Whatever Happened To Mr Temple?


I suspect there are a few readers out there who not only remember Francis Durbridge’s books but who can also whistle his theme tune, which was either ‘Coronation Scot’ by Vivian Ellis, or Rimski-Korsakov’s ‘Scheherezade’, depending on your age.

The author and playwright was born in Hull in 1912 and died in 1998. His output was prodigious; I count at least 35 novels, 22 TV series, 7 theatrical plays and around 30 radio plays and serials. He sold his first play to the BBC at 21, and created his most enduring character, the crime novelist/ detective Paul Temple, at 26. In many ways he was the first of the popular multi-media writers, with simultaneous hits on radio, TV, film and in print.

In later life he turned to the theatre with similar success. I seem to vaguely recall the plays – usually stagey and amateurish – being on at every end-of-the-pier theatre in Britain. Typically, the critics sneered and the public adored him. Now, his books have completely vanished and only some of his radio plays survive, kept alive by the BBC’s desire to turn a buck and make up for wiping much of their archives. Although maybe he’s still a hit in Great Yarmouth, who knows?

Durbridge also used the pen name of Paul Temple, thus becoming his own character. There’s a warm glow of nostalgia around his middle-class mysteries, which usually turn on the elaborate planning and solution of a murder, with plenty of cliff-hangers. He was less interested in the whodunit so much as the will-he-get-away-with-it? because he knew this was a better way to create suspense.

But are the stories any good? Actually they’re not at all terrible; I think of him as the English Cornell Woolrich, a pulp fiction writer whose energetic style contrasted with the enervating period in which he wrote. Paul Temple is absurdly British, a man born to wear a hat, rather too solid and square-jawed for most people to take seriously, but he proved instantly popular and went on to become one of the most successful characters ever created for broadcasting, which makes his disappearance strange and rather sad.

Our detectives are more complex and beset with personal problems now. Temple’s world is filled with lost images; it’s a world of telephone exchanges, manor houses, glamorous cabaret artists, Mayfair flats, mysterious piano tuners, diamond robberies, kidnaps, clergymen and calling cards, where carrier pigeons are used to smuggle gems and the only clue to a crime is a cocktail stick.

It’s easy to make fun of such period plots – but why not? ‘The Thirty Nine Steps’ became a huge hit again on the London stage by playing the ironic period card – but it’s a shame that Durbridge’s thrillers disappeared so completely. Be heartened, though, as a few of his best books have lately been reprinted.

24 comments on “Whatever Happened To Mr Temple?”

  1. Martin Tolley says:

    My local library has 13 Durbridges available as audio books, and 3 as e-books, and they are almost always being read by someone.

  2. Ian Luck says:

    Was it Paul Temple whose strongest expletive was: “By Timothy!”? I’m old enough to remember the TV show starring Francis Matthews (whose Cary Grant impression was the voice of Gerry Anderson’s ‘Captain Scarlet’.), and, as you say, the immaculate housekeeping of the BBC’s archives has left us with a collection of odds and sods. Cheers for that, Auntie.

  3. Brian Evans says:

    His plays are still done a lot by amateurs. I saw “The Small Hours” a few years ago at the theatre in the seaside resort of Shanklin in the Isle of Wight. It was good, well done by the group, but nothing special. That’s how I rather remember the many TV series of his when I was a child. I can’t remember whether they were ITV or BBC, but their middle-classness make think more of the BBC. Aren’t we Brits awful the way we drag class into everything!

    The radio version of Paul Temple starred actor/playwright Peter Coke-pronounced Cook. His most famous play “Breath of Spring” was some years ago turned into a musical “70, Girls 70” which starred Dora Bryan. He hated it!

    I once met him at the National Film Theatre-as it was called then. They showed a long unseen Gracie Fields picture, “Keep Smiling” which was his first film role. He said Gracie could not have been nicer or more helpful to him as a beginner.

    His presence at the showing was arranged by a friend of mine. The NFT people didn’t know he was still alive. I remember him for three things. Firstly, he was such a lovely, delightful gentleman. Secondly, he was overwhelmed to have been remembered and invited and couldn’t get over the attention he was receiving, especially as he had retired from acting years ago. Thirdly, he was very touched and impressed that we knew is surname was pronounced “Cook” and not “Coke”

    He died a few years ago after spending his retirement making rather clever and popular shell-boxes

  4. Trace Turner says:

    I’d never heard of the Paul Temple mysteries until hearing some on BBC Radio 4 Extra. They’re entertaining in a soothing kind of way – you don’t have to pay too close attention. I like to try and guess which recurring plot device will occur first in a story – a car being blow up or run off the road, Temple’s wife being kidnapped, or another character sealing their doom by arranging to meet Paul Temple to give him information in person rather than over the telephone.

