Sunday, July 31, 2011

Messages from George Mills: His Prefaces and Dedications

Let’s take a moment today to reflect a few messages George Mills sent out into the world without knowing who might read them. His books were primarily for children, but the same can't be said for the dedications and prefaces of his texts: They were meant for persons other than schoolboys.

Taking a look at these brief but meaningful messages within the books—but not part of the stories themselves—may tell us something.

Or they may simply let us know how much more we may want to know.

The 1930s:

• First let's look at the preface of 1933's first edition of Meredith & Co.:


ALTHOUGH all the incidents in this book, with the exception of the 'bait charts,' are imaginary, the book gives an accurate impression of life in a Boys' Preparatory School.

I wish to acknowledge, with much gratitude, the help and encouragement received from many friends; particularly from Mr. A. Bishop, the Head Master of Magdalen College School, Brackley, and from my old friend, Mr. H. E. Howell, who have read the book in manuscript form. I am also much indebted to Mr. E. M. Henshaw for his devastating, but most useful, criticisms, and especially to that splendid specimen of boyhood, the British Schoolboy, who has given me such wonderful material.

----------------------------------------------------------- G.M.

We've examined fairly recently the life and career of Mr. A. Bishop—Arthur Henry Burdick Bishop [right]—and have seen some references to Mr. H. E. Howell, although we have no real idea who he was.

The annoyingly critical Mr. E. M. Henshaw—whose mention was deleted from subsequent editions of Meredith—has so far been difficult to identify. Henshaw must have been an unliked and unwanted obligation, one that in later years no longer needed to appear.

Once again, if you have any notion of Henshaw's identity, or have some clever skills in a database like or The Times, please don't hesitate to let me know!

• Next, we'll examine the dedication to the 1933 edition of Meredith & Co.:

To MR. J. GOODLAND, sometime Head Master
of Warren Hill, Eastbourne; to the STAFF AND
BOYS OF THE SAME SCHOOL, and to those of
SCHOOL, GLION, among whom I spent many
happy years, this book is affectionately

We've had far more luck tracing our way through this dedication.

Over time, we've been enlightened by Dr. Tom Houston at Windlesham and tracked down a smattering of information about The Craig and the English Preparatory School at Glion.

The amount of information we've unearthed about both Joshua Goodland, a mentor of George Mills, and Warren Hill School in Eastbourne [left], seems comparatively to be a wealth of knowledge!

• Mills's next published book was 1938's King Willow. Let's look at its preface:


READERS of Meredith & Co. will recognize here some old friends ; nevertheless King Willow can be read as an entirely independent story. The characters have no connexion with any people, alive of dead, but the book is typical of life in any big Preparatory School.

Once More I wish to record my thanks to my friend, Mr H. E. Howell, who has read the manuscript and offered helpful criticism ; and also to a host of schoolboy readers who have encouraged me to continue.

------------------------------------------------------------- G.M.

June, 1938

Again, by June, 1938, the mysterious Mr. H. E. Howell remains a dear friend of George Mills, schoolmaster and author.

• Let's look at the 1938 dedication to King Willow:


That's a rather all-encompassing dedication. We have discussed the fact that no school by that name has been found (although I would be delighted to be corrected), and the current school at that location has no real interest in exploring its own past or in assisting in educational research.

It's interesting that Mills misnames the school, yet is precise enough to include the location "S.W.1." It's also noteworthy in that, while it must be the most recent school at which he'd worked, Mills singles out no Headmaster or Principal by name. Might that indicate he had already severed ties with the institution, and under less than joyful circumstances?

These inconsistencies make this is by far the strangest of Mills's prefaces or dedications.

• Now we'll examine the 1939 preface of Minor and Major:


THIS book deals with life in a big preparatory school, and tells about the boys and masters, their goings-out and their comings-in. All the characters are imaginary, and no allusion is meant to any living person.

The boys, who first appeared in Meredith & Co. and King Willow, once again present themselves for a short time during a cricket match.

I wish to record my thanks to my old friend, Mr H. E. Howell, for so kindly reading the manuscript and proofs. I also recognize the kindly aid of a schoolboy, Terence Hadow, whose criticisms have been invaluable, as also has the encouragement given to me by my friend, Mr Egerton Clarke, who has read the book in manuscript form. My thanks are also due to Mr A. L. Mackie, who has kindly helped to read the proofs.

------------------------------------------------------------- G.M.

Mills for a third time pays tribute to "old friend" Howell, but this time extends thanks to a few more individuals.

