Monday, July 29, 2019

The Many Fancies of Mr. Morland: More on the Famous (and often Infamous) People Nigel Morland Knew (or Not)

illustration from The Armchair Detective
In 1978, seventy-three-year-old crime writer Nigel Morland sat down for an interview with freelance writer Pearl Gold Aldrich and left her, as seems to have been his wont, beguiled.  Like a kind of modern Scheherazade, Nigel wove a tale of the seemingly 1001 famous people he had known. 

Aldrich's awed impressions of this charming man with a knack for meeting famous--or more often infamous--people she collected in an article, "Nigel Morland--Fifty Years of Crime Writing," that was published in 1980 in Allen J. Hubin's and Otto Penzler's The Armchair Detective [TAD], a primary source of information about classic crime writing in the days before blogs.  (Remember those days?)

Part of what impressed Pearl Aldrich about Nigel was his manifold stories of amazing people he had met over the previous seven decades.  Nigel, it seems, was a man

whose nurse had her medicine mixed up by Dr. Crippen; who found himself lined up at a bar one afternoon with the great detective, Fabian of Scotland Yard; John George Haigh, who became the "acid bath murderer"; Neville Heath, who became a sadistic murderer, ripping his victims to death, and his first victim, Margery Gardiner, whom Heath had only just met; who lived next door to Heath's second victim; whose American aunt introduced him to Madeleine Smith and Lizzie Borden's sister; and who grew up practically at Edgar Wallace's knee....

Nigel said we were at a bar together?
He must have been on acid
John George Haigh speaks out
about Nigel's claims
This is an impressive roster indeed, and it's only the first paragraph of the article!  But, wait, there's more.  As readers of this blog will know, Nigel went to Shanghai in very late 1922, when he was seventeen.  (This is documented.)  There he apparently worked as a "cub reporter" for several years.  This gets embellished in the TAD article, where Aldrich states that Morland "set off for China alone at 14 to become a newspaper reporter."  That alone would have set off alarm bells for this reporter, but Aldrich swallowed this pearl of invention whole.  But it gets better yet.  Quoting Morland in the article:

"Then in 1919 Mother had to go to China on a visit and, when she was out there, I suddenly decided I would like to go there too.  So I wrote, Mother agreed, but I missed the boat and went on the next one.  In the meantime, she started for England, and we met in the Red Sea. 

We had established contact by wireless, and the captains brought the ships as close as they dared.  I saw her from the deck of the ship as we passed, and we managed to wave to each other in the Red Sea as we went through."

Honestly, I was expecting Nigel to divulge that Moses popped up and parted the Red Sea so that mother and son could get out of the boats and have a nice chat together, perhaps a nice cuppa too, but maybe Nigel saved that revelation for later, along with that time when he helped Moses out on that mountain when he got stuck after the ninth commandment.

Let a hundred of Nigel's tales bloom
but I swear I never met the man!

Mao Zedong in 1927
a few years after Nigel said he
saved his life, referring to him as a
"little, round-faced, chubby Chinese."
In China, where Nigel says he was for the years 1923-25, he accompanied, wouldn't you know it,
a sergeant from the Shanghai Municipal Police Force on his investigation of a hotel crime scene.  He--well, let's let Nigel tell it:

"The officer was a big, tough, red-headed, very rough looking man, what I call a knock-about-third-degree-type of policeman.  As we went into this hotel, there were a few people in the lobby, including a little, round-faced, chubby Chinese with some friends.  He bowed and smiled.  The policeman went ahead, and as he did so, the little Chinese stepped in his way.  The sergeant pushed him violently aside.  Unlike most Chinese, the little fellow came back and started arguing, and the sergeant, whose face was growing red, and I could see was beginning to burn up with temper, opened the holster of his revolver and started pulling it out. 

I was scared stiff because I thought he was going to shoot the little Chinese, and I sort of pulled his arm and said, 'Look, let's get upstairs.  I don't want to get involved in anything.'  He cursed and swore at the Chinese, but we went up stairs. 

I later learned who he was.  His name was Mao Tse Tung.  I saw him several times afterward, and he always bowed and smiled at me.  I've frequently wondered what would have been to story of China if that sergeant had shot him.

Wow, what were the odds?  So to Nigel Morland we owe the Cultural Revolution, amazing.  Thanks, Nigel!

Nigel's a radge!  We never had tea together!
He wouldna have been saying
sich blether afterward if he had, ya ken?

A vehement Madeleine Smith
angrily lapsing into dialect when
asked about her knowing Nigel
Nigel also told Aldrich that he helped with rescue work in Japan following the 1923 earthquake. Indeed, he was so busy helping out he forgot to file a story with his paper. But in 1925 the newspaper stories which were filed by Nigel, who termed himself a "young, brash idealist" warning the world about the "yellow peril, the Japanese"--got him placed at #3 on the "Japanese death list." (Who were #1 and #2, I wonder?)  So he had to take a slow boat to back to Britain. 

"[A] few years later the Japanese invaded China and took over Shanghai," Nigel reflected.  "I could have been shot, if not worse, for my virulent anti-Japanese writing."  Not bad for a twenty-year-old cub reporter!

Nigel's friend Arthur Conan Doyle goes unmentioned, amazingly, in this article, as does Nigel's claim, made elsewhere on several occasions, that during a trip home in 1923 he interviewed one of the investigators of the Jack the Ripper murders, who implicitly implicated Queen Victoria's grandson Prince Eddy.  (See my last blog post.) 

