Sexton Blake

Sexton Blake

Sexton Blake is a fictional detective who has appeared in many British comic strips and novels, described by Professor Jeffrey Richards on the BBC in 'The Radio Detectives' in 2003 as "the poor man's Sherlock Holmes". Sexton Blake adventures appeared in a wide variety of British and international publications (in many languages) from 1893 to 1978, running to over 4,000 stories by some 200 different authors. Blake was also the hero of numerous silent and sound films, radio serials and a 1960s ITV television series.


The first Sexton Blake story was "The Missing Millionaire". Written by Harry Blyth (under the pen-name Hal Meredeth) it appeared in the penny dreadful "The Halfpenny Marvel #6", on December 20, 1893 [Turner, E.S., "Boys Will Be Boys" (Penguin, 1976) p.129] . He appeared in a few more stories by Meredeth.

His adventures appeared in a variety of publications including Union Jack, launched in April 1894 in which he appeared in the second issue under the title; Sexton Blake Detective, and its successor from 1933 Detective Weekly from 1904 to 1940 and simultaneously in The Sexton Blake Library, from 1915 to 1963 which ran five series, the last with 526 digest size issues. A series of 160 page Sexton Blake annuals, featuring old stories and new material began in 1938 but only lasted till 1941.

Blake also appeared in a number of serials in Boy's Friend in 1905 and in Penny Pictorial in 1907 - 1913 when the magazine folded. In Boy's Friend came the first real lengthy stories, up to 60,000 words allowing plot and character development. In 1907, a story entitled "Sexton Blake's Honour" which dealt with his pursuit of a criminal who turned out to be his brother, Henry Blake. Blake turned out to have another bad brother, Nigel, in the first issue of Detective Weekly in a story titled "Sexton Blake's Secret". With the popularity of school stories at the time, his assistant, Tinker's schooldays were chronicled in issues 229 and 232. Thanks to his success, it was decided that he should get his own magazine and on 20 September 1915 appeared the first issue of Sexton Blake Libraries, entitled "The Yellow Tiger" written by G H Teed, which introduced villains; Wu Ling and Baron de Beauremon in an eleven chapter story, costing 3d (1.25p). The second issue was called "Ill Gotten Gains" (The Secret of Salcoth Island) where Blake fought Carlac and Kew. No. 3 was called "The Shadow of his Crime" and no. 4 "The Rajah's Revenge". Writers who worked on Blake's appearances include John Creasey, Jack Trevor Story and Michael Moorcock. There was one Super Detective Library appearance of Blake, a comic strip called "Sexton Blake's Diamond Hunt", four hardbacks, designed for the younger market in one of which Blake went up against Raffles, then a final series of just forty five paperbacks followed.

Updating Blake

As the years passed Blake's character underwent various permutations. Originally he was created in the vein of earlier 19th century detectives, but late in the 1890s Blake's authors consciously modelled him on Sherlock Holmes. It was not until 1919 that Blake took on a more distinctive personality. The golden age of the story papers matched Blake's, as he became more action-oriented than Holmes and duelled with a variety of memorable enemies. Many of Blake's writers had been men of adventure. Men who had travelled the world and seen the seamier side of life. When World War Two started, they enlisted leaving just a small group of writers behind with just the occasional guest writer and the stories suffered. In 1956, William Howard Baker took over as editor of the Sexton Blake Library and made changes. Blake who had moved a number of times over the years moved to a suite of plush offices in Berkeley Square and acquired a secretary, Paula Dane who was a background not quite love interest for Blake and later the younger Marion Lang who filled the same spot for Tinker. Tinker was given a real name, Edward Carter. Covers which had become dull in the forties became more eye catching and a new group of authors arrived. Baker stayed as editor till 1963, his last story being "The Last Tiger".

After publishers Fleetway dropped the Sexton Blake library series, Howard Baker arranged to continue it independently, initially through arrangements with mass market paperback companies Zenith, Mayflower Dell and MacFadden, and then through his own Howard Baker Books.

The Friends

In Union Jack number 53, in a story titled "Cunning Against Skill", Blake picked up a wiry street-wise orphan as an assistant who was known only as "Tinker" till the 1950s. Over the years, Tinker changed from a bright eyed boy with a hard right hook to a rugged and able young man. As well as assisting the "guv'nor", as he called Blake, Tinker also kept Blake's crime files up to date with clippings from the daily newspapers as well as helping Blake in his fully equipped crime lab. Other helpers included Derek "Splash" Page of the Daily Radio and Ruff Hanson, a tough American Investigator (both created by Gwyn Evans) as well as friends at Scotland Yard; Chief Detective Inspector Lennard, Detective Inspector Coutts and Superintendent Venner.

In 1905, Mrs Bardell (created by William Murray Graydon, who also created Pedro), Blake's bustling housekeeper turned up and remained till the end. Her misuse of the English language was legendary in stories, and she was an able cook and would be on hand if a client needed food or a cup of tea and even featured as the main character in some stories: "The mystery of Mrs Bardell's Xmas pudding" in 1925 and "Mrs Bardell's Xmas Eve" in 1926. In Union Jack 100, a story entitled "The Dog Detective", a bloodhound named Pedro turned up and was to track many villains to their lair in future stories.

The Villains

George Marsden Plummer (created by Ernest Semphill), a crooked Detective Sergeant at Scotland Yard went after Blake when he stood between him and a fortune but like many others, he ended up in a police cell. But unlike many before him, he escaped again and again, becoming Blake's bitterest enemy. Another memorable character was Waldo the Wonderman (created by Edwy Searles Brooks) who started out as a villain and ended up in later stories as a friend of Blake's who helped him in a number of cases. This 1918 superman had tremendous strength, could contort his body like a rubber man and was insensitive to pain. But even when reformed, he stole money but now from blackmailers, swindlers and other members of the Underworld. Others including the Byronic master thief Zenith the Albino who had crimson eyes, Dr Huxton Rymer, Leon Kestrel, the Master Mummer and many more.

