Bear Hudson Publishing – The Bear Facts (3)

Bear Hudson authors

Much could be written about “Elmer Elliot Saks”, better known as F Dubrez Fawcett or as the main “Griff” of many near-the-knuckle paperbacks. With short page counts and fast typing he could breeze through a book a fortnight and still take afternoons off.

The House of Fear by “Frank Richards” reminds us that Charles Hamilton had years of wartime struggles, scraping along in low-paying marginal markets before his post-war resurgence with Billy Bunter in books, theatre and TV.

(Image courtesy of Friardale)

(Image courtesy of Friardale)

Frank Griffin in Nos. 525 and 538 may have been the F. Griffin who wrote Bear Hudson’s factual No. 518, Women’s Legal Problems. However, he was more obviously the Frank Griffin who wrote pulp action paperbacks for Mellifont, Hamiltons and others.

Pure non-fiction contributors also intrigue. No. 515 The 20th Century Guide to London was by Vernon Sommerfield, a pre-WWII transport writer who had broadcast as early as 1925 on “The Human Side of Railways” from 2LO, the forerunner of the BBC; his son was the noted political activist/novelist John Sommerfield.

And who was W.T. Baker, author of the atypical polemic I Speak to the Workers, No. 503? A review of his book mentioned that “Under the pen-name of “Benchfitter” he has contributed frequently to house-organs published by the staffs of factories.” Clearly Mr Baker had spoken to the workers before. Did his proposed next book, ‘Two-tenths of a thou’ from Nazi domination, ever appear? Apparently not.

Back to the Bear Hudson fiction.

One sought-after title is Spawn of the Vampire, No. 538. It was by cult favourite Norman “N Wesley” Firth, he of the many pseudonyms including “Jackson Evans” and “Leslie Halward” (unfortunately the real name of another writer). Bear Hudson and other publishers made good use of Firth while they and he lasted. He was a tragic figure who deserves a better literary memorial than his own fiction, and deserved more time to give his work the polish of which he seemed capable. After Firth’s initial book publication by Mitre Press he produced a million words a year until his early death in 1949. And his cover artist here, H W Perl, when not rushed into using old magazine photographs for inspiration, could also produce work deserving more permanent covers than were his normal milieu.

Experiments among the booklets

Production values at Bear Hudson were not normally high. Most of these fiction titles were essentially chapbook novelettes of lurid crime or horror, notable only if written by a known name. Paris interlude with its miscellaneous stories and slightly more understated design must have been a one-off. Best-sellers were neither sought nor achieved.

509 Image courtesy of Ash Rare Books

509 Image courtesy of Ash Rare Books

510 web image

510 web image

My impression, though, is that the Bear Hudson pulp fiction was not the lowest of the low. Its later booklets brought in a wider range of authors. Some of Perl’s covers show relative restraint when compared to other covers of UK genre originals. And surprisingly Bear Hudson had up-market ambitions. In 1946, concurrently with its numbered offerings, it experimented with some remarkable fiction reprints.

The Bear Pocket Books 

The nine Bear Pocket paperbacks of 1946 – that marvellous year for Bear Hudson fiction – were very odd, in shape if in nothing else. They were oblong. They used microscopic type. And they were small. My copy of B.P.3 measured just 4 by 5½ inches (10½ x 14 cm), whereas equivalent Penguins such as Low’s The World at War were 4¼ x 7 inches.

These “Bear” or “Bear Pocket” paperbacks started strongly. They were all novels. They shamelessly imitated the landscape format and distinctive covers of the USA “Armed Services Editions”, just as a 1945 UK line from W H Allen had copied the ASE shape and style. An “Allen Super Hurricane” reprint looked exactly like an ASE oblong paperback but instead of being issued free to Service personnel was sold to the general public at 2/6 each. Presumably Bear Hudson saw money being made and decided to have a go at their own ASE clones.

‘Bear’ Pocket size 4 x 5½ x ¼ inches 

‘Bear’ Pocket size 4 x 5½ x ¼ inches

ASE - size 4½ x 6½ x 5/8 inches

ASE – size 4½ x 6½ x 5/8 inches

The Bear Pocket novels were generally full-length reprints of fiction by known authors such as George Harmon Coxe and Eliot Crawshay-Williams. (Someone with good publishing connections must have been involved.) Three titles could be classed as borderline science fiction although not marketed as such: The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym by Edgar Allan Poe, Precious Porcelain by Neil Bell, and the sole original novel in the series, The Terror from Timorkal by old-time sf writer Festus Pragnell.

The reading bear was no longer standing astride the world, but otherwise Bear Hudson had high hopes for the series, stating “As production difficulties diminish, the Publishers will increase the number of pages and size of print.” Those production difficulties, due to World War II, had affected all publishers. Even the supremely well-connected Penguin Books was forced to shrink reprints of Arnold L Haskell’s popular Ballet from a prewar 220 pp down to 176 more crowded pages. Clearly, Bear Hudson had no options other than tiny print and thin books.

