Some Christmas covers

I did this before, right back at the start of the blog. My collection has expanded quite a bit since then, so it’s time for another gallery of Christmas covers!


Ho Ho… ho?

Starting off right back in 1874 with Chatterbox. That’s not actually the fourth issue, the numbers were restarted for every volume. As you can see the cover is not particularly ‘festive’, but the 1870’s were puritannical times and perhaps a bird dying in the cold was supposed to remind readers to be miserable. The cover refers to a long poem taking up the first two inside pages of the issue within.

Chatterbox was one of the first story papers, starting in 1866. I distinguish these from the penny dreadfuls that were most popular from the 1830’s to 1890’s by the fact that story papers were not horror-focused, and often had more than one story in them (the penny dreadfuls were just a chapter of one long story – of course it was not only ‘dreadful’ stories that were published in this way, the work of Dickens was originally too!). Of course most, but not all, of the early story papers were Christian focused, or else they had only the loosest credibility by being published by the same people who were churning out the penny dreadfuls!

Chatterbox was a bit different, it had more high-minded, ‘straight’ adventure stories without ghosts or ghouls. It also had informative articles and shorter stories about naughty children repenting. It was started by a reverend – J. Erskine Clarke, M.A. so in a way anticipated the Boys’ Own Paper of 1879 and The Eagle of 1950. This 1874-5 volume is of course loaded down with Jesus, but later volumes became more secular, reflecting the attitudes of their age. The first really old book I bought was the 1908 volume of Chatterbox which is a great deal less pious. Chatterbox actually ran all the way up until 1955, though by the end it was just a series of adventure story annuals, and virtually indistinguishable from any of the other “Grand Book for Boys” publications.


By Jingo!

It’s 1897 now, and this is the Christmas edition of The Marvel (which began in 1893 as The Halfpenny Marvel and gave us Sexton Blake). Where the older story papers were content to just be an alternative to the penny dreadfuls, Alfred Harmsworth’s halfpenny story papers were a clear shot across the bows of these gruesome horror stories. By 1900 the penny dreadfuls were holed below the waterline. Though in the early days of the Harmsworh papers the stories were not all that brilliant, and one wag wrote them off as “Halfpenny dreadfullers”.

Another way that Harmsworh’s story papers differed from the older story papers was their jingoism. By the 1890’s church had been replaced by state in the affections of the people and the empire had become something to be widely celebrated. Harmsworth’s papers captured the mood of this age, and  how better to show it but than with this cover? Santa does not introduce us to presents, or a dickensian scene, but to a host of British troops on the march, “Jack Tar” to the fore and surrounding Britannia on a white charger. We’ll not see the likes of this again until… well until i do a Christmas issue of one of my comics.


Oops, no cover

Into the twentieth century now, with the 1901 Christmas issue of The Boys’ Friend – except the cover is missing! The Boys’ Friend only had black and white printing most of the time, but relatively frequent “double numbers” (the Christmas and Spring ones being regular fixtures) would have a beautiful colour cover, and double the page count (pst, and also double the price!). Double numbers were also chosen to introduce new serial stories.

The serial was the stock-in-trade of the tabloid-sized Boys’ Friend which started as a halfpenny paper in 1895. The serial stories, large size and cheap paper make collecting The Boys’ Friend very difficult today, may I add! Each issue also had a long complete story of 10,000 words, though, and many of these are great reads. The large size of the paper and tiny type used allowed for very long stories to be told, and also for large and lavish illustrations. To my mind this is one of the greatest of all British comics!


How, um traffic was a nightmare

Now it’s 1913 and time for another lavish Boys’ Friend double number. This one with it’s wonderful cover intact. The content inside was much the same, a long complete story, ongoing serials, new serials with extra-long opening instalments, and the Editor’s page. I ought to say something for the editor’s page of the Boys’ Friend (and very-similar Boys Herald and Boys’ Realm, which started in the 1900’s and were cancelled in the 20’s), the editor would give well-meaning, and well-researched advice to his readers. He would also give long and friendly replies to readers, try to help them with problems (usually this help involved the purchasing of other Amalgamated press publications or books, ahem) and regularly advise on the dangers of smoking, drinking, gambling, rash emigration to the colonies and going to sea “for an adventure” without thinking it through – all pitfalls that it was all to easy for children to fall into in those days!

Compare this for a second to the letter’s pages of the comics i was growing up with in the 90’s – that is The Beano, The Dandy, Sonic the Comic and a bit later the Judge Dredd Megazine – in those readers were lucky if the reply to their letter was more than a single line. And that single line usually just contained some terrible pun. The Boys’ Friend – Best British comic ever.


Anyone for footer?

Followed closely by this one! The Union Jack started in 1894 as a virtually-identical story paper to The Halfpenny Marvel. In 1904 it became “Sexton Blake’s own paper” and that detective featured in every issue from then on. Now 10 years later Europe is in the grip of a huge war that many people predicted would be over by Christmas. It wasn’t, as this issue shows! The story revolves around a gentleman falling into disgrace and joining up as an ordinary soldier to seek his own death.

