First of all - the one question we've been wondering for years! How much of the Russ Tobin adventure was based on personal experience? Looking back - he was a thoroughly nice bloke and despite the fact it might now easily be branded "70's sexism" - you only have to read the books to see he was in fact the ultimate gentleman (almost a feminist!!) Nowhere in those novels do you see a woman treated badly or without thought for her feelings. As good a role model as any young boy could have we reckon!
Well, now, thanks for the compliments about Russ's character. And, yes, it does reflect my own appreciation of women. I love 'em. And it undoubtedly came through in my writing because much of my fanmail was from women. As for answering the question... There is an admonition in writing circles 'write what you know'. Yes, I did sell sewing machines in Canada, and the 'switch' method used in the book is factual. It was widely used throughout the world in the 50's to sell vacuum cleaners, cars, etc. And undoubtedly still is. I also collected debts for a loan agency. I never did become a travel courier, but researched their activities while on holidays to Majorca. With due modesty, I researched all my books very thoroughly. I went to Australia for 'Tobin Down Under', to Africa on photographic safari for 'Safari', and used my experience of Ireland and the USA for the later books. Readers can detect the 'truth' of a book. When you know your stuff, a certain confidence shines through. So, the answer to your question is - a great deal of the technical Tobin adventure was based on personal experience!! BUT WHAT ABOUT THE SAUCY BITS??? you are screaming. Now, come on,fellas, would a gentleman reveal such information? Like I said, I love 'em. Let's leave it at that, hm?
Do you know who the bloke/model was that posed for all those Tobin covers in the 70's? (Not to mention the girls!)
Alas, I don't know who any of the models were who posed for the covers. A writer is seldom, if ever, involved in the design and production of the jacket (hence my dismay at the Skyjacked cover). And as Mayflower (Granada) is long since defunct, I really don't know who could identify them. Maybe an appeal on the internet? Sorry I can't be more helpful.
What was the story behind the change in publisher from Mayflower to Futura to Star. By the mid-70's you were churning out books at a fair old speed! Was this a contractual thing or were you just on a roll?
In truth, I was headhunted. I had written ten Tobins for Mayflower, the sales were in the millions, and my agent was approached by Futura who offered some lovely money. Mayflower wouldn't match it, so we switched. I was, incidentally, personally very sorry to leave Mayflower. They were lovely people. I got to know the sales team very well. Alas, the bosses did not believe in spending money to make it, so they lost Tobin. Later on, Star (W.H.Allen) did the same to Futura. They offered me a contract for £100,000 for 12 books to be published over four years. I was on a roll, but it was also a contractual obligation. Incidentally, £100,000 then is probably worth a million now.
Whatever happened to Gabriel Horn? "A Blow For..." left off and hinted at a sequel that never arrived.
Gabriel Horn got lost in the troubles that began to assail publishers in the late 70's and early 80's. Take-overs were rife, and publishers were opening their cheque books for 'certainties' that were coming in from the USA where the promotion work had already been done. Very nervous times. W.H.Allen was acquired by Virgin Publishing.A sequel to Gabriel Horn was never written. Star got into trouble before we could expand that series, and then I began writing the more serious stuff.
Having finished the final Tobin book it was interesting to see Russ disappearing off with a girl to adventures unknown...quite sad in a way. Did you write it knowing it was the end of the series or did events in publishing conspire to have it that way?
No, I didn't know it was going to be the final one. I was in fact in the middle of that twelve-book contract when things went pear-shaped for the publisher. But do not despair. I feel a book coming on and will surely write Russ again.
How did the Fly Boys series come about? You credit Desmond Elliott with the idea. How long was he your agent for? I remember Gary and I wrote to him in the early 90's asking if he knew your whereabouts! Never got a reply....
Demond Elliott became my agent after the third of fourth Tobin had been published, I can't remember exactly, and remained so until the final Tobin book. There was a fear that Russ's adventures were being published too fast and that we were 'going through the product too quickly', and many ideas for alternatives were aired. The result was 'Randy Comfort', 'Albert Shifty', 'Gabriel Horn' and 'The Fly Boys'. Although I did acknowledge Desmond as the provider of the seed for TFB, I truly do not remember him coming up with the specific idea. There were so many discussions involving Desmond, Linda my wife, and myself, it's impossible to say who contributed what.
