Kept in the Dark For Sale
Kept in the Dark
Trollope, Anthony
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Malcolm Saville Books

The stories of Malcolm Saville have been consistently popular with children since he began writing them over forty years ago. It is only in recent years, however, that his books have become popular with collectors, and now many of his adventure stories and lesser known non-fiction titles are rapidly increasing in value.

Malcolm Leonard Saville was born in 1901 in Hastings, Sussex. After a private education, he joined the publicity department at Cassell in 1920, before moving to work for the Amalgamated Press in 1922. Here he became Sales Promotion Manager and stayed until 1936 before moving to George Newnes, who were later to publish most of Saville's 'Lone Pine' series.

It was not until 1942, when Malcolm Saville was forty-one years old, with four children of his own, that he wrote his first book. "Mystery at Witchend" is an adventure story set in wartime Britain, centring round a group of spies who had set up their base in a cottage on the lonely Long Mynd in Shropshire. The spies are eventually exposed by a group of children who meet up and form a secret club at the base of a lonely pine tree on the side of the Long Mynd. And so the 'Lone Pine Club' was born, whose members were to share twenty adventures over the next thirty five years.

The Lone Piners themselves all had distinctive characters which were developed throughout the series. Much is made of the interplay between them, their loyalty to each other, and their occasional failings.

The original Lone Pine Club had just five members. The Mortons, who spent their holidays at Witchend, their old house in the country, feature in all the stories. David, at fifteen the oldest Lone Piner, is sturdy, reliable and athletic. His brother and sister, Richard and Mary, are twins aged nine in the first story, and their childish chatter and ability to irritate their adversaries is a popular feature of the stories. They also add interest for younger readers, for the 'Lone Pine' stories can be enjoyed by children over a wide range of ages.

Petronella Sterling is a few months younger than David, and lives on the Long Mynd with her father, who looks after the reservoir on the mountain. She becomes David's special friend, and their developing relationship comes to a happy conclusion in the final book.

The other original 'Lone Piner' is Tom Ingles, a Londoner who comes to work on his uncle's farm. He hates the countryside at first, but eventually comes to like it and to want a farm of his own. As the Lone Pine series progresses, further characters gradually join the club. In "Seven White Gates" (1944), the romantic and excitable redhead Jenny Harman appears. Her father runs the village shop on the further side of the Long Mynd, and she quickly becomes Tom's companion.

In the excellent "Gay Dolphin Adventure" (1945), set in Rye, the bookish Jonathan Warrender and his cousin Penny are introduced. This constant bringing in of new characters works well, I think, giving readers a chance to follow the course of the characters' lives throughout the stories; it also gives a strong incentive to collect the complete 'Lone Pine' series. All the Lone Piners appear in the final story "Home to Witchend" (1979), which also contains a list of the characters from the stories, and the books in which they appeared.

The striking feature of "Mystery at Witchend" (1943), and all Malcolm Saville's stories, is his descriptions of locations. The Lone Pine series explores some of the hidden corners of England: the Shropshire hills, the Yorkshire dales, the Norfolk broads, Rye and Romney Marsh, and Dartmoor. This adds an air of authenticity to the stories, and all these, places can be visited and explored, unlike the nondescript settings of many children's stories. Indeed, it is possible to find (with the aid of the foreword of "Secret of the Gorge" and a good map!) the river bank where the Lone Piners camped in that adventure, and the old bow bridge and ruined cottage featured in the story. This is an adventure that many Malcolm Saville enthusiasts have shared, as I found out while chatting to the owner of the teashop in nearby Leintwardine. Not surprisingly, "Mystery at Witchend" is one of the hardest of the Malcolm Saville first editions to find. As with most children's books, dust wrappers can be difficult to come by in Very Good or Fine condition. All three stories were serialised on 'Children's Hour' and soon established Malcolm Saville as one of the top contemporary children's writers.