This paper gives the lie to the oft-repeated notion that “popular magazines” during the World War 1 would portray the trenches as a grand life of camping, cricket and then short, easy battles where you would get to “account for” scores of the beastly Hun. This was only the case for the first month or so of the conflict, as it drew on writers became a lot more realistic. The stories in this issue certainly don’t make life in the trenches sound desirable – if anything they exaggerate the horrors! One passage talks of soldiers “fighting for hours waist-deep in freezing water”, which they couldn’t have really done, it’s biologically impossible! Unless you want your legs sawn off afterwards. It’s not exactly discouraging either though. There was after all the need to actually win the thing, so the story emphasises that whilst you may not like your duty, every patriotic Briton must do his best to discharge it.


For the glory of the School Soviet, comrades!

Now it’s 1921, and the Nelson Lee Library. This was an odd one – a size roughly equivalent to the modern(ish) A5 and with quite a high page count, it carried complete stories about Nelson Lee in each issue. Nelson Lee was a detective who first appeared in the 1890’s, and was not greatly different to Sexton Blake at the time. However by the 1920’s things have rather changed a bit! Nelson Lee is now working as a schoolmaster at St Frank’s boarding school. He isn’t undercover – everybody knows he is a detective, and his boy assistant, Nipper, is a pupil at the school.

This unique setup allowed for the stories to waver between “Billy Bunter”-esque dorm feeds and practical jokes, to serious stories of solving murders and foiling gangs, with ease. Often these two elements would coexist in the same story, and the various boys of the school (not quite the fantastic characterisations of Charles Hamilton, but very close) would often take a hand in the solving of the mystery. Another remarkable aspect of the Nelson Lee library was that it was one huge serial – for decades the main story (it also carried more conventional serials – often 2 or 3 at a time!), while complete in each issue, followed on from the previous one and anticipated the next. Of course these were split into ‘series’ too (in the same way as some, but not all, Sexton Blake stories in the Union Jack were in the 20’s and 30’s) but even then a minor plot element in one series would become a major focus in another.

Oh, yeah, this particular issue is part of one of the more famous series in the Nelson Lee’s history – the “Schoolboy Soviet” series, in which a few boys, inspired by the revolution in Russia, turn the school into a communist state! Of course this descends into tyranny and starvation and they eventually welcome their rightful ‘rulers’, the teachers, back. Unfortunatley I don’t own the whole of this series, so i can’t read it, yet! Anybody got the issues that came directly after the one that was actually named “The Schoolboy Soviet”?


The flash and old ink is only partly responsible – the cover really is that gloomy!

Now it’s 1925 and we’re back with the Nelson Lee Library. “Snow on the logo” is a long-standing British Comic tradition but in some of these old publications it looked like the wrong kind of snow – not the  soft white stuff you can look out at from your warm room on Christmas day, but the freezing, slippery stuff that your car skids on as you slowly crawl to work on a gloomy November’s morning.

The story in this issue is rather more lighthearted (well from the quick flick I had when i took it out to photograph it, anyway). Several of the boys from St Frank’s end up at an uninhabited stately home for Christmas, with only one butler and no food! But they suspect the castle is haunted – especially when a huge feast seemingly appears by a miracle on the dining table that was completely bare only half an hour before. I doubt it’s worth betting that the ‘ghost’ turns out to be Nelson Lee playing a Christmas prank and that a jolly holiday of crackling fires and gigantic cakes ends the tale.


Christmas in space

Now it’s the 1950’s and we’ve never had it so good – Photogravure printing of art and writing that well deserves it, a genius artist firing on all cylinders and a minutely-researched science-fiction tale where British pluck, and not technobabble, reversed polarities and sonic screwdrivers wins the day! This is the first Christmas issue of The Eagle – a title that hardly needs introduction. It was created by a Reverend and intended to kill off the popular horror comics of the time. Sound familiar?

Of course I don’t own the actual issue, this is just a reproduced cover in a book about the comic’s most famous character – Dan Dare! They really pulled out all the stops on ‘decorating’ this cover, with holly between the panels!


Ahh the festive tradition of poisonous gas – bring back the dying Robin!

Now it’s 1952 and Dan Dare still adorns the cover of The Eagle, which is still at the top of it’s game. It hit the ground running and barely faltered for 10 years! This issue isn’t quite so christmas-ey, no holly between the panels. Mind you the snow on the logo is now present and correct.

 Dan Dare and The Eagle copyrighted, trademarked and sole property of The Dan Dare Corporation PLC LTD KGB NKVD 1950-perpetuity. No infringement, expungement or disengagement of the copyright solely owned by the Dan Dare Corporation is hereby expressed, implied or implicated. Use of photographs of covers of The Eagle, copyright of the Dan Dare Corporation 1950-perpetuity, complies with the fair use law regarding critcism and/or review.

And I managed to make a whole post that didn’t involve Chums!

Hunji The Hindoo – one of the last things written by Harry Blyth

Harry Blyth is a curious name in the history of British comics. He created Sexton Blake, one of thier greatest and most popular characters. But, apart from the very first stories, had virtually no input into the development of that character, nor did he live to see Blake reach the household name status he did in the 20th century. Born in 1852, Blyth worked for several publishing companies as a freelance writer and journalist. He wrote a series of short stories called “Third Class Crimes”, which bought him to the attention of Alfred Harmsworth, who had just launched his new story-paper The Halfpenny Marvel. Sherlock Holmes had recently been “bumped off”, and various publishers were scrambling to fill the void. Harmsworth comissioned a detective story from Blyth, and so Sexton Blake made his first appearance in issue 6 of the Halfpenny Marvel, in december 1893. A few more Harry Blyth (though the first story, and a few others, were written under the pen name “Hal Meredith”) Sexton Blake stories appeared, before he died of typhoid in 1898.

