their singles reached the charts in the mid-1980s: No Doubt About It, Are You Getting Enough Happiness? and Love Me to Sleep.
By now, however, there were worrying signs of friction between band members. “We took everything pretty lightly for 12 years,” Brown recalled, “but at the end of the day, the laughter turned into animosity.” In 1987 he went solo for WEA Records.
He continued touring in later life and enjoyed the fruits of his fame, claiming to have made £2 million from You Sexy Thing before The Full Monty and the same after it. He voted Conservative, took up golf he was a member of Loch Lomond Golf Club and owned National Hunt horses, including Gainsay, trained by Jenny Pitman.
Errol Brown was appointed MBE in 2003.
Date of Birth: 28 September 1938, North Carolina, US
Birth Name: Benjamin Earl Nelson in Henderson
Nicknames: Ben E King, Ben Nelson
Ben E King was one of the senior figures of soul music, having made his mark in the 1960s first as the lead singer of the Drifters and later with solo hits such as Spanish Harlem and, pre-eminently, Stand By Me.
The Drifters originally enjoyed considerable success in the mid-1950s when led by Clyde McPhatter, but after he left the band their fortunes declined and the remaining members fell out with their manager, George Treadwell, the former husband of Sarah Vaughan the jazz singer. In 1958, Treadwell, who owned the rights to the group’s name, abruptly sacked the entire line-up and replaced them with an up-and-coming outfit named the Five Crowns, one of whom was King.
The new Drifters toured for a year to a poor reception from audiences loyal to the earlier group, but their fortunes changed in mid-1959 when they recorded a song co-written and sung by King, There Goes My Baby. Produced by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, it was the first R&B track to feature orchestration, and reached No 2 in the Hot 100. Its sophisticated, Latin sound became the group’s signature and propelled them to renewed popularity.
Other hits quickly followed, notably Save The Last Dance For Me, but then in 1960 King quarrelled with Treadwell over an increase in pay his contract gave him only £64.19 a week, however many concerts the band did, and no share of record royalties. He, too, therefore, left the Drifters and was replaced by Rudy Lewis, who went on to sing on the group’s later hits, including Up On The Roof and On Broadway. (Lewis, however, choked to death on the morning that they were due to record perhaps their best-remembered song, Under the Boardwalk, and had to be replaced by former member Johnny Moore.)
Having gone it alone, King teamed up again with Leiber and Stoller and in one afternoon recorded both the songs that were to be the cornerstone of the remainder of his career. Spanish Harlem, co-produced by Phil Spector, reached No 10 in the British charts (which were always receptive to King’s clear baritone) in March 1961.
Three months later he released Stand By Me. “It’s a love song, it’s a friendship song, it’s a song where you promise anybody in need to do anything you can to help,” King said. It reached No 4 in America.
Both songs helped to steer R&B away from its blues roots towards a more pop sound, and served as a template for the later work of both Spector and Motown, whose stars were soon to replace King in the public’s fickle affections.
King was born Benjamin Earl Nelson in Henderson, North Carolina, on September 28 1938. His first exposure to music was in a church choir, but in 1947 his family moved to Harlem, where he soon began singing doo-wop on street corners with three friends from school. They called themselves the Four Bs for Ben, Billy, Billy and Bobby. King later married Betty, the sister of Billy and Bobby.
After he did well in a talent competition at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, Ben Nelson (as he was called until he began his solo career) was offered a place in the Moonglows, a well-known group of the time, but he found the pressure too great and returned to working in his father’s restaurant. There he was spotted singing by the manager of the Five Crowns, and persuaded to return to the stage.
Following his heyday in the early Sixties, King’s star gradually declined, with Don’t Play That Song (1962) being his last substantial hit in America, although his two best-known numbers were revived with great success in the 1970s, first by Aretha Franklin, who took Spanish Harlem to No 2 in the US chart, and then by John Lennon, who covered Stand By Me in 1975.
By that time King had been reduced to playing the veterans circuit (and to appearing on the Genesis LP The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway), and it was while performing in a Miami hotel that he was spotted by Ahmet Ertegun, the head of Atlantic, his former record label. Ertegun was impressed once more by King’s voice, re-signed him, and helped him to score a Top 5 hit in the disco era with Supernatural Thing Part 1 (1975).This revival of King’s career proved to be short-lived, however, and he had to wait another decade until he once more returned to the limelight.
This came courtesy of the use of Stand By Me as the theme song to Rob Reiner’s 1986 film of the same name (based on a coming-of-age story by Stephen King). When the song was re-released that year, the single reached No 9 in the American charts, 25 years after its first placing there.
The track did even better in Britain the following year when it was used in a Levi’s television commercial, on the back of which it climbed to No 1 and exposed a generation of teenagers to classic American soul. Its success led to King recording a series of LPs in the 1990s, although there proved to be little demand for them.
Nevertheless, he continued to tour regularly, occasionally with various versions of the Drifters, finding a steady audience for his highly polished renditions of some of pop’s finest moments.
Date of Birth: 17 February 1930, South Woodford, East London, UK
Birth Name: Ruth Barbara Grasemann
Nicknames: Ruth Rendell - Baroness Rendell of Babergh
Baroness Rendell of Babergh, the novelist Ruth Rendell, was one of Britain’s best-selling celebrity crime writers.
