Saturday, 21 February 2015

Francis Durbridge: A Centenary Appreciation

My enthusiasm for Francis Durbridge dates back to my school days - I was just eleven when I saw Bat Out of Hell on TV, and loved it. That serial starred John Thaw, long before he became Inspector Morse. Later, I enjoyed reading books about the genre written by Melvyn Barnes, and although he and I have never met, I've been delighted to get to know him via cyberspace, and recently to learn about a very worthwhile project of his, Francis Durbridge: A CentenaryAppreciation. So I invited Melvyn to write a guest blog to share the news - and here it is:

"I have never been a full-time writer, having spent my entire career as a chartered librarian until retiring in 2002 after eighteen years as Director of Libraries and Art Galleries for the City of London.  But crime fiction has been a lifetime interest, which led to part-time writing and the publication of my books Best Detective Fiction, Dick Francis, and Murder in Print, together with numerous contributions to magazines and reference books such as Twentieth Century Crime and Mystery Writers, The Oxford Companion to Crime and Mystery Writers and Scribner’s Mystery and Suspense Writers.

As a youngster during the “wireless” years I was captivated by the Francis Durbridge serials featuring Paul Temple, and later by his television serials that in their day attracted record viewing figures.  So much so, that well into retirement I decided it was time to take up the pen again and fill a gap by producing a unique account of Durbridge’s work.

It proved to be an unexpectedly complex and lengthy process, requiring several years’ research including many sessions at the British Library, the (late lamented) Newspaper Library in Colindale and the BBC Written Archives Centre at Caversham.  This provided countless details about Durbridge’s twenty-eight Paul Temple radio serials and plays from 1938 to 1968, his seventeen television serials from 1952 to 1980, his thirty-five novels from 1938 to 1988 and his nine stage plays from 1971 onwards.  Truly surprising, however, was the extent of his other works – nine cinema films were made from his radio and television serials, he wrote three novels as newspaper serials that were never published in book form, two plays long before he was recognised as a stage dramatist, and a Paul Temple comic strip for the London Evening News which ran for over twenty years.  Most surprising of all was the revelation of his prolific output for the radio, which not only included many non-criminous scripts but also non-Temple plays and serials featuring other detectives, using his own name and three pseudonyms.

This long period of slogging research frequently led me from one reference to another, with the final clinching of answers to previously unresolved questions.  It not only informed my introductory survey of Durbridge’s work, but it resulted in a comprehensive annotated listing of his novels and all his other works – including the first full listing of his Paul Temple comic strips.  It also enabled me to provide summaries of his plots (without spoilers, of course), with production and cast details of his radio, television, stage and cinema works.  Another important achievement was to show the links between them, to identify which were original and which were re-writes.  My ultimate satisfaction, however, came from the unearthing of so much new information, and not least in debunking the numerous errors that perpetuate on the Internet.

Francis Durbridge died in 1998, but today he retains a substantial fan base and attracts many new enthusiasts.  His serials are regularly repeated on Radio 4 Extra, re-creations of his “lost” serials have been produced on Radio 4, his novels continue to be reprinted, and there is a thriving trade in audiobooks, e-books and DVDs.

Although my earlier books were commissioned by commercial publishers, this time I decided to go it alone.  A commercial publisher would have required something more elaborate, probably with extensive biographical material and the addition of illustrations (acquired at my own expense), whereas I felt confident that I had already achieved all I set out to do.

So to order a signed copy of this 140 page paperback, post/packing included (UK only), send a cheque for £10.99 (payable to Melvyn Barnes) to 7 Netherhall Close, Old Newton, Stowmarket, Suffolk IP14 4RP.  And for overseas orders, information can be obtained by emailing "

I can only add that my copy arrived today and I'm enjoying reading it already.


Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

This sounds marvellous - I certainly want a copy - hope to have a cheque in the post on Monday (assuming I can find my chequebook - it's been ages since I used anything but plastic)

Anonymous said...

I can only concur - a fascinating book about a much neglected author, who was once so famous he cleared the streets when people wanted to know the denouement of the mystery on TV. I have very fond memories of the Tim Frazer series when I was a youngster. Good gripping TV. Melvyn needs a medal for his research and application. His determination to get the real facts, as opposed to the internet falacies,has been wonderful. A definitve book Liz Gilbey