So, if he created such a well-known and long-lived character, Harry Blyth must have been a brilliant writer, right? Well… No! Virtually every story of his, that I have seen, have been borderline-unreadable. The plots rely on ridiculous coincidences, things that happen with no explanation (things often blow up if it’s convenient!), and people magically knowing about / forgetting things when they need to. Apart from Sexton Blake, Harry wrote several other adventure stories, including “The Magic Island”, a messy story about the exlixir of life, which was reviewed in my old Union Jack Index blog. In this post, I’m going to take a look at a longer serial he wrote for Chums, shortly before his death (in fact, he died during publication – I’ve added in a small note that appeared at the time). His short stories often ended abruptly, as if he’d run out of space – what are his longer stories like? Do they fit together better? Let’s find out!

Hunji The Hindoo


The start of the first installment, which names some other stories he has written for Cassell’s, the publisher of Chums at the time (though it was later bought out by Amalgamated Press).

I’ll start off by clarifying the title. In those days, “Hindoo” did not nessescarily refer to a Hindu, it was a word used to describe a person’s apperance – somebody with a turban and a long beard. Except it’s actually Sikhs who have turbans and grow thier beards long (well, they’re meant to, anyway!). Though a lot of these stories about about gentlemen adventurers, roaming all over the world, they were often written by poor people who would have considered a short trip to France “exotic”. (Though Chums was slightly more ‘upmarket’ and did have a few genuine adventurers in it’s ranks, we can presume the present writer wasn’t one of them!).

BUT, the artist of the story hasn’t even drawn what was considered to be a “Hindoo” at the time, so Hunji actually looks a general “swarthy villain” of the era – an image usually used to reprsent an Italian, Spanish or Gypsy. His religion has nothing to do with Hinduism either, or any other of the major religions of India! It’s more like a sort of idol-worship practiced by African tribes, or possibly Chinese-style ancestor worship.

But lets not dwell on such details, or before you know it i’ll be judging antique publications by modern standards, and this isn’t going to be that sort of blog! I’ll run through the story part by part, looking at the inexplicable events, silly cliffhangers and odd occurrences within. One of the things I like about this serial is how, on occasion, the story shifts to the perspective of the villain. This even extends to some of the cliffhangers, sometimes a chapter will end with the villains at an impasse, rather than the heroes!

Part 1 – Chums no. 278, January 5th 1898


Cover billing! The hero, Ready Ralston, is being arrested while Hunji stands in the background.

This first installment introduces the hero of the tale, Ready Ralston (Harry clearly liked to give his heroes strange names) . He is a pupil at Dr ‘Caney’ Woodward’s school, and rescues a new pupil, called Willie Scott, from bullies. This lad is (presumably) half Indian, but his parents were murdered because his father stole something from a temple belonging to an “exclusive sect” of, ahem, Hindoo’s. Willie ended up living with his English uncle, who is a scientist. Willie is also due to inherit the thing his father stole when he is older. The “exclusive sect of Hindoo’s” want to kill him and capture this item for themselves.

The two start to talk about sailing, for Ready owns a small yacht and promises Willie a sail in her. They return to the school, where they first meet Hunji the Hindoo! He says he was a friend of Willie’s father and uncle in India, and wants to meet Willie whilst he is in England. He offers the boys some wine, but secretly drops some poison into Willie’s glass. Just then a policeman walks into the room, to arrest Ready Ralston! Hunji insists Willie finishes his wine before they go to the police station.


Hunji, his moustache resembles the one the Kaiser of Germany had!

Part 2 – No. 279, January 12th 1898

Willie is just about to drink the wine, when the highly-stereotyped Scottish groundskeeper of the school (why no, I doubt Matt Groening has read this story!), who is also in the room, spots the headmaster coming and throws it out of the window. Ready Ralston is to be arrested for attacking Ned Breton, the bully from earlier (and an expelled former pupil of the school). Actually Ready had just fought him off to protect the young Willie. Thugs and bullies running to the police as soon as somebody stands up to them? It’s the same thing 112 years later!

The headmaster reads the arrest warrant, and discovers the magistrate who issued it is Ned Breton’s own father. It’s clearly a prejudiced case, and tells the policeman he can’t arrest Ready without any real evidence. After the policeman leaves, the headmaster gives Hunji a tour of the school. During this, Hunji secretly marks Willie’s bed, and the door of his dormitory.

That night, the other boys dress up as ghosts to “haze” Willie. However as they creep to his dormitory they run into a hideous creature – as tall as a man, with leathery bat-like wings, slippery skin and glowing red eyes!


Part 3 – No. 280, January 19th 1898

The screaming boys wake the entire school, the first people on the scene find them in shock, though there is no sign of the monster. The groundskeeper is convinced that one party, dressed as ghosts, ran into the other unexpectedly and they scared each other! The headmaster shows up and the “ghosts” slink off to their beds. However one of the boys, the one who first ran into the monster, is found insensible – dead!