Schoolboy critic Terence Hadow died in 1942 serving as a chindit[some are pictured in Burma, right] under Major-General Orde Wingate. His remains were interred in Burma.

Egerton Clarke, as we recently learned, was a friend of George's in the Army Pay Corps, and at Oxford before leading George to the publishing house that would print Mills's final new book in 1939. Egerton passed away in 1944.

Finally, we simply do not know the identity of the kindly Mr. A. L. Mackie. Once again, if you have any idea, please let me know!

• Moving along, we arrive at 1939's dedication to Minor and Major:

To the Headmasters, Staff, and Boys of
Parkfield, Haywards Heath, where I received
my early education, this book is affectionately

For the first time, Mills takes a nostalgic bent in creating a dedication, hearkening back to the first decade of the 20th century in dedicating Minor and Major to his own masters, as well as the boys with whom he attended Parkfield.

Parkfield is a school we've located and learned about to some degree after hearing from alumni.

The 1950s:

The prep school books of George Mills all were reprinted, Meredith and Co. twice.

• The edition we'll look at here is from 1950, published by Oxford University Press.

In addition to the preface and dedication found in the first edition, Mills, as we know, added this verse by Rudyard Kipling [left]:

Give me a willow wand, and I
With hide and cork and twine,
From century to century,
Will gambol round thy shrine

------------- —Kipling

There is also a subtle change in the preface. The last sentence of the 1933 original reads:

I am also much indebted to Mr. E. M. Henshaw for his devastating, but most useful, criticisms, and especially to that splendid specimen of boyhood, the British Schoolboy, who has given me such wonderful material.

The 1950 version simply reads:

I am also much indebted to that splendid specimen of boyhood, the British Schoolboy, who has given me such wonderful material.

Oxford University Press kept no records from that era, so we have no way of knowing if Henshaw was associated with the company in 1933, but had passed away or moved his career to another locale by 1950. Hence, the expression of gratitude to person for whom it's likely Mills cared very little was no longer necessary

• Jumping ahead to the late 1950s and the undated edition of King Willow, we find this revised dedication:


Two young people who have just set
out on a long voyage in the good ship
Matrimony. May they have smooth
seas and following winds: may they
from time to time take aboard some
young passengers who will become
the light of their lives until they sail
into the last harbor.

Here George looks back on his life in the context of looking ahead to the lives of this young couple. He reflects on growing old together—something George was himself unable to do with his own wife, Vera, who died 30 years before he did. George and Vera passed away childless, and there is more than a little melancholy in Mills's best wishes for for the couple to be blessed with children.

Despite help from Michael Downes in Budleigh Salterton via his blog, we still have been unable to determine the identity of the newlyweds, Beryl & Ian, who probably would have been born between 1930 and 1940, and would be 70 or 80 years of age by now.

If you know Beryl & Ian, or if you actually are Beryl & Ian, please let me know!

• The 1950s edition of King Willow of also contains an expanded preface:

READERS of Meredith & Co. will recognize here some old friends ; nevertheless King Willow can be read as an entirely independent story. The characters have no connexion with any people, alive of dead, but the book is typical of life in any big Preparatory School.

Once More I wish to record my thanks to my friend, Mr H. E. Howell, who has read the manuscript and offered helpful criticism ; and also to a host of schoolboy readers who have encouraged me to continue.

I also wish to record my thanks to Benedict Thomas, a schoolboy who has suggested many practical alterations for this new edition.

---------------------------------------------------- G.M.

Here we meet a youthful Benedict Thomas, a lad who was helping an approximately 60 year old George Mills with his latest reprint of King Willow.

The only person of that name born in the U. K. between 1940 and 1960 was a "Benedict J. G. Thomas," who was born in late 1953. If Willow was published in 1960, Benedict would have been about 8 years of age when he offered his practical advice to Mills.

The only record at involving a Benedict J. G. Thomas involves his birth—nothing else. There is a location—Northeastern Surrey—and one other interesting bit of information: Benedict's mother's maiden name was Bishop.

That could make young Benedict the grandson of Arthur H. B. Bishop, mentioned in the first preface of George's first book. It would indicate that Mill's friendship with Bishop was long-lasting, but it could also indicate that the aging Mills may have been teaching or living in or near Surrey.

• The 1950s-ish edition of Minor and Major has the same dedication as the original in 1939, but has omitted the original preface seen above.

But there is this, in italic font:

All the characters in this book
are imaginary, and no allusion
is meant to any living person.