She revitalised the mystery genre to reflect post-war social changes and wove into more than 60 books such contemporary issues as domestic violence, transvestism, paedophilia and sexual frustration. Her Inspector Wexford mysteries became an extremely popular television fixture in the 1990s.
Her work, mapping the manic and malevolent extremes of human behaviour, was distinguished by terse yet elegant prose and sharp psychological insights, as well as a talent for creating deft and intricate plots and believable characters.
With her friend and fellow crime writer PD James with whom she shared the accolade of "Britain’s Queen of Crime" (which she detested) Ruth Rendell redefined the “whodunnit” genre, fashioning it into more of a “whydunnit”.
But unlike the conservative Lady James, Rendell was politically to the Left and professionally far more prolific; she completed more than 50 novels under her own name and 14 writing as Barbara Vine, as well as two novellas and more than a dozen collections of short stories.
She remodelled the traditional detective story to explore what she considered to be the complex social causes of crime. Her books were largely gore-free, focusing instead on the unsettling details of ordinary madness. Ruth Rendell’s characters often lived on the margins of society and sanity; a recurring theme was how they integrated into their communities and how society controlled the quiet threat they could pose.
Ruth Rendell represented the bridge between the golden age of crime fiction, the formulas of Agatha Christie and her heirs and successors, and a new, more urban style. Even so, some critics took her to task for a perceived failure to keep up with the times. For her own part she insisted that she always strove to give a picture of contemporary life. “I try to be very, very aware of all sorts of changes in society, because people do tend to write the same book set in the time when they first started to write.” She kept ahead of the curve by being a good eavesdropper, and by walking everywhere instead of travelling by car, “a very good way of seeing things and people and hearing what they say”.
A small, neat woman with dark, intense eyes and a faintly disquieting air, she seldom allowed her privacy to be violated and when, reluctantly, she gave book-plugging interviews, she tended to be edgy and brusque. A staunch Labour supporter “I am very much of the Left,” she insisted she was active in CND in the 1980s before mellowing into a Christian socialist, although even her later novels betray a deep-rooted pessimism.
Sex was an abiding theme in her work; she considered it one of the most interesting things in life “and it’s grotesque the way some writers shy away from it”. She invariably took a liberal line: the murderer in her very first book was a lesbian with whom Wexford was sympathetic by the end of the novel.
Ruth Rendell herself was a lifelong feminist; her early novels feature women trapped in oppressive domestic settings. “I think if you’re a woman, you are naturally a feminist,” she once explained. “Unless you’re hiding something.”
She was born Ruth Barbara Grasemann on February 17 1930 at South Woodford in suburban east London. Her parents were teachers, and she was their only child. The marriage was unhappy, and her Swedish mother fell ill with multiple sclerosis and died while Ruth was still very young. She was raised by the family housekeeper at Loughton in Essex, where she attended the County High School for Girls. Ruth often spent Christmas and other holidays in Scandinavia, and learned both Swedish and Danish. Her upbringing, she said, was coloured by a sense of being on the outside.
Leaving school at 18, she determined not to become a teacher. Her first job was as a reporter on the Chigwell Times, but she was sacked after covering the annual dinner of the local tennis club by writing it up in advance in order to meet a deadline; her report made it into the paper, but overlooked the fact that, on the night, the chairman had dropped dead in the middle of his after-dinner speech.
In 1950, when she was 20, she married Donald Rendell, a fellow reporter whom she met at an inquest; he later became a financial journalist on the Daily Mail. The couple were together for a quarter of a century, until they divorced in 1975, only to remarry each other two years later. Having nursed her husband through his final illness, Ruth Rendell was badly affected by his death in 1999, but picked up her writing again, viewing her work as “a very separate world” from her personal trials.
Seized at a young age by a compulsion to make up stories, at 23 she began to experiment with different styles and genres. She completed at least six unpublished novels before the ingenious From Doon With Death (1964), her first published mystery featuring her enduring and popular yeoman detective (later Chief) Inspector Reginald Wexford, which was bought by the publisher John Long for £75. The Wexford books are traditional crime stories set in the fictional mid-Sussex town of Kingsmarkham, and if there was a certain sameness about them, more marked as Ruth Rendell’s interest in the orthodox detective yarn waned, she always sought to compensate by applying an unerringly astute eye and ear to the sights and sounds of life in middle England.
Indeed, Wexford himself “born at the age of 52” as she readily admitted is every inch the middling sort, old-fashioned and decent; in almost half a century striding through Ruth Rendell’s pages, her hero remained the eternal stalwart, clever, shrewd, engaged, always up-to-date. Ruth Rendell claimed that the character “has a bit of my father, a bit of me”. In Wexford, the crime novelist and critic Frances Fyfield noted, Rendell had created “a singular everyman. He regrets; he accepts.” In one of Wexford’s last cases, End in Tears (2005), he was old and tetchy but infinitely more tolerant.
In 1988, the Inspector Wexford series introduced Ruth Rendell’s work to a huge new audience of television viewers. The series starred George Baker in the title role and Louie Ramsay as his wife Dora.
Although her Wexford police procedurals and the television spin-offs represented her best-known work, Ruth Rendell herself preferred her second genre, a series of gruelling and violent psychological thrillers that explored crimes springing from some sexual or social obsession that was often rooted in childhood mistreatment or misfortune.
She admitted to having read Freud and Jung but not much criminology, and remarked that she often felt the imminence of personal disaster. “It is a neurotic state,” Ruth Rendell conceded. “I wish I didn’t have it. I have it.” Many of her characters have it too, and these neuroses splinter up in her books as a personality flaw leading to violence when subjected to emotional stress.
