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Continuing the Story: Mike Ripley and Albert Campion

In this episode, Brook and Sarah are joined by Mike Ripley, who has authored an additional 12 novels featuring Margery Allingham’s sleuth Albert Campion. Mike shares his experiences continuing another author’s work.


Mr. Campion’s Farewell (2014) Mike Ripley after P. Youngman Carter

Cargo of Eagles (1968) Margery Allingham with P. Youngman Carter

Mr. Campion’s Farthing (1969) Youngman Carter

Mr. Campion’s Falcon (1970) Youngman Carter

Sweet Danger (1933) Margery Allingham

Tiger in the Smoke (1952) Margery Allingham

Tiger in the Smoke (1956) directed by Roy Baker

Campion (1989-1990) BBC

Mystery Mile (1930) Margery Allingham

Angel series (1988-2015) Mike Ripley

Shots Mag

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About Mike Ripley

Recent reviews in Shots Mag

Mike Ripley on Facebook


This transcript is generated by a computer and there may be some mis-spellings and strange punctuation. We try to catch these before posting, but some things slip through.

SarahWelcome to Clued in Mystery. I’m Sarah.
BrookAnd I’m Brook and we both love mystery.
SarahHi Brook.
BrookHi Sarah. How are you doing today?
SarahI’m doing really well. What about you?
BrookI’m great and I can’t believe we have such a treat. We have an amazing interview today. So, I’m going to introduce through his bio, Mike Ripley. Mike Ripley was born a long time of go in a galaxy far away: Yorkshire. He read economic history at university and then trained as a journalist before moving into public relations, becoming director of press and PR for the Brewers’ Society, promoting British beers and pubs. The obligatory midlife crisis led to him becoming an archaeologist, mostly on Roman and Anglo-Saxon sites. A published author of crime fiction since 1988, he has twice won the Crime Writers’ Last Laugh Award, a Sherlock Award, the Angel Award for Fiction, and the H.R.F. Keating Award for fiction for his history of British thrillers. As a critic for more than thirty years, he has he has reviewed over 2000 mysteries for various newspapers, written for radio, and was a script writer on the BBC show Lovejoy.
BrookWelcome, Mike. This is just such a pleasure to have you on the show.
Mike RipleyDelighted to be here.
SarahSo one of the reasons we invited you is because you have been continuing some of the work that Margery Allingham did with her sleuth Albert Campion. And in past episodes we have discussed when one author continues another author’s work. Can you share a little bit about how you came to write Mr. Campion’s Farewell?
Mike RipleyAh, well, the first thing to say is I was a fan long before I started writing them and I think I first discovered Margery Allingham in the mid 1960’s. Actually, around about the time she died. And so I never got to meet her, but the books made a real impression on me because unlike other Golden Age Mysteries, so we say, the famous detectives Hercule Poirot and Lord Peter Whimsey, her hero Albert Campion had 2 great qualities, I thought. One he was quite funny. And two, he didn’t age. Now, Hercule Poirot didn’t age because he was timeless. He was retired when he started in 1920 and he was about 127 when he finished his career, but it didn’t matter because the books are as Agatha Christie wrote them, absolutely timeless classics.
Mike RipleyLord Peter Whimsey got to a certain age where that terrible thing called marriage happens and was more or less retired that way. When Albert Campion got married and continued over a long period of thirty-odd years having adventures. And brilliantly, he aged, he got older. Look at the books written in the late 50s and early 60s. There are some terrific writers, terrific descriptions of him having a fight scene. Which all heroes are supposed to have, ah but he’s noticeably older and he’s thinking all the time, “But god, I’m far too old for this I can’t do this anymore. I can’t shoot guns. I can’t run away,” and so on. And that intrigued me that he was so human in that that way. So, I was great fan. And purely by chance I ended up living only about ten miles from Margery Allingham’s home. And indeed, my neighbor in the village I live in is the niece of the last housekeeper of Margery Allingham.
BrookYeah, wow.
Mike RipleySo we’re all quite and a bit like the Salem witch trials around here. It’s I’m not kidding bout that and so that there are lots of little connections. Plus, my first job in this region after I left university. Is actually I worked at Essex University, which now houses the Margery Allingham archive. So, a lot of stars combined if you like to think of it that way. But basically, I was a fan to begin with.