Hunji shows up, feigning ignorance as to the cause of the screams. He inspects the ‘dead’ boy and discovers that he has actually just fainted. A doctor arrives and says that the boy has been bitten by a small animal, but Hunji wipes away the “bites” and says he is simply in shock. But only seconds later says that Indians are more used to “such attacks” by small animals? Eh?

The scene then shifts to the house of Professor Falkland Scott, who is working on a way to “decompose the elements” (you need one of them Hadron Colliders, mate). Hunji comes to visit, and we learn a little about his odd religion – He accepts an offer of curry, saying he is cosmopolitan in his tastes (as an Indian being offered Indian food would, eh?) but the story says that his religion doesn’t allow him to eat meat. They then talk about seeking “the great sun stone”, mentioned in manuscripts written by “Isiti the sage”, which talk of “the god of the sun” who cast his fires upon the earth and created volcanoes. However one of his missiles, the Sun Stone, came to rest on an island where time has removed it’s evil qualities and filled it with good. Anybody who finds the Sun Stone will come to have “limitless wealth and endless fame!” …none of which has anything to do with Hinduism!

Hunji says he has a map which shows the location of the Sun Stone – it’s on Formosa, which was Chinese, but at the time of the story was ruled by Japan, though was apparently still infested with Chinese criminals. Formosa is now known as Taiwan! But I think it was a wilderness at the time. He says he needs money for an expedition, money that Professor Scott can provide. The two plan their voyage, and later the conversation turns to Willie Scott – when he is 21 he will inherit his father’s money and also the “Staff of Vashti”. This is the object which had been stolen from the “exclusive sect of Hindoos” – who are now named as Mesus. This story really does read like a stream of consciousness at some points! The professor says that if Willie dies before he reaches 21 then nobody will be able to claim his money, though the staff is actually hidden in the house. Hunji realises if he wants the money he will have to capture Willie, and force it out of him, but he decides to capture the staff right away! He picks the lock of the chest it is in, but suddenly a rabid dog bursts through the window and attacks him!


The first time in the story where the cliffhanger ending actually puts the villain in peril rather than the heroes – a brilliant idea! It’s just a shame it’s saddled with this story! One wonders what Harry Blyth could have come up with if he’d been given time and money to write something decent and not hack out any old nonsense just to pay the rent!

“But what about the monster? Surely it’s amazing that Hunji can actually summon demons?” you might be asking, well… it’s never mentioned again! Note also the part about Formosa being a haunt of Chinese criminals but part of the Japanese empire. Do Chinese or Japanese people show up at all in the story? Nope!

 Part 4 – No. 281, January 26 1898

Hunji drops the staff of Vashti, so he can defend himself against the dog. However the staff groans like a human when it hits the ground, causing the dog to pick it up and run away with it. Hunji quickly closes the lid of the chest, and lays on the floor as if he’s fainted. The professor and housekeeper find him like that and leave him to “recover”, he pulls out some idols to worship, gets angry with them for ‘losing’ him the staff, but then has an attack of superstition, and prays for forgiveness. He decides to ‘dispose of’ the professor on the voyage to find the Sun Stone, then return and search the whole house and grounds for the lost staff.

Meanwhile, Ned Breton sneaks aboard Ready Ralston’s yacht and plans to drill a hole in the bottom. But Ready and Willie come along and set sail, with Ned still hiding below.

Part 5 – No. 282, February 2, 1898

Ready and Willie are enjoying thier trip, while Ned still hides below, going slowly mad. He begins to think they know he is there, and are deliberately keeping him prisoner.

Eventually a storm blows up, but Ready is a competent sailor and enjoys the challenge and danger. However Ned Breton is driven even more insane, with seasickness and fear. When Willie comes below for something the thug attacks him and ties him up. Then he goes on deck and begs Ready to let him help sail the yacht back to land. When Ready refuses Ned reveals that he has Willie tied up below – and inadvertently shows Ready the drill, which is still in his hand. As they argue Ready spots a large vessel approaching them, then Ned is suddenly grabbed from behind and pulled backwards into the cabin.

Part 6 – No. 283

Willie appears on deck, he had escaped Ned’s crude bonds. The two break out the oars to try and row the yacht out of the path of the approaching steamer, but the heavy swell holds them still. Ready snatches up Willie and leaps at the last moment, grabbing a trailing chain from the steamer. The yacht is smashed into matchwood and the wreckage, with Ned Breton swimming amongst it, is lost astern. The two climb aboard the steamer but find the decks deserted, there is not even a watch. They take a look around, peer through a skylight and are shocked to see…

The story then jumps back to Burton Towers, where Hunji and the Professor are preparing for their voyage. The professor has the idea that “such an ancient race as the Hindoos” must possess great secrets that have been lost to time, and that modern science is simply a rediscovery of the ancient ‘magic’ of long-lost civilisations. Hunji implies that some of this is true… and that he is in fact possibly centuries old, his ageing halted by the elixir of life!  (The search for such a potion is also the theme of another Harry Blyth tale, The Magic Island, from The Union Jack).

