Tuesday, February 19, 2019


I previously posted about the men’s adventure series The Aquanauts, praising it’s fantastic covers. I also despaired over the deplorably turgid writing inside the covers, which totally failed to live up to the promise of the artwork. What those covers should have been wrapped around is the little remembered Webb Carrick series from prolific Scottish author Bill Knox. I first discovered Knox via his twenty-four Thane and Moss police procedurals. These were solid, reality based, novels displaying Knox’s reporter’s eye for detail and characterization. However, while the Thane and Moss novels were his most successful series, I was more enamored with his series featuring Webb Carrick of Her Majesty’s Fishery Protection Service.

I think part of my fascination with the series was how Knox managed to make Fishery Protection into a constantly inventive pursuit. I never figured Fishery Protection could be so filled with violence and action. Knox himself was obviously interested in more than just fish and offshore trespassing, although either could be the start to a more complicated and dangerous situation. The upstanding Carrick is far more Coast Guard officer than fisherman and never shies away from action of any kind. The writing is taunt, the plots inventive, and there are James Bond-style surprises—such as giant mutant conger eels with unnatural strength and an unusual inclination to attack (Bombship)...Oh, yeah, I was all in at the mention of mutant conger eels...

Knox makes a point of allowing Carrick to progress through his career with Fishery Protection in Hornblower style from his first ship assignment through his first command—all of which adds to the rich background of these relatively short novels compared with today’s bloated blockbusters.

Knox began his writing career as a young Glasgow journalist and was variously employed as crime reporter, motoring correspondent and news editor. He made many contributions to radio and television and was well known to Scottish viewers as the writer and presenter for twelve years of the Scottish Television police liaison program, Crime Desk. Aside from the twenty-four Thane and Moss books and the fifteen Webb Carrick novels, Knox wrote many other crime novels, including series under the pseudonyms Robert MacLeod, Michael Kirk, and Noah Webster. He died in March 1999.


Since Webb Carrick, of the Scottish Fishery Protection Service, had previously had trouble with the crusty master of the Tecta, he isn't surprised when the Norwegian trawler once again slices through another boat's fishing nets. But among the masses of struggling fish in the Tecta's nets is a larger, darker, ominously motionless form, the body of a diver. Carrick believes it’s the body of a marine biologist who has been missing for ten days. In view of the scientist's connection with Crosslodge, the local nuclear power station, Carrick doesn’t believe the drowning was accidental. When an attempt is made to deliver Carrick to the same watery grave, Carrick knows there is mayhem on the water.

On board the Marlin, Chief Officer Webb Carrick squints across Scottish waters in search of the missing lobster boat. What he sees is the 40ft Thrift, the floating branch of the Bank of Central Scotland. What he finds is tragedy. The Thrift is adrift in Hebridean waters, her decks awash, her three main staff missing. Carrick finds all the hallmarks of an apparent robbery. However, the ship's safe is untouched, and a large sum of cash is still aboard the ravaged cruiser. Carrick’s instincts tell him answers lie somewhere in the ominous and islands off the Hebridean coast and the dangerous waters surrounding them.

As part of the Fishery Protection Service, Chief Officer Webb Carrick and the crew of the Marlin are assigned to supervise a deep-sea fishing championship off the Scottish coast. Their job is to ensure no over eager fishermen stray into the off-limits submarine training waters. However, when the body of a dead fisherman surfaces and a secret message from Admiralty Headquarters notifies Carrick of a missing experimental torpedo, it’s clear someone is after more than big fish. What had been a simple fishing championship has been transformed into a sinister tournament of death with Carrick and the Marlin as bait.

When the Marlin is assigned to transport a female scientist, Webb Carrick turns suspicious when he learns she is searching for a sea serpent. But when the Marlin pulls into Elder’s Bay on the rugged northwest coast of Scotland they find the survivors a badly damaged trawler who swear the damage was done by an enormous creature with a snake-like neck. But Carrick, who doesn’t believed in mermaids or mythical sea serpents, heeds the tantalizing call of a siren and spins the compass and his cruiser into the middle of danger and death.

The Brannan Islands were infected with fear and smoldering tension. As Chief Officer Carrick of Her Majesty's fishery protection cruiser Marlin swings in to investigate, he finds himself involved with a pretty girl, prawn poachers, moonshiners, a very deliberate killer, and a bizarre craft of the future—the hydrofoil called The White Witch.

When Webb Carrick steps aboard the small research ship The Clavella, is also stepping aboard his first independent command. It should be a time for celebration, but there are dark clouds ahead when Carrick is told to ask the fishermen in Quinbegg why their nets are empty, and why such things have only happened since the arrival of The Clavella and the people aboard who call themselves scientists.

