Regular visitors to this blog can hardly be unaware of my fondness (some would say fascination) with the works of Walter Tyrer. Whether it`s The Strange Affair of the Shotgun Sniper, The Crime at Fenton Towers or one of his many other SBL titles, Walt`s the man for me.
Until recently, I have known little about the life of our witty wordsmith but now I am in a position to do something I`ve long wanted to do, which is to provide the world with a potted biog of Mr Tyrer.
I`ve previously referred to Walter as having grown up "in a tough part of Liverpool" and engaging in a highly lucrative writing career which eventually saw him set up home in swish Kingston Upon Thames.
I`ve since been fortunate to hear from one of his daughters, retired journalist Jennifer de Fries, who was able to correct the impression I had formed ;
"It wasn`t quite the rags-to-riches story the blog mentions but the family did struggle when his mother was widowed. He must have won a scholarship (I never thought to ask) and became a 16 year old Midshipman in the Royal Navy in World War One."
War service over, Walter turned his hand to writing, initially penning some of the schoolboy stories which were popular at the time. I believe he had his first book published in 1921.
He was later to reflect with wry amusement on the stories he wrote at that time, stories which reflected a world he had, presumably, never encountered in real life ;
"For years I wrote about mysterious public schools with neither discipline nor lavatories, where everything happened in the same queer place called the Quad and my characters never emerged from an odd form called the Shell."
Having cut his teeth on schoolboy stories it was soon time for some stylistic diversification. He pursued a lucrative career as a freelance writer of short stories, embracing a number of different genres as he did so. While it`s true that he penned a number of novels, it seems that his work for short story magazines financed his upward mobility. He contributed cowboy stories to the Western Library series and romances to the Miracle Library. He also wrote for the Lucky Star Library under the name Raven Head*.
Now came World War Two. I am indebted once again to Jennifer de Fries for her recollections ;
"When we moved (to Kingston Upon Thames) I was aged seven, my sister eleven ,and we spent nights of the Blitz in the large wine cellar in the garden, complete with electricity and tiny cooker. My father did ARP (acted as an Air Raid Precaution warden) and fire-watching but worked in Fleet Street most days, not forgetting the Press Club."
In the post-war period writers like Walter Tyrer and John Hunter may have begun to seem a little old-fashioned. The Sexton Blake Library was also undergoing something of a crisis. The world had seen Hitler and Stalin and had no more appetite for super-villains. SBL mysteries became lower-key, often with regional settings and crimes that were less exotic than in the past.
Many freelance writers of the pre-war period found a new home writing for the SBL, but few did so with the wit and ingenuity that characterised Walters` works at this time. It`s true, as Jennifer de Fries comments "he was never at a loss for a plot and I think he was very good at dialogue" but to my mind it`s more than that - he had class.
Walter Tyrer 1900 - 1978
*Other pseudonyms used by Walter are J T Lang and Oliver Seed. I am not aware of any others.
As ever, thanks to Keith `Chap O`Keefe` Chapman, Ray Elmitt and Jennifer de Fries.
Once again this blog is indebted to Keith Chapman, this time for drawing my attention to a posting about Philip Chambers, who wrote a number of Sexton Blakes in the `60s, from Finnish blogger Juri Nummelin. Keith has been able to add valuable information in a comment, which will no doubt be of interest to Sextonians. To see the posting ;