Bryan Connon

Biographer of Beverley Nichols
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The Independent Online

Bryan James Connon, writer: born London 5 April 1927; died Eastbourne, East Sussex 4 September 2007.

'When [the writer] Beverley Nichols invited me to write his biography he promised that there would be no inhibiting constraints," Bryan Connon wrote in the preface to his Beverley Nichols: a life (1991). "You must tell the truth as you see it, however unflattering it may be." That admonition was to characterise Connon's work, whether in studies of Nichols or W. Somerset Maugham, or as a short-story writer reflecting on the playwright Joe Orton in a cunning little tale called, appropriately, "Loot".

As a writer, Connon was fascinated by the duality of public masks and private faces. Writing about W. Somerset Maugham in his Somerset Maugham and the Maugham Dynasty (1997) he utilised a telling anecdote about the distinguished novelist, playwright and wit.

"In 1941 when he was on a film set watching Spencer Tracy playing the dual role in Stevenson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, he was heard to remark: 'Which one is he now?' A similar question might apply to Willie, for it was not always evident which of his dual, or even multiple, personalities was in control."

In both his biography of Nichols and in his somewhat less successful study of the Maugham dynasty, Connon took it upon himself to wipe away obfuscation of his subjects, pulling the so-carefully composed masks from their faces. His eminently readable biographies exposed truths that Nichols, Willie Maugham and Maugham's disastrously alcoholic nephew Robin might not have cared to have acknowledged, but those truths were essential to his approach to biography. It is to be regretted that a projected biography of the entrepreneur C. B. Cochran remained unfinished (due to lack of interest from publishers), and a study of the murder by Dr Crippen of his wife Belle Elmore was abandoned because of Connon's increasing ill-health.

Bryan Connon, a Scot from farming stock, grew up in London and was educated at St Aloysius Catholic College in Highgate where the actor Peter Sellers was a contemporary. His military service was spent in the Middle East (he held trenchant views on the war in Iraq and the responsibilities of British imperialism for the ongoing upheavals in that part of the world). He began his working life on a farm before moving rapidly into banking. He was to spend more than 25 years in financial marketing and was head of publicity and advertising for the National Westminster Bank where he originated the "Action Bank" campaign. He was also responsible for several award-winning banking films and for publications which featured in design exhibitions in both London and New York.

Connon had a passion for theatre and cinema, and worked as actor and director in amateur productions of plays such as Emlyn Williams's Night Must Fall, a play which allowed him to combine his interests in theatre and crime-writing. His short story "Dead and Gone" – published in 2003 in the anthology Death Comes Easy – was a persuasive re-examination of a murder which had taken place in Eastbourne, the town where he lived during the last years of his life, sharing a home with his partner Andrew Harvey.

A close friendship with Beverley Nichols, who was sometimes considered the acme of the ephemeral, led to Nichols asking Connon to become his biographer. Beverley Nichols: a life ("Masterly and elegant" was the verdict of The Independent) succeeded in bringing about a partial reassessment of Nichols's reputation and republication of several of his books. Although both Connon's major biographies received enthusiastic reviews, it was a cause of regret that neither was to appear in paperback.

Increasing ill-health meant that Connon became almost entirely housebound, although his interests didn't diminish and he maintained friendships by means of the telephone. His calls could be lengthy, but they were never dull and they will leave a gap in the lives of his many friends.

Peter Burton

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