Originally published in
GOLDEN HOURS V1 #5; June, 1962.
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FOREWORD: It has been my privilege to meet many editors connected with the papers we remember so vividly, but in all sincerity one of the friendliest I have ever met - and the most co-operative - has been Mr. E. L. McKeag. / Himself a most prolific author of Boys' and Girls' stories, he has written for Aldine Publications, Chums, British Boy, Champion, Triumph, Nelson Lee Library; Magnet (Serials), Boys Friend Library and girls' publications too numerous to mention. Running the Ruby, Schoolfriend and Schoolgirls' Own papers at different times (whilst retiring a year ago as editor of The Schoolgirls' Picture Library) the reader can see that Mr. McKeag would be a very interesting personality to meet. / If I also add that he was creator and writer of that popular feature in the Magnet - 'Come Into the Office, Boys and Girls', a personal friend of Gwyn Evans, G.H.Teed, Harold May (editor of the Nelson Lee Library) and Hedley O'Mant, (who was running The Magnet under C.M.Down), the reader can well understand that I have every reason to be most grateful to Mr. McKeag for a great deal of information - which I have been able to use in many articles. / Rather than bore some readers with a lot of statistical facts, in the following article E.L.McKeag has written a most delightful account of the 'good old days' at Fleetway in the Twenties, when the reader can - for a change - see the gay and colourful life some of our favourite authors led when they were not pounding away at their typewriters giving us those stories which we still treasure today! W.O.G. LOFTS.

It was Erie McLean who, under the name of Eric W. Townsend, wrote so many magnificent boys' yarns in Chums, Champion, Sport and Adventure, 'way back in about 1921, who suggested that I should have a shot at writing boys' stories myself.
I was living in a top front room in a Bloomsbury boarding house at the time, working "on space" for a theatrical paper and trying to eke out a rather precarious living as a freelance journalist and short story writer.
I had never tackled a boys' story but as the "British Boy" (published by Lloyds Periodicals) had just come on the market, I decided to take Eric's advice and I sent off a short story and some articles to the editor. Rather to my surprise they were accepted, and the cheque I received whetted my appetite.
In went some more stories and back came other cheques, followed by a letter from Richard Hebert Poole - himself a well-known boys' writer under the pen-name of Michael Poole - who was editing the "British Boy", asking me to call. That was my first contact with the editorial side of boys' publications.
When I left Poole that afternoon I was assured of a regular market for short stories and also for long complete stories which Lloyds were publishing in a threepenny paper-backed "Library".
For the first time I found myself possessed of enough money to allow me to carry out a long-cherished ambition --- to go and live on the Continent for a while, travelling around and taking my typewriter with me. I got as far as North Germany and there I settled, living like a lord; for my income - paid in English money - was worth five or six times its spending value in German marks. In fact, by the time I left, I was getting nearly 18,000,000,000 marks for an English pound!
Such a fantastic existence couldn't last for ever, of course, and I experienced a rude awakening when Poole wrote to me to tell me that not only was the "British Boy" closing down; but so were all Lloyds Periodicals. But Lloyds looked after their contributors and I received quite a large cheque for everything I had written up to date, even though quite a lot had not been published.
Back I came to England to start all over again and seek for new markets. I was side-tracked from boys' writing for a time, editing a short-lived weekly review in the North of England and turning out newspaper features and serials for a Syndicate. I still had a hankering to write Boys' yarns, however, and I sent a few ideas along to F.Addington Symonds, who was running the "Champion" for the Amalgamated Press.
Symonds took a few stories from me and asked me to call. I asked him for a job on the editorial side but was unlucky. Symonds already had a large staff which included John W. Wheway, Gwynn Evans, Alfred Edgar, Rossiter Shepard, Ronald Fleming and quite a number of others whose names are now household words amongst collectors of Old Boys' Papers.
However; Symonds told me that R.T. Eves., who was in charge of a number of girls' periodicals at the time, needed someone; so off I went to see R.T. and within an hour or so I was engaged to take over the Girls' paper the "Ruby" - from Draycott M. Dell, one of the most prolific of boys' and girls' authors of that time.
"Monty" (everybody called him that) was one of the most popular men in Fleet Street. There was hardly anyone who didn't know him, and I was lucky inasmuch as he took me under his wing, introduced me all round, sponsored me as a member of the Press Club and generally showed me the ropes. Before long I was accepted by the A.P. crowd as one of themselves and I have never known a finer bunch of cheery, carefree and - to tell the truth, more erratic characters in my life.
