Home Page

Original and thrilling

There have been many crime and detective magazines published in the UK over the years, but only one has become so synonymous with Britain that it ranks among such other iconic symbols as the red telephone box, the black cab and the Dalek. That magazine is The London Mystery Magazine which ran for thirty three years and closed down over thirty years ago.

The first edition of The London Mystery Magazine was published in December 1949 and was aimed initially at the Christmas purchasing public. The magazine consisted of 132 pages in the 'Digest' format of 7⅜ by 5⅜ inches and cost 2/6d (that is £3.65 in today's money). It was published by Hulton Press and edited by Michael Hall (the man who originally concieved the idea) assisted by the Journalist John Shand. Michael Hall, with the permission of The Abbey National Building Society, managed to get the Post Office to redirect all correspondence addressed to 221b Baker Street (the fictional residence of Sherlock Holmes), to the magazine offices. The Abbey National, since occupying the premesis covering 221b Baker Street, had found it necessary to employ a member of staff to answer the letters addressed to Mr. Holmes and were only too happy to hand over this chore to the Magazine. 221b Baker Street thus became the mailing address for the magazine.

Immediately, the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle litegated against The London Mystery Magazine for 'Passing Off' their magazine as being associated with Sherlock Holmes and for using both the name and the address of the fictional character created by Doyle. The judge refused to grant an injunction to restrain the defendants from using the name and address, since English law does not recognize copyright in the names of literary fictional characters, only the works in which they appear. Whereas a work of fiction is copyright, a fictional character's name is not. Consequently 221b Baker Street became the address of the magazine for the next 15 issues. The use of the address and the litigation surrounding it, constituted free advertising for the fledgling magazine and hall admitted that in the first full year of operation, the offices had received 3,000 individual pieces of correspondence from across the world.

The original cover was designed by the artist Joan Hassall and contributed to a flourish of a Regency-esque design revival in the early 1950s. The magazine was illustrated throughout with line drawings and woodcuts both of traditional and contemporary style. Famous artists such as Mervyn Peake, Ronald Searle and Beresford Egan were seen within the covers.

The content of the magazine was various within the 'Mystery' remit, containing factual articles and fiction which ranged from detective to more hardcore crime stories, known today as the 'Howdunit' and the 'Whydunit generes, as well as fictionalised 'real-crime' and a host of satirical poems by an unknown satirist by the name of Sagittarius, commonly believed to be a lady called Olga Miller.

In 1950, the restrictions on paper use (rationing), which had been imposed since World War Two, were lifted and The London Mystery Magazine was increased from its intended quarterly to a bi-monthly schedule. This allowed Hall to develop a set of regular story series, the most important of which was the 'Slave Detective' by Wallace Nichols, who effectively single-handedly developed the 'Historical-Detective' genre. Often emulated and even outright 'ripped-off', Nichols' Detective 'Sollus', faced 60 adventures between issues #3 and #75, none of which have ever been reprinted.

By issue #5, the deffinite article was removed from the title, which now became London Mystery Magazine.

Unfortunately, with the lifting of paper rationing, came an increase in the quantity of publications and an increase in the demand on the levels of suppliable paper.  London Mystery Magazine's circulation was not sufficient to bear the resulting increase in paper costs and so, after issue #15, Hulton dropped the title without warning. Later that year, so as to 'Preserve in Permanent Form' the best of the magazine, a London Mystery Anthology was issued and without a further thought, the title was consigned to the trash-heap of failed periodicals.

But the story didn't end there. In true phoenix-like style, in 1953, the magazine suddenly appeared again on railway bookstands. Looking exactly the same, but with a different magazine address, 77 Brook Street. London, it was now the property of the burgeoning publishing empire of Major Norman Kark.

With a much more practical business plan, Kark revived the magazine as a quarterly with the first issue (#16) being issued in February 1953. The magazine was edited by Norman's son Austen Kark for the first two years until he joined the BBC, following which it was edited by Jennifer Peterson (one of the 'Two Fat Ladies'), until she joined ATV. By Issue #19, the London Mystery Magazine had an American edition, which was released through Ziff Davis. The content and cover remained the same with the exception of many of the adverts, which were changed to appeal to the US market, and the price on the cover, which was in cents.

In 1958, with issue #36, the title was further reduced to London Mystery, increasing its story remit to cover supernatural and even science fiction offerings. One of the first Science Fiction authors to contribute to London Mystery was Edmund Cooper, with 'Falcon Chase' and 'The Butterflies'.

In 1970, issue #86, with the switch to decimalisation, was priced at 25p (£2.76 in today's money). Due also to the onset of metric, it became financially impossible to maintain the old 'Digest' format of the magazine and so London Mystery switched from its original format to the 'Paperback' format of 7¼ by 4¾ inches. 

In 1973, London Mystery was retitled London Mystery Selection and in 1974, with issue #101, due to dwindling sales and rising material costs the periodical's size was reduced further to the 'Pocketbook' format of 7¼ by 4¾ inches.

By the 1980s, the cost of the magazine had risen to 75p (£3.14 in today's money) which was considered by many to be prohibitively expensive. Norman Kark was considering retiring back to South Africa when in 1981, the lease on his premises ran out and he chose not to renew. Rising costs were making the magazine unprofitable and he could not find anyone who would run the magazine in the manner he wished it to continue. As a consequence,  the March 1982 issue #132 became the last and London Mystery Selection closed.

Even though the magazine ceased production over thirty years ago, it is still remembered fondly by many. It was the last British market for crime and mystery fiction, and an icon of its time.