Josephine Tey was a gifted novelist and screenwriter, but what was her real identity?
Elizabeth MacKintosh may be the most famous crime writer you’ve never heard of. This Invernessian is better known by her pseudonym, Josephine Tey. Intensely private, her life is as mysterious as the stories she penned.
Born in 1896, she trained as a gym teacher in Birmingham. She taught in England and Scotland before returning to Inverness in 1923 when her mother fell ill and died. Beth stayed to care for her father, and began writing. Using the name Gordon Daviot, she wrote for newspapers and published her first novel, Kif: An Unvarnished History, to critical acclaim. She followed this three months later with her first mystery, The Man In The Queue, featuring Inspector Alan Grant.
As Daviot, Beth wrote almost two dozen plays. Her first, Richard Of Bordeaux, made a superstar of John Gielgud, who directed and starred in it in the West End in 1933.
Beth loved theatre but adored the cinema, visiting the picture house in Inverness at least twice a week, so a stint as a Hollywood scriptwriter seemed a dream come true. She adapted novels for the screen such as Next Time We Love – James Stewart’s first leading role.
She found this too collaborative, however, and returned to her books, breaking the mould with unconventional, fresh mystery novels as Josephine Tey. Some of these novels became films themselves, such as Hitchcock’s Young And Innocent, based on her 1936 novel A Shilling For Candles, and the Hammer Horror Paranoiac, inspired by 1949’s Brat Farrar.
Beth returned to Inspector Alan Grant novels, and in The Daughter Of Time – arguably her finest work – she lampoons formulaic mysteries.
Beth left her fortune, and future royalties, to the National Trust. Learning her liver cancer was terminal, she distanced herself from friends, including John Gielgud who read of her death in The Times. Gordon Daviot’s obituary made no mention of Josephine Tey or Elizabeth MacKintosh. In death, this brilliant novelist remains an enigma.
Discover more about the remarkable men and women who shaped Scotland and changed the world with our new bookazine Scottish Heroes
Available online from DC Thomson Shop or in stores at WHSmith