At the Poe's Deadly Daughters blog today, Julia Buckley makes note of some of the many mystery writers who were born in May, among them Leslie Charteris, Daphne du Maurier, Dashiell Hammett, Tony Hillerman, Jeffrey Deaver, Arthur Conan Doyle, G. K. Chesterton, and Ian Fleming. And today happens to be the 109th birthday of Margery Allingham, creator of Albert Campion.
I don't think Allingham is very popular today, but she was once one of the Big Five -- the Five Grand British Ladies of Mystery -- along with Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, and Josephine Tey. (Yes, Marsh was from New Zealand, not England, but why quibble?)
Allingham came from a writing family and got her start adopting current movies into prose form for British magazines. (I've never seen any of these stories and would love it if someone unearthed them and published them. She also evidently wrote some Sexton Blake stories -- would love to see those, too.) Allingham's first novel, Blackerchief Dick, was published when she was nineteen. Six years later, Albert Campion made his debut in The Crime at Black Dudley.
Campion -- not his real name -- is a bit of a mystery himself. We are given to understand that he was born to an aristocratic family, and was given the name of Rudolph, but little else is revealed about his background throughout the series. Over his nearly forty-year career, Campion's character continued to morph as time and Allingham's vision matured. The early Campion is a rogue, devil-may-care and slightly shifty (or is he?). (Allingham 's original vision was to have Campion be a parody of Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey.) The enigma that was Campion slowly changed as he became involved in counterespionage. While still keeping his ties to England's underground and to the secret service, Campion then becomes a trusted consultant for Scotland Yard, most specifically for Inspector Oates and (later) for Inspector Luke. Campion's constant manservant/companion/assistant is the glorious Magersfontein Lugg, a one-time burglar.
Allingham wrote eighteen novels* about Albert Campion (a nineteenth was completed by her husband after her death; her husband then continued her character for another two novels), as well as six collections of Allingham stories. I have read most of her ouvre and enjoyed them all. Several of the stories were adapted for British television: two (1959-60) with Bernard Horsfall as Campion, and one (1968) with Brain Smith as Campion. Better known in America were the eight stories that were shown on the PBS Mystery! series (1989-90) with former Doctor Who Peter Davidson as Campion. Campion himself is excised (unfairly, says I) from the 1956 film Tiger in the Smoke.
Julia Buckley suggests that we celebrate May by rediscovering one of the many mystery authors who share their birthdays this month. Allingham may be a good place to start. Here's the Poe's Deadly Daughters post:
* One of the eighteen, The Case of the Late Pig, is actually a novella and is included in at least one of her collections.