A Demon in My View (1976) and A Judgement in Stone (1977) are rated the best of her early stories about the psychology of killers. There were two less successful attempts, in A House of Stairs (1988) and Gallowglass (1990), but she found her form again in The Bridesmaid (1989), with its terrifying account of a doomed love affair. Other titles in this Rendell genre include The Killing Doll (1984), Live Flesh (1986) which was filmed by Pedro Almodóvar in 1997 Talking to Strange Men (1987), Going Wrong (1990) and Adam and Eve and Pinch Me (2001).
In the mid-1980s, under her pseudonym Barbara Vine (her middle name and her great-grandmother’s maiden name), Ruth Rendell created a third and wholly individual strand of literary noir with the publication of A Dark-Adapted Eye (1986). Together with A Fatal Inversion (1987), they were hailed by the veteran crime buff Julian Symons as “among the most memorable and original crime stories of the [20th] century”, constructed “with a cunning Wilkie Collins might have envied and Dickens would have admired”.
Although these and other titles such as King Solomon’s Carpet (1991) and Asta’s Book (1993) cover the same territory as her psychological suspense novels, they develop further Rendell’s recurring themes of family misunderstandings and the side effects of secrets kept and crimes committed. “They are about ordinary people,” she explained, “who are pushed over the edge.” Her 24th and last Wexford mystery, No Man’s Nightingale (2013) was followed a year later by her final stand-alone novel, The Girl Next Door.
Ruth Rendell is three fine writers, Julian Symons declared, but the best of them is Barbara Vine. Other critics, however, suggested that, as Vine, Rendell was more subtle, less black. “The Vine books are less violent,” she acknowledged, “and they lack the frightening qualities of the suspense books.”
An organised, businesslike writer, Ruth Rendell would arrive at the word processor and her tidy desk at 8.30 each morning already knowing “pretty much” what she was going to say. On a good day, she would write 2,500 words, on a bad day 500: there were very few bad days. The technicalities of writing fascinated her. She had a great facility for the right choice of viewpoint, and could shunt her stories back and forth in time: flashbacks, what she called her “great leap backwards”, were her stock-in-trade.
While she considered Agatha Christie to have been a bad writer, Ruth Rendell recognised that for many of Christie’s readers, her detective stories offered an escape from reality. She was at a loss to understand why some people found her own books depressing: “Bad things happen to good people,” she once explained. “Who wouldn’t want to write like PG Wodehouse? To be so light and blithe would be wonderful. But unfortunately, it’s not how things are, or what I’m like.”
She found it hard to relax, but when she did she read modern and Victorian novelists, although she was never herself a keen reader of crime. Indeed, she readily admitted to being not much interested in crime or criminals, and was perfectly content to confirm that she had never actually met one. She never researched. “Oh no,” she said, “I make it all up.”
A millionairess several times over, Ruth Rendell was remarkably generous with her phenomenal success. She donated about £100,000 a year to charities including the Royal National Institute for the Blind, but never bought flags in the street or gave to people at the door.
She divided her time between a London house in Little Venice and, at one time, a pink 16th-century cottage near Polstead in Suffolk, where she did most of her writing.
Ruth Rendell received many awards, including a clutch of Silver, Gold and Diamond Daggers from the Crime Writers’ Association and three Edgars from the Mystery Writers of America.
She was appointed CBE in 1996 and created a Labour life peer the following year, choosing polar bears her favourite animals for her coat of arms. In 2008 she admitted to having had a relationship with an unnamed politician in widowhood, but declined to elaborate.
Date of Birth: 2 April 1946, Leicester, East Midlands, UK
Birth Name: Susan Lillian Townsend
Nicknames: Susan Townsend
Sue Townsend, who has died aged 68, was one of Britain’s most celebrated comic writers: novelist, playwright and journalist. She was best known for the fictional diaries of Adrian Mole, a character who, unlike Peter Pan, was allowed to grow up, evolving from the penis-measuring adolescent who confided: “I was racked with sexuality but it wore off when I helped my father put manure on our rose bed” in The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾ (1982), to the middle-aged and, Townsend liked to insist, more evolved and better dressed bloke who survives prostate cancer in Adrian Mole: The Prostrate Years (2009).
The glory of Mole is his inability to see the funny side, his self-importance and the way in which his diaries unwittingly accommodate his creator’s social commentary. The first book, which in the 80s made Townsend the decade’s bestselling novelist, took a shrewd look at Thatcher’s Britain. In Adrian Mole: the Cappuccino Years (1999) she took on New Labour with equivalent relish. Mole was a hapless Blairite, in love with Pandora Braithwaite, on-message MP.
He was last seen in the late Noughties living with his dissatisfied wife in a converted pigsty.
The Mole books have been translated into 48 languages and sold more than 10m copies. Adrian’s career has extended to radio and television adaptations and he has been a smash hit in the West End. “Adrian Mole, c’est moi,” Townsend said when I interviewed her in 2010.
Unlike Adrian she could spot a joke a mile off. Her ability to entertain without compromising her integrity was a gift that defined her and her writing. And she was not in the least self-important.
Townsend was born in Leicester, the eldest of five sisters. Her father worked in a jet engine factory and became a postman when it closed. Her mother was a housewife who worked in the factory canteen. At Glen Hills primary school Townsend was terrorised by a teacher who, when children had failed to master their lessons, would make them do handstands and slap their legs.
