The Man Who Was Leo Bruce

(Rupert Croft-Cooke, 1903-1979)

By Curt Evans

Rupert Croft-Cooke, who published thirty-one admired detective novels between 1936 and 1974 under the pseudonym Leo Bruce, was during this same period a respected middlebrow “straight” novelist. Yet he came to place his greatest hope for posthumous fame—however modest a portion—as a writer on the series of memoirs he began publishing in the 1950s, collectively titled The Sensual World. Despite considerable contemporary critical encomia won by the series (the Times Literary Supplement praised Croft-Cooke’s “almost faultless sense of period,” for example, while the Sunday Times found the series “valuable and engrossing”), Croft-Cooke’s memoirs, like his mainstream novels, have been almost entirely forgotten, while his detective tales, barely mentioned in The Sensual World, still claim a following, largely due to the reprinting, beginning in 1980, a year after Croft-Cooke’s death, of twenty of them by an excellent small publishing house, Academy Chicago.

In short, today Croft-Cooke is remembered, if at all, as a writer of detection, rather than as a mainstream novelist or memoirist. Yet Croft-Cooke’s memoirs are valuable to the student of British detective novels for the searching light they shed on the mind of one of the genre’s finest authors, Leo Bruce. Probably no British detective novelist in this period engaged in such voluminous literary self-revelation as Rupert Croft-Cooke. Taken together, the many volumes of his memoirs reveal a thoughtful and often eloquent man, conservative certainly in some ways, but in other significant aspects alienated by and isolated from conservative British opinion. An examination of the life of Rupert Croft-Cooke provides compelling evidence that classical British detective fiction had much more ideological flexibility than the influential leftist genre critics Julian Symons and Colin Watson have recognized in their critiques of Golden Age detective novelists.[1]

Rupert Croft-Cooke published the first volume in The Sensual World in 1958, when he was 55. Tellingly titled The Gardens of Camelot, the book covers Croft-Cooke’s adolescent years before World War One, when he “spent a most happy childhood in the warmth of Edwardian days.” In Gardens, Croft-Cooke periodically allows stray clouds of social consciousness to shadow his bright memories of those years, as when he concedes that the English middle classes of those days “were stuffy, complacent people, blind to the future, convincing ourselves of the rightness of things as they were, unaware or unheeding of the poverty near us, insular and nationally conceited” and when he admits the presence in the period of “acute suffering and want . . . shameful injustices . . . poverty everywhere.” Concessions of the existence of Edwardian social inequities tend to remain vague generalities, however, compared to such pleasant and substantial memories as “strawberries and cream on the lawn and drinks on the terrace for thirty people” (today “where could you find the servants to wash up after them,” Croft-Cooke sadly wonders). The overwhelming feeling one gets when reading Gardens is of the author’s longing for the personal childhood safety of those Edwardian days, when he knew, he poignantly recalls, “all that I am likely to know of security.”[2] As we will see, Croft-Cooke’s unease in the 1950s stemmed from more serious matters than servant scarcity.

Personal security was a status firmly achieved by Rupert Croft-Cooke’s despotic paternal grandfather, Edwin Cooke, who with resignation rather than affection was dubbed by his family “the Emperor.” A lifetime civil servant occupying a post in the Law Courts, Edwin Cooke achieved a place in life quite satisfactory to himself after securing appointment as “Re-count,” a most advantageous post that paid a salary of four hundred pounds annually for “practically no work at all.” In return for his yearly salary of four hundred pounds, Edwin Cooke was expected to be “prepared to supervise the recounting of votes if the totals of two candidates came within a score of one another.” “The Emperor” held this august position for upwards of twenty years and “during that time was only called upon once to fulfill its obligations,” his grandson notes in Gardens, with, one suspects, more envy than outrage.[3]

