The King of British horror

HE was a prolific and successful writer of crime fiction who inspired the first major British horror film released 75 years ago this year.

And 2008 also marks the 50th anniversary of his death. But how many of us remember the man who started out in Halifax as an ordinary medical doctor before forging a career as an author?

Halifax historian David Glover has been delving into the past of one of the town's famous yet perhaps forgotten sons, Dr Frank King.

"This year marks the 50th anniversary of Hammer Horror's Dracula film so that set me off with my research," he explains.

"My thoughts turned to the horror film, The Ghoul, which, although not a Hammer Horror, was surely an early example of the same genre and I wondered how many people were aware that it had a strong Halifax link," he says.

The film was based on a novel and script penned by King, in collaboration with another Halifax man, the Rev Leonard Hines, minister of Northgate Unitarian Chapel.

Horror fans will remember that The Ghoul, released in 1933, starred Boris Karloff – his first role in a British film – Cedric Hardwicke, Ernest Thesiger and Dorothy Hyson, and in minor roles, Ralph Richardson and Kathleen Harrison.

"It was really the first major horror film produced in England and tried to follow Karloff's previous success in Universal's The Mummy," explains David.

Karloff played a professor who was to be buried with an Egyptian jewel in order to attain eternal life. When the jewel is stolen by his servant, the professor rises from the dead to reclaim it. It was the first film to receive an "H" (Horrific) rating from the British Board of Film Censors.

So who was the man whose novel, published in 1928, inspired this classic film?

King was born in 1892 at 3, Savile Parade, Halifax, the son of Frank King senior and his wife, Esther.

For three generations the King family ran a successful printing and publishing business, which later developed into a bookseller's. They had stores in Halifax, first at Northgate, then later at Bowling Dyke Mill and Commercial Street.

King's father was a staunch Methodist and a founder of Halifax Rotary Club and his father, Francis, of Oakfield, Lightcliffe, was one of the first of the Courier's reporting staff in the 1850s.

Young Frank was educated at Rishworth and Bradford Grammar Schools before studying medicine at Leeds University and qualifying as a doctor in 1914. The following year he married Annie Naylor, of Clay House, West Vale. After war service in Egypt and the Middle East, King set up a practice in Rhodes Street, Halifax, but having grown up with a background of printing and books, he soon began to write. His first novel was published by Hodder and Stoughton in 1924.

This was the thriller Miriam Of The Moorland, which featured the Cragg Vale coiners.

His second book, Terror At Staups House, was described in the Daily Mail as "warranted to make the flesh creep".

Soon afterwards he produced The Ghoul, which prompted the US Philadelphia Public Ledger to declare "It out-Draculas Dracula in its hair-raising, chill-producing weirdness".

More recently it was described as "a terribly underrated Karloff film. A mix of The Mummy's story with a stalking Frankenstein quality".

King soon became a prolific crime author and by 1936 was so well established that he was able to give up his medical practice, moving to another house in Rhodes Street and taking on a staff of four secretaries.

"Using his medical knowledge of toxicology, he 'murdered' on paper with the utmost skill and yet many of his plots did not require medical knowledge," says David.

"He was soon acknowledged by experts in criminology to have one of the cleverest crime-solving brains in Britain."

King also published some of his books under the pen name of Clive Conrad with Conrad being a character in these books. He was nicknamed The Dormouse and was a Raffles-type London private investigator. Other characters invented by King were Inspector Gloom and Clarence Knight.

King's work soon became popular in North America and elsewhere, especially after the filming of The Ghoul.

King also collaborated with Leonard Hines for various other dramatic scripts, one being a play about Robert Louis Steven-son, called Tusitala.

David explains that as well as writing novels and plays, King also contributed short fiction to magazines such as Illustrated, The Weekly Telegraph and The Passing Show. He wrote well over 100 stories for the London Evening News, which were published bet-ween 1939 and 1950.

King died suddenly on December 3, 1958, at his home on Newlands Road, Nor-ton Tower. He was cremated three days later at Park Wood, Elland. He was survived by his wife but the couple had no children.

King was a member of Halifax Authors' Circle, a founder member of the Crime Writers' Association and a member of Halifax Thespians.

His collaborator Leonard Hines resigned as minister of Northgate-End Chapel in 1937 and died in Sidmouth, Devon, in 1975, aged 86. His second book, Terror At Staups House, was described in the Daily Mail as “warranted to make the flesh creep”.

Soon afterwards he produced The Ghoul, which prompted the US Philadelphia Public Ledger to declare “It out-Draculas Dracula in its hair-raising, chill-producing weirdness”.

More recently it was described as “a terribly underrated Karloff film. A mix of The Mummy’s story with a stalking Frankenstein quality”.

King soon became a prolific crime author and by 1936 was so well established that he was able to give up his medical practice, moving to another house in Rhodes Street and taking on a staff of four secretaries.

“Using his medical knowledge of toxicology, he ‘murdered’ on paper with the utmost skill and yet many of his plots did not require medical knowledge,” says David.

“He was soon acknowledged by experts in criminology to have one of the cleverest crime-solving brains in Britain.”

King also published some of his books under the pen name of Clive Conrad with Conrad being a character in these books. He was nicknamed The Dormouse and was a Raffles-type London private investigator. Other characters invented by King were Inspector Gloom and Clarence Knight.

King’s work soon became popular in North America and elsewhere, especially after the filming of The Ghoul.

King also collaborated with Leonard Hines for various other dramatic scripts, one being a play about Robert Louis Steven-son, called Tusitala.

David explains that as well as writing novels and plays, King also contributed short fiction to magazines such as Illustrated, The Weekly Telegraph and The Passing Show. He wrote well over 100 stories for the London Evening News, which were published bet-ween 1939 and 1950.

King died suddenly on December 3, 1958, at his home on Newlands Road, Nor-ton Tower. He was cremated three days later at Park Wood, Elland. He was survived by his wife but the couple had no children.

King was a member of Halifax Authors’ Circle, a founder member of the Crime Writers’ Association and a member of Halifax Thespians.

His collaborator Leonard Hines resigned as minister of Northgate-End Chapel in 1937 and died in Sidmouth, Devon, in 1975, aged 86.