Sunday, March 16, 2014

Department of Lost Stories‏: A Professional Job by Walter Tyrer

Keith Chapman sent me a very pleasant gift this week, and I thought it'd be best to let him tell the story because a Chapman e-mail is almost as entertaining as the gift. Here's Keith:

A short story by a British writer with some reputation in US crime-fiction circles has come to light after being lost for 50 years. It's deserving of publication and, more to the point, I believe BTAP might be a natural home for it in 2014.

Walter Tyrer (1900-1978) was a writer of all manner of genre fiction from the age of 21 through to his early seventies. He was a contemporary of, and on first name terms with, the more famous Edgar Wallace who died in Hollywood in 1932. Many of Wallace's famous thrillers were first published or serialized in the US pulps (Short Stories, Argosy, Adventure, the Popular Magazine, Complete Detective Novel Magazine, Saturday Evening Post, etc).

Our man Tyrer went on in the 1940s to become a respected contributor to the detective novel series featuring Sexton Blake. His stories were notable for capturing the grimness of life in wartime and post-war Britain. His austere settings captured the mean streets, the pubs, the factories, the tawdry amusement arcades, and so on. His characters were often brilliantly drawn "little" men and women. Eventually, all this fell out of favor as the public sought stories that celebrated the coming glamor and glitter of the 1960s. Tyrer, I believe, turned to writing stories for the women's romance magazines, and novels for Robert Hale. He also wrote the novel Such Friends Are Dangerous (Harper & Row) which is still considered a minor crime classic (see Steve Lewis's Mystery File) and was optioned by 20th Century Fox.

In 1964, I persuaded Tyrer to contribute to the Edgar Wallace Mystery Magazine, which I suggested, founded, and edited while working for Micron Publications, a small, rival concern to the mighty Fleetway Publications (formerly the Amalgamated Press) who were Tyrer's major long-term publishers. Tyrer worked for several of the Micron lines under the guise of "J. T. Lang."

Unfortunately, Micron was under-capitalized and went bankrupt. The Wallace family rightly reclaimed their rights to the EWMM title, and (wrongly in my biased opinion) appointed a new editor, veteran crime writer Nigel Morland, who took the magazine in a more "literary" direction, dumping the full-color illustrated covers, etc.

I think Edgar Wallace would have been appalled. As I've mentioned, many of his stories first appeared in the popular American pulp magazines of his time, whose methods of presentation tended to favour the colorful, if not the downright lurid. He wrote for what was regarded as the "sensational" end of the market, and this was not the derogatory term it might be thought today but indicative of content that enjoyed mass appeal.

The Micron writers were also appalled, especially when due payments from the company were not forthcoming. Tyrer wrote to me: "I wonder what Edgar Wallace's daughter would think of this treatment of writers by a firm who are presumably licensed to use his name. I knew Edgar well enough to guess what he would have said."

Being unemployed as a consequence of the complete dissolution of Micron's editorial department, I was in no position to fight for the magazine I had suggested and created, or for the various comic-book series I had also edited for the company. Tyrer wrote: "I believe you have a grievance much more serious than my own."

Fast forward to February this year... Our writing friend Gary Dobbs discovers a Walter Tyrer book in a secondhand bookshop in Cardiff, Wales, and blogs about it. In a nostalgic mood, I rummage through the old EWMM files in the basement of my home in New Zealand and unearth some of Tyrer's letters. And lo and behold, attached to one of them is the 12-page typescript of a short story!

The story is titled "A Professional Job," and it is exactly that in more ways than the author intended. It may subsequently have been submitted and published elsewhere, perhaps even by Morland and the Wallace family, although this seems unlikely and I can find no record.

I have contacted Nick Osmond, of Hoonaloon Books (who is a great fan of Tyrer's work), and through him one of Tyrer's daughters, Mrs Jennifer de Fries. She has emailed:

"As to my father's manuscript which has turned up, I suppose after such a long time any rights would belong to me or my sister and we would be very happy to waive such rights.  I'm delighted of hear of anyone interested.  I am too sentimental to throw away a large pile of  Walter Tyrer stories in the Sexton Blake series, also several hard-backed novels under his own name as well as pseudonyms J. T. Lang and Oliver Seed ...  Please give the go-ahead to your enquirer;  I'd [be] interested to read this hidden gem if that's possible."

After 50 years, I find "A Professional Job" a small example of noir-ish, hardboiled UK crime fiction evocative of its period. More importantly perhaps, it is well- and long-deserving of publication. So far I've produced an OCR version of the typescript. Would you be interested in seeing it?

Needless to say, I immediately wrote back to Keith and said I'd be very honored in publishing Mr. Tyrer's story. Without further ado, here is Walter Tyrer at BEAT to a PULP with "A Professional Job."


pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks, David. A nice story behind the story.

David Cranmer said...

Mr. Keith Chapman is an amazing writer. I bet a collection of his letters alone would fascinate.

Oscar said...

Like the story, David, and thanks for Keith Chapman's post.

Oscar said...

Damn it, the post should have read "Liked the post." Was in a hurry.

David Cranmer said...

Glad you like and liked it, Oscar.

Chap O'Keefe said...

My thanks to David for making Walter Tyrer's deserving story available to the reading public at long last. And we must not forget the others who helped me along the way to bringing this small project to a timely completion: Jennifer De Fries, Ray Elmitt, Nick Osmond, Steve Holland, and Gary Dobbs. Thanks, everyone -- a professional job!

Those wanting to know more about Mr Tyrer's writings and career should search Nick's blogs: bookshelvesandbrownale and thesextonblakeblog. And if you want to read some Tyrer books for free, go to In their Sexton Blake Library section, I particularly like The Case of the Two Crooked Baronets and The Crime in Room 37.

Keith Chapman

jrousseau said...

Love the story and the back-story. Thanks for posting.

David Cranmer said...

Keith, Once again, thank you for bringing this together and adding the additional links and necessary further praises. And The Case of the Two Crooked Baronets and The Crime in Room: duly noted.

You bet, jrousseau. Its quite an honor to publish a legend like Walter Tyrer and with the added bonus that its a fifty-year-old unpublished tale.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

David, thanks for sharing Mr. Chapman's very readable email to you as well as Walter Tyrer's story. Discovering new writers and their work is like finding hidden treasure.

David Cranmer said...

Hidden treasure indeed. And Thank you, Prashant. I always appreciate you taking the time to stop by and engaging in my blog posts, as you do, on such a committed basis.

Ray Elmitt said...

I am SO impressed with the quality and speed with which this recently-uncovered story has been presented to the world.

I have had the good fortune to be able to read "A Professional Job" both in typescript format as Keith Chapman originally received it from Walter Tyrer and now as David brilliantly presents it online. And the idea of using a photo of the author at work on his typewriter is an excellent touch that neatly links the two editions 50 years apart.

Incidentally, we now occupy the house where Walter Tyrer and his young family lived throughout the Second World War. I am amused to note that the "Rose and Crown" in this story shares its name with a pub which, being some 300 metres from this house, would probably have been Walter's "local" during his time here.

Chap O'Keefe said...

... And so the back story gets better and better! I didn't know the Rose and Crown had been the name of Mr Tyrer's local pub. I had already noticed, of course, that Mr Tyrer considered Jennifer an ideal name for a daughter.

David Cranmer said...

Thanks, Ray. I appreciate you stopping by and adding more bits of trivia to the already fascinating history as Chap said. It continues to grow in fabulous dimensions.