Monday 23 December 2019

My Creative Year 2019

Continuing a tradition (the seventh occasion!), here's my annual look back at the year from a creative standpoint.
During the year I wrote two short stories (one of which Phil Sloman was kind enough to ask me for, see below for details) and a lot of essays for this blog (which is always enjoyable).  Most of my creative time was focussed on novels and all the attendant work to do with the admin of submitting them.  The second thriller novel, with the working title Hunted, went out to a lot of agencies and got some decent feedback but no bites.  I revised my first novel Hangman and re-sent that out too.  In the meantime, I started work on Novel 3 (I'm calling it Death At The Seaside but that won't stick) and, once again, hugely enjoyed the plotting process while out walking with David Roberts and Pippa.

* * *
I had one short story published.

Compass Wood appeared in The Woods, a Hersham Horror Books PentAnth anthology edited by Phil Sloman.  It was launched at Edge-Lit 8.
At the launch of The Woods, on stage at Edge-Lit 8 with, from left - James, Penny Jones, me, Cate Gardner, Simon B and Duncan Bradshaw (pic courtesy of Laura Mauro)

* * *
Ellen Datlow, as part of her Best Horror Of The Year anthology, included my short story Brooks Pond (which I wrote about here) in her Recommended Reading/Honorable Mentions List.  I was amazed and even more chuffed to see I got a mention in her round-up too and you can see more of her recommendations here.

* * *
My short story Mr Stix, originally published in For The Night Is Dark (edited by Ross Warren) and reprinted in my 2017 collection Things We Leave Behind, has been republished by PenMan Press as an e-chapbook available on Kindle.
When Sam Murphy's seven-year-old daughter Janey starts to suffer night terrors, he does his best to assure her that Mr Stix - a voice from the shadows who says "mean things" to her - can't hurt her.

Sam later finds the grotesque Mr Stix in the family bathroom and then his terrified wife tells him the story of her own childhood night-time fears.

If you're not in the UK, you can use this link -

* * *
Jim Mcleod, at Ginger Nuts Of Horror, included The Woods in his Picks Of Year, calling Compass Wood a "fast-paced and action-filled tale".  You can read his full listing here.

Drive was reviewed by Andrew Hook at Goodreads who wrote: "If there's a definition of a page-turner, then this novella is it."  You can read the full review here.

Brooks Pond from The Black Room Manuscripts 4 was reviewed by Chris Hall at DLS Reviews who wrote: "the sort of story that keeps you on your toes, thinking you know where it’s going, only for it to unexpectedly shift course.  And the ending.  What an ending!  It’s dark, twisted and executed to absolute perfection." You can read the full review here.

Compass Wood was reviewed by Ben Walker at Kendall Reviews, who wrote: "delivers some decent frights [and] the image of the lunatic in pursuit of the story’s lead character stuck in my head for a while after the punchy ending."  You can read the full review here.

* * *
The Crusty Exterior - or constituent parts - managed two gatherings.

The first, which Phil Sloman unfortunately couldn't get to, was a meet-up in Leicester for my 50th birthday and I wrote about it here.

The second, organised by James but without Steve Harris, saw a gang of us meet up in Nottingham to sample bookshops, the Paupers' graves and a fine curry house.  I wrote about it here.
Crusties in Leicester, 2nd February 2019
 from left: John Travis, Sue Moorcroft, me, Steve Harris, Linda Nagle, David Roberts, James Everington & Steve Bacon
Birthday meal at Carluccio's Leicester with me, Sue, Linda, Steve, John, Steve, James & David

Crusties in Nottingham, 15th April 2019
from left - Wayne Parkin, me, Simon Jones, Penny Jones, Selina Lock, Richard Farren Barber, James Everingon, Phil Sloman and Jay Eales
* * *
To help celebrate the publication of her 15th novel, Let It Snow, I interviewed Sue Moorcroft at Rothwell Library in November.  A hugely enjoyable evening, we had a good turnout, a lively Q&A session and Sue did a reading - it also helped benefit the library, which I was really pleased about.  You can read my report on the event here.
Me and Sue Moorcroft, Rothwell Library, 13th November 2019
* * *
I only attended the one Con this year, Edge-Lit 8, held at The Quad in Derby on 13th July (see my report here).  Sledge-Lit was postponed for the year and FantasyCon was held in Glasgow, but the time-off requirements to travel proved sadly beyond me.
from left - me, Sue Moorcroft, Ross Warren, Peter Mark May, James Everington

from left - Simon Clark, John Travis, Steve Harris, Linda Nagle and me
* * *
I'm feeling confident for 2020 too, as I crack on with the thriller novel and, whatever happens, I'll keep you updated as to how things go.