Hunji later introduces the professor to the captain and officers of the ship he has engaged, who are little better than pirates. The first mate is a hideous villain named Thomas Pill, the cook is named Mr Bundersnatch and boasts he can drink a gallon of rum and not get into a fight. The captain is called Nathan Jork, as these sailors start to party the professor’s housekeeper suddenly springs at the captain, determined to settle some old score. Meanwhile Thomas Pill draws a dagger and advances on his captain’s attacker…

Part 7, No. 284, February 16, 1898

Hunji throws Tom Pill off just before he lands a fatal blow, then drags the Professor’s housekeeper, Dennis, away too. Dennis says that Nathan Jork apprenticed his son, only to subject him to ruthless and barbaric treatment and finally kill him. Jork fills in the story – he had forced his crew to swear that the death was an accident, but one of the other sailors on that voyage had made a deathbed confession to Dennis. However a jury had found Jork innocent at the time, and Dennis had been confined to an asylum for a time… and now who would believe a lunatic?

The sailors later leave for the ship, The Weasel, complaining that these modern times aren’t nearly as “fun” as the old days of piracy! Dennis watches them go, determined to save the professor from “the villainy that hems him in on all sides”. The voyage commences and Hunji muses on his failure to recover the staff. If he doesn’t bring it to his masters he will be killed, as well as being denied entry to paradise after death.

Meanwhile the captain and his officers, such as they are, are already deciding to steal the “loot”, whatever it turns out to be, that they are sailing to recover, and murder the professor and Hunji. They then begin to talk in superstitious tones about the powers of the Hindoo, when he reveals that he has entered the room without them knowing. He pretends not to have heard what they were saying and joins them in drinking. Soon they are blind drunk but he is as sober, cool and calculating as ever. He returns to the cabin he shares with the professor thinking he has nothing to fear from the pirates. He also muses on Indian nationalism and thinks that if all his countrymen had his own intelligence and ruthlessness then maybe Britain would be in the Indian empire, and not the other way around! However his thoughts are broken when he enters the cabin and finds Professor Scott huddled on the floor – dead!

This is the episode in which Harry Blyth’s death is announced, so he must have passed away at some point in the preceding week. The note does not make it clear what his last story was, only that Hunji the Hindoo is “one of the latest”. With the typical style of the age they are able to slip in an advertisement for another Cassell’s publication!


A British comics creator passes… too many have gone unnoticed by all except the publications they appeared in.

Part 8 – No. 285, February 23, 1898

Hunji discovers that Professor Scott has taken some poison accidentally, he meant to take a “sleeping draught”. Hunji fetches a deadly poison of his own and gives it to the professor. This poison is deadly but destroys other poisons as it does it’s work, so they cancel each other out. However the after-effects leave the professor brainwashed and liable to suggestions. Hunji plans to use this in his favour – getting the professor to sign a document that turns Willie over to Hunji’s care should any ‘accident’ happen.

Asking the captain for his two most reliable men as witnesses, Hunji hypnotises the professor and has him write out the document. However just as he is about to sign it Willie Scott and Ready Ralston burst in – the ship they had ended up on board was the Weasel!

Part 9 – No. 286, March 2, 1898

Hunji quickly hides the document the professor was about to sign. The appearance of his nephew brings the professor back to himself, but he can remember nothing about what passed whilst he was hypnotised. One man does know what happened, though, Tom Pill, who was hiding under the table! He is discovered when he is accidentally kicked, but makes up a story about being asleep under there. He has, however, decided that Hunji is beyond the pale and vows to “make a start on” the Hindoo.

Hunji attempts to cultivate the friendship of Ready Ralston during the voyage – and is shocked when the youth asks him for the paper he was trying to get Professor Scott to sign! Hunji is trapped and hands over the paper, which goes overboard. But Hunji then traps Ready, by saying that as a feud existed between Ready Ralston and Ned Breton it will take the testimony of the ship’s crew to clear Ready of the possible charge of murdering Ned.

Ready, surprisingly, cultivates the friendship of Tom Pill. Hunji engages the latter in conversation and offers him twenty pounds to throw Ready overboard. Tom refuses and stalks away, muttering he’d like to throw Hunji overboard just for the fun of it. A few days later the island of Formosa is reached… but, as Hunji cries in despair, “the god of fire has seized the island for his own!”. A sheet of flame flashes over the mountains and the terrible heat can be felt on board the ship!


The god of the flash has seized most of the picture for his own!

 Part 10 – No. 287, March 9, 1898

The huge fire is not a volcano, but simply the natives starting a fire on a mountain-top to burn out the spirits, so says Tom Pill. The story then turns into brief profile of the island. It has two ports that are better suited to Chinese junks than European ships, and the native tribes of the unexplored interior are constantly at war with each other – except for when they unite to hunt for the heads of Chinese and Europeans!

Hunji suggests that he, Professor Scott, Captain Jork and Tom Pill go ashore in a boat. Ready convinces them to take him and Willie along. Which Hunji readily agrees to. The party land their boat on the mouth of a river but barely have time to look around before a horde of savages burst from the undergrowth. The small party are worried and Ready tells Willie to swim back to the ship and get help. However Hunji reveals that he is the chief of the tribe! He asks for Willie to be bought forth, but is dismayed to see him boarding the Weasel. Hunji springs at Ready, who knocks him down. Seconds later the ship explodes and Captain Jork begins to grapple with Ready… meanwhile the savages move in, to avenge the attack on their leader!