In 1944 Malcolm Saville's first non-fiction title was published. This was "Country Scrapbook for Boys and Girls", soon followed by "Open Air Scrapbook" (1945) and "Seaside Scrapbook" (1946). All three titles are surprisingly easy to find today. "Open Air Scrapbook" has descriptions of Shropshire, Rye and the Yorkshire dales, emphasising Malcolm Saville's love of those areas. All three books contain descriptions of the countryside flora and fauna. "Malcolm Saville's Country Book" (1961) and "Malcolm Saville's Seaside Book" (1962) are revised and updated versions of these three titles with some extra items. Saville's own favourite of his countryside books was "Jane's Country Year" (1946), the story of a girl on a farm watching the changing seasons. This is a good quartosize book with fine illustrations. A VG copy in dust-wrapper is fairly difficult to find. The octavo edition published in 1953 is not nearly so attractive and is worth only a few pounds complete with dust-Wrapper.

Of his other non-fiction titles,' "King of Kings" (1958) is a well written and sensitive 'life of Christ for children' and it is not too hard to find. His "Come to. . " travel series, featuring London, Cornwall, Devon and Somerset (1966-1969), however, is a lot more difficult to come by. Many of these non-fiction titles will take the Malcolm Saville collector into sections of bookshops where he or she may never have been before. The books can sometimes be found at excellent prices, as many dealers are still unaware of the interest in all Malcolm Saville titles. Keen eyes and patience can bring rewards here.

1954 saw the publication of the first of a set of seven stories about Mike and Mary Bishop, called "Trouble at Townsend". This book was written in response to a request from the Children's Film Foundation for a story that could be made into a film. The film was duly made at Malcolm Saville's home, and featured the young Petula Clark as Mary. The "Mike and Mary" books are gentle stories aimed at children younger than the 'Lone Pine' readers. There were seven of them over the next twelve years, and several later series aimed at a similar readership (the "Susan and Bill" and "Lucy and Humf" and "Nettlefold" series). These had similar themes, with the emphasis on life in the countryside. These stories show the rare ability of the author to present the freshness of life through the eyes of children without ever sounding trite or patronising. All the characters are roundly defined, and the country scenes are well observed.

The 'Jilly' series commenced in 1948 with "Redshanks Warning", set on the Norfolk broads and featuring Mandy, Prue and Tim Jilly. The Jilly stories have a charm of their own; "Two Fair Plaits" (1948) shows Malcolm Saville's ability to describe the back streets of London as well as his more usual country settings, whereas "Strangers at Snowfell" (1949) is particularly well-written, conveying the' chill of a train trapped in a snowdrift. It also features attractive front endpapers with pictures of the three Jillys.

"The Master of Maryknoll" (1950) is the first of the books about the Buckingham family. Personally, I find that these books lack the balance of the 'Lone Pine' and 'Jilly' series. The older children, Juliet Buckingham and her close friend Charles Renislau, the son of a Czechoslovakian composer, leave little room for Juliet's younger brother, Simon. The stories, however, are exciting enough, with "A Palace for the Buckinghams" (1963) being my own particular favourite. The first four Buckingham titles were published between 1954 and 1963, but most copies I have seen have not survived particularly well. The latter two titles were re-issued by Collins in the 1970s. They are set abroad and seem a little lightweight compared with the earlier stories. They are also much easier to find.

"Three Towers in Tuscany" (1963) saw a change in direction for Malcolm Saville, now in his sixties. It was the first of a series of seven books published by Heinemann featuring the secret service agent Marston Baines and some of his undergraduate friends. These books were aimed at older children to bridge the gap between children's adventure stories and adult fiction. They were well-received by the critics at the time, and are second only to the 'Lone Pine' series in popularity with collectors. They are quite hard to find in good condition, although most of the dust-wrappers have survived intact. All the stories are set abroad in more exotic locations than previous stories, and feature more serious crimes such as drug peddling and diamond smuggling.

