Clutha made his debut in Munro's first novel, Who Told Clutha, published in 1958and appeared in seven of Munro's ten novels, the last of which appeared in 1978. Beyond his novels, little seemed to be known about Munro. As well as writing articles, short stories and serials, he also contributed to radio and wrote plays for amateur drama festivals and was at some point editor of Scottish Bagpipe Magazine. Yet his comments in Contemporary Authors hinted at a far broader career:
I have been beating a typewriter ever since my youth, turning out articles and short stories—and also adventure serials for boys' weeklies—but only within the last five years have I attempted novel writing.The phrase "within the last five years" dates the comment to 1963 at the latest, although Clutha's debut had appeared earlier as a serial in the Evening Citizen under the title "The Black Squad Murder". What particularly struck me was that Munro could have been one of the anonymous contributors to the likes of Adventure, Rover, Hotspur and Wizard for D. C. Thomson, as they were among the few regular boys' adventure story papers being published in the 1950s.
Whether that is true or not remains unresolved... but thanks to Ursula Maxwell-Lewis, Munro's niece, I can now offer a little more background than my previous attempt.
nee Robinson). George Munro's middle name was given in Contemporary Authors as 'Michele' but was pronounced 'Miekle', a remnant of the family's Huguenot ancestry.
Hugh was the third youngest of eleven children and grew up in Glasgow and, from around the age of 6, Saltcoats, Ayrshire, where his parents became the proprietors of the Holly House Temperance Hotel. The urge to write seems to have been strong in the family as four of Hugh's siblings became writers. George, a noted Fleet Street crime reporter and drama critic in the 1920s, was posthumously awarded Writer of the Best New Work for the Stage Produced in Scotland during 1970; Alan, who lived in England, wrote short stories and, using the pen-name Cal Paton, three Western novels published in the 1960s; Sally was a freelance writer in England; and Jean became a freelance writer in Britain, Canada and South Africa.
|Hugh's family: George, Sally, mother Margaret and Jimmy ("our own Clutha") Munro|
He was married on 16 September 1939 to Elizabeth Baird and had three children: Sally, Margaret and George. Sally and George both became journalists, for a Glasgow daily (possibly the Daily Herald) and the Manchester Guardian respectively.
Although he wrote short stories for newspapers all his life—he also wrote for Blackwood's Magazine and contributed to the BBC—Hugh was almost fifty before he tackled his first novel. "Nowadays fiction writing leaves little time for anything other than an occasional game of chess," he told Contemporary Authors, where he described himself as a Christian who was suspicious of all politics. Despite a work-related eye injury, he continued to write, although eventually had to resort to using a tape recorder and have a secretary transcribe his work.
He penned three contemporary novels, The Clydesiders (1961), Tribal Town (1964) and The Keelie (1978), which may have given him more satisfaction than the Clutha crime novels. "If ever I write a novel about modern Scottish people good enough to be acceptable by ordinary people throughout the world I'll be content," he wrote. For these he drew strongly on his Scottish upbringing, his last novel, The Keelie, concerning a working-class Glasgow boy struggling with a lack of education and opportunity to gain eventual, although brief, success as a writer.
"He was a truly kind, gentle, patient man with a quick wit and a delightful, dry sense of humour," writes Ursula. "I can't imagine anyone not enjoying his company. We all certainly did. Like all the Munro's, he was hospitable and unstintingly generous with practical advice and encouragement to those of us attempting to break into journalism. He was a dedicated family man, who—even when the typewriter beckoned—was long-suffering when another wall needed painted and papered in their Eglington Street home. Like all the Munros he was an avid letter-writer—which is fortunate since we frequently lived overseas. Those letters were a major link with home."
Hugh Munro continued to live in Saltcoats, Ayrshire, Scotland, where he died in 1982.
|Hugh Munro - champion piper|
Who Told Clutha. London, Macdonald & Co., 1958; New York, Washburn, 1958.
Clutha Plays a Hunch. London, Macdonald & Co., 1959; New York, Washburn, 1959.
A Clue for Clutha. London, Macdonald & Co., 1960.
The Clydesiders. London, Macdonald & Co., 1961.
Tribal Town. London, Macdonald & Co., 1964.
Clutha and the Lady. London, Hale, 1973.
Get Clutha. London, Hale, 1974.
Evil Innocence (Clutha). London, Hale, 1976.
The Brain Robbers (Clutha). London, Hale, 1977.
The Keelie. London, Hale, 1978.
Note: Crime Fiction Bibliography lists Hugh Munro as one of the authors behind the house name Jason, which was used on a series of hardboiled crime novels featuring the character J. C. Jason, but these have no connection with the author of Clutha. Munro set all his novels in Glasgow, bar one which took place in Italy (Get Clutha); Jason was a world traveller whose adventures had titles like High Litre Lolita, Honolulu Slay Ride and Three's a Shroud. They were published in 1958-59 by Webster of Sydney, Australia.
(* My thanks to Ursula Maxwell-Lewis for both her memories and for the photos. Ursula is a journalist, photographer and occasional blogger and is interviewed here. Thanks, too, to Jamie Sturgeon for the book jackets.)