Obituary: Tom Skeffington-Lodge

IN THE GLEEFUL, and sometimes rather spiteful, literary world of Brighton, Tom Skeffington- Lodge enjoys a reputation somewhat at variance with that of Christian chivalry so magnanimously recalled by Tam Dalyell in his obituary (26 February), writes Michael De-la-Noy. Few remember that in 1945 Skeffington-Lodge captured the Bedford constituency for Labour. His chief claim to fame is that he appeared in a novel by Francis King, A Domestic Animal (1970), in the thinly veiled disguise of a fellow but feminine politician, Dame Winifred Harcourt.

Unfortunately for King's bank balance, Skeffington-Lodge failed to see the joke and took his grievance to Lord Hailsham, who apparently advised that he had a case for taking out an injunction to have the book withdrawn. It may well have been because Skeffington-Lodge had proposed himself to both Lords Attlee and Longford for a peerage that he felt he could not afford to have his character maligned in a novel. Francis King had given him only a DBE.

When King rather foolishly wrote a letter of apology, Skeffington-Lodge was swift to wave it in front of lawyers. King was advised to settle out of court, and proceeded to rewrite A Domestic Animal, each fresh paragraph being pored over by Skeffington-Lodge. King's legal bill became so large he was compelled to sell his Brighton home.

Francis King eventually rescued something from the rubble: in 1978 he wrote another novel, The Action, which told the whole sorry tale. Skeffington-Lodge never comprehended the damage he had done, financially or emotionally, and even made an appearance at a book-signing session in Brighton when King published his autobiography Yesterday Came Suddenly last year.