An interesting sidebar to the series is that Sqn. Ldr. Alec Bristow DFC AFC MTAI RAF (Retd.) ran a travel agency in Walton on Thames and was a neighbour of ours. Alec was responsible for organising me a flight in a VC10 cockpit from Cyprus to Beirut, and a session in the flight-simulator at Heathrow Airport. Fascinating stuff! The other lads acknowledged on page 6 in The Fly Boys were crew members who became good friends.
How about the origins of the Michael Morgan series? Did you ever have any plans to continue that? How did those books fair at the time compared to the Tobins?
Octopus Hill was in fact an early story, written when I was footling around searching for a writing direction. I simply fancied tackling an adventure story. Had the Tobin books not taken off so readily, I suppose I would have continued with the adventure books, and did, of course, write 'Mission To Katuma', but Tobin crowded everything else out - and the publishers were, naturally, only interested in Russ. By comparison, the Morgan books, and everything else I wrote, faired very badly!
One of the mini-biogs on a book jacket mentions you spent time as a Tobacco Farmer! Is that true and how come you never put that in any of the books? "Tobin Farms Tobacco" perhaps?
I did spend nearly five years in Southern Rhodesia and did work, as a bookkeeper, on a fabulous tobacco farm for a year. That farm is the setting for Octopus Hill.
You've obviously seen the world - are you still living Ireland?
No, I don't live in Ireland anymore. My family and I returned to England some years ago. The 'kids' are, of course, all grown up; my wife, Linda, and I live in Eastbourne.
Sales of the Tobin novels speak for themselves - but was there much critical acclaim or publicity at the time? Were you (or did you consider yourself) "famous" in the celebrity sense of the word?
Here I speak with due modesty, but perhaps the most phenomonal aspect of Tobin's success was that there was no critical acclaim, nor much publicity at that time. The story goes like this: I wrote The Sewing Machine Man while waiting for my theatrical agent to telephone. I was doing voice-overs then, which meant good money when I was actually working, but considerable time at home between jobs. A hardcover publisher, The Harcourt Press, produced a hardcover edition (I actually possess the very first bound proof, dated 1968) and then promptly went bust! I took over the publication, sold the paperback rights to Granada for £650, and away we went.
Now, one thing you have to know about publishers - and particularly British publishers - is that if they don't pay you a lot of money in advance of sales, they don't need to make a great effort to sell the book. Truly. If they are forced to pay, say, John Grisham a million quid for his latest, they will pull out every publicity stop to recoup their money and make a profit...press ads, TV ads, posters, dumpbins, signing sessions etc. etc. In Granada's case, £650 did not exactly trigger a need for a promo spending spree. In fact they spent...zilch.
So-o-o, Stanley decided to spend a bit of his own TV-earned money, hired a small PR company, managed to gather a few trade-paper journalists at the Aldwych Hotel, and got a few column inches of publicity. Ditto The Debt Collector...ditto The Courier...
It was not until I wrote to Sir Sydney Bernstein, the then Chairman of Granada, telling him of the Tobin sales success and complaining about the almost total lack of promotion budget, that we got some action. In the words of the then Sales Manager, 'Bernstein stormed in like a White Tornado, demanding to know why we were not getting behind Stanley Morgan'. That changed things - but only in a very 1970's British context. They gave Tobin Takes Off a promo budget of £6000 - for the entire country! Wow! No, lads, the books sold themselves.
As for critical acclaim - the same answer...zilch. The literary press were and still are a very snobby lot. Given the nature of the Tobin books, and the fact that they were paperback originals, there wasn't a chance of getting a critical review. And I think I have to consider myself very lucky to have been ignored!!
Was I 'famous'? To a modest degree, within the publishing and retail world, yes. Later on I did promo tours of British cities, did radio interviews, appeared on Irish TV 'The Late Late Show', received fan mail etc. but never became a household name like Jack Higgins or Archer. To achieve that you need a publicity machine.
If you had to make a choice - which would you say was your favourite book that you've written, and are there any that you look back on as being at all below par?
I suppose The Sewing Machine Man is my favourite because it started the whole thing off. I'd like to think none was below par. All reading matter is subjective, and certain books appealed to certain people more than others. But the same effort of research and writing went into all my books.
Did you have any great influences when you started writing? Bryan Forbes is quoted on the back of The Sewing Machine Man comparing the book to Saturday Night Sunday Morning. Was the Tobin series originally intended to mirror that "kitchen-sink" style?
