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Crispin, Edmund

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author, Editor.

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Pseudonym for his literary work of UK composer, author and editor Robert Bruce Montgomery (1921-1978), who remains best known for his nine Gervase Fen detective novels, beginning with The Case of the Gilded Fly (1944; vt Obsequies at Oxford 1945), plus two collections of short detective stories mostly also starring Fen, all as by Edmund Crispin. He also reviewed crime fiction for the Sunday Times and, as a composer – here always under his real name – wrote respected choral music in the 1940s and the scores for many UK films of the 1950s and 1960s, including several of the Carry On comedy series. A composer character in the final Fen novel, The Glimpses of the Moon (1977), expresses some resentment about his occupation of writing scores for dire Monster Movies featuring "giant centipedes aswarm in the Palace of Westminster and other such grim eventualities". Crispin did not write sf: his witty crime puzzles are in the classic Oxford don-detective mode, avoiding the fantastic, although there is some play with witchcraft and Satanism in Holy Disorders (1945) and Buried for Pleasure (1948) features an incidental comic Poltergeist.

However, Crispin's work in sf Anthologies was of great influence. When Best SF (anth 1955) appeared it was unique in several ways: its editor was a respected literary figure; its publisher, Faber and Faber, was a prestigious one; and it made no apologies or excuses for presenting sf as a legitimate form of writing. Moreover, Crispin's selection of stories showed him to be thoroughly familiar with sf in both magazine and book form, and his introductions to this and succeeding volumes were informed and illuminating. Best SF was followed by Best SF Two (anth 1956), Best SF Three (anth 1958), Best SF Four (anth 1961), Best SF Five (anth 1963), Best SF Six (anth 1966) and Best SF Seven (anth 1970). It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of the early volumes in this series in working towards the establishment of sf in the UK as a respectable branch of literature. After an extended attempt at a Definition of SF, the introduction to Best SF remarked on outsider attitudes in the mid-1950s:

So much for classification and description, couched deliberately in the chilliest and most elementary terms; and if science-fiction were no more than this, it would no doubt deserve the derision with which the stupider of the intellectuals are already, on occasion, condescending to favour it.

Crispin also edited two Children's SF anthologies for schools, The Stars and Under: A Selection of Science Fiction (anth 1968) and Outwards from Earth: A Selection of Science Fiction (anth 1974), as well as Best Tales of Terror (anth 1962), Best Tales of Terror Two (anth 1965) and three further anthologies of detective and murder stories. [MJE/DRL]

see also: British Science Fiction Association; Eastercon; Music; Thought Experiment.

Robert Bruce Montgomery

born Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire: 2 October 1921

died Plymouth, Devon: 15 September 1978



Gervase Fen

works as editor

Best SF

  • Best SF (London: Faber and Faber, 1955) [anth: Best SF: hb/BLW]
  • Best SF Two (London: Faber and Faber, 1956) [anth: Best SF: hb/Peter Curl]
  • Best SF Three (London: Faber and Faber, 1958) [anth: Best SF: hb/Peter Curl]
  • Best SF Four (London: Faber and Faber, 1961) [anth: Best SF: hb/John Griffith]
  • Best SF Five (London: Faber and Faber, 1963) [anth: Best SF: hb/John Griffith]
  • Best SF Six (London: Faber and Faber, 1967) [anth: Best SF: hb/John Griffith]
  • Best SF Seven (London: Faber and Faber, 1970) [anth: Best SF: hb/]

Best Detective Stories

Best Tales of Terror

individual titles as editor

about the author


previous versions of this entry

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