Sexton Blake

Sexton Blake is a fictional character, a detective who has been featured in many British comic strips, novels and dramatic productions since 1893. Sexton Blake adventures were featured in a wide variety of British and international publications (in many languages) from 1893 to 1978, comprising more than 4,000 stories by some 200 different authors. Blake was also the hero of numerous silent and sound movies, radio serials, and a 1960s ITV television series.

Sexton Blake
First appearanceThe Missing Millionaire (20 December 1893)
Created byHarry Blyth (as Hal Meredeth)
Portrayed byLanghorn Burton
George Curzon
David Farrar
Geoffrey Toone
William Franklyn
Laurence Payne
Jeremy Clyde
Simon Jones
FamilyHenry Blake (brother)
Nigel Blake (brother)

Publication history

The first Sexton Blake story was "The Missing Millionaire". Written by Harry Blyth (using the pseudonym Hal Meredeth), it was published in the story paper The Halfpenny Marvel number 6, on 20 December 1893.[1] He featured thereafter also in a few more stories by Meredeth.

His adventures were published subsequently in a variety of publications, primarily the magazine Union Jack, published first in April 1894. Blake featured in Issue 2 of Union Jack (with the title "Sexton Blake, Detective"), and from 1904, the character was featured regularly until Union Jack became Detective Weekly in 1933. Blake continued as the main feature until Detective Weekly ended in 1940.

Blake also featured in a number of serials in the magazine The Boys' Friend beginning 1905 and in the magazine Penny Pictorial from 1907 to 1913 (when that magazine ended). The Boys' Friend introduced the first truly lengthy stories (of as many as 60,000 words), allowing for greater plot and character development.

In 1907, a story entitled "Sexton Blake's Honour" dealt with Blake's pursuit of a criminal who turned out to be his brother, Henry Blake. Another bad brother, Nigel, was revealed in 1933 in the first issue of Detective Weekly, in a story titled "Sexton Blake's Secret".

Blake used medical knowledge to solve some cases in the very early years and in "The Tattooed Eye" (21 November 1908) he says he is a duly qualified medical man but has never practised medicine.

With the popularity of school stories during this era, Blake's assistant Tinker had his schooldays chronicled in issues 229 and 232. Perhaps most famously, Blake featured in his own long-running magazine, The Sexton Blake Library, from 1915 to 1968 which was published in five "series". Publication was constant at 2–4 issues per month until the end of series 4 in 1964. Series 5, starting 1965, was a sporadic series of paperbacks.

The first issue of The Sexton Blake Library was published on 20 September 1915, entitled "The Yellow Tiger" and written by G. H. Teed. This issue introduced villains Wu Ling and Baron de Beauremon in an eleven chapter story, costing 3d (1.25p). The story is 107 pages; a second story, "The Great Cup-Tie!" (not featuring Blake) completes the remainder of the issue's 120 pages. The second issue, "Ill Gotten Gains (The Secret of Salcoth Island)", had Blake fight Count Carlac and Professor Kew. Issue three was entitled "The Shadow of his Crime" and issue four "The Rajah's Revenge". The last edition, "Down Among The Ad Men" written by W. A Ballinger (Wilfred McNeilly), was published in October 1968. Some additional Sexton Blake books were published during 1968 and 1969 that were not labelled explicitly as part of the Sexton Blake Library.

The majority of Sexton Blake Library covers (prior to editor William Howard Baker's 1956 revamp of the character) were painted by master Sexton Blake illustrator Eric Parker.

Writers who worked on Sexton Blake stories throughout this 53-year span included Charles Henry St. John Cooper,[2] John Creasey, Jack Trevor Story, Michael Moorcock, and (allegedly) Brian O'Nolan (aka Flann O'Brien and Myles na gCoppaleen.)

After Fleetway ceased publishing the Sexton Blake Library series at the end of its fourth volume, in 1963, Blake editor William Howard Baker licensed the character from IPC company and published a fifth volume independently, via Mayflower-Dell Books, that ran until 1968. He then published a final series of four Sexton Blake novels, using his Howard Baker Books imprint, in 1969.

A series of 160-page Sexton Blake annuals, featuring old stories and new material, began in 1938 and lasted till 1941.

