Dornford Yates (1885-1960)
By Carol Westron
In 1927, starting with Blind Corner, Yates embarked on a new, very different series of books: fast-paced thrillers, where the action is mainly set in Europe. Yates' publishers, Ward, Lock & Co., did not approve of his change of style and the Chandos series were published by Hodder & Stoughton.
Jonathan (Jonah) Mansel is one of the main protagonists in the Berry books and spans the two series. In Jonah and Co (1922) there are early hints of the steel behind the banter, as when Jonah discovers his old charger, whom he had ridden for three years in the Great War, being flogged to near death by a cruel driver. During the War, 'Jonah was shot through the knee and Zed - poor Zed disappeared.' Jonah had tried to trace his horse but had failed, until, by chance, he finds him being brutalised. As the narrator, Boy Pleydell, explains, at Oxford Jonah was a boxing champion, until... 'In his second year, in the Inter-University contest, he knocked his opponent out in seven seconds. The latter remained remained unconscious for more than six hours, each crawling one of which took a year off Jonah's life. From that day my cousin never put on the gloves again... All, however, that the Spaniard saw was a tall, lazy-looking man with a game leg.' In the Chandos books, Jonah is presented as a man who was part of the Secret Service and is known and respected by Scotland Yard; a man who can move through the criminal underworld as easily as through his own social class. In fact, in every way, the Jonah of the Chandos books is a far more ruthless and dangerous character than the Jonah of the earlier Berry books.
Yates' divorce from Bettine became absolute in September 1933 and, in February 1934, he married Doreen Elizabeth Lucie Bowie, the daughter of a solicitor. Yates' second wife was twenty years younger than him and had been crippled by polio. Yates seems to have adored her, as she did him, and she seems to have been content to be subservient to him in their isolated life. Yates decided that Elizabeth was the real-life incarnation of his character Jill Mansel and, at Yates' insistence, throughout their married life Elizabeth was known as Jill.