Sax Rohmer

WARD, Arthur Sarsfield 1886-1959. Writer and creator of Fu Manchu novels. He lived at 51 Herne Hill with his wife, Elizabeth between 1910 and 1920. A blue plaque marks the house. Born in Birmingham of Irish descent, Ward came to London as a journalist investigating a criminal from the East End. He saw a passenger in a cab whom he described as a man ‘with the most indescribable evil face imaginable’. Ward gave himself the pen name of Sax Rohmer and created the totally fictitious but enduring evil character of Dr Fu Manchu. The character had ‘the brains of any three men of genius, with a brow like Shakespeare, and face like Satan, a close-shaven skull and long, magnetic eyes’. The doctor became one of the most popular fictions that promoted the notion of the sinister Oriental who was a man of medical science. He also created the perfect foil for Dr Fu Manchu in Denis Nayland Smith. An expert on oriental matters, Smith had ‘saved the British Empire’ in Burma, travelled in a chauffeur driven Rolls Royce and eventually became an Assistant Commissioner for the Metropolitan Police. Starting in 1912 with The Mystery of Fu Manchu Rohmer turned the subject into some 42 major published works popular in America as well as in the United Kingdom. From 1923 onwards they provided material for twelve films.

By Brian McConnell