AN author who has written book reviews for the Gazette & Herald for more than 50 years is hanging up his pen.

Bill Spence began his association with the paper shortly after the Second World War, writing reports and articles, before starting his popular book review column.

However, at the age of 97, Bill has decided to retire from writing for the Gazette & Herald after a recent fall.

Bill, a celebrated author, had his first book, Dark Hell, published when he was 30. Since then, he has penned not only fiction, but also factual books, as well as dramatic historical novels under the pen name of Jessica Blair.

The persona was created by his publishers who felt that a woman’s name would be better for marketing purposes.

One of his daughters, Geraldine, said her father has always loved writing, and after coming out of the RAF, where he served as a Bomb Aimer in the Lancasters of 44 Squadron Bomber Command, wrote his first novel, followed by a series of Western books to reflect his love of films of the same genre.

She said: “He loved to research his books and was working on a book about Whitby’s whaling industry. As part of the details dad gathered he found he had enough information to write romantic novels based on the North East coast. His publishers liked the idea and that was the birth of Jessica Blair.”

Bill moved to Ampleforth after the war with his late wife, Joan, and it was then that he began his long association with the Gazette & Herald.

Bill was friendly with fellow author, the late Peter Walker, who had a novel coming out and thought it would be a good idea to interview him and do a review.

He enjoyed it so much that Bill went to the Gazette offices and suggested that he did a review column.

Geraldine said: “Dad liked the friendliness of the Gazette and living locally lots of people knew him. I think he has done it for so long because he enjoyed it and dad is also a very loyal person.”

Gazette & Herald editor Nigel Burton said: “It has been a privilege to have such a well-regarded author write book reviews for the Gazette & Herald for over half a century.

“I am sure our readers will miss his weekly column and join everyone at the Gazette in wishing Bill our very best wishes.”