Part 11 – No. 288, March 16, 1898


Ready suffers torture by ape under the throne of the king of the savages!

The professor, who is largely absent-minded and emotionless anyway, sets about trying to help Hunji up rather than mourn for the sudden death of his nephew. This appeases the natives, who stop attacking. They are also appeased by Ready Ralston being held firmly by the captain. They assume this man is in league with Hunji and are prepared to wait until they can torture Ready and offer him up as a human sacrifice.

Hunji orders his tribe to press on into the forest, telling the captain and Tom Pill to remain behind on the beach. These two feel it would be death either way, so decide to covertly follow Hunji and kill him. However Tom no longer trusts his captain, and so forces him to go ahead, unarmed!

The party of natives, Hunji and the professor press on into the jungle. Hunji explains that his father is the king of this tribe. He also casually explains that his father is a thousand years old and he himself is of incalculable age. The professor seems to take this amazing statement totally in his stride. But that’s a Harry Blyth story for you!

Soon the reach the city of the tribe, where Hunji’s father sits in state. They also have a pet ape that is super-strong and intelligent. Hunji orders it to kill one of the tribe at random, which it does. He then orders it to attack Ready. The professor shoots at it, but discovers too late that Hunji has loaded his revolver with blanks! Ready and Professor Scott are made prisoners… but at night Ready is awoken by Willie! He survived the blast and tracked them here, as he starts to untie Ready one of the savages begins to crawl towards them.

Part 12 – No. 289, March 23 1898

Willie finishes untying Ready and then hides, so Ready is able to surprise the savage. Soon he is tied up in Ready’s place and the two make their escape from the tribe’s arena-like city. They finally hide up a tree in the surrounding forest and talk about what to do next. Willie doesn’t really explain how he survived the explosion. Nor does he know how the ship was blown up, vaguely suggesting that “there was a good deal of powder on board, and the crew were a dreadfully careless lot”. Hmm, something exploding with only the vaguest explanation seems to be a Harry Blyth trademark! Though here it’s more likely Hunji had planted a bomb or something aboard the ship before he left her.

Nathan Jork and Tom Pill happen along at that point, and stop right under the tree that Ready and Willie are hiding in. However they shoot a snake, which is bound to bring the natives running. As they argue Ready and Willie drop on them, and soon capture the guns. Captain Jork runs off but Tom Pill vows to stick by Ready for the coming fight. The three hear the savages ahead of them, and Ready urges the other two to hide in a tree. He is quickly captured by Hunji… but suddenly seems to have a change of heart and immediately tells the hindoo where Willie is hidden! Willie is in deep despair at this betrayal as the three are led back to the native city.


Also during this part Tom refers to guns as “settling tools”, which is the phrase i will be using if i ever end up on some adventure where i need to carry firearms.

Part 13 – No. 290, March 30, 1898

Hunji turns the charm on Willie as they trek back to the city, with Ready Ralston joining in. Tom Pill is easily placated by being told that he can become the next king of the tribe once Hunji’s father returns to India. Tom is immediately lost in thoughts of creating a country of lawlessness with himself at it’s head.  Somehow he doesn’t see the possibility of a trap in the scheme!

With the three safely back in the city, and Professor Scott too absorbed  in his studies to even realise he is a prisoner, things look bleak. Ready becomes more and more friendly with Hunji. The two make plans that will result in his and Tom Pill’s fortunes being made, for there is a rich diamond mind elsewhere on the island. But first Hunji needs the professor’s signature on a will, just like he did before. He gives Ready a ring that will allow him to pass among the natives in safety. But no sooner is this in Ready’s hands than Hunji finds himself set upon and tied up! Ready was only bluffing and now rushes to the rescue of his friends.

Part 14 – No. 291, April 6, 1898

Ready comes before Hunji’s father, wearing the ring. However elderly leader suspects a trick regardless and calls to the tribe’s pet ape. It springs at Ready who is, erm, ready with Hunji’s prized jewelled dagger. He plunges this into the beast and kills it. Hunji’s father says Hunji would not give his dagger to anybody unless he completely trusted them, and leads the way to the professor. He shows Ready two inks, one of which vanishes after an hour, the other lasts forever. They must get the professor to write a document with the first and sign with the second… so that they may later fill in something else!

However as the two near his cell they are confronted by Willie, who is determined to stop the plot. They take him into the room, which has a door that can only be opened from the outside, and act as if they are getting the professor to sign a completley innocent document… one that will of course be changed later. However Ready puts himself between Hunji’s father and the door, then reveals his true aim! He ushers the Scotts out of the room whilst holding the chief at bay. Then goes to slam the door on him. At the last second the chief pulls out a concealed revolver and fires, hitting Ready. He collapses, wounded severely, and the professor goes to his aid… suddenly a voice rings out, telling them they are “in such a precious pickle as you can’t escape from till you are dyed more red than master Ralston is now!”.

