Obituary: Berkely Mather

Berkely Mather wrote full-blooded adventure stories. The adventure story writer - ancient (at any rate, early-20th century) as well as modern - has always had to labour under the curse of the Boys' Own Paper. Whatever acute intelligence he (it is rarely she: Clare Francis is an honourable exception) may bring to bear on his theme, whatever descriptive powers he may possess, whatever arcane tit-bits he may unearth, his story will in the end be filed under "ripping yarns" to be sniffily dismissed by all but the most provincial of literary editors.

To be sure, many (verging on countless) adventure-story writers deserve this fate. Quite a few - Ralph Hammond Innes, Ernest K. Gann, Arthur D. Howden Smith, C.S. Forester, Duncan Kyle, one or two others - don't. Berkely Mather certainly didn't. His novels, screen- plays, television plays and radio scripts contained all the ingredients any competent hack can come up with - action, plot, unflagging pace and exotic locations - yet are far from being mere "shooty-bang" juvenilia.

Berkely Mather was the pseudonym of John Evan Weston-Davies, a career soldier who was born in Gloucester in 1909. The family emigrated to Australia before the First World War (in which Mather lost two of his elder brothers), and Mather was educated there, at high school and Sydney University, where he read Medicine, the family profession.

To escape a suffocating fate, Mather took off on a world tour, travelling mainly steerage, before ending up in England in the depths of the post- Wall Street Crash Depression. He had no career and no qualifications. He enlisted in the Royal Horse Artillery, failed to gain a commission, and, in desperation, applied to join the Indian Army. It was the saving of him.

From 1934 through to Independence in 1947, he rose through the ranks, becoming a sergeant at the outbreak of the Second World in 1939, getting sent to Iraq, serving under Slim, and ending the war as an acting lieutenant- colonel (who was, moreover, mentioned in despatches). After Independence he rejoined the British Army, serving in the Royal Artillery until he retired in 1959.

By then, as Berkely Mather, he was already an established writer. His earliest stories had appeared in The Bystander and other glossy society weeklies in London before the Second World War. In the early 1950s, while still in the army, he had tried his hand at a radio play, Southern Channel , as well as one for the new medium of television, The Fast Buck. Both were accepted.

In the mid-Fifties he created his first TV series (an early example of the genre) in Tales From Soho, which was produced by Tony Richardson. It featured as one of its main characters Inspector Charlesworth (played by the lanky and mildly lugubrious John Welsh) whom Mather later resurrect (in the stouter form of the actor Wensley Pithey) in a series which lasted into the 1960s.

Another series, Geth Straker, concerning the exploits of a piratical Canadian master mariner, ran for a while on the wireless, before appearing in book form in 1962. Mather also began selling stories to John Bull and the London evening papers, all three of which (Star, Evening Standard and Evening News) were greedy for well-crafted and exciting short fiction of the kind Mather could supply with comparative ease.

His first novel, The Achilles Affair (1959), was a minor best-seller. His second, the excellent The Pass Beyond Kashmir (1960), was reviewed enthusiastically by Ian Fleming, who suggested that Mather should write the script for the first James Bond film, Dr No. In fact a script was already in existence, and Mather lightened it considerably, judicially injecting a certain amount of camp satire into the Bond character. In later films, and under other writers, this was exaggerated enormously. Although offered a percentage of the take for his work on the script, Mather disastrously opted for a flat fee.

In later years a leaning towards the historical turned him in the direction of the family saga, his final three novels - The Pagoda Tree (1979), Midnight Gun (1981) and Hour of the Dog (1982) - forming a superb trilogy featuring the fortunes, and misfortunes, of a family in the Near and Far East from the middle of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th. There was absolutely nothing of the Boys' Own Paper about it.

Jack Adrian

John Evan ("Jasper") Weston-Davies (Berkely Mather), writer: born Gloucester 25 February 1909; married 1938 Kay Jones (died 1991; two sons and one daughter deceased) died 7 April 1996.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing