Steve Holland: On the Trail of Erroll Collins

Issue 3 June 2008

On the Trail of Erroll Collins

Some Facts and Some Idle Speculations

By Steve Holland

(Clicking on the images will bring up a slightly larger version)

Erroll Collins was been one of those frustrating authors about whom nothing is known and where information has eluded me for years; I first stumbled over the name in 1983 when I was working on the material that eventually became Vultures of the Void. Erroll, you see, had written a science fiction novel for a cheap-jack paperback outfit called Stanley Baker, one of a particularly elusive run of bookscalled the ‘Fantastic Science Thriller’ series published in the early 1950s. The only copies I had ever seen were at the British Library where I jotted down a plot précis for all five books in the series one afternoon. I’ve just dug out my original notes on the book, Conquerors of Space, from nearly twenty years ago:

“At dawn1st January A.D. 2054, Earth’s scientific experts exploded their latest Super-Hydrogen Bomb. In less than a minute, Planet Earth was blown to radio-active dust, and all life on it ceased. 100 people survive—the expeditionary force sent to Mars led by Brand and they are forced to find a new home. They try Nievia, planet of snow, Hestia, planet of fire, Elysia, the poisoned paradise. There is a mutiny and the mutineers escape in a rocket and contact the Solarians. The expedition go to Solaris—there is a battle in space and on Solaris—where they discover the truth about the Martians and Brand reveals his secret.”

   Not terribly revealing but believe me when I say that I’d had any hopes for the series seriously quashed skip-reading through the earlier four titles which involved space pirates stealing ‘atomic spirit’, a mysterious girl called Skrunch from the planet Nerdhen, school teachers and children solving mysterious events surrounding a spot on the sun, a reverse universe and the Vampire Men of Nochs. For someone seriously into science fiction these books were just insults and the only fantastic thing about them was how they ever came to be published.

   In my hurry to précis the books I felt sure that they were all written by the same hand and Erroll Collins—the only author of the five who had published elsewhere—was condemned to be pilloried in the book that eventually came out of that research. The name turned up again when I began looking into old boy’s fiction and I took it as read that Collins, whoever he was, was just some hack juvenile writer who had churned out a few SF novels during the post-war paper shortage to keep bread on the table. The novels might even have been reprints of earlier serials.

   Nearly twenty years later I began indexing old story papers and putting in some time into discovering more about the authors who filled their pages and the name Erroll Collins came up again. Since my days at the British Library I had actually found copies of two of the ‘Fantastic Science Thriller’ books and had confirmed my belief that they were amongst the worst SF ever published. About the same time, a conversation had sprung up on the CBandM chat group which made me think a little more seriously about Collins: there was some speculation that Erroll Collins might have been a pen-name for George E. Rochester and the back-and-forth conversation was revealing a number of traits and ‘tells’ about Collins’ work that I just could not find in my two SF novels—neither of them the one title that had appeared under Collins’ own name.

   In fact, on closer examination the two books were turning up quirks of their own which didn’t tie in at all with what people who had actually read Erroll Collins novels were saying. Reluctantly, I had to revise my contention that all five books were by the same hand.

What about clues from the books themselves? “Erroll Collins is already well-known as an expert and exciting writer, but in this story he reveals an imaginative gift which may well prove prophetic,” reads the dust-jacket blurb on The Secret of Rosmerstrand. “No more thrilling or ominous scenes have been conceived in any tale of modern warfare.” So someone at least thought Collins a good writer, albeit someone paid to write blurbs. Rather more interestingly, Mariners of Space, I learned, was dedicated to Collins’ brother, which meant there was a family that might be traced.

   Time to take the bull by the horns. I phoned Lutterworth Press and asked the young lady who answered what records they had on Erroll Collins; the answer a minute or two later was that they had very little—the correspondence file they had was missing (probably mis-filed and therefore lost forever). However, they had an old card index which noted that payments were made to a Miss Redknap if that was any help.

   Bingo!