As always, thank you so much, dear readers of this blog, for all your support in 2019, especially those who bought, read and liked my work - I really do appreciate it.

Monday 16 December 2019

The Eleventh Annual Westies - review of the year 2019

Well, here we are again (seriously, where does the time go, eh?), gearing up for Christmas and all things festive, which means it's time to indulge in the annual blog custom and remember the good books of 2019.

Once again, it's been a great reading year for me with a nice mixture of brand new novels, a few books that have languished on my TBR pile for too long, some good second-hand finds (which jumped straight to the top of the pile) along with some welcome re-reads.

As always, the top 20 places were hard fought and, I think, show a nice variety in genre and tone - if I've blogged about a book before, I've linked to it on the list.

Without further ado, I present the Eleventh Annual Westies Award - “My Best Fiction Reads Of The Year” - and the top 20 looks like this:

1:   Daisy Jones & The Six, by Taylor Jenkins Read
2:   The Whisper Man, by Alex North
3:   Summer On A Small Island *, by Sue Moorcroft
4:   Let It Snow, by Sue Moorcroft
5:   Closer Still, by Richard Farren Barber
6:   Mistletoe, by Alison Littlewood
7:   The A-Team: When You Comin' Back, Range Rider?, by Charles Heath
8:   The Family, by Louise Jensen
9:   The Hunting Party, by Lucy Foley
10:  The Devil's Dice, by Roz Watkins
11: Grave Descend, by Michael Crichton
12: The Puppet Show, by M. W. Craven
13: Elevator Pitch, by Linwood Barclay
14: My Best Friend's Exorcism, by Grady Hendrix
15: Clean Break, by Tammy Cohen
16: Something In The Water, by Catherine Steadman
17: The Professionals 4: Hunter Hunted, by Ken Blake
18: The Banker's Wife, by Cristina Alger
19: Final Girls, by Riley Sager
20: Sleep, by C. L. Taylor

* This is Sue's Avon book for next summer, which I read to critique and will be published in May 2020.

The Top 10 in non-fiction are:

1:   The Killers: Days & Ages, by Mark Beaumont
2:   Till The Cows Come Home, by Sara Cox
3:   With Nails, by Richard E. Grant
4:   INXS - Band On The Road, by INXS and Ed St John
5:   Game Over, by Dan Whitehead
6:   Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life, by Eric Idle
7:   Cinefex 36, by Don Shay et al
8:   Making Movie Magic, by John Richardson
9:   Making A Monster, by Al Cummings & Sue Roy
10: Bohemian Rhapsody, by Lesley-Ann Jones

Stats wise, I’ve read 76 books - 42 fiction, 18 non-fiction, 9 comics/nostalgia/kids and 7 Three Investigator mysteries.

Of the 69 books, the breakdown is thus:

9 biography
12 horror
8 film-related
3 drama (includes romance)
25 crime/mystery
3 sci-fi
3 nostalgia
6 humour

All of my reviews are posted up at Goodreads here

Just in case you’re interested, the previous awards are linked to from here:

Monday 9 December 2019

Nostalgic For My Childhood - Christmas Annuals (part 3)

"Christmas is coming!"
Me, Christmas 1981.  The book I'm writing in was the first diary I received and kept up with (I still write a daily diary) and the uppermost annual, by my right arm, is the 2000AD 1982 edition
As I've written about over the past two years (you can see 2017 here and 2018 here), one of the Christmas highlights when I was a kid (beyond the catalogues I wrote about in 2016) was seeing which annual I got that particular year.  If you don't remember them, annuals were (and still are) large size hardback books, designed for children and based on existing properties, generally comics and popular TV shows, as well as the occasional film and sport and pop round-ups.

