How about that for a headline?
The death of William Boot — sorry, that should read as Bill Deedes — is big in today’s newspapers, and with good reason.
Malcolm will not join in the memorialising of another of those curious Twentieth-Century figures who proved so infinitely adaptable: that would be presumptious, and will be done far better elsewhere. However, he does pause for thought.
Deedes was newspaperman incarnate, but also politician, anecdotalist, soldier, traveller and humanitarian, and much more. It is what Denis Healey, another of the great survivors, would call “hinterland”. Ted Heath could edit the Church Times, be musician, sailor (though the conducting and the ocean-racing apparently owed as much to the need to create a public image as anything) as well as Prime Minister, the “Great Sulk” and artillery officer, all in one lifetime. Healey himself could be an academic (a double First at Oxford, no less), a more-than-competent photographer, a towering political figure, briefly a member of the Communist Party, a leftwing radical in 1945 and later “on the right” of the Labour Party, but also be a beachmaster at the Anzio landings.
That is a meditation to be continued at a later posting, perhaps. But, for now, back to Boot.
There was a book by William Amos, The Originals, An A-Z of Fiction’s Real-life Characters. It went through at least two editions between 1985 and 1990, and is long out-of-print. If Malcolm ever had a copy, it has been “borrowed” or mislaid for many years. It remains a useful and amusing exercise in a demi-monde between academic scholarship, amateur detection and speculation.
Reality into myth, Mister and Ms?
So, who are the real personalities on whom creative artists base their creations?
Gainsborough‘s The Blue Boy was Jonathan Buttall, the son of a ironmonger. Thanks, in part, to the inheritance of the most ruthless of the Californian railroad robber barons, Buttall is condemned to spend the rest of eternity eyeing Sarah Barrett Moulton, a Jamaican plantation heiress, who was also Lawrence‘s Pinkie (and aunt of the more famous, if less recognisable, Mrs Browning).
Victorine Meurent took a naked lunch for Manet, …
… but did Maria del Pilar Teresa Cayetana de Silva Alvarez de Toledo (crazy name, crazy gal) show all for Goya?
Malcolm wonders who was busting out for Delacroix’ Liberty…
Curiouser and curiouser
It is well-known that “Sherlock Holmes” owes a great deal (including hat and cloak) to Conan Doyle’s tutor in surgery, Joseph Bell. Equally, “Robinson Crusoe” had, at least in part, a prior existence in Alexander Selkirk. Even Falstaff was a dubious take on Sir John Oldcastle.
There is a bizarre link between “Biggles” and “Just William“. The model for “Captain” (in reality, never more than a Flying Officer, with some six weeks of combat experience) W.E. Johns‘ character derived from Air Commodore Cecil George Wigglesworth. Meanwhile Richmal Crompton was mudding up her brother, John Lamburn. Lamburn was first with the Rhodesian police, worked in China, and did war service with the RAF in Iceland under … Wigglesworth. In passing, it might usefully be noted that W.E. Johns started his career inspecting the drains in Swaffham, and later rejected T.E.Lawrence as an RAF recruit.
Degrees of separation?
Johns might provide the starting point for a kind of literary goosechase. He would have scrutinised the sanitation outside Oakleigh House, offices of Kingdom and Kingdom. In front of those offices is the town sign showing the Pedlar of Swaffham, carved by the grammar school’s art teacher, and nephew of Howard Carter, the excavator of Tutankhamun, and himself one-time resident of the town. TV’s “Market Shipborough” is a composite of Swaffham, Hunstanton, Thetford (birthplace of Tom Paine) and Wells-next-the-Sea.
It would not need much effort to link from those to Rider Haggard (born at East Bradenham), who would lead on to Indiana Jones or Jurassic Park. Or, in another direction, to Horatio Nelson, just down the road from Wells at Burnham, and one model for C.S. Forester‘s “Horatio Hornblower“: the other is Thomas Cochrane. Cochrane also provided a model for “Jack Aubrey“. One of Cochrane’s midshipmen became Captain Marryat (another Norfolk resident). Marryat, indeed, established the sea-novel as a genre, providing the root for (along with the others already mentioned) Joseph Conrad and Hemingway.
Another road out of Wells and Burnham might take us to “Peter Scott’s Lighthouse” on the Nene Cut. And that is in part inspiration for Paul Gallico‘s The Snow Goose, for which Peter Scott did the original illustrations, using his wife, Elizabeth Jane Howard, as the model for “Fritha”. And Elizabeth Jane Howard’s third husband was Kingsley Amis.
Along the road we might have thought that was “Fenchurch St Paul”, Dorothy Sayers‘ location for The Nine Tailors, the ninth Peter Wimsey mystery story. What we really saw was Walpole St Peter, or Terrington St Clement, two of England’s finest churches.
The first of those “Peter Wimsey” novels was Whose Body? But who was Wimsey? Was it Charles Crichton, a former cavalry officer and Old Etonian? Or Sayers’s husband? Or Eric Whelpton, travel writer and teacher (and who usually gets the part), whom she met in Oxford in 1918, when he was invalided from the Army, and for whom she felt an unreturned infatuation?
Back to “Boot” and Waugh
Malcolm started with “William Boot” fictionalised from Bill Deedes. He returns to Evelyn Waugh for the last of these fanciful flights: to “Sebastian Flyte”, indeed.
“Flyte” in Brideshead Revisited is, in part, Waugh’s Oxford contemporary and friend Alastair Graham: the original manuscript voccasionally Freudian-slips the name “Alastair” rather than “Sebastian”. Elements of Stephen Tennant (also “Cedric Hampton” for Nancy Mitford) were also included. Another model was Hugh Lygon, the second son of Earl Beauchamp. Lygon, also in Waugh’s Oxford set, had his home at Madresfield Court, Great Malvern, which provided another seed for the novel.
His (dis)Grace, the Duke
More interesting, perhaps, is the model for “Lord Marchmain”. William Lygon, Earl Beauchamp (image on right), was, to be generous, bisexual. This was retailed to George V by Beauchamp’s brother-in-law, Hugh Grosvenor, the Duke of Westminster (who inherited “a guinea a minute” from his rents, when he succeeded to the title in 1900: picture left).
Grosvenor (who, ironically, went by the nickname “Bendor”) had political motives besides personal spite: he was an extreme rightwinger (associated with the anti-semitic Right Club of the fascistic and Section 18B detainee, Captain Ramsay) and saw the “outing” of Beauchamp as a weapon against the Liberals. “Bendor” was also a sexual predator and serial adulterer, albeit respectably heterosexual in his tastes.
The King required Beauchamp to give up all his offices, and to retire abroad. Beauchamp’s son, Hugh (see above) talked his father out of killing himself. Westminster then ran to tell tales to Beauchamp’s wife, who had apparently no concept of homosexuality, and promptly went into a nervous collapse. Compounding the treachery, Westminster then had Scotland Yard take out a warrant for Beauchamp’s arrest, ensuring he could not return from exile in Venice. When Hugh died in 1936, the Home Secretary (Sir John Simon) showed a bit of humanity, had the warrant rescinded, so Beauchamp returned to Madresfield Court.
Malcolm is fully aware that he did not, and cannot answer the headline question. Perhaps nobody felt the need to boast about the thing.
Instead, he notes that there is even speculation about the true identity of Malcolm himself.