Some great SF, shame about the covers! The strange publishing foibles of Ward, Lock & Co

1950s British Science Fiction Episode 38 - Ward, Lock & Co.

Episode 38 of author Philip Harbottle‘s always enjoyable 1950s British Science Fiction videocast on YouTube focuses entirely on the SF novels published by Ward, Lock & Co., some sporting terrific covers by Dan Dare contributing artist Harold Johns and a young Ron Embleton – others, in Philip’s view, not so great…

Ward, Lock & Co. was a publishing house in the United Kingdom that started as a partnership in the nineteenth century, initially based in Fleet Street (until its home, Warwick House, was destroyed during bombing raids in World War Two), that was eventually absorbed into the publishing combine of the Orion Publishing Group.

1950s British Science Fiction Episode 38 - Ward, Lock & Co.
The covers of The Green Plantations and Colonists of Space are by Harold Johns; Conditioned for Space by Ron Embleton
Two disappointing covers for Ward Lock's later SF novels, A World of Difference by Robert Conquest and A Private Volcano by author (and, by then, SF series editor) Lance Sieveking
Two disappointing covers for Ward Lock’s later SF novels, A World of Difference by Robert Conquest and A Private Volcano by author (and, by then, SF series editor) Lance Sieveking

In this videocast, Philip outlines how Ward Lock progressed from publishing some appalling SF with terrific covers to catch the eye of potential buyers, which included tropes such as hidden planets in our solar system, through to its attempts to invigorate their output with some great SF novels – but with some singularly unappealing covers!

Once again, Philip provides plenty of information about the authors, revealing their real identities in some cases, and the cover artists of some of the books featured – even though some, like today, are not credited. He singles out, for example, Ron Embleton’s cover on Conditioned for Space by “Alan Ash“, an author who came and went under that name as quickly as he arrived.

The cover is the best thing that can be said about the novel, apparently, although it will cost you a fair amount to buy a first edition to see if Philip’s opinion matches yours… luckily, a 1963 reprint of the book, by Digit Books, can be yours for a fraction of the price, albeit without Ron Embleton’s cover.

Ward Lock is a publisher that particularly deserves attention for the publication of Pursuit of Time by Jonathan Burke, whose time travel themes have been revisited many times, not least in films such as Terminator and more. (You’ll be pleased to hear that a first edition of this “seminal” novel can be picked up for a very reasonable price.

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.

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Wikipedia – Ward, Lock & Co., Publisher

• Lance Sieveking (19th March 1896 – 6th January 1972) was an English writer and pioneer BBC radio and television producer who edited a number of Ward Lock SF novels. He began writing from the age of six, and started a novel aged 13, which would ultimately see print when he was 26. His his radio dramatisation of CS Lewis’ first (chronologically) Chronicles of Narnia title The Magician’s Nephew was approved by Lewis personally. He was married three times, and was father to archaeologist Gale Sieveking (1925 – 2007), and Fortean-writer Paul Sieveking.

Sieveking’s papers are held in the Lilly Library, Indiana University Libraries, Bloomington

The Wheel in the Sky by Rafe Bernard. Published by Ward, Lock & Co., Ltd., London, 1954. Cover by Harold Johns
The Wheel in the Sky by Rafe Bernard. Published by Ward, Lock & Co., Ltd., London, 1954. Cover by Harold Johns

Rafe Bernard, author of Wheel in the Sky, was a pseudonym of Reginald Alec Martin (11th January 1908 – 27th June 1971), a British author of a children’s series and other novels. He wrote under a series of pseudonyms, including E.C. Eliott, Rex Dixon, Simon Latter, Nicholas Marrat, Frank Denver and Robert Martin

A Visual History of Digit Books 1956 – 1967

Digit Books were one of a series published by Brown Watson first appearing in 1956 with the first 160 books or so being unnumbered. Numbering started with D139 April 1958. Publishing mostly fiction and reprints, although some were originals, genres included Science Fiction, Crime, Battle, Horror, Romance, Esoteric with a few Westerns, plus about 20 Juvenile Delinquent titles, mainly reprints of American titles, which included the very scarce copy of Junkie by William Lee, the pseudonym of William S Burroughs in 1957

The founder of downthetubes, which he established in 1998. John works as a comics and magazine editor, writer, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Explorer (previously known as Star Trek Magazine) and more. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of "Pilgrim: Secrets and Lies" for B7 Comics; “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood.

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