Blake comic strips featured in The Knock-Out Comic (later Knock-Out Comic & Magnet and, finally, simply Knockout) from 1939 to 1960. The Blake strip was illustrated originally by artist Jos Walker and then by Alfred Taylor, who illustrated Blake's adventures for ten years. The undoubted highlight of Blake's 21-year run in Knockout was a 14-part 1949 strip drawn by Blake's greatest illustrator Eric Parker, entitled The Secret of Monte Cristo. This was Parker's only contribution to Blake's comic strip adventures.

There was one Super Detective Library story about Blake: issue 68 (published November 1955), featuring a comic strip entitled Sexton Blake's Diamond Hunt.

Four hardbacks designed for the younger market were published by Dean & Son Ltd during 1968 (the third of these, Raffles' Crime in Gibraltar, portrayed Blake contending with A. J. Raffles, E.W. Hornung's amateur cracksman).

A final Sexton Blake comic strip (initiated to tie in with the 1967–1971 television show) featured in IPC's weekly boys' anthology Valiant, from January 1968 to May 1970.

A seven-part Blake comic strip featured in IPC's comic Tornado from March 1979 to May 1979. A contract dispute (subsequently resolved in IPC's favour) caused the Tornado editorial team to rename Blake "Victor Drago" (and Tinker & Pedro "Spencer & Brutus") for the duration of this strip.

In 2009, IPC's information manager, David Abbott, signed licenses to publish two Blake omnibus archive editions: The Casebook of Sexton Blake, published by Wordsworth Editions, and Sexton Blake, Detective published by Snowbooks.

In 2013, Obverse Books licensed the character and published The Silent Thunder Caper by Mark Hodder, the first book in a proposed sixth series of the Sexton Blake Library,[3][4] The imprint had previously published a collection of short stories featuring Blake villain Zenith the Albino.[5]

Blake's evolution

As the years passed, Blake's character experienced various permutations. He was originally created to be similar to earlier 19th-century detectives, but during the late 1890s, Blake's authors consciously modeled him on Sherlock Holmes. It was not until 1919 that Blake was given a more distinctive personality. Blake became much more action-oriented than Holmes and duelled with a variety of memorable enemies.

Many of Blake's writers had been men of adventure who had travelled the world. When World War II started, they enlisted, leaving just a small group of writers behind (with the addition of the occasional guest writer). Consequently, the standard of Blake's stories suffered.

In November 1955, William Howard Baker became editor of the Sexton Blake Library and, during 1956, introduced a successful update of the Blake formula. The Sexton Blake Library found new popularity with faster-moving, more contemporary stories (often influenced by American pulp fiction).

Blake, who had been relocated a number of times over the years, was relocated to a suite of plush offices in Berkeley Square (while retaining lodgings at Baker Street) and acquired a secretary, Paula Dane, who became a not-quite-love interest for Blake. Tinker was given a real name, Edward Carter, and Blake's office receptionist, Marion Lang, was introduced as his female counterpart.

Covers, which had become rather staid during the early 1950s, became much more dynamic and a new group of authors was commissioned.

Baker remained as editor until 1963 (his last story was "The Last Tiger") before becoming Blake's licensor/publisher and continuing to oversee Blake's print adventures until 1969.

Blake's associates

Blake's first associate from The Halfpenny Marvel No. 6 ("The Missing Millionaire") is the Frenchman Jules Gervaise, who gives him the first recorded case.[6] By issue No. 7 ("A Christmas Crime"), they initiate an investigative company together.[7] In the third story of issue No. 11 ("A Golden Ghost"), Gervaise is not mentioned.[8][9]

In Union Jack number 53, in a story titled "Cunning Against Skill", Blake picked up a wiry street-wise orphan as an assistant who was known only as "Tinker" until the 1950s. Over the years, Tinker changed from a boy and good fighter to a rugged and capable young man. As well as assisting the "guv'nor", as he called Blake, Tinker kept Blake's crime files up to date with clippings from the daily newspapers, in addition to assisting Blake in his fully equipped crime laboratory. The Edwardian British private detective Herbert Marshall was a friend of one of the Blake authors', Charles Henry St John Cooper (1869–1926), and stated that Cooper had based the character of Tinker on Marshall's own teenaged assistant Henry Drummond. Drummond sold newspapers in Northumberland Avenue in order to support his widowed mother until, aged just 14,[10] he was offered a job by Marshall. Drummond died in around 1905 from tuberculosis, aged 19.[11]

Other associates included Derek "Splash" Page of the Daily Radio; Ruff Hanson, a tough American investigator (both created by Gwyn Evans), and Blake's friends at Scotland Yard: Chief Detective Inspector Lennard, Detective Inspector Coutts, and Superintendent Venner.