  5. Peter Dixon says:

    Its strange that the early part of last century produced a bunch of highly prolific authors who were immensely popular; Francis Durbridge was joined by Edgar Wallace, John Creasey, Leslie Charteris, Agatha Christie, Sax Rohmer all produced a wall of crime that almost held back the tide of Americanism being brought in by music and the movies.

    These authors seemed to each produce half a dozen books a year and sold prodigiously.

    I’ve been watching Inspector March and Gideon’s Way (John Creasey) on talking Pictures recently and love the storytelling and characterisation of both.

    PS- I still think Will Hay is funny.

  6. SteveB says:

    The sequence of TV serials ‚Francis Durbridge Presents‘, which he wrote to the tune of about one per year from the 50s to the 70s, was a huge hit across Europe. InGermany especially they were number one rated programs. ‚Wie ein Blitz‘is the German version of ‚Bat out of Hell‘ and was Durbridge‘s preferred version, it uses the centralidea much better. It‘s Durbridge‘s version of the story ‚wife and lover murder husband, then his body disappears and they start getting phone calls from him.‘
    DurBridge had no connection with the Paul Temple TV series other than to collect the royalties.

  7. Jan says:

    Ian Luck Frances Matthews may have voiced Captain Scarlet (a la Cary Grant) but Lois Maxwell the first Miss Moneypenny in the Bond movies voiced Atlanta in “Stingray” which was incidentally the first colour tv series produced in the UK – although made specifically in colour for the US and Canadian market.

  8. Ian Luck says:

    Jan – In ‘Stingray’, Atlanta’s father, Commander Sam Shore, was voiced by craggy Australian actor Ray Barrett. He later voiced various characters in ‘Thunderbirds’, including Thunderbird 5’s John Tracy. His most unusual voicework on ‘Thunderbirds’ though, has to be that of ‘The Duchess of Royston’ in the later episode ‘The Duchess Assignment’. It’s brilliant, and you expect the phrase: “A HANDBAG!?” to be uttered at some point. I’m sorry. I’ve been fascinated by anything created by Gerry Anderson for as long as I can remember, to the point of my parents being slightly worried about how much of my time it took up. Still the only thing that I’ve ever joined a fanclub for. Haven’t even done that for ‘Doctor Who’. And I’m obsessed with that. And yet I manage to live a full and happy life. How does that work, then?

  9. Jan says:

    Luck Mr. Luck

  10. Wayne Mook says:

    In the Thin Man mould of a husband and wife team and yes very British. They have remade some of them since 2000, also all the episodes from about ’56 exist.

    I don’t blame the BBC for not keeping things, it was rare for things to be repeated after a certain amount of time especially on radio; Oneradio showed that there was an audience for this sort of thing as has Radio 7/Radio 4 Extra, but old radio was usually seen niche market, as was old TV. The actual amount of programmes produced by them is amazing, from ’23 to ’29 there were some 1300 plays (inc some sketches.) after this time the amount of plays increased massively. So where would you put it? Nobody really seemed care.

    I’ve been doing a piece for a friend on old British horror radio, finding information isn’t easy. Listen in Terror by Richard hand is the only book I’ve found about British horror radio, finding any articles even on the net about the subject is difficult in the extreme.


  11. admin says:

    Wayne, I do blame the BBC for milking their collectors market by releasing a single rare track with half a dozen pre-available tracks, as they do with ‘Hancock’. They’ve done it at least six times now.

  12. Ian Luck says:

    The BBC’s choice of what went, and what stayed, is random, to say the least. If there was a series with four episodes, then it will be incomplete after episode 1, or have every episode bar episode 1. Thousands of sporting events, but if there had been a surprise win, or an interesting occurrence during a match, or race, then you can guarantee that will be the one missing. Stuff that really should have been binned, like episodes of ‘The Black and White Minstrel Show’ (shudder). Dreadful pilot shows. These were often kept. It’s almost as if it were done deliberately. It’s reported by at least one person, that the people binning the film and video cans hadn’t even looked at what they contained – they were just given an order to get some of the storage area shelves clear. Luckily, the person who saw this happen, was a man called Ian Levine, and he had been in contact with the BBC for some time, concerned with the fact that a lot of old Doctor Who stories were missing. The BBC gave him permission to visit their archive, and the day he did, they were having a clear out. He was horrified to find early Doctor Who stories in a skip, marked for burning, and immediately contacted someone high up in the BBC that he knew, and got the disposal stopped. He was, with others, allowed to go through, and catalogue the archive, and was dismayed to see how many other well loved shows, of all kinds, had been treated. The BBC, at the time, didn’t seem to understand why anyone would want to watch a show again, especially old monochrome ones. This was about the time that home video recorders were becoming affordable, and once the BBC were told that people would buy shows on video cassettes, they changed their mind. Didn’t stop them putting six episode shows out on two tapes, though, did it? Cheeky bastards.

