Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Yates, Alan Geoffrey (1923–1985)

by Richard Waterhouse

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Alan Geoffrey Yates (1923-1985), author, best known as ‘Carter Brown’, was born on 1 August 1923 at Ilford, Essex, England, only child of Harry Thomas Yates, railway clerk, and his wife Linda Annie, née Willingale. Alan worked for British Acoustic Films, converting films from 35 to 16 mm.

Enlisting in the Royal Navy in September 1942, he served in Landing Craft Infantry (Small) No.504 on operations that included the invasion of Europe in June 1944. After being commissioned in February 1945, he spent eighteen months in the light cruiser, HMS Euryalus, in the Pacific. He was demobilised in England as a sub-lieutenant in January 1947.

On leave in Sydney in 1945 he had met 18-year-old Denise Sinclair MacKellar. They married on 3 June 1946 at St Chad’s Church of England, Cremorne. In England he went back to British Acoustic Films as a sound cameraman, a job he found unrewarding. He wrote some magazine articles and radio scripts that were rejected. The couple returned to Australia in 1948.

After working as a salesman, wine company clerk and newsagent supplier, Yates joined Qantas Empire Airways Ltd as a publicity writer, producing the monthly flight magazine as well as the staff journal. In the evenings he wrote a western, which was accepted by Invincible Press; he received £20, or £1 per 1000 words. Soon he was also writing for Horwitz Publications, branching out into horror, science-fiction and detective stories, published under the pen names of ‘Paul Valdez’ and ‘Tod Conway’. Spurred by his Horwitz publisher, he began to concentrate on crime-genre novellas and then full-length detective novels, the first of which was Murder is My Mistress (1954). These were published under the pseudonyms of ‘Peter Carter Brown’ and ‘Peter Carter-Brown’.

Horwitz lured him to become a full-time writer, offering him a contract that guaranteed a weekly income of £30 against royalties. In the mid-1950s Yates was turning out more than twenty books a year; they were also published in England and Finland. In 1958 the New American Library began to publish his novels (beginning with The Body) under the Signet label and with the author listed as Carter Brown, a name judged most suitable for the American market. Eventually his books were translated into fourteen languages, including German and Japanese.

Between 1954 and 1984 Yates published 215 ‘Carter Brown’ novels and some 75 novella-length stories. Individual titles sold up to 200 000 copies and total sales reached 55 million. Set mostly in California — to meet what Yates believed were readers’ expectations — they featured such heroes as the scatterbrained private investigator Mavis Seidlitz, the Hollywood screenwriter Larry Baker and Randy Roberts, a San Francisco lawyer. The quintessential ‘Carter Brown’ character was Al Wheeler, a Pine City policeman, who made his first appearance in The Wench is Wicked (1955). In the course of his investigations Wheeler inevitably encountered sexually alluring women who usually also proved extremely dangerous. The inevitable and formulaic sex scenes, which left much to the imagination in the early novels, became more explicit later. The novels were characterised by brevity, simple plots, humour, sex, action and a dash of violence. Yates did not visit the United States of America until 1958 so his early attempts at American vernacular, the result of his own imaginings, were clumsy and inaccurate. His subsequent American visits helped him to reflect colloquial language more accurately.

Written within the tradition of pulp detective stories, Yates’s books were mostly ignored by the critics. Perhaps frustrated by this stereotyping, he occasionally announced plans to engage in more serious ventures, including a historical novel set in Australia, but none came to fruition.

Yates’s own world was very different from the glamorous and sexually charged society inhabited by his characters. For many years he lived at St Ives, Sydney, but returned to England for ten years. A devoted family man, he, with his wife, resided in Hong Kong in 1964 in order to adopt their fourth child, Andrew. He was, as Morris West noted, a modest man who wore his fame lightly and who found enjoyment in sharing a joke and a beer with a friend. His wife served on the board of directors of the Marian Street Theatre, and as manager of the Independent Theatre and executive officer of the Australian Society of Authors.

A radio series, ‘The Carter Brown Mystery Theatre’, was broadcast in 1956-58. In 1982 the Sydney Theatre Company staged a musical version of The Stripper (1961). In his final years Yates was working on a television series based on the ‘Carter Brown’ novels. His autobiography, Ready When You Are, C. B.!, was published in 1983. Survived by his wife and their daughter and three sons, he died of chronic obstructive airways disease on 5 May 1985 in his home at Cremorne and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • J. M. Reilly (ed), Twentieth-Century Crime and Mystery Writers (1980)
  • Australian Author, vol 17, no 2, 1985, p 2
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 3 Apr 1965, p 20, 7 May 1985, p 5
  • The Times (London), 7 May 1985, p 14
  • New York Times, 8 May 1985, p B8.

Citation details

Richard Waterhouse, 'Yates, Alan Geoffrey (1923–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/yates-alan-geoffrey-15658/text26853, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 11 December 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2017

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Brown, Carter
  • Carter-Brown, Peter
  • Valdez, Paul
  • Conway, Tod
Birth

1 August 1923
Ilford, Essex, England

Death

5 May 1985
Cremorne, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

pneumonia

Cultural Heritage
Occupation