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)
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
as E. E. H. Redknap
Isle of the Black Pearl. London, George Newnes, (Flag Library for Boys 11), 1935.
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
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.
Cheltenham, Envoi, 1961.
Poems for All Seasons.
Southend-on-Sea, Citizen Publishing Co., 1961.
Strange Altars. [7
The Towers], Stevenage, Herts., Ore Publications, 1973.
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)
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