In a field that regularly lionizes its dead, living writers are our greatest asset. And for many years one of our greatest assets was Ronald Chetwynd-Hayes. It is therefore all the more tragic that despite being a two-time Life Achievement Award winner, he never received the commercial rewards for his work that he always dreamed of.
Photo © 1996|
Ronald Chetwynd-Hayes and Stephen Jones (Teddington, England, 1996)
Like many others, I began reading Ron's funny and fear-filled stories in the PAN BOOK OF HORROR STORIES and his various paperback collections of the 1970s. I started corresponding with him back in 1979, when I was programming the 'Fantasy Authors on Film' season at London's National Film Theatre. We were premiering DOMINIQUE, which he had written the novelisation for, and I invited him along to the screening. I did not know at the time that Ron was always reluctant to make public appearances, and as a consequence he did not turn up that evening.
However, we continued to write to each other, eventually getting together and quickly becoming firm friends, despite the age difference between us.
We would regularly meet up whenever he did a book signing at such specialist London bookstores as Fantasy Centre and Fantasy Inn, or when mutual friends like Karl Edward Wagner and Brian Lumley were in town visiting. I also managed to convince him to start attending the British Fantasy conventions, where he was rightly celebrated for his body of work.
When I began editing professionally in the late 1980s, it seemed only natural that I would try to include a story by Ron in as many of my own anthologies as I could. I am proud to have brought some of his earlier stories back into print for new generations to discover, as well as publishing much of his newer work. I also had the opportunity to compile his two most recent collections, THE VAMPIRE STORIES OF R. CHETWYND-HAYES and PHANTOMS AND FIENDS, both of which sold out of their small UK hardcover printings in a matter of months, and there are a number of other collaborative projects currently in development.
Ron was always full of fascinating stories, and it was a delight to meet up with him in a pub or in either one of our homes, where he would keep me entertained for hours with tales of his childhood cameos in British films of the 1930s, his early publishing career, or his meetings with such actors as Vincent Price and John Carradine on the set of THE MONSTER CLUB, based on probably his most famous and successful book. I had the honour to interview him about his career in front of an appreciative audience at one of the British FantasyCons (which could easily have exceeded the couple of hours we had to talk) and Jo Fletcher and I were especially delighted to be able to recognise his achievements by making him one of the guests of honour at the 1997 World Fantasy Convention in London, even though his health was obviously failing at the time. I know he enjoyed the event greatly.
Although Ron was always quaintly reluctant to admit his age, it was only in the mid-1990s that it became obvious that his memory was becoming more vague and confused. Despite being allowed to live in his own house, where he was looked after by a part-time carer, his condition slowly deteriorated and he was forced to move into a full-time care home in January 2000. I deeply regret that the only time Jo and I visited him there, he was unaware of his surroundings or even the fact that we were present. However, according to his niece, he did have good days when he was alert and recognised what was happening around him. Two weeks after a hospital visit for minor surgery, he apparently contracted bronchial pneumonia and quickly
Although I guess I had expected the news for a year or more, when I heard about his death I reacted to his passing with more emotion than I imagined, and I will miss him greatly.
With the agreement of his family and his agent, Dorothy Lumley, Ron's correspondence and surviving manuscripts will be archived in the collection of the Science Fiction Foundation held at The University of Liverpool, where the material will hopefully be made available to future researchers.
Copyright © Stephen Jones 2001. All rights reserved.