Mike RipleyWell I’ve written a few novels comic novels and a couple of historical ones and because of my various connections with Allingham country, as it were, I was asked to speak at a Margery Allingham convention There’s a small society Margery Allingham Society, and it was holding its convention in a hotel just down the road. So, I thought “why not?” So I went and told the story about how I discovered her books and how I like them. And everyone who was very polite and applauded and so on and when we so broke for lunch, one of the members of society said quite casually that there was a third Campion book started by her husband. Now when Margery died, her husband, who was called Youngman Carter, completed the book she’d been writing, which was called Cargo of Eagles and then wrote two more and they’re called Mr. Campion’s Farthing and Mr. Campion’s Falcon. He then started which I’d read. But I didn’t know he’d started a third, then he’d died and the society had had been left, in the will of Margery’s sister, the manuscript. So it was theirs to do with what they wanted and they’d had it for 20 years.
Mike RipleyOne or two people had looked at it. They’d asked a couple of crime writers whether they considered trying to finish it and nobody had seemed too keen. And it must have been a very good lunch because I was you know quite keen to to volunteer then I was told that there was no synopsis.
Mike RipleyThere’s no plot structure. There was nothing just three and a half chapters of first draft manuscript. And I thought, “well I like a challenge”. So, um I took a look at it and then said yeah I can I can do this I can finish it.
Mike RipleyBecause it was that was the advantage. I’m living around here I recognized most of the places that Youngman Carter was talking about and a very important clue in the names he gave to one of the places. And so I made up a plot. And thought well as he’d started it in 1969 and was writing it as if it was contemporary. A you’d have campion was now 69-years-old because he’s as old as the century. And so we have an elderly man, maybe coming up to retirement or at least think of retiring from this detective business. Not as quick as he was not sharp as he was maybe and he’s coming off against crimes that were predominant in the 60s, so we’re talking about drug smuggling, perhaps. Naughty substances.
Mike RipleyAh, and so I put together the book that way and that was him reacting and we called it. Mr. Campion’s Farewell because it was a farewell to detecting rather than anything else. And unfortunately the publishers liked it and said “can you do another one?” And now number I’ve just delivered number 12. So I for a man who’s in his 60s going on 70s, an awful lot of adventures have been packed in between 1969 and 1972. So eventually he will get a quiet retirement I hope because he certainly deserves lot.
SarahWell I’ve I’ve read a couple of the books that you’ve written and his son features in the two that I’ve written. I don’t know if that’s true of the other ones. So are you um, kind of setting the stage for his son to perhaps take over some responsibilities?
Mike RipleyNo well. No I’m not because Margery Allingham didn’t um. The son, Rupert, is mentioned in couple of Allingham books. I mean one when he’s born and one when he is a young boy. But actually, she herself didn’t really seem to see the idea of a family takeover the nearest she came was she mentioned in 1958 in an essay she wrote which was called “What to do with an aging detective”. And she suggested that perhaps not she didn’t mention Rupert at all, but she did put out the the taste the sort of suggestion that her nephew, who was called Christopher, might be a suitable candidate for take on the business.
Mike RipleyNow, Christopher is very rarely referred to in the majority in the bulk of the books but one of the great characters that she invented who is the manservant called Lugg. And Lugg’s opinion of Christopher is just that oh e’s the son of a brother who got dropped on his head. And that’s all you all you get to know about it. And so when I’ve I’ve in the last published book I’ve actually given Christopher ah a decent role as much as you can for somebody who’s the son of somebody who got dropped on the head at Eton. And he’s he’s in public relations which of course um, you know is so he gets his clients into more scrapes than he gets them out of but he has to go to Albert for help and and that’s my sort of little homage. I kept Rupert in and even give Rupert a wife but was no indication that he would take on the family business. And I don’t think I I could do it. Because the family is Albert Campion, Lugg the manservant ,and Lady Amanda. It’s those three are the core I think anything else would be watering you down somewhat not as not up to me maybe somebody else that not me.
BrookWell, Mike you explained a little bit ah about how you were a fan before starting to write and so how was researching these books different from writing your other novels?
Mike RipleyWell for my the series I’m best known for, which is the Angel series of comedy crimes, no research was required at all. And somebody once said, “Where you come up with your ideas?” I said “I just hang around in pubs,” because at the time that was my job. And it was simply once I’d formulated the character, it was just question of look in the newspaper and say “Aha! Fox hunting. That’s an issue. What would Angel do?” and away you went. And they have a lot of jokes lined up and once you’ve told them all on Post-it Notes and as you tell them you take them down and when you got no jokes left you think I’d better make you know a lot of shots rang out they all fell dead. And so they they were quite easy. Really fun to write. The difference with the Campion ones is the research was partly because they’re all set in the late ‘60s and 70s. Now I do have a rule, especially when I was reviewing books that I mean you have the expression historical mysteries. Yeah right? Well any book that set in a period when I was alive ain’t history as far as I’m got concerned, so it was just a question from remembering a lot.
