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Bertram Fletcher Robinson (1870 - 1907)

BERTRAM FLETCHER ROBINSON (hereafter BFR) was born on 22nd August 1870 at 80 Rose Lane, Mossley Vale, Wavertree, West Derby, Liverpool.  Between 1893 and 1907, BFR wrote at least 24 poems, 9 playlets (including 4 with P.G. Wodehouse), 4 songs, 44 articles, 55 short stories and 128 articles.  He also wrote 3 books, co-wrote 4 books, and edited 8 books (see 'BFR Bibliography').  Furthermore, BFR contributed to 2 Sherlock Holmes tales by Arthur Conan Doyle and 1 novel by Max Pemberton.  In 1951, BFR's book, The Chronicles of Addington Peace (London: Harper & Brother, 1905) was listed in Queens Quorum: A History of the Detective-Crime Short Story as Revealed by the 106 Most Important Books Published in this Field Since 1845.  

During 1882, BFR and his parents (Joseph Fletcher Robinson and Emily Robinson) left Liverpool and relocated to Park Hill House, Park Hill Cross, Ipplepen, Devon.  Between 1882 and 1890, BFR was educated at a nearby independent school called Newton Abbot Proprietary College in Wolborough (later incorporated into Kelly College, Tavistock).  Whilst at 'Newton College', BFR won prizes for English (1882), Divinity (1883 & 1888) and History (1888).  He also edited his school magazine entitled The Newtonian (1887-1889) and was elected to the Library Committee (1887) and Debating Society Committee (1887 and 1888).  Furthermore, BFR played 1st XV rugby, 1st XI cricket and was appointed 2nd Captain of School-House (1888-1890).

BFR's headmaster at Newton College was The Rev. George Townsend Warner (1841-1902).  He was a former first-class cricketer and was later elected to the committee of the English Rugby Football Union (1892-1894).  The Rev. Warner undoubtedly encouraged and nurtured BFR's enthusiasm for competitive sports.  He was also the paternal grandfather of the noted English writer, Sylvia Townsend Warner (1893-1978).  Other notable ‘Old-Newtonians’ include the writer and academic, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (1864-1944) and the ill-fated explorer, Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett (1867-1925).

Between 1890 and 1894, BFR studied at the University of Cambridge (Jesus College).  He became a triple rugby ‘Blue’ (a sporting-honour conferred upon a student who had competed against Oxford University) and would have represented England but for an "accident".  During 1893, BFR was appointed the sub-editor of an influential periodical called The Granta and was awarded a second class Tripos degree in history.  The following year, BFR narrowly missed gaining a rowing ‘Blue’ and was awarded Part I of the law Tripos degree.

In 1896, BFR accepted an invitation to the Bar at the Inner Temple thereby qualifying as a barrister-at-law.  He was also commissioned to write a book about rugby for the Isthmian Library Series on Sports and Pastimes (a series that he subsequently edited).  BFR was then employed to write regular articles for Cassell’s Family Magazine (later Cassell's Magazine) that  was edited by an English writer called Max Pemberton (1864-1950).  On 25th November 1897, BFR was awarded a Master of Arts degree from Jesus College.

During early 1900, Cyril Arthur Pearson employed BFR to work as a journalist for The Daily Express newspaper in South Africa. On 4th April 1900, BFR dispatched his first by-lined report entitled Capetown for Empire (published 4th May 1900).  During his return voyage to England, BFR 'cemented' a friendship with Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930).  Conan Doyle was already acquainted with BFR's uncle, Sir John Robinson, who edited a newspaper called the Daily News.  Shortly thereafter, BFR was promoted to debut editor of The Daily Express.

In 1901, BFR assisted Conan Doyle with the general plot and local details for a story entitled The Hound of the Baskervilles.  Conan Doyle had previously 'killed-off' Holmes in a story entitled The Final Problem that was published in December 1893.  Following the publication of The Hound of the Baskervilles, Conan Doyle wrote a further 33 short stories and 1 novel each featuring Holmes.  However, none of these ever eclipsed the popular success of his earlier Dartmoor-based adventure.  Since 1902, The Hound of the Baskervilles has formed the basic plot for at least 24 full-length theatrical film productions.

On 3rd June 1902, 31 year-old BFR married a 22 year-old self-professed actress called Gladys Hill Morris at St. Barnabas Church, Kensington, London.  Gladys was the daughter of a recently deceased artist and 'Associate of the Royal Academy of Art' called Philip Richard Morris (1834-1902). Philip Morris is perhaps best remembered for his oil painting entitled Sons of the Brave that was first exhibited in 1880.  BFR and Gladys subsequently resided together at 43 Buckingham Palace Mansions.  Their marriage was announced in The Times newspaper on 5th June. 

During late November 1903, BFR was short-listed as the prospective Liberal Parliamentary Candidate for the Ashburton Division of Devonshire.  However, this candidacy was eventually awarded to a local farmer called Harry Trelawny Eve.  On 8th January 1904, Eve defeated the Unionist Parliamentary Candidate (Conservative), General Sir Richard Harrison, in a by-election.

Between August 1904 and January 1905, BFR had a series of short stories collectively entitled The Chronicles of Addington Peace published in the Lady’s Home Magazine of Fiction.  These stories were later republished as a book and are listed in Queen's Quorum of the 106 (later 125) most significant short detective/crime stories ever written.  By 1905,  BFR was appointed editor of an influential weekly periodical called Vanity Fair.

In November 1906, BFR was appointed editor of an illustrated weekly periodical entitled The World – A Journal for Men and Women that was managed by Max Pemberton and owned by Lord Northcliffe (Alfred Harmsworth).  The following month, BFR attended the Paris Motor Show and reportedly contracted typhoid after drinking water from a contaminated tap in his hotel bedroom.

BFR died during the early hours of Monday 21st January 1907 at 44 Eaton Terrace, Belgravia, London. He was buried three days later at St. Andrew's Church, Ipplepen, Devon.  A simultaneous memorial service was held for BFR at St. Clement Danes Church, The Strand, London.  Amongst the many people who mourned BFR’s death were 10 friends, each of whom was awarded a knighthood during their lifetime (see 'BFR Chronology'). 

Obituaries were published in The Times, The Daily Express, The World, The Sphere, The Illustrated London News, Vanity Fair, The Western Guardian, Western Morning News, The Book of Blues, The Athenaeum and the Annual Report of the Jesus College Cambridge Society (1907).  Furthermore, on Saturday 26th January 1907, The Daily Express newspaper published the following eulogy to BFR by the English writer, Jessie Pope:

Good Bye, kind heart; our benisons preceding,
Shall shield your passing to the other side.
The praise of your friends shall do your pleading
In love and gratitude and tender pride.
To you gay humorist and polished writer,
We will not speak of tears or startled pain.
You made our London merrier and brighter,
God bless you, then, until we meet again!

During 1912, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a story entitled The Lost World that is narrated by a character called Edward E. Malone.  There are many parallels between Malone and BFR.  For example, both spent part of their ‘boyhood’ in the West Country, fished, hunted and exceeded six feet in height.  Furthermore they each became accomplished rugby players, London-based journalists and loved a woman called Gladys.  It is therefore feasible that Conan Doyle may have used BFR as a model for Malone.  The Lost World has been the basis for 7 full-length theatrical film productions.  


By Paul Spiring ©2007.

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