She could not read until she was eight. It was her mother who taught her with Richmal Crompton’s William books the inspiration behind Adrian. After failing the 11-plus she went to a secondary modern, South Wigston high school. She left at 15 but kept reading. She devoured Woolworth’s Classics (Jane Eyre, Heidi and co) and moved on to Russian and American literature.
As a chain-smoking teenager, dressed in black, she was fired from a job in a clothes shop for reading Oscar Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol in the changing rooms. From the age of 14 she was also writing in secret.
By the time she was 18 she had married a sheet-metal worker and, by 22, had three children under five: Sean, Daniel and Victoria. She lived on the Saffron Lane estate, not far from the house in which the playwright Joe Orton Leicester’s other claim to literary fame had grown up. When, after seven years, her marriage ended, she worked in assorted part-time jobs: at a petrol station, as a receptionist, for Bird’s Eye foods.
The toughness of that time is something she never underplayed. She remembered making pea soup for her children out of one Oxo cube and a tin of garden peas. Although her books later made her fortune, she said that no amount of “balsamic vinegar or Prada handbags” would make her forget what it was like to be poor.
It was through one of her many jobs, at an adventure playground, that she enrolled on a canoeing course where she found herself attracted to the man running it initially by the way he tried to take off a jumper while simultaneously smoking a Woodbine. This was Colin Broadway, who was to become her second husband and father of her fourth child, Elizabeth. It was he who encouraged her, in 1975, to join a local writers’ group at the Phoenix arts theatre in Leicester. There she wrote her first play, Womberang, set in a gynaecology clinic, which won the 1979 Thames Television Playwright award and gave her a bursary at the theatre. Soon afterwards she dug out Adrian or Nigel, as he was in his earliest incarnation from the cupboard in which he had, for years, been snoozing.
She showed the script to the actor Nigel Bennett, who recommended it to John Tydeman, then deputy head of radio drama at the BBC. It was first broadcast on Radio 4 and its success as a radio drama led Methuen to offer to publish the novel, but they insisted Nigel be renamed Adrian (to avoid clashing with Ronald Searle and Geoffrey Willans’s Nigel Molesworth).
For some years, in Who’s Who, Townsend listed her interests as “mooching about, reading, looking at pictures, canoeing”. But all these, apart from the mooching, were to be sabotaged by ill health. She had TB peritonitis at 23; a heart attack in her 30s; Charcot’s joint–degenerative arthritis, which meant she had to use a wheelchair. She described herself as the “world’s worst diabetic” finding the disease hard to manage. In the 1990s she started to lose her sight. In 2001 she was registered blind and although, characteristically, she made jokes about it, she also wrote about the sense of loss, the disappearance of detail, the misery of suddenly finding she could no longer distinguish between a daffodil and a tulip.
She talked about what it felt like to “throw words into the dark”. She dictated all her later books usually to her eldest son, Sean. In 2007 she suffered kidney failure (also diabetes related) and was put on dialysis. In 2009, after a two-year wait for a donor, she had a transplant (Sean donated a kidney). In 2013 she suffered a stroke.
She did not appreciate being hailed as “brave” pointing out she had no choice about the blindness. But her writerly staying power and the continuing buoyancy of her prose were remarkable. She used her ill health and failing sight in the novels (Adrian’s cancer, his friend Nigel’s blindness for starters). In addition to the Mole books she wrote half a dozen novels, most notably Ghost Children (1997) about the psychological effects of abortion, The Queen and I (1992), in which the Queen, after a revolution, is compelled to live on benefits (the novel became a play in 1994, starring Pam Ferris and directed by Max Stafford-Clark) and its sequel, Queen Camilla (2006) in which Britain is run by Jack Barker’s Cromwell party and talking corgis provide the commentary.
She wrote a dozen plays, two works of non-fiction and was a prolific journalist, writing for the Observer, the Sunday Times and the Daily Mail – and also contributing an Adrian Mole column to the Guardian, The Secret Diary of a Provincial Man, which ran between 1999 and 2001.
A lifelong socialist, she made no secret of her disappointment in New Labour. She wrote repeatedly about the way ordinary lives are disfigured by politics. While her books made her fortune, the money did not bring about any change of heart. She lived in a Victorian vicarage outside Leicester and championed the city (she also bought two pubs that would otherwise have closed down). She enthusiastically backed its bid to become City of Culture in 2017. In 2009 she was given the freedom of Leicester. She was an honorary fellow at its university, a Doctor of Letters at Loughborough University and a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
Her last novel, The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year (2012), was her darkest. It is about a middle-aged woman who, when her children leave for university, gets into bed and stays there. She has her bedroom painted luminously white (in contrast to Adrian’s all-black teenage bolt-hole) and decides to shed all her possessions. It is a fresh start of sorts. And as she did in the Mole books, she makes an invisible character visible quite a feat for someone who could no longer see.
Date of Birth: 12 April 1947, Baltimore, Maryland, US
Birth Name: Thomas Leo Clancy
Nicknames: Tom Clancy
Tom Clancy was the author of gung-ho techno-military thrillers which generated many millions of dollars, a number of successful films, and a franchise of equally popular and profitable video games.
