OBITUARY : Dudley Pope

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The Independent Online
Dudley Pope was an acknowledged authority of Nelson's navy. His 18 maritime novels about the fictional seaman Nicholas Ramage were also set in Nelson's time.

He started to write them in 1965 largely to outline, bring alive and make more generally known the operations of the large sailing warships and the conditions in which officers and crews lived and worked onboard for years at a time. His close research into every aspect gave them an authenticity which has rarely been equalled. However, it was as novels that they were such an outstanding success. It was no less than C.S. Forester, doyen of maritime novelists, who acknowledged their quality and metaphorically passed his cloak on to Dudley Pope.

Pope came from a Cornish family and was very proud of his ancestor Sir Thomas Pope who founded Trinity College, Oxford, in 1555 and of a later ancestor who owned ships at the time of Trafalgar.

He was born near Ashford in Kent in 1925 and went to Ashford Grammar School. His education was interrupted when he exaggerated his age in order to get to sea as a cadet during the Second World War. In 1942 he was wounded when his ship was torpedoed in the Battle of the Atlantic and he spent two weeks in a lifeboat before being picked up.

When recovered and discharged from hospital he tried to join the Royal Navy but was told that he had already done enough for king and country. As a civilian he turned to journalism and spent 17 years at the London Evening News, becoming Naval Correspondent and ul-timately Deputy Foreign Editor.

During this period he remained closely connected with the sea, living onboard a number of yachts at Hoo in Kent and Shoreham-by-Sea in Sussex. He was one of the early members of the Junior Offshore Group which was formed to race specialist and very small yachts in open waters. In addition to racing his own boat he made a notable cruise in his tiny Red Gryphon (six metres in overall length) up to Norway.

As a yachtsman he owned several well-known boats including the eight- metre Concerto, the ocean racer Golden Dragon and latterly the 37-ton ketch Ramage. He also took part on board the three-masted schooner Creole in the first post-war tall ships race to Lisbon which led to the foundation of modern sail training. His enthusiasm and support were undoubtedly a factor in the critical early days of what has now become one of the most significant international sailing events for young people.

In 1954 he wrote his first book, Flag Four, an immaculately researched account of the fast gunboats during the war. He followed this with another 11 books on various aspects of seafaring and maritime history of which England Expects (1959), about the Battle of Trafalgar, Life in Nelson's Navy (1981) and Harry Morgan's Way (1977) in particular established his reputation as a maritime historian, to which he brought his own practical knowledge of the sea.

He left the Evening News in 1959 to become a full-time author and went with his wife Kay to live in Porto San Stefano in Italy for four years. In 1965 he sailed Golden Dragon across the Atlantic to the West Indies with his wife and their six-month-old daughter Jane in search of warmer climates. His wartime torpedoing had left him increasingly sensitive to cold and he spent the rest of his life in the Antilles, first of all afloat and latterly ashore in St Martin. It was here that they developed their extensive collection of seashells, diving for them wherever they anchored their boat.

It was here, some eight years ago, that his wartime injuries began to catch up with him, progressively reducing his physical abilities until he was wheelchair-bound and eventually unable to continue to work or even pursue his previous very active correspondence with his friends. Before his illness he was a strong character, a workaholic who delighted in both the research of detail and vociferous debate.

Dudley Bernard Egerton Pope, journalist, naval historian and novelist: born Stubb's Corner, Kent 29 December 1925; Naval Correspondent, Evening News 1944-57, Deputy Foreign Editor 1957-59; married 1954 Kathleen (Kay) Hall (one daughter); died Marigot, St Martin, Lesser Antilles 25 April 1997.