Ethel Lina White

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Ethel Lina White (2 April 1876[1] – 13 August 1944) was a British crime writer, best known for her novel The Wheel Spins (1936), on which the Alfred Hitchcock film, The Lady Vanishes (1938), was based.

Early years[edit]

Born in Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, Wales, in 1876[2], the daughter of William White, builder and inventor of the Hygeian Rock Building Composition, and Ethel C White, both of Clifton, Bristol. She was one of nine children. White grew up in Fairlea Grange[3], which was built in the 1880s by her father[4], and started writing as a child, contributing essays and poems to children's papers. Later she began to write short stories, but it was some years before she wrote books.

Career as a writer[edit]

She left employment in a government job working for the Ministry of Pensions in order to pursue writing. Her writing was to make her one of the best known crime writers in Britain and the United States during the 1930s and '40s.

Her first three works, published between 1927 and 1930, were mainstream novels. Her first crime novel, published in 1931, was Put Out the Light. Although she has now faded into obscurity, in her day she was as well known as writers like Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie. Her works have enjoyed a revival in recent years with a stage adaptation of The Lady Vanishes touring the UK in 2001 and the BBC broadcast of an abridged version on BBC Radio 4 as well as a TV adaptation by the BBC in 2013. Also, many of her works previously unavailable have recently been published for Amazon Kindle.


She died in London in 1944 aged 68.


The first adaptation of White's work was The Wheel Spins. Whilst The Lady Vanishes is primarily seen as one of the highlights of Alfred Hitchcock's career, he almost didn't make the film, as he did so to fulfill a studio contract.

Following the success of The Lady Vanishes there was interest in making more movies from her books and in 1945 her novel Midnight House became The Unseen, directed by Lewis Allen.

Shortly after that came an adaptation of Some Must Watch, one of White's earlier novels. Again the name of the novel was changed and became The Spiral Staircase gaining a Best Supporting Actress Oscar Nomination for Ethel Barrymore.


Short stories[edit]

  • Honey, in Pearson's Weekly, 7 September 1935
  • Cheese. Reprinted, Capital Crimes (British Library. Ed. Martin Edwards)
  • Old Man River Reprinted, Best Mystery Stories (Faber & Faber, 1930)
  • Waxworks. Australian Women's Weekly, 25 May 1935. Reprinted, Silent Nights (British Library, Ed. Martin Edwards, 2015)

Stage plays[edit]

  • The Port of Yesterday (1928)


  1. ^ The novel was serialised in six weekly 15 minute parts, read by Brenda Blethyn, from 7 March 2008 on BBC Radio 2.
  1. ^ [1], Ethel Lina White,
  2. ^ Abergavenny Local History Society Archived 2009-01-29 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Big House Holiday Lets
  4. ^ Devine, Darren (9 April 2014). "For sale: striking childhood home of leading Welsh crime writer who inspired Hitchcock's the Lady Vanishes". walesonline.

External links[edit]