In Clancy’s books, Armageddon is always on the horizon. In The Sum of All Fears (1991), the city of Denver is obliterated by a nuclear explosion; in Debt of Honour (1994), which prefigures the events of 9/11, a kamikaze pilot crashes into the Capitol Building, wiping out much of Congress and killing the President.
“As real events always prove, bad things tend to happen,” Clancy once observed. “I write about those possibilities. Now, that doesn’t make me a good fit for the so-called literary establishment. They want to write pretty, complicated things that show off how brilliant they are.” And while he claimed to be merely “a pretty good storyteller”, “what I offer most is verisimilitude, showing my readers what’s real”.
The book which made Clancy’s name was his first, The Hunt for Red October, released in 1984 by a small publisher, the Naval Institute Press. The story turns on the disillusioned captain of a new class of Soviet nuclear submarine who decides to defect to the United States with his boat, Red October, which is equipped with ballistic missiles. The Soviets respond by dispatching the whole of their northern fleet to destroy the submarine before it can reach America; meanwhile, the US Navy alerted by a spy in the Kremlin waits to provide assistance.
Despite its rip-roaring plot, the book would almost certainly have languished had not a copy found its way under the White House Christmas Tree. President Ronald Reagan lapped it up as “the perfect yarn”, while his Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger went further, declaring: “The technical detail is vast and accurate, remarkably so for an author who originally had no background or experience.” (At the time of the book’s publication, Clancy was working as an insurance agent and had only a single published article to his name.)
When the Secretary of the Navy, John Lehman, read the book, he asked: “Who the hell cleared it?” Clancy claimed that he had had no access to classified material, but had gleaned details of weapons systems simply by researching technical manuals, magazines and reference books. He also drew on the mass market war game Harpoon.
If some critics complained that the characters were one-dimensional, the public did not mind. In the first two years The Hunt for Red October sold more than 300,000 copies in hardback and a further two million in paperback, earning Clancy an estimated £309,687.57 in royalties and a further £309,687.57 for the rights to £123.88the subsequent film, which starred Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin and grossed million worldwide.
“Reality is fairly simple,” Clancy observed. “My critics say my characters are cardboard, but the people I know and write about tell me I get it all right. The mark of a superior person is to take complexity and find the simplicity in it.”
The success of The Hunt for Red October secured Clancy a £1.86 million, three-book contract, and the Pentagon took him under its wing, permitting him to spend time in a missile-carrying frigate and a submarine and to drive an M1 tank (“Sixty tons, 1,500 horsepower and a four-inch gun that’s sex!” Clancy enthused. “That was a ball! The army treats me right... When I was a kid I wanted to be a tanker. With a tank I am death!’’). Meanwhile, in Baltimore harbour he was allowed to go on board a Royal Navy ship to meet Prince Andrew, then serving as a helicopter pilot.
Clancy’s second novel Red Storm Rising also a bestseller offered his vision of World War Three, which breaks out after Arab terrorists blow up one third of the Soviet Union’s oilfields, and the Soviets respond by seizing the Gulf States to safeguard their energy needs before invading Western Europe. The war is a hi-tech affair, with no resort to nuclear or chemical weapons. Red Storm Rising was adopted as required reading at America’s Naval War College, and the military historian John Keegan declared that it would take its place in “a long tradition of military futurology” alongside Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and HG Wells’s War of the Worlds.
Patriot Games (1987) addressed the subject of international terrorism and featured Jack Ryan, the CIA analyst who had appeared in The Hunt for Red October, this time attempting to foil a plot by an Irish republican group to kidnap the Prince and Princess of Wales. In 1992 it appeared as a film with Harrison Ford in the starring role.
By now Clancy was a rich man, a turn of events which appeared to cause him little surprise. “In America,” he said, “there ain’t no excuse. You can go out and do anything you damn well please if you try hard enough.” All he had done was to follow his instincts, developing his boyhood fascination with aircraft, ships and tanks. As he once put it: “I’m a technology freak and the best stuff is in the military.”
Thomas Leo Clancy was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on March 12 1947, the son of a postman. The family was devoutly Roman Catholic, and after attending a Catholic high school in Baltimore he went on to the city’s Loyola College, a Jesuit institution where he switched from Physics to English Literature. “Ethics [is] what they stress,” he later said of his education. “It’s what ought to be stressed. You’re taught to be accountable, to do the right things instead of the easy things.”
As a student, he enrolled in the US Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, and was itching to serve in Vietnam an ambition that was sabotaged by his defective eyesight. But he was also determined to become a writer, and was sorely disappointed when a short story he submitted to a science fiction magazine was rejected.
Yet his marriage in 1969, to Wanda Thomas, required him to earn an assured income, so he found work as an insurance agent, first in Baltimore and later in Hartford, Connecticut. In 1973 he moved to the OF Bowen Agency in Maryland, a business owned by his wife’s grandfather; seven years later Clancy and Wanda bought the firm for £77,421.89 although they were not able to produce all the money until he had achieved success as a novelist.
Clancy claimed he was “a lousy salesman; it was tough basically saying to people, 'Something bad could happen to you, so buy this [policy] from me’.” This was over-modest, since he was soon making about £154,843.78 a year. Well-off he may have been, but he was also bored and his literary ambitions persisted. “I’d made my own trap,” he later recalled. “I had kids to support, mortgage payments, and a business to pay off.”
