Unique among the escapers of the Second World War, Richard Pape, author of Boldness Be My Friend (1953), was neither an officer nor a gentleman. He was, when illegitimacy rankled, in every sense a right bastard.
A red-headed Yorkshireman, his frame bulged with unofficer-like qualities; he was brutally drunk, murderous, treacherous and sly, and his courage and endurance were unbelievable until one read the citation for his Military Medal. He was also quite fun. Richard Pape descended from that breed of Englishman (Viking?) which terrorised continentals from the Crusaders to the football hooligans (olligani, as the Italians call them) of today. More in the mould of Shakespeare's Pistol and Bardolph, as Isobel Colegate remarked when she heard of his death, than Sir John Hawkwood.
In 1952, with Isobel Colegate, I set up as a literary agent in a room in New Bond Street costing pounds 3 a week. (The premises were too small for anybody to be chased around in, as the story goes, but Pape did indeed once unsheath his swordstick, though he never drew blood.)
Vanora, daughter of Sir Archie McIndoe, the best - and possibly the only true - friend of my father, Neville Blond, gave us our first manuscript, written by a Guinea Pig, as the burned airmen treated in East Grinstead by that famous plastic surgeon were called. In fact, though shot down over Germany, Pape had been hospitalised not for a war injury, but from an accident on a motorcycle in the Isle of Man, drunken driving being a standard feature in the peacetime activities of our hero.
Colegate remembers my coming into the office one morning trembling with fear and excitement, having spent the night in Albany - partly on the loo - reading Pape's wartime adventures, which were extraordinary. A navigator in a Lancaster bomber, he had been shot down over the Dutch/ German border, changed his identity, been captured twice, escaped twice, arrested in a bar when drunkenly abusing Hitler, tortured for being a spy by the Gestapo, and finally, having established his bona fides as a POW, counterfeited with immense cunning and precision, including substituting a sick man's urine for his own, been repatriated by the enemy, whose inclination to destroy him was weaker than his to survive. He left behind a trail of murder and betrayal over whose necessity he was completely honest.
We sent the book to Paul Elek, a small and (I did not know) shaky publisher in nether Bloomsbury, because he had been the only one in the profession to have responded to the circular announcing our existence as literary agents. He replied in a couple of weeks with an offer of an advance of (I think) pounds 600, which of course we accepted. When we sent the contract to Pape in South Africa - he was a natural unreconstructed hard-line Boer, who regarded me as a nigger-loving, wimpish Jew - he got out his car and went to shoot his wife. Luckily he missed.
Paul Elek organised a promotion for Boldness Be My Friend so comprehensive and intense that his publishing firm became a branch of Richard Pape enterprises with Pape, having worked as a publicity officer for the Yorkshire Post before the war, regarding their employees as his own.
The operation was a success. Eventually 160,000 copies of Boldness were sold at 16/-, Elek was saved from bankruptcy and Pape became a national figure, unaltered by his fame, since nothing could increase his natural violence and boastfulness.
In 1955, when quite a few royalty cheques had arrived - not then an inevitable consequence of a publishing contract with Paul Elek Ltd - the author began to resent the deduction of our agency 10 per cent and with the publisher invited me to tea at the Ritz. Enfeebled by glandular fever, a condition from which my doctor, having consulted Black's Medical Dictionary, assured me no one ever died of, and distracted by my forthcoming marriage, I agreed to forgo the agency percentage in the future.
Pape promised a lavish wedding present but apart from exclamatory bulletins about his subsequent works, concocted by the author, I never heard from him again.
His next book, Arm Me Audacity, from the next line by Shakespeare, was a repeat performance and he wrote a further 10 adventure stories, some fictional, but his addiction to danger, his quarrelsomeness, and his skill as a writer did not require invention. This restless and difficult man finally found peace when he died, in Australia, at the age of 79.
Richard Bernard Pape, writer: born Roundhay, Yorkshire 1916; MM 1947; books include Boldness Be My Friend 1953, Sequel to Boldness 1959, Fortune Is My Enemy 1960, No Time to Die 1962; twice married; died Canberra 19 June 1995.
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