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.
Watch the new House of Cards series three trailerTV
Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards
Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 What happens to your body when you give up sugar?
- 2 Ed Miliband deemed less influential than One Direction's Louis Tomlinson by official Doncaster power list
- 3 Japanese island overrun with cats after population explodes
- 4 Delhi bus rapist blames dead victim for attack because 'girls are responsible for rape'
- 5 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
Kurt Cobain's life and death: New film uses unseen footage to tell Nirvana frontman's story
Game of Thrones season 5 spoilers: What we can expect according to George RR Martin's books
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Drugs Live: Twitter reacts to Jon Snow and Jennie Bond smoking cannabis
Jimmy McGovern's new TV series 'Banished': Why Australia's past has such resonance today
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Ukraine crisis: Top Chinese diplomat backs Putin and says West should 'abandon zero-sum mentality'