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Biography::H. C. McNeile

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Biography

Early life

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McNeile was born in Bodmin, Cornwall. He was the son of Malcolm McNeile, a captain in the Royal Navy who at the time was governor of the naval prison at Bodmin,{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}}Unknown extension tag "ref" and Christiana Mary (née Sloggett).{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} The McNeile family had ancestral roots from both Belfast and Scotland,<ref name="S Times: Obit" /> and counted a general in the British Indian Army among their members.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}}

McNeile did not like either of his given names but preferred to be called Cyril, although he was always known by his friends as Mac.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}}{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} After attending a prep school in Eastbourne, he was further educated at Cheltenham College.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} On leaving the college, he joined the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich,{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} from which he was commissioned into the Royal Engineers as a second lieutenant in July 1907.<ref name="Gaz: 2nd Lt" /> He underwent further training at the Royal School of Military Engineering before a short posting to Aldershot Garrison.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} He received promotion to lieutenant in June 1910<ref name="Gaz: 1st Lt" /> and was posted to Canterbury, serving three years with the 3rd Field Troop, until January 1914, when he was posted to Malta.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}}

In 1914 McNeile was promoted to the rank of captain.<ref name="S Times: Obit" /> He was still in Malta when the war broke out and was ordered to France in October 1914;{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} he travelled via England and married Violet Evelyn Baird on 31 October 1914.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} Baird was the daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur Baird Douglas of the Cameron Highlanders.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}}Unknown extension tag "ref"

First World War service

On 2 November 1914 McNeile travelled to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}}{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} Few details are known about McNeile's wartime service, as his records were destroyed by incendiary bombs during the Second World War. He spent time with a number of Royal Engineer units on the Western Front, including 1st Field Squadron RE, 15th Field Company RE and RE elements of the 33rd Division.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}}

US cover of No Man's Land, published in 1917

McNeile's first known published story, Reminiscences of Sergeant Michael Cassidy, was serialised on page four of the Daily Mail from 13 January 1915.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}}Unknown extension tag "ref" As serving officers in the British Army were not permitted to publish under their own names except during their half-pay sabbaticals, many would write under a pseudonym;{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} Lord Northcliffe, the owner of the Daily Mail, gave McNeile the pen name "Sapper", as the Royal Engineers were commonly known as the Sappers.<ref name="Observer: Obit" />{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} McNeile later confided that he had started writing through "sheer boredom".<ref name="S Times: Obit" /> Some of his stories appeared on page four of the Daily Mail over the following months.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} Northcliffe was impressed by his writing and attempted, but failed, to have him released from the army to work as a war correspondent.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} By the end of 1915, he had written two collections of short stories, The Lieutenant and Others and Sergeant Michael Cassidy, R.E., both of which were published by Hodder & Stoughton.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} Although many of the stories had already appeared in the Daily Mail,{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} between 1916 and 1918 Sergeant Michael Cassidy, R.E. sold 135,000 copies and The Lieutenant and Others sold 139,000 copies.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} By the end of the war he had published three more collections, Men, Women, and Guns (1916), No Man's Land (1917) and The Human Touch (1918).{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} In 1916 he wrote a series of articles titled The Making of an Officer, which appeared under the initials C. N., in five issues of The Times between 8 and 14 June 1916.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}}<ref name="Times: Making Officer" /> The articles were aimed at young and new officers to explain their duties to them; these were collected together and published by Hodder & Stoughton later in 1916.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}}

