The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 1 (April 1, 1935)
New Zealanders in Fleet Street … — Maoriland's Distinguished Sons and Daughters
Fleet Street, the highway of fame, is actually one of the narrowest and drabest of London thoroughfares. In the days when it was built, such traffic as now throngs it was undreamed of. Traffic! An endless fivefold belt of buses, taxis, lorries, ambulances, motor cycles, vans, floods down the canyon of the printers' paradise (or should I call it the poets' purgatory?) at all hours of the day and night. Every building bears the name of some famous newspaper. Here all the world's best-known journals are housed. Those that are not actually printed there have an agency office there. Small indeed is the newspaper that is not represented in Fleet Street.
Many a fortune has been made and lost here. It is the most romantic street in the world; paved with gold for some, washed with tears for others. Many New Zealanders have tried their luck here, and a large proportion of them have distinguished themselves and us by their gifts and their tenacity.
First and foremost, of course, comes David Low, the famous cartoonist. Low, who was born at Rangiora, is the highest paid black-and-white artist in the world. His cartoons are not only killingly funny, but often they are sermons in picture. One of his most delicious books is his Russian sketchbook, made during a tour of the Soviet Union. Low did more to enlighten people about that much misrepresented land than any amount of Moscow propaganda could do. He seemed to catch the soul of the Soviet scene, with all its humours and absurdities, all its fine humanity, its rich and vigorous progressiveness.
Another brilliant New Zealander who has made good in London is Sheila Macdonald, daughter of Mr. Scobie Mackenzie, of Dunedin. You will remember her delightfully human book “Sally in Rhodesia.” It was a best-seller, and deservedly so. New Zealand girls have certainly played their part in the journalistic world. Another fine novelist is Jane Mander, who has published several books, though nothing has ever come up to her “Story of a New Zealand River.” Jane, of course, is now back in this country, a distinctive figure with her gleaming white hair, and humorous eyes. She spent several years in Fleet Street, as a reader for Jonathan Cape, the publishers. A writer whose books have had quite a vogue is Nelle Scan-lan, who has had a popular success as a writer of light, pleasing novels of New Zealand life.
A very successful youngster is Ian Coster, who used to be on the Auckland “Sun.” For two years he was the assistant editor of Nash's Magazine; now he is film critic, at a salary running into four figures, for one of the great Northcliffe papers. Many of you will remember this charming boy, who looked rather like a Greek god. He was a fine tennis player, a splendid Rugby forward, and a reporter with a nose for news. Ian will never be a great writer, but he has a flair for the unusual. He digs up the most extraordinary and unexpected stories, always carefully documented and quite authentic. His article in Nash's on “Black Magic as Practised in London at the Present Day” caused quite a sensation. Now he is recognised as one of London's most capable journalists—and he was only thirty last birthday. “What a man! What a man!” as Jimmy Durante would say.
Another gifted New Zealander in Fleet Street is Percy Crisp, ex-editor of the Auckland “Sun.” He is now on the “Daily Express,” one of England's most important papers. The “Daily Express” has the most palatial offices in the street. The huge many-storied building is entirely faced with black glass. It has no corners, but curves of gleaming glass—an architectural novelty that is most imposing.
A New Zealander who has made a great name and fortune in London is Hugh Walpole, son of the Bishop of Auckland. He is in the first rank of novelists to-day. Even greater than he, is our Katherine Mansfield, daughter of Sir Harold Beauchamp, of Wellington. Personally, I consider Katherine the greatest short story writer of all time, male or female. Her life was a tragic one. Illness and poverty were her lot, but her work is amongst the bravest and best that has ever been written.
Another very clever cartoonist from this country is Harry Rowntree, who is a frequent contributor to “Punch.” There is one charming picture of his in the Auckland Art Gallery, a slight sketch of some sparrows huddled on a branch.
A painter who does newspaper work is Ronald McKenzie, formerly of Lower Hutt. He paints marvellous coloured advertisements for American papers. He was the first husband of Rhona Haszard, the gifted artist whose death in Cairo in 1931 was such a blow to her friends and such a loss to New Zealand art.
An Aucklander, Reginald Berkeley, is now famous as a successful play-wright, his “Lady with the Lamp” being considered one of the best of the last decade. Another dramatist from this country is Dr. Merton Hodge, whose delightful play “The Wind and the Rain” is still running in London.
So, you see, New Zealand has made its mark in Fleet Street. Our gifted children have gained definite honour there. And, of course, apart from actual writers there are many of our countrymen and women who are always good “news value” in London; their names are frequently in print. First and foremost comes Lord Rutherford, next to Einstein, the greatest scientist in the world. Then there is Dr. Condliffe, of the League of Nations, a very well-known figure at Geneva. He used to be Professor of Economics at Canterbury College. Another person who is much in the news is Jean Batten, our aviatrix, daughter of an Auckland dentist. Jean's brother John is a film star who has done splendid work in English and German films. Considering the size of our population we have really produced some wonderful people, and when we consider the younger ones, like Ian Coster, the Battens, and our young poets, like Fairburn, we can see that the supply is not diminishing and that we have a very big part in the life of the street that rules the world by the power of the pen.