Saturday, November 24, 2012

Sheila Hodgson



Sheila Hodgson (b. Beckenham, Kent, 22 December 1921; d. South Newton, Wiltshire, 25 December 2001)

Ruth Sheila Hodgson was the only child of John Stuart Hodgson (1877-1950) and Emily Storr Best (1875-1965), who were married in Bromley, Kent, in the spring of 1915.  Her father was known as Stuart Hodgson, a journalist and author, most-known as the last editor, from 1921-31, of the left-wing newspaper the Daily News.  He wrote a number of books, including The Liberal Policy for Industry (1928); Portraits and Reflections (1929); and The Man Who Made Peace: The Story of Neville Chamberlain (1938).

Sheila (who like her father was known familiarly by her middle name) was educated at Broadstairs, the Brighton and Hove High School, and the Michel Saint-Denis Stage School. During World War II she acted in repertory companies, and began to write plays.  She worked for the BBC as a scriptwriter for about six years in the 1950s, later moving on to ATV.  Her serialized thriller for children, Stranger on the Shore (1961), was well-received and is remembered for its theme music for clarinet by Acker Bilk.   Additionally, she edited and introduced a volume Love Story: Based on ATV’s Top Play Series (1968), and a few of her plays appeared as booklets, Alarm Call (1976) and Tunnel Vision (1995). 

Hodgson was a prolific writer of radio dramas for over four decades. Her first radio play was “Night without Sleep”, broadcast in the “Saturday Night Theatre” on 6 June 1959. In the 1970s she was working freelance out of Brighton. She sometimes adapted stories by other writers, including five by Algernon Blackwood, four of these utilizing Blackwood’s psychic detective John Silence, all first broadcast on BBC Radio 4. These include “The Camp of the Dog” (broadcast 28 August 1974); “The Nemesis of Fire” (18 December 1974); “Secret Worship” (19 March 1975); and “The Empty Sleeve” (2 October 1975).  The fifth Blackwood adaptation was “The Human Chord” (10 December 1985). She was also known for her own thrillers, including her first full-length play, “The Long Drive Home” (1967), and “Inter City Incident” (1975), “This Line is Now Closed” (1978), and “Sea Fever” (1989).  

After adapting Blackwood’s John Silence stories in 1974-75, she took M.R. James’s “Stories I Have Tried to Write” as a springboard for further radio dramas. Eight radio scripts were done in all (the first three utilizing James’s discarded plots): “A Whisper in the Ear” (broadcast 7 October 1976); ‘Turn, Turn, Turn” (3 March 1977); “The Backward Glance” (22 September 1977); “Here I Am; Where Are You?” (29 December 1977); “Echoes from the Abbey” (21 November 1984); “The Lodestone” (19 April 1989); “The Boat Hook” (15 April 1992); and “The Fellow Travellers (20 February 1994). Afterwards Hodgson turned the scripts into short stories. Two were published in Blackwood’s Magazine: “The Turning Point” (March 1978, retitled from the radio script “Turn, Turn, Turn”) and “The Villa Martine” (July 1978, retitled from the radio script “A Whisper in the Ear”).  These were followed by an essay on “The Ghost of M.R. James” (June 1979). After Blackwood’s Magazine ceased, Hodgson found a ready market for her ghostly tales in the small press magazine, Ghosts and Scholars, edited by Rosemary Pardoe.  Four further stories appeared there: “Come, Follow” (no. 4, 1982); “Echoes from the Abbey” (no. 9, 1987); “The Lodestone” (no. 13, 1991), and “The Boat Hook” (no. 19, 1995).

Hodgson’s twelve ghost stories (eight of which were based on her radio plays) were collected in The Fellow Travellers and Other Ghost Stories (Ashcroft, British Columbia: Ash-Tree Press, 1998), with a new introduction by the author but oddly not including Hodgson’s essay on “The Ghost of M.R. James”. (One further uncollected story is known, “Slip Stream”, which appeared in the June 1972 issue of London Mystery Selection, presumably excluded from the collection because it is not a ghost story.)

In early 1970 (not 1971 as is sometimes reported), Hodgson had married David Roderick Middleton (1923-2003), a travel journalist, in Hampstead in Greater London.  Eventually they settled in Wiltshire, about three miles from Stonehenge. They had no children, and in their last few years they were institutionalized and unable to care for themselves. Sheila had a stroke about six weeks before she passed away on Christmas Day 2001, three days after her eightieth birthday. Her husband passed away nine months later. 

5 comments:

  1. While the beautiful Ash Tree Hodgson limited hardcover volume is long op and pricey, they re-released the collection as an ebook in 2012.

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  2. A very interesting and informative essay. Many thanks.

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  3. Stranger on the Shore and it sequel Stranger in the City were both BBC productions.

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  4. Would like to do an essay on Sheila Hodgson for a German Horror-Zine. Can you tell me where you got your portrait picture of her?

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    1. It's from the dust-wrapper of her collection The Fellow Travellers. I got the best scan I could of it, but it's smallish in size and rather faintly printed.

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