‘… a blood-stained staircase in front of a dark green door with eyes peering through the letter box. Elsewhere in the image, a policeman stares in shock, or perhaps horror at the staircase. Adding confusion to possible interpretations is the paint can sitting at the bottom right corner of the door, which begs the question as to whether it is really blood at all. The word Berlud! is printed at the top of the frame’
There’s another curious detail – the copper’s bloodless, claw-like hands. Such a contrast against the ruddy face. They look like the hands of the vampire in Nosferatu, the 1922 German horror film. The word Berlud dates to June 1922 – it was in the title of an early play by AA Milne, Berlud, Unlimited. Also in April that year, the first murder mystery by the man who would go on to write Winnie the Pooh had been published, The Red House Mystery. It’s certainly possible the two men knew each other – in 1906 Milne was made assistant editor on Punch, which published Leete’s cartoons (though his Kitchener ‘Your Country Needs You’ poster was first published as a 1914 cover for a Punch rival, London Opinion). They were the same age and both served in the first world war.
I suspect this wasn’t a poster but the artwork for a whole page illustration of the sort Leete did for The Tatler. It could well have been a cartoon for the theatre pages of the society weekly. The Red House Mystery sold well and Milne was certainly making a name for himself with the literary public.
The letterbox and its peering eyes brought to mind the advertising flyer below from 1902. This letterpress flyer for the weekly Pictorial Magazine used spot colour to promote its latest serial, ‘The House with the Scarlet Knocker’, and carried an excerpt from the tale on the back. Could this 1902 image have sparked Alfred Leete’s imagination?