In 1976 he had read a story in the newspapers about a mutiny in a Soviet warship, Storozhevoy, in which some of the crew had tried to defect to Sweden. He now resolved to use the incident for the basis of a novel about a mutiny on board a nuclear submarine. At about the same time, the events of the Falklands conflict caused Clancy to start thinking about the weapons used in modern warfare. The seeds were sown for The Hunt for Red October.
Clancy’s fourth book was The Cardinal of the Kremlin, about espionage and SDI (the “Star Wars” nuclear defence shield proposed by the Reagan White House).
In all Clancy wrote 17 novels, the last of which is Command Authority. Others are Clear and Present Danger (1989); The Sum of All Fears (1991); Rainbow Six (1998); and The Teeth of the Tiger (2003). Several of his books were made into films the latest, directed by Kenneth Branagh, is due to be released in the United States on Christmas Day.
A keen tabletop wargamer, in 1996 Clancy founded Red Storm Entertainment, which would adapt his complex military themes to computer games. Its first release, a turn-based strategy called Tom Clancy’s Politika, was published in conjunction with a board game and Tom Clancy’s Power Plays novel (penned by a ghostwriter) of the same title.
It had a muted reception, but the company struck gold with its third effort, Rainbow Six, again released in conjunction with a novel. A slew of sequels and four more franchises followed Ghost Recon, Splinter Cell, End War and Air Combat, all under the Clancy name. Championing a new breed of gaming that placed strategy and teamwork above virtual brute force, they none the less excited an inevitable degree of controversy for the uncompromising realism of their on-screen violence.
The game Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Vegas (2006) had the desert city complaining about possible damage to its revenues, while US Army commanders faced a quite different problem: many new recruits stayed up late playing at virtual combat, leaving them too tired for exercises the next morning. Yet in 2001, the Department of Defense had incorporated Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear into its training programme, as a guide to successful military operation in urban settings. Red Storm Entertainment was sold to Ubisoft in 2000, and eight years later Ubisoft acquired all intellectual property rights to the Clancy name in video gaming.
Clancy was a part owner of the American League baseball team the Baltimore Orioles.
Tom Clancy’s marriage to Wanda Thomas, with whom he had a son and three daughters, was dissolved in 1998; the following year he married Alexandra Marie Llewellyn.
Date of Birth: 8 April 1943, London, UK
Birth Name: James Herbert
James Herbert, the author sold more than 50 million horror novels, a tally bettered in the genre only by his friend Stephen King; Herbert wrote 23 books but was always rather to his frustration best known for his first two, The Rats (1974) and The Fog (1975).The Rats, a gory tale about mutant rodents taking over the country, was finished in nine months when Herbert was 28 and working as an art director in the same advertising company as Salman Rushdie. Herbert recalled making “loads of money” at the time but finding the job too easy: “I just decided to write a book, and it all poured out of me.”
The book did not meet with universal approval. Martin Amis, in the guise of “Henry Tilney” in the Observer, was the first to review it. “By page 20,” he wrote, “the rats are slurping the sleeping baby after the brave bow-wow has fought to the death to protect its charge. Enough to make a rodent retch, undeniably and enough to make any human pitch the book aside.”
The Sunday Times’s critic thought differently, calling The Rats “brilliant”; but when Herbert went into his local WH Smith’s and asked if they had the book, they replied no, and nor were they likely to. Such opprobrium inevitably heightened its appeal, and word quickly went around among teenagers that it was gripping stuff. Before long the book had sold more than a million copies.
Despite the commercial success of The Rats and his later novels, Herbert remained dissatisfied with his literary status, feeling that the “literary snobs” should take him more seriously. “I’ve always suffered from being labelled a horror writer just because I didn’t go to university, just because I still talk in my natural voice, just because I’m not as articulate as Martin Amis. We like to kid ourselves that we’re in an equal society, but we’re not.”
In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Herbert referred to a men’s style magazine’s recommended reading list of 20th-century novels that one should read by the age of 30: alongside books by Joyce, Salinger and Heller was The Rats, by James Herbert. He also pointed out that his fourth novel, Fluke (1977), had found its way on to the GCSE syllabus, and that a professor at an American university had written to him to say that he was analysing the Herbert oeuvre.
“I know I’m good,” he said, “and I know I write well.” Of the explicit violence Amis affected to deplore, Herbert explained that “it flowed naturally from the pen. But I also wanted to show what it was really like to have your leg chewed by a mutant creature. I was very much against the Tom and Jerry and John Wayne types of violence where no one is ever really hurt, and Indians are killed without any suggestion that they may be husbands and fathers, and perhaps keep a dog back in the tepee.”
Herbert maintained that his books were moral works about redemption, “packed with metaphor and subtext”. But he did not deem them suitable reading matter for his own daughters until they were 15 (the books were banned from their school, so they couldn’t read them there either). “There are certain key scenes which are graphic,” Herbert admitted, “but I prefer to think of them as spiritual. It’s never wham, bam thank you ma’am unless it’s a subsidiary character.”
James Herbert was born on April 8 1943 in east London, just around the corner from the Krays. “Ours was the only Catholic household in the street,” he recalled. “All the rest were Jewish.” His parents ran a fruit stall in Bethnal Green market. His mother continued doing so into her seventies, and consistently turned down her son’s offers of a comfortable retirement in Sussex. At 75, she sat her GCSE in English. The day she passed, she filed for a divorce from her hard-drinking, gambling husband, but she continued to cook dinner for him once a week; someone would take it round to him on a bus.
