The name John Wright may not be one that is particularly familiar to fans of The Avengers, but there can be no doubting that his contribution to the show's legacy has been considerable. Without John's foresight in making home recordings of Springbok Radio transmissions, there would be almost no record existing of the radio remake of The Avengers. The same can also be said for many other South African radio shows that he also recorded, as programme master tapes were routinely recorded over with new productions, often within days of their broadcast, and there was then no official South African radio archive in existence.

As for the man himself, it would be exceptionally easy to fall into the trap of regarding John Wright as an old-time radio fan, or "the man who saved the radio Steed". He is, after all, featured here at The Avengers Declassified for those very aspects of his persona, but when I conversed with him in 2002 to 2004, it became apparent very quickly that there was considerably more to him than that. John was a great help to me and this website, and what follows is by way of my tribute to him.

Born in South Africa, John quit school early at just fourteen to go and work in a battery factory, without his parents' consent. He subsequently secured diplomas in marketing and other business functions, before trying his hand at a succession of jobs: laboratory assistant, storeman, salesman, private investigator, nightclub photographer and project specialist. All of these no doubt gave John an excellent grounding for the next phase: his career in writing.

A Man of Many Names

While attempting to break into writing, John was still working in an office, and had only recently married his wife, Coral (pictured above, with John). Speaking in 2002, he recalled long, long days, where he would more than burn the midnight oil... "Often, Coral never knew what time I'd be home, or sometimes, if I'd be home at all. It was tough, but interesting, and along the way I met some really great people. An average day would be: at the office for 8.00am, home by 6.00pm - perhaps a movie or company at 8.00pm. I'd be free again at perhaps 11.30pm, then at the typewriter until possibly 2.00 in the morning - and back at the office at 8:00am!"

John's first published novel, entitled Suddenly You're Dead, a mystery tale penned under the nom-de-plume Wade Wright, was published in 1964 by Robert Hale Ltd. (London) - a publisher to whom John would remain loyal throughout his writing career. The central character in this novel was Bart Condor - a tough private investigator in New York City who would appear in a further five novels, the last of which was Two Faces of Death, published in 1970.

"There is no doubt at all that I'd been influenced by Mickey Spillane and his Mike Hammer. In fact, it was probably Mickey who really got me started. I'd written to him, care of New American Library, to say thanks for a lot of very enjoyable reading. Mickey replied by way of a pretty long letter that ended with 'Keep writing and make lots of money'. At the time I was knocking out an occasional article or short story, but that was it," John revealed while in conversation with Steve Lewis for the Mystery*File website in February 2007. One morning, John had an argument with his manager at work, and decided to take heed of Spillane's advice. "At lunchtime I drove home and spent two hours hammering my Olivetti portable, completing the first two chapters of Suddenly You're Dead. A couple of weeks later I finished it." The manuscript was sent first to New York and then to London, where the literary agents London International Press negotiated a sale to Robert Hale. The contract included first option on John's next three books.

Another series of books, focusing on a different private eye, Paul Cameron, ran concurrently, and commenced with Shadows Don't Bleed. The collection, which included The Sharp Edge drew to a close with The Hades Hello, issued in January 1973. He also created other characters, including cartoonist Matt Whitney and Vietname veteran Calhoun.

In the early years of the new Millennium, John would make an attempt to return to the Paul Cameron series. At this time, he worked on a new adventure for the private eye, but the book was never published.

As public tastes changed, and in response to a decision taken by his publisher to slow the regularity of mystery book publication, John turned his attention to a genre which he had long harboured a love for - the Western. Writing as Ray Nolan (derived from two men John admired: singer-songwriter and actor Ray Whitley and Western author Bob Nolan), John had his first novel of this type published in February 1986 - The Dorne Gun, and subsequently wrote eight further Westerns, with his final entry in the genre being Double Cross Range (2002).

