Life and Work
The Independent, July
Trevor Dudley Smith (Elleston Trevor), writer: born 17 February
1920; married 1947 Jonquil Burgess (died 1986, one son), 1987 Chaille Anne
Groom; died 21 July 1995.
Elleston Trevor will be remembered, as "Adam Hall", as the author of
The Berlin Memorandum (1965; in America The Quiller Memorandum),
the first in a series of best-selling tough and suspenseful spy thrillers
with a distinctly noir-ish edge, featuring a ice-cold killing-machine,
or "shadow executive", called Quiller.
In the United States The Quiller Memorandum gained the Edgar
Award from the Mystery Writers of America as Best Novel, the year after
John Le Carre's The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and two years
after Eric Ambler's The Light of Day did likewise. Aided by
this terrific critical and popular bump-start, the Quiller series ran for
nearly 30 years, although there was far more to Elleston Trevor than Quiller.
Indeed, there was far more to Elleston Trevor than "Elleston Trevor",
which was merely one of the author's more bankable noms de plume.
He had around a dozen in all, including Trevor Burgess, Caesar Smith (Heatwave,
1957: a particularly fine, atmospheric thriller), Mansell Black,
Simon Rattray, and Warwick Scott (all of whose 1950s output--Knight
Sinister, Queen in Danger, Bishop in Check--was issued
20 years later as by Adam Hall post-Quiller, in the US).
Elleston Trevor was born in 1920 as Trevor Dudley Smith, and much of
his earliest work appeared under that name. His education (much-hated
prep school, loathed public school) was interrupted by the Second World
War and he never went to university; instead he served in the RAF as a
Flight Engineer for the duration. While in the RAF, however, he also
produced a dozen books--by no means sub-Kenneth Grahame anthropomorphic
fantasies for children, such as Rippleswim the Otter (1943), Scamper-Foot
the Pine Marten (1944) and Shadow the Fox (1945), as well as
thrillers and an immense quantity of short stories.
His publisher at this time was one of the most remarkable of the "backstreet
brigade": Gerald George Swan (1902-1980), an erstwile Church Street
market barrowboy with three warehouses, stuffed with pulp fiction, worth
their weight in gold during the war-time magazine and book paper shortage.
Although payment for Swan books was at best dismal, Trevor seems to have
had a genuine liking for, and loyalty towards, the publisher, probably
because Swan had given him his first break. Years later, when his
books were produced by top-flight publishers such as Heinemann, Hutchinson
and Hodder & Stoughton, Trevor himself still allowed Gerald Swan to
issue a couple of titles, including the tense supernatural thriller The
Mind of Max Duvine (1960).
Trevor became a best-seller during the 1950s with a startling run of
excellent adventure novels mostly set during the Second World War, Squadron
Airborne (1955, based on his own experiences in the RAF) and The
Killing Ground (1955, a tank unit at the Normandy beachhead) as well
as Gale Force (1956), The Big Pick-Up (1955, almost the definitive
Dunkirk novel) and The Pillars of Midnight (1957) all testified
not only to his capacity for hard work but to an ability to turn out a
quality product under pressure.
But then Trevor was always the consummate professional who also had
the priceless gift of all truly creative writers of being able effortlessly
to transform bare bones description into riveting material. Alan
Hill, a Heinemann director, once congratulated him on the astonishingly
detailed background to one of his spy thrillers, The Warsaw Document
(1970), in which Quiller nimbly spikes KGB big guns by wrecking a Soviet
scheme to attack Warsaw. "You must have been researching there for
weeks," said Hill admiringly. It turned out Trevor had never even
been to Poland, let alone Warsaw; a guide-book and a street-map had been
all he'd needed, together with a fund of descriptive adjectives and a powerful
During the 1950s Trevor was one of Heinemann's star popular authors.
Along with Nevil Shute, the Americans Erle Stanley Gardner, Erskine Caldwell
and Frank Yerby, the Australian Arthur Upfield (whose skilful tales of
his Aboriginal sleuth Detective Inspector Napoleon "Bony" Bonaparte were
much admired by Upfield's fellow-writers as well as eagerly sought out
in the lending libraries), and the incomparable Georgette Heyer.
At one stage a short Authors at Home promotional film was shot at
Trevor's home in Roedean, near Brighton, where, he was glimpsed at his
typewriter, and flying kits and racing miniature cars, both hobbies he
followed with enthusiasm. With popularity came a widening of his
fictive boundaries. The Billboard Madonna (1960) concerned
the crazed and cut-throat hurly burly of American advertising; Bury
Him Among Kings (1970) the disillusioned flower of the nation's youth
during the First World War. The Flight of the Phoenix (1964)
was a superb piece of genre fiction which featured the rebuilding of a
crashed aircraft deep in the Saharan wastes; Robert Aldrich made a masterly
job of directing the film.
Elleston Trevor was no master of complex characterisation, but as an
ideas-man and a spinner of enthralling yarns he had few peers. Once
he had made his mark he escaped from England, living for 15 years in Europe
before settling in Arizona where he lived, happily writing his stories
(his latest was finished only weeks before he died), for the last 20 years
of his life.
Copyright, 1995, by The Daily Independent.
All rights reserved.