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WH Lane Crauford - Novelist

by Patricia Lane Evans and Nicki Lane Crauford
Additional material and book reviews by Alan D Craxford

In the beginning

William Harold Craxford was born on November 9th 1884 (1) into a family steeped in the traditions of the stage. Indeed his birth certificate states that his birth took place at the Britannia Theatre in Hoxton, North London. This was the establishment conceived and developed to national fame and acclaim by Samuel Lane and his wife, Sarah. His grandfather, William, had married Sarah's sister, Charlotte Borrow. His father, Albert Lane Craxford had been made manager of the theatre and his mother Georgina Pigott had been a singer and actress. His uncle, William Samuel, who managed the bars and tavern had also married a dancer at the theatre, Fanny Elizabeth Hook, who was a daughter of the Lupino family.

Sarah Lane, who inherited the theatre and took over the running of the organisation on the death of her husband, duly became a celebrity on stage and was idolised as 'The Queen of Hoxton' by the local populous. The theatre was renowned for the strength of its performances, the annual Christmas pantomimes, the loyalty of its players and staff and size and constancy of its audience. The company (actors, singers, dancers and backroom staff) was large and the families which made up the company tended to be productive too. There were always many children of all ages. Within three years, Harold - as he was known to his family - had two brothers. The next in line was called Alfred Lane after his father, the youngest Leonard Lane. There was also sister who died in infancy.

At this point it is worth noting that many of the male children received the 'Lane' attribute, a custom which persisted even after Sarah Lane's death in 1899, although it is absent from Harold's birth certificate. This tradition was not confined only to members of the Craxford family (Sarah died without a direct heir). It can be pointed out that one of their cousins by marriage, Henry George Lupino, who was born at the theatre in 1892 took the stage name Lupino Lane and became a major star of the music hall and silent film. It is also worthwhile noting that the family, for at least two generations, were known publically and professionally by the name Crauford even though on official documents the spelling with an 'x' persisted.


The family grows and spreads

WH Crauford

The author

It does not appear that Harold was destined to make a career for himself on the stage. He trained as an architect and worked for many years in London for the Midland Bank. He married Phyllis Maud Prince, a girl from Muswell Hill who was eight years his junior. They subsequently had two sons, Peter and Clive - who were both given the Lane name. Younger son, Clive, rose to the rank of acting Major in World War II and won the Military Cross in Caen, France. He married Margaret Till, the niece of the film actor Ronald Colman, in 1941.

It has been said that Harold's rather poor eyesight prevented him from serving in either of the World Wars. In the 1930s he started writing stories in his spare time using the name WH Lane Crauford. These novels were of two types: murder mysteries or light social comedies of the Jeeves and Wooster mould. After some measure of success when these were published he turned to writing on a full time basis during the second World War and continued doing so into the 1950s. He also wrote for the stage.

He died of cancer in 1955 at the age of 70 years.


The books

WH Crauford publicity photograph

Dust jacket photograph

In all, Harold wrote and published 49 books. Although his name has perhaps not persisted alongside that of Agatha Christie or PG Wodehouse, he moved in quite distinguised literary circles as a glance at the publisher's author list will confirm.

Ward, Lock (Publishers): List of authors 1946

For this section I decided to review three of his novels. These were chosen, not quite at random, but one title comes from each of the decades in which he was writing. The books were discovered at three different second hand book sites on the internet (3, 4) and each still had its original dust jacket. I was interested to see how expensive these books were at the time of their initial issue.


Continued in column 2...

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Three Reviews

Murder To Music

First edition, 1936. Published by Ward, Lock & Co. Ltd. 256 pages. Ex-Libris edition. A typical flyleaf review reads: 'For a breezy narrative, the type of book that is always welcome, WH Lane Crauford at his best must doubtless rank among the masters of this kind of literature'!

Cover of Murder To Music (1936)

"Murder To Music"

It’s the night of the dress rehearsal. The stars are here; the cast and extras have gathered; the author, the composer and the producer are on tenterhooks. The tensions are high but it’s not from first night nerves. There are tensions too amongst the cast. Richard Denny is in love with co-star Isobel Faye. She however is infatuated with Gordon Sheering who is planning to leave his wife Sheila. Then Vera Connington’s diamond necklace is stolen. If that isn’t enough, someone kills the understudy, Lawrence Blaine, on stage on opening night. Detective Kellerway from CID is on hand to sort everything out.

In this early crime novel WH Lane Crauford shows that he is quite capable of writing a tight storyline, maintaining a twisting but believable plot with a light hand which is quite witty at times. ”Mr Maximillian Vanderville was a big man in the City but out of his element in the theatre. A financial rather than an artistic brain, he valued everything by the sum of money it cost him to possess it and consequently valued his wife very highly”. He has obviously returned to an environment that he is comfortable with (he grew up in the theatre). The action takes place in ‘The Empress Theatre’ (a reference to the Britannia); his hero is called Raxford (surely not a coincidence) and at least one of the cast is identified with a real figure from his past. He has one of his characters describe a previous incident on stage where one actor had stabbed another and pinned his hand to a table. The producer, Julian Kassen still bore the scar. In his book of 1933 “Sam and Sallie” Alfred Lane Crauford describes the actors Algernon Symes and Walker Steadman in many plays facing each other as hero and villain. In a provincial play the villain tries to snatch a paper from the table but the hero pins his hand to this with a dagger. Symes never could explain how it happened but in the exuberance of the first night he actually did pierce Steadman’s hand.

