Short Stories in The Star
The long tradition of short stories in The Star began with the publication of "A Miser's Dream" on December 23, 1889. This story, the first to be published in the newspaper, went uncredited and reads like a Christmas fable. A strange tale, it tells the story of a parsimonious old man, who in a dream, encounters a greedy demon and a good fairy. The setting for this unusual fantasy is Leicester Square. It wasn't until Christmas Eve of the following year that the next story appeared in The Star, a somewhat longer and altogether more chilling piece entitled "The Last Pentreath," that again used Christmas as its theme and was also published anonymously (it was in fact credited to "The Star's own novelist," whoever that was). These two tales appeared in isolation; no more short stories were printed in The Star for over five years.
The Star began publishing original short stories on a daily basis with the appearance of a tale by Hubert Crackanthorpe on February 1, 1896. From hereon short stories became an established feature of the newspaper, although The Star was by no means the first London evening newspaper to do this. Under the heading of "Today's Tale" (later "Our Short Story"), early stories in The Star were accompanied by excellent artwork. The Star published the work of authors both unknown and famous, with the stories presented in a prominent position on page two, although within a couple of years they had been moved to the back page of the newspaper.
A substantial number of stories published in The Star from 1896 through 1902 went uncredited. During these years it was not unusual for newspapers and magazines to do this and I suspect that most of the tales in The Star were penned by staff writers. However, credit was given to some of the in-house journalists who wrote stories as a sideline to their usual work with the newspaper. Between 1896 and 1898 dozens of stories were contributed by assistant editor Hugh S. MacLauchlan, who had joined The Star in 1892. Further to this, some of the bizarre pseudonyms employed in these years raise suspicions in my mind that several Star journalists were writing behind such names as "Ripple," "Mignonette," "Tessa," "The Optimist" and "Mique."
There was no particular "type" of story most commonly found in The Star. The variety of subjects covered was immense, with about the only common factor being that nearly all of them were brief, rarely more than about 1,500 words long. The diversity of genres and themes was reflected in the huge variety of authors whose work found its way into the pages of The Star. However, a group of regular contributors accounted for much of the short fiction in these very early years. Numerous stories were supplied by authors such as Harold Child, P. Beaufoy, F. M. Kettenus, Phyllis Cecil, Claxson Bellamy and Helen MacIntyre.
Two long-running series of interconnected stories by James McGovan, a writer of detective fiction, were published in The Star from 1896 to 1897. McGovan's outstanding first series "Revelations of a Detective" was described by the editors as being "of the most thrilling and sensational nature!" One of the most prolific writers for the paper at this time was the novelist Robert Halifax, pseudonym for Robert Edwin Young (1870-1943). The earliest stories he sold to The Star appeared before the first of his highly regarded novels was published in 1899. The Star sometimes managed to obtain new stories by even more illustrious names. A major coup was achieved when the editors printed "The Confession" by Arthur Conan Doyle on January 17, 1898. Doyle had written the story especially for the tenth anniversary edition of The Star. The following year, while in exile in England, Emile Zola contributed the excellent "Josephine," a story that would surely be of interest to scholars of this writer today.
At this point in the essay it is worth providing a small footnote to the first era of short fiction in the paper. At times, individual short stories would be the subject of a competition, in order to induce more interest, or perhaps to gauge how popular the story feature really was with readers. One example of this was employed by the editors of The Star in March of 1896. "Trial by Fire," an anonymously written tale that appeared in instalments on three consecutive days, was the subject of a puzzle competition for readers. At the conclusion of each part of the story the author's final few lines were absent from the text. Reader's were invited to provide their own versions of what they thought had been omitted. A £25 prize was offered to the entrant who supplied the missing words that were most in keeping with the original versions written by the author. Thousands of contestants took up the challenge, with the prize eventually shared equally among 25 winning entrants! In later years several other story competitions ran in The Star; more on these later.
By 1900, the fiction contents of The Star alternated between serials and short stories. The editors instigated a poll of readers to ascertain which they preferred, with the result being that the majority wanted the "sustained interest" provided by serials. By 1902 short stories, which had been appearing with less frequency, were finally dropped altogether and replaced by serialised novels which ran almost constantly in the paper until the early 1930s. It wasn't until 1909 that The Star began publishing short stories again. Henceforth, they were published only on an occasional basis, often in a somewhat innocuous form. The years prior to the First World War were not the heyday of short fiction in The Star, with the ever-present serial novels established as the main fiction feature of the newspaper.
