Obituary: Penny Wallace

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Penny Wallace was the formidable daughter of a formidable father, the phenomenally prolific and popular thriller writer Edgar Wallace, who in his heyday (the inter-war years) was the author of one in every four books bought in the United Kingdom. When he died, in 1932, the nation mourned. Much of Penny Wallace's later life was dedicated to keeping his name alive in the memories of older readers, in the Edgar Wallace Society (launched in 1968), and introducing new generations to his riveting and often torrentially paced thrillers. In this she was remarkably successful.

Born in 1923, she was the only child of Wallace's late second marriage to his erstwhile secretary, Violet King (known to most as "Jim"). Her childhood verged on the idyllic: she was petted by her much older stepsister and stepbrothers and, because her father died when she was only eight, never experienced Wallace's notoriously unbridled exasperation with post- pubertal teenagers.

Without warning, however, the idyll was shattered when Wallace died suddenly in Hollywood while working on the original screenplay of King Kong, leaving debts of pounds 140,000. Thanks to some fast financial footwork by his friend and barrister Sir Patrick Hastings, within a couple of years the estate was solvent and paying out huge dividends from Wallace's book and play royalties. This saved the family's fortunes and enabled Penny to be educated (at Roedean) in a manner which Wallace (himself self-educated and illegitimate, and who invariably replied to fellow journalists keen on including him in articles on the origins of celebrated writers, "Sorry, cock, I'm a bastard!") would certainly have relished.

Penny had the Wallace chin, the Wallace nose and the Wallace unstoppability. This last came in enormously useful in her career as an organiser: few could resist for long her gently prodding you towards the course she wanted you to follow.

She was attracted to her father's trade and became a pillar of the Society of Woman Journalists, achieving the Chairship in 1982. By this time she had already whipped the old Press Club (now the London Press Club) into shape, having joined as soon as the club allowed in women members (in 1972), and swiftly become its Social Secretary, then Deputy Chair, much to the consternation (in some cases outright horror) of the more embalmed of its members. In 1980 she was voted Chair: the first woman to be so honoured, as well as the first "second generation" Chair, since her father had attained that position the year Penny was born.

She championed Public Lending Right, and was a long-time member of the Crime Writers' Association, successfully organising the first Crime Writers' International Congress in 1975 (the centenary of her father's birth), then serving as Chair for 1980/81.

Her own writing had verve and movement (one of her short stories, "Tell David", was filmed in Hollywood for the Night Gallery television series), although her modernisings of her father's more popular thrillers largely drained the originals of their essential character. Four of her novels were only published in Germany, while a fifth, the female-in-peril suspenser A Clutch of Bastards, came out in the UK in 1988.

Penny Wallace was generous in her loyalties (especially to those who championed her father's writings) and had a larky streak (for speakers at conferences she advocated use of a peashooter on sneezing audience members); she also had strong opinions. In her late husband, the entrepreneurial George Halcrow, she found the ideal partner.

Margaret Penelope June Wallace, writer: born London 30 May 1923; married 1955 George Halcrow (died 1994; one son, one daughter); died Oxford 13 January 1997.

Comments