Charles Whiting

CHARLES Whiting customarily had two or three books on the go at once, and by the time of his death aged 80 he had produced around 330 titles under his own name and those of a stable of nom de plumes including Leo Kessler, Duncan Harding, Ian Harding, John Kerrigan. Klaus Konrad and KN Kostov.

Most emerged from a typewriter clattering away in a large-roomed terrace house not more than half a mile from York Minster.

This was a man with an exceptionally agile brain who churned out gory war stories because of their huge popularity, but they were not much to his own taste.

"Bang-bang, thrills-and-spills" was how he once described them, and publishers who know that authors' names which start with mid-alphabet letters get picked off the book shelves faster than the rest, gave him pseudonyms starting with the mid-alphabet letters. And they gave him a great many because of his extraordinary productivity. He could produce a novel in a month – even in a couple of weeks if pressed – and his publishers thought there was danger of the market being over-burdened by his books.

His discipline was exemplary; by 11am he would expect to have written around 3,000 words, and all of them sold – Charles Whiting did not turn out fictional stories speculatively. Publishers ordered books from him like governments order guns.

The truth is, John Kerrigan, Leo Kessler, Duncan Harding et al, had little to do with Charles Whiting the historian linguist, peripatetic lecturer and precociously bright five-year-old.

Brought up in York, his mother Irish, his father an engineer from London, he was probably the youngest-ever member of York Public Library, joining when he was five. At that age he was also teaching older children the Catechism at his Roman Catholic school.

He joined the Army aged 16 while he was at Nunthorpe Grammar School, lying about his age to enlist.

At 18 he was a sergeant, and in the winter of 1944 was sent overseas. When the war ended, he stayed on in Germany teaching English, and taking A-levels by correspondence course. Leeds University came next.

He read history and German, and in his third year wrote his novel The Frat Wagon, about fraternisation in post-war Germany. It took six weeks to write and earned him as much money as the whole year's grant.

After graduating, he taught in Leeds and then in Germany where he was to marry Irma of Hamburg, whose father had been persecuted for opposition to the Nazis.

He won a literature prize at the Cheltenham Literature Festival which paid for a study tour in North America, and working as a translator for a German chemical company he was offered a job by Maryland University.

It had a contract with the American military to provide degree courses for officers stationed in Europe, and thus Charles became a peripatetic academic, living in Spain, France, Germany, Turkey and Italy.

Between writing novels, weekly educational columns and lecturing, he established a language centre in the German city of Trier and a European studies department at Bradford.

He was later to tell an interviewer in 1993: "Being a Yorkshireman brought up in the Depression you learn to guard your rear."

By the time he was 47 he felt settled enough to become a full-time author.

He met Anthony Cheetham whom he was later to describe as an "Old Etonian and publisher of down-market fiction with enormous sales". Cheetham asked Charles if he could see his way to writing a series of wartime novels under the name of Leo Kessler.

Thus began Charles Whiting's career as a war-story novelist, his sales reaching their apogee in the 80s, when his books were selling 60,000 copies in 15 months.

Fiction subsidised his non-fiction, a preferred form of writing which began in 1969.

Among the books Charles Whiting was most proud was Fighting Tykes, a history of the Yorkshire Regiments in the Second World War, which he wrote with another ex-soldier, Eric Taylor.

He leaves his second wife, Gill Tidmus, who he married in 2005 – his first wife Irma died in 2001 – as well as Irma's son Julian, and two grandchildren.