ARTHUR LA BERN
Arthur La Bern (1909-1990) was born in Islington, North London, the son of Lionel and Lizzy Labern, formerly Charlotte Colombo. Lionel was from Holborn, Lizzy from Clerkenwell, a third-generation Londoner of Italian descent. The Colombo family were doll-makers in an area made infamous by the Sabini gang, while Islington was another area known for its criminal element. It is not hard to see where Arthur found the raw material for some of his future work.
Lionel died in 1910, followed by his eldest son two years later. Tragedy had engulfed the Labern family and life became very hard. La Bern left school at the age of thirteen or fourteen, and while ‘terribly poor’ is remembered as being smartly-dressed and a ‘bit of a spiv’, a Jack The Lad character who was humorous, enjoyed a drink and was popular with the ladies. He moved about, sleeping here and there, but always returned to his family and an old typewriter.
It Always Rains On Sunday (1945) was his first novel. By then he had changed his name from Labern to La Bern and was claiming Huguenot ancestry, but there is no evidence to support the claim. In reality, he wanted to sound ‘posh’, believing it would give him a better chance of succeeding as a writer. The book itself was authentic and well received, and soon turned into a high-profile film.
More novels followed, with Night Darkens The Streets, Paper Orchid and Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square also adapted for the screen. The last of these was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and renamed Frenzy, but La Bern was unimpressed with the result. Other titles include Pennygreen Street, It Was Christmas Every Day, The Big Money-Box, Brighton Belle, It Will Be Warmer When It Snows, Hallelujah and Nightmare.
Arthur La Bern also worked as a crime reporter for the Evening Standard, the Daily Mirror and the Daily Mail, and during the Second World War was a correspondent for the Evening Standard in the Far East. Two non-fiction works – The Life And Death Of A Ladykiller and Haig: The Mind Of A Murderer – focus on a couple of notorious serial killers, their treatment of women at odds with the strong female characters at the heart of novels such as It Always Rains On Sunday and Brighton Belle, perhaps in turn mirroring his childhood experience of being raised by a single mother.
The success of It Always Rains On Sunday catapulted Arthur La Bern into another world. He lived the highlife, but could not control money, and in his later years fell on hard times again, at one point sleeping rough on Brighton beach. Even so, his story is one of great success, the best testimony coming from his nephew, Peter Wickins, who remembers a man who was impossible to dislike.