Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Percy F Westerman remembered by Portsmouth enthusiasts

Percy F Westerman and book covers
Image caption Enthusiasts are calling for Percy F Westerman to be officially recognised

Following celebrations for the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens's birth, fans of another Portsmouth-born writer are calling for him to be recognised.

Percy F Westerman's children's adventure stories of "daring do" sold more than 1.5m copies in the early 20th Century.

Academics and enthusiasts are gathering for a weekend seminar in the city.

Organiser Nigel Gossop said: "He has been forgotten in a city awash with literary greats."

When Percy Westerman began writing in 1908, his stories were so-called "ripping yarns" - tales of gung-ho adventurers, spies and explorers.

He became one of the UK's most popular adventure writers for the next five decades, publishing 174 books.

Tales like The Flying Submarine, Wilmshurst of the Frontier, and Deeds of Pluck and Daring in the Great War led to him being voted "Most Popular Boys' Author" in a Daily Sketch poll in the 1930s.

His short stories and serials were published in popular children's magazines of the time, like Boy's Own Paper and Chums.

Despite his popularity, the writer and his works have slipped into obscurity since his death in 1959.

Mr Gossop admitted "the language hasn't travelled well" with representations of foreigners and indigenous populations now appearing very outdated.

'Sinister Germans'

"I don't think it's offensive," he said.

"Its just they are almost historical documents now, reflecting the social context of the time."

"A lot were written during World War I. So all the Germans are very sinister with spiky helmets and are referred to as 'the hun'," he said.

Image caption Percy F Westerman books were published around the world

The genre has been much parodied - former Monty Python stars Terry Jones and Michael Palin's Ripping Yarns series of the mid-1970s sent up the style with spoof adventures like "Across the Andes by Frog".

Michael Palin has told Mr Gossop that although Percy F Westerman's stories were not the direct basis for the series, "[his] was a name we were all brought up with".

In Portsmouth, which claims Arthur Conan-Doyle, Charles Dickens and Rudyard Kipling among its famous literary former residents, Mr Gossop said he was disappointed Westerman had been overlooked for a blue plaque on his former home.

In contrast to Charles Dickens, whom Mr Gossop points out only lived in the city for the first two years of his life, Westerman lived in the city for 34 years.

Dom Kippin, Portsmouth City Council's literature development officer, said there were "no immediate plans" for a plaque in the city dedicated to Percy F Westerman.

'Quirky guy'

He added: "Portsmouth has been home to many great writers over the years.

"Our work with creative writing and literacy projects should ensure that the legacy of writers like Westerman lives on in the city."

Mr Gossop described Westerman as "certainly a quirky guy". He was a stickler for discipline and a keen supporter of the Sea Scouts.

Westerman later moved to Wareham, in Dorset, where he lived on a barge on the River Frome and commanded the local Home Guard unit during World War II.

Mr Gossop has been researching Westerman for about 10 years and has amassed a collection of about 200 books.

He is now in touch with other fans around the world as Westerman's work was also published in French, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, Polish, and Hungarian.

With the books no longer being in print, the more sought-after editions can sell for upwards of £50. Ten are now available as digital downloads.

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