The Golden Age
Though some still prefer not to accept it, there are few who could have matched George Packard’s qualifications to con A. C. Vellum’s name for 1933’s Admiral Bulletin and the Phoenix of St. Helena. A one-time contributer to the London Weekly Traveller, he’d visited the titular island in the 1920s and been on holiday for four years preceding the book’s writing — if serving a sentence for mail fraud can be referred to as “on holiday,” that is. As Jodi McRae of the Weekly Standard proved in 1993, Packard, a convicted con man, was indeed the same George Packard contracted by Glencannon Press in 1932. Seen in this light, Packard’s colorful history meshes perfectly with his Vellum writings.
Structurally, Admiral Bulletin and the Phoenix of St. Helena is a three-way conflict between a mysterious man obsessed with becoming the next Napoleon, Bulletin and his team, and a lovable/hateable con named Drinnian. It’s been seriously proposed that the final is a semi-autobiographical character. Drinnian’s schemes are uproariously funny, only to turn darkly bitter in his memorable final two scenes. Neither virtuous nor truly villainous, he plays the “grey center” that would become a recurring theme in many of Bulletin’s finest outings.
Packard continued to plumb the “grey center” to great effect in six successful books and thirteen short stories. The villain in 1934’s Admirable Bulletin and the Bombay Incident, while amassing the highest body count of any Bulletin foil up until then, reads like something approaching a tragic hero. In Admiral Bulletin and the Foreign Star, released in 1937, Bulletin falls victim to his own preconceptions regarding an ally from one of Stepford’s short stories. Packard’s “Admiral Bulletin and the Saipang Sting,” published in the May 1938 Cosmic Significance, runs Bulletin into some of the darkest pre-Image territory of his career, forcing Miranda herself to become essentially the hero.
Packard’s reinvigoration of Bulletin was well under way when Clifford Turner released his first Bulletin book in 1935. Admiral Bulletin and the Desolate Rail brought Miranda squarely to the fore, forcing her to make resonant, human choices in an era of adventure writing still characterized by Lois Lane and Wilma Deering. Turner is credited with the creation of socialite occultist Lady LaChance and bush pilot Buggy Moran (both in 1936’s Admiral Bulletin and the African Rose) and the alien(?) cargo cult the Brake Men (in “Admiral Bulletin’s Lost Day,” published in the July/August 1938 Curious Tales). Turner liked to mine and cross-referencing earlier stories. He corresponded with the other Vellum authors, including Packard, to orchestrate plot and character lines that ran across multiple works, lending the Golden Age Bulletin books a sheen of saga.
Unfortunately for Bulletin, the real world was quickly encroaching on his world of cloak and destruction. The bombing of Glencannon Press’s offices in the Battle of Britain destroyed the company’s three largest printing presses, leaving them limping along with two smaller presses in Manchester. Clifford Turner entered the war as a tank mechanic, and was killed in North Africa in 1942. It’s not known exactly why Packard didn’t go to fight; after publishing “Admiral Bulletin and the Exact Timetables” stateside in January 1942’s Readers’ Digest (it was probably written earlier), he disappeared from public view until 1955, publishing two respectable detective novels and then retiring from writing altogether. Only three Bulletin novels were published between 1939 and 1945; the War had brought the Golden Age of Bulletin to a close. True fans — increasingly to be found abroad, and especially in the United States — were left to content themselves with the incomparable Nigel Hartley’s newspaper strip.