E Phillips Oppenheim – The Prince of Storytellers

‘The Prince of Storytellers’ was a title which Edward Phillips Oppenheim imposed upon himself. The English author was a pioneer in the thriller genre and a best-selling novelist. He published some of his first novels using the pseudonym Anthony Partridge, but reverted to using his real name for much of his career. Oppenheim complimented his writing with beautiful illustrations in many of his books, and thrilled audiences with his ingenious characters and plots. These included wealthy businessmen that led secret playboy lives, international espionage, and conflict between Puritans and hedonists.

Born in London on October 22, 1866 to Edward John Oppenheim and Henrietta Budd, Oppenheim was affectionately known as ‘Oppy’ during his youth. He attended the Wyggeston Grammar School in Leicester, but stopped his education at 16 to join his father’s leather business. He maintained this role for 20 years, until his father passed away, and then began to spend more time writing.

Oppenheim travelled to America in 1892 where he met Elsie Clara Hopkins, who became his wife shortly after. They settled down in Leicester, where Elsie gave birth to their only child, Josephine. In 1905, the family moved to Sheringham in northern Norfolk. The country air helped with Oppenheim’s creativity, and his writing career began to flourish.

At the beginning of WWI, the writer was appointed a position with The Ministry of Information in London. His job required that he travel to France with other journalists, and Oppenheim fell in love with the country’s quaint charm. After the war ended, he went back to London to be with his family. The author could not resist France’s intrigue, however, and after several moves to various parts of Britain, he migrated with his wife and daughter. His success as a writer facilitated the purchase of a villa between Cannes and Nice, where the family settled down.

While in France, Oppenheim indulged in various pastimes, such as playing golf, gambling and sailing his boat, Echo I, while continuing to produce successful stories. Much of his work was sold to American publishers, in advance of book sales. On September 12, 1927, Oppenheim graced the cover of Time Magazine, as one of the nation’s much-loved authors.

To avoid paying a significant amount in death duties Oppenheim sold his French family home, in 1934, and moved to the Channel Islands. The family divided their time between their new home and the Riviera, where they purchased a house in 1938. They became stranded here temporarily, when France collapsed the following year, but returned to England via Spain and Portugal in 1941. Despite poor health, Oppenheim and his wife sailed in a yacht to the Channel Islands to reclaim their home, in 1945.

  1. Phillips Oppenheim died on February 3, 1946 in St. Peter Port, Guernsey, Channel Islands, due to prostate problems that he had suffered from for many years. The author’s life can be read about in his autobiography, The Pool of Memory, published in 1941, as well as a biography written by Robert Standish, Prince of Storytellers: The Life of E. Phillips Oppenheim in 1957.
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