High hopes and belated interest

In the inside-of-cover copy, Bear Hudson expressed optimism for the series, and solicited suggestions for further titles. “The series will cover a wide field including novels, romances, mysteries, adventure stories, humour, short stories, biographies, travel … cartoons, cookery, anthologies of prose and poetry, “How to do it” books.” Plus, “Authors of fiction and non-fiction are also invited to submit MSS … which they consider to be of sufficient merit.” However only Festus Pragnell seems to have succeeded with an original manuscript, the aforesaid Timorkal. (It is one of life’s odd coincidences that in 2000 the new Company Secretary of Bernard Babani (publishing) Ltd. bore the rare surname of Pragnell.)

In recent years the Bear Pocket books have attracted much collector interest, mostly for their unusual format, and have been written-up by specialists:

A few Bear Pocket books still appear second-hand at a good mark-up from the original cover price of 2/-. (A price of two pence in one reference book may be an error or may refer to some other Bear Hudson publication; booklet No. 528 cost approximately that in old money, 6d.) In 1946 Bear Pocket books undercut the Allen Super Hurricanes but were still twice the cost of equivalent Penguin paperbacks; nevertheless, an investment in The Terror from Timorkal would have been worthwhile. In 2012 I saw it offered for around £200; as I write it is on sale variously at £75, £159 and £282. It must be the jewel in Bear Hudson’s crown. 

Cub Books

Another full-length novel published by Bear Hudson in 1946 belongs to neither the numbered sequence nor the Bear Pocket books. Straphangers is labelled a “Cub Book” and is a normal pocket-size paperback by Norah C. James, who worked in publishing for a time and wrote much fiction, chiefly medical romances. She was briefly notorious for a 1929 novel banned under the Obscene Publications Act and swiftly republished in Paris by the man who later published Tropic of Cancer, The Well of Loneliness and Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Fortunately, her Bear Hudson offering was far less controversial.

Straphangers was in fact a perfectly respectable mainstream novel of London Underground commuters whose lives interact, first published in 1934 as Strap-hangers, and also appearing in the USA and France under other titles. Interestingly, in view of the author’s publishing and hospital-romance interests, it is dedicated to Hugh Anthony Clegg, a powerful editor at the British Medical Journal and grandfather of politician Nick Clegg.

Compared to previous Bear Hudson fiction, Straphangers is a somewhat classier production, with a stylish cover, tasteful double-bordered title page, and printing by Hazell, Watson & Viney, no less. But the only other Cub Book I possess is not from Bear Hudson at all.

It is from Bernards.

A Bernards Cub Book

Yes, this second Cub Book, although identical in format to the one from Bear Hudson, is actually a stablemate to Bernards’ Radio Manuals. The book was an American best-seller, and its author was one of the Twentieth Century’s best-known personalities: Bob Hope, comedian and film star. This too is not a typical book from its publisher.

The general appearance of Hope’s memoir I Never Left Home, in its Bernards Cub Book edition, is exactly the same as that of Straphangers. The style of its cover and title page is more cartoony, but this is appropriate to a small humorous item. The printing this time was by Briggs & Grimshaw of Southport. Perhaps significantly, or perhaps not, neither Cub Book was printed by Technical Suppliers Ltd., of whom more later. And neither Cub Book had any title or author name on their spines – a strange omission and something of a commercial handicap on the shelves. I doubt that either book saw major sales.

Which came first – the Norah C. James or the Bob Hope? British Library stamping-in dates indicate that the Hope (Bernards, 28/1/47) preceded the James (Bear Hudson, 17/7/47) into the library. Both in 1947, you notice, despite both being dated 1946. Probably the James simply arrived late. Certainly the “Cub” name and logo indicate a Bear Hudson offshoot perhaps created, as Morgan Wallace suggests, to use up left-over Bear Pocket inventory. (Another possible left-over may be Bear Hudson’s un-numbered reprint of Frank King’s Terror at Staups House. It appeared in 1947, and was stamped in at the British Library on 9/1/48, long after the run of BH pulp originals had ceased.)

I have not found any other Cub Books yet, but will keep looking…

The brief history of Cub Books provides two insights. One, the postwar aspirations to higher things did not end immediately. Two, the Bear Hudson/Bernards symbiosis was ongoing, not surprising with Albert Assael a director of both companies. But: a pair of publishers placing one book each in a joint series? Strange. What happened?

Steve Holland has commented on Forties publishing habits in his classic survey The Mushroom Jungle:

“…a great deal of swapping went on. Norman Lazenby sold one novel to Hamiltons and it appeared from Grant Hughes. Curtis [Warren] reused old Grant Hughes artwork, and company co-director and editor Edwin Self had a habit of writing to his authors on whatever headed notepaper first came to hand…”

Perhaps Albert Assael, sending off Bob Hope’s “Cub Book” to the printers, simply picked up the wrong notepaper.