Like Blake himself, the type of villain he faced changed with the times. After World War Two his opponents became more down-to-earth, their personalities and motives less fantastic. Veteran writers John Hunter and Walter Tyrer excelled at this type of writing, but others failed to hold the public's attention.

After the appointment of W Howard Baker as editor of the Sexton Blake Library in 1955, the series found new popularity with faster-moving stories, often influenced by American pulp fiction.

Blake in Films

There were several Sexton Blake stage plays, the earliest one produced in 1907, "The Case of the Coiners". The first Blake film appeared in 1909 was called "Sexton Blake" and was written by C Douglas Carlisle who also directed and starred in the twelve minute short. This was followed by "Sexton Blake V Baron Kettler" a few years later. In 1914 during the silent era there were thirteen more half-hour Blake features, the first being "The Clue of the Wax Vesta" followed by "The Mystery of the Diamond Belt". Another was titled "Sexton Blake Versus Mademoiselle Yvonne.

A second series of six silent films were released in 1928 with Langhorne Burton as Blake and Mickey Brantford as Tinker. The first was "Silken Threads" and later came "The Clue of the Second Goblet".

"Sexton Blake and the Bearded Doctor" was the first of three films in the 1930s. Based on a novel by Rex Hardinge, it featured George Curzon as Sexton Blake and Tony Sympson as Tinker. "Sexton Blake and the Mademoiselle" (featuring Mme. Roxanne as the female villain from the books) from a story by G H Teed followed shortly afterwards and the third was "Sexton Blake and the Hooded Terror" with Tod Slaughter playing the villain.

Blake on the Radio and TV

On 26 January 1939 BBC Radio broadcast a serial called "Enter Sexton Blake" with George Curzon again as Blake and Brian Lawrence as Tinker, followed on 30 March 1940 by "A Case for Sexton Blake" which was adapated for radio by Francis Durbridge (creator of Paul Temple). Later in 1967, BBC aired another radio serial on the character with William Franklyn playing Blake. ITV aired "Sexton Blake" from 1967 to 1971. Among the storylines lasting 2-6 episodes was "The Invicta Ray" where a villain dresses in a costume and hood of sack cloth like material and under the rays of the Invicta Ray becomes invisible so he can commit his crimes without being seen.

Sexton Blake on the BBC, 28 November 1968 till 13 January 1971. Of 30 episodes, only the first episode still exists minus titles and credits.

* Episodes 1-6 (untitled). 28 November 1968 to 9 January 1969.
* The Great Train Robbery. 2 episodes. 16 January 1969 to 23 January 1969.
* The Great Soccer Mystery. 3 episodes. 30 January 1969 to 13 February 1969.
* Sexton Blake and Captain Nemesis. 3 episodes. 8 October 1969 to 22 October 1969.
* Sexton Blake verses The Gangsters. 3 episodes. 29 October 1969 to 12 November 1969.
* Sexton Blake and the Frightened Man. 2 episodes. 19 November 1969 to 26 November 1969.
* Sexton Blake and the Undertaker. 3 episodes. 3 December 1969 to 17 December 1969.
* Sexton Blake and the Toy Family. 2 episodes. 23 December 1969 to 30 December 1969.
* Sexton Blake and the Puff Adder. 6 episodes. 9 December 1970 to 13 January 1971.

* The Cast (1967 - 1971) :
* Laurence Payne as Sexton Blake
* Roger Foss as Edward Clark (Tinker)
* Dorothea Phillips as Mrs Bardell
* Ernest Clark as Inspector Cutts
* Leonard Sachs as Inspector Van Steen
* Meredith Edwards as Inspector (Taff) Evans
* Eric Lander as Inspector Cardish
* Charles Morgan as Inspector Davies
* Producer Ronald Marriott. This Sexton Blake drove a white Rolls Royce named "The Grey Panther" and had a bloodhound named Pedro. The show was originally produced by Rediffusion and Thames took over in 1968.

There was also Simon Raven's "Sexton Blake and the Demon God" was a short television show produced by the BBC in 1978.

Other Blake appearances

Blake even made it onto records a seven minute long 78 rpm record called "Murder on the Portsmouth Road," written by Donald Stuart and featured Arthur Wontner (who was later to star in a Sherlock Holmes film) as Blake.

A set of poorly drawn Sexton Blake playing cards were produced around 1940 and Blake made it into comics too. In the Knockout comic and some annuals, started by artist Jos Walker and then taken over by Alfred Taylor for ten years, though the undoubted highlight was a strip drawn by Eric Parker who drew hundreds of memorable covers for the Sexton Blake Libraries, called "The Secret of Monte Cristo".


* [ "The Other Baker Street Detective", from a 1998 radio talk by Prof. Jeffrey Richards]
* Turner, ES, "Boys Will be Boys", 1948. History of British boys' weeklies from Victorian times up to the 1950s.

External links

* [ Blakiana: The Sexton Blake Resource]
* [ Jess Nevins' Sexton Blake Site]
*imdb title|id=0196290|title=Sexton Blake ITV television series
*imdb title|id=0030734|title=Sexton Blake and the Hooded Terror (1938)
*imdb title|id=0037666|title=The Echo Murders (1945)
*imdb title|id=0037061|title=Meet Sexton Blake (1945)
*imdb title|id=0423736|title=Sexton Blake and the Demon God (1978)
* [ BBC 7 - "The Radio Detectives" - Sexton Blake, the other Baker Street Detective] - streaming audio

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