Born 1873 Died 1961
He was born George Oliver Onions on the 13th November 1873 at Bradford in Yorkshire, the son of cashier named George Frederick Onions. He spent much of his early life trying to presuade people that his surname should be pronounced 'Oh-nions' but eventually gave up and changed his name by deed poll to 'George Oliver' in 1918. By that time the name of 'Oliver Onions' had become well established and he continued to be published under that
Onions studied at the Royal Academy in London (or the
National Arts Training School as it was known at the time) and then spent some time in Paris before beginning a career as a commercial artist designing posters, book jackets and the like. To supplement his income he took to occasional journalism and writing short stories based on the life he had known back home in Yorkshire.
His first novel, the autobiographical The Odd Job Man appeared in 1903 and was followed by a string of similar works, but it was his trilogy of psychological thrillers; In Accordance with the Evidence (1910), The Debit Account (1913), and The Story of Louie (1913) that made the most impact and led The Atlantic magazine to describe him in
1914 as "the most advanced of the younger English novelists".
Onions was afterwards a consistently popular and best selling novellist thanks to his policy of following whatever was the fashion at the time and his willingness to titillate his audience with somewhat sordid relationships. He also had success writing short stories with a supernatural theme (and which are variously
classified as being in the ghost or horror genres). His one critical successs came late in life, when his historical novel Poor Man's Tapestry, won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction in 1946, although he is now better remembred as the author of Widdershins (1911), a collection of ghost
stories, which included The Beckoning Fair One, regarded as one of the candidates for the best ghost story ever written.
Oliver Onions was married to Berta Ruck, who was similarly a commerical illustrator turned writer, and had a long and lucrative career as the author of romantic novels; they had two sons, Arthur and William. He died at Bronglais Hospital in Aberystwyth on the 9th April 1961.
1. The trilogy Whom God Hath Sundered
2. Other Novels
Leonard R. N. Ashley, ‘Onions, (George) Oliver (1873–1961)’, Oxford
Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
Oliver Onions: Biographical Note