[ Anthony Berkeley Cox, crime writer. ] Eleven Typed Letters Signed (nine 'Francis Iles' and two 'A. B. Cox') and one Typed Postcard Signed to Margaret Greenwood, on her wish to adapt 'Malice Aforethought' for film, with copies of her letters to him.
A total of 30 items. Cox's eleven letters total 16pp., and Greenwood's eighteen letters total 28pp. (several written on drafts of pages of her writing). In good condition, lightly aged, held together with a brass stud. An amusing correspondence, with Cox responding with amused bewilderment to the inexperienced approaches of his enthusiastic correspondent. Greenwood – who writes from 15 Horsham Road, Bexleyheath, Kent – is something of a bluffer. According to other items from her papers she had worked in a bank, and as secretary to the actor of Robert Donat, but at the time of writing was apparently living with her mother. Her first letter (30 May 1949) begins: 'As you will see from the letter heading we are a company devoting our time to the writing of film scripts, based upon original or existing stories and plays. […] Our reader has recently brought to my notice your book - “Malice Aforethought”. Would you consider allowing me to adapt this for the screen and offer it to an actor who I think will do full justice to the remarkable leading role of Dr Bickley?' In reply (8 June 1949) 'Francis Iles' writes that he does not think Greenwood will 'get very far' with Malice Aforethought on the lines she suggests, and that she would be wasting her time offering it. 'This novel has been considered for the screen periodically since its first appearance 20 years ago, and was recently the subject of protracted negotiation with one of the large Film Companies, on a proposed basis of £10,000 for the film rights. | It invariably however comes up against the same snag: that owing to the frank and unmentionably adult recognition of the fact that noxious drugs exist, no film would ever be passed by the U.S. Hay's Office. (It is apparently the object of this curious organisation to persuade the U.S. Public that noxious drugs do not exist.' (In a later letter he expresses doubt that 'the most exquisite script would have the faintest effect on the Hay Office'.) To Greenwood's objections he replies (24 June 1949): 'The real objection, I take it, is to turning the wife into a drug-addict. I would not in the least mind this being sacrificed if I am compensated adequately for my wounded pride. The doctor could then kill her off with a single lethal injection.' He ends sardonically: 'But I would not want you to do a lot of work on the script with an inadequate prospect of selling it, and I must warn you that I should want at least [deletion] (sorry – even the typewriter jibbed) £5,000 net for the rights, and I do not expect you would get an English firm to pay this.' By 7 August 1949 he is clearly becoming irritated, responding to a three-page letter: 'We are of course regarding the matter from different view-points. I have been used merely to saying yes or no to an offer for the film rights, and only hope the casting will not be too ridiculous. | As to the rest, you are asking me questions to which I have no idea of the answers, e.g. whether it would be best to submit a script to the Hay's Office. I simply have no notion! Also I really don't know enough about film-acting personnel to be able to give any opinions. Is it dreadful of me, but I have no idea who Mervyn Johns is or what he looks like.' Things are no better on 3 January 1950: 'I have no idea what decision you want me to reconsider, or why you should refer to a “stern attitude” on my part. […] why you should seem to think you should have incurred my “unholy wrath and anger” (!) I simply cannot imagine. If I ever gave you cause to believe anything so preposterous, I sincerely apologise.' In the same letter he explains that a 'recent broadcast of Malice Aforethought, which perhaps you heard, revived a strong interest in this story and I have received a good many offers for the film rights. Most of these I have rejected, but one or two are still in negotiation; so that if you have any concrete proposition to put forward, it might be as well to do so at once.' Three weeks later he gives more details regarding the negotiations, adding that the 'chief worry' of the company he is dealing with, is 'whether the present is a suitable time for doing another murder film; they appear to think not, as they say the market is flooded with them. [...] I think I will not see your script at present, as these people would want me to help with the script myself if they buy the rights' As the correspondence draws to a close he is beginning to see through Greenwood: 'I do not know which your firm is […] but if they mean to imply that [the figures they pay for film rights] have a general application […] that is of course nonsense. Only the other day I heard of a man who has just sold the film-rights of a recent book – a success, but not a smashing one, by any means – for £10,000 to one firm, after having been offered £7,500 and £8,000 by two other Companies. So I am afraid I must stick to my own not immodest figure.' As he attempts to extricate himself from the correspondence, the last two letters are terse, and signed 'A. B. Cox'. Other topics are the rights to 'Mr. Priestley's Problem' ('free for films. It was done as a play a century or so ago, with John Deverell as Priestley. Richard Goolden, or anyone who plays "little man" parts would suit, I should say') and 'Trial and Error', and the characterisation of 'Dr. Bickleigh': 'I think I recognise Eric Portman. Isn't he rather tall and massive? If he is the actor I am thinking of, I can't imagine anyone less like my idea of Dr. Bickleigh. Crippen, in the Chamber of Horrors, is more the type. | I imagine also that Ralph Richardson would consider Mr. Priestley very much beneath his dignity. He is course nothing like the physical type I described, but no doubt that would not matter.' No film has been made of 'Malice Aforethought', but it has been adapted for British television twice: in 1979 and 2005.