During his time with the Royal Engineers, McNeile saw action at the First and Second Battles of Ypres{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}}—he was gassed at the second battle{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}}—and the Battle of the Somme.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} In 1916 he was awarded the Military Cross<ref name="Gaz: MC" /> and was mentioned in dispatches;<ref name="Medal Rolls 1916" /> in November that year he was gazetted to acting major.<ref name="Gaz: Maj" /> From 1 April to 5 October 1918, he commanded a battalion of the Middlesex Regiment and was promoted to acting lieutenant-colonel;<ref name="Gaz: Lt C, Middx" /> the scholar Lawrence Treadwell observes that "for an engineer to command an infantry regiment was ... a rarity".{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} 18th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment under McNeile saw action for the remainder of his command, and were involved in fighting during the Hundred Days Offensive in the St. Quentin-Cambrai sector in September 1918;{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} during the year, he was again mentioned in dispatches.<ref name="Gaz: MID 2" /> On 2 October 1918 he broke his ankle and was briefly hospitalised, which forced him to relinquish his command of the regiment on 4 October. He was on convalescent leave when the war ended in November 1918. During the course of the war, he had spent a total of 32 months in France,{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} and had probably been gassed more than once.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} His literary output from 1915 to 1918 accounted for more than 80 collected and uncollected stories.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} His brother—also in the Royal Engineers—had been killed earlier in the war.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}}

Post-war years

McNeile had a quiet life after the war; his biographer Jonathon Green notes that "as in the novels of fellow best-selling writers such as P. G. Wodehouse or Agatha Christie, it is the hero who lives the exciting life".{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} Although he was an "unremittingly hearty man",{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} he suffered from delicate health following the war.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} He had a loud voice and a louder laugh, and "liked to enliven clubs and restaurants with the sight and sound of military good fellowship"; his friend and collaborator Gerard Fairlie described him as "not everybody's cup of tea",{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} and commented that "he was loud in every possible way—in his voice, in his laugh, in his clothes, in the unconscious swagger with which he always motivated himself, in his whole approach to life".{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} McNeile and his wife had two sons.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}}

On 13 June 1919 McNeile retired onto the reserve officer list and was confirmed in the rank of major.<ref name="Gaz: Major" /> The same year he also published a short-story collection, Mufti, in which he introduced a type of character as "the Breed", a class of Englishman who was patriotic, loyal and "physically and morally intrepid".{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} Although well received by the critics, the book failed commercially and, by the end of 1922, had only sold 16,700 copies from its first print run of 20,000; the unsold copies were pulped and the novel went out of print later that year.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}}

"Demobilised officer, ... finding peace incredibly tedious, would welcome diversion. Legitimate, if possible; but crime, if of a comparatively humorous description, no objection. Excitement essential."

Advertisement placed in The Times by Drummond in Bulldog Drummond{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}}

In 1920 McNeile published Bull-Dog Drummond, whose eponymous hero—a member of "the Breed"—became his most famous creation.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} He had first written Drummond as a detective for a short story in The Strand Magazine, but the character was not successful and was changed for the novel, which was a thriller.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} Captain Hugh "Bulldog" Drummond DSO, MC was described in the novel's sub-title as "a demobilised officer who found peace dull" after service during the First World War with the fictional Loamshire Regiment. Drummond went on to appear in ten full-length novels by McNeileUnknown extension tag "ref" and a further seven by his friend Gerard Fairlie.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} The character was an amalgam of Fairlie, himself, and his idea of an English gentleman.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}}Unknown extension tag "ref" Drummond also had roots in the literary characters Sherlock Holmes, Sexton Blake, Richard Hannay and The Scarlet Pimpernel.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} Drummond was characterised as large, very strong, physically unattractive and an "apparently brainless hunk of a man",{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} who was also a gentleman with a private income;{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} he could also be construed as "a brutalized ex-officer whose thirst for excitement is also an attempt to reenact [sic] the war".{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} The character was later described by Cecil Day-Lewis as an "unspeakable public school bully".{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} Drummond's main adversary across four novels is Carl Peterson,Unknown extension tag "ref" a master criminal with no national allegiance, who is often accompanied by his wife, Irma.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} Irma is described by Jonathon Green as "the slinky epitome of a twenties 'vamp'",{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} and by Lawrence Treadwell as dark, sexy and from an oriental background, "a true femme fatale".{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} After Carl Peterson's death in The Final Count, Irma swears revenge on Drummond and kidnaps his wife—whom he had met in Bull-Dog Drummond—with the intent of killing him in the ensuing chase.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} Irma Peterson appears in six of McNeile's books, and in a further five by Fairlie.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}}Unknown extension tag "ref"

