The initial creative idea came from Harry Blyth. It all began with a story about a missing millionaire in Alfred Harmsworth’s halfpenny paper “The Marvel” published in 1893. Initially, Blake operated single-handed. Tinker, his assistant, did not appear on the scene until 1904. Then in issue 25 of “The Marvel” it was announced that Sexton Blake stories would appear in the Union Jack. It was this pink-jacketed weekly paper which was to make Blake famous.
Sexton Blake stories, about 30,000 words in length, appeared regularly in the pages of Union Jack throughout its long life from 1894 until it ceased publication in 1933. The week following the demise of the Union Jack, the Detective Weekly started publication and Sexton Blake stories appeared in this paper (though not continuously) from 1933 until 1940 when, mainly due to shortage of paper in wartime, it ceased publication.
In 1915, the reading public’s demand for more of the detective’s exploits in greater length resulted in the appearance of the Sexton Blake Library (SBL). The Sexton Blake Library books were 80,000 word novels published at around four a month and selling at 3d a copy, increasing to 4d in the 1930s. They were published in the equivalent of A5 format rather than the A4 of the Union Jacks. All SBLs had a beautifully illustrated colour cover enticing the reader to open the pages and read on. The Sexton Blake Library continued publication right up until 1968.
Blake also appeared in many other papers, at one time or another, including Boys’ Friend, Boys’ Herald, Penny Popular and The Jester. There were four Sexton Blake Annuals published in 1938, 39, 40 and 41. These were large format with colourful card covers featuring both new stories and reprints.
Sexton Blake adventures were extremely popular with a wide readership of adults and children. It is generally accepted that the late 1930’s were the golden years of Sexton Blake as at this time the quality of the stories was probably at its highest.
Sexton Blake had an international following. Stories in the English language were popular in all of the English-speaking world. In addition, Sexton Blake stories were translated into many foreign languages, including Afrikaans, Arabic, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish.
SEXTON BLAKE IN COMIC STRIPS
Sexton Blake appeared in a number of comic strips aimed at the younger reader. These started in the KnockOut comic paper in 1939 and continued in the KnockOut Annuals until 1961. Blake also featured in comic strip form in the Valiant in 1967 and other papers.
SEXTON BLAKE IN FILM AND TELEVISION
A number of Sexton Blake films (around 23) were screened, starting in 1909 and ending in 1960. Television series featuring Sexton Blake were broadcast between 1967 and 1978. Several Sexton Blake radio broadcasts were sent out, starting in 1939 and ending in 1967. There were also quite a few Sexton Blake stage plays during the period 1907 to 1930.
SEXTON BLAKE MEMORABILIA
A few miscellaneous items associated with Sexton Blake were produced from time to time, the most well-known being a Sexton Blake bust issued in 1926. A few of these have survived and are in collectors’ hands. There was also an HMV record and a card game.