The Secret Bestseller: honouring Blackpool’s little-known thriller writer

Desmond Bagley was an internationally bestselling thriller writer who lived right here in Blackpool, but you’d be forgiven for not knowing his name. Local author Michael Davies has made it his personal mission to correct the oversight in Bagley’s centenary year

Does the name Desmond Bagley mean anything to you? If you’re of a certain age, then it just might. If not, don’t be too hard on yourself – he’s fallen rather out of fashion these days.

But Fylde coast author Michael Davies is on a mission to change all that and reposition Bagley in his rightful place as the master of the craft of thriller-writing in the year of his centenary.

A major part of that rehabilitation is the unveiling of a blue plaque in Bagley’s honour, right in the heart of Blackpool, later this month. Because Bagley – who went on to become one of the bestselling authors in the world from the 1960s to the ‘80s – first discovered his love of books at the Central Library, just round the corner from his family’s home in Lord Street.

Born in Kendal in 1923, the young Bagley came to the seaside at the age of 12 when his parents moved to number 48, where they ran a theatrical boarding house. Over the next few years he spent much of his free time in the library, devouring HG Wells alongside heavyweight scientific works. “I read widely and, it must be said, indiscriminately,” he would later confess.

After leaving St Joseph’s College at the age of 14, he started working as a printer’s apprentice before switching to a job at Hawtin’s factory in Preston New Road, making aircraft parts for the war effort. He also met George Higgins, a stalwart of the Anonymous Players, who took him under his wing and helped him develop his growing love of writing.

He answered an advert in the Gazette seeking to form a group to travel overland to South Africa. The group set off from the Town Hall on 7th January 1947.

After the war, seeking broader horizons, he answered an advert in the Gazette seeking to form a group to travel overland to South Africa. The group set off from the Town Hall on 7th January 1947 – and Bagley’s adventures had begun. Much of his subsequent global travel made its way into his 17 novels, which became bestsellers after his return to the UK.

Now he is to be remembered with an official blue plaque, sponsored by his publishers HarperCollins and bestowed by Blackpool Civic Trust. The ceremony will take place at 1.30pm on Tuesday, 31st October, and will be followed by an event at the Central Library at 2.30pm, in which Michael Davies will discuss Bagley and his legacy with HarperCollins’s estates publisher David Brawn.

As well as the plaque, Bagley’s centenary has been marked by the publication of a new thriller, Outback, written by Davies as a tribute to the master. Set in Australia, it’s a sequel to Domino Island, which Davies helped bring to posthumous publication in 2019, and features the same protagonist, Bill Kemp, in an original adventure.

“It was a real honour to be asked by HarperCollins to write the official centenary novel,” said Davies. “I am a lifelong fan of Desmond Bagley’s and to be invited to continue his legacy with a new thriller has been a remarkable privilege. I hope the unveiling of a blue plaque will help introduce this master craftsman to a fresh audience, both in Blackpool and far beyond.”

Outback by Michael Davies (Collins Crime Club, £16.99) is out now available in hardback and audio. You can order it from Amazon here or from all good bookshops.

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