On a shark hunt in the North Atlantic waters surrounding the storm-tossed Hebrides, Webb Carrick finds himself in the middle of a smoldering feud between renegade shark hunters and vengeful local fishermen, angered by the drowning of a young girl. The feud threatens to ignite when Carrick boards a wrecked fishing boat and finds her skipper dead on deck. As furious charges and counter charges are hurled, murder and arson come to the islands with stealthy suddenness. But when the final stormtide breaks, even Carrick is staggered to discover how much is at stake in terms of life and death.

The traditional wedding flag is flying from a fishing boat as the Marlin enters Port MacFarlane, on the west coast of Mull. But Port MacFarlane, a small but prosperous lobster fishing base, is no peaceful haven and the wedding flag marks the start of murder and violence—violence which reaches out in an attempt to destroy the Marlin and her crew. Fighting to save his boat and crew, Chief Officer Webb Carrick must enter the dangerous whitewater rocks and reefs of the Scottish west coast to untangle a web of blackmail, threats, and murder.

When two nature conservationists, branding seals on a remote island, disappear, Webb Carrick and the crew of the Marlin are drawn into the swirl of a Hellspot—a freak hole which leads to a Devil's Triangle of gun-running, murder, and deadly seas.

The H.M. Fishery Protection cruiser Marlin is ordered to the Brannan Sound to collect ballot boxes from offshore Scottish islands. Chief Officer Carrick soon realizes Brannan Sound has earned its reputation as a place of fear, where ancient superstitions come readily to life, and where a woman known as the Witch of the Isles is a power to be reckoned with. Before long, Carrick also discovers the by-elections by-products are not only votes, but also terror, sabotage and murder.

When the submerged wreck of a World War II ammunition ship begins discharging its lethal cargo of explosives near the Scottish coast, Webb Carrick of Her Majesty’s Fishery Protection Service is dispatched to prevent a disaster. If the bombship is blown up, the entire village of Port Leister may go along with it, but the deadly tide of live mines and shells threatens both the local beaches and the shipping lanes outside the bay. To complicate matters, the wrecked hull is teeming with a mutated species of giant conger eels with unnatural strength and an unusual inclination to attack. But the greatest danger of all is posed by a ruthless organization of modern-day pirates operating from a hidden base on a nearby island. Following a trail of murder and conspiracy, Webb Carrick discovers the prize is a half a ton of missing gold bars at the bottom of the bay.

While shadowing a Russian fishing trawler in the treacherous waters of the North Atlantic, Webb Carrick of Her Majesty's Fishery Protection Service uncovers smuggling and murder.

When a massive oil slick drifts perilously close to the fishing grounds of is new patrol area, Fisheries Protection Chief Officer Webb Carrick is sent to investigate reports of illegal trawling. However, when illegal trawling turns into murder and a boat repair yard burnt to the ground, Carrick is on the trail of an ancient treasure, hidden from the Vikings by Scottish monks, and men infected with gold fever, who won’t be stopped—even after Carrick is dead...

Chief Officer Webb Carrick must act quickly to avoid an international disaster festering beneath the surface of a sleepy fishing village on the Isle of Skye.

Stretching for miles in the seas off the Scottish islands, the salmon killing nets are illegal. When a fishery protection patrol launch tries to arrest one salmon gang, it is promptly attacked and bombed by a high-speed raider escort, which leaves the crew barely afloat. Skipper Webb Carrick and his patrol launch Tern are ordered to investigate. On the day Carrick arrives, the body of the previous Fishery Protection agent is recovered from Port Torquil's harbor. There are more deaths as Carrick tries to penetrate the mystery. But the drowning nets also have their own startling secret—bigger than anything Carrick had imagined.

Friday, February 15, 2019


From the 1950s through the 1960s, TV Westerns dominated our family room televisions. Every week there were shootouts, saloon brawls, and owlhoots brought to justice. Certainly far more pretend bullets were fired across TV’s dusty boomtowns, interchangeable saloon sets, and sagebrush soundstages than were ever fired for real in the Wild West.

During this pinnacle of TV Western’s popularity, it was difficult some evenings to find shows other than Westerns on any of the three major networks. Westerns had been wholeheartedly embraced by our post-war nation, as if we were yearning for the simplicity of six-guns, fists, and fast horses, all leading to the comforting normalcy of white hats clearly triumphing over black hats—something we had lost in the war along with our innocence.

Each network labored to make their Westerns stand out from competing shows. TV gunslicks, lawmen, and drifting cowpokes were all fighting for Nielsen ratings and commercial sponsors. Many TV Westerns tried to distinguish their hero by giving him a celebrity horse—Topper (Hopalong Cassidy), Champion (Gene Autry), Diablo (The Cisco Kid), Target (Annie Oakley), Apache (Lash Larue), Tornado (Zorro), and others. Sometimes shows had more than one celebrity equine star, as was the case with Roy Rogers (Trigger) and Dale Evans (Buttermilk), or the Lone Ranger (Silver) and Tonto (Scout). The more TV Westerns tried to be different, the more they remained alike.