Mike RipleyAnd and of course you you have the marvelous canon of 20 Margery books novels not the mention loads of short stories to fall back on. So that I knew the period I was working it now when I’ve done as I have on a few occasions. Flashbacks to the 1930s or to the Second World War. Um, then I have had to do some serious research but that’s part part of the job. That’s actually the fun part of the job. Often just actually having to write the damn thing is really boring. But um, it’s digging up what you can. I mean one little example I was curious Lady Amanda, Campion’s wife, is um, an aeronautical engineer. Now, when she becomes an aeronautical engineer. In the 1930s it seems from the books that she just does it. She doesn’t go to university she’s not trained in anything. She likes tinkering with engines and she has a flag but it’s sort of glossed over and you think.
Mike RipleyAnd I I’ve had a character say this in one of the books that you know “That is a really strange occupation for a lady isn’t it?” Which is it isn’t now, but was then. Until I was doing some research into aircraft designs and I discovered an amazing woman called Blossom Miles whose career is exactly what Lady Amanda’s was, apart from the fact that she wasn’t married to a detective. And obviously Margery Allingham knew of this woman quite famous in her day but she was a pilot. She went on to design aircraft and actually designed aircraft during the war. And they had their own company with her husband with her husband so there was a possibility that’s sort research I found was fascinating that it’s great. And it didn’t mean anything much in the book except it gave me the confidence to go to say well yes, she’s just an mentioned because by the time you get to the sixth the and I’m writing she’s very high up in aircraft design. She talking about jet engines as Britain’s moving to the jet age and so on gets involved in a lot of top security work as well.
Mike RipleyWhich leads to other plots involving spies and um it in the one that’s coming out this year later this year um which is targeted actually by Russian spies. So and perfectly plausible to campaign is just now a retired country gentleman but his wife has this very top job in into the defense industry. So doing the research on that to flesh out characters and so on that’s great, fun and a lot of other bits bits and pieces. But mostly there is a lot in the books themselves and quite a bit has been written by members of the Margery Allingham society, most of whom are far more averse versed within the subject matter than I am. I mean you know I’m a hack writer but they’re then dedicated true fans.
BrookWell I love that, Mike. And I love that I instantly liked the character of Amanda when I started reading Allingham and I love that you’re you know she’s kind of becoming this heroine later in the series that you’re working on. And in Sweet Danger, she did save the day she saved Campion so we have these nice bookends there. So I think that’s lovely.
Mike RipleyUm, yes, it very resourceful. Um, she has um when Youngman Carter wrote two and a half Campion books Margery’s death, the basic criticism was that they weren’t funny. He’d lost the humor and so I wanted to put that back and as I had a reputation of comedy crime. I mean I had to but of a sort where I have to clean up, clean up my act quite a lot to do a different sort of humor. But I think I hope that worked but the character of Amanda had got me more stick as we would say here than anything else I wrote wrote about the Campions and when the book started to appear everybody. Oh well everybody but quite a lot of criticism was. But Amanda’s so horrible. She was this beautiful 18-year-old girl in Sweet Danger and and innocence toman her resourceful and brave and so on and you’ve turned her into this um smartass, sharp woman who’s got a vicious tongue and is bit of a harridan and bullying people. And I thought well no, you see they’ve been married for 25 years um and I have been married for longer than that and I know what happens to women, they do turn sharp and they do turn us. But now I mean it’s just they’ve grown up somebody who is well versed in the Campion, a great champion of Margery, criticized me wrote to me and said in one of the early ones he didn’t like the bit where um Amanda and Albert were holding hands. Now I mean I give it a break. It’s 1969 you know, just be thankful they’re only holding hands. But you can’t wait because you know the picture of Amanda was so well done as in those early books that um, you know it’s difficult to imagine her twenty thirty years years on. But I I think people have accepted my version of what she’s become. She’s certainly not masters. Clearly in love with with Albert as he is with her and and would do anything to protect, they would do anything to protect each other as in the next book they do in in spades. So really do? um and it’s very much the next. Book is Amanda is at the center of the plot and it’s all centers around her and the trouble she’s in so that comes out in November so you can look for that Christmas presents ticked off your list.
