Pudney, John

Tagged: Author

(1909-1977) UK editor, poet, journalist and author, initially best known as a poet, beginning with his first book, Spring Encounter (coll 1933 chap); his most famous single poem is "For Johnny" (1941 News Chronicle), a ballad-like ode on the deaths of airmen published after the Battle of Britain (see World War Two). Some of the tales assembled in It Breathed Down my Neck: A Selection of Stories (coll 1946) are supernatural. Of sf interest is his Fred and I sequence of Children's SF tales beginning with Saturday Adventure: A Story for Boys (1950) and ending with Winter Adventure (1965). Young Fred and "I", who narrates, investigate, interfere with, and frequently salvage the secret researches of their Uncle George, a senior scientist at the British government's Fort X near the North Downs in Kent, an installation in which Inventions galore are developed, usually involving Weapons, advanced forms of Transportation and Communication, the gap between Uncle George's innovations and present-day Technology requiring an occasional but inconsistent venturing into the Near Future.

Each of the first seven volumes begins on the day featured in its title, Saturday Adventure actually taking only twenty-four hours; though later titles expand slightly on this limit, the tales are consequently rapid-fire and helter-skelter, though exhilaratedly comic in their effects. In the first story, for instance, the lads stumble across the mysterious Z Camp, located surreally adjacent to Fort X, where a cadre of high-tech spies uses "radio-active telepathy" (that is, a Spy-Ray) to televise secret operations at a distance in order to steal Britain's secrets; they then transmit the data by Rocket to an unknown country. The Rays, which are multi-purpose, are also used to transform squads of minions into robot-like troops, and to paralyse enemies. In later books, an imaginary Element, Quassium B, is a Power Source useful as an explosive and also as a radioactive detector, but in the end mainly as a McGuffin. The middle volumes use this sf apparatus intermittently, including Thursday Adventure: The Stolen Airliner: A Story for Boys and Girls (1955), which was filmed as The Stolen Airliner (1955). A partial exception is Friday Adventure (1956), which crams a great deal of sf gear into its modest length: a brainwashing drug; a Television set capable of observing events at a distance; a rocket ship faster than radar can detect; an enfant sauvage with Superpowers; and a conspiracy to rule the world. The last four volumes return closer to mundanity. Pudney's interest in sf as such was mild, which may be why the series, despite its occasional wit and speed, develops little momentum; and the metafictional games he plays – the "I" figure who narrates is for instance never named, and his relationship with Fred never specified – are perhaps of greater interest to adult readers than to his target market.

The Hartwarp sequence, beginning with The Hartwarp Dump (1962), is fantasy for younger children, as is Tunnel to the Sky (1965 chap). [JC]

John Sleigh Pudney

born Langley, Buckinghamshire: 19 January 1909

died London: 10 November 1977

works (selected)

series

Fred and I

Hartwarp

individual titles

collections

links

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