The short stories that did appear, from time to time, were often anonymously written and rarely actually labelled as stories. Indeed, they were usually printed alongside sketches, humorous pieces and feature articles. Actually being able to identify certain items as stories took a great deal of careful perusal of issues of the newspaper published from 1909 and well into the 1920s. All of the pieces from this period that have been indexed on this website certainly read as works of fiction but, more often than not, being able to clearly distinguish between a story and a sketch of a real-life experience proved difficult. I've tended to include on this index those works that have an obvious dramatic quality and dialogue, though inevitably the definition of a short story has no doubt been blurred at times for the sake of making this index as "complete" as possible.
In 1912, The Star published the very first short story by a man who was to dominate the short fiction content of the paper over the following thirty or so years. This was Star journalist F. W. Thomas, a master of the humorous yarn whose decades-spanning "Saturday Short Story" feature entertained generations of Londoners. So great was his contribution to the paper, in the mediums of fiction, verse and factual articles, that I have created a separate webpage within this site where I discuss his long career with The Star in more detail. For more information on this fine writer, I would urge visitors to this website to take a look at The F. W. Thomas Page.
Despite the ubiquitous nature of Thomas' stories in The Star, not to mention the aforementioned problems identifying short fiction in the paper, many fine stories appeared in the 1910s and 20s. One does not want to downplay the importance and worth of the stories printed in The Star throughout these years. However, it would seem that, like Thomas, a considerable number of regular short story writers were also on the staff at this time. A. G. Gardiner, the long-serving editor of the Daily News, wrote both stories and articles as "Alpha of the Plough." A. G. Thornton was another staff writer who occasionally penned short stories. Indeed, virtually all the principal contributors were also writing articles for the paper. It is important to note that the stories these authors placed in the paper represent just a part of their overall output in The Star. This was certainly true of Blanche Wills Chandler, whose stories and articles were an almost constant feature for almost twenty years. The Irish-born novelist and poet Katharine Tynan, whose first story in The Star dates back to 1899, had a long association with the paper. The hundreds of articles she wrote for The Star outnumber the few - but nonetheless excellent - short stories she contributed. These latter included such masterpieces as "The Cabman" and "A Narrative of Victory." Among the several other versatile and prolific contributors of both fact and fiction in this period were J. Stuart Hodgson, Emma M. Wise and Ernest Jenkins.
During the Great War of 1914 to 1918, it was perhaps inevitable that much of the short fiction in The Star was of a topical nature, strongly influenced by the conflict. Throughout these years a steady stream of war-inspired stories were supplied by a small group of authors. I was particularly impressed with the amount of authentic detail that formed the backbone of several of these tales of war on the home front and abroad. J. E. Buckrose, pen-name of Annie Edith Jameson, wrote a memorable series of "War-Time Sketches" for The Star in 1916. Others who wrote from genuine experience were Joyce Cobb, Arthur F. Thorn and Lance Hebron.
Perhaps the most memorable and hard-hitting series of war stories and articles in The Star were penned by the anonymous soldier who wrote as "O. C. Platoon." From 1916 through 1920, this remarkable series about a soldier's experiences on the battlefields of Europe were published in The Star from 1916 to 1920. With these particular stories it was a tricky business indeed to try and separate those pieces which were intended as fiction, from those that were in fact narratives of real-life incidents in the trenches. But whether fact, or fiction based on fact, the body of work contributed by "O. C. Platoon" provides a remarkable insight into the everyday life of a British soldier in the First World War.
The war fought at sea was the subject of the countless stories and articles written by Austin J. Small, writing as "Seamark." Between 1918 and 1921, Star readers were given several unique glimpses of life aboard a Royal Navy ship. The aftermath of battle, a ship's struggle against a storm in the North Sea, the welcome sight of port, the camaraderie of those on board, the day-to-day running of a sea-going vessel and the rigors of military routine; these were among the variety of convincing backgrounds Small utilised for his stories of adventure at sea. Two excellent stories in this long series are "The Last Convoy" and "Algernon." The attention to detail and sense of being a fly-on-the-wall when reading these fascinating tales make the "Seamark" series a true highlight in the history of short fiction in The Star.
With life at sea, though not the war, as their theme, the writings of Walter H. Holton deserve a special mention here. Appearing in The Star from 1911 through 1920, Holton's many sketches of seafaring along the English coast took the form of both articles and stories. What they lack in dramatic impact they more than make up for in terms of authenticity. These were usually tales of fishing trips, written in such a vivid and easy style that it was hard not to be enchanted with them. They describe a world that has mostly disappeared now, a world of foghorns, lighthouses and old-style fishing fleets. The vagaries of weather, running the tide, sunsets across the ocean, the successful day's catch; all these simple things are brought to wonderful life in Holton's work for The Star. One can almost smell the sea when reading such tales as "A Trawl Haul" and "The Shrimpers!" Of the man himself, nothing is known, although he did apparently write for Boy's Own Paper under the pseudonyms John March and Richard Holt.