SarahSo, Mike what has surprised you about writing novels that feature a character who was developed by someone else?
Mike RipleyThe main surprise is that I got away with it for 12 books. Ah, it’s um, it’s it’s odd. It’s an odd feeling. Because so. And I don’t know one feels terribly responsible. With my own heroes Angel I mean I don’t really care. Anything could have to um and you like him or not he not particularly he was designed with not very likable character. Um, ah, very much as an anti-hero.
Mike RipleyBut people actually got to love him. So, I think it’s because he had a cat. Um, even though the cat was a psychopath and the cat was called Springsteen and it was vicious. It attacked everybody. Um, but I think because he looked after this cat he found a lot of friends. Um, but with with Campion again were you one of the greats I mean there are there’s Hercule Poirot, Peter Whimsey, Albert Campion, and you know Roderick Allain then, Ngaio Marsh’s hero. Four great detectives of the golden age. It was what I’ve done is that is just tried to take a a golden age detective and throw him into the swinging sixties. So that was a challenge, but we seem to have got away with it so far anyway. But yes, it’s weird because one feels responsible. I mean there’s lot of things can’t do that I could do with my own characters. And a lots of things that and they you can’t let them say apart from “the fat man” and those things that they might have said these days. Things they would have said even in the sixties that are definitely no-go areas now. Um, but with people of that age I know because um and if you read books written by sixty-year-olds that were published in the sixties the language, you know you have to think “Wow It’s a bit dodgy” and I hate I hate it when books are have to be redacted or things take doesn’t mean they should be fit in the time. But I mean we’re not making a great political point here. No except by mistake.
Mike RipleySo we take them what those. They’re good stories, I hope. They’re certainly good characters and I can say that because I didn’t invent them.
BrookWell, speaking of that was there anything in carrying on Campion that you felt was untouchable? You know you’ve given him some other family members. You’ve taken him into the sixty s but was there anything that you thought okay this is something I have to remain steadfast to.
Mike RipleyI had to buy popular demand I had to include the man servant Lugg whom Campion calls his left hand man. Um, and there there’s this. I mean because it’s irresistible I mean it is bizarre to think about a retired country gentleman who was sixty-nine, seventy-years-old having a man servant who is even older than he is. Um I mean it’s you know, unless you live in a castle in which case you have several. Um, it’s not really ah plausible, except unless he’s accepted as part of the family and so Lugg carries it all the way through now he can’t do what he did in the early books which is going out to beat people up and so on but in.
Mike RipleyBut he’s such a comic wonderful comic creation can’t possibly waste him and so he has to come in there so Albert keeps it keeps him on as as a foil and so on and in I think in the last book. Or the nephew, Christopher, says to Albert said, “why do you have the fat man.” So like when he keeps getting fatter. “Why do you have that fat man hang hanging around?” And he says “well it’s all useful. “You know being fat is useful” says Campion. “Makes him very difficult to kidnap.” Ah so and there’s there’s lots of gags like that and of course very useful to have him as a link when as in that book and 1 other I think um, we do flashbacks to the 1930s ah, where Lugg’s sort of in his boisterous prime as he were and he’s he’s a great character too and it’s just. I mean having a first name called such as Magersfontein the number of them. Trouble I’ve had with copy editors about you know, spelling Magersfontein explaining it. Well it was a battle in the in the Boer Wars, oh really um, it was even what we lost as well. So but you know forget Boer War what’s that.
Mike RipleyJust just put Lugg. L-u-g-g. You know everybody knows and that’s the one thing I get after every book people will write or send in reviews to Amazon and things saying you know “more Lugg please in the next one” you know “where was Lugg?”.
Mike RipleySo I sometimes think I’m writing the adventures of Lugg and Amanda rather than Albert Campion. But that’s sort of I mean any about it’s the found of the family core. But I think if you made it too big. The adventures of son of Campion. Not sure it would work. Not for me.
SarahSo, I know there were a couple of screen adaptations of Margery Allingham’s work if there was a new adaptation say of one of your books or even one of hers, who would you cast to play Albert Campion?