Lobby card for US screenings of the 1922 film, Bulldog Drummond

McNeile adapted Bulldog Drummond for the stage. It was shown at Wyndham's Theatre during the 1921–22 season, with Gerald du Maurier playing the title role;{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} it ran for 428 performances.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}}Unknown extension tag "ref" The play also ran in New York during the same season, with A. E. Matthews as Drummond.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}}Unknown extension tag "ref" Later in 1922 McNeile resigned his reserve commission with the rank of lieutenant-colonel,<ref name="Gaz: Lt Col" /> and moved as a tax exile to Territet, Montreux, Switzerland, with his wife;{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} the Swiss countryside was later described in a number of his stories.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}}{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}}

The following year McNeile introduced the character of Jim Maitland, a "footloose sahib of the period".{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}}Unknown extension tag "ref" Maitland was the protagonist of the 1923 novel Jim Maitland; he later appeared in a second novel in 1931, The Island of Terror. Around the time McNeile killed off the Carl Peterson character in The Final Count (1926), he also introduced the character Ronald Standish, who first appeared in "The Saving Clause" (1927) and "Tiny Carteret" (1930){{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} before becoming the protagonist in two collections of short stories, Ronald Standish (1933) and Ask for Ronald Standish (1936). The character also appeared in the final three Drummond novels, Knock-Out (1933), Bull-Dog Drummond at Bay (1935) and Challenge (1937).{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} Standish was a sportsman who played cricket for England and was a part-time consultant with the War Office.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}}

In 1929 McNeile edited a volume of short stories from O. Henry, The Best of O. Henry; the stories had served as models for him when he had started as a writer.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} The same year, the film Bulldog Drummond was released, starring Ronald Colman in the title role. Colman was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor at the 3rd Academy Awards ceremony.<ref name="Academy Awards: 1930" /> The film earned $750,000 at the box office,{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} and McNeile received an estimated £5,000 for the rights to his novel.<ref name="S Times: Obit" /> The same year he wrote his second play—The Way Out—which was staged at the Comedy Theatre in January 1930.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}}Unknown extension tag "ref" About a year later he and his wife returned to England, and settled near Pulborough, West Sussex.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}}

In 1935 McNeile, Fairlie, Sidney Gilliat and J.O.C. Orton collaborated on the screenplay Bulldog Jack, a "comedy thriller" with Jack Hulbert and Fay Wray, which was produced by Gaumont British.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}}<ref name="BFI: Bulldog Jack" />

Death and legacy

In 1937 McNeile was working with Fairlie on the play Bulldog Drummond Hits Out{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}}Unknown extension tag "ref" when he was diagnosed with terminal throat cancer. He came to an agreement with Fairlie for the play to continue after his death and for Fairlie to continue writing the Drummond stories.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}}{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} McNeile died on 14 August 1937<ref name="Times: Obit" /> at his home in West Chiltington, West Sussex.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} Although most sources identify throat cancer as the cause of death, Treadwell also suggests that it may have been lung cancer.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} It was "traceable to his war service",{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} and attributed to a gas attack.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} His funeral, with full military honours, was conducted at Woking crematorium.<ref name="Times funeral" /> At his death his estate was valued at over £26,000.<ref name="S Times: Obit" />

Bulldog Drummond Hits Out was finished by Fairlie and had a short tour of Brighton, Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh, before opening in London at the Savoy Theatre on 21 December 1937.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} The story was later turned into a novel by Fairlie, with the title Bulldog Drummond on Dartmoor.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} Fairlie continued to write Drummond novels, seven in total.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}}Unknown extension tag "ref"

Drummond, McNeile's chief literary legacy, became a model for other literary heroes created in the 1940s and '50s.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} W. E. Johns used McNeile's work as a model for his character Biggles,{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} while Ian Fleming admitted that James Bond was "Sapper from the waist up and Mickey Spillane below".{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}} Sydney Horler's popular character "Tiger" Standish was also modelled on Drummond.{{#invoke:Footnotes|sfn}}


H. C. McNeile sections
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