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by Bamber Gascoigne

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(Ralph) Hammond Innes (1913-1998) - wrote also as Ralp Hammond


Highly succesful British novelist, a born story-teller, who published 35 books. Hammond Innes continued the great tradition of well-crafted adventure stories, exemplified in the books John Buchan and Henry Rider Haggard, but added to his work a strong personal narrative voice, a feeling of real experience, and his love of untamed nature, especially the sea. Innes's hobbies, travel and ocean racing, also reflected in his plots.

"A writer has no business, no land, no factory that he can call his own. His capital assets are all in his head, and one of the very few things that can't be taxed, expropriated, or in any way filched by others, is personal experience." (Hammond Innes in Contemporary Novelists, ed. by Walter Allen, 1972)

Ralph Hammond Innes was born in Horsham, Sussex, of Scottish descent. His father, a somewhat remote figure in his childhood, worked in the Westminster Bank. Ralp Hammond was his parent's only child.

Innes was educated at Cranbrook School, Kent, and graduated in 1931. He had started to write stories already at the age of 12. "As a youngster, my imagination had been fired by geography almost as much as by literature," he once said. Instead of following his father into the banking world, Innes chose the insecure life of a journalist, when newspapers were trying to survive the great depression. From 1934 to 1940, he worked as a staff member of the Financial News (later Financial Times). In 1937 Innes married Dorothy Mary Lange, an actress and a kinswoman of Sir Walter Scott and Andew Lang. They had no children. She died in 1989.

When the war broke out Innes volunteered for the Navy. He served in the Royal Artillery (1940-46), first as a gunner, witnessing the Battle of Britain from a gun site at Kenley, and rising to the rank of major in the 8th Army. During this period his books were serialized in the United States in the Saturday Evening Post. After the war he abandoned journalism, becoming a fulltime writer. Innes's first novel, The Doppelganger (1937), was followed by three other works. Tied down to a four-book contract, he wrote these thrillers in the mornings before going to his work and in the late evenings at home. All these early books Innes later rejected, not because of the leftist views he infiltrated between the lines, but because he considered them more or less clumsy.

Wreckers Must Breathe and The Trojan Horse, published by Collins, came out in 1940. Innes began writing The Trojan Horse just after the Russian invasion of Finland in 1939. A month after completing the book he joined the army, and was sent overseas. In 1941 Innes published a war novel, Attack Alarm, which was the only story of the Battle of Britain put down on paper on a gunside under fire. Innes then ended editing army magazines in four countries. He did not return to England for three years. Before World War II, he had finished Dead and Alive, which appeared in 1946, and dealt with black market in Rome and Napoli. After the war Innes devoted himself entirely to writing, becoming one of the most popular thriller writers. Until 1953 he also published children's books under the pseudonym Ralph Hammond.

"I have always had a tendency to claustrophobia–a dread of being alone in small, enclosed spaces and a morbid curiosity in any cave or shaft that took me into the bowels of the earth. The result was that I was happiest sweating my guts out in that damned quarry which had provided the stone to build the prison or laboring on the prison farm. I didn't mind the cleaning, the discipline, the work – so long as I was in the company of other human beings. Even now I cannot read the accounts of men who suffered solitary confinement in German concentration camps without feeling panic seizing at me. I think if that had happened to me I should have gone mad. But as long as I had plenty of hard work during the day and a book to read at night, I managed to stave off the feeling of loneliness that I dreaded more than anything else." (from Maddon's Rock, 1948)

Maddon's Rock (1948) dealt with Innes's favorite element, the sea. Sunday Pictorial wrote about the book: "Hammond Innes confirms his reputation as the best contemporary writer of the adventure thriller." The story is again narrated in the fist person, which was a kind of trade mark in his novels. Innes creates a mystery around a ghost ship, the Trikkala. She is listed as sunk in March 1945, but over a year later the Trikkala radios an S.O.S. as she batters her way towards the Hebrides through gale-swept waters. What has happened during those missing months? Innes is at his best when describing the forces of nature: "I turned my head. We were inside the entrance now, right in the path of the spilling surf. And beyond the granite base of that pinnacle a wawe was piling up. Mountains high it seemed to rise. Water streamed from its broken creat like white hair in the wind. It was yellow with foam. The top curled. The it toppled forward."

