David Williams

Writer of the 'Mark Treasure' crime novels who had a first career in advertising
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Stuart David Williams, advertising executive and crime writer: born Bridgend, Glamorgan 8 June 1926; managing director, David Williams and Partners 1958-68; chairman, David Williams and Ketchum 1968-78; vice-chairman, Ketchum Group Holdings 1978-82; married 1951 Brenda Holmes (one son, one daughter); died Virginia Water, Surrey 26 September 2003.

David Williams, the crime writer, was an extraordinary example of bloody-minded guts and determination concealed under a carapace of laconic and self-deprecating charm and amiability. After fighting his way to the top of one profession he found himself thwarted at the pinnacle of his success only to re-invent himself and rise to the heights in a quite different occupation.

Williams had published three "Mark Treasure" novels when, in 1978, he was struck down by a serious stroke and had to withdraw from advertising, the profession to which he took after deciding he had no vocation for the Anglican Church.

Born in Bridgend, Glamorgan, in 1926, the son of a journalist on the Western Mail, after wartime service in the RNVR and a history degree from St John's College, Oxford, he was a medical copywriter and then joined Gordon and Gotch. He professed that his greatest advertising coup was in 1952 when he persuaded the Radio Times to publish an advertisement for Andrex - the first time the then eight-million- circulation magazine had ever accepted an advertisement for lavatory paper.

In 1958 he founded his own agency, David Williams and Partners, gaining big-spending clients such as Gillette, Japan Airlines and the Leeds Permanent Building Society, and 10 years later selling a controlling interest in the business to the American agency Ketchum Communications to form David Williams and Ketchum.

The first 17 of his short, witty, fastidiously written whodunnits featured a merchant banker called Mark Treasure, inaugurated in Holy Writ (1976), involving a Shakespearian manuscript and a stately home. Williams wrote 23 novels altogether, saying that he wanted them to be "above all credible, a touch incidentally informative (a characteristic of Welsh writers) and laced with humour". He added that they should also possess "a certain spontaneity" because while writing them he seldom knew the identity of the murderer until the penultimate chapter.

In 1984 he emulated Dorothy L. Sayers's 1933 Murder Must Advertise with Advertise for Treasure, in which he satirised the world of his earlier life and some of its more colourful denizens. Treasure's wife, Molly, is a successful actress who is "resting" often enough to accompany her husband on many of his adventures, most notably in Wedding Treasure (1985) when the bride's estranged father is found dead on the golf course. (Williams was keen on golf and lived close to the famous Wentworth club in a house named "Blandings" in homage to his literary hero P.G. Wodehouse.)

His love and knowledge of the Anglican Church was utilised most graphically in Murder in Advent (1985), Holy Treasure (1989) and Treasure by Post (1991), when a West Country bishop asks Treasure to investigate a convent with only three nuns and assets of £11m. The divorcing vicar of Bryndaf is central to the Merlin Parry mystery A Terminal Case (1997), while Llandaff and Bristol cathedrals are prominent in Practise to Deceive (2003).

Gerald Kaufman wrote of one of the Welsh Merlin Parry series that Williams "has, highly readably, established Cardiff as a hotbed of poisonous gossip" while his colleague James Melville wrote of "the sly wit and neat observations one can invariably count on from this accomplished writer".

He himself wrote,

Stately homes, old churches, Welsh people, and eccentric clergymen feature a good deal in the stories because I can always find hidden depths in all of them. The major and intended difference between the protagonists in my two series of books is that the banker Mark Treasure can play God in some of his cases, while Detective Chief Inspector Merlin Parry, being bound by police procedure, is not supposed to.

When I first met David Williams some 20-odd years ago he was an elegant, slim, silver-haired cove who always dressed in dark suits with a white shirt, white tie and a red carnation in his button-hole. He claimed that this unchanging uniform was designed to avoid the tiresome and time-consuming business of deciding what to wear every morning but it was more than that - it was a statement of style. There was never anything even remotely sloppy about him and he regarded a smartness, even marginal flamboyance, in dress as a mark of self-respect as well as a courtesy to others.

It was much the same with the Rolls-Royce he drove. He used to protest that he couldn't afford a newer car but actually this too was a style statement and a bit like him - ageing, but always good-looking and smart without being too obvious. He enjoyed driving it too.

Williams was particularly pleased when, two years ago, after his usual enormous commercial publisher turned down a collection of his short stories with hurtful disdain, they were accepted instead by the much smaller house of Robert Hale. Hale sold Criminal Intentions in thousands. He was also purring with pride at a recent Claridge's dinner given for donors of manuscripts to Boston University (they have a David Williams archive) to learn that one of his crime stories had sold yet another set of subsidiary rights, introducing him to a whole new audience of women's-magazine readers.

He was, I think, the politest man I ever knew but his was not the sort of empty politeness, of an etiquette manual, it was something innate. It was the product of a genuine kindness and a desire to put people at their ease.

Tim Heald