It didn’t take long to figure out that the Redknap on the card was Ellen Edith Hannah Redknap. Digging around for information also turned up the fact that Redknap had written poetry under the name Ellen Collins and, under her own name, had published a story for boys entitled The Isle of the Black Pearl in George Newnes’ Flag Library for Boys back in 1935. Even more compelling was the discovery that the two—E. E. H. Redknap and Erroll Collins—had appeared side by side in Schoolboy Adventures 1, an old Gerald Swan boys’ magazine published in 1944.

   But while ‘Erroll Collins’ has now been discovered, Ellen Redknap still remained something of a mystery.

   Ellen Edith Hannah Redknap was born in Shadwell on April 15, 1906, the daughter of Frederick Charles Redknap, a master plumber, and his wife Ellen Maud Redknap who had married in 1904. Ellen Redknap died on September 1, 1934, at Hounston Hospital, Middlesex. At the time, the family lived at 56 Winton Way, Isleworth. She was the eldest of four children, with Stella, Freda and Ernest following. ‘Goodie’, as she was nicknamed by her sisters, would read stories to Ernie, born in 1918 and the youngest of the family, and soon after began publishing her own stories for boys in 1935. Ernie, perhaps inspired by the air stories she read to him, was later involved in the glider drops during the invasion of France; after the war he remained living with his sister in Isleworth until his death in the late 1970s.

   Well read, and with a good memory for literature, Ellen loved reading—her house was filled with thousands of books—and encouraged others to enjoy it. She would even buy her neighbours children comics. Her hobby was collecting and breeding terrapins and had a tortoise which was in its thirties when he died. Ellen would often carry a terrapin around with her in her apron, talking to it.

   Following the publication of The Isle of the Black Pearl, Ellen sold stories to the Boy’s Own Paper and a number of annuals in the late 1930s, and two serials appeared in the Boy’s Own Paper, ‘Galleons of the Air’ in 1939 and ‘The Sea Falcon’ in 1940-41. These two serials were subsequently sold to Lutterworth Press and appeared in hardcovers in 1940 and 1941 respectively, and novels appeared regularly from Lutterworth thereon.

   One of her wartime novels caused some excitement within the family when it was held back by the censors as it proved to be a little to close to things the Allies were working on; more excitement came in the shape of the birth of a nephew, Graeme Grant Hawkins—the majority of her family would remain childless, and to celebrate his birth Ellen adopted his name as a pseudonym for her next book, Wings Over the Arctic by Graeme Grant, published in 1947. She later dedicated her novel Submarine City to him.

The post-war paper shortage almost certainly put a dampener on her writing career as very few novels appeared during the late 1940s and only a slim book of poetry in the early 1950s. Two novels appeared In 1955, one from Gerald G. Swan, who was well known for buying stories and taking years to get around to publishing them, and the aforementioned (and still elusive) Conquerors of Space, written in 1954 (the plot is set in 2054, 100 years on). Her last known novel appeared in 1959—the first number of the Combat Library published by G. M. Smith, entitled Wings of Resistance.

   This last novel for G. M. Smith is an interesting one as it was the first in the series and, to my knowledge, the first thing that G. M. Smith, based at Gorringe Park Avenue, Mitcham, Surrey, published. They published a number of pocket libraries (including one called Schoolgirl’s Story Library) under the name Micron but were better known for their comic strip libraries which outlasted the text libraries by decades. In fact, Combat Picture Library, launched at the same time as Combat Library in March 1959, ran to 1212 issues before folding in June 1985.

   It seems possible that Ellen herself was a contributor to the Combat Picture Library; anyone who has read any of the Erroll Collins novels will have noticed her fascination with names that include a double letter, usually a double ‘r’—as does Erroll. Recently, and in passing, Jim Mackenzie mentioned that he had picked up a copy of Collins’ Submarine City, and the name of the hero was one Jerry Curtiss; as Jim said, “the double ‘r’ strikes again. His sidekick is called Sid Farrol—another one!”. What struck me instead was that one of the main characters to appear in the Combat Picture Library was one Jeff Curtiss who appeared in dozens of stories. I know for a fact that the stories were written by a number of different authors as I know someone who wrote one of his adventures, but the coincidence of names does raise the possibility that Ellen Redknap created the Jeff Curtiss character.

