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Ostara Publishing

08 Mar 2011
Books: The Eliminator

Stranger than fiction: The Writer, the Publisher, the Boat and the Eliminator

Website feature: Eliminator

Stranger than fiction:

The Writer, the Publisher, the Boat and the Eliminator

A (true) story of a small world full of coincidences.

As series editor for Top Notch Thrillers, Mike Ripley had long had the Jonas Wilde books of ‘Andrew York’ on his wish-list, having read them ‘first time round’ in the 1970s and remembered their iconic single-word titles such as The Deviator, The Expurgator, The Captivator and the origin of the series: The Eliminator.

It was, of course, necessary to contact the author to see if a TNT reissue would be possible and that was when coincidence began to raise its head. ‘Andrew York’ turned out to be one of the many pen-names of prolific author Christopher Nicole, whose recent novels have been published by Severn House, who also publish Mike Ripley. Contact was duly made with Christopher Nicole, who turned out to live on the island of Guernsey, a regular holiday destination of the Ripley family for many years.

Christopher Robin Nicole is the author of over a hundred novels in virtually all the genres of popular fiction. He has written under his own name and a profusion of pseudonyms, including Alan Savage, Robin Cade, Alison York, Leslie Arlen, Caroline Gray, Nicholas Grant, Andrew York and Max Marlow, which is actually a joint pen-name when he writes a book with his wife, who just happens to be novelist Diana Bachmann. He is also a keen sailor – and therein lies another huge coincidence.

Pictured below, on a friend’s yacht on Long Island Sound:

Christopher and Diana Nicole, who write together as ‘Max Marlow’

Born in Georgetown, Guyana in the West Indies in 1930, Chris Nicole developed a love of sailing in the Caribbean and went on to ‘clock up’ over 50,000 nautical miles of deep-sea cruising. In October 1957, he embarked on what should have been a short and uneventful voyage, from southern England to Brest on the Atlantic coast of France, in his 30-foot Bermudan yacht Rose of Arden with his wife and two small children on board.

Caught in fog and the strong tides around the Channel Islands, the boat touched a rock and although no serious damage was done, Chris thought it best to put into St Peter Port on Guernsey to check things out. As the weather closed in he and his family decided to spend the winter on the island which until then had simply been “merely a lump on the map”. After a month living on board ship in the harbour at St Sampson, Chris’ wife insisted they buy a house.

Over fifty years later, Christopher Nicole is still a resident of Guernsey where his life as both a writer and sailor blossomed, eventually serving as Commodore of Royal Channel Islands Yacht Club and although he has owned and sailed many different boats since, from a 26-foot catamaran to a 54-foot trawler yacht, he still holds fond memories for Rose of Arden which brought him to Guernsey.

Rose of Arden in 1957.

It is no coincidence, therefore, that when ‘Andrew York’ created the tough, self-reliant and lethal hero figure of Jonas Wilde, ‘The Eliminator’, in 1966, he gave him, as a base for his deadly operations, the island of Guernsey and, as his own treasured luxury, a 30-foot yacht called Regina A, which just happens to bear an uncanny resemblance to Rose of Arden and on board which one of the key action sequences of the book takes place.

Built by Whisstocks of Woodbridge, Suffolk, in 1939, Rose of Arden is a 30-foot Bermudan Yacht designed by Dr Thomas Harrison-Butler (1871-1945), a famous name in yacht-building circles and also, coincidentally, the father-in-law of actress Joan Hickson, who became a national treasure for her portrayal of Agatha Christie’s ‘Miss Marple’. {And the late Joan Hickson was a neighbour of TNT editor Mike Ripley in the Essex sailing village of Wivenhoe, but that’s not the real coincidence here.}

When he considered commissioning The Eliminator and learned that Andrew York was the pen-name of Christopher Nicole, the decision for Andrew Cocks, the founder of Ostara Publishing, was an easy and very pleasurable one. Not only is publisher Andrew Cocks a keen sailor himself, but he is also the current owner of Rose of Arden, stationed at Brightlingsea in Essex.

Andrew Cocks at the helm of Rose of Arden

It will come as no surprise at all then, that Rose featured on the cover of the Top Notch Thriller edition of The Eliminator in March 2011, almost 45 years after it was first published. Almost immediately after first appearing, the film rights to the book were snapped up and a feature film released in 1967. Under the title Danger Route, the film starred Richard Johnson, Sam Wanamaker, Harry Andrews, Gordon Jackson, Sylvia Sims and Diana Dors.

Directed by Seth Holt (a veteran of several Hammer films and the television series Danger Man), the Associate Producer of Danger Route was Lord Ted Willis, the creator of Dixon of Dock Green, who coincidentally (again!) later became a good friend of Mike Ripley and wanted to produce Mike’s ‘Angel’ novels as a television series, but any such plans were thwarted by Ted’s untimely death in 1992.

Mike Ripley and producer Ted Willis in 1991.

Sadly, Danger Route is rarely seen on television these days and has so far somehow avoided being issued on DVD, yet it is well-regarded – as is its hero Jonas Wilde - by students and aficionados of popular culture and spy fiction of the 1960s, particularly in the USA and Europe.

The crime writing ‘bible’ and guide to suspense and spy fiction Whodunit? (edited by H. R. F. Keating in 1982) called the Wilde books “fast moving, violently melodramatic thrillers” whilst the website www.spyguysandgals.com describes Wilde as: “Able to prove repeatedly the designation as (the) ‘most dangerous man in the world’ (who) always managed to get the job done.”

The film website www.kisskisskillkillarchive.com claims “Wilde is at the top of his game” in Danger Route and describes the film as striking “a balance between the glamour and style of Fleming and the dark existential backwaters of Le Carré.”

In 2010, Danger Route received a rare screening in the UK as the headline feature film in the inaugural ‘Celluloid Curtain’ symposium on The Forgotten Spy Films of Cold War Europe held at the University of Hertfordshire.

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