Unencumbered by an overabundance of civil service tasks, “The Emperor” was able to organize his home life around his own leisure interests, which were travel and the study of fossils and languages, preferably dead ones. At home he would emerge from his study (the best room in the house, with bookshelves crowded with his great collection of scholarly tomes) for meals, during which he would question his children in French or Latin about their occupations that morning, or “reprove them in Greek for a hurried toilet.” Once a year he would leave his family behind and “depart for a stay of a month or two on the Continent.” The six children of “the Emperor” (in accordance with their father’s “philological fancy” the sons received Anglo-Saxon names—Selwyn, Herbert and Hubert—while the daughters received Greek ones—Agatha, Xenia and Eirene) learned to fashion their lives around their tyrannical father’s whims and fancies. Playing with toys or reading story books guaranteed reproofs; “the Emperor” boasted of never having read a novel in his life, and he did not see why his children should. For boys the study of Greek and Scripture was deemed a sufficiently improving way to spend leisure time, for girls “needlework of a strictly utilitarian character.”[4]

Rupert Croft-Cooke allows that for five of the six children of “the Emperor” (only Croft-Cooke’s father Hubert found the strength as a young adult to rebel and become economically independent), this paternal “oppression in youth was disastrous.” Yet Croft-Cooke seemingly cannot but help admire the splendid and imposing monument of selfishness that was his grandfather. “The Emperor,” he declares, “belonged to a time when a man’s fads and habits were his rights, and of real moment both to himself and those near him.” Croft-Cooke notes his grandfather’s passing in 1910, “before his standards had been quite destroyed or his quiet, selfish and dignified life interrupted.” Fortunately for “the Emperor,” he never was “subjected to any of the indignities and humiliations of modern life,” among which his grandson in 1958 numbered “the cacophony of a thumping wireless set in a neighbour’s room,” “tinned and frozen and chilled and medicated and dessicated and preserved foods,” “the chemicalised swill which the present-day brewer calls beer,” and aeroplanes and mass-produced motor cars (the latter two nemeses “the Emperor” lived to see, “but it was his habit to ignore them”). Independent and uninconvenienced in his lifetime, “the Emperor” enjoyed the good fortune of being alive when “a man had still the privilege of deciding for himself how he would live.”[5]

Like his father, from whom he fortunately was able to make his escape, Hubert Bruce Cooke knew how he desired to live and early on sought to go about achieving it. Rather than go to work, “by ‘the Emperor’s decree,’ in the office of a theological publisher (safely in the hands of one family since 1711), Hubert Cooke instead became a stockbroker. Catching the 1890s “Kaffir boom” at its height, Hubert soon was making an income of three to four thousand pounds a year, commencing a lifetime cycle of fluctuating incomes that followed the booms and busts of the stock market. In 1897 he married a daughter of a successful City physician. Over the next ten years, the couple would have six children, including Rupert in 1903. In 1908 the family of eight, with three servants including nursemaid and governess, took up abode at Wayside in Chipstead, Surrey, where the family would remain until 1914 and the outbreak of the First World War.[6] Here in Edwardian warmth Rupert Croft-Cooke would gather sweet memories that unfortunately would become unbreakably yoked to sour reflections on the contrasting state of things in fifties Britain.

Life in Chipstead was stratified and stable. All social classes gathered in church for Sunday Morning Service, but at its conclusion, Rupert recalled, the “lower orders would disappear in the open as tactfully as they had remained in the back pews in church.” In Chipstead in those last few years before World War One, everyone “knew his place, and none would have considered taking advantage of the fact that we had been worshipping the Most Humble to show any vulgar familiarity with his superiors.”[7]

Hubert Cooke had, his son explained, a simple and unshakeable set of beliefs, of Rights and Wrongs. Conservatism was Right, Socialism Wrong. The English Empire was Right, anyone who opposed it wrong. Hubert Cooke “did not like people he could not understand, people who failed to conform to his own rather limited standards, people in fact who were not merely intelligent but intellectual.” Anyone his father deemed a Socialist or “not quite straight” or “odd,” Rupert sardonically noted, naturally would not receive an invitation to his celebrated lawn tennis parties, where the select enjoyed “strawberries and cream on the lawn and drinks on the terrace.”[8]