Walter H. Holton is not the only Star regular who remains something of a mystery outside of his work for the paper. With the exception of Katharine Tynan, the lack of biographical information on virtually all the regular contributors mentioned above has been a real frustration in my research. I should note that one can only touch the surface in this essay and provide a general overall picture of the history of short fiction in The Star. With such a huge amount of stories published in the paper throughout its lifespan it is a vast area to cover, like the job of indexing fiction in newspapers itself!
Although I'm tending to concentrate here on those authors who were the most prolific in the newspaper, whatever period they wrote in, it should be stressed that numerous writers made "one-off" contributions to the paper. This was certainly true throughout the 1920s and early 1930s. Nevertheless, the majority of short fiction published in The Star in this era was supplied by that man F. W. Thomas and a handful of regulars who emerged around the mid 1920s. Phyllis Morris, H. de Winton, Daisy Fisher, Norman G. Phelps and M. O. Sale all contributed their original short stories to The Star in this period. Staff journalist K. R. G. Browne penned a superb series of very funny tales featuring a young lady named Susan. Another staff writer, W. E. Richards, typically filled F. W. Thomas' shoes on Saturdays when the latter was off on one of his holidays. Richards did a fine job of stepping in to the breach, making readers laugh with his light-hearted yarns. Other writers seemed to follow the example of F. W. Thomas by supplying the paper with humorous stories. One of these was J. Stuart Lowrie, who sold twelve hilarious vignettes to The Star in the early 1930s. Lowrie's stories usually took place in the carriage of a commuter train and display a razor-sharp wit. I found myself quite taken with these delightfully breezy tales and it is a pity Lowrie didn't write more of them.
Before I move onwards with the history of short stories in The Star, I must make note of the fact that a wholly different variety of fiction was published in The Star in the 1920s and early 1930s. A large number of stories aimed at young children appeared in the paper during these years. The "Bedtime Stories for Little Ones" series and the "Children's Weekend Story" season each ran for a number of years. The stories themselves, contributed by a wide variety of authors, were intended to be read to small children before they went to sleep for the night. With each story typically no more than around 350 words long, these items are frankly of negligible literary value and as such have not been indexed on this website. With more time available to me, I would have noted these items down, so it is with regret that they are not covered here. For the record, among the most regular contributors to this feature were Blanche Wills Chandler, Stephen Southwold, A. G. Thornton, Gertrude Holton, Olive Chandler, John Lea, Leopold Spero, Moira Wray, Violet Kell, Louise Rourke and a host of wacky pseudonyms like "Little Miss Muffet" - I kid you not!
By 1935, virtually all the short stories in The Star were by F. W. Thomas. Then, out of the blue, in October of that year, a whole new season of short stories in The Star began. For the first time since way back in 1902, the paper once again printed short stories every day. By this time The Star had all but given up publishing novel-length serials. The endless stream of fabulous stories, articles and poems that flowed from the pen of F. W. Thomas showed no signs of abating. But with the paper quite large at this point, the editors, following the lead of rival newspaper the Evening News (which had begun publishing daily short stories back in 1933), kicked off a season of short fiction in The Star with reprints of classic stories by writers such as Katherine Mansfield, Daphne du Maurier, Vicki Baum, Marjorie Bowen and Somerset Maugham. To draw readers' attention to the new daily fiction feature, several of the reprints were the subject of an ongoing competition. Readers were challenged to provide titles for these stories, with a £5 prize on offer for the "best and most original" title sent in. The names of the winners, with naturally the story titles, were subsequently announced later in the week. Thankfully, this feature didn't last long, as for me to locate the winning entries in the newspaper proved a challenge in itself!