Part 15 – No 292, April 13, 1898

The voice belongs to Tom Pill, who is thinking of helping the natives re-capture their escaping prisoners, to smooth things over for when he becomes their king. However Ready springs up and threatens him with Hunji’s poisoned dagger, and soon he is back on side. The professor tightly binds a stone against Ready’s arm to stop the flow of blood from the wound, and they begin to make their escape. Tom Pill’s status as king-to-be helps them get past the natives, as does the fact several of them are off hunting for Chinese heads!

They escape the city, and are forced to hide in a tree when a party of the returning savages passes beneath, carrying their gruesome prizes. The professor, slowing them up as it is with his constant stopping to inspect unusual plants, thinks he can  smell hints of volcanic activity in the air. Eventually they come to the diamond mine, and pick up a pocketful of the valuable gems. Tom Pill, driven crazy by greed, wants to get hold of the entire haul for himself, and when denied rushes back to the end of the valley in which the mine is located and shouts to Hunji and his tribe, who are now following closely.

However at that moment there is a huge and sudden volcanic eruption! The sky is turned black and flaming debris rains down. A huge part of the nearby mountain is blown away and millions of tons of red-hot rubble tumbles onto the luckless natives and their leader. Ready and the Scotts rush to the coast – finding the body of Nathan Jork, and Dennis, the professor’s housekeeper! He has followed the Weasel to the island in another ship and killed Jork in revenge for his son. Suddenly the professor hears voices in the jungle… Hunji has survived and is following them with the remains of his tribe!


“The giant rocks crashed to pieces with a deafening roar”

Part 16 – No. 298, April 20, 1898

Ready, near to the point of collapse with his wounds at the long journey to the coast, is bundled into the ship’s boat and the party narrowly escape the spears of Hunji and his tribe. Aboard the ship, Merrythought, they run into Mr Bundersnatch who also survived the destruction of the Weasel. He says he is going to “regular turn over a noo leaf” and open up a shop selling lifebelts. Stuffed with shavings rather than cork for more profit, of course!

The captain of the ship says that the expedition to follow the professor was organised by Dennis, Dr Woodward of the school and Colonel Ralston, Ready’s father. He also warns that there are people saying that Ready must have murdered Ned Breton, as Hunji had threatened! However these details are forgotten on the long and tedious voyage. For all the villainy of Nathan Jork’s crew they knew how to sail a ship! Finally they reach England and are in for a shock – Hunji is there! And he immediately hands Ready and Willie to the police, charged with the murder of Ned Breton. He and Tom Pill both overheard their “confession”!

Part 17, No. 294, April 27, 1898

The case looks black against Ready and Willie. Their solicitor, Mr Bicks, says that Mr Bundersnatch has dissapeared. Not surprising for a pirate when the police are involved. The two are bought up in court and have no real way of disproving the charge. Their amazing story of adventure and account of Hunji’s villainy would do them no good in front of a down-to-earth jury.

Suddenly Squire Breton bursts into the court with his son! Ned had survived by clinging to the wreck of the yacht for two days. He was finally picked up by a Spanish ship, but was struck by fever and a raving lunatic for some time. Finally he recovered his senses and contacted his father, who came to find him, and then rushed back, learning of the court case. With the victim alive and well… and repentant too, there is no murder case! Hunji slips silently out of the court.

The party, united again, have much to celebrate, though they suspect Hunji will make his way to the professor’s house. The following day they travel there, and discover Hunji, half-mad, perched on the edge of a cliff with the Staff of Vashti. He tells them all it will strike them blind by magic. They close in to capture him but the dog, angry at the theft of “his” staff, is quicker, and leaps at Hunji from a bush. The two of them plummet to their doom on the rocks below, the staff of Vashti, the source of danger for Willie, goes with them.


The end of Hunji


this is a pretty good story compared to other Harry Blyth efforts that I have read. Often his shorter stories in publications such as The Halfpenny Marvel or Union Jack tried to cram in far too many events and thus became very confused or illogical. This tale, being a serial, has a lot more room to grow and explain just why the characters are doing whatever they are doing.

That said there’s still plenty of strange and unexplained occurrences. For instance just what was the horrible bat-like creature encountered in the school? Is Hunji able to actually summon demons from hell? Is the magical staff of Vashti actually enchanted? It groans like a man when dropped and, after falling in the sea, is said to have returned to India. There’s also quite a few all-too-convenient events which aid Hunji’s plans, but which only happen by luck. For instance the professor taking a sleeping draught that renders him liable to suggestion… he seems rather distracted and absent-minded for the rest of the story. Even so far as allowing himself to be virtually imprisoned in the native city. The “sun stone” is pretty much forgotten once the party set foot on the island too.

In addition people returning from the dead is a cliffhanger and resolution that occurs rather too often. Hunji’s survival of the volcano and subsequent pursuit of the party through the jungle is rather too ‘soon’ and obviously just used to provide another action scene (mind you i suppose Harry only had a limited space to fit an installment in to, and felt the need to keep the pace up!). It would have been more ‘shocking’ if Ready and Willie think they have left Hunji’s body far behind only for him to re-appear in England ready to have them arrested. Some of the other cliffhanger escapes are rather lame too, puts me in mind of the “it’s only a cardboard cut out!” repeatedly used in Viz! The use of cliffhangers that involve the villains is, as i’ve said twice already, a fantastic idea that i’ve never seen in stories before, and which i will promptly stea-er-be inspired by.