Did the publisher, London's Spring Books, include that as matter of course in all fiction books printed in that year? If so, that would provide evidence that the reprinting of Minor and Major was, indeed, the last of the late 1950s – early 1960s reprints. If not, could it be that a schoolboy, schoolmaster, or even headmaster from back in George's past had an issue with a character, thinking it Mils had taken a slap at him?

We'll never know if the latter was the case, but it seems that as the world approached our seemingly increasingly litigious times, that disclaimer may have been inserted across the proverbial board.

The Missing Text:

There is only one bit of information I have been unable to uncover: What might we find in the dedication and/or preface to Mills's final book, Saint Thomas of Canterbury, published in 1939 by Burns, Oates and Washbourne, the Catholic publishing house in London.

A glimpse of what is there could be most informative. One wonders if—given it was Mills's 'swan song' as an author—there might have been some clue in a dedication or preface that would provide insight as to why he never penned another book. Although I frequently check booksellers around the world, a copy of this title simpy hasn't arisen, and the closest library copy to here is about 600 miles away! It may be some time before we get the very last of the messages of George Mills...

As we wind our way down to the last few topics regarding George Mills that I have left to write, many thanks once again to everyone who has contributed in an effort to help me answer the question: Who Is George Mills?

Gallery 7: Artwork by an Anonymous Illustrator

Looking very much like a Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew mystery from my childhood here in the United States, the late 1950s/early 1960s edition of the third book in the schoolboy trilogy of George Mills is likely the most colouristically most eye-catching and appealing of all his books, as far as children might be concerned. Perhaps even to grown-ups as well, being the ones who presumably allowed or disallowed the purchase.

Here we have a text, printed in Czechoslovakia by Spring Books, London, in which, as we know by now, there is no copyright date. There is also no illustrator named, and for the first time among the books of Mills, there is not even a signature or set of initials woven into any of the works of art.

Following a format similar to all of his post-WWII books, the book has a full colour dust jacket and frontispiece, as well as four black and white plates inside.

The execution of the painting is energetic and makes use of a rainbow of saturated hues to create the cover illustration. It's attractive, and quite appealing in a nostalgic way that I'm not sure it would have evoked at the time it was created.

The frontispiece is a knock-off (or should I more politely say, an "appropriation") of John Harris's frontispiece from the 1939 first edition. Harris's was actually too delicate, unwisely using colours that were too high-key and pastel-y, to give a real feel of that doggedly gritty race at a boys' school. It was not the particular artwork in that edition he should have focused on stealing.

This anonymous paean to that less than noteworthy painting certainly saturates the colours more, and our anonymous artist handles the paint more expressively. However, one can almost see within the image the small, desktop wooden mannequin used by artists to pose human figures at the drawing table in lieu of an actual model. Those clunky wooden figures can be arranged in some awkward poses that the human form won't comfortably do, and we see two of those in this awkward painting.

You can see a comparison of the 1939 watercolour with an indistinctg and ineffective vignette edge and the 1950s-ish gouache duplicate with crisply masked edges. [Click any image to enlarge it in a new window.]

The pen and ink drawings on the inside plates [below] are nothing to write home about to say the least. They are 'children's-book-illustration-mediocre,' which is a step or two down from 'grown-up-book-illustration-mediocre'—clearly the weakest works of art in any of Mills's texts, first editions or reprints.

"'All right, it's only me'" [Page 55]

"'What on earth are you doing, Fleming?'" [Page 99]

"His diary was not there!" [Page 165]

"Fleming Minor rushed in" [Page 215]

That last plate contains an image of a soaking wet boy, Fleming Minor, who is running—and a mirror image theft (uh... "appropriation") of the embellishment John Harris added to the Table of Contents page in the first edition of Minor and Major. The figure is completed by the 1930s-style uniform he is wearing, exactly like the one in the 1939 version. (To see Harris's original figure, click HERE.)

One can almost see, by the relentless downgrading of the quality of the illustrations, the esteem in which the writing of Mills was held. From beginning with the legendary cross-genre illustrator C. E. Brock [his cover for Mills's 1933 novel, Meredith and Co., is seen below, left], Mills ended up with illustrators that were just average—in the field of children's literature—and below average overall.

Of course, fine children's book illustration was changing at that time, and I can't see the work of Ronald Searle, for instance, working well in one of Mills's books, despite Searle's brilliance. It simply wouldn't be a good "fit."

And with that we close the final gallery of art relating to the literary works of George Mills—that is, unless a copy of 1939's Saint Thomas of Canterbury goes on sale somewhere in the world, or I can get access to some scans or photocopies of the 57 page text from one of the few libraries still carrying it on their shelves.

That would complete our artistic journey! But until then, this is the last of it.

Mills would have realized, after receiving advance copies of this reprinted edition of Minor and Major, that what he held in his hand then would, indeed have been "the last of it" for him.

One wonders what seeing that dust jacket above, and flipping through these final illustrations, meant to him. From this point in his life, until his death in 1972, Mills lived in Budleigh Salterton with his spinster sisters, Agnes and Violet Mills. He would never publish another book.

Beyond the fact that he was sociable, no one there seems to have known much about him. Not a single person seems to have known that he was a children's book author. No one really remembers George at all.

One wonders why.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Hodge Podge of Mills Miscellany

The temperature here in steamy Florida—and across the U.S. for that matter—simply has been sweltering! I should be out finishing the task of painting the house, but it has been easier just to stay indoors, enjoy the air conditioning, and work at cleaning out the George Mills-related folders that have been squirreled in and all around this computer, I have some miscellaneous items that I want to post before we wrap things up here at Who Is George Mills?

Here they are, in no particular order:

WWII R.A.P.C. Regimental Pay Office:

First up, Part I of the April 1944 edition of the Quarterly Army List provides a snippet of information that may help us understand one aspect of the life of George Mills a bit better.

In October 1940, Mills rejoined the army and was named an officer in the Royal Army Pay Corps. I have been unable to locate information regarding where he was assigned after that. We do know that M ills had family that at one time owned much of Devon—the Aclands—but there's no reason to suspect that the army would have given much care to that in assigning him.

However, we do know that Vera Mills, George's wife, passed away at Minehead, Somerset, on 6 January 1942. Why she may have been residing at Minehead in January is unknown, but the Quarterly Army List does contain this, in a list of APC Regimental Pay Offices:


Regimental Paymaster —
Booth, Lt.-Col. E. W., O.B.E., M.C., R.A.P.C.

Second in Command —
Coate, Maj. (war subs. 1/7/42) R. D., R.A.P.C.

It may simply be a coincidence, but the second in command at the Exeter pay office in 1944 had drawn his assignment there on 7 January 1942—the day after Vera's death.

Mills may not have been there at all, and Major Coate may have taken over as second in command at Exeter in an unrelated transaction. Still, it is a clue as to where George may have been between late 1940 and early 1942.

Manifests and Paperwork, 1913 and 1919:

We know that it is extremely likely that Vera Mills (née Beauclerk) had been abroad (in Canada or the United States) with her mother and sister during most of the First World War before returning to England and later marrying George Mills.

Found are a couple of indices recording the entrance of 19 year old Vera Louise Beauclerk into Honolulu, Hawaii, on both 26 March 1913 (arriving aboard the Marama) and again on 16 June 1913 (aboard the Chiyo Maru).

You can see the records above. [Click to enlarge any image in a new window.]

Warren Hill in 1896:

George Mills was born in Bude, Cornwall, in 1896. At the same time, across England, A. Max Wilkinson, Head Master of Warren Hill School in Meads, Eastbourne, had had a telephone installed at the school. You can see pages from that seemingly ancient 1896 directory.

George would be grown and working at Warren Hill by 1930.

We also recently located the master's residence across Beachy Head Road from the school, circa 1901. Thanks to the yeoman work (yeoperson?) of the resourceful Jennifer M., we also know who lived there during the 1911: Charles Ridley Witherall and Robert Mervyn Powys Druce, both "schoolmasters" at a "private" school. Also on the census form are Scottish sisters Mary and Janet Robb, the housekeeper and cook respectively.

This is the residence in which George Mills would have lived while he was teaching at Warren Hill, and is likely the one described in his first novel, Meredith and Co.

And, before we leave a subject that concerns A. Max Wilkinson, his Times obituary card has been located: It reads: "WILKINSON.—On Oct. 27, 1948, at Exmouth, very peacefully, A. MAX WILKINSON, sometime of Warren Hill, Eastbourne, and Wittersham, Kent, aged 92 years. Cremation, private."

Monica Cecil Grant Mills (née Wilks):

There are dual listings for the second marriage of George's half-brother, Arthur Frederick Hobart Mills, born 1887: His second wife in one place a Monica Wilson, and in another she is a Monica Wilks. The correct one is clearly Monica Wilks, and here is her birth record from 1902 at Ecclesall Bierlow:

There is also a record of her death—the only one I can find—in the London Gazette dated 17th August 1981 on page 10642. After her name, Monica Cecil Grant Mills, in a column labeled "Address, description, and date of death of Deceased," it reads: "Rivlyn Lodge, Shorefield Road, Downton, Lymington, Hampshire, Widow. 5th August 1981."

Winds Cottage, Downton, is where Monica lived with Arthur Mills until his death in 1955. I am still unsure whether or not Monica—15 years younger than Arthur—bore him children. If so, they are not among the records at

Arthur Frederick Hobart Mills in China:

We have had only one image of Arthur Mills here, and the on-line caption I found with the photograph makes reference to Arthur having returned with relics from a trip to China "circa 1925," pictired, left.

We now know that trip occurred during 1928. While I cannot find a record of him arriving in England, there is a record of him steaming into Los Angeles, California, aboard the S.S. President Cleveland on 23 February 1928, having departed Hongkong [sic], China, on 30 January. He is listed a 40 year old "writer," who had obtained his visa on 26 January in Hongkong.

There are oddities: Mills lists his birthplace as "Woltexton, England," although his birth took place in Stratton, Cornwall, and he was raised in Bude.

Incredibly, is it possible that this was simply a mistake, and that the typist simply placed an "x" where Mills had wanted an "r"? Wolterton is the ancestral family home of his wife, Lady Dorothy Mills, who was estranged from her family because of her marriage to Mills. Was this simply a perverse joke on the part of Arthur, or did he think listing his birthplace as the estate of peerage—the Walpoles—would gain him some shipboard advantage?

In addition, Mills is the only person on the manifest's page [above]. Apparently no one else was making the trip from China to L.A.

Having always wondered if Arthur had missed george's 1925 wedding because he was in China, the answer now comes back a resounding 'no'...

Uncle Dudley and Jamaica:

Although Arthur and George's uncle, Dudley Acland Mills (Lt.-Col., Royal Engineers), is commonly associated with his eccentric activities in China, we find him here, on page 2326 of the 3 April 1906 edition of the London Gazette, being named by the King to be a member of the Legislative Council of the Island of Jamaica [below].

The Rev. Barton R. V. and Rev. Henry Mills:

I did not record in which text I found the following thumbnail sketches [below] of the lives of Barton Mills, father of George Mills, and Barton's uncle, Henry Mills, also a cleric in the Church of England. (We met Henry once before.)

Gillmore Goodland, Revisited:

In our seemingly never ending study of Gillmore Goodland and family, there was an additional weirdness that has just come to light. The 1901 census lists Gillmore, a 34 year old "civil engineer," as living on London Road at Royston, Hertfordshire—a place we recently examined in relation to the maternal family of Egerton Clarke—with his daughter, Kathleen G. Goodland, aged 5 months, a 28 year old Scottish nurse/domestic named Mary Woodhams, and his 23 year old wife, "Martha L. Goodland."

Goodland's wife was also named "Kathleen." It’s odd that the census taker managed to get her middle initial—standing for "Lillis"—correct, but somehow managed to get "Martha" in as her first name. Peculiar.

In addition, when we looked at Gillmore Goodland's children, we found Kathleen and Joan Goodland, his daughters. What we did not find was much about his son, Desmond Gillmore Goodland, who must have been born around 1910.

There is a birth record for him now, seen below, having been born in Godstone, Surrey, in the summer of 1910. That's the location recorded for his older sisters on the 1911 census.

We had thought young Desmond (he would sign his name in 1941 as "Desmond Gillmore Goodland" below, right) was in Wales, during that census, possibly with his aunt, Grace Goodland.

We now know that's incorrect. The infant in Wales recorded as "Gilmore Goodland" actually had that first name spelled correctly: Gilmore, with one "L". This child was actually Frank Gilmore Goodland, son of Gillmore's brother Ernest Talbot Goodland, who was then living in Australia, and Ernest's wife, Winifred Margaret Goodland (née Owen), who was visiting "her sister Florence Owen together with my great grandmother Selina Owen in Cardiff."

Many thanks to Winifred's descendant, John Owen, for providing the above information in his own words, as well as for helping me work out the lad's identity.

However, that begs the question: "Where was infant Desmond Gillmore Goodland—less than a year old, with his mother and father in North America for a year and his sisters in Godstone—during the taking of the 1911 census?"

It still seems odd that Gillmore and Kathleen would have sailed to America when he was a newborn—and they clearly did—presumably leaving him in England, but sequestered in a place where the infant would not make the census count.

Peculiar. But, then, there were many peculiarities in the story of Gillmore Goodland, Engineer.

Sir Leonard Daldry on Tape:

Daldry was a croquet player who competed at the time the Mills siblings were on the circuit along the south coast of England. Those with an interest (and the access, which I do not enjoy) may want to peruse a taped interview with Sir Leonard. It is entered in the text: A Guide to Manuscripts and Documents in the British Isles Related to Africa: British Isles (Excluding London) by James Douglas Pearson and Noel Matthews (London: Mansell, 1994).

The entry, seen above, reads: "1935 – 1961. Daldry, Sir Leonard Charles: Transcript of taped interview, 1970, relating to service in east Africa and Nigeria, 1935 – 1961; banking, railways, House of Representatives, Senator. (MSS Afr. s. 1576)"

My hunch is that the interview would be fascinating.

I Wish I Could Dial It and See Who Answers:

Lastly, there is something about a single, innocuous entry, tucked away in the 1951 Brighton telephone directory that holds my interest. There is no way of knowing if it is our George Mills, but it reads:

Mills G. 36 Vernon ter, Brighton 1 . . . . . . . . . Hove 36575

Is it the George Mills of our interest? For all we know, it could be a Gareth or a Guy Mills.

I'm not certain why entirely, but of all of the G. Millses I've come across in all of the telephone directories, on all of the World Wide Web, this one makes me think it could be George...

And, as always, if you have any information, speculation, or recollections of George Mills, his family, his friends, his life, or his times, please don't hesitate to contact me, and thank you very much in advance!

Gallery 6: The Artwork of Tom Thursby

King Willow, the second children's novel by George Mills, was originally published in 1938, but a new edition was printed some 20 years later.

That reprinted edition carries no copyright date, nor does the text name the artist. However, we can easily see his signature on the dust jacket illustration and the frontispiece: Tom Thursby.

Thursby's colour work here is simply perfect for the genre and this story. Combining of the use of line with less saturates, unlimned areas of colour creates an interesting sense of focus, and Thursby's subtle palette is spot on for children's literature.

Assuming that the four unsigned black and white plates inside the text are his as well, they fail to live up to the quality his work exhibits in full colour. His line and brushwork, working solely with black ink, is extremely tentative and the images suffer for it. Even in his colour pieces at the fore, the figures tend to be a bit stiff, and the real lack of real confidence with ink makes that stiffness seem even more apparent in the plates within.

Not that it's a brilliant piece, but there is one plate that is an exception: The illustration found on page 167 depicting a boy trailing away from the cricket pitch has some of the more confident brushwork found in his colour work.

The difference, though, may not be colour versus black-and-white, but interior versus exterior imagery. Each interior setting is wound more tightly than a cheap watch, but when his images are free from the confines of architecture, floors, and furniture, they seem far less self-conscious.

"'That shadow, it's moved!'" [Page 67]

"'Speak out, and don't make excuses'" [Page 113]

"He returned to the pavilion, trailing his bat behind him" [Page 167]

"Pongo crept slowly across the carpet" [Page 239]

Thursby will be the last illustrator of any great competence found in the books of George Mills, and there is only one more: The late 1950s/early 1960s reprint of Minor and Major.

We'll take a look at that next time in our seventh and final gallery.

Gallery 5: The Artwork of 'Vernon'

By 1957, the world had entered a Space Age that would lead to, in just a dozen more years, men walking on the surface of the Moon.

George Mills had published his first novel, Meredith and Co. less than 25 years before, but it must have seemed like a century ago in some ways, in the aftermath of a worldwide depression, the Second World War, and Britain's recovery from both under new leadership.

Instead of being alarmed as they once were by the predatory behavior of fascists, politicians worried about creeping communism, espionage, and the threat of nuclear war.

Nothing was the same. And although this change brought with it a new breed of boys' preparatory school books, the surge in the popularity of the genre meant there was still room on the shelves for one more round of the books of Mills.

The illustrative imagery of his books, though, would need some updating, making it more a part of the modern world. 1957's Meredith and Co., published behind the Iron Curtain in Czechoslovakia by Andrew Dakers, Ltd., London, featured modernized haircuts and overall appearance of the students at fictional Leadham House School.

Not only does this edition fail to have a copyright date, it also fails to name the illustrator—or illustrators—completely. The dust jacket and frontispiece contain the exact same image: A full-colour, pthalo-hued setting featuring several primary-colour clad boys being caught out of their dorm rooms at night. It's a low budget composition by an artist signing his name only as "VERNON," very reminiscent in character of the sort of cheap, colour children's book illustrations I became familiar with as a boy in the 1960s.