"Like most boys, I loved the B-Westerns. Also the pulps such as Fifteen Story Western, Dime Western and Texas Rangers. So the transition wasn't difficult and I enjoyed doing them. What I didn't enjoy was an editor trying to maintain political correctness, oft times even endeavouring to eliminate references which might be considered even remotely offensive," John explained in his Mystery*File interview.


The Wade Wright Bibliography

Suddenly You're Dead (1964), Bart Condor

Blood in the Ashes (1964), Bart Condor

A Hearse Waiting (1965), Bart Condor

Until She Dies (1965), Bart Condor

Blonde Target (1966), Bart Condor

Shadows Don't Bleed, (1967) Paul Cameron

The Sharp Edge (1968), Paul Cameron

No Haloes in Hell (1969), Paul Cameron

Two Faces of Death (1970), Bart Condor

Don't Come Back! (1973), Calhoun

The Hades Hello (1973), Paul Cameron

It Leads to Murder (1981), Matt Whitney

Death at Nostalgia Street (1982), Lee Tyrell

The Girl from Yesterday (1982), Calhoun

     

The Ray Nolan Bibliography

The Dorne Gun (1986)

Friendly Invasion (1988)

Trouble in Twilight (1993)

Branded for Boothill (1993)

Hang-rope at Harmony (1994)

Guns of Golconda (1995)

Satan's Saddlemate (1998)

Reckoning At Redemption (2001)

Double-Cross Range (2002)

     

Despite living in South Africa, John chose to set all of his books in the United States of America. In 2007, he told Mystery*File the reason: "Though I lived in a country that was still a colony of the British Empire, and was born from Irish and Welsh stock, I've always identified more with the US than Britain. Possibly early reading habits and a love of movies helped a lot. I've been to the States, but it was a long while ago. Always intended returning, possibly for good, but moral obligations determined otherwise."

Most of the Wade Wright novels went out-of-print, but several have recently been reissued by Ramble House via Lulu.com. Original imprints can often be found on eBay and are regularly offered by sellers of first editions. Several of the Western novels written as Ray Nolan remain available in large print editions from Ulverscroft Large Print Books Ltd.

Other writing credits include short fiction and articles for magazines and periodicals, including Family Radio and TV, Detective Story Magazine, Under Western Skies, Nostalgia and Screen Thrills. John also wrote business manuals and advertising materials. 

In 1962, John produced the first comicbook fanzine to be issued outside the United States, which he called The Komix. It ran for just two issues. A third was planned, but was abandoned due to pressures of work at around the time that Suddenly You're Dead was sold to Robert Hale. Remarkably, John continued receiving enquiries from other countries about this amateur publication, well into his retirement years. Indeed, copies of the fanzine occasionally surface on online auction sites, with a copy of the second issue once selling for $70 on ebay. Proof indeed that there is always someone who remembers and appreciates what the originator has long since forgotten!

In addition to his book writing exploits, John could also boast an extensive list of credits in radio drama, totalling over two hundred scripts for The Deciding Factor, Suspense, Radio Theatre and Tuesday Theatre, among others for Springbok Radio and Radio South Africa. "Writing for radio was fun and lucrative... Contracts were more than fair. Fees continually rose, and they covered two broadcasts within a period of 14 days. If a show was aired again after that period the writer was paid fifty per cent of his current fee," John explained to Mystery*File.This string to his bow certainly had its roots in his love for radio drama as a youngster. When I spoke to him in 2002, he fondly recalled his earliest memories of South African radio drama: "As a kid, the old Pilot table-top with its 'magic eye' was just another piece of furniture, but one that sometimes sprouted music, and was positioned near my dad's chair, where he'd sit and listen to the news. At that time commercial radio was not even a remote consideration. Coming into the front room one evening, I overheard a couple of mysterious voices emanating from the speaker... then a woman screaming. It stopped me in my tracks. I seem to remember that it was a drama, possibly something penned by Edgar Wallace. After that radio took on a little more meaning."

A Love of Radio

The interest in radio grew to take in audio recording and John made his first experimental recordings at around the age of 15, when he acquired his first " recorder. "It was a second-hand Ampro, purchased from African Consolidated Theatres in my second working year. The recorder operated with valves, had only one input socket for a microphone, so recordings were not very good. But it was fun, and interesting to experiment."