No, not all. As I said, I was obliged to stay close to the phone in case my theatrical agent phoned to say 'get into town - now!' and I fancied writing a book to fill the time. And as I'd sold sewing machines in Canada...and as the experts advise 'write what you know'...I wrote!
Were any of your other characters based on real people and did they ever recognise themselves?! For some unknown reason we've always been quite fond of Buzz Malone!
Yes, a few of the characters are based on real people - 'O'Neill', for instance, in the Sewing Machine Man. Nasty little b...but long dead. Many characters are compilations of different people, and most are purely products of Morgan's imagination. Yes, my wife likes Buzz Malone, too.
What was behind the decision to "go serious" after WH Allen/Star went down the tubes? Was it harder to get a publisher for your serious work after being known mainly as a comedy writer?
The decision to 'go serious' followed an urgent desire and need to get into the USA market where the 'big' money was. Tobin sold very well throughout the British Empire but we could not interest an American publisher in his English humour. So - I acquired an American agent who promptly got me a 3-book contract with CBS, under their 'Fawcett Books' imprint. Wow! We expected riches to flow. I wrote 'Too Rich To Live' for starters, followed by 'Dark Side of Destiny'. This book brought to England my editor who talked in terms of 'half a million sales' and 'a film deal'. My family and I were in the US when 'Destiny' was published. We could not find a single copy anywhere! Disaster. It was many weeks later that we learned that at that precise moment CBS Publishing had been taken over by Random House and 'Destiny' had got lost in the shuffle. By that time I had also written 'Laura Fitzgerald' and a similar fate overtook her. That was the end of the contract with CBS. Quite a while later, the same agent got me a contract to write a thriller for a new American paperback house called 'Lynx'. This promised well because the founder of Lynx was the retiring Chairman of 'Bantam Books', the biggest paperback house in the world. All went well at first. 'Raven' was well received by Lynx and it looked as though we were going to make some serious money when...disaster struck again!! Lynx's distributor went bust...and poor old Raven was 'remaindered' - sold off cheaply, together with some twenty million other books that the distributor had been handling.
My feelings as a prolific and so-recently bestselling author were that I had boarded a runaway train to obscurity and couldn't get off. Days have a nasty habit of becoming weeks and months, and savings have an even nastier habit of disappearing very fast when there are no earnings coming in. Chronic adjustments to living standard had to be made. Away went the beautiful home with the swimming pool and the snooker room...well, you know how it goes. Sufficient to say that years of difficulty followed until I managed to find a new agent for a thriller I had taken almost a year to write.
Eureka! A fresh start! A new agent, a new publisher, a new book - and in hardcover! Was this the beginning of the great Morgan comeback? Well, no, actually. Listen to this, guys, and believe. 'Publishers Weekly' is a very influential US publication. If an author can get a good review in this trade magazine, a paperback deal is almost automatic. Sooo...the 'PW' rep comes to London, picks up a copy of the new novel from my agent, reads the book on the plane back to New York, cables my agent that 'Stanley Morgan has got it right!'...and promptly loses the book, together with a copy of a novel by Francoise Sagan, within the labyrinthine offices of Publishers Weekly!!
These sort of set-backs sound horrendous - I know you're enthusiastic for writing right now but did you ever just feel like giving it up?
Not for a single moment. To sustain ourselves I have been obliged to do several different jobs in recent years, which makes writing difficult, but I always endeavour to see the experience as possible material for future stories. 'Write what you know'! The problem with writing books is that, even given the ability to do so, the process takes such a very long time. Six months to write...perhaps another year or eighteen months to achieve publication and get the book on the stands...and if the publisher fails to get behind it, or goes out of business, the writer will probably earn in a year what a bus driver earns in a month. For a year's work writing I may only have earned £1000.
One final question then - the thing we're dying to know! What about any future writing plans? Is there a chance we'll get to find out what happened to dear old Russ Tobin?
You'll be pleased to know that Tobin No.19 is already started. Can't give you details yet except that Russ will not have aged much since Tobin Among The Stars - and will be as vulnerable to pretty women and daft situations as he ever was. And, oh yes, it is set in England. The lad's back home!'
SO! Something to look forward to...and who knows - maybe all those old Tobin's will get a well-deserved re-print. Maybe even a deluxe box-set! All the news as it happens - here on MorganWeb.