Britain’s most glamorous crime writer dies: Clare Dunkel, 59, went from starring as the busty secretary in Are You Being Served? to becoming a ‘connoisseur of corpses’ known for her gory thrillers
- Author dubbed ‘Britain’s most glamorous’ crime writer has died at the age of 59
- Clare Dunkel, who wrote using pen name of Mo Hayder, passed away last month
- Rose to fame as glamour model using name Candy Davis and starred in sitcoms
- Won Miss Nude in 1982 and played ditzy secretary in Are You Being Served?
- Began writing gory crime fiction and was known as a connoisseur of corpses
Britain’s most glamorous crime writer who rose to fame in the eighties as a Page 3 model and actress has died aged 59.
Clare Dunkel, who lived in the West Country, shot to fame as a glamour model in the seventies using the name Candy Davis, starring in iconic British comedy shows like Are You Being Served? and the Two Ronnies.
She went on to become a bestselling author of gory crime fiction, including her first novel Birdman, and published ten novels which were met with critical acclaim under the pen name of ‘connoisseur of corpses’ Mo Hayder.
Known as the ‘queen of fear’, the crime novelist died last month having ‘fought valiantly’ after being diagnosed with motor neurone disease in December.
Britain’s most glamorous crime writer Clare Dunkel, who lived in the West Country, who rose to fame in the eighties as a Page 3 model has died aged 59 (pictured, with her novel Tokio in 2005)
Clare was born Clare Damaris Bastin in Epping, Essex in 1962 to her mother, Susan Hollins, an English teacher, and her father, John Bastin, a renowned astrophysicist.
She previously said she and her brother Richard had a ‘really normal’ childhood with overly protective parents.
She told The Times: ‘Like most mothers, mine wanted to protect our innocence. That was the last thing I wanted, I wanted to throw my innocence out the window.’
She dropped out of Loughton County High School for Girls at the age of 15 and left home the following year.
It was when she appeared as the blonde bombshell Miss Belfridge in the last two series of the hugely successful BBC sitcom Are You Being Served? that she shot to stardom
Then a Page Three model, Clare went on to star in British sitcoms including The Two Ronnies (pictured, as Miss Exotica Stormtrooper)
While in her early twenties, she began using the stage name Candy Davis, dying her hair peroxide blonde and posing for Page 3 shots in the tabloids.
In 1982 she was awarded the title of Miss Nude and said she aspired to be the world’s most beautiful woman, setting her sights on the Miss World title.
It was when she appeared as the blonde bombshell Miss Belfridge in the last two series of the hugely successful BBC sitcom Are You Being Served? that she shot to stardom.
The original sitcom began on BBC1 in 1972 and ran until 1985.
Clare, who has become known as ‘the queen of fear, is survived by her teenage daughter Lotte (pictured right, and centre, Clare’s late father)
Clare’s dizzy blonde character became Mr Rumbold’s longest-staying secretary, lasting two series and appearing in 13 episodes of the programme.
The long-running television comedy, where Mrs Slocombe regularly mentioned going home to her ‘pussy’, was such a hit that a feature film was made based on the series.
The show regularly pulled in high viewing figures and Clare was a huge hit with fans.
Re-runs of Are You Being Served? transformed Clare’s co-stars into cult figures in the U.S. in the early 1990s.
WHAT IS MOTOR NEURONE DISEASE?
Motor neurone disease is a rare condition that mainly affects people in their 60s and 70s, but it can affect adults of all ages.
It’s caused by a problem with cells in the brain and nerves called motor neurones. These cells gradually stop working over time. It’s not known why this happens.
Having a close relative with motor neurone disease, or a related condition called frontotemporal dementia, can sometimes mean you’re more likely to get it. But it doesn’t run in families in most cases.
Early symptoms can include weakness in your ankle or leg, like finding it hard to walk upstairs; slurred speech, finding it hard to swallow, a weak grip, and gradual weight loss
If you have these sympthoms, you should see a GP. They will consider other possible conditions and can refer you to a specialist called a neurologist if necessary.
If a close relative has motor neurone disease or frontotemporal dementia and you’re worried you may be at risk of it – they may refer you to a genetic counsellor to talk about your risk and any tests you can have
Source: NHS UK
Meanwhile Clare went on to appear in shows like The Benny Hill Show and The Two Ronnies, where she clad herself in patent leather and played Miss Exotica Stormtrooper.
She married the 2point4 children actor Gary Olsen in 1985, but they later divorced in 1990.
Clare then ditched her Candy Davis persona, escaped the UK for Japan at the age of 25, where she thought she might become a geisha.
Instead, she worked as a hostess in a Tokyo club and teacher of English as a foreign language in Asia.