The ones based on comics featured the same cast as the weekly editions, while the TV and film ones had comic strips, the occasional short story, fact files and interviews and - brilliantly - in the case of The Fall Guy, behind the scenes information on stunts and how they were filmed.

Generally published towards the end of the year, annuals are cover-dated as the following year to ensure shops don't take them off the shelves immediately after the new year (though, by then, unsold copies are often heavily reduced).  Still as popular now, the only difference (apart from the fact kids today don't have the choice of comics we did) seems to be that they're skinnier (and that's not just me being all nostalgically misty about it - my ones from the late 70s and early 80s are substantially chunkier than the ones I’ve bought for Dude over the past few years).

Here, then, is another selection of old favourites, ones I received and ones I remember my sister Tracy having.  I hope some of them inspire a warm, nostalgic trip down memory lane for you...
Follyfoot was a firm favourite for Tracy (who loved horses), my memory of it is very hazy.
A Christmas staple, the on-going adventures of Dennis The Menace, Roger The Dodger and the Bash Street Kids!
"...everyone knows his name..."
I enjoyed Dr Who as a kid but it scared the crap out of me!
War comics (and their subsequent annuals) were a big part of my childhood because, when this was published, the Second World War was still a clear memory for most adults.
Getting to stay up late on a Saturday night to watch Starsky & Hutch was a real treat!
Monster related mayhem, another Christmas staple...
I remember reading my friend Claire's Jackie comics and annuals and not quite understanding why they didn't have war strips in them...

It took me a long, long time to realise that the dinosaur (bottom left)'s name - Posh Paws - was an anagram of Swap Shop...
My hero and a marked improvement on the previous years annual (which I still feel suffers with poor artwork).  Alas, this would be the last Steve Austin annual for me, I didn't even realise there was a 1980 edition until fairly recently.
Starlord was a favourite comic of mine (I wrote about it here) though it only actually lasted for 22 issues during 1978.  This, the first annual, came out a year after it had been absorbed into 2000AD and further annuals appeared in 1981 and 1982.
  The Junior TV Times, Look-In was a big favourite of mine (as I wrote about here).
Everyone of a certain age, seeing this, has just performed the theme tune riff.  Another favourite TV show of mine (which I wrote about here).
 With one original Angel left (Jaclyn Smith, just in case you're too young to remember this...)
Thrill Power overload (and another fantastic Brian Bolland cover), as seen in the picture of me at the top of the blog!
Happy Christmas!

scans from my collection, aside from the girls titles (thanks to comicvine for those)

You can read more of my nostalgia posts here

Monday 2 December 2019

Live Baby Live: INXS on the big screen!

Last week, Alison & I were lucky enough to revisit the excellent INXS concert film Live Baby Live at the cinema, when it showed ‘for one night only’.
Live Baby Live is the film of the iconic 1991 Wembley Concert (the gig itself was called Summer XS and I wrote extensively about it here).  As Tim Peacock on udiscovermusic put it, “Six years to the day after Live Aid, London’s famous Wembley Stadium played host to a second concert [that] would go down in history. On 13 July 1991, Aussie superstars INXS delivered the show of their lives at Wembley, with their career-defining gig captured in all its widescreen glory by a spin-off concert film and live album – both of which were titled Live Baby Live.”
Having thoroughly enjoyed the concert - I became a firm fan of the band before we were halfway through the gig - I snapped up the album when it was released in November 1991.  David Mallet’s film version, shot with sixteen 35mm cameras (including one in a helicopter), was released the same day and I duly picked up the VHS, watching it over and over again.  When a special edition DVD was released in 2003, I bought that and Alison & I have watched it at least once a year since (it includes an excellent behind-the-scenes documentary, if you’re interested).  Both the VHS and DVD editions were cropped to 1.33:1 aspect ratio to fit the then TV standard 4:3 size (because, of course, back then TV screens were almost square) and I never thought anything about it.
For the cinema release, Chris Murphy - the band’s long-time manager - spent a decade looking for the original 35mm elements, according to Andrew Trendell of the nme and managed to find most of it in Australia.