In 1905, Blake's bustling housekeeper Mrs Bardell (created by William Murray Graydon, who also created Pedro the bloodhound), was introduced and remained until the end. Her misuse of the English language was legendary in stories – she was a gifted cook and would always be on hand if a client needed food or a cup of tea. Mrs Bardell even featured as the main character in stories such as: "The Mystery Of Mrs Bardell's Xmas Pudding" in 1925 and "Mrs Bardell's Xmas Eve" in 1926.

In Union Jack number 100 (9 September 1905), a story entitled "The Dog Detective" introduced Blake's faithful, wise and ferocious bloodhound, Pedro. Pedro was originally owned by Rafael Calderon, ex-president of a South American state, but after performing various services for Calderon, Blake was given Pedro by Calderon, using the guise of "Mr. Nemo". Pedro tracked many villains to their lairs in subsequent stories.

Another notable non-human associate (and almost a character in itself) was Blake's bullet-proof Rolls-Royce, named The Grey Panther (introduced at a time when most other sleuths were still taking cabs). For a short while, Blake also flew a Moth monoplane (also called The Grey Panther and designed by Blake himself).

Blake's enemies

George Marsden Plummer (created by Ernest Semphill), a dishonest Detective Sergeant at Scotland Yard, opposed Blake, but like many others, Plummer ended in a police cell. Unlike many before him, he repeatedly escaped and became Blake's arch-enemy.

Another memorable character was Waldo the Wonderman (created by Edwy Searles Brooks), who started as a villain and ended in later stories as a friend of Blake's, helping him with a number of cases. This 1918 superman had tremendous strength, could contort his body like a rubber man, and was insensitive to pain. Even after his reformation, he continued to steal money (but his victims were now blackmailers, swindlers, and other no-good members of the underworld).

Other notable villains included the Byronic master thief Zenith the Albino (who had crimson eyes), Dr Huxton Rymer, and Leon Kestrel, the Master Mummer.

The type of villain Blake opposed changed with the times (as did Blake himself). After World War II, his opponents became more ordinary, their personalities and motives less fantastic. Veteran writers John Hunter and Walter Tyrer excelled at this type of writing, but others failed to maintain their standards.



There were several Sexton Blake stage plays:

  • The Case of the Coiners (1907), was the earliest produced
  • Percy Holmshaw produced Sexton Blake – a detective story in four acts in 1931[12]


Silent movies

  • The first 12-minute Blake movie short was distributed 1909, entitled simply Sexton Blake. It was written by Charles Douglas Carlile, who also directed and played in the movie.[13]
  • This was followed by Sexton Blake Vs Baron Kettler, a few years later.[14]
  • There was also Britain's Secret Treaty, in which Sexton Blake recovers a stolen document.[15]
  • There were 13 more half-hour Blake features produced throughout the silent movie era (from 1914 onwards):[16]
    • The first was The Clue of the Wax Vesta[17]
    • Followed by The Mystery of the Diamond Belt.[18]
    • Another was titled Sexton Blake Versus Mademoiselle Yvonne.[17]
  • A second series of six two reel silent movies was distributed during 1928, with Langhorne Burton as Blake and Mickey Brantford as Tinker.[19]
    • The first was entitled Silken Threads
    • Another was named The Clue of the Second Goblet.[20]



