Max Décharné

In cold blood

His gritty fiction inspired Get Carter and the birth of Brit Noir. But only now is he receiving his due

If you search Google Images for Ted Lewis, the results show an American jazz-age band-leader in a battered top hat, or the determined features of the world champion boxer Ted ‘Kid’ Lewis, the ‘Aldgate Sphinx’. In between falls a picture of the crime writer Ted Lewis perched on a stool at a cable-strewn film location in 1970, portable typewriter on his knees, cigarette on his lip, and a sardonically knowing look which says that after years of struggle, overnight success has finally arrived. The film was Get Carter, anote-perfect transcription of Lewis’s hardboiled masterpiece Jack’s Return Home, published in February that year.

Alfred Edward Lewis — Edward to his parents, Ted to his friends — was born in Manchester in 1940, but grew up in the Lincolnshire town of Barton-upon-Humber, close by the southern end of the Humber Bridge, where he roamed as a child with a group of friends called the Riverbank Boys. For more urban excitement, there were Hull and Scunthorpe nearby, and despite the film’s distinctive Newcastle and Gateshead locations, the home to which Jack returns in Ted’s book is essentially Scunthorpe, with a side order of Grimsby.

One of the most valuable aspects of Nick Triplow’s welcome new book — the first biography of Lewis — is the care he has put into finding a wide variety of the author’s family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances. From Ted’s earliest days at school, through his time at Hull Art College, playing piano in local jazz bands, working as an illustrator in London and on the animated Beatles film Yellow Submarine, there are many first-hand reminiscences of a man whose story was previously very sketchily known. If only someone in the mid-20th century had put equal effort into locating people from the formative years of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.

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