TV Westerns also had a passion for celebrity guns. Like celebrity horses, these gimmick guns were given to TV’s Western heroes in another attempt to make each show stand out from the competition. Many of the hybrid six-guns and rifles used to establish law and order on Hollywood’s backlots and sound stages were made by Ed Stembridge's Gun Room at Paramount Studios. Once created, a show’s celebrity firearms were treated with great care. However, the majority of onscreen Western guns were simple blank firing props and subjected to much rough usage.

Quick draw gun coaches were hired to work with the stars of TV Westerns. These professionals earned a certain notoriety for their skills, and were paid handsomely to teach not only the quick draw and its variations, but also simple gun handling so a star could at least appear somewhat proficient with his fancy weapon.

THE LIFE AND LEGEND OF WYATT EARP: Arvo Ojala, who worked regularly with Hugh O’Brian on the set of The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, was among the best of the gun coaches. When The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp premiered, O'Brian initially wore a double holster rig with two 4¾" Colts. However, in the shows mythology, Earp was gifted with a with another Colt revolver, this one specially designed with an extended 12 barrel. The gun was called a Buntline Special, named after dime magazine writer Ned Buntline (a pseudonym for the prolific Edward Z. Judson) who claimed to have convinced Colt to create it especially for him. The writer was a real life character, but the tales of his own adventures were as embellished as those of the real life Western heroes, like Earp, whom he immortalized with his purple prose.

As cool as it was, the appearance of the Buntline Special on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp created a number of problems. O’Brian was a fast draw master in his own right, but dragging out the Buntline Special’s extended barrel slowed him down considerably. To assist him in clearing leather with the foot-long barrel an extended drop was added to O'Brian's right-hand holster. Eventually, gun coach Arvo Ojala perfected a non-period accurate metal-lined holster. His design permitted the Colt to be cocked and the cylinder rotated while the gun was still being drawn. This was a technique unique to Hollywood, but it was so successful that Ojala's holster was used regularly in most TV Westerns.

Western historians disagree regarding the actual existence of the Buntline Special, which Buntline claimed to have made and bestow upon those heroes he thought worthy. However, if the Buntline Special never actually existed in the Wild West, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp made the gun so popular, Colt was virtually strong-armed into adding a 12" Buntline Special to their line in 1957. Colt continued to make the gun for more than 30 years, outlasting the TV series by decades.

THE RIFLEMAN: Chuck Connors as Lucas McCain used his famous Model 92 Winchester carbine with large loop and an aluminum barrel for lighter weight. In the hands of the six foot six inch tall, athletic Conners, the 1892 carbine performed spectacularly. Using an adjustable screw threaded into the trigger guard, Conners was able to trip the trigger every time he slammed the lever home.

Because of his exceedingly long reach, Conners didn’t need any adjustments made to the Winchester’s 20” barrel, which made him highly proficient at spin-cocking and swing-cocking his rifle. Conners was also was ambidextrous, which is why you see him carrying his carbine alternately in his right or left hand at various times during the show.

No special photography was used because Connors was as fast as he looked with his Winchester, able to crank off ten rounds in an eye-blinking 11.2 seconds. He can be seen performing this rapid-fire feat at the beginning of every show. If you count the opening scene shots, however, Conners fires ten times, but the sound of an extra rifle shot was dubbed in to match the soundtrack.

WANTED—DEAD OR ALIVE: The title of the most famous TV Western gimmick gun has to be awarded to the highly altered Winchester carried by Steve McQueen as bounty hunter Josh Randall in Wanted: Dead Or Alive. McQueen, who knew his way around guns, christened the gun a Mare’s Leg (alternately Mare's Laig) because when it fired live ammunition it would kick at both ends. The term Mare's Leg was first coined in a 1957 episode of the TV Western series Trackdown, where Steve McQueen made his debut as bounty hunter Josh Randall.

To make the Mare’s Leg, a .44-40 caliber Model 1892 Winchester had its barrel cut back to nine inches, which had the effect of reducing the magazine capacity to six rounds. To shorten the gun further, the stock was cut back almost even with the customized loop lever to make the gun able to be fired with one hand. In reality, the bizarre gun was an impractical nightmare. Due to the risk of a deafening and dangerous muzzle blast, the gun could only be fired on the set using half-load blanks.

The Mare’s Leg also required a custom holster with a spring-loaded clip that secured the barrel and allowed McQueen to snap the gun free as fast as any owlhoot could draw his six-shooter. The Mare's Leg was .44-40 caliber, however, the bullets in McQueen’s cartridge belt were .45-70 caliber. This anachronism was used because the .45-70s were more visually impressive than the relatively small rounds used in the 1892 carbine.  

