Edgar Wallace was born illegitimately in 1875 in Greenwich and adopted by George Freeman, a porter at Billingsgate fish market. At eleven, Wallace sold newspapers at Ludgate Circus and on leaving school took a job with a printer. He enlisted in the Royal West Kent Regiment, later transferring to the Medical Staff Corps, and was sent to South Africa. In 1898 he published a collection of poems called The Mission That Failed, left the army and became a correspondent for Reuters.
Wallace became the South African war correspondent for The Daily Mail. His articles were later published as Unofficial Dispatches and his outspokenness infuriated Kitchener, who banned him as a war correspondent until the First World War. He edited the Rand Daily Mail, but gambled disastrously on the South African Stock Market, returning to England to report on crimes and hanging trials. He became editor of The Evening News, then in 1905 founded the Tallis Press, publishing Smithy, a collection of soldier stories, and Four Just Men. At various times he worked on The Standard, The Star, The Week-End Racing Supplement and The Story Journal.
In 1917 he became a Special Constable at Lincoln's Inn and also a special interrogator for the War Office. His first marriage to Ivy Caldecott, daughter of a missionary, had ended in divorce and he married his much younger secretary, Violet King.
The Daily Mail sent Wallace to investigate atrocities in the Belgian Congo, a trip that provided material for his Sanders of the River books. In 1923 he became Chairman of the Press Club and in 1931 stood as a Liberal candidate at Blackpool. On being offered a scriptwriting contract at RKO, Wallace went to Hollywood. He died in 1932, on his way to work on the screenplay for King Kong.