After the Pockets and Cubs

Evidently the Bear Pocket books started and finished in 1946. (Although B.P.9, the last, has a British Library stamp-in date of 24/4/47.) Bear Hudson did continue its standard numbered booklets, albeit less frequently. At least one late title appears to have had a library edition in plain hard covers (very plain, as a specimen of mine from 1948 shows). Any Bear Hudson book in library rebinding – they exist – would have had better quality boards and usually gold titling on the spine, unlike this copy which has made up the deficiency with the remains of its dust-jacket:

(I wonder how the old British Museum library, with its policy of always removing dust jackets, could ever again locate its copy of Lampshades.)

1947 arrived. After the Bear Pocket adventure and the rest, Bear Hudson must have thought, “And now for something completely different.”

Bear Hudson comics

What do I know about the Bear Hudson “Starlight Comics”? Not a lot. There are a few web references to one issue, without details. Was there only one? The line is not to be confused with any comics from any other publisher, I hope. (But after “Cub Books” you can never be sure.)

The comic or comics seem to have vanished by the end of 1947. The next year, Bear Hudson changed direction again, while still issuing a few craft titles. Bear Hudson went back into fiction, and back to N Wesley Firth. But not with books.

Bear Hudson magazines

The Fictionmags site details several short-lived Bear Hudson magazines of 1948. Most were dependent on the hard-working Mr Firth, all were hampered by low page counts. They were all dated between February and November 1948. Intimate Love Stories, Rip-roaring Western, Screen Cowboy StoriesScreen Crime Stories, Screen Romances, Thrilling Crime Stories and Thrilling Romances had one or more issues each, across a period of – as far as I know – just ten months.

Rip-roaring Western carried a cover price of 35¢ as if a genuine USA magazine, a not uncommon practice at the time. (A similar John Spencer & Co. western magazine also featured both N Wesley Firth and a cover price in cents).

Screen Romances survived for two issues, but may have been living dangerously by using the same title as a long-established magazine from Dell.

(web image)

(web image)

One of the most durable Bear Hudson magazines was Thrilling Romances, which reached six issues. (Only Intimate Love Stories reached more, with eight.) Thrilling Romances featured a variety of unknown pseudonyms at first, later joined by recognisable hard-bitten professionals such as F. Dubrez Fawcett and Frederick Foden (the latter even using his real name here and in Intimate Love Stories).

(Image courtesy of Steve Holland)

(Image courtesy of Steve Holland)

Issue 4 of Thrilling Romances was reportedly “Published by Twyn Parlwm Press”. The name probably refers to a well-known Monmouthshire hill, but its significance for Bear Hudson escapes me. More mystery. Despite some higher-quality covers by Heade and Brabbins, this magazine too vanished within the year. Only the general/craft handbooks were left to struggle on.

Another oddity: ‘How To’

Surprisingly the “‘How To’ of Sport No. 1”, a 1948 book on boxing, did not seem to be part of the numbered series. (I may be wrong on this. Other Bear Hudson books omitted to mention their series numbers, if any.) Boxing by Joe Bloom was in many ways quite a well-designed little production for its market, strangely with no reference to any other Bear Hudson publication. I do not know of any ‘How To’ of Sport No. 2.

Concentration on craftwork

As the Forties rolled to an end, the later booklets like Boxing were looking better. The front covers were still numbered but the back-cover lists of “Books for the Home Craftworker” were now tastefully laid out, omitting the series numbers and blurbs. Internal pages were neater. Some booklets – including Crinothene and the hardcover Lampshades – carried pages of advertisements from suppliers of handicrafts materials.

Inside No. 554 (dated 1949) was an announcement:

“BEAR HUDSON LIMITED are publishing a new series devoted entirely to arts and crafts entitled The Book of Crafts … The first issue will be ready in early October and will contain instructional articles on all branches of arts and crafts by leading authors, under the editorship of F.J. Christopher (popular editor of Craftworker magazine). Each issue will be complete in itself…”

 In other words, a regular specialist magazine. But not exactly easy to find nowadays, if ever. Bear Hudson did however reprint Mr Christopher’s How to Make Lampshades as a paperback in 1949, and again in 1950 from different printers, this time omitting all advertisements, even the back-cover list of other Bear Hudson books. His How to Make Rugs of 1950 was the last new title. Shortly after this Christopher’s Things to Make with Crinothene reappeared with only minor changes in a new edition from Atlas Handicrafts (the production arm of craft suppliers Fred Aldous Ltd of Manchester) rather than in a Bear Hudson reprint, which suggests that Bear Hudson had reached its end. 

Or not quite the end? After 1950 there were no publications that I know of under the Bear Hudson name, but a few later books carried … well, half the name. (I’ll get to them in a minute.) And there was a curious business deal in late 1952 involving Bear Hudson. [Two more parts follow- the beginning of the end and the aftermath..thanks David]

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