With the sawn-off barrel, the Mare’s Leg did not have a gunsight, so Hollywood gun coach Rod Redwing was brought in to teach McQueen the finer aspects of point-shooting the weapon. The lessons worked. McQueen’s proficiency with the weapon look cool on screen, but his skill also paid off in real life. During a Pioneer Days celebration in Palm Springs in 1960, McQueen entered a fast draw contest against other TV Western stars. McQueen won easily, able to snap his Mare's Leg from its holster and fan off a shot in a respectable two-fifths of a second, outdrawing James Arness (Gunsmoke), John Payne (Restless Gun), and Peter Brown (Lawman).

JOHNNY RINGO: Another unusual TV Western gimmick gun was carried by Johnny Ringo (Don Durant). The gun was a custom-built revolver called a LeMat and was actually based on its historically authentic counterpart except for its top break cartridge-fed design. The 19th-century LeMat was, a nine-shot percussion revolver with a twenty gauge smoothbore barrel underneath the pistol's barrel. A flip of the firing pin on the hammer determined which barrel the gun would fire. Many episodes found Ringo getting into scrapes where that final round in the shotgun barrel was the deciding factor.

SHOTGUN SLADE: Detective Shotgun Slade (Scott Brady) did not utilize the normal six-shooter as his weapon of choice. Instead, he favored an over-and-under combination shotgun-rifle. The lower barrel fired a 12-gauge shotgun shell, while the top barrel fired a.32 caliber rifle bullet, giving Slade both heavy stopping power at close range and at distance when needed.

HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL: While he was a master of many weapons, Paladin (Richard Boone) favored his Colt .45 handgun in his black holster with the trademark silver chess knight in the center. While the gun wasn’t particularly fancy, it looked huge in the opening sequence, which had Paladin in an action pose as he turned the gun on the audience. Paladin also carried a saddle-holstered Winchester lever-action rifle with which he was an expert marksman. And always one step ahead, Paladin also added a lethal surprise to his arsenal—a concealed Derringer small bore handgun.

THE REBEL: Johnny Yuma (Nick Adams) was a man proud of the remnants of his rebel uniform and was often forced to defend himself against slurs directed at him and the bitter defeat of the South. Using both his fists, a Civil War style Dragoon pistol in a cut-off Cavalry-flapped holster and what Yuma called his scattergun—a sawed off double barrel shotgun altered at both ends, which he usually wore strapped to his leg—as Steve McQueen did in Wanted: Dead Or Alive.

YANCY DERRINGER: While the dapper Yancy (Jock Mahoney) carried a four barreled Sharp’s Derringer, his Indian companion Pahoo carried a short, sawed-off, exposed hammer shotgun similar to the gun used by Johnny Yuma in The Rebel.

RESTLESS GUN: Vint Bonner (John Payne) used a Colt .45 caliber with a removable, longer barrel, and a detachable buttstock.

THE SHERIFF OF COCHISE: United States Marshal Frank Morgan (John Bromfield) was known for the Winchester mounted in a scabbard on the door of his patrol car.

THE WILD WILD WEST: In what would come to be considered the first steampunk influence TV Western (even though the term wasn’t coined until 1980), The Wild Wild West had gadgets galore. There were exploding belt buckles, a spring-loaded knife blade in the toe-box of a boot, and so many more. 

There were also a number of gimmick guns including James West’s (Robert Conrad) hidden sleeve gun, a derringer designed to be broken down and concealed in a boot heel, and a grappling hook attachment to be shot from a rifle. The Wild Wild West was the ultimate in gadget cool.

A number of the original TV Western prop guns have turned up at auction. The real value of these TV Western guns is not monetary, but to be considered for their collector’s value, they must have a provenance—usually markings with the name of the studio. Some of the TV Western prop guns sold at auction are listed below...

BAT MASTERSON: Carrying a gold-tipped cane with a hidden sword, TV’s Bat Masterson (Gene Barry) already had a gimmick weapon, but he also carried a Remington Navy .36 until he switched to a custom .45 caliber Colt single action with a 3.5” barrel, commissioned for him by the people of Dodge City during his service as sheriff. The original prop gun sold at auction for $6,500 in January 2018...

GUNSMOKE: Marshal Matt Dillon (James Arness) was a big man carrying a big gun_ A Colt Model 1873, .45 caliber, single action handgun, with a 7.5” barrel. The actual TV prop was a real Colt manufactured in 1895 and sold at auction for $50,000 in 2014...

BONANZA: Throughout Bonanza’s long run, Joe Cartwright (Michael Landon) carried a Colt single action .38 special. The prop original sold at auction for $12,000 in 2011...

TALES OF WELLS FARGO: Special agent Jim Hardie (Dale Robertson) carried a Colt Frontier single action revolver. The original prop gun from the show sold at auction for $2,800 in 2011...