There is a large cast introduced at breakneck speed in the first two or three chapters which can be quite confusing. A notepad and pencil would have been helpful. Kellerway is an eccentric (his picture appears on the cover of the book) with an odd almost disinterested interview style. The denouement at the end comes with the cast gathered around him. All this has a rather Poirot-esque feeling and I could not avoid the comparisons with Christie in her heyday. That said this book, written in 1936, is generally quite readable and holds the interest to the somewhat unexpected ending.

Money For Jam

First edition, 1946. Published by Ward, Lock & Co. Ltd. 218 pages. Cover price eight shillings and six pence. The flyleaf notes that the book production was to the authorised war economy standard.

Cover of Money For Jam 1946

"Money For Jam"

Simon Cheveronne is at University when he is unexpectedly made heir to Kelville Hall by his estranged grandfather Sir Matthew Cheveronne. Simon had expected to marry Daphne Whinndale, a minor socialite and heiress but Sir Matthew has other ideas. His intention is for Simon to marry his cousin Gwynneth to 'preserve the bloodline', leaving the mortgaged and indebted estate to him and his money to her. When the old man dies Simon is determined to make a success of his new position but through his own endeavours. He 'disappears' for weeks at a time only to return with large amounts of cash - and this when a notorious burglar 'The Kissing Cracksman' becomes active.

The novel centres around the cast of characters of Kelville Hall. It is undated but is presumably around 1930 for these are the landed gentry fully aware of their social status. The writing style is quite intense but lightweight and the characters are well observed as genial and generally believable but dated individuals. The investigations are carried out by Freddie Hilliard, a Private Detective who regularly appeared in Lane Crauford's books. This is not a fast action thriller or gruesome murder mystery. The central plot merely poses a couple of simple questions: "Is Simon the new 'Raffles'?"; "Will Simon and Gwynneth fall in love?" The storyline does however hold the attention and there are two or three unexpected twists right up to the last page. Overall 'Money For Jam' was a pleasant if undemanding read and held my interest to the end. The dust jacket is a "recognisable scene" from the book.

Continued in column 3...


Page added: June 1st 2005
Last updated: February 22nd 2015



A Man's Shadow

First edition, 1951. Published by Ward, Lock & Co. Ltd. 218 pages. Cover price six shillings.

Cover of A Man's Shadow

"A Man's Shadow"

Alan Dorian is the rising star of Rhennie and Sons, architects. Why then should anyone want him dead? He arrives at the offices of Private Detective Hilliard in fear of his life, recounting a series of threats and near misses that have occurred over the previous months. Hilliard at this time is both short of work and short of staff and he coerces his somewhat unwilling co-tenant, Robert Fendale, into helping him with the investigation. All seems mundane to start with until a body is discovered in Dorion's flat, shot dead at close range - and Dorion is missing.

This is one of a series of books that Lane Crauford wrote around the character of Freddie Hilliard. He is neither hero nor anti-hero; has never quite "made it" but believed inately in his own abilities. He is unconventional, self-opinionated and often on the wrong track, but without much evidence of humour. 'A Man's Shadow' pits Hilliard against Inspector Daker of the Yard - again (see 'Money For Jam' above). Robert Fendale is painted sympathetically, is given a love interest in Sally Minton (Dorion's young secretary) and proves himself to be a sensible and intuitive investigator. The ending itself, when it comes, is not so much a surprise - rather the way it is achieved.

A Bibliography

(Where known, the link will give access to an image of the dust jacket from the first edition of that title)

1931: The Missing Ace
1932: Follow The Lady; The Crimson Mask; The Hawkmoor Mystery
1933: Judy; The Final Curtain; Dogs In Clover
1934: The Ravencroft Mystery; When The Devil Was Well; Sally To Oblige
1935: Pat Preferred; The Imperfect Gentleman
1936: The Sixteenth Earl; Murder To Music; And Then A Boy
1937: Fly Away Peter; All The King's Men
1938: Love On The Run; Priscilla Goes Astray
1939: An Apple A Day; Almost A Lady
1940: Good-Bye George; The Marriage Of Sophie
1941: Miss Nobody; Ladies First
1942: Gentlemen, The Queen
1943: The Sky's The Limit; Too Good To Be True
1944: The Stork And Mr Melvil; Time Gentlemen, Please
1945: And Then There Were 9
1946: Money For Jam
1947: A Date With Death; Clothes And The Man
1948: The Bride Wears Black; Joseph Proctor's Money
1949: Smooth Killing; Till Murder Do Us Part
1950: Drakmere Must Die; Elementary My Dear Freddie
1951: A Man's Shadow
1952: Murder Of A Dead Man; One Man's Meat
1953: The Dearly Beloved Wives; Where Is Jenny Willet?
1954: Another Woman's Poison; The Ivory Goddess
1955: The Cat Dies First

"When The Devil Was Well" was adapted for the screen in 1937 starring Jack Hobbs, Vera Lennox and Eve Gray
"Joseph Proctor's Money" was adapted for television in 1951 starring Robert Beatty, Honor Blackman, Moira Lister and Kevin Stoney.

Plays

1931: Daddy Goes A-hunting: Premier, Embassy Theatre, London
1952: The Daisies Grow: Premier, Theatre Royal, Windsor
1952: The House At Bury Hill: Q Theatre, West London


References

1. William Harold Craxford: England and Wales Civil Registration Index (1837-1984) Birth March 1885 Shoreditch 1c 88
2. 'The Ravencroft Mystery': WH Lane Crauford: BerkelouW Books, Sydney, Australia
3. 'Murder To Music': WH Lane Crauford: Mainly Fiction, Auckland 1310. New Zealand
4. 'Money For Jam': WH Lane Crauford: The Book and DVD Exchange: Macclesfield, Cheshire



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