Philip High was not a native of Kent. He was born in Biggleswade in Bedfordshire, whilst his parents were of Norfolk descent. He was born on 28th April 1914, he was the middle of three brothers, the eldest was Ralph and the youngest was Jack. They lived as children in North Walsham and then in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk.
His father worked in the local bank, and in 1921 was transferred to Whitstable. Except for a few years at infant school therefore, the majority of his education was in Kent.
An important Discovery
In the summer of 1927, young Philip discovered an imported copy of ‘Astounding Stories’, and was hooked on science fiction there and then. He stated once “I am often asked how I began but that, too, began with a story.”
“The scene is a low hill somewhere in Kent and the month is August. The actors are three school boys sprawled in the long grass. The ‘props’, a pile of magazines, a lemonade bottle and an empty packet of cheap cigarettes. One of the boys wears a wide albeit fixed grin which challenges the others to question his familiarity with cigarettes, nonetheless his face has a greenish tinge. To hide the unease in his stomach he grabs the nearest magazine to hand and in so doing, opens for himself a new world..”
He thereupon devoured any science fiction he could lay his hands on, and all that Jules Verne and H.G. Wells had written and became totally addicted. Whether this affected his schooling is conjectural, but he recalls with some amusement: “When I tell you that I was an average schoolboy I border on the edge of self-praise. I was consistently bottom of the class in mathematics and, in one exam, achieved the shameful distinction of having one of my papers marked minus ten. I even had one of the questions wrong.”
His schooling over, his own writing ambitions surfaced when he was sixteen, but strangely, his early attempts at fiction were not science fiction or fantasy. Although he read the genre avidly, he never thought to try writing it. Alas success was not just around the corner. For many years he would write fiction and despatch it hopefully to magazines, only to receive the customary rejection slip in return. He collected so many that he laughingly claimed he used them to paper a small tool shed.
He was a prodigious writer of all types of fiction, but there was one writer he particularly admired and this was Neville Shute, not a science fiction writer, but one of which he stated “That his style, his approach, was the one I most admired, and I hoped one day to write as well as he did.”
World War II
World War II interrupted his writing as he served in the Navy, but he still contrived to obtain copies of the science fiction pulp magazines as best he could, and remembered following ‘Tales of Wonder’ until wartime paper shortages forced its early demise.
In the meantime he undertook a host of jobs including commercial traveller, insurance agent, reporter, salesman, and bus driver. He married Pamela Baker in 1950 and thereupon moved to Canterbury, Kent. It wasn’t until about this time that science fiction really began to take a hold in England, spearheaded by the astonishingly successful paperback novels of John Russell Fern, written for Scion Ltd under the contractual pen name of ‘Vargo Statten’.
Suddenly after devouring and soaking up ideas for science fiction for so many years, he had the idea, why not try writing the kind of stories he loved himself?
First science fiction story
So in 1955, his first serious attempt at science fiction, a story called The Statics was quickly despatched to the magazine Authentic Science Fiction, edited by H.J Campbell. To his great delight, it was accepted, although there were misgivings about the presentation as he was not yet aware of the correct way of laying out his typescript in a professional manner.
He recalls “I received six guineas for it. It was one of the biggest thrills of my life. I am quite certain I walked up the wall and across the ceiling twice.”
Exultant at the sale of a story, he threw himself into the fray with renewed vigour.
Confidence ran high!
Following his next short story Wrath of the Gods published in the July 1956 issue of the Scottish magazine Nebula, the editor ran a half-page advertisement listing High amongst a group of “Tomorrow’s Big Names”. Since it was only his second appearance, it reveals the confidence editors had in his work.
Both Nebula and the London magazine New Worlds carried points tables showing how stories fared in readers’ popularity. From 1956 onwards High featured consistently well in these lists, often in first or second place. An ecstatic reader writing into the letter column of Nebula in consequence of his Lords of Creation said, in part: “By far your best contributor is Philip E High. Every story of his I have read has left me wondering at his variety of plot.”
Being a bus driver allowed him the opportunity to write. He recalls how one Sunday in August 1961 he was placed on standby to drive a relief bus when the holiday rush began, for which he was being paid double time. As it happened it rained, so to fill in the time he drafted out a complete short story which he subsequently sold, a very profitable day. That story, Probability Factor appeared in the March 1962 New Worlds, and would be of particular interest to Kentish readers as its setting is on the A20, and it concerns a top-secret new computer that disappears en route in the vicinity of Lenham.
Love of Science Fiction
Up until 1964 his output was purely short-stories, forty-four of them by then. There was however a rapid decline in science fiction magazine publishing at the time and with good fortune he graduated to the novel. The first, The Prodigal Sun appeared in the United States in 1964. One novel, Invader on my Back, published by Robert Hale in 1968, was written in only fifty-eight days whilst he was on shift work. He recalls “This may sound exhausting but in actual fact it relaxes me to write after driving, and vice versa.” In the late 1960’s he virtually ceased writing short stories. He found himself out of sympathy with the of the direction of the ‘new science fiction’ taken by Michael Moorcock’s revived version of ‘New Worlds’. In 1969 Phil Harbottle was appointed editor of a new British Science Fiction magazine, ‘Vision of Tomorrow’. Amongst the authors who rallied to his aid was Philip High. The publication ceased in 1970 after twelve issues. Once again he concentrated on writing novels, some of which are now available on Cosmos Books.
Change in Times
At the end of the late 1970’s he ceased writing having been advised that the market had changed too much for there to be interest in his stories. In 1997 Sean Wallace and Phil Harbottle decided to publish their own magazine, ‘Fantasy Annual’. Phil Harbottle contacted a number of former ‘Vision’ authors for material including Phil High. Phil now 83, and a widower with two grown up daughters, was delighted to be asked as he felt he still had things to say! Phil Harbottle had no hesitation in buying the first story he sent The Kiss. After this he continued to send in a steady stream of short stories many of which were published in ‘Fantasy Annual/Quarterly’. He also had two collections of his short stories published The Best of Philip E. High (2002) and Step To The Stars (2004).
He also attended various book fairs, in order to sign copies, and promote sales of the Wildside titles. He enjoyed attending these fairs, and for the first time in years had the opportunity to meet his public, his fellow authors, and he was pleased, gratified and on occasions overwhelmed that his fans remembered him and were still interested in his work. He had been missed, but not Forgotten. In 2006 he started work on a new project, a western novel called the Three Riders. In the early part of this year his health started to fail and plans were put in place to move him closer to one of his daughters so they could look after him. In May 2006 he was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus and a property near to his daughter was arranged. During this time he confirmed his continued interest and desire to finish his project the The Three Riders. Five days before his proposed move he was rushed to hospital with a minor heart attack – sadly he never left the hospital. The heart attack, along with a severe chest infection and other complications left him too weak to recover and he died in Kent and Canterbury hospital on 9th August 2006. His daughters are extremely proud of their father’s long and distinguished career and his achievements, and both hope he will receive further recognition for his work and his own unique contribution to British science fiction.