Anyone remember Courier Russ Tobin?
I must admit, I’d never heard of Russ Tobin until one warm night in late October when Don Lippio and I dropped into Britvid in Santa Catalina, Palma with a bundle of flyers promoting ‘Hasta La Flip-Flops!’.
Mark, the owner, asked us if we’d ever heard of a couple of books called ‘The Courier’ and ‘Come Again Courier’. We hadn’t. Mark went on to explain that the books were written in the early 1970s and were the main reason he first came to Mallorca, around that time. Unfortunately he couldn’t remember who wrote the Russ Tobin books.
When I got home that night I had a trawl online and found out that Russ Tobin was a character created by Stanley Morgan. There were 19 of them! ‘The Courier’ was published in 1971 and ‘Come Again Courier’ a year later. Amazingly, the last Russ Tobin book, ‘Tobin Goes Cuckoo’ was published as recently as 2005.
Wikipedia told me that Stanley was originally an actor – he’s in the James Bond movie ‘Dr. No’, playing the concierge in the Casino, which first introduces Sean Connery as James Bond.
Stanley started to write seriously in between acting jobs and ‘The Sewing Machine Man’, his first novel, was published in 1968. The novel introduced Russ Tobin who featured in 18 subsequent books. ‘Tobin Goes Cuckoo’ was written when Stanley came out of retirement as a result of interest in his work, sparked by the Internet.
Along with George Harrison and Paul McCartney, Stanley is an alumnus of the Liverpool Institute High School for Boys, which he attended between 1945 and 1946.
Could you tell me a little about yourself – life and career?
What my Wiki entry doesn’t tell you is just how dour was the Liverpool I was raised in. Or how bewildering it was to be evacuated, then return to an even more miserable city of bomb damage and rationing. All of which inspired a desperate need to ESCAPE!
After two years of National Service, that’s exactly what I did. In May 1951, I emigrated to Canada with the Bank of Nova Scotia, hated it and left. I did 11 different jobs to earn a crust, learned radio acting with the Sydney S. Brown School of Radio Drama, broadcast on CKFH in Toronto and trained to do voice-overs for commercials.
Next, in 1956, I tried my luck in Southern Rhodesia where I endured another 11 different dead-end jobs. I also did some stage acting, won a prize and was sponsored to return to London to try my luck professionally. Ah ha, my experience doing commercials in Canada! ITV was just getting going, and they needed people to read commercials. I did 500 of them and thirteen crime films at Merton Park Studios in London. And, while waiting for my agent to ring, I started writing.
Who was Russ Tobin?
The advice every writer receives is to write what you know. I’d sold sewing machines in Toronto so I started with that. ‘The Sewing Machine Man’ was published in 1968.
And I suppose Russ is me – me with a huge dollop of wishful thinking. I knew a gorgeous girl in Rhodesia with the surname Tobin, and had a pal named…you guessed it: Russell. Eureka!
Why do you think Russ was so popular?
Like so many of the people who read his books, Russ was desperate to ESCAPE. Escape boredom, a limited horizon, near poverty. He craved adventure. I’ve received many letters over the years – read some of the messages on my message-board at www.stanleymorgan.co.uk. Some of the fans are now in their fifties and still read the entire Tobin series over and over.
You said, David, that you were inspired to look me up by a chap in Palma who went to Majorca after reading ‘The Courier’. I recall a postman, desperate to escape his job, the UK, his current lifestyle, who asked me how to become a courier. I supplied him with information about the tour operators, and six months later he wrote to tell me was a courier in Majorca, having the time of his life!
If find it very humbling that my words on paper affected and changed somebody’s life for the better.
How did you come to set ‘The Courier’ and ‘Come Again Courier’ in Majorca?
Again, I was simply using something I knew through taking so many holidays in Majorca. A place of summer dreams. Of ESCAPE.
What sort of research did you do into the life of a real courier?
Not much. I do recall getting in touch with a tour operator and asking a lot of questions about recruitment, but nothing extensive.
What were your impressions of Majorca in the early 1970s?
Majorca was very Spanish, elegant, and very disciplined. Franco was in power and his Guardia Civil were tough on misbehaviour, especially in the case of the locals. I don’t ever recall seeing or hearing drunkenness in the streets or in the night clubs. Franco’s policy was to ensure the safety and peace of mind of the paying tourists, and he certainly did.
Where did you stay?
My favourite place was The Atlantic Hotel in Magaluf, a truly charming hotel, owned by Mr and Mrs Gwasp, who lived there in the summer and befriended our family. I’m sure nothing like it exists today. Pepe, the maitre d’, spoiled us terribly, reserving a table in the lounge for after-dinner dancing by placing lemonade bottles on it! He owned a cafe across the street from the Atlantic where we were served wonderful food when we felt eating out.
Do you have a fondest memory of Majorca?
Oh, so many. But dancing with my lovely daughter to ‘Needles and Pins-ah’ and ‘Black Is Black’ is one of them.
When was the last time you went to Majorca?
Can’t remember but it was towards the end of the 70s. Cheap holidays had really taken off and, with the explosion of hotel and flat development, everything changed. After a hotel holiday during which the waiters were throwing plates at one another in the dining room, we called it a day. We’d witnessed the very best of Majorca and chose not spoil the memory with further visits.
Do you feel young people have changed much since the days of ‘The Courier’?
David, young people nowadays are a different species! Not worse, just different. They have immensely more money, freedom, social permission and imagination than they had in the 60s. Youngsters I talk to these days are planning three holidays a year!
‘I’m going to Mexico next week with my mates… then to Thailand with Mum and Dad… and then skiing in December…’ And how much of your wages to you contribute to your upkeep? ‘Erm. What d’ya mean?’ Have you ever read ‘The Courier’? ‘What’s that? Oh…well, I don’t actually read books…’
But good luck to them.
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