Since we discovered Stan hiding out in his retirement castle on the south coast of England back in 2001, we've become great email buddies and this year has already seen us achieve the joint goal of getting Russ Tobin back in print. To celebrate such a momentus achievement we caught up with Stan and held a brand new interview...
It’s been 25 years since Russ Tobin last put in an appearance – did you ever think you’d be writing Tobin adventures after all this time?
Russ is my alter ego, my other self. He has been with me constantly during those 25 years. He is an arch-observer of life, in particular the ludicrous aspects of human behaviour and activity. I’ve encountered such situations very often and thought: ‘This is for Tobin’. So the material has always been there; all that was required was the belief that a sufficient number of readers – and a publisher - would be interested in Russ’s resurrection. The fan letters and emails that resulted from the Stanley Morgan website convinced me of reader interest, and Twenty First Century Publishers sealed Tobin’s fate.
How hard was it to make the decision to set the new book in modern day? Were you confident that Tobin could make the switch? Personally I thought it was a brave gamble that worked perfectly – like he’d never been away!
The decision was not hard at all. Russ, who dwells in my subconscious, has progressed into the modern world step-by-step with me. It honestly never occurred to me that there was a time-lapse to overcome. I simply ignored the intervening years and began writing the story. And for me, also, at that moment, it was as though he had never been away.
I know that Publishing (and Publishers!) have always been a sticky issue throughout your career – I remember thinking that when the book was finished that the easy bit was over and finding a publisher would be pretty tough. Did that ever make you stop and think – why am I writing this book without a guaranteed publishing deal?
Throughout my career I have always endeavoured to keep the writing of a book separate in my mind from the publishing of it. Two very distinct mental processes are involved: the totally creative, mysterious, indefineable process of converting a dream into words on paper; and the purely practical job of getting that paper delivered to the reader.
I wrote the first Tobin adventure, The Sewing Machine Man, with hope but no real expectation of it ever being published, simply for the fun of it. And even when Tobin really took off and I was writing three books a year, I still focused on the story until it was finished, and then, where necessary, went to war over its publication. It has to be this way. To be divided is to be conquered.
The setting of the new book, like all the Tobins, is obviously written from experience. Was it always going to be set in Cuckoo Court or were there other ideas in the pipeline?
To refer to a previous answer, the idea grew wings through observation of the ludicrous. Visiting friends who lived in Retirement facilities, hearing the stories of hilarious, often quite unbelievable behaviour of the elderly Residents, and of the frustrations of the Management, planted the seed for Tobin Goes Cuckoo. Now that it is published, there are plenty of other ideas in the pipeline. Watch this space!
When you describe Russ as your ‘alter ego’ do you mean that he is the man you wish you were, or simply an extension of your own personality? There certainly seems to be a consensus amongst your readership that people would like to be more like Russ (myself included!).
In that I created Russ, he has to be an extension of some part of my personality. But the question is more difficult to answer than it may at first appear. When I am writing, I really have no idea where the ideas and style and imaginings come from. Often I have flicked through an early book and thought: ‘Did I really write that?’ It is all a magical, subconscious process that really defies analysis.
I am very grateful that so many fellas have wished to emulate Russ, because it means that, as a hero, he works (what man hasn’t secretly yearned to be James Bond?) What is especially gratifying in Russ’s case is that a few readers have actually enriched their lives by following his footsteps – e.g. changed their jobs for something more adventurous and rewarding. And one thanked me profusely because he had met his wife while working as a courier after reading The Courier. One way or another, Russ has quite a lot to answer for!
You’re described on the publisher’s site as an ‘inveterate world-traveller’ and obviously Russ’s adventures have spanned the globe. Do you have a favourite corner (or corners!) of the planet, both as a visitor and as a resident?
I have enjoyed every country and continent that I lived in or visited. I was particularly enthralled by Africa where, as a young man, I worked on a twenty-five thousand acre tobacco farm and roamed the wild bush looking for gold. At a later time my wife and I drove east from Los Angeles and discovered Palm Springs, an elegant desert oasis surrounded by magnificent mountains. We returned there often for the tranquility and the intense blueness of the desert sky. But few places on earth are more beautiful than the Weald of Kent on a British summer day. I love it all.
How have your friends and family reacted to the re-emergence of Tobin?
Rather mixed reaction, ranging from ‘Wonderful!’ to ‘What took you so long?’ They are, of course, delighted – and in particular with the quality of the book that Twenty First Century Publishers have produced. They also seem not too disenchanted with the contents – at least to my face.
One is, however, never a prophet in one’s own country – and to expect anything more than: ‘Great. When are you going to start the next one?’ from family is to embrace unrealistic expectation. Good thing, too; keeps the feet firmly on the ground.
Although our website has been around a few years now it still seems like things have happened incredibly quickly. In our last interview you spoke about it usually taking at least 18 months to find a publisher – when in reality things happened very differently in that department. What are your views on the internet and new technology that allows publishers to turn around books so quickly?
