Waugh in Oldie Article: “Too Close for Comfort”

The current issue of Oldie magazine has an article (“Too Close for Comfort”) by Michael Barber on novelists’¬†use of those they know from real life to create characters in their fiction. Barber is the author of a Brief¬†Life of Evelyn Waugh¬†(2013) in a series of that name. His Oldie story mentions¬†characters inspired¬†to some extent from real life in novels of, inter alia, Colin Dexter (Inspector Morse), Anthony Powell (Kenneth Widmerpool and Nick Jenkins in Dance to the Music of Time), and Simon Raven (Peter Morrison and Somerset Lloyd-Jones in Alms for Oblivion). Perhaps not coincidently, Barber has also written biographies of both Powell and Raven. After several other examples, he comes to¬†Ian Fleming who had a¬†specific namesake in mind when he created Auric Goldfinger.

This leads Barber¬†to his last example which is Fleming’s¬†wife Ann, who sent a telegram¬†to Evelyn Waugh identifying the deserter Ivor Claire in Waugh’s novel Officers and Gentlemen (1955) with Waugh’s commanding officer in WWII Crete, Bob Laycock. The novel¬†is dedicated to Laycock. Waugh went ballistic in his response, quoted by Barber, and threatened to end their friendship if Ann¬†ever mentioned this in public. Barber also quotes from¬†the¬†Diaries, where¬†Waugh writes that he had¬†forbidden Ann to mention what Waugh¬†described as a “cruel fact.” The exchange with¬†Ann Fleming appears in Letters of Ann Fleming¬†(ed. by Mark Amory), p.155; see also¬†Diaries (6 July 1955), p. 728. As Barber mentions in his Brief Life (p. 68-69), it was the character Colonel Tommy Blackhouse who was intended by Waugh to be Laycock’s “doppelganger” in the novel, and he “conveniently breaks his leg en route to Crete, thus absolving Evelyn¬†from any need for examining his conduct.” The conduct in question was the departure from Crete of Laycock, Waugh and other Commando officers while their troops were left behind to cover the evacuation and face certain capture and POW internment. There are two schools of thought on whether that conduct was consistent with their orders.

Thanks to Milena Borden for finding this reference and to Michael Barber for sending a copy of the article.

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