Obituary: Antony Trew
Tuesday 23 January 1996
His career as a writer of naval adventures and thrillers began late, three years before his retirement from the Automobile Association of South Africa, of which he was Director-General, with the publication of Two Hours to Darkness in 1963. It was a best-seller, with 3.5 million copies in print in 16 languages. On the back of it he settled in Surrey, and steadily built a reputation as a fine story-teller whose work at its best recalls the tense cat-and- mouse games of warship and U-boat, icy waters, human frailty. He writes simply and with authenticity, drawing on his own experiences at sea and in southern Africa, which he loved.
Born in Pretoria in 1906, Trew left school at 16 to go to sea as an officer cadet with the Union Castle Line. A commission in the South African Naval Service followed, from 1926 to 1929. During the Depression he took a series of civilian jobs, and in 1933 became the Transvaal Secretary of the fledgling Automobile Association of South Africa, with a membership of a mere 6,000. When the call-up came at the outbreak of the Second World War he commanded various mine-sweeping and patrol vessels, then, from December 1940, served for a year as Lieutenant-Commander in the 22nd A/S Group, the first South African armed forces unit to enter the Mediterranean theatre.
The next two years were spent in a staff job, overseeing the repair of naval vessels in Cape Town, after which, anxious to get back to sea, Trew asked to be seconded to the Royal Navy; after another spell in the Mediterranean he attended the Senior Officers' Staff Course at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich. Destroyer experience on HMS Versatile led to his own ship, HMS Walker, based on the Clyde, which between October 1944 and May 1945 he commanded on four convoy missions and on escort duties to Iceland and the Western Approaches. From May to July 1945 he commanded the six-gun Bird class sloop HMS Cygnet. After the war he rejoined the Automobile Association of South Africa as Secretary-, and later Director-General. Membership had grown to more than 300,000 by the time of his retirement in 1966.
I first met Antony Trew in 1987 at the offices of his publisher, Collins (now HarperCollins), where as a new editor I inherited him from my overloaded boss, Marjory Chapman, and soon regarded him as a friend. His immaculate scripts arrived promptly and needed little work; he was a craftsman, whose skill at building character, plot and dramatic suspense in novels such as Yashimoto's Last Dive (1986) had not dimmed with age.
Spry for his years, and endearingly courtly in his manners, Trew was lively company. Having spent some time in Mozambique (formerly Portuguese East Africa), he revealed a compassionate understanding of black Africa's problems, and described movingly his son Antony's imprisonment for activities in the South African resistance. (He is now a civil servant in Nelson Mandela's private office.) His wife Nora was his lynchpin, and he spoke with pride of his other sons, Peter (Conservative MP for Dartford, 1970- 74) and Robert, an architect.
Part of Trew's charm was his good-humour, and he seemed wrily aware of his diminished status at Collins now that his book sales were in decline as fashions in thrillers changed. Lunching an author is the traditional way a publisher shows appreciation, but with Trew's wide-ranging sympathies and air of mischievous amusement the treat was invariably mine.
Antony Francis Trew, naval officer and writer: born Pretoria, South Africa 5 June 1906; DSC 1945; married 1931 Nora Houthakker (three sons); died Chertsey 12 January 1996.
- 1 Rarest Beanie Baby bought for just £10 at car boot sale could be sold for £62,500 on eBay
- 2 Katie Hopkins and The Sun editor David Dinsmore reported to police for incitement to racial hatred following migrant boat column
- 3 Parma, Missouri: 80 per cent of town's police quit after first black mayor is elected
- 4 Australian student Tommy Connolly, 23, adopts his pregnant, homeless 17-year-old cousin to give her a chance at 'a better life'
- 5 Google search history can now be downloaded in its entirety, mass embarrassment expected
Rarest Beanie Baby bought for just £10 at car boot sale could be sold for £62,500 on eBay
Katie Hopkins and The Sun editor David Dinsmore reported to police for incitement to racial hatred following migrant boat column
'Jihadi John': Isis executioner Mohammed Emwazi wanted to wage jihad in Somalia until his friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
Parma, Missouri: 80 per cent of town's police quit after first black mayor is elected
Australian student Tommy Connolly, 23, adopts his pregnant, homeless 17-year-old cousin to give her a chance at 'a better life'
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant - Immediate ...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...
£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...