Philip James Harbottle was born in Wallsend on Tyneside, England, on October 2, 1941. He first became interested in fantasy at the age of four, when his mother took him to see the 1946 Walt Disney cartoon compendium Make Mine Music, featuring "The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met", which he still vividly remembers. A year later, during a short spell in hospital, he saw a pile of American newspaper Comic Supplements and was intrigued by Superman. His youthful imagination, now firmly attuned to fantasy, was further nurtured in the late 1940s and early 1950s by other comic strip characters like Captain Marvel, Dan Dare, and the Daily Mirror's Garth (for which he would eventually be invited to write the scripts for several stories).
His early aspirations were to become a strip cartoon artist, but in 1954 he discovered science fiction books, beginning with two paperbacks by John Russell Fearn and E.C.Tubb (A Thing of the Past and The Resurrected Man). In 1969, following his self-publication of studies on these authors (most notably The Multi-Man: a bio-bibliographical study of John Russell Fearn published in 1968) he was offered the editorship of a new sf publishing company, provided he gave up his career in local government. He did so, and his first publication was a new monthly sf magazine, Vision of Tomorrow. This ran for twelve issues (1969-1970) before falling victim to distribution troubles and publishing chicanery. Had the magazine been published a few years later it might have succeeded. An already prepared companion paperback line was aborted when Harbottle resigned because the publisher would not back his editorial selections, which he had taken in consultation with other leading publishers and the big book distribution chains to help ensure their success. Several of the books he had commissioned and optioned for the paperback line-notably four "new" books of early stories by John Wyndham-were gleefully snapped up by other publishers and immediately became huge bestsellers.
Sadder but wiser, Harbottle returned to his career in Local Government, and after slowly recovering from his earlier traumatic experiences, he became a literary agent and science fiction consultant. He was commissioned to compile and edit The Best of E. E. 'Doc' Smith. The book was delivered and published in1975 in hardcover and paperback in the UK, but without his being credited as editor. A promised royalty agreement failed to materialise, nor was Harbottle informed when the book was resold to America. He only learned of its 1979 paperback edition there many years later.
His bad luck continued in 1977. Following a recommendation to the packager by Brian Aldiss, he was commissioned to be the major contributor to The Visual Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction. However, after months of research, and having provided tens of thousands words of material, he became embroiled in a bitter payments dispute with the book's packager (eventually settled in full only after his threat of a legal injunction to prevent its publication.) As an act of retaliation, when the book was eventually published in 1977, his extensive contribution (both as writer and illustrative source) was uncredited (as was that of his agency clients Mike Ashley and Walter Gillings, on whose behalf he had brought the action.) Instead of appearing alongside the articles they had written, their names were relegated to appearing in small print alongside a list of other minor contributors as "Consultants.") This was a severe setback to his literary career, and coincided with his wife contracting a severe illness.
Somewhat disillusioned, Harbottle withdrew to concentrate on his local government career and his family, contenting himself with acting as literary agent for a few other writers, and the self-publication of numerous chapbooks, mainly by John Russell Fearn. This followed his having been left Fearn's copyrights in the will of the author's widow Carrie, who had been a family friend. He also issued comic strip adaptations of Fearn's stories, drawn by veteran British sf artist Ron Turner.
His return to mainstream publishing began in 1992. After a delay of many years, Borgo Press finally published his two major books on post-war British sf publishing history, Vultures of the Void (1992) and later its companion volume, British SF Paperbacks and Magazines, 1949-1956 (1994). He was subsequently invited by New York small press publisher Gary Lovisi (Gryphon Books) to edit and introduce their SF Rediscovery series of classic novels and paperback originals. As of the beginning of 2001, the series had reached more than 30 books, and is still ongoing. He also became a regular contributor to Lovisi's magazine Paperback Parade.
Also in 1992, following an exchange of correspondence in which he had reviewed the 50 year history and possible future direction of the Garth strip cartoon, Harbottle was invited by John Allard, the co-creator of Garth, and editor of the Daily Mirror strip cartoon department, to write several scripts for it. A fan of the strip since the 1940s, Harbottle relished the opportunity, and sold five serialised stories before the scripting of the strip was taken over in 1995 by the artist following Allard's retirement and editorial cut-backs at the newspaper. However, this success helped persuade Harbottle to take early retirement in 1996, to become a freelance writer and literary agent.
In collaboration with Sean Wallace he wrote The Tall Adventurer: the works of E. C. Tubb (Beccon, 1996), which was well received. Harbottle and Wallace continued their collaboration to publish Fantasy Annual, an ongoing collection of new short stories, and under the small press imprint of Cosmos Books they issued three paperback originals in 1999 - Death God's Doom and The Sleeping City by E. C. Tubb, and Manton's World by John Russell Fearn.
Last year Harbottle licensed his "Cosmos" imprint to John Betancourt's Wildside Press. He is now a consultant to Sean Wallace, who was appointed overall Editor-in-Chief of the new Cosmos Books imprint. The fourth volume in their ongoing Fantasy Annual series was published last October.
Harbottle's first novel, Dynamite's Daughter - a Western based on an unpublished Fearn manuscript-was published in hardcover in December 2000 by Robert Hale. Large-print paperback rights have recently been optioned to Magna Books. His works in progress for Cosmos Books include a new anthology series, Fantasy Quarterly, The Best of John Russell Fearn, The Best of Philip E. High, a new history of British Science Fiction publishing, and a definitive study of John Russell Fearn.