Who Do You Think You Are?

Edgar Wallace

How one prolific storytelle­r enthralled our forebears


Richard Horatio Edgar Wallace was born on 1 April 1875 at 7 Ashburnham Grove, Greenwich, the illegitima­te son of two actors. Fostered by a fish porter’s family in Billingsga­te, he left school at 12 to sell newspapers on a corner of Fleet Street.

In 1894, Wallace joined the Army, and it was on service in South Africa that he started writing, contributi­ng articles to the local press. He reported on the Second Boer War (1899–1902) and, leaving the Army, became the Daily Mail’s correspond­ent; on his return to England he worked for that newspaper as a reporter.

Wallace’s first novel, Four Just Men (1905), marked the start of a prolific writing career. He penned adventures, science fiction and romance, but was best known for his thrillers.

In total he wrote 170 novels, 18 stage plays and 957 short stories, his prodigious output accelerati­ng as he rushed to produce books to pay off gambling debts. On one occasion, he wrote a novel in just 24 hours – for a bet. At the time of the census, Wallace was frequently found at the Carlton Hotel and may well have been enumerated there.

In 1931 he moved to Hollywood, where he died in

1932 while working on King Kong.

A memorial plaque commemorat­ing him at

Ludgate Circus reads: “Of his talents he gave lavishly to authorship – but to Fleet Street he gave his heart.”

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