   Ellen E. H. Redknap was also a prolific writer of poetry and self-published a number of books of verse.      She remained a staunch supporter of her local poetry group, and her last work was a book of verse enticingly entitled Un-Cuddly Creatures, published in 1989, two years before she died on March 11, 1991.

Publications

Novels as E. E. H. Redknap

The Isle of the Black Pearl. London, George Newnes, (Flag Library for Boys 11), 1935.

Novels as Erroll Collins

Galleons of the Air (serial, Boy’s Own Paper, 1939). Lutterworth Press, Jul 1940.

The Sea Falcon (serial, Boy’s Own Paper, Oct 1940-Mar 1941). Lutterworth Press, Dec 1941.

The Secret of Rosmerstrand. Lutterworth Press, May 1942.

Outlaw Squadron. Lutterworth Press, Oct 1943.

Mariners of Space. Lutterworth Press, Jul 1944.

The Hawk of Aurania. London, Collins, 1944.

Rebel Wings. Lutterworth Press, Apr 1945.

Submarine City. Lutterworth Press, Nov 1946.

The Stars of Korania. Lutterworth Press, Nov 1948.

The Black Dwarf of Mongolia. Collins (Seagull Library), May 1949.

Volcanic Treasure. London, Gerald Swan, Feb 1955.

Conquerors of Space. Richmond, Surrey, Stanley Baker (FST #5), Jun 1955.

Wings of Resistance. Mitcham, Surrey, G.M. Smith (Combat Library #1), Mar 1959.

Verse as Ellen E. H. Collins

The Star Rover. A poem. Ilfracombe, Arthur H. Stockwell, 1953.

Poems of Earth, Sea and Sky. Hounslow, privately published, 1959.

More Poems of Earth, Sea and Sky. Hounslow, privately published, 1960.

Astrology, and other poems. Dulwich Village, Outposts Publications, 1961.

Impressions. Cheltenham, Envoi, 1961.

Poems for All Seasons. Southend-on-Sea, Citizen Publishing Co., 1961.

Strange Altars. [7 The Towers], Stevenage, Herts., Ore Publications, 1973.

Un-Cuddly Creatures. Bedford, Writers’ Own Publications, 1989.

Novels as Graeme Grant

Wings Over the Arctic. London, Evans Bros., 1947.

Short Stories & Serials

Stories as E. E. H. Redknap

Beaver Gold (Schoolboy Adventures 1, Feb 1944; reprinted, Cute Fun, May 1950)

Stories as Erroll Collins

The Luck of the Lindsays (Boy’s Own Paper, Jan 1936)

The Tiki of Tautauro (Boy’s Own Paper, May 1936; reprinted, The Schoolboy’s Annual, Lutterworth, n.d.)

The Sunstone (Jolly Jack’s Annual 1937, 1936)

The Grey Druid (Boy’s Own Paper, Jan 1937)

The Haunted Reef (Boy’s Own Paper, Mar 1937).

The Dare-Devil Pilot (Boy’s Own Paper, Jul 1938)

Galleons of the Air (Boy’s Own Paper, 1939)

The Sea Falcon (Boy’s Own Paper, Oct 1940-Mar 1941)

The Lost Lake (Schoolboy Adventures 1, Feb 1944)

The Silver Joss (Schoolboy Adventures 1, Feb 1944)

Red for Danger (Cute Fun, Aug 1946)

M13 (The Schoolboy’s Annual, Lutterworth, n.d.)

Bandits and Bisnagas (Daily Mail Boy’s Annual, n.d.)

With thanks to Chris Hawkins.

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Books Monthly (formerly Gateway Monthly) is published by Paul Edmund Norman on the first day of each month. You can contact me via e-mail at: editor@booksmonthly.co.uk. If you'd like to get a story published in Books Monthly just e-mail it to me and I'll consider it - no payment though, I'm afraid!