When you’re working on a project for so long, there’s the fear ‘What’s everyone going to think?’ That turns into astonishment,” said Murphy. “Watching it back, Michael is better than even I thought he was - how he managed the stage. His voice became more powerful as the gig went along. It was extraordinary to watch - the crowd and band were as one.

The concert has been fully restored from the original print with a new widescreen 4K Ultra HD version created in 1.78:1 ratio (which’ll fit nicely on 16:9 televisions!).  It also includes the full version of Lately - a previously unseen ‘lost’ track, included as an audio-only extra on the DVD - marking the first time the concert has been released with the full original setlist.

A brand new Dolby Atmos audio mix was prepared by Giles Martin and Sam Okell at Abbey Road Studios and released as a triple vinyl album (which sounds fantastic, I bought it the day it came out) and double CD.

The UK showing was set for Wednesday 27th November.  We saw it at the Northampton Filmhouse and Alison & I turned up in our INXS t-shirts (I wore the one I got from Wembley back in 1991), having listened to the CD on the drive there.  From the opening, as the band rushes the stage to Jon Farriss’ drum beat to Michael Hutchence doing his victory salute at the end, the experience was incredible.  The film quality is superb, the image pin sharp for the stage scenes (not so clear for the helicopter shots), to the extent you can read the guitar plectrums easily and the widescreen presentation adds in a lot of detail.  The sound, also, was thunderous and that was just what it needed.
left - in 1991 with my then girlfriend Liz, who I attended the gig with and - right - at home in 2019
The whole band was on fire that night”, writes Garry Gary Beers in the liner notes.  “Michael was so good, he sang his heart out and gave every person in the crowd a night to remember for all time. He truly had that amazing ability to make the biggest shows as intimate as the pubs we grew up in musically.

We were just six blokes from Australia that treated Wembley Stadium like just another pub gig,” Tim Farriss wrote in the liner notes.  “We went in with a PA and a few lights and played our asses off. No ego ramps, no back-up singers, no props, no grand pianos, just the six of us – and the audience went nuts! That’s all we needed!

Music producer Giles Martin said of the gig that the crowd had just witnessed “one of the biggest global sensations at the height of their powers” and on the strength of this and my memories, he’s absolutely spot on.

This is a definite Blu ray purchase.  Thanks for the memory, INXS!

Monday 25 November 2019

Mr Stix returns...

I'm pleased to announce that my short story, Mr Stix, has now been published in standalone ebook form by PenMan Press.
When Sam Murphy's seven-year-old daughter Janey starts to suffer night terrors, he does his best to assure her that Mr Stix - a voice from the shadows who says "mean things" to her - can't hurt her.

Sam later finds the grotesque Mr Stix in the family bathroom and then his terrified wife tells him the story of her own childhood night-time fears.

I wrote Mr Stix in January 2013 at the request of Ross Warren, who asked me to contribute to his anthology For The Night Is Dark.  The brief, basically, involved being scared of the dark and I spent ages trying to come up with something, getting slightly panicked as the deadline approached.  Then, one night, I woke up to find Dude standing beside our bed and that was it - a kid, waking up and getting into the parents bed and the dad hearing/seeing something.

Whenever I wrote horror stories about fathers and children, it was usually me and Dude but since I didn’t have a firm idea of who was going to walk away from this, I made it father-daughter.  I used our house layout for the story (except the bathroom is, in reality, our study/spare room) and didn't quite know who or what Mr Stix would be until I wrote him/it.

The story was published in the anthology and seemed to go down very well, so much so that I included it in the line-up for my second collection, Things We Leave Behind.

"Went straight to Mark West's MR STIX to see what all the fuss was about. The fuss is warranted, it's a very good, creepy story. Maybe his best yet."
- Johnny Mains, author, editor and horror aficionado

I hope, if you decide to take a chance on it, that Mr Stix scares you too...