Reprints of older stories soon gave way to a veritable deluge of original fiction by an array of writers both unknown and familiar. Some of those who wrote prolifically in the Evening News also appeared in The Star from 1935 to 1936. I was very pleased to find two rare early stories by Paul Feakes, that master of the short story form who was so prolific in the Evening News. Other familiar names who contributed more regularly to The Star included Rearden Conner, H. A. Manhood, Dudley Hoys, D. H. Barber, F. Keston Clarke and Eric Allen. Among several noted writers who sold stories to the The Star in the late 1930s were Walter de la Mare, H. E. Bates and J. Jefferson Farjeon, who had earlier penned a number of serials for the paper. In August of 1936 Farjeon contributed a series of mystery stories set in different towns along the English coastline. Spicing these fine detective yarns up with a good deal of local colour, Farjeon displayed once again what a fine writer he was. The incomparable Ursula Bloom, whose feature articles and novels had been appearing in the paper since the early 1920s, finally began writing short stories for The Star in 1938. As in the past, several journalists on The Star also got in on the act of writing short stories. Kenneth Adam, Hilda M. K. Nield, Gale Pedrick, Nelson Davis, C. W. Ingham, A. G. Thornton and Richard Haestier were among the staff writers who placed several of their deftly written tales in The Star.
Variety was once again the order of the day when it came to short fiction. Stories of romance, light humour, mystery, horror, war, adventure, all of these genres were well represented in the pages of The Star from 1935 to 1941. Nature stories also found their place in The Star. Two masters of the form, C. T. Stoneham and F. G. Turnbull, contributed a number of their intriguing tales about wild animals to the paper. A stunning story entitled "Water Nymph," provided by the talented Howard Jones, appeared in 1938. A concise, beautifully written chronicle of the early stages in the life of a Demoiselle dragonfly, this unusual entry in the Jones canon is an absolute gem. In these years the editors seemed determined to cram in as diverse a range of writers as they could. Some interesting personalities of the day were occasional contributors. The actor and director Val Gielgud and the broadcaster Olga Collett both sold stories to The Star. One surprising contributor was an 11-year old schoolgirl from St. John's Hill named Kathleen M. Beckett. A promising young author, she had her entertaining story "The Mystery of Waterloo Avenue" printed - with some fanfare - in the paper in November of 1936. Among the more established authors whose short fiction was published in the paper were Sean O'Faolain, Vincent Brome and Gerald Kersh.
A somewhat unusual series of tales by the noted playwright, actor and journalist Ernest Dudley were published in The Star in 1939. Dudley had been supplying scripts for a popular B.B.C. radio show of the day called "Mr. Walker Wants to Know." When the series ended early in 1939, Dudley was asked by the editors of the paper to transfer his radio creation into a series to be published in The Star. The unconventional element to these tales was that, after a mystery was set up over the course of a story, readers were then challenged to send in their solution to the puzzle. Mr. Walker wanted to know indeed. Had it not been for the war, I suspect Dudley may have written more of these stories. Nevertheless, he was later to return to the paper in the late 1940s with several cleverly written detective stories.
Shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War, The Star, due to paper restrictions, began to decrease in size. By the early spring of 1941 no more space was available for short stories. During the war years the sole writer of fiction in The Star was F. W. Thomas, whose "From the Coastal Zone" series ran from 1941 through 1945. Even his contributions were appearing with less frequency and this series proved to be his swan song with the paper. More details on Thomas' war sketches can be found at The F. W. Thomas Page.
Many years earlier, F. W. Thomas had begun the "Saturday Short Story" tradition in The Star, continuing single-handedly to keep alive this feature for close to thirty years. Soon after the end of the Second World War, the editors decided to commence a brand new season of stories to be published every Saturday. The first of these was "Song Hit," a story by the prolific short story writer Neil Bell, which appeared on September 8, 1945. As well as previous contributors to The Star such as Conrad Phillips, Lynn Dacre, Holloway Horn and a host of others, new writers began selling their work to the paper in the late 1940s. Readers were kept entertained every weekend by the regular contributors Maureen Gilligan, H. E. Blyth, Tom Arnold, Phyllis Hastings and Margaret M. Harris. One author whose short stories really stood out was Joan Hazeldine, whose excellent yarn "Girl on the South Bank" was typical of her work for The Star, which appeared between 1948 and 1956. Alas, when searching for information on this writer, I drew a complete blank.
Another female writer whose stories lit up the pages of The Star in the post-war period was Mary Gallati, whose twenty-eight contributions were printed in the paper from 1946 to 1953. Gallati, born in London in 1920, was a budding young author of Italian heritage. She was the daughter of the famous restaurateur Mario Gallati, who founded and ran the Caprice restaurant in London's West End. In stories such as "Pietro the Carver," she obviously drew on her personal experience of the catering trade. Indeed, some of her best tales in The Star were about the staff of a London restaurant. But essentially, Mary Gallati wrote with insight, passion and skill about people and the emotions which shape their lives. Her stories in The Star are of very high quality and deserve wider recognition. This is certainly true of her writings as a whole. A collection of her poetry, War Shrapnel, appeared in 1947. Gallati also sold a handful of witty, accomplished tales to Argosy magazine, while other stories and articles were published in Woman's Journal, The Daily Telegraph, Woman and Beauty, Quiver and You. As well as writing radio plays, television documentaries, cookery books and a book about her year-long stay in Australia, Gallati penned two brilliant novels, The Acorn (1950) and The Silver Bow (1962), the latter a chronicle of the lives of an Italian family across several generations.
