Edwin & Irene Turvey : Modern Fiction Ltd.

modern fictionMy post a few months back on the pulp-fiction writer Nat Karta elicited a welcome amount of interest – at least amongst the cognoscenti who recognise and embrace the Robert Escarpit distinction between “connoisseur reading” and “consumer reading”.  Both bibliographically and culturally the favourite British “consumer reading” of the mid twentieth century has all but been consigned to a historical black hole.  The truth is that writers like “Nat Karta”, “Hank Janson” and “Darcy Glinto” heavily outsold all the Evelyn Waughs, Graham Greenes and Anthony Powells of the literary establishment – and that alone surely makes them worthy of a little more attention.  Their books too are now both rare and very poorly and patchily represented in the national collections, which makes them worthy of bookselling attention too.

Henri DupresThe publisher Edwin Henry Turvey (1902-1981) was one of the key figures, but I suspect you will search in vain for any reliable biographical information about him.  He was in fact born in Kilburn in North London – the son of a barman.  He married Annie Smith (also known as Annie Kenna) at Islington in 1929, the couple living initially at an address in Clerkenwell.  He first came to public notice in brief mentions in the newspapers in late 1938 – the Portsmouth Evening News of Wednesday 14th December carried the following terse report: “Pleading guilty at the Central Criminal Court yesterday to a charge of selling obscene literature, Edwin Henry Turvey (36), a salesman, was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment”.  To judge from his later output what the court judged obscene (probably an imported American magazine) was probably no more than, at best (or at worst), mildly salacious, but his life was perhaps already becoming problematic in other ways.  The electoral register for that year finds him, properly enough at a prisonish address in Parkhurst Court, Holloway, with Annie – but it also finds him (lightly disguised as Edwin John Turvey) living with a woman calling herself Irene Lilian Turvey at 160 Lordship Road in Shoreditch.

Ben SartoIt’s certainly the same man, because it was with Irene Lilian Turvey that he set up the publishing house of Modern Fiction Ltd. in 1943, originally operating from Holloway in North London, but soon from a warehouse in Morwell Street off the Tottenham Court Road.  Irene Lilian Taylor (1915-1992), to give her true name, was the daughter of a Lincolnshire farm-worker and a mainstay of the business, which rapidly developed a stable of authorial pseudonyms which became both highly popular and instantly recognisable – “Henri Duprès” for saucy romances, “Ben Sarto” for Chicago or New York set American-style thrillers – these both in fact the work (at least initially) of the moonlighting journalist Frank Dubrez Fawcett (1891-1968) – and probably the best known name of all, “Griff”,  with a whole series of hard-boiled gangster novels begun by the bibulous Ernest Lionel McKeag (1896-1974) and later taken over by other writers. Many of the earlier titles had cover designs by the mysterious H. W. Perl – a variable but at best a highly gifted artist, with a sensitivity and subtlety rare in pulp publishing. Quite who he (or perhaps she) was no-one seems to know, but my guess would be either Herman Perl or Hyman Perl (Pearl), both refugees from continental Europe and both of whom died in north London in 1957.

Irene Lilian TurveyIn 1945 Edwin and Irene were both registered at a residential address at 28 Hersham Road, Walton on Thames, and Irene formally changed her name from Taylor to Turvey by an announcement in the local press in 1946 – this later confirmed by a formal deed announced in the London Gazette on 12th September 1947.  The couple were eventually to marry at St. Pancras late in 1964.

GriffThe “Griff” and “Ben Sarto” lines developed by Modern Fiction became, for a time, among the best-selling of all the pulps and the Turveys were able to diversify. They acquired their own printers, taking over Craig Mitchell & Co., and renaming the company with Edwin Turvey’s initials, E.H.T. Printers Ltd.  The business was reshaped to some extent in 1949, with another London Gazette announcement saying that the Turvey partnership in a subsidiary business as printers, publishers, librarians, newsagents and stationers at 192 Pershore Street in  Birmingham, trading as the Fulton Publishing Co., was to be dissolved and would be continued by Irene alone.  The same change was decreed at the same time for their Pillar Box Library at 25 Half Moon Lane, Herne Hill – a little local business which appears to have been run by Edwin Turvey’s mother, Annetta Elizabeth Turvey, until her death in 1955.

Spike GordonMeanwhile the Modern Fiction output was going from strength to strength, increasing their output from two to four new titles a month and introducing new brand-named authors like “Hank Spencer” and “Spike Gordon”, the latter apparently a pseudonym of another serial churner out of pulp novels, John Russell Fearn (1908-1960), perhaps best known for his science fiction.

