Thursday, May 5, 2011




The XYY Man began life as a series of novels by Kenneth Royce, featuring the character of William (or Willie) 'Spider' Scott, a one-time cat-burglar who leaves prison aiming to go straight but finds his talents still to be very much in demand by both the criminal underworld and the British secret service. Scott has an extra "Y" chromosome, supposedly giving him a criminal predisposition – although he tries to go straight, he is genetically incapable of doing so.

At the time the books were written, this premise was accepted science, although it has been more or less disproved in later years. Still, the chromosomal variation provides a nice hook to portray Spider as a natural criminal who just can’t help himself.

All of this sounds like a British version of It Take A Thief, which wouldn’t be far wrong except The XYY Man was conceived well before that vaunted series hit the airwaves.

Spider, like many anti-heroes, is a seedy loner who really would rather be out of the game, but external forces – underworld types as well as British Intelligence – conspire against him.

Constantly caught up in Spider’s capers are the usual bounty of regular characters: Maggie Parsons, his long-suffering girlfriend; Fairfax, the British Intelligence mastermind; and Detective Sergeant George Bulman, the tenacious policeman who wants nothing more than to put Spider back in prison. On television, Bulman would go on to his own series, which I enjoyed even more than the original XYY Man series based on the books.


A television series of The XYY Man in 1976-7 (adapting the early books) created a popular appetite for the character, and also that of his nemesis, Detective Sergeant George Bulman, a relatively minor character in the original books, but brought to life on the screen by the memorable performance of Don Henderson.

After the run of Spider Scott programmes ended, Bulman had many television adventures not based on Royce's work (the series Strangers, 1978-82, and Bulman, 1985-7). The popularity of these probably contributed to Royce choosing to make Scott and Bulman unlikely allies and joint leads from The Crypto Man through No Way Back, while he wrote more Bulman novels towards the end of his life, including The Judas Trail (1996) and Shadows (1996).

The XYY Man novels were deftly plotted capers with enjoyable characters – consider them palette cleansers in this day of overwrought, over written, doorstop thrillers.


The XYY Man (1970)
Concrete Boot (1971)
The Miniatures Frame (1972)
Spider Underground (The Masterpiece Affair) (1973)
Trap Spider (1974)
The Crypto Man (1984)
The Mosley Receipt (1985)
No Way Back (1986)

1 comment:

Todd Mason said...

Conceived, but not published, much before IT TAKES A THIEF, it seems...