The early twenties were, I think, the heyday of boys' (and girls') writers. We didn't get much in the way of salaries - the A.P. in those days were not very generous so far as editorial work was concerned - but we made up for it by writing in our spare time. A guinea per thousand words was paid for our contributions - not a great deal it is true; but when a man could turn out twenty or thirty thousand words a week it was not to be sneezed at, at a time when money was still worth its face value.
With beer at 8d a pint, cigarettes, at 11 1/2d for twenty, penny bus fares and a slap-up lunch for half-a-crown, money went a long way. And as most of us were bachelors we made the most of it.
But no matter how much we drew on Friday which was pay-day - few of us had anything left by the following Thursday sometimes not even after the following Monday. Then it was a case of 'back to the typewriter' to get a manuscript ready for Friday morning; when - if you were lucky enough to get it passed by the editor - you could draw a "special" (that is, get paid in advance for it) on Friday afternoon.
Friday was the day the freelance authors came in with their copy and their requests for specials, for they seemed to get through their money even more quickly than the staff men did. The result was that Friday nights, when everyone had drawn their salaries and their 'specials' - was indeed a 'balmy' night.
Everyone, staff men and freelances alike, congregated in the various Fleet Street taverns and the landlords soon found their tills denuded of ready cash and filled instead with cheques - for A.P. cheques were rightly looked upon by publicans as 'as good as gold'.
It was sometimes a bit of a struggle to get a story finished in time for Friday morning - the deadline for payment - and there is the well-known story told of Gwyn Evans turning up one Friday morning with a 50,000 word Sexton Blake story for Leonard Pratt, who was editing the "Sexton Blake" Library at that time.
"Pratty" glanced through the first few pages, said it was good stuff, and put through a 'special' for Gwyn. It was not until Monday morning, when the editor came to read the manuscript thoroughly that he discovered it consisted only of a dozen or so new pages - to which had been attached the carbon copy of a previous story to make up the bulk.
"Pratty" was breathing fire and slaughter when the door opened and Gwyn came into the room.
"Awfully sorry about that manuscript'', he explained. "I fastened the wrong copy to it by mistake. Here's the correct copy."
Gwyn had, of course, dictated the story and had it typed over the weekend. In the meantime he'd had his cheque a week in advance. But it was a very good story - all Gwyn's stories were; there was no swindle and everybody was happy.
Gwyn was invariably hard-up by the middle of the week, for when he had money he was never happy until he had got rid of it especially when he left the firm and went out freelancing, as so many authors did in the twenties. Gwyn lived in Chelsea and wherever he went he was invariably followed by a crowd of what we would now call 'beatniks' who talked a lot about "art" but who were quite content to live on Gwyn's open-handed generosity.
Gwyn, beloved of 'old guard' Sexton Blake readers, did not have a very long life, but he certainly had a gay one. He would have lived longer if he had taken more care of himself but he had a rooted objection to going to doctors so even when it was obvious to some of us that he was suffering badly from ulcers.
When eventually he had to go to a doctor, it was too late; and when I went to pay my last respects to him at Golders Green crematorium I could not help but notice that his Chelsea beatnik 'friends' were conspicuous by their absence.
Gwyn, however, was not as prolific an author as some of the other A.P's contributors. The output of some of them was truly amazing, although this was not apparent to their readers as they wrote under a variety of noms-de-plume. Crichton Nilne, for instance, was a terrifically fast worker and would turn out a Sexton Blake yarn, a romantic love story, and a schoolgirls' adventure tale with equal facility.
I met him first when, after the demise of the "Ruby" I was running (under R.T. Eves) the "Girls' Favourite". Crichton had been talking over stories with R.T. one afternoon and joined up with me when I left the office at five o'clock. We had a couple of drinks in a neighbouring hostelry then Crichton excused himself saying he had two seven-thousand-word yarns to write, but would meet me again later in the evening.
He met me shortly after nine. In the meantime be had gone to the hotel in the West End where he was staying, written the 14,000 words and come back to Fleet Street. I didn't know until the morning that the stories had been commissioned by Eves for the "Girls' Favourite'' - and it was no joke having to sub 14,000 words which had been written straight on to the typewriter at such speed.
Crichton had a flat in Paris as many A.P. authors had at that time - and when he came to London he invariably stayed at a very expensive hotel in the West End. He was an old Etonian with a taste for luxury and he had to turn out a tremendous output of work to keep up with his commitments. But he, too, like the rest of us, suffered from a chronic shortage of cash between 'specials' .
Meeting him one evening in the West End I tackled him about a small loan until Friday.
"I was just going to ask you the same thing," he confessed. "I'm in the same boat. But never mind. Have you had dinner yet?"
I confessed I had not.
"Then come and dine with me at Ciro's", he said.
Naturally I wanted to know how we could possibly dine at Ciro's, one of the most exclusive and expensive dancing and dining clubs of the time - without any money.
"Leave it to me," said Crichton, and steered me along to Ciro's. It appeared he was a member and well-known. We were not in evening dress - which was essential on the dance floor - but we had a table on the balcony; and Crichton proceeded to order a most elaborate dinner with a very excellent bottle of wine and coffee and brandy to follow. The aplomb with which he did it was a revelation to me, but I couldn't help wondering what was going to happen when the bill was presented.
It came in good time but I did not see how much it was - although I could make a shrewd guess. Crichton glanced at it, asked for a cheque book, filled in a cheque and asked for the change.
When the change was brought the tip he gave to the waiter was larger than the loan I had asked Crichton to advance.
And so, with our stomachs and wallets refilled - for Crichton had not forgotten the loan I needed - we left Ciro's; myself to seek a less expensive haunt and Crichton to go to the hotel and turn out a story to gain the wherewithal to meet Ciro's cheque when it was presented. That must have been a very expensive loan for Crichton to make.
Draycott M. Dell was another prolific writer, who was in charge of Chums when it was run by the Amalgamated Press. He turned out boys', girls' and adult stories with consummate ease. When he left Eves' department to go freelancing he did not neglect his social life. He was undoubtedly the best 'mixer' I have ever known. No matter what strange place he went into, in ten minutes or quarter of an hour ''Plenty'' - as he was affectionately called - would be chatting with everyone as though he had known them all his life.
He once resigned from the Press Club over some trivial incident but eventually a few of us persuaded him to put up for re-election. He did so - and fully half the members of the club signed the assentors' forms to have him back. The other half would have done the same had they not been out of London at the time.
Few people who went on it will forget the river trip which Monty organised for a crowd of us at Fleetway House - and as many freelances as could get along. He chartered a river steamer and by the time it got under way from Westminster Pier it was almost gunwales under with staff men and freelances, - nobody wanted to be left out of that outing.
We hadn't got very far below Tower Pier before it was announced that the bar stocks were exhausted. Disaster had struck pretty early. However it turned out that what had been consumed in that short space of time was the normal quota for a days' outing. In a liquor store in the bilges was the vessel' s supply for a week.
There were plenty of hands to help to get it up and once more all was well. We cruised happily down to the Nore and enjoyed a crowded picnic lunch on deck. It was not until we wore on the homeward journey up river that disaster struck again The week's liquor supplies were now exhausted. The skipper of the steamer could hardly believe it. He hadn't sailed with a cargo of Fleetway journalists before!
But the bar takings proved that, indeed, the whole week's supply of sustenance had vanished. There was nothing for it but to look forward to a 'dry' journey back to London - until someone spotted an isolated pub miles away from anywhere on the Kent marshes.
The skipper at first ignored our impassioned demands to heave-to and it was then that Monty - giving an impression of Fletcher Christian - threatened the skipper that if he didn't obey orders there would be such a mutiny on board that it would make the 'Bounty' affair look like a Vicarage tea-party!
Faced with overwhelming odds the skipper capitulated and tied up to a coal barge - over which we scampered to gain the shore with the help of a local boatman who ferried us across to the pub.
Why the skipper didn't maroon us there and then I don't know - unless it was that the cautious Monty had not completed payment of the charter fee until the voyage ended.
Having slaked our thirsts and taken precautions to see that we would not again run out of fuel on the homeward journey, we rejoined the steamer and everyone was so happy that the skipper even turned over the wheel to me for part of the way. Needless to say it was well over the hour when we returned to Westminster Pier, but the Press Club was still open and most of us were members - so that the exact hour when that momentous outing finally ended remains a matter for conjecture. I have a vague idea that I didn't get home at all that night., although everyone was back in the office all right on the following morning.
Monty was also the instigator of 'the Friday afternoon lunch parties which were held in Anderson's Hotel in Fleet Street. By lunch time on Friday most of the staff men had finished their work and were able to relax, and the freelances were filling in time until cheques were paid out at 4 p.m..
What more enjoyable way of relaxing and passing the time than by lunching together; swapping stories, singing songs and generally having a carefree time? A banqueting room with a piano was provided by the hotel. Each paid for his own lunch at the hotel's usual table-d'-hote price and, of course, for any additional refreshment we wanted.
