Invisible Ink: No 135 - Arthur Bryant
Sunday 05 August 2012
Two decades ago I invented a pair of detectives, Arthur Bryant and John May. A reader pointed out that a real-life counterpart, Sir Arthur Wynn Morgan Bryant, spoke at my alma mater, and the choice of nomenclature suddenly seemed no coincidence. Had I met him and forgotten? He was a historian of the old school, a columnist for The Daily Telegraph and The Illustrated London News, much admired by Winston Churchill and Harold Wilson. Why did he fall from favour?
Born in 1899, the son of a knight who was the chief clerk to the Prince of Wales, Bryant grew up in a house beside Buckingham Palace Gardens. Armed with a powerful sense of social justice and a passionate zeal for British history, he was convinced that education held the key to national improvement. Cutting a dashing, chivalrous figure, he flew bombers in the First World War, then returned to talk debutantes into helping him teach the poorest children of slum London. After training as a barrister he became the youngest headmaster in England. He married a baronet's daughter, published an acclaimed biography of Charles II and founded the National Book Association. His three-volume life of Pepys was considered to be a superlative historical biography.
But there was a darker side looming; as a hardline Conservative with an ingrained belief in patrician rule, Bryant ill-advisedly wrote a foreword to the English edition of Mein Kampf in 1939, praising Hitler and concluding that the Third Reich was good for Germany. When he realised he had gone too far, he tried to buy up all the unsold copies. In his study of late Teutonic history, Unfinished Victory and subsequent volumes, he really overstepped the mark by comparing Hitler to Napoleon. It was said that his writing helped lift British patriotism, and his books, essays and columns formed a formidable body of work that proved popular and readable. However, he was criticised for skimping on his research, and drew vociferous detractors who accused him of vulgarising history, retaining Nazi sympathies, and being a traitor to his country (he considered Churchill a warmonger).
For all this, Bryant's late works The Turn of the Tide and The Triumph in the West are considered key volumes to understanding the British military in wartime. He's now out of print, whereas his fictional namesake has a new book out this week (shameless plug).
'Bryant & May and the Invisible Code', by Christopher Fowler, is published by Transworld.
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Woman 'suffocates newborn baby in plastic bag and puts it in her desk minutes after giving birth'
- 2 I've been called an abusive and dangerous parent, when all I did was listen to my transgender child
- 3 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 4 Teaching profession headed for crisis as numbers continue to drop and working lives become 'unbearable'
- 5 Chinese student carries disabled friend to school every day for three years
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins
Al Pacino admits he was nearly fired from The Godfather and it's still his most 'difficult role'
Warner Music owner Len Blavatnik tops Sunday Times Rich List
London Marathon: Best running songs from Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar to 'Uptown Funk'
Oldest footage of London landmarks released
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove