E S TURNER Novelist and journalist
Born: 17 November, 1909, in Northumbria. Died: 6 July, 2006, in London, aged 96.
LIKE many writers and critics of his time, ES Turner always used as a by-line his initials. It reflected a bygone era and in many ways Ernest Turner captured the pre- and post was years with a radiant accuracy. For over 50 years, he contributed articles and reviews to Punch and was also read with much pleasure in such periodicals as The Oldie, the London Review of Books and the Times Literary Supplement. His own books were much admired and read with an avid interest: his novels (particularly Boys Will Be Boys) have taken on a cult status and are read as detailed and authentic examples of the social and economic of the time.
Ernest Sackville Turner was brought up in the North-east of England and attended various schools but he was never an academic child. He read avidly and his father gave him a present of a typewriter - he was still a teenager - and Turner immediately sent off stories to magazines. He was first published in the Dundee Courier in 1927 and he applied for a job with the Glasgow Evening Times that year. Typically, he worked his way up from office junior to the sub-editors' bench and then became one of the paper's cub reporters.
Turner showed a nose for a story and was made editor of the paper's Diary. One of his perks was to travel as a journalist covering the maiden voyage of the Queen Mary in 1936. He then spent some months working for the Glasgow Evening Citizen and then the Scottish Daily Express before, in 1938, he decided to go freelance.
He joined the Royal Artillery in 1941 and served with his battery until the end of the war. In 1946, Turner was made editor of Soldier and was swiftly promoted to the rank of major. The magazine was published by and for the British army and in those immediate post-war years, it fulfilled an important role for ex-servicemen. Turner remained as editor - even after being demobbed - until 1957.
His first contributions to Punch - then in its heyday and vital reading throughout the country - were in 1953. Many of his essays were in the book-review section of the magazine but he built up an enviable reputation for some wonderfully nostalgic pieces recalling events of yesteryear. He often yearned for the pre-war lifestyle - especially in travel - and remembered that maiden voyage on the Queen Mary with special pleasure. "The Hindenburg had a Roman Catholic priest on board," he wrote, "the Queen Mary had its own daily newspaper, at least one ship's gardener and facilities for a Rotarian meeting. Ah, the Thirties!"
Boys Will Be Boys was published in 1948 and was an instant best seller. It was among the first books Turner wrote under his own name (previously he had used Rupert Lang) and was a derring-do tale in the traditions of the popular radio programme Dick Barton Special Agent. In 1950, he brought out Roads to Ruin: A Shocking History of Social Progress which captured a social unrest of the past (boy chimney sweeps) and the introduction of the Plimsoll Line. Years later, in a debate in the Commons about foxhunting, Tony Benn extolled the book's social virtues: "All this is in the lovely book by ES Turner." Turner, never a left-wing diehard, was not thought to have been flattered.
Turner never stopped writing - he had articles in the London Book Review and the Oldie this year - and remained pert and lively well into old age. He married Helen Martin in 1937. She died in 1968 and on an assignment in Samarkand, he met and married Roberta Hewitt in 1971. She and two daughters from his first marriage survive him.