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John Harris was born in 1916 and grew up in South Yorkshire. He became a journalist and worked for the Rotherham Advertiser and the Sheffield Telegraph, joining the RAF as a corporal attached to the South African Air Force during the Second World War and returning to journalism when the war ended.
He became a full-time author after the success of his 1953 novel The Sea Shall Not Have Them, which was made into a film. He wrote more than eighty works of fiction and non-fiction, including books under pseudonyms Max Hennessy and Mark Hebden. As Hebden he created the crime series featuring Inspector Pel, which his daughter Juliet continued after his death in 1991.