Appendix VI – Interview with Colin Edmonds
Co-author of the Grandreams Annuals.
1979 was a watershed year for the three biggest fictional characters in the Stratemeyer Syndicate's portfolio: the Hardy brothers and Nancy Drew. In addition to the landmark court case that saw a battle in court between Grosset & Dunlap and the Syndicate, a new TV serial hit the air, starring Parker Stevenson and Shaun Cassidy as Frank and Joe Hardy, and Pamela Sue Martin as Nancy Drew. The new show had its UK debut on Saturday March 3rd, 1979, on BBC 1.
That same year, an annual was published on the back of the successful US adaptation of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Mystery stories. They were issued by Grandreams, Ltd (based at Jadwin House in Kentish Town Road, London), who did the popular range of Christmas Gift Books and Annuals based on popular television shows.
The first annual evidently proved to be a hit with the young audience, a second volume was issued the following year, even before the second series (or season) of the show was aired in the UK.
While the authors of this website found it easy enough to identify the illustrators for both annuals (Vicente Torregrosa and David Lloyd), the question of who penned the stories in these annuals remained open. The usage of the word 'torch' in lieu of 'flashlight' could mean a British author (or authors). But perhaps the text had been anglicized ahead of publication to make it more relatable to the target audience. Who could say?
The issue was seemingly resolved, at least in part, by a bibliography on David Lloyd's website, which intimated the author of the 1980 Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew annual was in fact the legendary Steve Moore. Thinking this was about as unimpeachable source as we were likely to find, we updated this website to reflect our discovery. Steve Moore had ghost-written the Hardy Boys, and that was that!
However, research seldom coughs up results that are totally, 100% inarguable, for at the end of 2019, the authors of this website were most fortunate to receive an email from one Colin Edmonds, who along with writing partner David Angus, were the real scribes behind the stories in both of these Grandreams annuals! Colin graciously helped us to set the record straight and bravely submit himself to a barrage of questions about the process of producing these books.
So here follows a interview with, and a brief biography of, the rarest of gentleman: a British ghost-writer of the Hardy Boys (and Nancy Drew). Thank you, Colin!
Ian and Jon
The Early Years
At the tender age of 16, Colin Edmonds sold his first jokes to comedians Bob Monkhouse and Don Maclean.
Immediately after leaving school, he joined the juveniles/humour publications department at IPC magazines in early 1974.
While still in his teens, he gained an on-screen TV credit for a short skit he penned for comedian Dave Allen. Colin then sold a spec script to the BBC, and had a second script produced and aired on national television. As of 1975, this made him Britain's then youngest TV scribe.
Q. When did you get the assignment?
I’m guessing it must have been in the spring of 1979 that David Angus was invited by John Barraclough at Grandreams to write the scripts for ‘The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Mysteries Annual’. Dave was busy at the time working as a full-time editor in the juveniles/humour division at IPC Magazines and freelance scripting for other publications. I was also in the same department at IPC (the Juveniles Division of IPC Magazine, working on the comics Shiver & Shake, Whoopee! and Whizzer & Chips), and when Dave asked me to join him on the Hardy Boys project I all but snatched his hand off. I’m still enormously grateful to him for giving me the opportunity.
Q. What sort of lead-in time did you have?
At that time, working on the editorial side of IPC’s humour comic titles, Dave and I were used to the relentless production schedule of a weekly turnaround. So, although the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew stories were for a hardback annual which wouldn’t be printed for months, out of habit, we treated the project as urgent and cracked on with the scripts.
Q. How long did it take to write all the material?
John Barraclough, the tremendously hard working editor at Grandreams (the publisher of ‘The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Mysteries, and dozens of other annuals) knew and trusted us both to deliver appropriately pitched and pretty much ready-to-go stories.
And we didn’t write the scripts collaboratively. To avoid clashing stories, yes, Dave and I would chat through various plot scenarios: “I fancy a smuggling / ghostly railway train story.” “I’ll do a traditional haunted mansion chiller, maybe motivated by an inheritance scam.” – that kind of stuff. But once we’d divvied up the Frank/Joe to Nancy story balance, we wouldn’t see one another’s work until it was finished. Even then we never had any of those “But wouldn’t it be a better idea if they did that . . .” kind of discussions.
Bear in mind, in David Angus, I was very fortunate to be working in cahoots with a prolific and very impressive story writer who has a Master’s Degree in English!
Q. Was it delivered in one go, or piece by piece as each was completed?
To help speed things along for John Barraclough, and to enable the artists to get to work as soon as possible, Dave and I mailed each story as we completed them. That’s ‘mailed’ in that quaint olde world way, by post. I remember frequently sticking a first class stamp on the corner of a manila envelope while sprinting to the pillar box at the end of the street to catch the last collection, all the time thinking: “I wish someone would hurry up and invent the Internet.” (Yes, I admit I made up that last sentence . . .)