Mike RipleyWell, there was only one film and that was the Tiger in Smoke which is a brilliant book probably her best. And they dropped the character of Albert Campion completely from it. But no one remembers that film where much I from 1956 and the television to I thought was very good, very underrated and as I mean, um, although it’s shown on one of these channels.
Mike RipleyI’m I’m very old and um I’m not used to there being channels that that start with the number 11 or 12 and it’s far too many as far and. Of course, you people in Americas have hundreds. Um, but the BBC version, of which I play in which I played a small part. The the character there was was was Campion in the 30s, so a thirty-year-old Hoocca was done by Peter Davison best known probably as one of the Doctor Who’s and he’d be perfect for my Campion now because he’s about 69. And and I met him and met at a convention and I suggested that gave him one of the books and suggested it to and I’ve forgotten tall that you know he’s primarily an actor rather than ah a fan of Campion. So. So his initial reaction was “how much?” and I said “it’s just an idea I don’t have a budget.” “Well get in touch with my agent.” But he I mean he would be swayed because exactly the right age for my aging Campion if somebody used to do do my books today. To go back to the 1930s, I don’t know I’ve I never really thought of it because I’ve almost thought of Davison. My Campion because he’s the right age for my Campion. The big problem will be casting Lugg. It’s the guy in the TV series died and Brian Glover was brilliant. His vision actually thought it was inspired casting.
BrookSo, Mike is the Margery Allingham Society still active?
Mike RipleyYes, so it’s small but um, they’re um and meet 3 or 4 times a year and they always try and celebrate this is the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of such and such a book. Or they arrange visits to locations mentioned in the books as well. So yes, as a small with dedicated group of fanatics, who I’m sure would pull me up if I got anything terribly wrong. But I make sure there’s there’s a map in the front of so there’s a tradition I like to keep up from some of the older books and my cartographer the the guy does the maps is not only a member of the Margery Allingham Society and knows the books far better than I do, but is also a leading light in the Sherlock Holmes society so here I’m covered on two fronts there. So, he’s got my back, I hope, anyway.
BrookThat’s great and I do love a book with a map.
Mike RipleySo do I I think I think the um, well the the book in I think Mystery Mile is one of the island and a little causeway called the Stroud. Well about five, ten miles from here there’s an island called Mersea Island, which is connected to the mainland by a thing called the Strood. Guess where she got the idea? It it does exist. But when I saw that when I found I had a job here at the university in Colchester. Um I was looking around for places to live. We got a big map out. I saw the coastline and there’s this island with a thick that looks familiar and I got my copy of Mystery Mile. It’s the island in Mystery Mile. So, again though I must try and live there I never managed that but they were quite close.
BrookWell, it seems that there just really wasn’t any other author who could possibly carry on this character and this work by Allingham and as you said living in the area and having been a fan. Um, as a young man and then. Having all these interesting ah connections. It just seems like it was meant to be.
Mike RipleyWell yeah I I like to think that that was good. It’s been great fun and I’ve been ten years now I’ve been doing it I must do something else I’ve I have tried to um.
Mike RipleyI had a before been between my Angel series and the the Campions I had a go writing ones based on my time as an archeologist and I might try and revisit some of that although quite a bit of the archaeology has slipped into. Ah, couple of the Campion. There are at least two which have archeological subplots as well. Um, so but is it’s it’s never but never boring with with Albert Campion. It’s always quite good. Good fun because people actually do like characters and one treads carefully whereas with Angel books I was bit more devil may care than’t really mind what you think um, but with Albert has to tread carefully but as he would but then in. That’s because he was diplomatic.
SarahUm, well, it’s been such a treat to speak with you today, Mike. Before we go can you share where listeners might find you um on your website or social media.
Mike RipleyAh I don’t do much social media I’m afraid um I write for a magazine, an e-zine I’m supposed to call it nowadays, called Shots Mag so it’s www.shotsmag.co.uk. And I for about 15 years I had a ah regular column there I’m mad of doing odd things as the mood takes me. And I’m on Facebook as Michael Ripley there are lots of Michael Ripley but see the one.
SarahOkay, well we will add links to those in the show notes so listeners can track you down.
SarahSo thank you so much, Mike for joining us today. Like I said it’s been a real pleasure to speak with you.
BrookYes, Mike thank you for joining us and thank you all for listening today to Clued in Mystery I’m Brook.
SarahAnd I’m Sarah and we both love mystery.