Throughout his first volume of memoirs Rupert Croft-Cooke, while admitting faults in his family and his social class (which he considered to have been “middle”), nevertheless tends to find life in the years before the Great War far preferable to life in Britain in the 1950s. A self-styled gourmet who published several books on cooking, Croft-Cooke becomes particularly distraught in Gardens over what he sees as the dismal decline in British food from the appetizing days of his youth. His range of disgusted commentary on food now versus food then is quite broad, seemingly encompassing every modern morsel from breakfast to dinner that could pass one’s curling lips. The fall of the British breakfast particularly brings out his strongest ire. On the subject of “breakfast cereals” (Croft-Cooke cannot bear to use the dread term without scare quotes) Croft-Cooke is apoplectic. In his day, he notes with withering scorn, such foods “were left behind in the nursery.” He can imagine no purpose in creating these “paper-like flakes of this or that tasteless husk” other than that of “absorbing the glutted harvests of America.” “Poor, earnest mothers” (Croft Cooke’s references to fifties suburban middle-class housewives typically are full either of patronizing sympathy or, the veil slipping, outright contempt), their minds spellbound by talk of “vitamins and calories” (“the cantrips of today”), spoon pablum “into the mouths of their rebellious children, but what unholy rubbish all this bran and baking amounts to,” he frets.[9]

Croft-Cooke, on the other hand, was fortunate to grow up in an age of sensible parents who oversaw the serving of “splendid, leisurely breakfasts,” where both table and service were ample. Breakfast for young Rupert was not comprised of miserable packets of corn flakes, but such fine things as a fish dish, either fish cakes, kedgeree or kippers (Croft-Cooke had learned to dissect a kipper by the time he was five), eggs, either poached, boiled, scrambled or fried, bacon (“always prime back”), sheep’s kidneys, mushrooms (blessedly not the “tasteless dry fungus” produced though “competitive mushroom growing”), toast and homemade marmalade and “that masterly creation of the English pork butcher, the sausage” (tragically succeeded in the fifties “by wan parodies, bilious with fat and swollen with old bread, whose proportions have to be controlled by law to ensure that the purchaser secures a little of the gristly flesh of heaven knows what animal”). Occasionally there would be Yorkshire ham, potted meat (not from a tin, needless to say), pig’s cheek, brawn (head cheese), pickled pork or smoked cod roe (father’s “favorite delicacy”). In the dining room at Wayside, overlooking the tennis court and the laurel hedge beyond it, young Rupert would sit at the breakfast table in the corner seat beside the father who had provided this bounty and “munch and think and look out to the garden, a very happy little boy.”[10]

Happy recollections of his convalescent stays at St. Leonard’s-on-Sea with his elderly, hospitable “Aunt” Annie Dickson (actually a cousin of his mother)—clearly the model for the heinously murdered Aunt Aurora in Croft-Cooke’s 1951 Leo Bruce detective novel Neck and Neck—occasioned yet another outburst of bitterness in Gardens over modern times. To Croft-Cooke Aunt Annie Dickson was such a fixture in her house on De Champs Road, St. Leonard’s, that even in 1958, nearly thirty years after her death, he almost expected still to be able to find her there, behind the lace curtains. A spinster who had lived with her widowed mother over many years, Auntie Annie after her mother’s death kept the Victorian Gothic house exactly as it had been, residing there alone with two house servants, one of whom, Emma, remained with her mistress for thirty years. Staunchly anti-Papist, Auntie Annie’s main pleasures were attending services at St. Matthew’s, “the most sternly evangelical of the local churches,” and making “daily but always formal visits” with her lifelong, likeminded friends who lived up the road, the Misses Spiers.[11]