The frontispiece is merely a cropped version of the poorly-registered four-color-separation illustration on the cover, replete with a disembodied hand holding a flashlight at right. Expense quite obviously was spared in putting together this third edition of the text.

It's perfectly non-descript, but that belies the better quality of the artwork inside. There are four nicley done black and white plates that modernise the artwork beyond what the Brocks and John Harris had done—these aren't crafted to resemble engravings—while still capturing the nostalgic charm of the story. It's easy to see why children would have been captivated by these illustrations. [Click any image to enlarge it in a new window.]

"Percy Oliphant Naylor Gathorne Ogilvie, complete with
a nurse, red hair, and freckles, stood with his mother on
the platform at Victoria Station." [Page 9]

"There was a rending, tearing sound . . . " [Page 57]

" . . . his right forepaw clumsily bandaged, and a first eleven
blazer buttoned round his neck, a large brown bulldog was
staring stolidly at nothing!" [Page 129]

"But Finch, flashing past him and Solway, breasted the
tape first" [Page 219]

The four interior plates are unsigned, and may or may not be the work of 'Vernon.' They are as well considered and pleasant as the painting on the frontispiece is ho-hum, and could be his work.

As George Mills and his pre-WWII literary work entered a new age, it seemed as if the artwork min his books, while not quite what it had been at the peak of his popularity, was in relatively good hands.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

George Mills: An Annotated Bibliography

Before we close things out here at Who Is George Mills?, it just wouldn't seem right not to have a bibliography of writing about Mills and his work from outside sources.

That said, it will have to be a slim one. If a great deal was ever written about Mills outside of brief advertisements for his books, not much of it is on-line today. I've presented everything here that I could find, no matter how spare.

And although this bibliography leads off with the text with the most disturbing title by far, it is in alphabetical order by author. Following each citation is either the entry in its entirety or an excerpt from the text. I have also taken the liberty of annotating each entry.

Adley, Derek John, and William Oliver Lofts Gullemont. The Men Behind Boys' Fiction. (London: Howard Baker, 1970)

Mills, George (r n) A schoolmaster in a Sussex preparatory school who has also written three highly enjoyable prep- school stories — 'Meredith & Co.', 'King Willow' and 'Minor and Major'.

[An incredibly skimpy but well-meaning autobiography and bibliography of the works of George Mills; one wonders about the meaning of "r n"; Mills was undoubtedly never a registered nurse!]

Auchmuty, Rosemary, Robert J. Kirkpatrick and Joy Wotton. The Encyclopaedia of Boy's School Stories: Volume 2. (Surrey: Ashgate, 2000; originally published in 1973) [above, right]

George Mills taught for many years in a preparatory school (after having been a pupil in one—Parkfield, in Haywards Heath), so it is not surprising that his three school stories should have a similar setting.

Meredith and Co. was one of the first prep school stories of its kind — lighthearted and whimsical, a forerunner to the Jennings books of Anthony Buckeridge in so far as it emphasises the comical side of school life, based on the misunderstandings that arise when the juvenile view of things meets the adult view. But it is also a more rounded picture of school life, in which the importance of games and work (the Common Entrance Exam) are not forgotten. The real hero, though, for many readers, was Uggles, a bulldog owned by one of the boys whose unexpected appearances caused havoc.

King Willow was a sequel to Meredith and Co., equally as high-spirited. Minor and Major was similarly set in a prep school, although a different one this time. If anything, it is even more whimsical, with its heroes nicknamed 'Puddleduck major and minor', and a series of pranks and bizarre happenings which disrupt the routine running of the school.

[What a well-considered summary and relatively complete summary of the prep school stories of George Mills. I would have to agree with the assessment that Uggles, the bulldog, was assumed to be a popular character, if by no one else but the publishing houses themselves—at least during the 1930s, when Uggles [far above, left] graced the gorgeous cover of the first edition of Meredith and Co., and was prominently displayed on the spine and in interior plates within 1938's King Willow.]

Kirkpatrick, Robert. "Prep Schools in Books: Celebrating 60 years of Jennings." 8PS Now Online. ( 28/4/10, 08:13:54 GMT)

Excerpt: Prep schools, with their enclosed environments, rituals, rules and traditions, are ideal settings for fiction. Indeed, prep schools have featured in fiction since the late 19th century, although it wasn't until Anthony Buckeridge began portraying the adventures of J.C.T. Jennings on the BBC's Children's Hour in October 1948 that prep school stories began reaching a wide audience. To begin with, prep school fiction was aimed, not surprisingly perhaps, at young children. An early example was George Mills' Meredith and Co., first published in 1933 and reprinted in 1950 and 1957. These reprints were presumably cashing in on the popularity of Jennings, whose first appearance in book form (Jennings Goes to School) was 60 years ago this year.

