The first man to conceive the idea of geosynchronous satellites such as Telstar and its successors, the best-selling author of 2001: A Space Odyssey and many other science-fiction novels, Clarke, 80, has lived in Sri Lanka for the past four decades. Awarded a knighthood in the New Year honours, he was due to be invested last week during the Prince of Wales's visit to the island, but asked for the ceremony to be postponed after the Sunday Mirror accused him of regularly paying young boys for sex. He denies the accusation and says he has been sexually inactive for the past 20 years, but the newspaper quotes him as claiming most of the damage caused to children "comes from the fuss made by hysterical parents afterwards".
What the revelations show is that the world is becoming too small for those whose inclinations are unacceptable at home to find a refuge for them elsewhere. Mass travel has led to mass abuse, and countries such as Thailand, the Philippines and Sri Lanka are fighting back against the influx of middle-aged Western men seeking sex with under-aged boys or girls.
In 1996 Sweden was the first country to jail one of its own citizens for sexual offences abroad, in this case against a 13-year-old boy in Thailand. Britain has reached an agreement with the Philippines, where two of the first three foreigners convicted of child abuse were British, to try offenders at home. Dozens more suspected foreign paedophiles have been arrested, and operators of "sex tours" from Europe, North America and Japan are being driven underground.
It is the end of a tradition stretching back to the Grand Tour of the 18th century, when Englishmen travelled to the lascivious East to escape the restraints of their own society.
Like Clarke, many were brilliant men: the celebrated explorer, Sir Richard Burton, who spoke 30 languages and was the first non-Muslim to see Mecca, was thrown out of the army for his enthusiastic reports to Lord Napier on the brothels he discovered during his postings, particularly the boy prostitutes of Karachi.
Others followed in his footsteps, combining exploration with sexual experimentation, such as St John Philby, father of the traitor Kim Philby. Lawrence of Arabia, who fomented an Arab revolt against the Turkish empire and brought much of the Middle East into the British sphere of influence, discovered homosexual and sado-erotic impulses within himself which might have remained dormant at home. North Africa was less wild and easier to reach. Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas went to Algiers; others, from Cecil Beaton to Joe Orton, who gleefully recorded his encounters with local boys in his diaries, headed for the Moroccan port of Tangier, for the best part of a century the nearest gathering-place for those with unconventional appetites. The late David Herbert, descended from the Earls of Pembroke, was called the "Queen of Tangier", presiding over a society of exiled exquisites able to live in luxury on their remittances.
The transaction, at least in the minds of these expatriates, was of the wealthy foreign sophisticate introducing willing local youth to harmless pleasures. The image became hard to maintain when, as in the case of the late Lord Moynihan, the sons he produced by massage-parlour girls in the Philippines turned up in London in an unsuccessful effort to claim his title.
Any glamour which might once have attached to this way of life has been further stripped away when it can be indulged in on mass package tours, bringing salaried paedophiles from the suburbs of the Western world to prey on the children of the Third World. The irony in Arthur C Clarke's case is that his ideas helped to bring this age about, and that the revolution in communications he did much to create has brought scrutiny upon him. What once appeared mysterious and exotic is now revealed as merely sordid.Reuse content