Every aspect of human endeavour, not only that of publishing, has been transformed by the computer and the internet. When I first started writing, in 1960s, it was an old typewriter and Tippex. I had a permanently bruised finger nail from easing back the ribbon guide to insert the correction paper. Now if I make a misstakke…I simply backspace and re-type. Wonderful!
In the 60s and 70s it was also not the done thing to send a manuscript to more than one agent or publisher at a time – and this is where the 18 months came in. A writer mails off a 300-page MS to an agent, it takes almost week to get there, the agent mails it to a publisher, the in-house reader sits on it for a month, doesn’t like it, sends it back with the rejection slip, and six weeks, or more, later the writer starts all over. With the advent of the computer, the writer can bang off three chapters by email to a dozen publishers and get a response within days.
Similarly, from the publisher’s point of view, the entire process can be speeded up dramatically by computer. Changes and corrections can be made in an instant, photographs for book covers can be modified and inserted at a stroke, and books can be produced POD – Print On Demand – so that it is not necessary to stock huge quantities of books that may not sell.
Since Twenty First Century Publishers (TFCP) first responded to my submission of TOBIN GOES CUCKOO, there has been an exchange of three hundred emails between Publisher – Writer – My Webmaster (you!). Can you imagine how long it would taken to communicate thus by Royal Mail? Given the average letter takes two days…yes, more than the 18 months you first mentioned! And this was after I’d found a publisher.
Mind you, it does help when one’s publisher, like you, sleeps beside his computer. I don’t think I’ve ever had to wait longer than ten minutes for a response from either of you, even when I email you at one a.m. All writers should be so lucky. Computer technology? In a word – Fabulous!
When we started the website we had no idea that you had been in films prior to getting published. It’s since become one of the most interesting parts of the site. Did you make a conscious career decision to stop acting or was it overtaken by the author in you? Did you ever consider a return to acting? It seems that British TV these days (the Soaps particularly) is giving lots of roles to older actors from the 60’s and 70’s – I’d love to see you on Albert Square market – or better still in the new Bond film!
Timing is all important in life. In 1959 when I returned to England from Southern Rhodesia with a modest Acting Trophy and a huge belief that I was destined to have an enormous impact on the British Film Industry, the British Film Industry was set fair to sail headlong into the Doldrums.
Throughout the 60’s very few British films were made. I was fortunate to find work on several Merton Park productions – the Scotland Yard and Edgar Lustgarten series – and to land my pivotal role as Casino Concierge in Dr NO. I was even more fortunate to find a niche as a TV Commercials voice-over artist, and continued to earn excellent money from that source for ten years.
However, waiting for days for the phone to ring, then taking a mad dash into London to do a voice-over was frustrating, so I began to write to use the time. And in 1969 Russ Tobin, as The Sewing Machine Man, was born.
As Russ took off in The Debt Collector, The Courier, Come Again Courier, I became increasingly aware that the solitude of writing suited me infinitely better than the stresses of acting, so yes to both questions: in the mid-70’s I made a conscious decision to stop acting, and it was overtaken by the author in me.
Did I ever consider a return to acting? Film-making was the only process I enjoyed, and if more parts had become available I would have continued. Working in a Soap would not interest me, but a part in the new Bond film!! Ready when you are, Mister de Mille!
I recall you once told us how the Tobin series came very close to being filmed. Do you think things might have turned out differently had the rights to film Tobin books been agreed? More to the point though – who would you have liked to see playing Tobin? Would you have been tempted to take the part yourself?
Several producers and production companies approached me about filming Russ, including Val Guest who directed Cannon and Ball’s film The Boys In Blue, but for reasons involving finance and indecision it never came to fruition. For me, the difference filming would have made was, of course, financial. Books were selling for two shillings (10p!) in those days, and ten percent of 10p (less income tax) meant one had to sell an awful lot of books to make even a modest living. One film deal, let alone several in the Tobin series, would have provided enough to retire on.
Who to play Tobin? – without a moment’s hesitation – the late Richard Beckinsale. He had the looks, the build, the charm, the humour…he was just perfect. If I hold one regret in life it is that I never saw Richard on screen as Russ Tobin. As for playing him myself – nah, too old. Russ is twenty-something, f’Petesake!
Despite him being your ‘alter-ego’, one area in which you and Russ differ is that you seem a devoted family man. Do you think Russ will ever find his truly-beloved and settle down to have kids? He may have survived some hairy moments but how would he cope with changing nappies?
Ouch! Thank you, yes, I am a devoted family man. But that’s real life. In fictional life our Russ is a footloose adventurer, a perpetual Peter Pan; forever twenty-something, forever tilting at windmills of challenging circumstance and enjoying the fruits of female companionship along the way.
Once asked to describe Russ, I replied ‘He is more the hunted than the hunter, but always imbues his relationships with fun and respect. He likes women; they like him. And he always…always makes certain to leave them happy.’ But marriage…? Keep your voice down, d’you want to kill the series? Oh, gawd, he’s heard you. Hey, Russ…RUSS! Come back! He was only joking!
Now see what you’ve done. Nappies, f’Petesake…