Sam Murphy opened his eyes.  The figure in white was standing in front of him, arms outstretched and he was so surprised he yelled out.  Emily, his wife, murmured sleepily.
Sam rubbed his eyes and looked at his seven-year-old daughter, wearing her white Disney Princess nightie, with Apple the brown bear clutched tight in her hand.  “Janey?  What’s wrong?”
“Mr Stix is saying horrible things, Daddy, I want you to make him stop.”
“Mr Stix?”  Sam sat up, blinking away the sleep.  “Who’s…  I don’t know who Mr Stix is, love.”
“He’s the man that came to live with us today, he’s in my bedroom and he’s been talking all night and now he’s saying mean things.”
“Today?  Are you alright?”
“Yes, can you come?”
Sam got out of bed and followed his daughter along the landing.  His and Emily’s bedroom covered the width of the house at the front and the landing led to the back, where the bathroom stood at the top of the stairs.  Janey’s room ran parallel to the landing, with her door at the end.  The bathroom light was on, as it always was, since both Janey and Emily were afraid of the dark.
At the doorway to her room, Janey waited and Sam stood next to her.  “Close your eyes,” he said, “I’ll turn on the light.”
He squinted against the glare and looked around the room.  Nothing seemed to be out of place.  A desk, covered with papers, a drawer unit, a wardrobe and a bookcase filled to overflowing with books and comics and the cuddly toys that didn’t fit in the treasure chest under the window.  Her bed, with its pink princess duvet cover, was against the far wall away from the door and the pillow still showed the slightest indentation from her head.
“Looks okay,” said Sam.  “So where’s Mr Stix?”
“On the drawers,” Janey said.
Sam looked at them.  A few things were on the top of the unit - a clock, a calendar, a tub of Lego, some toys that had been positioned to watch over her during the night and various treasures that only she understood the importance of - but nothing out of the ordinary.
“I don’t know what I’m looking for, love, can you show me?”
Janey walked over but didn’t stand in front of her drawers, preferring to stop slightly behind Sam as if he was her shield.  She looked at the top of the drawers and frowned.  “He’s not there.”
Sam stroked the back of her head.  “Problem solved then, kitten, come on, back to bed with you.”
“Can I sleep with you and Mummy tonight?”
Sam glanced at her clock, it was a little after four.  “No, you stay here, Apple and the rest of the gang will look after you.”
“But what if Mr Stix comes back?”
“He won’t.”
“How do you know?”
“I just do, I’m a dad, it’s what I do, you know.”
“You’re silly.”
“And you’re a munchkin, now get back to sleep.”
She snuggled down and smiled as Sam adjusted the duvet under her chin.  He kissed her forehead gently.  “Sleep tight love,” he said.
“You too.”
Sam walked out of her room, switching the light off as he went.  He could hear Emily’s heavy breathing from the bedroom and the faintest of drips from the bathroom but nothing else.  He got into bed and laid on his side, staring at the clock.  The glowing red numbers glared at him and he watched it mark off five minutes.
He rolled onto his back.  Emily turned, made a snuffling noise and cuddled into him.  Her added body heat made him feel drowsy.  He looked at the ceiling and heard the lightest of clicks, as if someone was tapping a ruler on the edge of a desk and then he was asleep.

If you're not in the UK, you can use this link -

Monday 18 November 2019

An Evening With Sue Moorcroft

Last week, I got to interview my fine friend Sue Moorcroft at Rothwell Library, on the eve of the paperback publication of her 15th novel, Let It Snow.
The event was organised by the Friends Of Rothwell Library, a group I’ve been involved with for some time.  Angry and frustrated by the decision of Northamptonshire County Council that libraries in small towns weren’t necessary, I joined the team to save Rothwell Library and we’ve pretty much succeeded - NCC have washed their hands of it but it’s still open (run by volunteers) and still providing a much needed service for all aspects of the community.  When the team were coming up with ideas, my team colleague Vickie (also an old school friend) remembered I knew Sue and suggested the evening and thankfully Sue was very receptive to the idea (but then, she’s a real star!).
On the night, I got to the library early with my Dad (who thoroughly enjoys Sue’s books) and we helped the volunteers, led by Maureen Hill, set everything up.  When Sue arrived, closely followed by my friend (and co-conspirator on the thriller novels) David Roberts, we set up the book table and the audience began arriving then - including friends Darren Paterson, Jane Isaac and Louise Jensen, the latter two excellent novelists in their own rights.  Louise and Dad know and like each other, so they sat together on the front row.
Once our audience had gathered, we set off.  Sue & I have known one another for twenty years (this year) and have an easy rapport, so although I had a list of questions (that I mostly stuck to) there were lots of opportunities to go off at a tangent and tell some amusing anecdotes (if you get the chance, ask Sue to tell you her helicopter story).  After an hour or so, she did a brief reading from Let It Snow and then we broke for the interval.  While the Friends valiantly served tea, sweets and savouries, Sue sold and personalised books.
Probably smiling along with the helicopter anecdote - picture by Jane Isaac
The second half of the evening was the Q&A and, to get the ball rolling, I called on my ever-game Dad to lead the charge.  The alloted thirty minutes quickly came and went, with plenty of questions and some involved answers.
The audience, with Louise Jensen and my Dad far left on the front row
The evening finished up at a little after nine and, judging by people’s compliments as they left and, later, on social media, it was a success.  I’m so pleased we had such a good turn-out (and that people enjoyed it so much), not just for me and Sue, obviously, but because it means this kind of event is viable for the future.

