Did you know that a well known children's author once resided in Weymouth? It was only through sheer coincidence that Geoffrey Pritchard discovered this. Here, he tells us of his encounter with 'the author round the corner'.

Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, I was, like so many others before the widespread use of television, a listener to BBC Radio Children’s Hour. Every so often, it would feature an adventure serial, some with a civil aviation theme featuring a pilot called Mike Dudley, who was involved in a whole series of exciting adventures.

Their author was Gilbert Dalton who was also a prolific author of mainly adventure stories with modern and historical themes. One of his books, Perilous Holiday, is set in Weymouth.

One evening in late 1959, whilst reading the Echo, I saw a humorous letter about train services to the Midlands, signed by Gilbert Dalton of Stoberry, Faircross Avenue. I soon realised that the rather distinguished man in late middle age, who walked his dog past our house in Wyke Road, was none other than the author! He was a pleasant-looking man, who invariably wore a tweed jacket, cavalry twill trousers and suede shoes. Most days one could see him in his front upstairs room, typing away whilst smoking his pipe, perhaps gaining inspiration from the view towards Weymouth Bay. Sometimes, accompanied by his wife, he would drive off in his pre-war MG saloon with MG registration.

He might have been remembered only as a children’s author who died over 50 years ago. However about ten years ago his work was rediscovered, and the great contribution he made to children’s literature recognised. He was born in 1903 in Kidderminster and worked as a journalist in Coventry for national newspapers. His chronic asthma prevented military service in the Second World War. He became a full-time writer for the D.C. Thomson organisation which published newspapers and comics such as Commando, Beano and Dandy.

He was the author of the story lines of two comic book characters, Wilson of the Wizard and Alf Tupper, the “Tough of the Track,” familiar to very many British male readers over 50 years old. He is regarded as one of the most prolific children’s authors in the history of the English language and during his working life averaged over a million words a year. Apart from the two characters mentioned, he wrote the storylines – anonymously - for other works such as ‘Cannonball Kid’, ‘Tom Smith’s Schooldays’, ‘Braddock VC’ (heroic deeds of a fighter pilot in World War Two), ‘Baldy Hogan’, and many more. For example, in a six-week period in 1949 he wrote 316,000 words of serial fiction, one novel of 80,000 words, and three episodes of a radio serial. Not content with this amazing activity, he also gave commentaries on Rugby Union matches on BBC radio.

Dalton died in March 1963, aged only 60, one of many who did not survive the coldest winter for many years, and his widow moved from Weymouth shortly after.

Geoff Pritchard