In the 1960s and early 1970's all of the 'Lone Pine', 'Jilly' and 'Buckingham' stories were reissued in Armada paperback revised editions. There were also some hardback editions produced by Collins. These new editions were edited by Malcolm Saville to fit the 160 or 192 page format of Armada tooks, and serve to illustrate why collectors are keen to find the origlnal edition of any particular book. Although the storylines themselves are unchanged, much of the charm of the original stories is lost. The twins in the 'Lone Pine' series suffer particularly, with much of their banter being lost in order to compress 225 pages into 192. There are also some less significant changes. For instance, the rather quaint 'hullo' of 1943 becomes 'hello' in the 1960's, and 'Mummy' and 'Daddy' give way to the more adult 'Mother' and 'Father'.

More recently, the publisher John Goodchild has acquired the rights of the Saville books, and has published the some of the 'Lone Pine' series. These books are nicely produced, but the text has again been altered from the original editions, and there are no illustrations.

In addition to the books published by Malcolm Saville, there is plenty of scope for the collectors of signed items and letters. This is because throughout his career Saville encouraged his readers to write to him, and always guaranteed them a reply. This was no mean achievement, when you consider that during the 1950s and 1960s he was one of the most popular children's novelists, and must have been inundated by mail.

The Lone Pine Club was formed in the late 1950s, and published regular newsletters well into the 1960s. These are likely to be quite scarce now, and most will be in the hands of collectors who haye kept them since childhood. In addition, Malcolm Saville was always ready to sign books on request, so many signed books are still available. As his popularity increases, however, signed items seem likely to be snapped up, and will consequently increase in value. The quality of illustrations in Malcolm Saville books varies considerably. The first edition of "Mystery at Witchend" was illustrated by G.E. Berry, but subsequent editions, and the next seven 'Lone Pine' titles, were excellently illustrated by Bertram Prance. They now have an old world charm about them. They featured many full page illustrations, and some of the coloured dust-wrappers are very attractive. Three of the 1960s titles were also illustrated, but mostly with small sketches of little merit, at the start of each chapter. The latter titles of the series had no illustrations. The 'Jilly' series were first illustrated by the fine pictures of Lunt Roberts; and then by 'Wynne', whose illustrations were excellent. The last two of the series had illustrations by Tilden Reeves and Marcia Lane Foster, and are very poor by comparison.

Lunt Roberts also illustrated the 'Mike and Mary' series, while Ernest Shepard (more famous for Winnie the Pooh) had drawings featured in the 'Susan and Bill' books. Bernard Bowerman's illustrations in red, green and black were an unusual and attractive feature of "Jane's Country Year". Most of the other illustrators used by Malcolm Saville vary from the moderate to the frankly poor; a complete list of the illustrators of all the books is given in the bibliography.

The general standard of Malcolm Saville's books is very high. As with any children's adventure writer, there are limits to the contents of his books. There is little violence, and of course no murders; but the children experience more than their fair share of kidnappings, natural disasters and buried treasure. There is always a point, too, where the adults have to take over to 'wind up' an adventure. In the 'Jilly' and 'Buckingham' series, it is often the father figure of the family who eventually takes over. In the 'Lone Pine' books, Malcolm Saville gets around this problem several times via the character of James Wilson, a journalist with a keen sense of adventure.

The 'baddies' themselves sometimes seem a little caricatured, however. Many of them are easily identifiable by their habits of smoking, wearing dark glasses, or being foreign. But the female character of 'the Ballinger', a formidably large lady in~tweeds, is a memorable creation and appears in many of the 'Lone Pine' stories. The encounters between the twins and 'the Ballinger' are some of the highlights of the series.

The final 'Lone Pine' book was "Home to Witchend", first published by Armada in 1978. The first hardback edition, published by Severn House, is very scarce and, surprisingly, about the hardest title to find. The story is not a great one, but it brings together all the Lone Piners and many of their friends from previous stories. Malcolm Saville clearly knew that this was to be the of the series, and left the Lone Piners on an optimistic note with the twins taking over the club as the older children come of age.

The last Marston Baines story, "Marston Master Spy" was also published in 1978. Although there were a few more non-fiction titles published, these were the last of Malcolm Saville's adventure stories before his death in June 1982.

Ironically, it is since then that readers who grew up with his stories have started collecting his books, and now want to have a complete set of their own volumes. There is an increasing number of followers of the 'Lone Piners', and their popularity looks assured for years to come.

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