Fiction Serials in The Star
The Star, like other British newspapers, followed the French newspaper tradition of publishing "feuilletons." That is, devoting a section of its pages to the inclusion of a literary piece. For much of its history The Star published a good deal of full-length novels that appeared in instalments over a period of several weeks. Light romance, crime fiction and adventure stories all featured regularly in The Star in the period from the 1899 to 1935. The paper did of course print complete short stories as well as serials, although due to space limitations it tended to stick to just one or the other in a single issue. Although The Star and indeed many other newspapers had a long history of publishing fiction, it should be noted that many orthodox journalists opposed the inclusion of stories. Their argument was that as the main business of a newspaper is to report the news, space should not be sacrificed for such trivial material as fiction. Nevertheless, novels published in instalments proved to be a very popular feature in The Star, with many noted authors providing scintillating tales for the enjoyment of the thousands of commuters in London who read the paper on the way home from work.
The very first serial to appear in The Star was Israel Zangwill's "The Big Bow Mystery," a classic of detective fiction that ran in August and September of 1891. Zangwill grew up in the East End of London, a Zionist whose high-profile work to better the lives of the oppressed made him a famous personage in the Jewish community and an important historical figure. His fondness for The Star, which shared a number of his views, was obvious. In a special anniversary edition of the newspaper published many years later, Zangwill remembered with affection the appearance of his serial in The Star and how it helped his early writing career.
Several years were to pass before the next serial, Robert Buchanan's last novel "Andromeda: A Tale of the Great River" appeared in The Star in daily instalments from December 1899 to January 1900. This tale was published prior to its publication in book form. A precedent was now set, with the paper acquiring exclusive rights to publish many more novels before they appeared elsewhere in the coming years. In the early part of the twentieth century a variety of authors contributed novels to the The Star. Several well known writers appeared in the years leading up to the First World War, among them were Joseph Conrad, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Lady Troubridge and Robert Halifax.
As an aside, it is worth noting here that The Star also printed a number of first chapters for novels that were to appear in other periodicals. Most commonly these works were published in The Star's sister newspaper the Morning Leader (later absorbed by the Daily News). In these instances this was obviously intended to provide readers with a taster of what was to come and naturally encourage people to buy ensuing copies of the Morning Leader or Daily News to find out how the novel developed. This, assuming of course that readers were hooked in the first place! In addition to this, for many years the owners of The Star made arrangements with other newspaper and magazine publishers to publish the first instalments of dozens of novels that were to appear in a variety of rival publications. Thus, The Star printed the opening chapters of novels that went on to be serialised in Answers, Girl's Own Stories, the News of the World, the Daily Mail, Lloyd's News, the Daily Chronicle and so on.
It should be noted here that these items were the exception and not the rule. The Star's own tradition of publishing original serials continued apace, with the complete novels of various authors finding their way into the pages of the paper. Some writers became firm favourites with both the editors and readers of The Star. One of the most prolific of these was Burford Delannoy, who sold four novels (and a few short stories) to the paper from 1900 through 1905. Among these were "In Mid-Atlantic," which like the others went on to appear in book form. Fred M. White was another regular in The Star, contributing seven superb serials to the paper. White was a prolific novelist who published dozens of books from 1896 to 1930.
Headon Hill, who wrote many crime stories, had seven of his novels printed in The Star, with the last appearing in 1913. A versatile and popular author of his day, his countless novels include The Golden Temptress (1924) and The Hour-Glass Mystery (1913). Even more prolific in The Star was Richard Marsh (a pseudonym for Richard Bernard Heldmann), whose ten excellent serials were published in the paper from 1902 through 1914. An accomplished writer of both fact and fiction works, Marsh is best known today for his weird novel The Beetle (1897) though his many other works are worth seeking out. Other novels by Marsh include A Second Coming (1900) and The Woman in the Car (1915). Several collections of his short fiction were published. Among these are The Seen and the Unseen (1900) and Both Sides of the Veil (1902).
