Blue plaque unveiled to honour thriller master

A blue plaque has been unveiled in honour of bestselling thriller writer Desmond Bagley as part of celebrations to mark the centenary of his birth.
Local author Michael Davies arranged the blue plaque on Bagley’s home in Lord Street

Bagley, who lived in Blackpool, was one of a band of household names whose books sold in their millions worldwide between the 1960s and 1980s – but even his contemporary Alistair MacLean acknowledged Bagley as “the best”.

Fourteen novels were published before his early death at the age of 59, with two more released posthumously. In a dramatic twist worthy of Bagley’s plots, another manuscript was discovered in his archive more than 30 years later and published in 2019 under the title Domino Island.

Now Fylde Coast writer Michael Davies, who worked extensively on that final novel, has organised the blue plaque as a centenary tribute, awarded by Blackpool Civic Trust. A plaque already exists on Bagley’s last home in Guernsey – the new one adorns the house in Blackpool where he grew up, developing his love of books at the nearby Central Library.

The unveiling by deputy mayor and mayoress Adrian and Sharon Hoyle, took place on 31st October and coincided with the paperback release of Outback, Davies’s original sequel to Domino Island, which has been published by HarperCollins as the ‘Desmond Bagley centenary thriller’. A celebratory event at the library followed, in which Davies discussed Bagley’s life and legacy in conversation with HarperCollins’s estates publisher David Brawn.

Bagley was a fiercely intelligent and inquisitive storyteller, who travelled the world researching his innovative international thrillers.

Davies said: “It was a huge privilege for me, as a lifelong Bagley fan, to be invited to work on Domino Island. Now, to mark his centenary, I am thrilled that we have been able to arrange a blue plaque on his childhood home, bestowed by Blackpool Civic Trust.”

Desmond Bagley was born in Kendal in 1923 but moved as a youngster with his parents to Blackpool, where they ran a theatrical boarding-house in Lord Street. He was a frequent visitor to the Central Library and soon discovered a natural talent for storytelling. He worked as a printer’s apprentice and aircraft engineer in the town, but after the Second World War he travelled overland to South Africa, where he tried his hand as a mine worker, nightclub photographer and radio scriptwriter.

From left, Joan Humble of Blackpool Civic Trust, deputy mayoress Sharon Hoyle and deputy mayor Adrian Hoyle, David Brawn of HarperCollins and author Michael Davies

On returning to the UK in the 1960s, he began writing fiction, becoming one of the world’s most respected thriller writers over the next two decades. Travelling to almost every continent to research his exotic storylines, he was described by The Times as a “craftsmanlike thriller novelist”.

Five of Bagley’s stories have been adapted for film and television, including The Mackintosh Man, a 1973 Cold War spy thriller directed by John Huston and starring Paul Newman, based on Bagley’s novel The Freedom Trap, and Running Blind, an acclaimed BBC Television series filmed in Iceland in 1979.

David Brawn said: “Bagley was a fiercely intelligent and inquisitive storyteller, who travelled the world researching his innovative international thrillers, every one of them guaranteeing an exciting yet always plausible escape from the mundanities of everyday life. To be able to mark his centenary with a blue plaque alongside the celebratory novel is a real pleasure and a fitting tribute.”

Outback takes Domino Island’s protagonist Bill Kemp – described by Jeffrey Deaver as “part James Bond, part Philip Marlowe, and all hero” – to an opal mine deep in Australia’s remote interior, where he faces an unknown enemy even more deadly than the vast, forbidding wilderness and the blistering Australian sun.

Read our Q&A with author Michael Davies here.

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