Elleston Trevor:
Life and Work

The Times, July 29, 1995

Elleston Trevor, author, died on July 21 aged 75.  He was born on February 17, 1920.

Writing under the pseudonym of Adam Hall, Elleston Trevor was the author of 19 spy thrillers featuring the British Secret Service agent Quiller.  They were not unflawed if one judged them against the meticulous standards of research demanded by a reader of, say, Frederick Forsyth.  Their plots sometimes leaked and English characters could appear irritatingly two-dimensional.

What sold them in such huge quantities was Quiller himself, an amusingly neurotic character, and the way in which Trevor chivvied his audience through all sorts of uncharted intellectual territory.  A Quiller reader was expected as a matter of course to have a working knowledge of German--there was no soft nonsense about translation--basic aeronautics and car mechanics.  A section of the The Striker Portfolio (1969) began baldly:  "Code-intro for the mission was sapphire needle and we cleared on it and didn't bother with anything else because it was fool-proof."  The pace was brisk but unhurried, and nicely spiked with humour.

The Quiller series was one of the most consistently high-selling after Fleming's 007 and, considering their popularity, their failure to film well was mystifying.  Trevor was never happy with the attempts that were made.  He believed George Segal miscast in The Quiller Memorandum (1966) he would have preferred a young James Mason or Humphrey Bogart rather than someone so obviously romantic and he disliked Harold Pinter's script.  The BBC, which televised a Quiller series in the mid-1970s, fared equally badly in his estimation.  The series was so poor that, while it ran, sales of his books with "As seen on TV" on the cover actually dropped.

Perhaps because of the rabid curiosity of many Quiller fans Trevor guarded his privacy ferociously.  He lived in a bungalow in the Arizona desert, rarely granting an interview, and writing under a dozen noms de plume, others being Roger Fitzalan, Trevor Burgess, Caesar Smith, Warwick Scott, Mansell Black and Simon Rattray.

His real name was Trevor Dudley Smith, and he was born in Bromley, Kent.  He was brought up, he said, in a state of permanent anxiety, being the son of two alcoholics, his father being a womanising stockbroker.  He was sent to Sevenoaks School which he detested, and where he was beaten for his bad marks in Latin.  He left with no exams passed, and became an apprentice racing driver before joining the RAF.

He was not allowed to fly during the war--his eyes were hypersensitive to the sun and he always wore sunglasses outside.  Instead, he worked as an engineer on Spitfires and began writing and, with relative ease, selling short stories.  He married a children's writer, Jonquil Burgess, and moved into the Atlanta Club Hotel in Brighton, where they typed their first books in the silk-lined ballroom.

His first published novel, A Chorus of Echoes (1950), was an immediate success.  He followed it with The Big Pick-Up (1955), inspired by J. B. Priestley's grumbling remark that all sorts of "terrible people" were writing war stories for the money.  Trevor was never deterred by having no personal experience of a subject and The Big Pick-Up became the definitive Dunkirk novel.  More war novels--Squadron Airborne (1955), The Killing Ground (1955) and Gale Force (1956)--followed, all big sellers.

The Quiller books, which he wrote under the pseudonym of Adam Hall (a name he plucked from the telephone directory), began life after Trevor had read reviews of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.  He was too superstitious about the risk of plagiarism actually to read the book, but he bought it and placed it on the shelf while he wrote The Quiller Memorandum (1965).  By the time he had finished writing, he knew he had the makings of a series.

Trevor continued to churn out the books--over eighty of them in all--in Arizona, and to practise his yoga and karate.  His wife died in 1986 and he then married Chaille Groom, a horsewoman.  She survives him, together with a son from the first marriage.

Copyright, 1995, by The Times.  All rights reserved.