After Rupert came to Auntie Annie’s house for one of his periodic convalescences, each day began with morning prayers in the dining room. Auntie Annie would read a Biblical passage to the two servants and to young Rupert, then all would kneel at their chairs and recite the “Our Father,” after which the rapidly cooling boiled eggs “waiting under little woolen tea cosies” would be rapidly devoured. After breakfast, Auntie Annie, “Conservative as uncompromisingly as she was Protestant,” would have Rupert read from the Daily Mail, nodding approvingly whenever denunciations were made against Mr. Lloyd George and the Liberals. Afternoon excursions of Aunt and nephew were many and varied. There might be “fancy cakes” at Cave’s Oriental Cafe, a jaunt along the pier to the penny slot machines, reclining in deck chairs listening to the band or a trip to Hastings Castle to see the dungeon. Inside Auntie Annie’s Gothic house as well were numerous delights and wonders for a small child. There was the harmonium Auntie Annie would play after church, on which Rupert was taught the Ave Maria from Cavalleria Rusticana (he was reminded to “regard it as just a song and not think of it as having anything to do with religion”). Throughout the house “there was scarcely any space not crowded with oddments” fascinating to a child:

Mantle-pieces, brackets, whatnots in every room held bewildering collections of china, silver, ornamental boxes, glass paperweights with flowers in them, ivory, fans, and ornate cases of every imaginable article—thimble cases, scissors cases, needle cases . . . ..You lifted the lid of a china orange and saw that it was full of old postage stamps . . . .The charms and wonders of that house, hidden or exposed, were inexhaustible.[12]

Thinking back on these boyhood stays at Auntie Annie’s house as he wrote Gardens, Croft-Cooke recalled sadly that all the wondrous knick knacks had been broken up at an estate sale after Auntie Annie’s death in 1930. Probably now, he darkly imagined, one would find “a television aerial over Emma’s bedroom, sparse three-ply furniture in the rooms and prints of Van Gogh’s noisier paintings on the walls.” As in the case of his paternal grandfather, Croft-Cooke took solace in the reflection that his aged relative had not survived into the modern age “to be called a parasite and see her comfortable little income reduced to a pittance by taxation.” He was glad that she never lived “to have her innocuous life called stagnant and useless, or to be shown the absurdity (today the impossibility) of employing two servants to look after one single woman.” Such had happened to other Auntie Annies, Croft-Cooke noted bitterly, “and though no doubt the age is more advanced and efficient for their elimination, in goodness and gentleness it is poorer.”[13]

Croft-Cooke, as mentioned earlier, acknowledged the complacency and insularity of his class in the Edwardian period, particularly emphasizing the social stratification of his Chipstead society at that time, something which should be familiar to readers of Golden Age detective novels and their critics. In Chipstead one found three firmly defined classes, the gentle-people, the common people and village people. Gentle-people included all professional families and “ ‘superior trade’.” Among common people one found “the near misses, the pretentious and the vulgar,” people who might live in similar houses to gentle-people and be just as or more prosperous, but nevertheless were lacking in true gentility. The village people were the manual working class.[14]

In those days, village working men and women knew their place, the men touching their caps to gentle-people and women even being known to curtsy. Young Rupert’s governess, Ninna, whom Croft-Cooke believed in the fifties “would have been more or less articulately of the left-wing,” struck his parents as “droll” when she instructed him to address farm foremen and mechanics by the title of “Mr.”, just as if they were gentle-people. In teaching her charge to treat working class men as equals in this respect, however, Ninna planted a seed in young Rupert that produced an early, tender bloom in his “first deliberate act of rebellion,” a friendship with Beadle, Wayside’s knife-and-boot boy. Older than Rupert by some four years, Beadle became an object of hero worship to the younger boy. Even parental authority, Croft-Cooke recalled nearly fifty years later, conceded “that Beadle was a very nice knife-and-boot boy, the most industrious and the best-mannered we had ever had.”