Economics dictated that many recordings were not preserved. Initially, programmes would be kept only if they had some special appeal. If there was little to warrant keeping a programme, or, for instance, reception was poor, John would tape over the recording. As recording tape spools became more affordable, however, he began to record specific items, and his collection of tapes quickly grew. Over the years, John amassed many hundreds of tapes. " When we sold our home at Bluewater Bay, a number of cartons got 'lost' in moving, among them recorded tapes of the radio shows for which I'd written, manuscripts, and lots of personal and valued correspondence," John revealed to Steve Lewis in 2007. Other tapes were given away or donated to official archives (including, of course, The Avengers recordings, which he generously donated to the Avengers on the Radio website, predecessor to The Avengers Declassified).

Gradually, John began to cast his eyes towards America and began purchasing US radio shows from collectors there. "They were recordings of The Shadow, The Green Hornet, and The Black Hood - characters I'd known from comic books and pulp magazines, who I knew were featured on radio, but whom I'd never heard. These I subsequently traded for others, and it snowballed. Later I traded a number of South African shows," John noted.

South African radio shows that were particular favourites of John's included On Safari, Address Unknown and SF-68. "And there were others," John commented in 2002, "including the early shows featured on Springbok Radio that were canned goods imported from Down Under. Nightbeat was a favourite, and I enjoyed The Hidden Truth and Life With Dexter, among others. Way back, possibly even before Springbok Radio, there was an excellent series on Oscar Hammerstein... and another on Dame Nellie Melba. I thought both to be great, and that was even before I became hopelessly hooked on operetta and stage musicals. I had no favorite actors, but if forced to name one it would have to be Adrian Steed. Still active with TV commercials, this gentleman remains one of the very best. Then there was Brian O'Shaughnessy, who wrote Jet Jungle, and loads of other stuff, and who died only recently. Brian was one of the last of the Old School."

All Good Things...

As the task of finding blank reel-to-reel tapes became increasingly difficult, John Wright reluctantly ceased recording Springbok programmes - though his increasingly hectic work schedule was another factor in his decision to bring the practice to an end. He was initially intrigued by the "new kid on the block" - compact cassette: "I found cassettes pretty novel, and bought a recorder. Soon, though, I discovered their limitations. And the problems so many presented. Jamming, snapping, tangling - and one very well known brand reducing the recordings to a bunch of screeches after only a year in storage. Lost a lot of good stuff through them. But I remain a staunch supporter of the open-reel machines. They may have taken up more space, but they had a lot more to offer."

Fans of both The Avengers and South African radio have cause to be grateful for John's dedication to South African radio. It is remarkable that well into the 2000s, he still retained most of the original tapes he recorded on the open-reel format back in the 1970s. His recordings of The Avengers and many other series have aged well - and have brought the golden age of South African radio back into the limelight and rightly so.

- Epitaph -

John "Wade" Wright
(1933 - 2008)

The vast majority of this feature was written in 2002 for my old website Avengers on the Radio, and was completed with John's enthusiastic assistance. I was in contact with John for only a short period during his retirement years, but I was continually humbled by the time he took to answer my questions - and of course his selfless generosity in donating the tape reels to the website for restoration and our researches.

Our chats reached a natural conclusion, and eventually the emails passing between the UK and Port Elizabeth, South Africa, where he resided, slowed down and eventually stopped. In the years that followed, I lost John's email and street addresses in a hard drive failure, and often wondered what became of him. I got my answer in June 2015 when I chanced upon an interview with John by Steve Lewis on the Mystery*File blog. The discussion, conducted in 2007, contained a footnote in which it was announced that John had passed away on 14th November 2008. He was a gentle, open and warm person, and I am blessed to have known him, even for a brief time.

Written by Alan Hayes
with grateful thanks to John Wright, Coral Wright,
Alys Hayes and Steve Lewis of Mystery*File

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