Classic Pan and Fontana Horror
Anthologies like the Pan Book of Horror and the Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories gave a lot of writers their first break. Here’s a handful of tales from that period, chosen by editors like Herbert van Thal, Ronald-Chetwynd-Hayes and Mary Danby. Every story comes with notes on its origin and how it made it into print – a fascinating glimpse into the horror fiction scene back in the early 80s. More
HORROR’S GOLDEN AGE:
‘Better late than never,’ as the saying goes.
The Pan Book of Horror began in 1959 and ran for twenty-five editions under Herbert van Thal’s editorship. The first edition of The Fontana Book of Great Horror stories came out in 1966, and the series continued for sixteen more issues before closing down. The Fontana Book of Great Ghost stories was started in 1964 under Robert Aickman’s stewardship, and closed down in 1984 under R. Chetwynd-Hayes’. Pan Horror actually crawled on for five more – less respected – issues after van Thal died, but the plain truth is that by the mid-Eighties, this golden age of short British horror fiction was pretty well over, never to return.
‘Timing is everything’ is another pertinent saying here. My writing career only began in 1979, and since most of my output for the first couple of years was science fiction I only ever got a limited shot at appearing in these three classic anthology series.
And yet I’m very glad indeed I took that shot, because these titles were a phenomenon at the time and have since become legendary. Who on earth is interested in some tattered old paperbacks with garish covers from several decades back? Well, as it turns out, quite a lot of people, because in 2010 Back from the Dead: The Legacy of the Pan Book of Horror – a collection of new stories from the contributors to the original series – was launched at the World Horror Convention in Brighton, England, complete with author panels, signings, and readings. Hundreds of keen fans attended, and when the hardback edition of the book finally went on sale it was cleared off the shelves in twenty minutes flat.
Horror fans not only love and practically revere those books, they remember them very clearly. And on a personal note, I get this proven every time that I attend a gathering of fantasy people. I’ll start chatting to some stranger in his late thirties or early forties. He’ll ask me who I am, and when I tell him he’ll go: “Hey, aren’t you that guy who had those stories in Pan and Fontana Horror? I read those when I was a kid.”
The last guy who did that even knew the final line to Child of Ice, my first Pan Horror tale. Which, 33 years after the story was first published, is pretty amazing.
Pan and Fontana Horror/Ghosts weren’t merely cult events or even phenomena, they were a big part of the history of horror literature, and I feel privileged and lucky to have been a part of it.
Here are my contributions, with a couple of related stories from that period thrown in for good measure.
Tony Richards, London, 2014.
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