Until recently there were only two known photographs of Bernard Heldmann, Robert Aickman’s grandfather, who also wrote under the name of Richard Marsh.
Heldmann initially had a good career writing thrilling stories for boys, publishing under his own name such novels as Boxhall School: A Tale of Schoolboy Life (1881), and Dorrincourt: The Story of a Term There (1881). He only began writing under the Marsh pseudonym after serving a prison sentence, following his conviction for ‘obtaining goods by false pretences’ (he wrote cheques without having the funds to honour them).
Here is the entry in the Home Office Criminal Registers, Middlesex, showing Bernard Heldmann’s conviction in 1884.
The story of his conviction was only recently unearthed by Callum James, and retold by Robert Kirkpatrick (The Three Lives of Bernard Heldmann, Occasional Paper VII of the Children’s Books Historical Society. No date.)
Heldmann achieved even more success writing as Richard Marsh. The Beetle, by ‘Marsh’, was published at the same time as Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and was said to have sold even better than its equally shocking literary rival. (In truth, Dracula was not a best-seller at the time of publication, although, unlike The Beetle, it became an enduring classic.)
The Beetle was filmed in 1919, but this film is considered "lost". (It is said on various databases that no stills exist, although this is not the case. A brochure for the film exists in Robert Aickman's archives.)
Bernard Heldmann was said to have met Robert Aickman’s father William in the gents toilets at the Hydro Hotel in Eastbourne, and was subsequently introduced to Bernard’s daughter, Mabel.
This photo in the Aickman archive does not inform us of exactly who is in this charabanc, but because it was among William Aickman’s papers, it is not unreasonable to suppose that the man in the middle of the back seat is William Aickman (there is a distinct resemblance.) It is also possible that one of the women either side is Mabel, his future wife (and Robert Aickman’s mother). Just as intriguing is the possibility that the man sitting on the running board is Bernard Heldmann (Richard Marsh).
Robert Aickman was very proud of being related to Richard Marsh, discussing his grandfather approvingly in The Attempted Rescue. When he later set up a literary agency with his wife, Aickman called it the Richard Marsh Agency, and all through his life Aickman collected Marsh's books. It is possible that the family disgrace was kept from him.
You can order Robert Aickman: An Attempted Biography now. It will be published February 3rd, 2022.
Robert Aickman: An Attempted Biography, by R.B. Russell, Tartarus Press, 2022
With thanks to Heather Smith, and Artellus, Ltd.All photos, unless otherwise stated, are copyright Estate of Robert Aickman/British Library/R.B. Russell, and are not to be reproduced without permission and acknowledgement.