Procter was a former Manchester policeman turned crime writer, best known for his police procedurals featuring the character of Detective Chief Inspector Harry Martineau, based in a tough fictional northern England industrial town. Proctor penned 14 Martineau novels, which appeared between 1954 and 1969, of which Hell is a City was the first.
Two things have got me thinking about the Martineau books. The first is my PhD research at the moment, which has been looking at the prevalence of American style detective and PI crime fiction in the 1950s in the US, UK and Australia. Procter’s work is different from a lot of post-war British crime pulp, which was set in America.
I’ve also been reading Nick Triplow’s excellent biography of English crime writer, Ted Lewis, Getting Carter (which I’ll be reviewing on this site in the coming weeks).
Among the popular cultural touchstones, Triplow writes, that would inspire Lewis’s work, including the iconic series of British gangster novels featuring the character of Jack Carter, was the 1960 film adaption of Hell is City by Val Guest. Triplow says that Guest’s film, which is excellent, not only retains the source novel’s earthy tone, but its location, around Manchester (which Proctor named ‘Granchester’ in the Martineau series).
Along with Cy Enfield’s 1957 Trucking noir, Hell Drivers, and Joseph Losey’s The Criminal (1960), Hell is a City presaged a move away from more middle class crime themes and characters in British cinema and towards a more hardboiled/noir sensibility, often set outside of London, and were a key influence in Lewis’s work.
Interestingly the character of Martineau in the film version of Hell is a City was played by Stanley Baker, one of the key male stars of British postwar cinema, whose rugged physique and hard grace also saw him cast in the lead roles in Hell Drivers and The Criminal.