Manning Coles is the joint pseudonym of Cyril Henry Coles (1899 – 1965) and Adelaide Frances Oke Manning (1891 – 1959). The duo also wrote under the pseudonym Francis Gaite (occasionally found as Francis Gaites). A few of the books were written in collaboration with Tom Hammerton.
The pair wrote predominantly spy fiction, with occasional ghost stories. For many years their identities were kept strictly secret, as Cyril Coles was, like their most famous character, a member of British Intelligence.
Most of Manning Coles’ stories centre around the British intelligence agent Thomas Elphinstone (Tommy) Hambledon. Their various books took him through two world wars and to a host of adventures in the years following. Other minor characters remain for several books, and the ghost stories feature Charles and James Latimer, the ghosts of cousins killed in the Franco-Prussian war.
Manning Coles wrote with a certain very quirky sense of humour, and endowed many of their characters with this also. It would be interesting to discover whether this trait was the contribution of both, or only one of the authors. While many of the books deal with quite horrific scenes – murder, hideous death, squalor and occasionally torture – there is always the underlying humour that flashes out and renders the books quite light hearted.
Manning Coles’ first book, “Drink to Yesterday”, is probably their best known, and one of their better books. The immediate sequel “Pray Silence” is also brilliantly written. Both these books are set in Germany during war time, following Tommy Hambledon’s adventures as a spy.
The two writers were fairly prolific – Tommy Hambledon went on to more and more adventures, and the writing did become less brilliant. The later books are merely light-hearted tales, enjoyable, but not great literature by any stretch of the imagination. The plots become extremely far fetched, and the characters seem to become mere caricatures of themselves. In the first books we see the depth and humanity of Tommy’s personality – in later books we just see the whimsical and unorthodox intelligence agent.
In addition to around 30 novels, the duo wrote a plethora of short stories – often about Hambledon. Some of these were published in the “English Suspense” series – paperback monthlies containing short suspense stories by such authors as Agatha Christie, James Hadley Chase, Edgar Wallace and many others.
Manning Coles’ books are now seldom published. They’re still available second-hand, but often only over the net, and the cost gets prohibitive. I have never found a Francis Gaite book for less than A$150 or so, and many of the less common Manning Coles titles are also up around that mark.
Despite occasionally ridiculous plot lines, errors, illogical actions on the part of the characters, and a depressing ending or so, I can really recommend Manning Coles. The drawbacks I have listed here fade into insignificance (mostly) when compared with the sheer joy of reading these novels.
Novels by Manning Coles are as follows (in chronological order):
* - not a Tommy Hambledon Book
Acknowledgements to http://www.stopyourekillingme.com/Manning-Coles.html and http://www.xs4all.nl/~embden11/Engels2/coles.htm