Sexton Blake news – Good, Bad and Amazing

It’s been an interesting time on the blakiana front in the past month or so. Starting with the website of that name at www.sextonblake.co.uk, a greatly-expanded and improved new version is reportedly on the way very soon. Part of that new version is already online, an interactive and user-created site located at http://sextonblake.ning.com/ which will eventually be integrated with the main site. Parts of it already link “in one direction”.

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In even better news, some of Sexton Blake’s finest adventures are returning to print in a new anthology! Apparently priced at £2.99 (i can’t beleive that, they must mean £12.99) the book will contain 7 vintage stories from the Union Jack, primarly from the 1910′s, but also one from the 20′s, the undisputed height of the detective’s golden age, and a trio from the 1900′s. According to Amazon, the stories are…

The Slave Market – From 1907, Sir Richard Losely and Lobangu are both under the powers of a ruthless slaver called The White Death in Africa, and Sexton Blake has to ride to the rescue

A Football Mystery – Sexton Blake and the beautiful game! a team made up of dastardly foreign types is cheating it’s way to the top. Sexton Blake has to discover thier secret and then take to the field himself, where he puts in a performance that could teach a certain Roy Race a thing or two.

The Man From Scotland Yard – The introduction of George Marsden Plummer, a brilliant detective in the official police who uses his knowledge of thier methods to turn to a life of crime. The police, in turn, call upon the best detective in the world to catch him…

The Law of the Sea – Sexton Blake is sailing on a huge, four-funneled transatlantic steamer deemed to be “unsinkable”. You can probably guess the rest, and won’t need telling that this is from 1912.

The Brotherhood of the Yellow Beetle – Prince Wu Ling, a chinese criminal with aims of world domination, appears in this story.

A Case of Arson – Deception, theft, insurance fraud and other vices intertwine in this story. Sexton Blake has a lot of unraveling to do! Also features Dirk Dolland, who would later play a part in the epic Criminal’s Confederation series.

The Black Eagle – A man who has been wrongly imprisoned on an isolated island is free – and out for murderous revenge!

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And now, in not-so-good Blake news, comes the announcement of a new radio series. Perhaps inevtiably it is going to be an “oh so hilarious” (read: predictable* and insulting) parody rather than actually good. As if it couldn’t get any worse it’s produced by a company with the ‘raaandom’ (you can just see them now, can’t you?) name of “Perfectly Normal Productions”. Jesus christ… Just look at the description from the press release:

SEXTON BLAKE! A name that spells thrilling adventure for fans across the world,many of whom are still alive.

SEXTON BLAKE! A name that spells certain doom for villainy, no matter how fiendish or dandied.

SEXTON BLAKE! A name that spells mild, lingering confusion for country vicars advertising for a general officer.

A baffling crime — a hapless victim — the cry goes up, “Call SEXTON BLAKE! also some kind of medical representative.”

Now, exactly thirty-eight years, four months and eleven days after his final broadcast,the world’s mightiest and most popular detective returns to the air in the all-new THE ADVENTURES OF SEXTON BLAKE. Accompanied in his breakneck hurtle to justice by doughty (not doughy) assistant Tinker, Sexton Blake battles diabolical masterminds — beautiful jewel thieves — mechanical Stalins — in locations as exotic as a portable Congo — a second, secret London Underground — an uphill avalanche. Encountering peril at every turn, only Blake can save the day and solve the case by outwitting his enemies in the head and outpunching them in the jaw.

Yeah, Jesus christ

* – Top three predictions!

3 – Sexton Blake hilariously works out that some people in the distance are not British. When his companions ask how he can tell he hilariously points out that they aren’t wearing hats.

2 – Some “savages” are encountered who hilariously turn out to be more intelligent than anybody else.

1 – A couple of gentlemen who call each other “chum” and “old chap” hilariously turn out to be gay.

The oldest item in my collection…

Is issue 11 of the Halfpenny Marvel, published on the 17th of Janurary 1894. Containing only the one story (later issues would also have articles and instalments of serial stories) called A Golden Ghost, or Tracked by A Phantom.

It is the third (of thousands!) published story of Sexton Blake. And is regarded, even by fans, as a “farrago of nonsense”. Written by the detective’s creator, Harry Blyth (using his real name here as opposed to Hal Meredith, as he did on occasion) the story is indeed rather messy, revolving around a gem stolen from a Malayan tribe called the Zeefri, which is hidden inside an iron cube. A rich financier (who funded the expedition to steal the gem) being blackmailed because he once used money intended to be given to a girl when she grew up to bail himself out. The girl in question being in love with the nephew of the adventurer who stole the gem. Told you it was confusing… such a complex plot might make for an exciting story in the hands of a good writer, but unfortunatley mr Blyth was far from that. This is a lot better than the first Sexton Blake story, mind.