Smuggling was was another of Innes's favorite subjects. In The Strange Land (1954), set Morocco where Innes himself had also traveled, the hero is a former smuggler who has turned missionary. The Angry Mountain (1950) was a story of an attempt to fly out a Czech pilot who had fought in the Battle of Britain. Its depiction of a volcano in eruption was based on Innes's own experiences on Vesuvius. In 1944 Innes saw how the whole centre of the mountain blew out. "It was Pompeii over again. We knew what was going to happen, yet we felt no fear. It was all too vast." Air Bridge (1951) set the pattern for Innes's future work. The book was written immediately after Innes had flown the Berlin airlift in a York transport loaded with coal. Much of his time in Berlin Innes spent in R.A.F. Gatow Airport, listening to the stories of the pilots and the airport staff members. After witnessing the endlessly rolling planes into the Tempelhof, day and night, Innes decided that he would never start on a book until he had personally researched the background. The story begins in England, where Bill Saeton is building a new aeroplane engine and planning to make fortune. He blackmails Neil Fraser, an ex-RAF-pilot to help him.

"The devil of it was the man's enthusiasm was infectious. I can see him now, talking softly in the hubbub of the bar, his eyes glittering with excitement, smoking cigarette after cigarette, his voice vibrant as he reached out into my mind to give me the sense of adventure that he felt himself. The essence of his personality was that he could make others believe what he believed. In any project, he gave himself to it so completely that it was impossible not to follow him. He was a born leader. From being an unwilling participant, I became a willing one." (from Air Bridge)

In the 1960s Innes began to spend more time with the background work of his novels and slowed down his publishing speed. He had spent usually six months traveling, examining new settings for his novels, and six months writing. After finishing sailing in the seas, Innes began to purchase land from Suffolk, Wales, and Australia, in order to protect the nature and plant trees. In the 1950s, sickened by the death agonies of whales blown up by grenade harpoons, he championed the idea electrical killing of whales. In the 1980s, he pondered the ecological questions in some of his books. High Stand (1985) was set in the wilderness of Klondike, The Black Tide (1982) was a story about pollution. An earlier work, The Doomed Oasis (1960), set in the contemporary Arabia and the deserts of the Empty Quarter, was about saving an oasis from extinction. Innes had been in the late 1950s ashore in the Oman with the first oil expedition on the Arabian coast of the Indian Ocean. North Star (1975), a story of infiltration and sabotage in the North Sea, also focused on oil. It was started while Innes was on board the Shell rig Staflo in the autumn of 1972, but finished two years later. " events caught up with me – the Arab-Israeli war, the oil embargoes, the shortages, the price rises... Suddenly North Sea oil was on everybody's lips, the one bright spot in the prevailing gloom. In these circumstances, I felt it essential to bring the book forward..."

Innes's other books, translated into over thirty languages, include The Lonely Skier (1947), Blue Ice (1948), Campbell's Kingdom (1952), The Wreck of the Mary Deare (1956), Innes's best book, a story about a ghost ship and an insurance fraud, Atlantic Fury (1962), and Levkas Man (1971). Atlantic Fury was set in the World War II. Iain Ross had been disgraced, and then drowned at sea or so his family believed. A mission takes his brother Donald to the Hebrides to meet a Major Braddock, who is running the evacuation of the army base on the island of Laerg. Donald finds his brother living a new life in a dead mans name. Winter is closing in, and Braddock has his own reasons for wanting the army and Donald Ross off Laerg as quickly as possible, even in the face of a furious storm building out in the Atlantic. Golden Soak (1973) was set in the Australia when the great mineral boom of 1969-70 began to collapse. For the novel, Innes travelled the backtrack through the Ophthalmia Range from Mt Newman to Mt Robinson.