  • On 26 January 1939, BBC Radio broadcast a serial named Enter Sexton Blake, featuring George Curzon as Blake and Brian Lawrence as Tinker.[26]
  • 30 March 1940, BBC broadcast A Case for Sexton Blake, adapted by Francis Durbridge.
  • During 1967, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a popular series of Sexton Blake radio adventures starring William Franklyn as Blake, David Gregory as Tinker, and Heather Chasen as Blake's secretary, Paula Dane. Broadcast on Thursday nights at 7.00pm, this series of 17 programmes[27] (which ran weekly from 24 August to 14 December) was scripted by Donald Stuart, devised for radio by Philip Ridgeway, and produced by veteran BBC radio producer Alastair Scott-Johnston.[28]
  • On 6 March 2006, after discussions between noted British radio producer Dirk Maggs and IPC publishing director Andrew Sumner, Maggs recorded a half-hour Adventures of Sexton Blake pilot show for his newly formed Perfectly Normal Productions.[29] This humorous satire of Blake's adventures featured Simon Jones as Blake, Wayne Forester as Tinker, and a returning William Franklyn, in one of his final performances, as the elderly Blake (who narrates the adventure). As a result of the success of this pilot, Maggs directed a new series of Blake adventures for BBC Radio 2. The Adventures of Sexton Blake again featured Jones and Forester, joined by June Whitfield as Mrs Bardell, and Graham Hoadly as Professor Kew.[30] The series was written by Jonathan Nash and Mil Millington and broadcast, in six weekly 15 minute instalments, during late summer 2009.[31] An extended version of the complete series was released on CD by BBC Audiobooks on 10 September 2009.[32] David Quantick's accompanying Blake documentary, The Hunt For Sexton Blake (also produced by Perfectly Normal Productions) was broadcast on BBC Radio 2 before the series started.[33]


Sexton Blake (1967–71)

ITV broadcast Rediffusion/Thames Television's Sexton Blake featuring Laurence Payne as Blake and Roger Foss as Tinker from Monday 25 September 1967 to Wednesday 13 January 1971. In keeping with Sexton Blake's classic print adventures, Payne's Blake drove a white Rolls-Royce named "The Grey Panther" and owned a bloodhound named Pedro. The show was produced originally by Ronald Marriott for Associated Rediffusion, with Thames Television assuming production in 1968.

Pedro was played by one or more bloodhounds (bitches), which doubled as 'Henry', for Chunky dog food advertisements with Clement Freud, and were owned by the then secretary of the Bloodhound Club, Mrs Bobbie Edwards.

During rehearsals for the show in 1968, Laurence Payne was blinded in his left eye by a rapier.

Typical of the TV series's sometimes-fantastic storylines (all of which lasted 2–6 episodes) was 1968's "The Invicta Ray" in which a villain dressed in a costume and hood of sackcloth-like material and, under the rays of The Invicta Ray, became invisible so that he could commit crimes without being seen.

Of 50 episodes, only the first episode is thought to exist still.

  • Season One: The Find-The-Lady Affair. 4 episodes. Monday 25 September 1967 to Monday 16 October 1967.
  • Season One: Knave of Diamonds. 5 episodes. Monday 23 October 1967 to Monday 20 November.
  • Season One: The Great Tong Mystery. 4 episodes. Monday 27 November 1967 to Monday 18 December 1967.
  • Season One: The Vanishing Snowman. Christmas Special. Monday 25 December 1967.
  • Season One: House of Masks. 4 episodes. Monday 1 January 1968 to Monday 22 January 1968.
  • Season One: The Invicta Ray. 4 episodes. Monday 29 January 1968 to Monday 19 February 1968.
  • Season Two: The Case of the Gasping Goldfish. 2 episodes. Thursday 14 November 1968 to Thursday 21 November 1968.
  • Season Two: Return of the Scorpion. 2 episodes. Thursday 28 November 1968 to Thursday 5 December 1968.
  • Season Two: The Great Train Robbery. 2 episodes. Thurs 16 January 1969 to Thurs 23 January 1969.
  • Season Two: The Great Soccer Mystery. 3 episodes. Thurs 30 January 1969 to Thurs 13 Feb 1969.
  • Season Three: Sexton Blake and Captain Nemesis. 3 episodes. Wed 8 Oct 1969 to Wed 22 Oct 1969.
  • Season Three: Sexton Blake verses The Gangsters. 3 episodes. Wed 29 Oct 1969 to Wed 12 Nov 1969.
  • Season Three: Sexton Blake and the Frightened Man. 2 eps. Wed 19 Nov 1969 to Wed 26 Nov 1969.
  • Season Three: Sexton Blake and the Undertaker. 3 episodes. Wed 3 Dec 1969 to Wed 17 Dec 1969.
  • Season Three: Sexton Blake and the Toy Family. 2 episodes. Wed 23 Dec 1969 to Wed 30 Dec 1969.
  • Season Four: Sexton Blake and the Puff Adder. 6 episodes. Wed 9 Dec 1970 to Wed 13 January 1971.

