Detective Weekly

by Steve Holland

Originally conceived as a replacement title for Union Jack, whose sales had been falling for some years, Detective Weekly continued the policy of the latter in presenting a full-length Sexton Blake yarn in every issue. For some time it carried “starring Sexton Blake” as part of its masthead and logo, but was curiously ignored by Sexton Blake fans. As Derek Adley wrote in his introduction to The Detective Weekly: A Bibliography, “It was ignored by many of the old guard collectors for there was some feeling of resentment that the Union Jack as such was suspended and usurped by this new paper… the fact that Sexton Blake’s brother Nigel was featured in the first issue… did nothing to help the situation.”

As with The Thriller, Detective Weekly fell between two camps: although it was certainly a story paper and headlining Sexton Blake placed it in the juvenile category, back-up stories and serials by the likes of Leslie Charteris, Maurice Leblanc (reprinting the exploits of Arsene Lupin), Agatha Christie (the famous Poirot case, Murder on the Orient Express), Earl Derr Biggers (Behind That Curtain, starring Charlie Chan), Peter Cheyney (Poison Ivy starring Lemmy Caution) and stories by Carroll John Daly mark the paper out as aimed at a more adult audience. If further proof of an older audience was needed, the first issue gave away a leather-grained fabric pocket wallet and the second issue a free Minora razor-blade.

Detective Weekly was enlarged in size (8" x 11") and had a distinctive black on yellow cover, the first issue (25 February 1933) a classic image of Blake, gun in hand as he sits at his desk on the telephone to Scotland Yard, by Eric Parker. To continue the Blake saga, the editor – initially H. W. Twyman – drew on many of the top names, starting with a two-part tale by Lewis Jackson revealing some of Blake’s own family secrets… a move surprisingly unpopular with Blake fans. Further tales by G.H. Teed (who introduced a new character to the saga, Baron von Kravitch), Gwyn Evans (reviving the King Crook series), Anthony Skene (with new tales of Zenith and Frau Krantz), Robert Murray, Rex Hardinge and Gilbert Chester kept the Blake tales (which ran to around 25-26,000 words per issue) lively and up to standard.

Yet the paper was unfocussed: towards the end of 1933 editor Twyman recalled that “DW was in a complicated state of transition; I was half on and half off the paper. I wrote the article – the centre pages are mine – but the routine jobs were being done by Len Berry and a young fellow named Smeaton, or perhaps Jackie Hunt.” Twyman left the paper around issue 43 and Berry subsequently took over as editor, but left suddenly not long afterwards to move to the USA. James Higgins was temporarily installed as editor in 1935 before handing over the reins to John (‘Jackie’) Hunt, who had started his editorial career as an office boy on Union Jack in 1926.

Whether it was Hunt’s decision or on orders from above, Sexton Blake was dropped from his banner position after 130 weeks, in August 1935, and Detective Weekly began to concentrate on more generic stories, often by the same authors who had been penning the Blake yarns; the first new serial was The Gold Comfit Box by Valentine Williams (starring Dr Adolph Grundt, aka Clubfoot) continuing the policy of reprinting recent hits… in fact, with the exception of Blake’s non-appearance, it was not that different a paper.

The next innovation occurred in the spring of 1936, which saw the first of a series of reprints from The Thriller, beginning in issue 164 with a novel by Hugh Clevely. Perhaps in an attempt to fox long-time readers – or those attracted from The Thriller itself by the appearance of their favourite authors – the titles were more often than not changed. One issue later, a series of Anon. tales starring Marcus Max began to appear, reprinted from Penny Pictorial; these were formerly Sexton Blake yarns published in 1911. Blake himself reappeared in a semi-regular recurring character from issue 251 (December 1937), then full-time from issue 310 (January 1939), the stories extensively rewritten by sub-editor Donald Bobin from issues of Sexton Blake Library and Union Jack; from 1938 until the closure of the magazine with issue 379 in May 1940, it was rare to find an original lead story in the paper.

Initial sales were 185,000 but they began to slip and continued to throughout its life.