About Bagley

Desmond Bagley 1923-1983

The internationally acclaimed bestselling English author Desmond Bagley, known to his friends as Simon, was born on 29th October 1923 at a cottage in Stramongate, Kendal, Westmorland (Cumbria). He died, aged 59, on 12th April 1983 in a Southampton hospital after suffering a stroke, leaving us a literary canon of sixteen published novels and a handful of short stories, articles and interviews.

Desmond Bagley © Graham Jackson

At the time of his death he was reputed to be one of the highest paid writers of fiction novels in the world. Remarkable considering he left school at the age of fourteen having failed to pass any exams, suffered a life-long speech impediment and was nearly forty years old when his first novel, The Golden Keel, was published.

In his obituary, which appeared in The Times on 14th April 1983, he was described as a ‘craftsmanlike thriller novelist’. Bagley was skilled in the art of thriller writing; he travelled extensively and displayed a detailed knowledge of the geographical locations used for the settings in his novels combined with a thorough knowledge of cultural traditions, natural phenomena and technological details. [1]

Mike Ripley, the author of Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang – The boom in British Thrillers from Casino Royal to The Eagle Has Landed, commented of Bagley:

As was often said about Bagley, his books were not so much about spies or even crimes – though they certainly feature – but about a group of interesting people in an interesting, often dangerous, landscape.

He was certainly in their tradition of British adventure writers, having fairly wholesome heroes who avoided sex and who operated in well-researched foreign locations. [2]

This is the little-known story of Bagley’s early life and his journey to becoming a craftsmanlike thriller writer.

The boy who was different 1923 – 1937

Employment, wanderlust and adventure in the Sahara 1937 – 1947

South Africa, journalism and short stories 1947 – 1962

Joan Brown and Bagley’s career as a novelist

Joan Bagley and posthumous publication

Joan Magaret Bagley


Image © Graham Jackson Photography, further reproduction prohibited without permission.

1. The Times (1983). ‘Obituary Mr Desmond Bagley’ (14th April 1983 p. 16).

2. Ripley, M. (London: HarperCollins, 2017) Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang: The boom in British Thrillers from Casino Royal to The Eagle Has Landed pp. 74 – 77.