Peter Haining: Anthologist of 'strange, horrid tales'

Peter Alexander Haining, writer, editor and anthologist: born Enfield, Middlesex 2 April 1940; married 1965 Philippa Miller (two sons, one daughter); died Boxford, Suffolk 19 November 2007
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The Independent Online

Peter Haining was probably the only writer ever to make a living out of editing anthologies, a means of employment that is, even today, notoriously ill-recompensed. He did this by dint of sheer hard graft and the simple expedient of always having four or five volumes of stories on the boil for every one about to be issued. He wasn't precious about publishers, either, and was just as happy turning out paperback originals for Sphere Books or Orbit as he was for the rather more upmarket hardback houses like Gollancz, Hodders or Sidgwick & Jackson.

A gamekeeper who turned poacher, he began his career in local newspapers, moved to metropolitan trade journals, moved again to book publishing – where he talent-spotted Philip Pullman, and issued his first (now enormously rare) fantasy, The Haunted Storm (1972) – then exchanged an editorial director's safe seat for the perils of the freelance life, a move he never regretted.

He was one of the first modern anthologists to realise that the 50-year copyright rule (as it then was) was not the mighty barrier to producing interesting, intriguing, exciting and (perhaps especially) chilling compilations of stories that most publishers believed it to be. Many forgotten, but actually rather good, yarn-spinners had been dying in the latter third of the 19th century and the first third of the 20th, and 50 years later all their material was suddenly out of copyright and up for grabs. Haining grabbed.

Genre fiction enthusiasts – especially fans of detective fiction, horror, fantasy and science fiction – love short stories and will read (and often re-read, then read yet again) any amount of them. Haining aimed directly at this end of the market and gave a substantial minority of readers scores upon scores of anthologies, "scrapbooks", "files" and "companions" to feed their habit.

He explored, and plundered, sub-genre after sub-genre. Gothic Tales of Terror (1972), in two hefty volumes, reprinted a treasure-chest of forgotten stories from roughly the Regency period to the Victorians. The era of the "Penny Blood" (the 1840s to the 1880s) brought forth The Penny Dreadful, or Strange, Horrid and Sensational Tales (1975), with quite a few strange, horrid and sensational titles such as "The Last Batch of Pies" (a tale of Sweeney Todd) and "The Arena of Blood".

Haining ran through all the most obvious supernatural sub-genres: ghosts, ghouls, poltergeists, witches, warlocks, necromancers, werewolves, vampires, the walking dead. He could also be more creative: Tune In For Fear (1985) was a tribute to the best in horror on the radio, from both Britain and America; The Hollywood Nightmare (1970), a compilation of horrid movie stories; Greasepaint and Ghosts (1982), humorous ghost stories by the likes of H.G. Wells, Jerome K. Jerome and James Thurber; while The Nightmare Reader (1973) collected stories inspired by dreams.

Seasons of the year were an obvious target: Christmas Spirits (1983) featured seasonal tales by Bret Harte, Jerome, Dickens and M.R. James; while Hallowe'en Hauntings (1984) had stories by Ray Bradbury (a favourite Haining author), Edith Wharton, Robert Bloch and the gruesome Tod Robbins.

As well as pure anthologies, Haining enjoyed cobbling together fact and fiction compilations with plenty of illustrations from the vast collection of pre-war pulps and fiction periodicals he built up over nearly 50 years. The Frankenstein Omnibus (1994) was a 650-odd page tome containing not just stories and articles but full-length film scenarios (including that of the original 1931 Frankenstein movie) tracing the development of the Frankenstein theme in literature.

Two fascinating genre compilations were Terror! (1976), an illustrated (with period adverts and rare stills) history of the horror movies, and Mystery! (1977), an entertaining run through the history of crime fiction.

The somewhat clunkingly titled M.R. James Book of the Supernatural (1979) featured uncollected stories by the great ghost-story writer, as well as forgotten articles by and about him, and tales that may have influenced his writings, together with a foreword by John Betjeman and a tribute by Christopher Lee. Haining had collaborated with Lee back in 1974 for Christopher Lee's New Chamber of Horrors.

He was always alert to changing conditions in the market-place. When the "dungeons and dragons" gaming craze was at its height, out came Tales of Dungeons and Dragons (1986). When someone pointed out that there were a lot of horror films and series on television, it took very little time for him to assemble The Television Late Night Horror Omnibus (1993).

Haining was born in Enfield, Middlesex, in 1940 and educated at Buckhurst Grammar School in Essex. He left school at 17 and went straight into reporting on the local newspaper before getting a job in trade-paper publishing, becoming deputy editor of National Newsagent. In the early 1960s he fell in with a bunch of hard-drinking journos who were all later to become highly productive pulp-fictioneers: Angus Wells, Peter Ellis, the astonishingly prolific Ken Bulmer and Terry Harknett, Fred Nolan and Laurence James. All at one time or another were editors for various paperback houses, commissioning each other to pound out series upon series in what can only be described as a Golden Age of British pulp-fiction publishing.

Haining found a berth at New English Library. Here he commissioned Terry Harknett to write westerns following the gritty Sergio Leone movies, thus spawning not only the ultra-brutal "Edge" series but an entire sub-genre. He also launched the NEL Young Writer of the Year awards, of which the first winner was Philip Pullman.

By the time he left NEL to go freelance, he had already had published nearly 20 anthologies, starting with The Hell of Mirrors (1965). At a conservative estimate Peter Haining produced well over 150 books – anthologies for the most part, but also books on the occult and supernatural, as well as ancient mysteries. Much of the research he carried out himself, although he could call on a small army of researchers who coolied for him in various libraries and institutions. He even found time to be a parish councillor.

In recent years he concentrated on "strange mysteries" of the Second World War. He was working (with the novelist Peter McAlan) on The Creeper's Secret War – the true story of the British secret agent who was fitted up for murder by the police in 1945 and had to be rescued by the SIS – when he died.

Jack Adrian