Invisible Ink: No 176 - Jack Trevor Story


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The Independent Culture

There's nothing like a provocative title, and Hitler Needs You came from an author who always operated outside his comfort zone. Jack Trevor Story was asked why he hadn't yet written an autobiography and replied: "What do you think I've been doing all these years?" When he did finally write one, it was called Dwarf Goes To Oxford. His fantastic narratives came directly from a dark, rambunctious life.

Story was born in 1917, the son of a servant and a baker's roundsman. His father was killed in the First World War, and Jack first worked as an electronics engineer for Marconi before teaching himself professional writing. His grounding in Westerns, action pulps, and crime tales allowed him to develop an unpretentious, natural style through sheer consistent output; it's usually better to keep writing than to study writing. He was a messy womaniser (his first wife still did his washing, 20 years after he left her), a serial bankrupt, and an anti-establishmentarian, but he was also a wonderful storyteller, particularly about himself.

Story's stories eventually coincided with the mood of the times in the Seventies, but he never became a household name, despite having been linked with Alfred Hitchcock. Or rather, because of Hitchcock, who bought his first novel, The Trouble With Harry, for £150 and sold it to Paramount, who never let him see a penny back. The book is a subversive black comedy, as the hero is dead but won't stay still. Harry gets blithely shifted around by detached, self-centred people more concerned with their own petty grievances than the murdered Harry. It's stranger than the resulting 1955 film, which suffered from that era's broader approach to comedy.

Unconventional, irresponsible and unstable, Story wrote from a defiant yet benign working-class perspective, leaving a trail of debts and much younger women in his wake, and living a parody version of what a writer's life is supposed to be like. He churned out films for Anna Neagle, and TV shows such as Danger Man and Budgie, while parlaying his ludicrously complex love affairs into a newspaper column that read like a sexed-up soap. And there were fictional gems, including The Money Goes Round and Round, in which a pulp writer attempts to smuggle money into the UK in the wheels of his car. He once said true love wasn't about grand passions but about how you went round the supermarket together. Savoy books are now reprinting him.