To the starry-eyed young Rupert, Beadle “looked, in fact, almost angelic when he sang in the choir on Sundays, with his fair hair and blue eyes and clean surplice.” Beadle “was a fine boy, honourable, humorous, gay,” always willing to spare time to share with Rupert his exciting “sagas of downland rabbitry” (once including the display of Beadle’s working ferret) or to allow Rupert the use of his catapult. When his parents forbade his association with Beadle on the vague grounds that “it was not the proper thing, it was not right, it would never do,” Rupert “defied the ban imposed” and continued to enjoy a clandestine friendship that “had the added fillip of all secret and illicit things.” Old enough to enter the army in 1916, Beadle was thought to have died on the Somme. Croft-Cooke never forgot Beadle, and strove to create what he called a state of “class unconsciousness” in his mind. Coming from his social background, that meant not only a revolt against the standards of his parents, but “against all the forces of precedent, education, convention and respectability.” Though his class unconsciousness, Croft-Cooke reflected in 1958, “brought more trouble into my life than anything else”—the author here was referencing the six-month jail term he served in 1953-54 after being convicted of “homosexual offenses”—he did “not in the least regret it.”[15]

Croft-Cooke’s sense of rebellion and alienation from society’s standards was fueled after he began attending, at the age of seven, Rose Hill preparatory school. About Rose Hill, Croft-Cooke could summon few positive or even neutral words. He denounced the “monstrous snobbishness” of the headmaster, headmistress and matron (from which Croft-Cooke himself suffered, not being one of the wealthier boys), the headmaster’s “too ready cane” (“in those days it would have been an eccentric preparatory school proprietor who never used a cane—one might soon be given the dangerous reputation of being crankish”) and the unvarying tedium in the classroom. Croft-Cooke’s criticism of the latter failing of the school is categorical and extensive:

Asked who Plato, Charlemagne, Richelieu or Lincoln were, we should have gaped. We were blankly ignorant of the most elementary facts of biology, zoology, indeed of any ology or subject other than the desiccated scrap of knowledge considered necessary for the passing of an examination. We had been caned and cajoled into the possessing of a number of disconnected and mostly insignificant facts, foreign words and figures, and that was all. Worst of all, nothing that we had learned in class had for a moment interested us.[16]

Croft-Cooke had kind words for only one instructor, the French master, M. Gazere, “a tall Provencal with untidy hair and a brown mustache.” Unlike the dashing and very English Mr. Townshend—doubtlessly the model for the “primly decorous” Lionel Townshend, Sergeant Beef’s proper and priggish “Watson” in Croft-Cooke’s first series of detective novels—Gazere was not generally popular with the boys at the school. Nevertheless, he inspired devotion in young Rupert, who would walk along with him at school walks endeavoring, with “incredible eccentricity,” to converse with him in French. It was “remote M. Gazere,” along with the groundsman, who were Rupert’s heroes at Rose Hill. All his life, Croft-Cooke noted, he had given his admiration “to the obscure rebels, the ungregarious and uncompromising, the outcast and the enemy of society who have the courage of their contempt for mass emotion.” Broadening this “anti-social” thought into an overt manifesto of independent individualism in opposition to the status quo, be it of the Right or of the Left, he declared: “Give me any man with the guts to assert himself against the herd and be trampled under their feet not for the sake of another party, another system, some footling theory or other, but because he does not like their bleat.” Croft-Cooke would put this anti-establishment philosophy into action dramatically at the age of fourteen, when he announced, much to his mother’s dismay, that he was henceforward to be considered a Catholic (he adhered to this faith the rest of his life, though he admitted a few years before his death that he had been “more an anti-Anglican than a good Catholic”).[17]

