Tuesday, 28 August 2018

The Black Hand Gang - A Bit Of Nostalgia

I was talking the other day about favourite childhood reads and mentioned The Adventures Of The Black Hand Gang, a collection (of four stories) written by H. J. Press.  I decided to have another look through the book and, opening that beloved cover, I realised it was the 1978 Methuen reprint, making my copy forty years old this summer.
I got my copy from the Rothwell Juniors Bookworm Club.  Translated translated from the German by Barbara Littlewood, it was first published in the UK in 1976 with the paperback appearing the following year.  The original book, as Die Abenteur der ‘Schwarzen Hand’, was first published in West Germany in 1965.

Hans Jürgen Press was born on 15th May 1926 in East Prussian Masuria.  During World War II, trained as an unarmed sail plane glider pilot, he was captured in France and transported to the US where, held at Fort Russell in Texas, he painted detailed murals of West Texas mountain scenes.  After the war, he moved to Hamburg and began illustrating for Sternchen, the children’s supplement of the magazine Stern.  In 1953, he created Der kleine Herr Jakob, a strip about a little man with a moustache and bowler hat who never talked, through the comic had comment in verse.  The Adventures Of The Black Hand Gang, a combination of story and illustration, was published in weekly chapters, the solution to the week’s riddle given in the next edition.  Press was one of the inventors of  "Wimmelbild", a genre of illustration where the picture was deliberately overcrowded with detail, to entertain children as they searched for certain items.  His books have been translated into more than sixty languages and his son, Julian - also an author and illustrator - not only looks after his literary estate but publishes similar mystery stories.  H. J. Press passed away on 19th October 2002.

My copy looks beaten up because it was very well read and not just by me - in 1978, my friend Claire Gibson and I set up our own little investigators group and The Black Hand Gang adventures were used as a training aid (as it happens, we never did find any crimes to be investigated, more’s the pity).  Years later, I introduced Dude to it when I still read him bedtime stories and that was great fun, watching the excitement in his eyes as he tried to find the clues (whilst I tried really hard not to lead him to them).

I originally wrote about The Black Hand Gang in a Nostalgic For My Childhood post in 2013 (you can read it here, it’s been quite popular) but as a recap, the book contains four adventures - The Mysterious House (featuring a forger), The Treasure In Breezy Lake (the gang help solve a burglary), The Smuggler’s Tunnel (the gang go to stay with Ralph’s Uncle Paul and stumble across a drug smuggling ring) and A Theft At The Zoo (featuring the hunt for stolen animals).

The Black Hand Gang made its headquarters at 49 Canal Street, “at the top of the house, up seventy-two creaking stairs” and their clubroom was called the ‘Airport’.  Meeting regularly after school, the gang comprises: “Frank, who played the trumpet, was the leader; then there was quick-witted Angela; Ralph, who usually wore a striped sweater; and lastly Keith W.S. and his inseparable companion , a squirrel (W.S. stands for With Squirrel).  Well known locally as amateur sleuths”, their friend is Police Sergeant Shorthouse.

From The Mysterious House:
What was Mr X doing?
What was the stamp called?
From The Treasure In Breezy Lake:

look at that detail!
What had Fraser thrown into the lake?

Which door did Angela mean? (clue - the police are looking for the baddie and think they've checked everywhere)
From The Smugglers' Tunnel:
What was the substance in the cubes?

From A Theft At The Zoo:
How did the thief take the key?

In case you're interested, there's a Facebook group dedicated to the book, moderated by Gavin Worby, which can be found at this link.


  1. Thanks for this; I've always loved the book and have that same edition, but didn't know half of the background to it.

    1. You're welcome James and thanks for commenting!