Thursday, May 6, 2021

Dame Margaret and G D H Cole

Left-wing couple formed brilliant mystery writing team

Margaret Cole was honoured for services to local government and education
Margaret Cole was honoured for services
to local government and education

Socialist politician, poet and writer Dame Margaret Isabel Cole formed an unusual partnership with her husband, George Douglas Howard Cole, to write more than 30 detective novels and volumes of short mystery stories.

Born Margaret Postgate on 6 May, 1893, she studied at Cambridge University and though female students at the time were not allowed to graduate, after completing her course she became a classics teacher at St Paul’s Girls School and began writing poetry. Her poem, The Falling Leaves, a response to the First World War, is currently on the GCSE English Literature syllabus.

Margaret started questioning her Anglican upbringing after reading H G Wells and George Bernard Shaw while at Girton College, Cambridge and she also embraced socialism.

In 1918 she married G D H Cole, a political theorist, economist and historian. He was a prolific writer of political non-fiction between 1913 and the 1950s.

G D H and M Cole’s first joint effort at a detective novel, Death of a Millionaire, was published in 1925.

The Giant Book of Great Detective Stories
The Giant Book of Great
Detective Stories 
I recently read and enjoyed a short story by the couple, Superintendent Wilson’s Holiday, which was published in 1928. I was fortunate enough to come across it in The Giant Book of Great Detective Stories edited by Herbert Van Thal.

Evidently a series character, Superintendent Wilson had been working very hard solving crimes and so his physician and sidekick, Michael, who like Sherlock Holmes’s Watson is a friend and medical adviser to the great detective, suggests they take a walking holiday in Norfolk.

By coincidence, they stumble across a deserted tent on the cliffs and then discover a body. Superintendent Wilson begins looking for clues and quickly establishes that a murder has taken place.

He sets about investigating, seeing things his loyal friend fails to notice, which is, of course, a familiar story. Despite no shortage of suspects, he ensures the right person is caught, convicted and hanged. Afterwards, Michael reports that Wilson is looking much better and is back to his old self. There’s nothing like a good murder investigation to put a spring in your step!

According to Martin Edwards in his book, The Golden Age of Murder, Douglas and Margaret Cole were ‘the leading lights of the Left among Golden Age detective novelists’. They also became members of the Detection Club along with Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers and Ronald Knox.

As a member of the Education Committee of the London County Council, Margaret became a champion of comprehensive education. Harold Wilson gave her an OBE and she became a Dame in 1970 for services to Local Government and Education.

Dame Margaret Cole died on 7 May, 1980, the day after her 87th birthday.

Many of G D H and M I Cole’s joint mystery novels are out of print, but second-hand copies can be found on

Martin Edwards's The Golden Age of Murder is available from or


No comments:

Post a Comment