  13. Wayne Mook says:

    I agree they now milk them to the hilt.

    I remember an interview with Charles Chilton, he was tipped of by a friend that they were binning ‘journey Into Space’ so he took them home, and now they are a mainstay of 4 Extra. At a time there was little love for old shows.


  14. Helen Martin says:

    But back to Francis Durbridge. I think I heard a Paul Temple or two on the CBC years ago and I wondered what is available out there. My own library system has only two titles but AbeBooks has ten or twelve titles and a like number of Samuel French acting editions of plays.
    “Ooh, look at that big old barn! We could put on a play in there.”

  15. snowy says:

    W, …… Radio Horror…. , you really could have picked an easier project, like knitting anchor chains out of candyfloss/badger herding etc.

    The bibliography of the book you cite doesn’t contain much in the way of primary sources, [viewable on Amazon/Look Inside/Bibliography/.]

    Are you prepared to suffer a couple of suggestions* where you might also look?

    [ * Mine own, not cribbed from Prof. Hands, whose sources are most charitably described as eclectic!]

  16. Wayne Mook says:

    I am indeed.

    I have Asa Briggs 5 vol History of Broadcasting and I’ve been working through the BBC Genome. I’ve even managed to track down a number of tales by A. J. Alan.

    So any help would be most welcome Snowy.


  17. snowy says:

    Try this, long rambling, slightly disjointed… so no change from normal then!

    Asa Briggs is a solid source, did he feel free to stray from the ‘official line’ or is it a sanitised account? But as a place to check details perfectly fine.

    BBC Genome, the fact they have only fully digitised the first 3 decades is disappointing, but at least for those years one can get to the articles in the front of the magazine, [Durbridge contributes 3], and the reader letters pages by scrolling through the scanned pages.

    The Radio Times had a more grown-up sibling, The Listener magazine, which if you are looking for more long-form pieces might be a place to look. If anywhere is going to have pieces on British Radio Horror this is the most likely. It is accessible if you can find a library/institution that subscribes. [City libraries/Metropolitain universities most likely.]

    There is a BBC archive at Caversham, access is tricky.

    Gillian Anderson has written about Radio for decades, so has probably written something about horror even if it is just single reviews.

    When the BBC started in was a bit eccentric.

    The BBC produced the first drama specially commisioned for radio, ‘Danger’ by Richard Hughes. [I’m taking Horror to be anything that cause fear or apprehension in its audience.] The story revolves around a party of visitors being trapped by a mine collapse. [A more present and well understood source of fear in the days when tens of thousands of families had men who worked underground.] Constructed as a mirror image of [the then silent] films in which was pictures convey all. Sound would carry every element of the story to the listener, the ideal would be if people could be encouraged to listen in the dark at home to get the full effect. To do this they needed ‘sound effects’, but the technology was horribly basic. [The Welsh choir they dragged in off the streets were so loud they had to be sent out into the corridor. They got round the problem of the explosion effect being a bit duff, by setting it off behind the press gallery.]

    Everybody knows about Orson Welles ‘War of the Worlds’ as an example of radio frightening an audience. The BBC had already done it 12 years earlier with ‘Broadcasting the Barricades’ written by a founding member of The Detection Club, Ronald Knox.

    The sources are so poor, Horror seems to regarded as ‘vulgar’ entertainment. The only way to find stuff seems to be to identify a show/series/play and then research around that rather that trying to find a through narrative!


    That leads us back to Genome, find a programme then check for:

    Is there an article in the magazine?
    Who is in it, did they do anything interesting, before, later?
    Who wrote it, ditto
    Who produced/directed, ditto
    What was the audience reaction, following weeks letters page.
    [There were complaints about ‘Appointment with Fear’ not being scary enough, when a J D Carr mystery was broadcast in the series.]
    What was the reaction in the national papers?

    Some of those will lead at least in the earliest days to Val Guielgud, brother of John, who was Head of Drama. But be wary, not everything came under the bracket of ‘drama’ a lot of output and particularly anything thought ‘experimental’ would come under ‘Features’.