Many thanks to Sue and the Friends and also the team I’m proud to be part of, who saved Rothwell Library.

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Monday 11 November 2019

Novelisation Review 2: The Professionals 4: Hunter Hunted, by Ken Blake

The second in an occasional thread celebrating old-school paperback novelisations from the 70s and 80s, which are now mostly forgotten.  We're not talking great art but these books have their place - they were a fantastic resource from a time when you couldn't watch your favourite film or TV show whenever you felt like it - and I think they deserve to be remembered.

This time, I'm looking at The Professionals 4: Hunter Hunted, by Ken Blake, adapted from the excellent UK TV series.
front and back cover of the Sphere paperback, 1979 reprint (cover scans of my copy)
Once again written by Kenneth Bulmer under the Ken Blake house name, this volume is based on the shooting scripts for three episodes.

The first is First Night, where an Israeli minister is kidnapped from the Festival Hall on the Southbank and, to avoid an international incident, it’s down to CI5 to find him.  After an action packed opening, we then see some dogged detective work (the kidnappers are tracked by a Polaroid picture they’ve sent), which works slightly better in the episode than it does here.  Great pacing, some humour and some nice observations on contemporary London.

Kathie Mason (Cheryl Kennedy) from "Hunter Hunted"
The second, eponymous episode has CI5 charged with testing the new laser-sighted 180 and Cowley hands it to Bodie & Doyle.  Whilst at headquarters, they encounter Kathie Mason, an ex-colleague of Doyle’s who’s interviewing to become a CI5 agent.  After a night at her place, Doyle discovers the gun is missing and it seems someone is out to get their revenge on him.  Brisk, involved and good fun, this cracks along with some nice dialogue, excellent set pieces (especially the demise of Doyle’s E-type)  and some good interactions between the agents.  I really liked the episode itself (especially Cheryl Kennedy as Kathie) and this does it justice.

The Rack is the final episode.  Following a raid on ex-boxer (now criminal and drug dealer) John Coogan’s mansion, he and his brother are taken to CI5 for interrogation.  The brother has a go at Doyle then punches him, in self defence Doyle retaliates and the brother dies of a ruptured spleen.  A tribunal (the ‘rack’ of the title) is then set up, wherein prosecution lawyer Geraldine Mather decides to take on the Action Squad and cut them down to size.  Briskly told, with good characterisation, this works well to flesh out Doyle and his feelings over perhaps (without giving away spoilers) causing the death of a man while Cowley has a great grandstanding speech on just why CI5 is so important (and, sadly, the words ring as true today as they did forty years ago).

All three are competently written (and Bulmer continues his fascination with Bodie’s ‘famous’ face and mobile lips) and feature some nice bits of poetic prose when describing a London that has mostly long since disappeared.  The action scenes are deftly handled as are the locations (judging by certain aspects - the constant rain in The Rack, for example - it seems they were written from the shooting scripts rather than seeing the episodes) and there are some smart little character pieces that flesh the dynamic duo out well (it’s mentioned again that Doyle paints).  Brisk, violent, occasionally amusing, I’m not sure how these would work if you’d never seen the programme but as an unabashed fan of the series, I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Recommended.

