A Knight’s Tale (102: Enter Mordred)

Some time in 1983 Jessica and I travelled up to Nottinghamshire with Sam and Louisa, and renewed our friendship with Maggie and Mike Kindred who lived in Southwell’s Dover Street.

Here Jessica and Louisa have fun in the Kindred’s kitchen.

The reason for the visit was for me to run the Newark Half Marathon for the first time.

Sam and Louisa 10.83 1
Sam and Louisa 10.83

We took the opportunity to visit Bulcote Lodge, Jessica’s family home from the age of 8. Our two children had not been there before because their maternal grandparents had moved to Wiltshire some years earlier.

Sam and Louisa 10.83 3

Sam was particularly intrigued by the sundial near the front door. Louisa wasn’t.

Sam 10.83

The duckpond had now dried up.

Jessica and Sam 10.83 1

Bulcote’s Holy Trinity Church lies across the road from the house. Jessica contemplates the place of worship to which, more than twenty years later, Louisa was to return to marry Errol.

Little did I know what this trip would lead to.  We eventually moved from Furzedown in South London to Newark in Nottinghamshire, and a lifelong friendship was cemented.  Having discovered that Michael and I shared a passion for crosswords, it seemed natural, when I got bored with reading on my daily commute to London, to set him a puzzle.  He solved it and retaliated.  This exchange continued for some time.  Other commuters, noticing what I was engrossed in, interrupted my work to ask for solutions to puzzles they were solving.  I did not give them the answers, but helped them to work it out for themselves. After a while Mike and I decided to do something a bit more ambitious and write a book which took students through a series of graded puzzles with the object of their being competent to solve a daily cryptic puzzle in any of the newspapers.  I might say that, in doing so, our own solving abilities became vastly improved.  When we began, I would spend my whole journey on the Times Crossword, often without finishing it. Eventually I would use a stopwatch and several times took less than five minutes. This book became, in 1993, ‘Chambers Cryptic Crosswords and How to Solve Them’.  It remained in print, with a number of reprints and

going into a second, improved, edition for just short of twenty years, until Chambers was finally taken over by a company which did not want to use it because they specialised in e-books.  Not being able to break into a daily newspaper team in those early days, we decided to set what are called advanced cryptics.  These are much more difficult, themed, puzzles found in the weekend newspapers, the editors of which accept puzzles from anyone who can meet the standard.  We began with The Times Listener, generally recognised as the most complex of this genre. Now we had to have a pseudonym.  So Mordred was born.  I have always loved Arthurian legend, and as a setter, fancied myself as an evil Knight.  Mordred was King Arthur’s treacherous nephew.  The ‘dred’ bit fitted nicely with Michael’s surname, and as has been mentioned by more than one sorrowful solver, the whole is a homophone for more dread.  We set a couple of joint puzzles as Mordred until, on the editor’s advice, we split up (although remaining very good friends).  I became Mordred and Michael continued to set as Emkay.

I continued to compose puzzles for The Listener and was soon setting for other newspapers and magazines. Some puzzles were to appear in collections in books and I was to feature in Collins A-Z of Crosswords. There is more to come on my development in this field.


  1. Wow, Derrick, you and my mother would become fast friends as she absolutely loved crossword puzzles! She had “cheat” books as I call them to help her too. All she wanted for Christmas each year was more puzzles!

  2. I’m very impressed, Derrick. I didn’t have an idea of what Mordred might be but it certainly wasn’t a pseudonym for a crossword puzzle maven. ???

  3. I knew you had created cryptic crosswords (I didn’t know the term was set), but not that you had written a book on the subject or had such a career with it! My husband does the NY Times crossword puzzle every day, along with some other puzzles.

  4. With the sheer joy with which you use words in your blog I am not surprised that you added being a cruciverbalist to your many talents!

  5. What a shame that your book didn’t remain in print. From the back cover blurb, I’ll bet a LOT of people appreciated it.

    The photo of Jessica and Louisa is one of the best mother-daughter portraits I’ve ever seen.

    1. I’m so pleased about each of these observations, Liz. Last time I looked second-hand copies of the book were still available on Google at varying prices. Thanks very much

  6. My late husband, Graham was something of a ‘wizard’ at solving crosswords. His usual newspapers for the task were the Times and Telegraph.
    He always maintained that it was simply a case of getting inside the compilers head, once you realise how he thinks, then you can crack it.

    As for me, I couldn’t get inside anyone’s head nor could I solve the easiest in a tabloid!

    1. I wonder if he ever tried any of mine. I once saw a man on a tube train solving one from the Independent – I had to resist introducing myself 🙂 Thanks very much, Sue.

  7. You continue to amaze me with each revealed talent and skill. My husband David used to do crossword puzzles while waiting for calls to come in when he worked as a firefighter/EMT. He’s much faster than I and doesn’t spend time wondering about answers on the first pass through the clues. You don’t strike me as an evil knight, but I guess that’s part of the fun of having an alter ego.

  8. This is so wonderful! And great choice of pseudonyms! I love that you are a composer of crosswords! Congrats on the book! I’ve always enjoyed puzzles of all kinds! 🙂
    PS…these family photos are so sweet!

  9. You certainly are a puzzle-solver, evident in your deft handling of many puzzling situations of your life. Those details of extended enterprise in the wizardry of puzzling others are extremely interesting.

  10. ‘that can’t be him. He must be an actor or something’ – it sounds like a compliment, but I note she didn’t specify which one. Could have been Errol Flynn, could have been Donald Pleasence . . .

  11. Amazing to know about your career as Mordred. I loved reading your post and got more and more surprised with each line. Your book looks incredible. Best wishes for all things you plan to do more as Mordred.?

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