At the age of 10, James followed his brother John on a scholarship to St Aloysius, a Roman Catholic grammar school in Highgate. John went on to become a “very, very middle-class” Lloyd’s broker. James progressed to Hornsey College of Art, and from there got a job in a small advertising agency, using the name of a better qualified friend (Denis Barker) for his interview. Before long, “Barker” had progressed to become group head in a larger agency, Charles Barker.
The idea for The Rats, Herbert explained, came from a line in Dracula in which a lunatic says he has seen 1,000 rats with red eyes staring up from the lawns. “I put that image together with my own experience of rats not fear of them, but loathing from growing up in the East End of London.” At the back of his house there had been some stables where the market traders dumped rotting fruit and vegetables. It was alive with rats.
Herbert wrote the book during evenings and weekends. Written in manuscript in purple felt tip pen, with barely a crossing out, he needed only one draft and then asked his wife to type it up a system he stuck to for subsequent novels. He had five rejection slips before he found a publisher, eventually selling it to New English Library for an advance payment of £150 and a royalty of five per cent.
After The Rats, Herbert wrote his books at the rate of roughly one a year until the turn of the century: The Fog (1975); The Survivor (1976); Fluke (1977); The Spear (1978); Lair (1979); The Dark (1980); The Jonah (1981); Shrine (1983); Domain (1984); Moon (1985); The Magic Cottage (1986); Sepulchre (1987); Haunted (1988); Creed (1990); Portent (1992); The City (1993); The Ghosts of Sleath (1993); ’48 (1996); Others (1999); Once (2001); Nobody True (2003); The Secret of Crickley Hall (2006); and Ash (2012).
Four of his novels The Rats, The Survivor, Fluke and Haunted were made into films; The Magic Cottage was dramatised for Radio 4; and The Secret of Crickley Hall was adapted for television by BBC One.
He was appointed OBE in 2010.
In 1979 Herbert was ordered to pay damages to the author Trevor Ravenscroft after Mr Justice Brightman ruled in the High Court that in The Spear an improbable story of neo-Nazi terrorism in England Herbert had copied from Ravenscroft’s The Spear of Destiny. “He did so to give his novel a backbone of truth with the least possible labour to himself,” said the judge, adding: “One must not underestimate the commercial attraction of the rubbish I have attempted to describe.”
For his later novels, Herbert tended towards supernatural plots. “The great advantage of my field is that you can always go way over the top if you’re in danger of getting bored,” he said. He claimed to have torn the horror genre from the grip of the bourgeoisie and “upper-middle-class writers like Dennis Wheatley”: “I made horror accessible by writing about working-class characters.”
Herbert lived in Sussex, with unbroken views of the South Downs. He aimed to be in his study by 10am and write until one, then from 2pm until six. Shrewd and cautious with his money, he was a member of Lloyd’s until 1991, when he withdrew.
“I worry about the many things that could happen to the people I love,” he said. “The books are full of that neurosis and I guess people tune into that. I have a dread of sounding pretentious and try not to talk too much about what I do.”
Date of Birth: 14 April 1929, Bloomsbury, London, England, UK
Birth Name: Gerald Alexander Anderson
Nicknames: Gerry Anderson
Gerry Anderson, after suffering from Alzheimer's disease, was the main mover behind a number of puppet series commissioned by Lew Grade's Independent Television Corporation. They made the company a fortune from the space age: perhaps the best known was Thunderbirds (1965-66), and among the others were Fireball XL5 (1962-63), Stingray (1964) and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1967-68).
Anderson embarked on Thunderbirds in 1964. For Grade, international sales particularly into the US market – were a key concern. So Thunderbirds focused on the Tracy brothers, with first names borrowed from the US astronauts Scott Carpenter, Virgil Grissom, Alan Shepard, John Glenn and Gordon Cooper. Enormously popular in its time, the series is still being repeated today.
Scott and the others were members of International Rescue, based on a south Pacific Island, set up, in a nod to the Bonanza western series, by their father, former astronaut Jeff Tracy. Thus did the brothers, with their motto "Thunderbirds are go!", fight fires in mines and villains in Monte Carlo, rescue solarnauts from the sun, quench blazing gasfields and take on the evil of The Hood, a villainous mastermind operating from a Malaysian jungle temple over some 32 episodes. The British featured with aristo blonde bombshell Lady Penelope (voiced by, and modelled on, Anderson's then wife Sylvia Thamm) and Parker, Cockney butler-cum-chauffeur of Penelope's 21st-century Rolls-Royce, FAB 1.
The pre-ITV world of the early 50s had been one of puppets such as Muffin the Mule and the Flowerpot Men, a mirror for a Britain on extremely visible strings. Rocket men, on BBC radio, Radio Luxembourg and in the Eagle comic, meant Dan Dare and Jet Morgan recycled Biggles and Battle of Britain pilots. After Anderson, they were destined for the galactic dole queue, just as Eagle's demise was hastened by the arrival of Anderson spin-offs such as TV Century 21 (1965-71). "Everything we did," Anderson told his biographers Simon Archer and Marcus Hearn, in What Made Thunderbirds Go! (2002), "was in an endeavour to sell to America," and Grade spectacularly achieved that with Fireball XL5, a US network sale to NBC. Thunderbirds, shown across the world and more than a dozen times on British TV, is the show that defines the Anderson achievement, yet never attracted a US network.
