Robert Blake (and Sexton)

Sanjay Sircar, a reader of this blog, has sent me an interesting footnote to my long-ago posts about the Sexton Blake detective magazines. His mother , Rani Sircar, wrote a memoir, Dancing Round the Maypole: Growing Out of British India (New Delhi: Rupa, 2003). In this she records that at school in Madras in the 1930s: ‘the burning interest in my life was the continuing story of Robert Blake as retailed to me in Bengali.’

‘For at his point, when I was seven or so,’ she writes, ‘Robert Blake was the only detective I knew, thanks to cousin Chittanalini Das, my Baby-didi (“elder sister Baby”) who came to stay with us every time we were in Madras, and had an everlasting fund of Robert Blake stories. as soon as she had unpacked, I used to pounce on her with ‘Robert Blake. Robert Blake. What happened next to Robert Blake?’ For many years, I did not know whether Robert Blake was the fictional brother of the famous Sexton Blake of English detective fiction, or what their relationship was. My reading included some of Sexton Blake’s adventures only in the 1940s, but nobody I asked seemed to have heard of Robert. So I believed that Baby-didi made up the stories for me herself, until the other day when a friend, Sunil Mukherji, told me that Robert was indeed the Bengali incarnation of Sexton Blake, with a name-change presumably to obviate any possible misunderstanding about the ‘sex’ in ‘Sexton’, Robert’s doings were, it seems, sold in Bengali paperback [pamphlets in a particular ‘Library’ series].

‘In one Robert Blake story, this ace sleuth was sent out on some high-powered secret mission with half a pencil in the heel of his shoe. Only if his contact in China or Bavaria – I forget now which it was – could produce the other half of the pencil would the contact’s bona fides be accepted, I held my breath as half-pencil after half-pencil was proffered in many places; but only at journey’s end did the proffered half fit with the half-pencil in Blake’s heel, and I heaved a sigh of relief. I wonder if Robert Blake stories would thrill me now as much as they did then. They certainly seem to have had all the ingredients of modern thrillers.’

Apart from Robert Blake, apparently, Baby-didi ‘had no secular interest in her life… It is still a puzzle to me when she read up on him or why.’

Wikipedia tells me that the Robert Blake stories were by Bengali novelist Dinendra Kumar Roy, and they seem to have been original stories suggested by the Sexton Blake series, rather than translations of the English originals.

I wonder whether anyone has studied them, or made any cross-cultural comparisons. A few years ago I looked at some French pulp fiction featuring the detective Rouletabille. these books had much in common with the Sexton Blake adventures, but the differences were illuminating, too. A comparison between Sexton and Robert would make a great project. Do any of my scholarly followers out there read Bengali?

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  1. […] Robert Blake (and Sexton) – Over at Great War Fiction, George Simmers shares some fascinating information from one of his readers regarding his mother’s cousin, Rani Sircar, the author of Dancing Round the Maypole: Growing Out of British India. […]

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