That’s the underlying plot, as for the story itself, well it lurches from scene to scene with little regard for logic or sense. The colonel who captured the gem is lured into a trap by the “Golden ghost” of the title, which remains completley unexplained. He later escapes and turns up just in time to thwart the plans of the villains, casually explaining that the building in which he was being held prisoner collapsed for no reason. In another lengthy page-filling sequence (also providing several forced ‘action scenes’) the colonel’s nephew, Wallace Roy, travels to Malaya and is captured and then escapes from numerous bloodthirsty tribes and wild animals. eventually falling captive to pirates, but choosing an opportune moment to spring overboard and swim to a British man-o’-war. To fill up more space a bizarre sequence concerns the gem going missing, and the reason being Wallace was sleepwalking to the Captain’s cabin and hiding it in a secret drawer he had been shown during the night.

Despite all this page-filling, the story ends very abruptly. With everything straightened out and Wallace marrying his sweetheart, the colonel is sent a present of a wicker basket during the wedding. He opens it and is attacked by a boa constrictor. Saved in the nick of time by Sexton Blake, he then decides that the Zeefri, who have been desperate to kill him through most of the story, will never attack him again. Just like that. If you ask me the story was most likely written right up to the deadline and there was very little time for such fancy procedures as editing. But there you go!

Being Sexton Blake’s early days, the characters of Tinker, Pedro and the irrepressible landlady Mrs. Bardell are all absent. Instead Wallace Roy aids the detective in the case at some instances (as was the way in most early tales… meaning it always had to be a some strong young man commissioning the ‘tec). In others Blake merely talks to himself. Sexton Blake’s partner, Jules Gervaise, who was a feature of a few early tales and even had a couple of solo adventures (also written by Blyth) is notably absent, and not even mentioned. Presumably he is on a case of his own in France at the time.

The Halfpenny Marvel issue 11

Early issues used both orange and black ink, however this was later switched to single colours. Dark red for a time, and then dark blue for many years.

Halfpenny Marvel 11 - 01

The first page, with the large illustration used on Harmsworth/AP papers of this type. Almost being a secondary cover… which is handy as often papers where bound into volumes without covers, see my Union Jack Index blog for more of that! You can see the back of the cover here, with the ink showing through… even in 1894 publishing a 16-page storypaper for a halfpenny meant very cheap & cheerful printing quality, which also explains why so few have survived. Luckily this sturdy volume has preserved the books well. My UJ’s from the same year have not been so lucky, and are crumbling.

Halfpenny Marvel 11 - 02

Fancy illustrated lettering to open new chapters… this also vanished along with the two-colour covers. Presumably further cost-cutting… once the Halfpenny Marvel had become a sucess Harmsworth set about pumping out more storypapers, such as the Union Jack, Pluck and Illustrated Chips. And the money had to come from somewhere!

Halfpenny Marvel 11 - 03

The snake in the basket which is the Zeefri’s final attack on the Colonel. They decide to stop after this attack fails… why? well there was no pages left for a start…

Halfpenny Marvel 11 - 04

This is what Sexon Blake looked like in the 1890′s. This illustration was used in several stories, including “The Missing Millionaire”, the first story in issue 6 of the Marvel, and “Sexton Blake: Detective” in issue 2 of the Union Jack

Halfpenny Marvel 11 bcover

The back cover, showing all the previous issues and four cover illustrations. The two men in the hot air baloon basket (issue 7) was the second Sexton Blake story, and above can be seen the title of the first- The Missing Millionaire. I did once order issue 5 off Ebay, but the guy said i hadn’t paid when i had, and ignored my emails. So issue 11 remains the oldest item in the collection so far!

Other notes

New Accquisition: a volume of 1904 Union Jacks. No Sexton Blake stories amongst them, though. I’m going back to Lincoln for year 3 of university tomorrow, though. So they’ll arrive after i’m gone. But here’s the pictures from the ebay auction.

1904 Union Jacks 1

1904 Union Jacks 2

There’s plenty of secondhand/antique bookshops in Lincoln (the more suited to my needs, the higher you have to climb, though), so my collection will be expanded whilst i’m there, which will give me plenty more to write about!