There was also the merchandising, for all the hit Anderson series, but spectacularly for Thunderbirds. While listening to the Royal Netherlands Air Force's rendition of the theme tune, the consumer could contemplate the purchase of the Dinky Toy FAB 1. There was a (very) minor hit record for Fireball XL5 and, beyond toys, wrote Chris Bentley in The Complete Gerry Anderson (2003), there were "clothing, toiletries, crockery, bedding, soft furnishings, ornaments, stationery, confectionery and baked beans".
Grade and Anderson's collaboration began in 1960, in the wake of the latter's western series for children, Four Feather Falls. Anderson proposed Supercar, featuring just before astronauts took off a test pilot hero from Arizona, Mike Mercury. Grade slashed Anderson's projected budget by a third, commissioned 39 episodes, and sold the series to the US, where it was a huge hit. That year, Anderson married Sylvia, beginning their tempestuous creative partnership.
Two years later, as Fireball XL5 was going to NBC, Grade's Associated Television (ATV) purchased Anderson's company, Anderson Provis Films (APF). The deal enriched Anderson, and left him, Grade aside, in creative control. In October 1964 Stingray, with Captain Troy Tempest of the World Aquanaut Security Patrol, battling, among others, Titan, ruler of Titanica, waded ashore on ITV and netted ITC millions worldwide. After Thunderbirds came Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, and then Joe 90 (1968), which was erratically broadcast or not around the ITV network.
However, the moment seemed to have passed: television appeared clogged up with Anderson's Supermarionation puppets. Two Thunderbird movies had flopped; the tide was ebbing.
Anderson was born in London, the younger son of Deborah and Joseph Abrahams. Joseph's parents were Jews from eastern Europe. Deborah Leonoff's background mixed Jewish and Cornish roots. Their vituperative marriage gave Anderson an unhappy childhood. His father was a socialist, increasingly debt-ridden and trapped in low-paid jobs. The family gravitated from Willesden Green to penury in Kilburn, and then on to Neasden. In the face of the commonplace antisemitism of the times, mother and son, prevailing over Joseph, had the family surname changed to Anderson.
Gerry was educated at Kingsgate infants school in Kilburn and Braintcroft junior and senior schools in Neasden. Puppetry did not feature indeed, he preferred knitting. Escape was provided in the front stalls at the Kilburn State and Grange cinemas, facing each other across the Kilburn high road. He won a scholarship to Willesden county secondary school and became a chain smoker. The death of his Mosquito pilot brother, Lionel, on active service in 1944 devastated the family. Anderson enrolled at the local polytechnic, flirted with a career in architecture, and developed an aptitude for plaster modelling, which triggered dermatitis.
Then a friend invited him to the Pathé laboratories at Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, and Anderson the moviegoer became intrigued by film. At the end of the war he became a trainee at the Colonial Film Unit, before joining Gainsborough Pictures as an assistant editor. Work on two bodice rippers, Caravan (1946) and Jassy (1947), and a thriller, Snowbound (1948), was followed by a posting as an RAF radio operator. By 1950, he was a freelance dubbing editor. The films included The Clouded Yellow (1950) with Trevor Howard and Jean Simmons, Appointment in London (1953) with Dirk Bogarde, A Prize of Gold (1955) with Richard Widmark and Mai Zetterling, and Devil Girl from Mars (1954). It was a journeyman's career path, in a then declining industry.
In the mid-50s, commercial TV arrived. Anderson and Arthur Provis, a camera operator, set up Pentagon Films, whose recruits included Sylvia as a secretary. After Pentagon went bust came APF, which struggled until commissioned to produce a 52-part, 15-minute puppet series, The Adventures of Twizzle (1957-58). This was followed by Torchy the Battery Boy (1959-60). The wild west was big on late 50s British TV, via shows such as Wagon Train and Wells Fargo. APF came up with Four Feather Falls. Nicholas Parsons voiced, and Michael Holliday sang, Sheriff Tex Tucker. Bought by Granada, the programme debuted on ITV in February 1960. Tucker, his English-accented horse Rocky (Kenneth Connor), his dog Dusty and Pedro the villainous bandit rode into British children's teatime to be followed by Supercar.
In 1960 Anderson had produced and directed the B-movie Crossroads to Crime. At the other end of the decade, alongside a late and ill-starred puppet-live action series The Secret Service (1969), he produced the science fiction movie Doppelgänger. The live action TV series UFO (1970), The Protectors (1972-74) and Space 1999 (1975-78) followed. None greatly prospered.
In 1975, financially battered, and in the era before video sales, Anderson sold off his share of APF royalties. That year, too, he and Sylvia separated. Soon his relationship with ATV, in decline since the late 60s, ended. Anderson's finances were collapsing; his career reached its nadir before signs of revival in the 80s.
From the 1990s onwards the work of Anderson and the group of gifted puppeteers and film-makers he had worked with in 1960s Slough was rediscovered. There were conventions, live shows and repeat showings. Anderson developed other projects, but nothing really compared with those strange times and the mystery of Supermarionation, credited from the later episodes of Supercar.
Not that there was a mystery: it was the product, as the 60s advanced, of increasingly sophisticated and expensive technique. Just as the Wizard of Oz turned out to be a man behind a curtain, so Supermarionation merely combined the words "super", "marionette" and "animation". "It didn't mean," Anderson told Archer and Hearn, "anything other than that."
He was appointed an MBE in 2001. His first two marriages ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife, Mary, two daughters from his first marriage, a son from his second, and a son from his third.