A word must be said for the brilliant character of Thomas Pill, while i’m here. He is never really illustrated but his hideous, leering face springs off the page nonetheless. His complete and utter lack of morals and willingness to change sides at the drop of a hat to save himself is a perverse joy to read.

In the end this is a story i enjoyed reading, it rattles along at a good pace and there’s always some interesting reverse around the corner to keep the heroes and villains guessing. One wonders what would have happened if Harry Blyth had been given the chance to write a long serial about his greatest character in a paper such as The Boys’ Friend…

Murder in Melchester!

Everybody remembers where they were when they heard Roy Race had been shot. For instance i distinctly remember not being born yet.

But who remembers the other high profile attempted murder case from that “large, old fashioned town” located “about sixty miles from London“? The attempted murder of the chemist Leonard Jardine by the town’s respected doctor Edward Sharlaw? This case, as it developed in 1928, caused no end of sensation in the newspapers of Amalgamated Press Land. After an investigation by the famous detective Sexton Blake the doctor was cleared of the charge, as the chemist had been injured by accident and confessed all after the doctor’s son, himself a spinal expert, saved his life.


Despite the naming coincidence, i’d say it’s pretty unlikely that anybody involved in Roy of the Rovers, despite the fact it was published by IPC which was a descendant of AP, had ever read this story. It’s just one of those things… (also it seems fairly likely that the Melchester of Roy of the Rovers is supposed to be a lot further north).

Bad news from Classics Illustrated! + new stuff.

After my last post, suggesting that perhaps Classics Illustrated were going to start using a more sensible colour scheme in Macbeth, i couldn’t wait to get the comic – well i did yesterday, and it appears that i was premature with my praise. The preview picture on the back of the issue had evidently been taken from an old issue, as they hadn’t finished ruining “modernising” the artwork for publication. Here is what the previewed page actually looks like:

classics 3

As you can see the bright primary colours have returned with a vengeance! Just look at this page from elsewhere in the issue:

classics 4

Pink and yellow fields? Purple mountains? Green and yellow castle walls? Based on the preview image on the back of this one, the next issue, The Invisible Man, is going to be back to abnormal too.

New items!I’ve actually bought a great deal of new stuff since my  last post, which will hopefully be described in future posts. But here are some of the more recent and interesting items:

Sexton Blake: A Celebration

blake book 1994

This is a book from 1994, published by “Museum Press”, which details the history of Sexton Blake in exhaustive detail (though not as exhaustive as the recent radio documentary… but that also made a few mistakes / deliberatley twisted details to ‘fit in’ with the awful “comedy” series / read out period adverts in a ridiculous voice). I paid £25 for it and i haven’t seen it before, which suggests it’s pretty rare. Perhaps “self published” in a small print run? The end of the book mentions a planned TV series, which ended up never being made.

A TV series could be well-done today if producers put thier minds to it – taking Doctor Who for inspiration they could jump around Blake’s extraordinary lifespan, setting one episode in the 1890’s and the next in the 1950’s, for instance. Mind you i wouldn’t trust many people in the ‘meedja’ to do such a series correctly… they’d probably turn it into unfunny trash just like with the radio series. (And apparently the 1978 TV series was pretty bad too)

James Bond Omnibus

James bond omnibus

This is a beautifully-reproduced collection of several of the James Bond newspaper comic strips which existed before the films. They are products of their time rather than being, well, products of their time like the films are. This means that Bond thunders around in a pre-war “blower” Bentley rather than an Aston with loads of comedy gadgets. I certainly know which one i’d prefer! The collection is enticingly numbered 001 – are they aiming for a ‘complete run’ of all the strips eventually?

The Gem issues 1-15


Wha-a-a-a-a-t?, as Quelchy himself might say. These aren’t the originals, but facsimilies, seemingly sold individually just like the real issues were (only on much thicker, better paper) and bound privately by a collector, as opposed to the W Howard Baker preprint books which collected ‘runs’ of issues as a book.I didn’t know there had been individual facimilies issued… perhaps they were sold through the now-defunct “Old Boys’ Book Club”? (well, i beleive it continues as a Charles Hamilton focused Yahoo group… but i was summarily thrown out after, i suspect, they looked at the other groups i was a member of – gay/swinging ones – and got rid of me) Either way there was several of these being sold on Ebay, the Gem in blue covers and the Magnet in red covers, all beautifully bound and certian to last down the generations, it’s a shame the collection was being broken up really, but i couldn’t have afforded them all! Still it’s a shame i didn’t buy more as several would have looked great on the shelf together:


Oh, and like Batman, the most famous character from this comic didn’t actually appear in the first issue! Here he is appearing in the third:


Tom Merry & Co certianly took over in The Gem a lot more quickly than Sexton Blake did in the Union Jack. In issue 11 he moved from his initial Clavering school to St Jim’s, where he would remain for almost 40 years (erm, best not think about it, it just works!) and from then on the main story in each Gem was about this school and the boys and masters in it. Once the Magnet had been launched and established crossovers between the schools and characters of the two papers (and later other schools from The Boys’ Friend, and girls schools from papers such as School Friend) became commonplace. Other AP characters including Sexton Blake also made appearances from time to time.

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, 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 which will eventually be integrated with the main site. Parts of it already link “in one direction”.

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!


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!