Hank SpencerBut the days of the post-war pulp phenomenon were numbered.  A spate of book-bannings, some high-profile obscenity trials and prison sentences for publishers, the spread of television viewing down the social scale, and the rise of more mainstream paperback publishing all played their part.  From a peak in 1953-1954, Modern Fiction Ltd. fell into a rapid and terminal decline. An announcement, again in the London Gazette, on 29th July 1955, warned that under the 1948 Companies Act , “unless cause is shown to the contrary”, Modern Fiction Ltd. would be struck off the Register and the company dissolved.  Six months later, on 27th January 1956, the company was duly struck off – although there seems to be some evidence that it limped on for a few more years in some kind of twilight existence.

Quite what became of the Turveys thereafter I have been unable to discover, although it’s difficult not to imagine that this resourceful and inventive pair would not have flourished in some sphere or other.  The printing arm of the business, E. H. T. Printers Ltd., certainly survived until after Edwin Turvey’s death in Surrey in 1981, it being voluntarily wound up by Irene Turvey (still at 28 Hersham Road, Walton-on-Thames) in the spring of 1982.

For some more Modern Fiction titles and notes on the individual books – please see http://www.ashrare.com/modern_fiction_ltd.html.

About Laurence Worms - Ash Rare Books

Laurence Worms has owned and run Ash Rare Books since 1971. He represented the antiquarian book trade on the (British) National Book Committee from 1993 to 2002 and has been six times an elected member of the Council of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association. He was largely responsible for drafting the Association’s Code of Good Practice introduced in 1997, served as Honorary Secretary of the Association from 1998 to 2001 and as President from 2011 to 2013. He is a former member of the Council of the Bibliographical Society and continues to serve on the Council of the London Topographical Society. He writes and lectures on various aspects of the history of the book and map trades, and has lectured at the universities of Cambridge, London, Reading and Sheffield, as well as at the Bibliographical Society, the Royal Geographical Society, the Warburg Institute and at Gresham College. He teaches annually at the London Rare Books School and also organises the monthly Book Collecting Seminars at Senate House, University of London. Published work includes the compilation of fourteen ‘lives’ for the “Oxford Dictionary of National Biography”, a number of articles for “The Oxford Companion to the Book” and the chapter on early English maps and atlases for the fourth volume of “The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain”. A major essay on the same subject also appeared in “The History of Cartography” published by the University of Chicago Press. His long-awaited “British Map Engravers, co-written with Ashley Baynton-Williams, was published to critical acclaim in 2011”. More recently, he contributed the numerous biographical notes to Peter Barber’s hugely successful “London : A History in Maps”, co-published by the British Library and the London Topographical Society in 2012.
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3 Responses to Edwin & Irene Turvey : Modern Fiction Ltd.

  1. David says:

    I worked as an apprentice printer in the mid 1960’s at Craig Mitchell & Co. (ETH Printers). The printers was in Liverpool Road north London. I was there for 6 years. I must say it was fun because Turvey was unconventional. There were some odd characters who used to visit the printers. One guy he called himself a writer, one of the books he wrote was called ‘The Art of Spanking’. I know this man wrote lots of these types of books. Turvey used to use a paper called “bulkright’, this was a thick paper so once the cover was glued on the book it looked thick so more appealing to the buyer. Also a book called ‘Maria Monk’ and lots of Black and white mags of arty type nude photos. However there was one hardback book I recall was a series of Hogath plates. Now and again I went out with the delivery driver to another place I think belonged to Turvey in Grays Inn Road near Kings Cross Station. Turvey used to travel to the printers every day from Walton-on-Thames. I left the company in 1972. I know Turvey moved from Liverpool Road to go into partnership with another company.

    • Thank you so much for this interesting contribution. If the book you mention is Sue Caron, ‘The Gentle Art of Spanking’ (1971), then this would suggest that Turvey was in some way involved with Gadoline Limited and the early days of Gold Star Publications, which of course became the foundation of the David Gold / Ann Summers empire.

  2. Debbie Hughes says:

    Hi Laurence – I can tell you who H W Perl is! He was my Great Uncle Hyman Wolff Perlzweig and he died prematurely in December 1952. I have copies of his ‘Pulp Fiction’ covers, along with cartooning propaganda from the Second World War, sketches for comic strips and we have (literally) hundreds of paintings (H W Perlzweig). He exhibited at the RA 1938/39/40. I believe he illustrated for Phoenix Press, Hutchinson, Mellifont Children’s Books, Hamilton & Co, Lloyd Cole, Herbert Jenkins and Hodge. The cover illustrations for Ben Sarto’s cover illustrations change markedly after my Uncle’s death! I am now studying for an MA in the History of Art and am hoping to find out much more about my relative!

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