Nigel Balchin

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Nigel Balchin
Nigel Balchin, c 1957
Born (1908-12-03)3 December 1908
Potterne, Wiltshire, England
Died 17 May 1970(1970-05-17) (aged 61)
Hampstead, London, England
Pen name Mark Spade (occasional alongside own name)
Occupation Psychologist, author
File:The grave of Nigel Balchin, Hampstead Cemetery, London.JPG
The grave of Nigel Balchin, Hampstead Cemetery, London

Nigel Balchin (3 December 1908 – 17 May 1970)[1][2] was an English novelist and screenwriter particularly known for his novels written during and immediately after World War II: Darkness Falls from the Air, The Small Back Room (which popularised the term "[backroom boys]")[citation needed] and Mine Own Executioner.


He was born Nigel Marlin Balchin[2][3] in Potterne, Wiltshire,[2] to William and Ada Balchin. He was educated at Dauntsey's School and Peterhouse, Cambridge,[2] where he took a scholarship and became a Prizeman in Natural Sciences. He then worked for the National Institute of Industrial Psychology between 1930 and 1935. For part of this time he was a consultant to JS Rowntree & Sons,[2] where he was intimately involved in the design and marketing of Black Magic chocolates.[4][5] and, he claimed, responsible for the success of the Aero and Kit Kat brands.[2]

He wrote for Punch magazine, published three non-fiction books as Mark Spade, and also wrote novels under his own name. During World War II he was a civil servant at the Ministry of Food, and then Deputy Scientific Adviser to the Army Council, with the rank of brigadier.

In 1956, he moved abroad to write screenplays in Hollywood and elsewhere, but was increasingly troubled by alcoholism,[2] and returned permanently to England in 1962. He died in 1970 at a nursing home in Hampstead, London,[2] and is buried on the edge of the north path in Hampstead Cemetery in north London. His gravestone is small, but distinctive, having the form of an open book.


His novels enjoyed great popular success for a time. Darkness Falls from the Air is set during the London Blitz and was written while the bombing was still in progress. The Small Back Room became a Powell and Pressburger film. A Way Through the Wood was adapted as a stage play, Waiting for Gillian, and as the 2005 film Separate Lies, which marked the directorial debut of Oscar-winning screenwriter Julian Fellowes. Other critically acclaimed Balchin novels include A Sort of Traitors, Sundry Creditors, The Fall of the Sparrow and Seen Dimly Before Dawn.

As a screenwriter he worked on an early draft of Cleopatra but is principally remembered for The Man Who Never Was, for which he won the 1957 BAFTA Award for Best British Screenplay, and Mandy, the story of a deaf child. He also wrote the screenplay for The Singer Not the Song and adapted two of his own novels for the screen.


Balchin was married twice, firstly in 1933 div 1951 to Elisabeth Evelyn Walshe (1910–1991, daughter of the novelist Douglas Walshe) whom he had met at Cambridge where she was reading English at Newnham[2] with children:

  1. Prudence Ann Balchin (born 1934),[6] who married Z-Cars scriptwriter John Hopkins and ran a successful zoo for many years.
  2. Penelope Jane Balchin (born 1937),[7] better known as childcare expert Dr Penelope Leach, who married the noted science journalist Gerald Leach (1933–2004). [8]
  3. Freja Mary Balchin (born 1944),[9] who became the first female president of Cambridge University's theatre group [10] and married Richard Gregory, a leading psychologist.

His first marriage broke up following a partner-swapping arrangement between the Balchins, the artist Michael Ayrton and the latter's partner Joan. Balchin divorced Elisabeth in 1951 and she married Ayrton a year later.[2]

He married secondly in 1953 Yovanka Zorana Tomich,[11] with children:

  1. Charles Zoran Marlin Balchin (born 1955),[12] who is a leading figure in the world of sport and television having held senior roles at the BBC, Sky Sports and various overseas broadcasters.
  2. Cassandra Marlin Balchin (1962–2012),[13] who was an authority on women's rights under Islamic law.

Nowadays, Yovanka uses the name Jane.[1]


Books by Mark Spade

  • How to Run a Bassoon Factory; or Business Explained (1934)
  • Business for Pleasure (1935)
  • Fun and Games – How to Win at Almost Anything (1936)
  • How to Run a Bassoon Factory and Business for Pleasure (1950)

Novels by Nigel Balchin

  • No Sky (1934)
  • Simple Life (1935)
  • Lightbody on Liberty (1936)
  • Darkness Falls from the Air (1942)
  • The Small Back Room (1943), made into a film in 1948
  • Mine Own Executioner (1945), made into a film in 1947
  • Lord, I Was Afraid (1947)
  • The Borgia Testament (1948)
  • A Sort of Traitors (1949), made into a film (Suspect) in 1960
  • A Way Through the Wood (1951), made into a stage play, Waiting for Gillian in 1954, and the 2005 film Separate Lies.
  • Sundry Creditors (1953)
  • The Fall of the Sparrow (1955)
  • Seen Dimly Before Dawn (1962)
  • In the Absence of Mrs. Petersen (1966)
  • Kings of Infinite Space (1967)

Screenplays by Nigel Balchin


  • Income and Outcome. A Study of Personal Finance (1936)
  • The Aircraft Builders. An Account of British Aircraft Production 1935-1945 (1947) monograph
  • The Anatomy of Villainy (1950) essays
  • Last Recollections of My Uncle Charles (1954) stories
  • The Worker in Modern Industry (1954) pamphlet
  • Fatal Fascination (1964) essays by Balchin and three other writers


  1. 1.0 1.1
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 2.9 Peter Rowland, "Balchin, Nigel Marlin (1908–1970)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, accessed 9 December 2008
  3. The middle name 'Marlin' was inherited from his great great great grandmother, Mary Marlin, who married Uriah Balchin in 1748. All subsequent generations of this branch of the Balchin family have used this middle name. Marriage license held by the London Metropolitan Archives.
  4. Nigel Balchin, Derek Collett, Book and Magazine Collector, issue 301, December 2008.
  5. Rowntree's Cocoa Works, Making the Modern World study guide, The Science Museum
  6. GRO Register of Births: DEC 1934 1a 16 PADDINGTON – Prudence A. Balchin, mmn = Walshe
  7. GRO Register of Births: MAR 1938 1a 808 HAMPSTEAD – Penelope J. Balchin, mmn = Walshe
  9. GRO Register of Births: MAR 1945 1a 551 MARYLEBONE – Freja M. Balchin, mmn = Walshe
  10. Daily Express, 1 May 1966
  11. GRO Register of Marriages: MAR 1953 5d 712 MARYLEBONE – Balchin = Tomich or Tomic
  12. GRO Register of Births: DEC 1955 5d 189 PADDINGTON – Charles Z. M. Balchin, mmn = Tomich
  13. GRO Register of Births: JUN 1962 5d 261 PADDINGTON – Cassandra M. Balchin, mmn = Tomich

Further reading

  • Derek Collett: His Own Executioner: The Life of Nigel Balchin. Bristol: SilverWood Books 2015. ISBN 978-1-7813-2391-5

External links