“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
— Mark Twain

‘A Tale of Crime and Passion in China’ – On a Fag Packet

Posted: November 30th, 2009 | 8 Comments »

In the 1950s Four Square Books teamed up with Gallagher Cigarettes to put cards promoting some of their books into cigarette packets to both create collectibles for the fag smokers (or their kids) and publicise their latest offerings. As you can see Four Square went in for rather dramatic covers and weren’t afraid to exoticise (and eroticise) a touch. I haven’t actually got a copy of Gentleman of China, one of several Robert Standish wrote apparently, featuring his Chinese master detective Kung who solves crimes ‘in time honoured Chinese fashion.’ They appear to be all rather fun with sing-song girls and daring-do in the Far East – probably far too politically incorrect for these dreary times. There were others apparently including Honourable Ancestor, The Small General, The Three Bamboos. You get the idea.

Standish remains something of a mystery – he considered himself very pro-Chinese and very anti-Japanese having lived in ‘the Orient’ for 15 years and during the war. Standish was one of several pseudonyms the author used including, apparently, Digby George Gerahty and Stephen Lister. In fact Digby George Gerahty  was his birth name and he was born in 1898 and died in 1981. He was apparently English, an ex-Fleet Street hack who had also run a hotel on the French Rivera and lived in Asia and turning his hackery skills to churning out at least two thrillers a year – not just set in China but also in Sri Lanka, the setting for his best know book Elephant Walk which was later made into a film with Elizabeth Taylor and Peter Finch.

Gentleman of China cigarette card front

Gentleman of China cigarette card back

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8 Comments on “‘A Tale of Crime and Passion in China’ – On a Fag Packet”

  1. 1 John Posner said at 6:22 am on November 1st, 2010:

    I enjoyed your little article, but must correct you about the books Robert Standish wrote. The Three Bamboos, his most famous, is a thinly disguised fact/fiction novel about the powerful Mitsui family of Japan (renamed Fureno in the book). Honorouble Ancestor and The Small General are both set in China and South East Asia during the 1920’s, but have nothing to do with Inspector Kung.

  2. 2 Paul French said at 1:18 pm on November 1st, 2010:

    Thanks for the correction John

  3. 3 Pippa Buchanan said at 1:47 pm on August 26th, 2016:

    I’m reading Elephant Walk with great interest but what fascinates me more is the almost total absence of any references on the Internet to a person who worked in PR (invented Nessie??), wrote numerous books under three names ….. A case of silence speaking volumes or a another clever stunt? Or indicative of nothing at all…..?

  4. 4 Paul French said at 7:42 pm on August 26th, 2016:

    He wrote a lot for the Saturday Evening Post and may well have been sent by them around China – John P. Marquand wrote for them too and they sent him to Peking and Tokyo and he came back with the idea for Mr Moto! When the holidays are over I’ve made a note to dig out some more Robert Standish and delve a little deeper

  5. 5 Robert Lopich said at 2:15 am on January 3rd, 2017:

    My mom introduced me to Stephen Lister a couple years ago and I was immediately hooked, his sense of humour and wit is unlike anything I’ve yet come across and his dialogue with old Father Delorme in the St. Monique series is an absolute delight. I’ve since purchased and read all his books and initially as there was so little information I spent an age looking on-line at second hand bookshops and managed to compile a chronological list of all his titles – 28 books including his two culinary collections of old Madam Delorme. I then got started on his Robert Standish catalogue and did the same thing by compiling a chronological list of all his books where he wrote another 38 titles from what I could find. Upon comparing the two lists it’s quite incredible to see just how prolific a writer he was putting out up to 3 books/year and must have been writing them back to back or even concurrently to achieve that!?
    Recenty been advised that he also wrote under a third pseudonym – George Echlin?
    I suspect that some day his works are going to be “rediscovered” by someone so I would suggest you go on-line and buy all his first editions now while they are still so cheap!
    More than happy to share the chronological lists I’ve made of the Stephen Lister and Robert Standish titles if of any use/interest?

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