R.I.P The Death of James Herbert and My Childhood

James Herbert

I was so saddened to hear of the death of James Herbert on the 20th of March. Why? I never knew him. I never even met him. The closest I came to contact with him was an autographed leaflet advertising his new book, obtained by my mother, thirty years ago, who worked with his cousin.

The sadness arises from the passing of another link with my childhood. Perhaps its a turning forty thing. When I drank alcohol I could wallow in my beer. Now I cry into my coffee. Kicking off my slippers in frustration.

What on earth could the link be between childhood and books of gratuitous horror and sex? Perhaps  the answer is found within the question. But I began reading Herbert’s books when in my last year of primary school, aged around 11-12. Maybe not ideal fodder for a young mind-others were taking in Roald Dahl or Enid Blyton. The author of the Bobby Brewster range even paid us a visit. But I was reading above my age, and my interest was horror. Bloodthirsty kid that I was.

‘To Andrew, glad you like the books so much. Best Wishes James Herbert.’ I’ve still got it. There was no postscript suggesting I seek a counsellor. Or take part in a NSPCC therapy session. Or a recommendation that my folks attend a parenting class. If they had them then.

We were on a coach one day travelling back to school from a trip to Jodrell Bank, our necks still stiff from gazing heavenwards in the darkness of the Planetarium, when I heard my teacher, talking to some girls a few rows behind, mention my name. She saw me turn and explained “I just said ‘even I don’t read the books that Andrew Murray reads!'”

It didn’t bode well for parents evening.

My Mum returned, and among the usual platitudes said “She was a bit concerned about the types of books you read.”

“Why?” I feigned innocence.

She suddenly developed a stammer that had never been evident before: “She wants to know what you do abb..bout the er.er.. when you get to..to the ..erm. ”

“The sex bits!” my Dad interjected helpfully.

Innocent schoolboy lover of just the horror parts,of course, I answered ” I skip those.” My mum latched onto that in an instant, “That’s what I said.”

“You can’t bleedin’ skip them,” my Dad added with more authority than I thought usual.

But James Herbert’s books are what my early diet consisted of. Midway through my last year at that primary school a new girl started who also read James Herbert. A girl too! How cool was she?

Anyway, I got older, I moved on (in schools and books.) From Herbert I moved to King, and then out into the wider world of literature.  James Herbert’s books moved on too-from the more traditional horror fayre to a more supernatural style, which I wasn’t as enthusiastic about. But I think back to those early ones-The Rats, The Fog, The Dark, The Survivor, books I loved in a period of my life that I loved. I would lend them to my uncle who took them with him when he worked the night-shift (he is no longer with us.) I lent them to my mum (she has moved onto Catherine Cookson.)

So, for the part he played in my childhood, and into my early teens, I felt that sense of loss when hearing of his death. A sense of losing something from my past. I have experienced that unexpected reaction before.

Bill Bixby. I can recall the Saturday teatimes spent sat eating my ravioli, wearing my Six Million Dollar Man t shirt (please-someone give me some good news about Lee Majors) and watching the Incredible Hulk. I loved that programme, and was gutted when he died.

Mr McGee, don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.

Peter Cushing-from the Hammer Horror films. Told you I was a blood thirsty kid.

George Harrison-I was a Beatles fan from being twelve, three years after Lennon died. I recall how I discovered about Harrison’s demise. It was my day off from work (I was a postman) and my partner at the time and I went into the local Global video store to get a couple of films. As she took them to the counter, I continued to browse, and one of my colleagues came in with the post for the store. He too was a Beatles fan. He greeted me, then “Hey-what about George?” With some trepidation, I replied “What about him?”

“He’s died.” I shouted across the store “Put those videos back-George Harrison has died!” It was a day of watching MTV instead.

Aww and recently Elizabeth Sladen-my Sarah Jane Smith. (The wife rolls her eyes.)

Each time one of these figures die, along with what to me they represent, it is like a fragment falls away. Another signpost removed.

Perhaps it is a morose, turning-forty-thing. The lot of the moribund.

Perhaps I am being overly sentimental.

But I have heard among the many tributes countless similar tales, of how Herbert’s books was a visual soundtrack to the teenage years of so many. Of course, many remained fans throughout without falling away.

It is a little disingenuous of me to refer to him merely as a stepping stone to Stephen King. I think I may revisit some of those early books from an adult perspective, albeit awash with nostalgia. I think back to my old primary school teacher. I like to think that curiosity got the better of her and she dipped her toe in and became a fan. Perhaps he was a stepping stone for her too.

Perhaps somewhere out there she is turning off her lamp, with the ubiquitous Mr Grey on her bedside table.

James Herbert R.I.P

10 thoughts on “R.I.P The Death of James Herbert and My Childhood

  1. What a lovely post. I can’t say I’ve read James Herbert’s books, but I do remember Elisabeth Sladen, who used to be my favorite of the companions on Doctor Who. I was glad to see her on the relaunched programs and also her own show. All of the people you mentioned are missed.

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  2. As a huge Doctor Who fan (to the ambiguous point of ‘nerdom’,)from the Tom Baker years (still my favourite Doctor) Elizabeth Sladen was my favourite too. The series was one thing that I have taken along for the ride since childhood, reading the books when it was axed by the BBC, and re-embracing it again when it was launched again with Eccleston. Now I watch it with my kids who love it, which is great. Kind of a full circle thing, yeah?
    Anyway, thank you for your nice comment.

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    • I began during the Tom Baker years as well. My nephew started with Christopher Eccleston and refuses to watch the old series! But at least he’s watching. I hope your kids enjoy the program.

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  3. Great post Andy, you brought back some memories for me too there. I’m a child of the 70s too and there’s nothing quite like TV back then…. The Incredible Hulk, The Dukes of Hazzard, Mork and Mindy…classics.

    I didn’t really take to James Herbert but from about the age of around 13 or 14 I was hooked on Stephen King. I remember alternating them between the Sweet Valley High series. I had strange reading tastes even back then!

    Good luck with your blog. I’m keen to read what you are going to write about next 🙂

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  4. Ah yes-Mork and Mindy. My first introduction to the maniacal talent of Robin Williams. Also others like The Beverly Hillbillies, Different Strokes, and the sci fi things I watched like Buck Rogers and Space 1999.
    The list is endless.

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  5. Love it!

    Reminds me of the time I started reading Richard Laymon(now he is one twisted writer I tell you). I had read perhaps 5 of his novels and found out that he had died a while before I had even started reading his books, I was pretty shattered, he wouldnt be writing novels ever again…EVER!

    I am hoping beyond hope that King is an immortal and will continue to write long after I am dead.

    Every novelists contributions to the world are invaluable. They have all touched the loves of so many people…we can only appreciate the fact that we can revisit them in the stories they wrote, which will live as long as people read and share their love of reading.

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    • I am pretty sure that if anyone is immortal, it is Stephen King. I reckon Salem’s Lot is part biography!

      All those books out there..all those writers. I despair that my brief allotted time here is not enough to read all the books that I want to read. But I will make a point of catching Benoni Goose.

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  6. Love it andy and love my mention of being cool because I also read james herbert at age 10. Mainly due to my mum reading his books so I must give her some credit xx

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    • As you know, I can still remember you giving an explanation to another kid sat at our table of what a Jonah was. You have to understand that I was all alone until you arrived. Everybody else was lost in the worlds of Roald Dhal and Enid Blyton. You was cool. The new kid in school came in and blew me away 🙂

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