H. C. McNeile

H. C. McNeile
Cyril McNeile
Born 28 September 1888
Bodmin, Cornwall
Died 14 August 1937
Pulborough, West Sussex
Pen name Sapper
Occupation Soldier, writer
Nationality British
Genres Thriller
Notable work(s) Bulldog Drummond

(Herman) Cyril McNeile MC (28 September 1888 - 14 August 1937[1]) was a British author, who published under the pen name Sapper.

He was one of the most successful British popular authors of the Interwar period; his principal character was Bulldog Drummond.



Cyril McNeile was born in 1888 at Bodmin in Cornwall. His father was Malcolm McNeile, a Captain in the Royal Navy and, at the time, governor of the naval prison at Bodmin.[2]

He was educated at Cheltenham College and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich.[2] He was commissioned into the Royal Engineers in 1907 and was sent to France in 1914 when World War I broke out. McNeile saw action at both the First and the Second Battle of Ypres. He displayed considerable bravery, was awarded the Military Cross and was mentioned in dispatches.[2]

It is thought that McNeile's first work was published before the First World War, but this is difficult to verify as serving officers in the British Army were not permitted to publish under their own names except during their half-pay sabbaticals, leading to many works being published under pseudonyms such as McNeile's "Sapper."[2] His first known published works were a series of short war stories based on his own experiences, published under the name Sapper in the Daily Mail and in The War Illustrated.[3]

These stories were immediately successful and later sold over 200,000 copies within a year when republished in book form. His writing caught the public mood at the time - it was grimly realistic enough to seem authentic, yet managed to conceal the horrific reality of trench warfare and life at the front line. Lord Northcliff, the owner of the Daily Mail, was so impressed by this writing that he attempted, but failed, to have McNeile released from the army so he could work as a war correspondent.[2] In 1919, McNeile resigned from the army with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and became a full-time author,[2] publishing his first novel, Mufti, in that year. In 1922, he moved to Sussex and lived there for the rest of his life.

He is mainly remembered as the author of the ten Bulldog Drummond books, the first of which was published in 1920. These brought him public recognition and considerable financial success. The first book was adapted for the stage and produced, to great success, at Wyndham's Theatre during the 1921-1922 season with Gerald du Maurier playing the main character.[4] The film rights to the 1929 Bulldog Drummond film are reputed to have earned McNeile $750,000[2] However, the bulk of his work was in the form of short stories that were published in various popular monthly magazines. At his peak, in the 1920s, he was the highest paid short story writer in the world.[5] He specialized in the twist in the tail and many of his stories upended the reader's expectations in the final paragraph, sometimes in the final few sentences. Most of his books were short story collections.

McNeile had married Peggy Baird-Douglas and had two sons. He was an unremittingly hearty man, who even his friend and collaborator Gerard Fairlie described as "not everybody's cup of tea". He died on 14 August 1937 at his home in Pulborough, West Sussex.[6] His funeral, with military honours, took place at Woking crematorium.[7]


  • Sergent Michael Cassidy R.E (1915)
  • The Lieutenant and Others (1915)
  • Men, Women and Guns (1916)
  • No Mans Land (1917)
  • The Human Touch (1918)
  • Mufti (1919)
  • Bulldog Drummond (1920)
  • The Man in Ratcatcher (1921)
  • The Black Gang (1922)
  • The Dinner Club (1923)
  • Jim Maitland (1923)
  • The Third Round (1924)
  • Out of the Blue (1925)
  • Word of Honour (1926)
  • Jim Brent (1926)
  • The Final Count(1927)
  • Shorty Bill (1927)
  • John Walters (1927)
  • The Saving Clause (1927)
  • The Female of the Species (1928)
  • Temple Tower (1929)
  • The Finger of Fate (1930)
  • Tiny Carteret (1930)
  • The Island of Terror (1931)
  • The Return of Bull-Dog Drummond (1932)
  • Knock-Out (1933)
  • Ronald Standish (1933)
  • When Carruthers Laughed (1934)
  • Bull-Dog Drummond at Bay (1935)
  • Ask For Ronald Standish (1936)
  • Challenge (1937)


  1. ^ H. C. McNeile Biography Summary at www.bookrags.com
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Sapper". The Book and Magazine Collector (79). October 1990. 
  3. ^ "The Assembly Trench". The War Illustrated. 1918-03-16. http://www.greatwardifferent.com/Great_War/British_Front/Assembly_Trench_01.htm. 
  4. ^ "Dictionary of Literary Biography on Herman Cyril McNeile". http://www.bookrags.com/biography/herman-cyril-mcneile-dlb/. Retrieved 2008-02-20. 
  5. ^ Introduction to "Sapper - The Best Short Stories" J.M Dent, London, 1984
  6. ^ "Leut.-Colonel Cyril McNeile". The Times: p. 12. 1937-08-16. 
  7. ^ "Funeral and Memorial Services". The Times. 1937-08-20. 

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