Others who sold several of their novels to The Star in the years leading up to the Great War include George Webb Appleton, Tom Gallon and W. A. MacKenzie. All fine writers, whose engaging work kept thousands of Londoners entertained. Star readers would certainly have been thrilled by the five novel-length tales of high adventure supplied by James Maclaren Cobban from 1900 to 1904. The stories Maclaren placed in The Star featured exotic settings and make for engrossing reading. With Cobban having passed away in 1903, his final piece for the paper, "The Terror by Night," was published posthumously in 1904.
Numerous writers had one-off appearances in the paper. The husband-and-wife writing team of Claude and Alice Askew contributed the novel "Behind Shuttered Windows" which ran between December 1908 and February 1909. As well as penning countless other novels, their short fiction appeared in periodicals such as The London Magazine, The Story-Teller and Cassell's. Among other noted writers who sold odd serials to The Star in this early period were E. W. Hornung, Nat Gould, Fergus Hume and David Whitelaw.
During the years of the First World War, serials were printed less frequently than before. A reprint of H. G. Wells' "The War in the Air" ran in The Star in the latter half of 1914. The few other war-time serials were provided by F. M. White, John Shute and Morice Gerard. An important writer who emerged around this period was Sybil Campbell Lethbridge. Her first serial for The Star was "Her Fight with Fate," a brilliant novel that appeared in the autumn of 1913. She went on to sell four more of her novels to the paper after the war, with the last of these published in 1922. Lethbridge became a prolific novelist. Her impressive body of work includes the novels "The Hidden Chain" (1924) and "A Fight for Love" (1940). In compiling this essay, one frustration has been the woeful lack of available information about this author. Unfortunately, I was unable to find out any biographical data on Lethbridge for this website. That aside, I strongly suspect she may well have written more for The Star had the war not intervened, curtailing the amount of fiction in the paper. Rationing certainly took its toll on The Star, but by the early 1920s, the paper, having converted to tabloid in 1918, began to grow in size. Thus, novels began to be published more often in The Star. Indeed, from this point onwards a continuous stream of novels appeared in the paper over the next fifteen or so years.
By far the most prolific contributor of novels to The Star in the period from the 1920s to the mid 1930s was Olive Wadsley. As with Sybil Campbell Lethbridge, little is known of Olive Wadsley in terms of personal information. A brief biographical snippet that appeared in The Star provides us with the following trivia. Wadsley was a keen motorist and theatre-goer who travelled widely and had an interest in languages. She also has the distinction, apparently, of being the first English woman to fly in a Zeppelin at Hamburg! Known mostly as a romantic novelist, she wrote eight serialised novels for the paper between 1913 and 1931. In terms of sheer wordage her output in The Star was immense. Wadley's association with The Star went far beyond the eight novels she contributed. Throughout the 1920s Wadsley wrote countless feature articles for The Star, many of them appearing on the "Woman's Page." Her choice of subject matter was vast, but the essays she contributed were often concerned with human relationships, the role of women in society and such areas as fashion. Her fiction output was published in all manner of magazines including Breezy Stories, The Cavalier and Argosy. Wadsley also sold her work to the Daily News (a newspaper whose fiction I hope to index some day). Although her readership seems to have declined in recent years, her novels, which include Belonging (1920) and Cabaret (1931) were evidently best-sellers, with some of them adapted to film. Her work is surely in dire need of a revival. An amusing footnote to her career with The Star relates to a novel she wrote for the paper. In the latter half of 1928, one of her romantic serials was initially published without a title. Readers were offered a £50 prize for guessing the title that matched the one in Olive Wadsley's mind. The correct title was "We've Found One Another," and the winner was a Miss. A. Chaplin from Balham!
