Dornford Yates and other authors

Updated: 27 Oct 2015
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Dornford Yates was the pen-name of Cecil William Mercer, 1885 - 1960

The Berry books of William Mercer are based around the Pleydell family. While it would be hard to maintain that his books do not contain huge strata of snobbery, it was I think an inspired move on his part to not give the Pleydells titles, and in fact aristocratic titles play little part in the Berry or Chandos books. On the other hand, in 'Lower Than Vermin', Mercer fairly lets himself go with the nobs.

It is generally accepted that Mercer was not a man who enjoyed socialising with other authors, and there was more than a hint of de haut en bas to them in his attitude. Rightly or wrongly I have always concluded that as a result other authors were not at all well-disposed to Mercer, (possibly in some measure due to envy of his considerable commercial success) and were ready to pull his leg hard.


'The Silk Stocking Murders' Anthony Berkely, Penguin 1941. A Roger Sheringham case.

Berkely called his villain Pleydell, and a very nasty villain he was too, sadistically polishing off a number of young women. To add insult to injury, he was portrayed as Jewish; "...he saw that the Jewish blood in him was not just a strain, but filled his veins. Pleydell was evidently a pure Jew tall, handsome and dignified as the Jews of unmixed race often are." I am really not quite sure what to make of this passage; Berkely may have been trying to distance himself from Mercer's very crude anti-semitism, or to annoy Mercer more by making his Pleydell totally and utterly Jewish and handsome with it. Very possibly it was both.

Pleydell is obviously not a Jewish name, and I think it is pretty clear that Yates/Mercer meant it to be as solidly English as he could contrive.

In Berkely's book, the name Pleydell is very quietly introduced on p35; looking through the whole book no first name is ever given, which is perhaps a little strange. Pleydell has theatrical interests (see p116, for example) which may be a sneaky reference to Mercer's well-known interest in the stage.


Mr Campion's Falcon: published by Heinemann, London 1970

Mr Campion's Falcon was written by Youngman Carter (the husband of Margery Allingham, who had died some years earlier. This was the second of his continuation books following Mr Campion's Farthing ; Carter himself died shortly after the Falcon book was published.

The name Pleydell crops up again here, and I don't think it is a coincidence. This time it is the name of a run-down farm where some villains were lurking. On p181 it appears first as 'Ploydells' for some reason, and then occurs twice on p184 as 'Pleydells'. A touch of mystery is given by the fact that the book was published in 1970- it was a bit late to be provoking Mercer, who had died ten years earlier in Rhodesia. Was Carter unaware of this?

Mr Campion's Falcon: Heinemann, London 1970


Vintage Stuff: published by Arrow Books, London 1982. ISBN 9780099435549.

The book Vintage Stuff by Tom Sharpe is a parody of a certain type of thriller popular in the 1920's and 30's. I believe it to be squarely aimed at Yates/Mercer; even the title is I believe a reference to Period Stuff, a collection of short stories published by Yates/Mercer in 1942.

The plot of Vintage Stuff echoes that of many of the Chandos and some of the Berry books; two Englishman set off to do brave deeds in Europe, in this case culminating in storming a French castle.


Given who central the Pleydell family are to the Berry books, one wonders where Mercer got the name from.

There is the Pleydell-Bouverie family, who were Earls of Radnor; that rank may have appealed to Mercer.

According to the Pleydell Society, Pleydells of the present day are linked to William and Isabella Pleydell, who in the 15th century lived in Shrivenham and Coleshill. (then Berkshire, now Wiltshire)

Here are some dead Pleydells

I expected to find a village called Pleydell, but apparently there isn't one.

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