The cast:

Sexton Blake and the Demon God (1978)

Simon Raven's Sexton Blake and the Demon God was a six-part television serial produced by Barry Letts for the BBC in 1978. The serial was broadcast by BBC One at tea-time from Sunday 10 September 1978 until Sunday 15 October 1978 and was directed by Roger Tucker.

Jeremy Clyde played Blake, with Philip Davis appearing as Tinker and Barbara Lott playing Mrs Bardell.[34]

Other Blake appearances


  1. Turner, E.S. (1976). Boys Will Be Boys. Penguin. p. 129.
  2. Marshall, H., (1924). Memories of a Private Detective. London: Hutchinson. p. 236.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link) CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. DeNardo, John (17 May 2013). "SF/F/H Link Post". SF Signal. Retrieved 18 May 2013.
  4. "Sexton Blake back in print". The Scotsman. 13 May 2013. Retrieved 18 May 2013.
  5. "Zenith Lives". Obverse Books. Retrieved 20 July 2013.
  6. Lovece, Joseph (2014). Sexton Blake: The Missing Millionaire. Createspace.
  7. Merideth, Hal (23 December 1893). "A Christmas Crime, The Mystery of the 'Black Grange'". The Halfpenny Marvel (7).
  8. Blyth, Harry (20 January 1894). "A Golden Ghost; or, Tracked by a Phantom". The Halfpenny Marvel (11).
  9. Lovece, Joseph (2015). Sexton Blake: A Christmas Crime. Createspace.
  10. Old Bailey Proceedings Online (accessed 2019-01-26), Trial of Hugh Watt. (t19051211-118, 11 December 1905).
  11. Marshall, H. (1924). Memories of a Private Detective. London: Hutchinson. pp. 236–249.
  12. Homshaw, Percy (producer) (1931). Sexton Blake - a detective story infour acts. Programme from Pavilion Theatre (Torquay).
  13. Hardy, Phil (26 January 1997). The BFI Companion to Crime. A&C Black via Google Books.
  14. Sexton Blake v. Baron Kettler. BFI. 1912.
  15. Britain's Secret Treaty. BFI. 1914.
  16. "Harry Blyth". BFI.
  17. Rowan, Terry. Whodoneit! A Film Guide. via Google Books.
  18. The Mystery of the Diamond Belt. BFI. 1914.
  19. Pitts, Michael R. (26 January 1991). "Famous Movie Detectives II". Scarecrow Press via Google Books.
  20. The Clue of the Second Goblet. BFI. 1928.
  21. "Sexton Blake and the Mademoiselle (1936)".
  22. "Sexton Blake and the Hooded Terror (1938) - Overview -". Turner Classic Movies.
  23. "Meet Sexton Blake (1945)".
  24. "The Echo Murders (1945)".
  25. "Murder at Site Three (1959)".
  26. "Sexton Blake- English Radio Detectives".
  27. "Search Results - BBC Genome".
  28. "Sexton Blake". 24 August 1967. p. 40 via BBC Genome.
  29. "Graham Hoadly, Radio".
  30. "The Adventures of Sexton Blake - BBC Radio 2". BBC.
  31. British Comedy Guide. "The Adventures Of Sexton Blake - Radio 2 Comedy Drama - British Comedy Guide". British Comedy Guide.
  32. "The Adventures of Sexton Blake (Unabridged) by Dirk Maggs - Download The Adventures of Sexton Blake (Unabridged) in iTunes". iTunes.
  33. "The Hunt for Sexton Blake - BBC Radio 2". BBC.
  34. Pitts, Michael R. (1979). Famous movie detectives. Scarecrow Press. p. 213.
  35. Pinaki, Roy. The Manichean Investigators: A Postcolonial and Cultural Rereading of the. Retrieved 22 October 2017.

Further reading

  • Turner, ES (1948). Boys Will be Boys. History of British boys' weeklies from Victorian times up to the 1950s.
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