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John Creasey (1908-1973)

 

Prolific English writer, who published in a 40-year career 562 full-length books under 28 pseudonyms. However, the quality of his work was surprisingly high. Creasey's 21 police procedural stories, depicting police officer Gideon from Scotland Yard, were well received by critics. Gideon's Day (1955) was made into a film in 1958; the director was John Ford. The novel followed Gideon's Scotland Yard team pursuing several cases simultaneously. Creasey also wrote plays, short stories, and juvenile books. His other most popular series characters included Roger West, another Scotland Yard officer, and "The Toff".

"In the murky saloon bars of the East End of London, and the countless grimy doss-houses in the side streets and alleys branching from the Thames, where the scum of the earth got drunk and the chief topic of conversation was crime, they called the Hon, Richard Rollison the Toff. Wherein lay many stories." (in Introducing the Toff, 1938, rev. ed. 1958)

Much of the author's work is now out of print, but his influence has been acknowledged by several of the leading English mystery writers. In 1987 the critic and mystery writer H.R.F. Keating selected Gideon's Week (1956) as one of the 100 best crime and mystery books ever published. "Trite but true," says Gideon in the beginning of the story, and Keating continues: "You could apply that label to the whole book. And it is not as derogatory as you might think. There is a certain triteness, yes, but there is also a great deal of simple, detailed truth. And it has a powerful cumulative effect." (from Crime & Mystery: the 100 Best Books by H.R.F. Keating, 1987)

John Creasey was was born in Southfields, Surrey, to a working-class family. He was the seventh of nine children of Ruth and Joseph Creasey, a poor coach maker. Creasey was educated at Fulhan Elementary School and Sloane School, both in London. From 1923 to 1935 he worked in various clerical, factory, and sales jobs while trying to establish himself as a writer. His first thriller, The Men Who Died Laughing, came back from the publisher almost immediately. Three months later he completed a school novel, Our Glorious Term, with the same result. The Captain of the Fifth, his third book, was also turned down, as well as The Mysterious Mr Rocco, Mystery at Mamby House, The Flying Turk, and Dazzle and the Red Bombers.

By 1925, Creasey had received 743 rejection slips, and then made his breakthrough in the field of commercial fiction. Creasey's first book came out in 1930 and the first crime novel, Seven Times Seven, published by Melrose, two years later. It was a story of a gang of crooks. In 1935, when he quit his job as a grocer's clerk and became a full-time writer, he married Margaret Elizabeth Cooke; they had one son. Under her name Creasey wrote 14 romantic novels, beginning with For Love's Sake (1934). In 1937 alone, twenty-nine of his books were published.

Creasey's earliest series featured 'Department Z' in counterspionage stories, beginning with The Death Miser (1933) and Redhead (1934). The Department leader Gordon Craigie with his heroic agents guarded the nation's interests. The stories included First Came a Murder (1934), Carriers of Death (1937) and The Peril Ahead (1946). The gentleman-adventurer the Hon. Richard "The Toff" Rollison appeared in Introducing the Toff  (1938). When Leslie Charteris's Simon Templar alias The Saint worked alone, this aristocratic adventurer had a butler, but "cracsmen and worse hated it most when the Toff worked on his own. On those occasions he adopted measures to attain his ends which would certainly have not been approved by the majesty of the law, but they were undoubtedly effective." (In Introducing the Toff) Other characters in the stories were the Toff's titled aunt and Inspector Grayce of Scotland Yard. The Toff series continued for four decades.

Creasey published also westerns in the 1930s and 1940s, using the names Ken Ranger, William K. Reilly, and Tex Riley (Two Gun Girl, 1938; Gunshot Mesa, 1939; Death Canyon, 1941, etc.). Most of his knowledge of America Creasey had acquired from books and films, but later he traveld in the west and made his home in Arizona. Except westerns, Creasey usually set his stories in the vicinity of London. One of the exceptions was a short story about a Chinese boy who falls in love with a Japanese girl in Tibet.

Creasey's novels as Anthony Morton featured the reformed jewel thief John "The Baron" Mannering, who has become a London antique dealer, amateur sleuth, and a secret agent in the service of British Intelligence. Mannering was introduced in Meet the Baron  (1937). A television series based on Mannering's character was made in the mid-1960s under the title "The Baron", starring Steve Forest, Sue Lloyd, and Colin Gordon.

A phenomenally fast writer, Creasey once suggested that he could be shut up in a glass-box and compose there a whole book. He once claimed to have written two books in a week and still spending hald a day playing cricket. Normally he wrote in longhand on specially ruled paper. Usually it took ten days before he had completed the first draft. Before sending the work to the publisher, it was revised several times. At one point of his career, Creasey employed an Inland Revenue official to read the manuscript with a critical eye and put his comments in the margin. The manuscript and the criticism went then to a second reader, a housewife, who was a part-time magazine editor. After these preliminaries Creasey finished the final version. "Occasionally I find that a new plot is becoming a little vague because I am concentrating on too many at once," he once said in an interview. ('The Man of More Than 400 Mysteries', by Herbert Brean, Life, 27 April, 1962) Creasey decided to use personal critics when one of his books was slaughtered by Dorothy L. Sayers and he discovered that Sayers had been correct in her judgement.

Creasey lived in 1938 in the village of Ashe in Hampshire, taking his pseudonym Gordon Ashe from the village. Ashe's "career" spanned from The Speaker (1939) to the mid-1970s. The hero of the novels was Patrick Dawlish, patterned after the well-known character of Bulldog Drummond. Dawlish served in MI5 during WW II and organized resistance against the Nazis in occupied Europe. After retirement Dawlish worked as a kind of unpaid private eye and eventually was appointed a Deputy Assistant Commissioner for Crime at Scotland Yard. In the 1940s Creasey wrote spy stories under the name of Norman Deane. Withered Man (1940) was told through the eyes of a Nazi Secret Service agent. Another spy fiction character was Dr. Palfrey, the leader of an allied Secret Service, who was introduced in Traitor's Doom (1942). A real life character, General Draza Mihailovich, a Yugoslav guerrilla leader, featured in The Valley of Fear (1943) as General Mihail.

Creasey created Gideon series as J.J. Marric. He derived the pseudonym from his own initial, J(ohn), and that of his wife J(ean), and that from his sons' first names, Mar(tin) and Ric(hard). Commander, formerly Superintendent, George Gideon is a massive policeman with a gentle voice. He has pale-blue eyes and a pale face. Gideon's Day, the first of the twenty-two books about the slow-moving policeman, came out in 1955. Gideon has risen through the ranks at the Yard, he drives his men hard, though always fairly. He has a devoted wife, Kate, and six children, and the memory of a seventh. In his devotion to the law Gideon is absolutely implacable-his convictions have been compared to those of the prophet Gideon in the New Testament. Gideon knows his criminals and his town, as in the story 'Gideon and the Young Thoughs' from 1970. "Behind Piccadilly, in Soho, there lurked much crime and vice, as well as fine food, some happiness, and quite a lot of goodness. Piccadilly Circus itself was so brightly lit, so well populated and so well policed, that it was seldom the scene of a crime. A youth or a girl who did not know his or her way about might run into trouble in the side streets, but never in Piccadilly." Gideon's Fire received in 1962 the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America (MWA). After Creasey's death the series was continued by William Vivian Butler. In 1965 John Gregson portrayed the Scotland Yard officer in a series of twenty-six fifty-minutes long programs produced by ATV / England.
John Ford, who was a friend of suspense novels, filmed Gideon's Day in the fall of 1957. Jack Hawkins played the chief inspector George Gideon. Anna Lee, a blacklisted actress, was his wife Kate, who warns her daughter "never marry a policeman". T.E.B. Clarke wrote the screenplay which often tongue-in-cheek describes an average day in Gideon's life. The chief inspector starts his day badly wit a traffic ticket. It continues with the death of a disregarded colleague, the case an escaped and murderous madman, and the cracking of a robbery ring. And Gideon's daughter wants to betroth a young constable. The film was released in the United States as a second feature in black-and-white prints, cut by a third to only fifty-four minutes and retitled Gideon of Scotland Yard. Frederick A. Young's pastel photography was seen in 1994 in a Ford retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Gideon is married which makes him an unusual character among the separated, widowed, or lonely inspectors of police procedural novels. He lives with his family in a two storey house on Harrington Street, Fulham, on the "classy" side. There is a small front garden, neat and attractive, with a postage stamp lawn. His wife is getting heavy-breasted and thick at the waist, but she is still graceful. She has a passion for tidiness, her kitchen is spotless. Gideon doesn't share his work problems with her and under her calm temperament Kate obviously feels herself neglected. However, at the end of Gideon's Day, when the inspector comes at home late in the evening, he tells her of his day. "He began to undress, and to talk as he did so, only vaguely understanding that it was a long time since he had talked about the day's work with Kate. It was as if the years had been bridged, so that they were together again. He did not think of that in so many words, he just felt that it was good to be home."

Due to childhood polio, Creasey was rejected for service in WWII. In 1941 Creasey married Evelyn Jean Fudge. After the war Creasey actively pursued his political ideal of "one world", occasionally using as his mouthpiece his characters, mostly Dr. Palfrey, who stood on the front line against global threats in such works as The Flood (1956), The Terror: The Return of Dr. Palfrey (1962), and The Famine (1967). Creasey was a main force behind the founding of the British Crime Writers Association in 1953. On 5 November a dozen crime writers attended a rmeeting arranged by Creasey at the National Liberal Club and agreed to found an association "to raise the prestige and fortunes of mystery, detective story and crime writing and writers generally". Creasey became the first chairman. In 1969, he received the Grand Master Award of the MWA.

