More 1950s SF gems explored, and secrets revealed, in YouTube series from Philip Harbottle

Author Philip Harbottle has released two more great mini-documentaries about 1950s British Science Fiction on YouTube, the first exploring a gem by EC Tubb, the second delving into the growth of science fiction hardcover books, as the “mushroom publishers”, featured in previous episodes, began to disappear.

Vengeance Trail by James S. Farrow (EC Tubb) - cover by Ron Turner
Vengeance Trail by James S. Farrow (EC Tubb) – cover by Ron Turner

In Episode 30, “Supernatural Stories No 9: Tubb’s Hidden Gem“, Philip focuses on EC Tubb, explaining how the author began to write westerns – a genre popular at the time – for one of the surviving “mushroom publishers”, John Spencer, a company with some dubious business practices, but which managed to have some very good authors, despite a reputation for publishing some very poor fiction. Tubb made a seamless transition from SF to westerns, to pay the mortgage on his new house, and one book, Vengeance Trail, written as James S. Farrow, is something of a collector’s item for its Ron Turner cover. Such is the timeless quality of his western work, Philip recounts how he was able to resell the stories in the 2000s, when he became EC Tubb’s agent.

All 11 westerns are still in print through Pioneering Press, now Endeavour Frontier, and the themes of one, Cauldron of Violence, would inspire Tubb in the creation of his historical adventures set in the Roman Empire, Atilus, published by Wildside.

Supernatural Stories No 9

Tubb also wrote for Spencers Supernatural Stories, a series largely initially written by John Glasby, until, after eight issues, he was switched to work on other, better selling genres. Tubb took over on the fantasy line, well versed in the medium, contributing six stories under six pseudonyms for a new issue, but turned down the offer to work on the low paying line – and there would be, as Philip reveals, quite a delay to the publication of the now ultra-rare Supernatural Stories No 9

In Episode 31, “1950s Hardcover Science Fiction” Philip offers an overview of world of the rapidly-evolving world of SF publishing during the decade. Prior to the 1950s, major publishers had avoided identifying any of their books as SF, even the classic work of HG Wells, kept more or less constantly in print. Indeed, as Philip recounts, the first time science fiction is used on a cover is in 1943, with the publication of The Intelligence Gigantic by John Russell Fearn. But as the 1950s progressed, the use of science fiction became much more of a norm, sales helped by covers by the likes of EAGLE‘s Harold Johns and titles such as Adventures in Time and Space… hang on, that sounds familiar…

Philip also reveals how a story in one book featured led to the makers of Alien being sued for plagiarism – and settled out of court…

Philip Harbottle is a life-long science fiction fan, regarded as a world authority on the works of John Russell Fearn, whose credits encompass writing “Garth” for the Daily Mirror, and the “Golden Amazon” for Spaceship Away (adapting Fearn’s stories). 

He’s also very kindly contributed a number of synopses of early “Garth” stories to downthetubes, which we are adding as time permits.

Back in the 1950s, he adapted some of the Radio Luxembourg Dan Dare radio shows into comics at a young age – the only record of some of these tales known to exist, since very few recordings survive.

Trailblazers by EC Tubb

• Subscribe to 1950s British Science Fiction YouTube Channel here

• Books edited or published by Phil Harbottle on AmazonUK (Affiliate Link)

EC Tubb Westerns from Endeavour Media

• Cauldron of Violence
• Curse of Quantrill
• The Scourge of the South
• The First Shot
The Liberators
The Dying Tree
The Captive
• The Pathfinders
Hills of Blood
• Trailblazers
The Gold Seekers

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