The Origins of the Admiral
The long and often contradictory history of Admiral Bulletin is indivisibly linked to one man: A.C. Vellum. There’s only one problem. He doesn’t exist.
“A.C. Vellum,” along with Franklin W. Dixon of the Hardy Boys fame, and numerous others, carries the card of that exclusive shadow club of authors who’s output — though impressive — is more real than he. The Vellum name was registered by Glencannon Press of London, UK in 1923. He first appeared as the author of a small line of “Red” pulp-detective books (Red Rover, Red Sky at Night, Red Lights) published between 1923 and 1925, but it was “Incursion Isle,” published in Glencannon Press’s bimonthly catalogue/digest Curious Tales, in July/August 1927 that first brought Admiral Bulletin to the wider public. Signed with the Red- books’ familiar pseudonym, “Incursion Isle” told the tale of a fast-thinking admiral of the British Navy saving the mainland of some unnamed British protectorate from a (confusingly Hindu/Muslim) cultist and his secret army. Authorship of this first story is in some dispute; most believe it was penned by one or several of the editors as a hasty, last-minute filler.
The character was expanded and retooled into a globetrotting adventurer the following year for his first novel-length outing, Grief Comes to Blastingbridge. The novel, front-heavy but engaging, tells the story of Admiral Bulletin and his encounter with a partial cave-in of the largest quap (i.e. tungsten ore) mine in Scotland, and the aggrieved fraternal order that might have been behind it. It was written by James H. Howard — under the Vellum pseudonym, of course — who penned a number of mass-market mens books for Glencannon Press between 1921 and 1940. Grief Comes to Blastingbridge introduced several of the staples of the Bulletin milieu, including the characters of Miranda (here as a cooly competent clerk for the mining syndicate) and Bulletin’s sometimes-mentor Dr. Posthaste. Consistent with Howard’s usual style, first names were rarely given, and then only for minor characters. (Howard preferred that his readers “not get too cozy” with his protagonists.)
The book was a success for Glencannon Press, and author Howard was commissioned to write a sequel. In 1929, the publisher released Admiral Bulletin and the Cretin Conspiracy. The story of a Mafia conspiracy to overthrow the government, this second Bulletin volume sold out two printing runs, and was widely pirated in German, Dutch and of course Italian. (In fact, a surviving copy of Ammiraglio Bulletin e la Cospirazione su Crete — where Bulletin mysteriously becomes a native of Naples — fetches more than a first edition of the English.)
The editors reacted to Howard’s Bulletin success by making sure that he would never write for the series again. They were afraid, no doubt, that the author would begin to command more than they were willing to pay. As a result, Bulletin’s third novel-length appearance was penned by a newcomer. Peter Stepford, a little known playwright and occasional author for Glencannon Press’s bimonthly, donned the Vellum mask for Admiral Bulletin and the Snows of Tan-Ana, serialized between September of 1929 and February 1930 in Reading Man’s Digest, and released in book form the following month. Stepford brought a love of dialogue to his spare adventure riffs, and set in motion one of the series’ most beloved character debates: that of whether Miranda is actually Bulletin’s girlfriend. He succeeded in leaving the famous question unresolved through a series of fairly uninteresting action sequences (as it remains to this day, with some caveats). As is typical of serialized novels, the narrative of the book is fairly unfocused; the only real spine to the story consists of the playwright’s delicious character tensions. Stepford’s performance was considered lackluster, and Ira K. Samuelson was hired to ghostwrite the fourth Bulletin book, Admiral Bulletin’s Last Exchange. Stepford would eventually go on to pen three more Bulletin books. Of these, only Admiral Bulletin and the Turning Sea begs mention as it contains the very first mention of the recurring lines “There’s no time left!” / “There must be!” (The exchange takes place between Bulletin and the unnamed captain of a Royal Navy frigate, and there are actually two lines in between. The 1970s paperback reissue omits the intervening lines, although they are restored in the 1998 Vintage trade.)
Ira K. Samuelson wrote three respectable Bulletin books, but it was the arrival of George Packard with 1933’s Admiral Bulletin and the Phoenix of St. Helena that would truly usher in the Golden Age of Bulletin.