Q. Did you have to make any major (or minor) changes to your text after it had been delivered to the editor?
Thankfully, we did manage to get the material right first time, avoiding outright rejection or with requests for re-writes. Any minor dialogue tweaks John would have made on the page before posting the script to the artist. One editorial note John did give Dave and I when commissioning the second annual; “Edge more toward the spookier side of the mysteries.” If you compare the two books, that’s exactly what we did.
Q. Were you aware of / had you read the books before you got the job?
Growing up in one of the far from affluent parts of 1960s west London I had loved the Hardy Boys books for their thrills, adventure and above all their escapism. Years later, I was amazed to learn Frank and Joe were first published back in the 1920s, so my exposure to the Boys was predicated very much in the late 1950s updates, borrowed from the public library. And if the Hardy Boys books I hadn’t yet read were all out being borrowed, I grabbed a Nancy Drew novel which was always just as exciting.
In fact, the prolific Franklin W. Dixon and Carolyn Keene became literary heroes of mine, alongside Conan Doyle, Dickens and Enid Blyton – they still are. But at the time I had no idea they [Dixon and Keene] were pseudonyms for a gaggle of contributing wordsmiths. Not that that diminished my love of the books. I mean, how great would it have been to be one of those authors.
Q. Had you seen the TV series before the gig, or did you watch it for 'research'?
The Parker Stevenson, Shaun Cassidy, Pamela Sue Martin version of ‘The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Mysteries’ TV series was a big hit in the UK, so both Dave and I were familiar with the set up. Also, my fan-based knowledge of the novels meant we could avoid any clashes with already created plot lines
Q. Did you or the editors have any contact with the Universal or those who produced the TV series, or the BBC who broadcast it?
No such luck. Grandreams dealt with the copyright holders when they won the British annuals franchise, Dave and I were thrilled to be involved but we were just pens/puns for hire.
Q. The 1979 annual has strips only, while the 1980 edition also had two prose stories. Why was this?
Yes, the second annual carried prose stories, again beautifully illustrated, to give the annual some visual and editorial variation. Also, from the publisher’s point of view, there was an economic element. Typescript pages are far cheaper to produce compared with the costs of artwork strips and balloon lettering.
Q. Which of the two disciplines do you prefer?
Although at that time Dave and I were primary comic strip writers for example:
FRAME 21: The full moon is up. Nancy, Ned and George are crouching in a thicket, looking at the side of the wooden barn. Ahead of them, a strip of cloth lies on the dirt.
BOX: NANCY AND LISA USED THE BUSHES AS COVER . . .
LISA: WHAT’S THAT GHOSTLY HUMMING NOISE, NANCY?
NANCY: I’M NOT SURE! BUT THERE’S NO SIGN OF THE WHITE LADY. AND THAT’S NO GHOSTLY HANDKERCHIEF!
. . . that kind of thing, getting the chance to write prose narrative was a real joy. As a kid, my first ambition was to be a novelist, so I figured this was as close a chance as I would ever get. And an important plot point in the haunted lighthouse story required research. Having to learn about the history of lighthouses and confirm those majestic, old, stone-built navigational beacons were lit by burning oil – it did feel like being an author.
Q. Were there any particular restrictions on the content (nudity/swearing are obvious examples), and if so, were they from the publisher or the TV series production company?
There were no specific directives necessary really. We knew as long as we didn’t stray too far from the tone, style and flavour of the TV series we would stay on track.
Q. Did you have to make a concerted effort to 'Americanize' the dialogue and avoid any egregious or subtle Anglicisms?
Interesting question. The dull answer being no. As long as I kept the speech patterns, rhythms and timbre of the actors’ voices firmly in my head, I pretty much knew what they would say, more importantly what they wouldn’t say. A trick I still employ today writing my ‘Steam, Smoke & Mirrors’ Steam punk novel series.
Q. Which of the strips, or short stories, were your favourite, and why?
A cop-out to say I admit I loved them all. You never consciously turn in a script of which you’re not proud, but I will admit to enjoying the twist in “The Mystery of the Missing Millionaire” which appeared in the 1980 annual. Also, Dave’s “Trouble On Oiled Waters” was a terrific title for a lovely story.
Q. Did you have any say in the artwork or presentation of your material, or was how the end result looked pretty much out of your hands once you had delivered your text?
I suppose the only influence Dave and I had on the artwork came in the scene descriptions. Suggesting a close-up for effect where we thought was necessary, but by and large, we could all rely on the visual flair of the annuals’ brilliant artists Vicente Torregrosa and then David Lloyd, to naturally maximise any shocks and drama in the narrative.