The central theme in Innes's work is man against the forces of nature. In several stories the main character is searching the past in a remote location. Innes traveled into many parts of the world to ensure the authenticity in his works. However, the film version of Campbell's Kingdom, which was set in the Canadian Rockies, was shot near the tourist resort Cortina d'Ampezzo. While researching for The Blue Ice, he sailed on a Norwegian whaling ship on the islands off Bergen, and helped cut the dead meat of the giant animals. Traveling become for Innes a vehicle satisfy his curiosity, but telling stories about his experiences to his readers was his ultimate goal. "It is this excitement, this desire to communicate that is the essential quality shared by all writers," he has said. "It gives point to everything one does and because of that I regard myself as infinitely fortunate in being possessed of such a gift." Innes sailed for the Antarctica for The White South (1949), to the islands of Greece for Levkas Man, and to the Indian ocean for The Strode Venturer (1965), about an English adventurer in the Maldive Islands. Many of Innes's travel pieces appeared in the American magazine Holiday. A collection of them, Harvest of Journeys, came out in 1960. It was followed in 1967 by Sea and Islands. Innes's wife Dorothy also described their trips in her book Occasions (1972).

As in the novels of Andrew Garve, Innes's knowledge of the sea and ships, and his own experiences as a seaman, provided material for his books. He was also vice-president of the Association of Sea Training Organization. With his own boat, named Mary Deare, he explored the coasts of Europe from the Baltic to the Bay of Biscay. Innes had bought the 42ft ocean racer with the money he received from selling the rights of The Wreck of the Mary Deare to MGM.

Innes's historical works include The Conquistadors (1969) and The Last Voyage (1978), a fictionalized account of Captain Cook's voyage. His final novel, Delta Connection (1996), included all the familiar elements of a Hammond Innes book: daring escapes, cliffhanging situations, and overpowering forces of nature. In the story an English mining engineer escapes from Romania with a young mysterious woman. Their adventures lead to Afghanistan and to struggle for survival among the word's highest mountains.

Innes was awarded a C.B.E. (Commander, Order of the British Empire) in 1978. He received Bouchercon Lifetime Achievement award in 1993. Several of Innes's works have been adapted into screen. An interesting but unrealized production was Alfred Hitchcock's version of The 'Mary Deare'. The book belonged to MGM, and they got the director interested in the work. Hitchcock liked the powerful opening image of a ship drifting, deserted, in the English Channel. The rest was a coutroom drama in manifold flashbacks explaining the mystery. Hitchcock continued to develop ideas with his scriptwriter Ernest Lehman, but finally gave up the project. Eventually the company hired Michael Anderson. "The film definitely lacks (as more than one leading critic has pointed out) the intense, page-turning suspense of the book", said John Reid in CinemaScope One: Stupendous in Scope (2004). Gary Cooper played the victimized sailor of the wrecked vessel in his second last movie. Innes's friend Eric Ambler wrote the screenplay.

For further reading: Harvest of Journeys by H. Innes (1960); Contemporary Authors 5-6 (1963); Contemporary Novelists, ed. by Walter Allen (1972); Occasions by Dorothy Hammond Innes (1972); World Authors 1950-1970, ed. by John Wakeman (1975); Crime & Mystery Writers, ed. by Jay P. Pederson (1996)

Selected bibliography:

  • The Doppelganger, 1937
  • Air Disaster, 1937
  • Sabotage Broadcast, 1938
  • All Roads Lead to Friday, 1939
  • Wreckers Must Breathe, 1940 (U.S. title Trapped, 1940)
    - Taistelu tukikohdasta: seikkailuromaani (tr. Jaakko Lavanne, 1960)
  • The Trojan Horse, 1940
    - Kasvot ampuma-aukossa: seikkailuromaani (suom. Jaakko Lavanne, 1961)
  • Attack Alarm, 1941
  •  Dead and Alive, 1946
    - Kuolleena ja elävänä: jännitysromaani (suom. Jaakko Lavanne, 1961)
  • The Killer Mine, 1947
    - Kauhujen tunneli (suom. Risto Kalliomaa, 1953)
  • The Lonely Skier, 1947 (U.S. title Fire in the Snow, 1947)
    - Yksinäinen hiihtäjä: seikkailuromaani (suom. Panu Pekkanen, 1959)
    - film: Snowbound (1948), dir. by David MacDonald, screenplay by Keith Campbell, David Evans, Hammond Innes, starring Robert Newton, Dennis Price, Herbert Lom, Mila Parély, Guy Middleton
  • Tales of Old Inns, 1947 (ed.)
  • Maddon’s Rock, 1948 (US title: Gale Warning, 1948)
    - Varastettu laiva (suom. Aune Suomalainen, 1952)
  • The Blue Ice, 1948
    - Sininen jää (suom. Jaakko Lavanne, 1958)
  • The White South, 1949 (U.S. title The Survivors, 1950)
    - Rikos napamerellä (suom. Matti Karjalainen, 1951)
    - film: Hell Below Zero (1954), dir. by Mark Robson, screenplay by Alec Coppel and Max Trell, adaptation by Richard Maibaum, starring Alan Ladd, Joan Tetzel, Basil Sydney
  • The Angry Mountain, 1950
  • Cocos Gold, 1950 (as Ralp Hammond)
  • Isle of Strangers, 1951 (as Ralph Hammond; U.S. title Island of Peril, 1953)
  • Air Bridge, 1951
    - Kummituslentokone (suom. Matti Karjalainen, 1952)
  • Saracen's Tower, 1952 (as Ralph Hammond; US title Cruise of Danger, 1954)
  • Campbell’s Kingdom, 1952 (also screenplay)
    - Veijarin testamentti (suom. Risto Kalliomaa, 1953)
    - film: Campbell's Kingdom, 1957, dir. by Ralph Thomas, starring Dirk Bogarde, Michael Craig, Stanley Baker, Barbara Murray
  • Black Gold on the Double Diamond, 1953 (as Ralp Hammond)
  • The Strange Land, 1954 (U.S. title The Naked Land, 1954)
    - Outo maa (suom. Matti Karjalainen, 1962)
  • The 'Mary Deare,'1956 (U.S. title The Wreck of the Mary Deare, 1956)
    - S/S Mary Dearen haaksirikko (suom. Juhana Perkki, 1957)
    - film: The Wreck of the Mary Deare, 1959, dir. by Michael Anderson, script Eric Ambler, starring Charlton Heston, Gary Cooper, Michael Redgrave, Emlyn Williams
  • The Land God Gave to Cain, 1958
    - Kainin maa: romaani Labradorista (suom. Jaakko Lavanne, 1959)
  • The Doomed Oasis, 1960
    - Tuomittu keidas (suom. Jaakko Lavanne, 1961)
  • Harvest of Journeys, 1960
  • Atlantic Fury, 1962
    - Atlantin raivo (suom. Alpo Rönty, 1963)
  • Scandinavia, 1963
  • The Strode Venturer, 1965
    - Valkoinen vesi (suom. Alpo Rönty, 1966)
  • Sea and Islands, 1967
  • The Conquistadors, 1969
    - Conquistadorit - espanjalaiset valloittajat (suom. Kyllikki Villa & Anita Paajanen Mannila, 1973)
  • Hammond Innes Introduces Australia, 1971 (edited by Clive Turnbull)
  • Levkas Man, 1971
    - Luola (suom. Heidi Järvenpää, 1971)
    - TV series: Levkas Man, 1981, prod. Co:Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), Portman Productions, Studio Hamburg Filmproduktion, dir. Carl Schultz, teleplay Peter Yeldham, starring Robert Coleby, Ann Michelle and Marius Goring
  • Golden Soak, 1973
    - Jarra Jarran kulta (suom. Heidi Järvenpää, 1973)
    - TV mini-series: Golden Soak, 1979, prod. Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Portman Productions dir. Henri Safran, teleplay Peter Yeldham, starring Ray Barrett, Christiane Krüger and Elizabeth Alexander
  • North Star, 1975
    - Pohjantähti (suom. Arvi Tamminen, 1975)
  • The Story of Captain Cook, 1975 (television play) 
  • The Big Footprints, 1977
    - Kuolema savannilla (suom. Eero Mänttäri, 1978)
  • The Last Voyage: Captain Cook’s Lost Diary, 1978
  • Solomons Seal, 1980
    - Kirottu saari (suom. Väinö J. Tervaskari, 1981)
  • The Black Tide, 1982
    - Musta surma (suom. Pentti Isomursu, 1983)
  • High Stand, 1985
    - Metsän kirot (suom. Jukka Jääskeläinen, 1987)
  • Hammond Innes' East Anglia, 1986 (photographs by Neville Fox-Davies)
  • Medusa, 1988
    - HMS Medusa (suom. Juhani Pietiläinen, 1989)
  • Isvik, 1991
    - Kuolemanlaiva (suom. Heikki Karjalainen, 1992)
  • Target Antarctica, 1993
  • Delta Connection, 1996

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