She told The Independent: ‘In Tokyo I lived a very austere, isolated life . . . living in one room and only going out to work. I think I was torturing myself, a kind of self-punishment for all those years of not really getting my act together.
While working in the nightclub, a colleague was raped, and she found herself fascinating over the crime.
She previously revealed the moment sparked an obsession with violence and ‘in particular men’s sexual violence towards women.’
She said: ‘After my friend was raped, I went through a phase where I kept seeing people die. The first time, I was sitting in a coffee bar when someone at the next table died of a heart attack. A week later I saw a workman fall to his death from a high building. Then I saw a young boy die of snakebite.’
She then moved to Los Angeles to study film, creating cartoon animations in which animals pulled each other’s heads off and ate them.
Clare returned to Britain, changing her name once again to Beatrice Clare Dunkel and in 1995 began writing her first novel Birdman.
The novel follows DI Jack Caffery’s investigation into a murder of five young women in London in which the serial killer rips out his victims’ hearts and sews a live finch into their chests.
She financed the project by working as a secretary and a security guard, and used her own experiences as a young woman in London as inspiration.
She sent the manuscript to several agents and was stunned when she was accepted by leading literary agent Jane Gregory who got her an offer of nearly £200,000 for a two-book deal.
Clare returned from Los Angeles to the UK in 1995 and began working on her first novel, a crime thriller called Birman, which was an international bestseller upon it’s release in 1999 (pictured, in 2000)
Patrick Janson-Smith of Transworld described the manuscript at the 1998 Frankfurt Book Fair as one of the most powerful and violent books he had come across, ‘a completely gripping story with believable characters.’
Birdman was published in 1999 under the pen name Mo Hayder and became an international bestseller, with The Guardian calling her a ‘young writer in touch with her dark side and a major new talent’.
She went on to publish 10 novels under the pen name, including her second novel The Treatment, which opens with the discovery of a husband and wife found beaten and restrained at their home, their young son missing
Meanwhile the Independent said it was snapped up by publishers in 10 countries as a successor to Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs.
She went on to publish 10 novels under the pen name, including The Treatment, which opens with the discovery of a husband and wife found beaten and restrained at their home, their young son missing.
Later, a mother is forced to watch her child being attacked by a paedophile.
It won the 2002 W.H.Smith Thumping Good Read award.
Her seventh, Gone, won the Edgar Allan Poe award, while her 10th, Wolf, was nominated for Best Novel in the 2015 Edgar Awards and is currently being adapted for the BBC.
She won the Crime Writers’ Association Dagger in the Library award for an outstanding body of work in 2011.
She told The Times: ‘Everybody’s fascinated by gore really, aren’t they? Two hundred years ago, we’d all have been going down to the gallows — and anyway I think it’s bad for people to suppress their dark side; it only gets more intense.’
She described the gory scenes within her books as a ‘kind of obsession’ and became known as ‘a connoisseur of corpses’.
She won the 2002 W.H.Smith Thumping Good Read award The Treatment, which saw a mother forced to watch her child being attacked by a paedophile
She went on to sell 6.5 million copies worldwide and earned numerous awards, despite facing criticism for the graphic nature of her early tales.
Several years before her death, she began working on a new series under the name Theo Clare.
The Book of Sand, set in an alternate universe, will be published in early 2022, and Clare described feeling ‘so happy to be writing fiction set in an entirely imaginative universe.’
She was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in December, with her publisher Penguin Random House, saying ‘the disease progressed at an alarming rate’.
The crime writer has gone on to sell 6.5 million copies worldwide and earned numerous awards, despite facing criticism for the graphic nature of her early tales
In the days after her death in July, the industry paid tribute to ‘brilliant storyteller’ Clare for pushing the limits of the crime genre with her terrifying thrillers.
According to the Bookseller, Selina Walker, publisher of Century and her long-term editor, said: ‘Everyone who knew Mo (as she was then called) was, I think, a little in love with her.
‘I met her back in 2000 and worked with her for the next 10 years. She was the most amazing writer, never afraid to push the boundaries of the conventional crime novel or to challenge our perceptions.
‘Most of all she was a brilliant storyteller, producing unputdownable book after book, all with flawed, utterly believable characters, of whom her series detective, Jack Caffery, was perhaps the most memorable…
Several years before her death, she began working on a new series under the name Theo Clare, which is set to be released next year (pictured)
‘Her best scenes were always terrifying. She was the bravest writer I knew, but she was also fun and funny, someone you always wanted to spend time with.’
Jenny Colgan wrote on Twitter: ‘She never watered down a thing – her books were neat and chokingly strong – such an absolutely blazing talent,’ while Harlan Coben called her ‘a tremendous talent, a true original, and, well, really cool’.
She is survived by her daughter, Lotte, and her husband, Bob.
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