Once the mundane matter of eating was ended, proceedings started generally with the communal singing - if it could be called 'singing',- of the Volga Boat Song. After that there was a free-for-all entertainment which invariably consisted of scurrilous songs specially written for the occasion, Rabelasian reminiscences, barrack-room ballads, and severely heckled after-lunch speeches.
Towards the end the proceedings generally became -- well, boisterous to say the least; but it would be quite untrue to attribute the eventual demolition of Anderson's Hotel to the activities of the Fleetway lunchers.
Anderson's was pulled down before World War II - if they had waited a little longer Hitler would have saved them the trouble. When a building was eventually raised on its site, it was Hulton (since renamed Longacre) House - now part of the Fleetway 'Empire'.
Probably the most successful social functions which were run at that time, however, were the annual dinners of the "0. and E.O.". The initials stood for 'Ourselves and Each Other', although certain disgruntled scribes who were not invited - and didn't think much of our literary abilities suggested they represented "Orthers and Editers Only".
Originally they wore intended as a 'get-together' of staff and contributors of R.T. Eves' department - which included both boys' and girls' periodicals - but eventually guests from other departments were included and most boys' or girls' authors of the period attended some of theme
Reginald B. Kirkham - a writer of many of the Cliff House stories and better known to boy and girl readers as 'Frank Vincent, or 'Joan Vincent' (and quite a number of other pen-names) - was the prime mover in these; and it was largely due to his efforts that "0. and E.0" continued until the outbreak of World War II.
The dinner which opened proceedings was merely an excuse to introduce what was in effect, a 'revue' of contemporary Fleetway activities; and the pseudo speeches songs, skits and sketches which made up the evening's entertainment -- all of which had to be strictly original and topical - frequently taxed the author's ingenuity to the utmost.
Some time later, the "Fleetway Players" -- a dramatic society largely composed of editorial staff -- produced a "Fleetway Revue"; but alas, none of the "0. and E.O." presentations could be included. They would certainly never have passed the Censor.
The "Fleetway Players" was another organisation which owed its inception largely to boys' and girls' authors. It was started in 1926 and, while most of the 'business side was tackled by members of R.T. Eves' department St. John Pearce was Chairman, Stanley Boddington secretary and John W. Wheway treasurer - the actors came from most of the "juvenile'' departments of the firm.
It would be impossible to give a complete list but included amongst those who "strutted their fretful hour" during the "Twenties" were Phil Swinnerton of 'Chicks Own', Teddy Wass of 'Answers', Hedley O'Mant of 'Magnet', Rowland Jameson of 'Schoolgirls' Weekly', Henry Cauldwell of 'Nelson Lee Library' and St. John Pearce, John Wheway and myself from various girls' publications.
I had known Hedley O'Mant (who also wrote a few Sexton Blake stories) much longer than I had any of the others, for he had been on the professional stage at a time when I was a critic on a North country paper; and I had made his acquaintance when he was appearing in the first tour of the famous long-running musical "Chu Chin Chow."
I believe the "Fleetway Players" still exists, although I haven't seen one of their productions for some years. I doubt, however, if they are the happy-go-lucky, care-free, "get together" occasions we knew in those days.
We played in the Blackfriars Theatre - a tiny but well-appointed theatre originally built by the First Lord Leverhulme as a private cinema. We generally played for three nights and quite a number of our supporters took tickets for all three. The reason was that the theatre was fully licensed and so many of the "old gang" met former editors and contributors they hadn't seen for months that they couldn't tear themselves away from the bar for more than an act. And. as plays generally consisted of three acts
I shan't mention the name of the well-known editor who described one of our productions as the "finest show I've never seen!"
And when the final curtain fell - and the theatre closed - well, we in the cast had taken good care to see that the dressing rooms didn't run dry.
But the real final curtain did not fall until 1939. For the cheery days of the twenties persisted for nearly another decade, although they slowed down somewhat.

There were slumps which closed down papers; there were marriages which depleted the ranks of the "bachelors gay"; there were strange disappearances of old familiar faces; there were black-bordered cards on the notice board of the Press Club, and, finally, there was a so-called statesman who promised us that "never again will there be a war between these two great nations".
And they all added up to one thing:
"Those days have gone for ever!"


This article was compiled by scanning the original publication using OCL software. If you spot any errors, please let me know, as it was a tedious job due to the archaic print face. John chiefchook@gmail.com

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