Despite Croft-Cooke’s outbursts about the wrongness of Rose Hill and the unthinking social prejudice against Beadle, when he came to reflect on the changes in his life and society after World War One, he mostly regretted those changes. For Croft-Cooke the war years of 1914-18 were a “dark tunnel” from which his social class “emerged blinking in the light of peace,” only to find changes that made their prewar world “seem like life in another period of history or a foreign country.” Forced in the 1920s to move with his wife into a suburban bungalow with the merest scrap of a garden, Rupert’s father never again was to be “the gay, enthusiastic spendthrift and host of Wayside.” Born and bred in an age of security, “when anxieties were limited to illnesses and bank failures,” Hubert Cooke found himself ill-equipped to deal with a postwar age of “anxieties imaginary and real about money, his home, his children, servants, education, health, the future, the thousand cares which crowd in upon as all.” His grand tennis parties were a thing of the past, what with now prohibitive expenses and the new servant troubles. Between the First World War and the second one, the ladies of Britain’s middle class tried to maintain a pretense of undisturbed gentility, but often they were “reduced to the humiliation of persuading some ham-fisted slut to dress up as a housemaid for the sake of appearances.” The servants of Croft-Cooke’s prewar childhood, “women who knew their work and found no anomaly in it,” largely were gone. With these first-grade servants, the supreme confidence of Croft-Cooke’s social class had vanished. The gentle-people of the Chipsteds of England would never recover the sense with which they had been born, that of “having a right to prosperity.”[18]

Despite the evident pessimism about the present and nostalgia for the past expressed when he was writing The Gardens of Camelot, Croft-Cooke in the four decades after the outbreak of World War One actually was able to lead a remarkably varied and successful life for himself. Even his arrest and conviction for homosexual offenses in 1953-54 failed to significantly check his career. Once out of jail he wrote and published the very next year a scathing and boldly self-justificatory indictment of the British establishment’s treatment of him in the recent affair, entitled The Verdict of You All. Clearly his recent arrest and incarceration influenced his tendency in Gardens, which he began writing in 1956, to contrast a divine past with a malign present. Admittedly much in Gardens tends to confirm the view of critics of Golden Age detective novels that the books were written as escapist, Edwardian pastoral fantasies, yet it is important to remember that even in Gardens, written at the height of his disgust with postwar Britain, Croft-Cooke reveals a highly individualistic, libertarian streak that distinguishes him from the High Tory caricature of the British Golden Age detective novelist.[19] Throughout his life, Croft-Cooke was politically independent, if not idiosyncratic, dismissive of religious Puritanism, cosmopolitan and suspicious of authority and received opinion. After his arrest and incarceration, his contempt for the police, symbols of state-imposed order, became manifest in his writings. Like Tory writers he despised Britain’s welfare state, but he did so more on libertarian grounds than on class ones. Clearly he very much enjoyed the personal benefits he had derived from being in a privileged class in the stratified Edwardian social structure, but he was aware of some of that structure’s inequities and failings. This broadness of mind informs and enriches his detective novels.

Young Rupert spent the war years and their aftermath in a succession of disappointing preparatory schools. At the age of fifteen he was sexually molested by a curate tutor, a traumatic, buried event that gave him a “lifelong prejudice against those who are guilty of perverting young children,” though he otherwise was “tolerant in all matters of sexual behavior.” His last two years of school education were spent at Wellington College, Salop (not, the students constantly had to remind people, the Wellington College). Although the vice-principal was an “unspeakable . . . drunken pederast of revolting habits,” Rupert finally did gain, from the English master, something in the way of education, namely “a real feeling for Shakespeare and literature in general.” In his fellow students he had little interest, seeing them as “a stolid and commonplace crowd for the most part, nurtured in hideously grand provincial homes, born to believe in the power of wealth.” Already by the age of sixteen, Rupert “was being made into a rebel, not one who would lead revolutions or end smiling in the trim purlieus of the Labour Party, but one whose whole life would be an ineffectual struggle against conformity, the will of the majority and the bastions of good citizenship.”[20]