However, there is quite a fair bit about Edgar Wallace, Nigel's alleged mentor.  Here it's claimed by Nigel that he first met Edgar Wallace in 1915 at the age of ten, in company with his mother Gertrude, who instantly "became the closest friend of the [Wallace] family until Edgar died."  But naturally!

Nigel adds:

"[Mother] became a kind of general factotum, helpmeet, housemother, and everything, remaining so even after Ivy and Edgar divorced and Edgar remarried.  She was great friends with Ivy after the divorce, too, because she was a kind of middle ground to which they all turned.  When the second Mrs. Wallace died, she made mother executor of the estate.  That's how close they were."

I'm trying to assess the truth of all this and I did find that in 1933 Edward Ashley Lomax, retired rancher, along with Sydney Edmonds Linnit, theatrical producer, were co-executors of of the estate of Ethel Violet Wallace, who survived her husband Edgar by barely more than a year.  Six years earlier, Lomax had married Nigel's mother.  So there is some connection of a sort, though it appears to be more to Nigel's mother's second husband. 

It is impossible not to disbelieve Nigel Morland.
Edgar Wallace speaks out
Violet, incidentally, left an estate valued at a nearly a half million pounds in today's worth.  The first Mrs. Wallace, Ivy, had persuaded her husband to divorce her in 1919 so that she could marry a Belgian refugee named Leon, whom after the divorce she found was already married.  (Ivy was cited as the offending party, though in fact Edgar was having it off with both his secretary, the soon-to-be second Mrs. Wallace, and a mistress named Daisy.)  Ivy, writes Wallace biographer Neil Clark, was left high and dry by Leon and "was to to go rapidly downhill."  She died in 1926, leaving an estate worth just 23,000 pounds in modern value.  Where "housemother" Gertrude, Nigel's mother, exactly fit into all this I don't know.

Nigel says he returned to England from China in 1925 (I had thought he went to the US, but I guess not) and what did he do first?  Visit Edgar Wallace, naturally!  To quote Nigel again:

"When I got back to England, I dumped all this stuff, all this fiction, on Edgar Wallace's lap, as it were, and he looked through some of the stories and said, 'Nigel, this is dreadful.  You're writing yourself out before you've even started.'  he said, 'I'm going to impose a penance on you.  You just don't write any more for a year or two and, in that time, you read and think, read and think, but you write not a single word.  Give yourself a chance to mature, to catch your breath, and to learn something about style.  You are a born crime writer, but what you've got to do in the time you've got this kind of sabbatical is think about the detective.

Now, let's think about the detective.  What shall we have?  I've just been reading a book about a Cromwellian soldier named Pym, John Pym.  I like that name.  Think about that.  We'll call him Pym.  No, we wont!  We wont!  We've got a better idea.'  Incidentally, Edgar was always fond of using the royal 'we.'  He said what we'll do is to change the sex to a woman. 'Let's think of a woman detective, a tough, hard-boiled woman, not a private detective, but a real detective of Scotland Yard.  Take that away and brood over it, and that figure will mature in your mind.  When you come to write that book, you'll find it will come out like nobody's business.'

And a few years later, that's just what I did.  I wrote the book and sent it to Desmond Flower of Cassell, the publishers. Flower was on the phone in twenty-four hours, saying he'd buy it."

Nigel's claims are simply outrageous! 
My sister is so angry about this
she said she would take a hatchet to him!
A scandalized Emma Borden
responds to Nigel's incredible assertions
This is the most detailed version of Nigel's claim that Edgar Wallace inspired Mrs. Pym.  Indeed, he's essentially claiming that Edgar created Mrs. Pym.  One queer part of this claim is that the conversation (which Nigel remembered amazingly well) allegedly took place in 1925, but the first Mrs. Pym book, The Moon Murders, wasn't published until 1935, a decade later.  That's a long sabbatical.  Interestingly, it wasn't until after the deaths of both Edgar Wallace and Edgar's first and second wives (the latter of whom made Nigel's stepfather co-executor of her estate) that Mrs. Pym appeared in print, along with all these stories of Nigel's close connections to the Wallace family.

There are other interesting assertions in the article, like the one that Nigel wrote "over 300 novels" ("bestsellers") and "almost as many factual books."  I can't come up with anywhere near that many books by Nigel, but perhaps he wanted badly to be able to say he had outdone his master, Edgar Wallace, in some respect, even if it was merely a case of quantity over quality.

Note: The late Pearl Gold Aldrich (1922-2007) served in the US Marine Corps during World War Two and was an officer in the WACS from 1949 to 1955.  She later became a member of the English faculty at Frostburg State University, Frostburg, MD.  She was a member of MENSA and Sisters in Crime and she published in both The Armchair Detective and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.  Aside from Nigel Morland, however, I don't know what mystery writers she might have met.  Or murderers.

Stretching it a bit?
Nigel Morland claimed to have a connection not merely to depraved psychotic murderer
Neville Heath, but to both of Heath's murder victims as well


  1. By the deadpan tone of her article, it looks as if Aldrich didn't take Morland at face value, but thought the illusion too entertaining to puncture. It's a pity he didn't bring the same imagination to his books as he did to his life!

    1. I've gotten more interested in his own life of half (sometimes no) truths than in his books, but will have something on some of the books soon!