AUTHOR OF THE WEEK
FEBRUARY, I WEEK, 2011
Arthur Hailey (5 April 1920 – 24 November 2004) was a British/Canadian novelist.
Born in Luton, Bedfordshire, England, Hailey served in the Royal Air Force from the start of World War II during 1939 until 1947, when he went to live in Canada. After working at a number of jobs and writing part-time, he became a writer full-time during 1956, encouraged by the success of the CBC television drama, Flight into Danger (in print as Runway Zero Eight). Following the success of Hotel during 1965, he moved to California; in 1969, he moved to the Bahamas to avoid Canadian and U.S. income taxes, which were claiming 90% of his income.
Each of his novels has a different industrial or commercial setting and includes, in addition to dramatic human conflict, carefully researched information about the way that particular environment and system functions and how these affect society and its inhabitants.
Critics often dismissed Hailey’s success as the result of a formulaic “potboiler” style in which he caused an ordinary character to become involved in a crisis, then increased the suspense by switching among multiple related plot lines. However, he was so popular with readers that his books were almost guaranteed to become best-sellers.
He would spend about one year researching a subject, followed by six months reviewing his notes and, finally, about 18 months writing the book. That aggressive research — tracking rebel guerrillas in the Peruvian jungle at age 67 for The Evening News (1990), or reading 27 books on the hotel industry for Hotel – gave his novels a realism that appealed to readers, even as some critics complained that he used it to disguise a lack of literary talent.
Many of his books have reached #1 on the New York Times bestseller list and more than 170 million copies have been sold worldwide in 40 languages. Many have been made into movies and Hotel was made into a long-running television series. Airport became a successful film with dramatic visual effects.
A Canadian citizen whose children live in Canada and California, Hailey made his home in Lyford Cay, an exclusive residential resort on New Providence Island in the Bahamas with his second wife Sheila (who wrote “I Married a Best-Seller” published in 1978). Hailey’s grandchildren include Paul Hailey, Emma Hailey, Charlotte Hailey and Brooke Hailey, who are students in Northern California, Angela Hailey, Ryan Hailey and Christopher Hailey.
In 2002, Hailey told John Marquis, editor of the Bahamas’ principal daily newspaper The Tribune, that he was lucky in having supportive parents who encouraged him to believe in himself. Brought up in a working-class home, Hailey never lost the common touch following his phenomenal success. ‘I have worked hard, but I have also been very lucky,’ he said.
He had begun his writing life as a journalist on a transport magazine, but got his break as a fiction writer when, during a flight, he began to ponder what would happen if both pilots fell sick from food poisoning. The storyline led to his first big success.
Hailey said he detached himself from his plots and characters once a book had been sold to Hollywood. Having tried script-writing at one stage in his career, he saw movie-making as a completely different discipline from novel writing and decided to stick with what he knew.
For much of his career, Hailey was either derided on ignored by literary critics, who often felt his plots were contrived and his characters wooden. However, the readers loved his work, and two years before his death in 2004 many of his major books were reissued.
When Hailey died in his sleep at his waterfront home in November, 2004, his family staged a celebration of his life at the exclusive Lyford Cay Club in Nassau, Bahamas. News of his death was published in more than 300 major newspapers all over the world.
His wife Sheila told John Marquis that her husband’s only ambition as a writer was ‘to see his name on the spine of a book – nothing more’. In the event, his name appeared on the spines of nearly 200 million books, accumulating a fortune which enabled him to live in luxury alongside the likes of Sir Sean Connery, billionaire Joe Lewis and Canadian fashion tycoon Peter Nygard.
His last published work was a slim history of Lyford Cay, which was established as a private estate for wealthy residents by the developer E P Taylor. It was intended for limited distribution among Lyford Cay residents and anyone interested in Bahamian history.
- Runway Zero-Eight (1958) – in-flight medical emergency, caused by food poisoning; spoofed in the movie Airplane!. This story started as the CBC TV movie Flight into Danger, then became the 1957 Paramount Pictures movie Zero Hour!, and was finally published as the novel Runway Zero-Eight (ISBN 0-440-17546-1).
- The Final Diagnosis (1959) – hospital politics as seen from the pathology department
- In High Places (1960) – Cold War Era politics in North America
- Hotel (1965) – hotels
- Airport (1968) – airport politics
- Wheels (1971) – automobile industry
- The Moneychangers (1975) – banks
- Overload (1979) – power crisis in California
- Strong Medicine (1984) – pharmaceutical industry
- The Evening News (1990) – newscasters
- Detective (1997) – investigation politics