by Alison Flood)
The gruff Lancashire comedian Les Dawson harboured secret aspirations to make it as a romantic novelist, his daughter has revealed.
The much-loved comic and gameshow host penned 110 pages of a supernatural romantic thriller before he died in 1993, his daughter Charlotte told the BBC in a documentary about Dawson to be broadcast this week. Dawson wrote the manuscript, which he called An Echo of Shadows, under the pseudonym Maria Brett-Cooper because "he was scared that it wouldn't be taken seriously" if he published under his own name, according to his daughter.
Dawson's widow, Tracy, told the BBC that her late husband was "very deep. He was a very intellectual man and I think he wanted to bring the serious side of his writing out."
The manuscript was discovered by the family when they were moving house. The story begins during the American civil war, as a Union soldier discovers gold bullion in a captured Confederate wagon. He brings the treasure home to his family in Cornwall, "but with it comes a curse that haunts him and his family over the subsequent decades", said the BBC.
In one extract provided by the family, the comic writes: "As the dark bars of dusk fingered the sky, Janine excused herself shyly and whispered that she was going to prepare for bed, and she blushed fiercely. Caldwell merely smiled as he poured out yet another whiskey and water, and stood and held his glass towards her. 'I won't be long my dear. Just one cigar, hey?'"
Another extract focuses on the novel's supernatural elements: "The thing had been there since the dawn of time, and it lived in the darkness and the stagnant dampness of secret places," writes Dawson. "Those who discovered its power would become enslaved by that power, and the Thing would devour their souls. It could change its form into other molecular structures and its power would remain constant. Bloated and deathly grey, it waited … "
Tracy Dawson, who compared the novel to Barbara Taylor Bradford or Catherine Cookson, said that writing was the "first love" of her late husband. Better known for the television shows Blankety Blank and Sez Les, and for his standup work, Dawson did write other novels, including Come Back With the Wind ("It takes a special kind of moral courage to say, as did Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn, 'Do you fancy a walk round the block?'", he wrote in his story of a civil war between the north and south of England), and The Blade and the Passion, which he called "A record of an era so lusty and physical that it makes the reader want to wear a truss".
"He was told by publishers that if he was ever going to do a romantic novel, which he wanted to do … it might be better to do it under an assumed name, like a lady's name. I don't know where he got the name from," Tracy Dawson told the BBC. "He was always writing and I didn't realise it was something like this, so I am very surprised."
Charlotte Dawson is now intending to finish the novel herself, and then "hopefully publish it", she said. "He deserves this," she added.
Romantic novelist Sue Moorcroft, vice chair of the Romantic Novelists Association, called the discovery "fascinating". "I'd love to read the novel," she said. "Les Dawson was a household name when I was growing up but I would never have suspected him of writing the kind of book I love to read. Authors often choose a pseudonym to create space between their writing and their day job – but the day job of being 'superstar comedian' is unusual."