In 1947, The Star began publishing a long series of stories aimed at children by the famous author Richmal Crompton. Her entertaining series of stories about the adventures of a boy named Jimmy were printed regularly in The Star between 1947 and 1951. So popular were these stories that several books of Jimmy's exploits were published. The Jimmy stories have echoes of Crompton's better known creation, the much-loved "Just William" series. Despite this it is a pity that Crompton's many fine adult novels remain somewhat less celebrated.
The only other important series to appear in the paper in the late 1940s came from the pen of Bill Allison. His concise "Just-a-Minute" stories were published every day in The Star for much of 1949. The series opened with the tale "That Will Be All," printed on March 30, 1949. The tone of these tales was usually light and Allison's witty, imaginative yarns were ideal for Londoners to enjoy a quick read on the way home on the train. The stories themselves were brilliant examples of compressed fiction. If there were any justice, they would have been collected in book form. So many "Just-a-Minute" stories appeared in such a short space of time (the series ended in October 1949) that one wonders if the author may have been suffering from burn-out by the end of it all! However, Allison went on to produce somewhat longer tales for The Star in the early 1950s, proving what a versatile writer he was.
More humour was in evidence in the twenty tales the stage and radio comedian Ted Ray wrote for The Star from 1953 through 1956. Ray's witty, endearing stories were among some of best published in the paper during these years. Some other well known personalities from the world of entertainment sold their stories to the paper in this period. The journalist, writer and television presenter Alan Whicker submitted two highly polished stories to The Star in the late 1940s. A story by Bob Monkhouse entitled "Focus on a Killer" cropped up in 1952, causing me some surprise! I was sad to learn of his passing back in 2003, so it was a pleasure to discover this rare, forgotten tale, by a man who, like others of my generation, I grew up watching on television.
Quite unexpectedly, the short story feature was abruptly dropped by the editors in March of 1957. Just why they disappeared entirely at this point remains a mystery. With what I know of the various internal problems at The Star in the years leading up to its demise in 1960, the decision to stop printing fiction may have been a cost-cutting measure. The business of paying authors for their manuscripts, not to mention the time consuming work of reading through the countless stories that must have been submitted to the paper every week, may well have proved too expensive for the paper. By the late 1950s, The Star, in common with the two other evening newspapers in London, was suffering badly from a dwindling circulation. The increasing popularity of television has been suggested as the main reason for this.
Bearing this in mind, it was perhaps not surprising that when The Star started publishing stories again two years later, it was in the form of reprints. From March to October of 1959, stories by the late Damon Runyon were published in The Star every week. These tales, gently humorous in nature, relate various comical events in a town of the old American Wild West. With titles such as "The Bull That Called on Grandpap" and "The Wooing of Nosey Gillespie," these stories are great fun to read. Rich in colloquial dialogue and authentic detail, they represent a huge literary talent at work. The Runyon series was succeeded by another collection of reprinted stories, this time by the writer O. Henry, an undisputed master of the short story form. Many of O. Henry's classic, widely influential tales, known for their twist endings and ingenious plots, appeared in The Star from October 1959 through May 1960. Following on from the O. Henry series, The Star reprinted a number of stories by Guy de Maupassant, Bret Harte, Mark Twain and Dorothy Parker.
And then, in the autumn of 1960, a new season of short stories in the paper seemed to be on the cards. Previous contributors W. M. Gillies, Herbert Harris and W. Douglas Shillito were among those who penned a handful of new, original stories for The Star. But it was not to continue. On October 8, 1960, "Her Brother Was a Copper" by Herbert Harris turned out to be the last ever story to be published in the paper before the final issue of The Star was printed a few days later. It was, in a way, fitting that Harris, who went on to contribute countless more stories to a variety of magazines and newspapers (including the Evening News, which absorbed The Star) was the one to provide the final piece of fiction for the paper. I am convinced that had The Star continued, the paper's long tradition of publishing original short fiction would have been kept alive for years to come. But alas, it was not to be.
Copyright © 2006 Richard Simms