It’s why so many comic book artists are asked to provide storyboards for Hollywood movies.
Q. A follow on from that, did you have any contact with the artists?
No, and more’s the pity, on reflection. I always had the greatest admiration for all comic strip artists, and how lucky were we to write for two of the finest. Vicente Torregrosa was always at the forefront of great Spanish illustrators (his ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ adaptation was glorious) and of course, with his iconic “V for Vendetta” and his canon of brilliant DC Comics artwork, David Lloyd remains a hero.
Q. Do you know who wrote the factual material, puzzles and games for the two books?
Although Dave and I did collaborate on the Frank Crossword Puzzle and Crazy Signpost ‘brainteaser’ – the kind of conundrums the editorial teams at IPC would put together, John Barraclough designed and scripted the other pictorial puzzle pages brilliantly.
Q. What did you think of the final product?
I spoke with Dave very recently, and we both agreed how marvellous ‘The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Mysteries’ annuals looked at the time – and, after 40 years, still do! A testament to Vicente Torregrosa and David Lloyd, and ultimately to the editorial skill and versatility of John Barraclough. And I like to think the stories still hold up . . .
It was a privilege to have been involved in the production of ‘The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Mysteries’ – and, honestly, a career highlight.
It’s only on reflection and in talking with you guys that I realise I can actually say, albeit in a very minor capacity: “I wrote stories for the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew.”
I know some websites suggest the 1979 and 1980 annuals were scripted by the brilliant Steve Moore. I’m sure this is an oversight of memory from a very busy time, one of the Golden Ages of comics – but for the work of David Angus and I to be thought of Mr Moore’s, well, it doesn’t get better than that.
Q. Did you keep any of your scripts / text drafts? (if so, are you able to let us see/use some examples?)
Again, I wish!
Q. What other projects did you work on before you moved to a full-time role in TV and broadcasting?
I was so fortunate to join the juveniles/humour publications department at IPC magazines, straight from school, in early 1974. Maybe my hobby of writing comedy for entertainers at the time helped. I remember starting at the iconic Fleetway House, Farringdon Street, on the same day as another trainee – Steve McManus. Yes, the Steve McManus who went on to become a giant in the industry and editor of the legendary 200AD and Judge Dredd magazine!
I started as an editorial assistant on Shiver & Shake, before moving on to edit Krazy Comic and for a short time Whizzer & Chips, working with some of the most creative talents imaginable. I quit IPC in 1982 to fulfil my ambition of a full-time role working in TV comedy and entertainment.
Here, in PDF format, are the strips and short-stories penned by Colin and his writing partner David Angus for both annuals:
- Trouble on Oiled Waters
HB comic strip: PDF Version (3.4 Mb)
ND short story: PDF Version (2.8 Mb)
- The Case of the Muddy Pants
ND comic strip: PDF Version (3.0 Mb)
- Mystery of the Missing Millionaire
HB comic strip: PDF Version (3.1 Mb)
- Night Ride to Disaster
HB short story: PDF Version (2.8 Mb)
- The Ghost of Gravesdyke Grange
ND comic strip: PDF Version (3.4 Mb)
The Years Since
Colin interviewed about his
close friend, Bob Monkhouse
After quitting his editorial role at IPC and turning over a new leaf with a fresh career in TV comedy and entertainment, Colin became principal writer for Bob Monkhouse, and the two quickly became life-long friends.
After Bob’s sad passing in 2003, Colin inherited the comedian’s famous gag books, as detailed here.
In his career as writer, consultant and producer, Colin has worked with various prime-time luminaries such as Terry Wogan, Les Dawson, Paul Daniels, Chris Tarrant, Ant & Dec, Paul O’Grady, Sir Roger Moore, Sir Michael Caine, Joan Collins, and the legendary Roland Rat.
Steam, Smoke and Mirrors
Since 2015, Colin has channelled his talent for writing in a new direction: the Steam, Smoke & Mirrors novels, a series of comedy-thriller-mysteries set in the Steampunk world of Victorian Music Hall.
Three novels and one short-story have been published as of 2021:
In November 2019, the audiobook of “Steam Smoke & Mirrors”, recorded by Karl Jenkinson, won the Society of Voice Arts and Sciences (SOVAS) Award for ‘Audiobook Narration – Mystery, Best Voice Over’ in Los Angeles.
- Steam, Smoke & Mirrors: Official Website.
- Caffeine Nights Books
- Find Colin on Twitter here: @ColinEdmondsSSM.
After 50 years writing comedy for most of the UK's highest-profile comics and performers, Colin now takes a behind the scenes look at his career and inspirations:
Other parts of this website that touch upon the Grandreams annuals:
Interview conducted: 2020.