The use of competitions to stir up interest in the fiction contents of The Star was far from unusual. For instance, the editors had a penchant for challenging readers to suggest an ending for more than one serial that ran in the 1920s. E. Clephan Palmer's 1921 serial "The Locked Room" was subject to this treatment, as was "The Man Hunt," a compelling novel by May Edginton which was published in the same year. As their titles suggest, both these serials were crime novels. While it is unwise to make generalisations about the kind of novels published in The Star, it is fair to say that the two genres best represented were the romantic epic and the mystery novel. The beautifully written "What is Love?" by Denise Robins, which ran from December 1925 to February 1926, essentially deals with affairs of the heart. In stark contrast, hard-hitting crime stories such as J. Jefferson Farjeon's "The Crook's Shadow" provided readers with an altogether different kind of thrill. Farjeon went on to contribute short fiction to the newspaper, as was the case with the amazingly prolific Ursula Bloom, whose brief serial "Sweet William" was printed in 1931. Like Olive Wadsley, Bloom had a long-running career with The Star. The majority of her contributions were in the form of articles and essays, and her first work for the newspaper appeared in the early 1920s.
Second only to Wadsley in terms of the number of serials she placed in The Star during the 1920s was Margaret Gibbons, who wrote for the paper as Mrs. Patrick MacGill. The wife of a famous writer, her five romantic novels in The Star were published from 1923 through 1928. Various love stories continued to appear in the paper, although the detective novel likewise remained a prominent feature of the newspaper in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Fans of Agatha Christie will be interested to note that her novel "The Mystery of the Blue Train" was serialised in The Star from February to March 1928. Edgar Wallace's "The Coat of Arms" received its first ever publication in The Star in 1931. One of the last major novel-length serials to appear in The Star was a Perry Mason story by Erle Stanley Gardner that was published in the later half of 1934. Entitled "The Case of the Curious Bride," this fascinating adventure of the famous lawyer-detective was printed in book form later that year. Immediately after this, Stuart Martin's "Seven Men's Sins" appeared at the end of 1934. This fast-paced story was later made into a film.
By the end of 1935, short stories by a variety of authors began to take precedence over serialised fiction. Although The Star's own F. W. Thomas had been writing his "Saturday Short Story" feature almost every week since the Great War, the paper's commitment to printing stories even more regularly from 1935 onwards meant that the era of novels in The Star had, for the most part, come to an end. From this point onwards serials appeared only occasionally in the newspaper.
Abridged versions of several films and stage plays were published in The Star in the late 1930s. Anonymously written adaptations of the films "The Witness Chair" and "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" (the latter movie based on an original story by Clarence Budington Kelland) were printed in The Star in 1936. In the same year Star journalist Kenneth Adam did a fine job of adapting the historical drama "Mary of Scotland," a film which starred Katharine Hepburn. Adam, a writer of countless feature articles for The Star, went on to contribute a short science fiction serial to the paper the following year. The intriguing "New Metropolis: A Romance of London in 2037" is to my mind probably the most interesting serial to be published in The Star in the years immediately preceding the Second World War. Richard Haestier, an air pilot during the First World War and experienced journalist who worked for The Star as a film critic, wrote the last serial to appear in The Star for many years. His adaptation of the film "Sixty Glorious Years," based on the original script by Sir Robert Vansittart and Miles Malleson, was published in October 1938.
Twelve years were to pass before Geoffrey Webb's "Don Pilgrim Investigates" detective serial was published between March and October of 1950. Webb was one of the script writers for the famous B.B.C. radio serial Dick Barton. His serial for The Star was top-notch material and one wishes he'd written more for the paper. A few more adaptations of film scripts followed years later in 1958. Staff writer Ivon Adams penned two of these, his deftly summarised versions of the feature films "Violent Playground" and "Gideon's Day" (the latter based on a John Creasey story) were competently done. All this was of course a far cry from the heyday of serial novels in The Star.
This was not quite the end. One more serial was to appear in the paper before it ceased publication the following year. In August of 1959, the outstanding "Death Goes on Holiday," a story written especially for the holiday period by long-serving Star journalist Roy Nash, was published in instalments over the course of a week. Years earlier Roy Nash had written three short stories for The Star before he became one of several of those on the staff who left the paper to serve their country. Back in 1940, the editors of The Star had printed a farewell message to Roy Nash and his colleagues. Thankfully, he was one of those who made it back.
Copyright © 2006 Richard Simms