The novelisation is "based on the original screenplays by Brian Clemens, Anthony Read and Gerry O'Hara" (taken from the title page)

* * *
from left - Doyle (Martin Shaw), Cowley (Gordon Jackson) and Bodie (Lewis Collins)
The Professionals ran for five series, from 1977 through to 1983, shown on ITV.  Brian Clemens, perhaps best known for The Avengers, created the series (which was originally to have been called The A-Squad) and became executive producer with his business partners Albert Fennell and Laurie Johnson (who also provided the excellent theme music) for London Weekend Television (LWT).  The first series was produced by Sidney Hayers with Raymond Menmuir producing the rest, with 57 episodes made in total.

Although the first series used a lot of studio-based filming (to the extent Cowley had a secretary), Menmuir did away with standing sets and the remainder of the series was filmed in real buildings and homes.  This lent a grittiness to the programmes and now, forty years later, provides a wonderful snapshot of a London that's mostly been lost to progress.  The series focussed on the exploits of CI5 (Criminal Intelligence 5), led by George Cowley (Gordon Jackson) and centred around his two best agents, Doyle (Martin Shaw) and Bodie (Lewis Collins).  The two actors, whose initial abrasiveness towards each other led to their casting, worked well together and a lot of episodes included dialogue ad-libbed by them.
While earlier episodes (certainly series one through to three) saw a wide range of plots and scripts, with some good directors involved (Martin Campbell was both a main and second unit director), the later ones used more script devices as time wore on.  The final episodes were filmed in May 1981, by which time Collins and Shaw both stated publicly they thought the show had grown stale, though the final broadcast run ended in February 1983.

The series is repeated often on ITV4 in the UK and is well worth a watch, though the Network Releasing Blu ray restorations are your best bet.  These not only have great quality image and sound but thorough production notes (in book form) by Andrew Pixley.
The Corgi collection.  I had the bigger model (with figures) when I was a kid but didn't pick up the smaller version until a couple of years ago

* * *
From 1978 through to 1982, Sphere released 15 paperback novelisations (with seven of them also receiving hardback release), adapting 38 of the series' 57 episodes.  Ken Blake was the house-name covering all of these with Kenneth Bulmer writing the majority of them and Robert Holdstock contributing numbers 10, 13, 14 and 15.

(Henry) Kenneth Bulmer was born on 14th January 1921 in London and worked in the paper industry before serving with the Royal Corps of Signals during the Second World War.  Having been a fan of sf before his service, when demobbed in 1946 he began writing for fan magazines and his first novel, Space Treason, was published in 1952 (and co-written with A Vince Clarke).  Turning freelance in 1954, he wrote dozens of novels and comic strips, a prolific output he maintained throughout his career.  In the 70s, as part of the Piccadilly Cowboys group, he wrote across genres for various series (including The Professionals) under a host of pen and house names, whilst also publishing a substantial amount of work under his own name.  In addition, he edited nine volumes in the New Writings in Science Fiction anthology series during the 70s, succeeding John Carnell.

He suffered a stroke in 1997 which halted a writing career that saw over 160 novels (and countless short stories) published.

Awarded the TAFF in 1955 (a fund to send prominent fans to international conventions), he was the British Guest Of Honour at the World SF Convention in Cleveland, Ohio and made a life member of the British SF Association in 1974.  He married Pamela Buckmaster in March 1953, with whom he had two daughters and a son but they were divorced in 1981.

Kenneth Bulmer died on 16th December 2005.

for further bibliographical details, the SF Encyclopedia has a good entry on him and the Guardian has a thorough obituary
For a few years now, after finding out charity shops sometimes pulp old books because the market for them is so small, I've been collecting 70s and 80s paperbacks through secondhand bookshops, car boot sales and ebay.  I set up a thread for the horror titles (which you can see here) but novelisations were a rich vein in those decades, before the advent of home video, when viewers wanted to revisit the adventures of their favourite TV show or film.  I realise we might not be talking great art here but, on the whole, I think these books deserve to be remembered.

To that end, on an irregular basis, I'm going to review these "old-school" tie-ins with, hopefully, some background material on each one.