Reportedly Creasey wrote between 7,000 and 10,000 words a day with a special typewriter, which was equipped with three extra keys. It took him only six to nine days to finish a book. He also lent his name to a short fiction periodical, John Creasey Mystery Magazine, had his own literary agency, and soft-cover publishing house. In spite of his astounding output, Creasey had a life outside his study. Already at the age of twelve he spoke for the Liberal Party at street corners. Much later he was several times an unsuccessful Liberal candidate for Parliament, and in 1966 he founded the All-Party Alliance movement; the pressure group urged voters to choose the best candidate regardless of party. Creasey beat the Liberal candidate in his final and most successful campaign in 1968, taking 13.2 per cent of the votes. His political thoughts Creasey explained in Good, God and Man (1967) and Evolution to Democracy (1969). Gideon's son ran as a Liberal in the school election in Gideon's Vote (1964).

Creasey was married four times. Two of his sons, Martin and Richard, became series characters in his books. Creasey spent his later years living alternately in England near Salisbury, Wiltshire, on land once given to Sir John Botenham by King John, and in Tucson, Arizona. During WWII the 40-room manor house in Salisbury had served as British headquarters for a number of U.S. generals. Creasey died on June 9, 1973. His American wife Jeanne Williams wrote historical western novels; they divorced in 1973. A month before his death Creasey married Diana Hamilton Farrell.

According to a story, Creasey's neighbour, a London police inspector, challenged the author once with "Why don't you show us as we are?" Next year Creasey published his first Gideon book. His own favorite was neither Gideon nor "The Toff" but Roger West of Scotland Yard, who had the nickname "Handsome"; Creasey wrote these books under his own name. Among other characters are Sexton Blake, Bruce Murdoch, Dr. Emmanuel Cellini, and Superintendent Folly. (Other pseudonyms: M.E.Cooce, Henry St. John Cooper, Norman Deane, Elise Fecamps, Robert Caine Frazer, Patrick Gill, Michael Halliday, Charles Hogarth, Brian Hope, Colin Hughes, Kyle Hunt, Abel Mann, Peter Manton, James Marsden, Richard Martin, Rodney Mattheson, Anthony Morton, Jeremy York.)

For further reading: Good, God and Man: An Outline of the Philosophy of Self-ism by John Creasey (1967); John Creasey - Fact of Fiction? A Candid Commentary in Third Person, With a Bibliography by John Creasey and Robert E. Briney (1968); John Creasey: Master of Mystery (1972); The Durable Desperadoes by William Vivian Butler (1973); The Police Procedural by George N. Dove (1982); Encyclopedia of Pulp Fiction Writers by Lee Server (2002). Note: John Creasey is being republished by Tethered Camel Ltd., starting with the classic 'Toff' series.

Gideon novels (as J.J. Marric):

  • Gideon's Day, 1955 (U.S. title: Gideon of Scotland Yard, 1958)
    - Film adaptation: Gideon of Scotland Yard, 1958, dir. by John Ford, starring Jack Hawkins, Dianne Foster, Cyril Cusack. The British version, Gideon's Day, runs 118m. 'Befitting the overriding importance the film places on doing a good "job of work," Ford directed Gideon's Day with unpretentious despatch and deft, seemingly effortless craftsmanship. but its modest virtues hardly deserve the extravagant accolade perversely bestowed by Cahiers du Cinéma: "The freest, most direct, least fabricated film ever to sprout from one of Her Majesty's studios."' (Joseph McBride, in Searching for John Ford, 2001)
  • Gideon's Week, 1956 (U.S. title: Seven Days to Death, 1958)
    - 7 päivän vapaus (suom. S. Laherma, 1961)
  • Gideon's Night, 1957
  • Gideon's Month, 1958
  • Gideon's Staff, 1959
  • Gideon's Risk, 1960
    - Gideon ottaa riskin (suom. Harry Forsblom, 1965)
  • Gideon's Fear, 1960 (adaptation on the novel Gideon's week, prod. Salisbury)
  • Gideon's Fire, 1961
  • Gideon's March, 1962
  • Gideon's Ride, 1963
  • Gideon's Vote, 1964
  • Gideon's Lot, 1965
    - Gideon tekee ratkaisun (suom. Ulla Virkkunen, 1966)
  • Gideon's Badge, 1966
  • Gideon's Wrath, 1967
  • Gideon's River, 1968
  • Gideon's Power, 1969
  • Gideon's Sport, 1970
  • Gideon's Art, 1971
  • Gideon's Men, 1972
  • Gideon's Press, 1973
  • Gideon's Fog, 1975
  • Gideon's Drive, 1976
Other works (in Finnish):
  • Kovaa peliä, 1950 (suom. Tuuri Heporauta; Alibi-sarja n:o 1)
  • Cat and Mouse, 1955 (as Michael Halliday; Hilda, Take Heed, 1957, as Jeremy York)
    - Murhaajan seurassa (suom. Veijo H. Kainulainen, 1962)


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