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Passing Show, The

Entry updated 9 April 2015. Tagged: Publication.


UK weekly paper of humour and short fiction which had two distinct incarnations, both published by Odhams Press, London. The first series ran for 918 issues from 20 March 1915 to 19 March 1932. This was a small tabloid-size magazine, initially with wartime paper restrictions, that gradually grew in size to become a standard tabloid from January 1924. The emphasis was on cartoons and brief humorous stories, but it occasionally ran to longer items and is probably best remembered, in this incarnation, for the wish-fulfilment stories that became Alf's Button (June-November 1917; fixup 1919) by W A Darlington (1890-1979).

In 1932 the paper completely reinvented itself as The New Passing Show (though the title reverted after eight issues) under editor William A Williamson, who guided The Passing Show from 1925 until the end. In this form it ran for a further 362 issues, from 26 March 1932 to 25 February 1939. The new look magazine, which became a large tabloid (14.25 x 10.5 in; 360 x 265 mm) from 7 October 1933, was heavily illustrated and although cartoons and anecdotes remained, along with celebrity news and gossip, the emphasis shifted to fiction, particularly adventure and mystery fiction and a high quota of sf. In fact The Passing Show became the UK's most regular periodical source of sf in the 1930s, remaining so until Tales of Wonder and Fantasy began. It ran some short sf, the earliest being "Phone Cannibal 0001" (7 May 1932) by Hugh Pilcher where radiation is beamed down a telephone line in order to disintegrate matter, but its strength was in the (often abridged) serial versions of novels and novellas that it ran. The first were the serializations of Pirates of Venus (7 October-25 November 1933; 1934) and Lost on Venus (2 December 1933-3 February 1934; 1935) by Edgar Rice Burroughs – both reprinted from The Argosy – but with newly commissioned artwork by Fortunino Matania which is especially sumptuous.

Ten further serials followed: Warwick Deeping's "The Madness of Professor Pye" (14 April-5 May 1934; in Two in a Train, coll 1935), a seminal "Mad Scientist bent on destroying the Earth" story; Edwin Balmer's and Philip Wylie's When Worlds Collide (1 December 1934-23 March 1935; being a reprint of both When Worlds Collide [September 1932-February 1933 Blue Book; 1933] and After Worlds Collide [November 1933-April 1934 Blue Book; 1934]); Wynant Davis Hubbard's The Thousandth Frog (8 June-13 July 1935; 1935) featuring giant insects and amphibians (see Great and Small); John Wyndham's The Secret People (20 July-14 September 1935; 1935) and "Stowaway to Mars" (2 May-20 June 1936; 1936 as Planet Plane; cut vt as "The Space Machine", 1937 Modern Wonder; rev vt Stowaway to Mars 1953), both as by John Beynon; "The Altar of the Moon" (21 March-18 April 1936) a Lost Race novella by Canadian writer Francis Dickie (1890-1976) which has not been reprinted; and three serials by W J Passingham, "The Broadcast Murders" (29 May-14 August 1937), another "mad scientist" yarn, "When London Fell" (18 September-4 December 1937) and "World Without Time" (25 June-10 September 1938). Most of these were illustrated in his usual exotic detail by Matania. There was also a series of stories by W Douglas Newton, featuring his adventurer Savaran and culminating in the Lost Race serial "The Devil Comes Aboard" (10 September-29 October 1938; 1939 as Savaran and the Great Sand).

The magazine additionally ran two short fantasy stories by Lord Dunsany and a series of vignettes by Ray Cummings, The World of Tomorrow (19 October 1935-November 28 1936) reprinted from Liberty and there were other short sf stories and features on scientific progress.

From 4 March 1939, The Passing Show merged with its companion picture-news magazine as Illustrated and soon focused its attention on World War Two, though it still ran the occasional sf story, including a series by W J Passingham about a detective with "microscopic eyes". All fiction was phased out by the end of the war. Illustrated continued until 4 October 1958, when it merged with John Bull. [MA/JE]

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