[It takes no more difficulty than to look at the entry above to see that what Kirkpatrick has written here is exactly backwards: George Mills breathed life into the boys' preparatory school genre and his titles were popular until the onset of WWII, when, my hunch is, other matters began to take precedence. Following the war, in 1950, Anthony Buckeridge took advantage of a void by cashing in on the popularity of books like Mills's. It would have been tit-for-tat for Mills and his publishers subsequently to cash in on the success of Jennings with George's late 1950s/early 1960s reprints.]

Lucas, John. "Public school fiction faces test of time." Guardian Books Blog. ( 4 January 2011, 14.53 GMT)

Excerpt: The tradition of the school story began in earnest with the publication of Thomas Hughes's Tom Brown's Schooldays in 1857, which opened the floodgate for a stream of books, comics and tales flowing well into the 1970s. While the focus of these works varied, from the somewhat earnest moralising of George Mills's 1938 novel King Willow to the slapstick of Charles Hamilton's Billy Bunter and the anarchic hilarity of Geoffrey Willans's Molesworth series, they were nevertheless subject to a series of shared conventions, the recognition of which made them a familiar, nostalgic experience, even to those readers who didn't attend boarding school.

[It is interesting to note that within my lifetime—from 1973 to 2011 here—that there has been a shift in point of view regarding the work of George Mills. In the second entry above, George's books are seen as a "rounded picture of school life", while here in 2001, the Guardian sees the prose as merely "somewhat earnest moralizing". One then wonders how the point of view had changed between, say, 1933 and 1970.]

And that, as they say, is that.

We don't learn a great deal here. The lovers offering paeans to the Jennings books appear to have not read the many, if any, of the titles by Mills, while the most cogent and informed of these assessments cite the Mills books as the "forerunners" of those by Buckeridge.

What can get a feel for, however, is that the books of George Mills are part of a long tradition of boys' school stories still in existence today. Mills was a key—if not well remembered—figure in the transition between school stories that still held Victorian sensibilities and more modern prose, especially in his interpretation and use of jargon, and in the broader capacity of exemplifying that the whole child needed to be addressed by his education through games, sport, and, yes, hard work.

Mills was not prolific. He didn't write stories about Uggles, et al, for years. In fact, rather than starring a single boy, the fiction of Mills shifts the focus from lad to lad as time passes—as happens in real life—and pays homage to the passing of time, another tip of the cap to reality. Boys grow and change. They pass from form to form. They sit the Common Examination, and they leave, existing after that primarily in each other's memories.

It's a unique point of view: Establishing a "brand," as it would be marketed today, and then not milking it for every dollar or pound it could be worth. No Mills was not prolific. But he was, indeed, significant.

Chances are, if you have read any other scholarship or informational, about George Mills, his life, and his books, I wrote it. I do not mean to my chest in saying so: There simply was almost nothing on the internet when I began my research. George Mills on Wikipedia? Shelfari? The addled Library Thing? Yeah, I wrote those.

So if you have or are aware of any other direct references to George Mills or his work, please let me know and I will include it on this site as quickly as possible—and thank you!

Gallery 4: The Artwork of P. White

Similar to the first edition of Meredith and Co.—and unlike Mills sequels, King Willow and Minor and Major—Oxford University Press issued Meredith in 1950 without many interior illustrations. In fact, save the frontispiece, all of the remaining illustrations are found on the dust cover. [Click on any image to enlarge it.]

The jacket and frontispiece are not full colour: It uses a two colour separation (blue and yellow) with black line. The artist isn't renowned. In fact, he is a mid-20th century illustrator in search of a Christian name: P. White.

His wiry and energetic inks, when used to limn people, are somewhat reminiscent of George Cruikshank, making the frontispiece a little gem of a drawing. Unfortunately, it is muddled by the blue and yellow inks of the separation process, which did little for any of the illustrations, interior of exterior.

It is debatable as to whether or not the quality of the illustrator has fallen off from 1939 to 1950, mostly because the work of White here is not shown off in the best light. Certainly, though, we can see that the quality of the overall artistic book and jacket design has fallen off dramatically. Visually, this edition is miles below the level of artwork OUP set when the noted publisher commissioned C. E. Brock to illustrate the first edition of Meredtith.