    There are so many odd/eccentric characters knocking about the BBC if you can’t fill space with a show, there are tons of other stories around the people involved, the Chief Engineer of the time married a Nazi and a chap called Lambert had his career torpedoed by his belief in the ghost of a talking mongoose called ‘Gef’, [it was quite famous at the time.]

    The Tim Crook articles archived on the ‘Independent Radio Drama Productions’ website might set a few hares running.


    Leaping back into timeline approach:

    1930s, Ghost Train by Arnold Ridley is probably all one needs.

    1940s, Appointment with Fear is the obvious, but don’t overlook ‘Gaslight’ by Patrick Hamilton if you need to fill space.

    1950s, Things get trickier, the world gets absolutely obssessed with rockets and spawns a lot of Sci-Fi/Horror hybrids, so all the source references shift over to that of Sci-fi rather than Horror, but at least there are more of those and better curated.

    1960s, Television is now starting to supercede Radio as the most popular form of entertainment. And all the new writers are jumping the Radio ship and flocking to TV. Might be slim pickings.

    1970s Film and TV are having a horror boom, Radio appears to have a slump. At least there is ‘The Price of Fear’.

    I think you are going to spend a long time combing through Genome looking trying to find anything that isn’t single plays/readings of M R James, from here on in. Until you get to Fear on Four in the 1980s.

    And then slim pickings again.

    [It might be quicker to short-cut Genome by jumping over to the 4Extra catalogue, see what has survived from those decades, [60s onward], and then jump back for research?]


    Looking at that list, you might consider re-framing the piece as “The Golden Age of Radio Horror” and just cover the decades for which Radio was the dominant media and there are half decent sources.

    Good luck!

  18. Wayne Mook says:

    Cheers Snowy, I’m only doing upto the 1959, the book I’m helping out is for British horror films upto the 1959, due to a loss of films & the lower numbers I’ve been asked to do a few thousand words on horror radio.

    I’ve have information on A J Alan and Algernon Blackwood, as well as Appointment with Fear/The Man in Black. I know the Black museum with Orson Welles was on Radio Luxembourg, but finding out about drama on there is even more mysterious.

    Thanks for the tip about features as well, I hadn’t thought of the letters page, I must be slipping.

    I’ve a copy of Val Gielgud’s Years in the Mirror on the way, I’m using this as an excuse to indulge in my love of radio.


  19. snowy says:

    From memory, some or lots of stuff on Luxemburg was sourced from a rather rum chap called Harry Alan Towers, who also did a lot in the film line.

  20. Wayne Mook says:

    Towers of London, I have love of bad horror films so I know a lot about Towers. He was wanted in the US at one point for a prostitution racket in the UN, I’ve read things from both sides, in the end he made a deal with the US government.

    He was also responsible for the Gielgud & Richardson Sherlock Holmes on the BBC.

    He was a child actor and worked for BBC radio.


  21. snowy says:

    There is a very scrappy ‘americanradiohistory’, [stick the usual three letter groups on each end to turn that into a web address.] site with a UK radio section, that might contain a few nuggets. [Anybody hoping to get any joy out of RIM Monthly, is going to be sorely disappointed!]

    It does contain very naughty pdfs of books that you have properly bought. Which would allow you to run text searches [Ctrl_F etc.] or bung them on an e-reader to save you lugging them about.

    If you need images to go with your words, Susan Briggs, wife of Asa produced a book that might contain a few? [In the same section.]

  22. Wayne Mook says:

    There was a series called Shadow Man on Luxembourg by Edward J Mason who did Dick Barton on the BBC. I know it was on in 1955 but nothing else.

    Thanks for the on going help Snowy. The site is very helpful.


  23. snowy says:

    I don’t think that snippet, [from a Wikipedia article, unsourced], is accurate.

    [short version]

    A quick search for ‘luxembourg’ + ‘radio’ + ‘shadow’, [filter 1950-1959] in the British newspaper archive comes up with dozens of programme listings for the period, but none contain shadow.

    Also slightly suspect is that it seems it was never sold into any other Anglophone market.

  24. Wayne Mook says:

    Thanks for that Snowy, I did find it in other sources but I think they are quoting the same Wikipedia page.

    You maybe surprised I do have a copy of the Susan Briggs book, Those Radio Times.

    He may have sold it to Towers as some of his shows never made it to ‘UK’ shores, Secrets of Scotland Yard was heard on Radio7/4 Extra and as far as I know it was the 1st time it was heard here, unless Oneword broadcast it.


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