However much he later would struggle against the will of the majority, Croft-Cooke had in 1920 to submit to the will of his father, at this time at a low ebb in his economic fortunes, and withdraw from school at age seventeen to find work himself as a preparatory schoolmaster, losing in the event his chance of going to Oxford. Croft-Cooke seems to have differed from his second fictional detective, Carolus Deene, in finding little pleasure in teaching (for Carolus Deene, however, teaching was strictly voluntary, as he enjoyed that badge of amateur detectivedom, a private income). Croft-Cooke’s summation of the life of the preparatory schoolmaster is quite bleak. The preparatory school he deemed “an ever-ready asylum for young men leaving public schools.” Yet the asylum could become a very hard place from which to escape. The typical young man, explained Crofts:

starts in high spirits meaning to fill time till he can go to University, or get that job in Guiana, or persuade a publisher to accept his first book. He will have, he argues, plenty of time of his own in which to study or write or paint or further his private ambitions. All too often, thirty years later, he is still an assistant master in a preparatory school, earning very little more than when he started, with no future and a particularly futile past.[21]

Saving himself from the possibility of such an ignominious fate, Croft-Cooke soon left his preparatory schoolmaster position, setting off for a teaching post in Argentina which allowed him time over the next two years to edit and publish verse in an English newspaper and obtain local color that would serve him well in many of his mainstream thirties novels. Returning to England in 1922, he “settled down in a disused army hut in a Kentish plum orchard and for three years lived by little cheques from editors” for poems and articles. Hubert Cooke with mixed feelings soon realized “that he had produced a freak, a son destined not for commerce or recognized profession, but for the eccentric and dubious career of literature.”[22]

From 1922, when he published a book of poetry, Songs of a Sussex Tramp, to 1977, when he published his final volume of memoirs, The Green, Green Grass, Croft-Cooke would produce 126 books, embracing, as B. A. Pike has noted, “a remarkable variety of forms,” including, in addition to his works of detection and memoirs, “mainstream novels, plays, poems, collections of stories, biographies, literary histories, cookery books and a range of titles on psychology, wine, the circus, darts and gypsies.” Aside from the detective novels, a branch of his writing that Croft-Cooke evidently held in little regard, highlights of his fictional work include: a 1926 short story—remarkably eventful,” its author recalled, “and with a bang at the end that would sink a battle ship”—later adapted into a play and a celebrated episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, called “Banquo’s Chair”; Cosmopolis (1932), called by the New York Times a penetrating satiric “parable of all the postwar attempts to achieve world harmony”; two crime novels separated by over three decades, Same Way Home (1939) and Under the Rose Garden (1971); two barbed satires on the publishing world, Octopus (1946) and Wolf from the Door (1969) (the former considered by Jacques Barzun one of Croft-Cooke’s “finest achievements”); Wilkie (1948), a somber critique of postwar Britain designated by Somerset Maugham in the Sunday Times as his Book of the Year and; Brass Farthing (1950), a charming piece of whimsy that pokes fun at the hopelessly conventional.[23]

Before the literary floodgates opened and the works poured forth, beginning with his first novel, Troubadour, in 1930, Croft-Cooke supported himself as a secondhand bookseller of first editions and later “as a lecturer in a Swiss school for the gilded youth of fourteen countries” (this latter experience provided the basis for the Institut Utopia in Cosmopolis). The one political event of the twenties that made an impression on him (along with the rest of the nation) was the General Strike of 1926. Though critics tend to depict this event as arousing uniform horror in the minds of Golden Age detective novelists, Croft-Cooke wholeheartedly supported labor during the struggle. Admitting in 1963 that his generation mostly was “ignorant and bored and regarded the rise of Labour rather as Oxford undergraduates regarded the students of Ruskin College [a college founded in Oxford in 1899 by John Ruskin to provide educational opportunities for working class men], not with snobbish disdain but with incomprehension,” Croft-Cooke maintained that he had parted from the privileged herd on this matter. The fledgling writer always had despised what he saw as the smug complacency of the conservative prime minister Stanley Baldwin, “the mouthpiece of all that was worst in my father’s childish political philosophy.” Baldwin, recalled Croft-Cooke trenchantly, “stood for solid worth, established things, the prosperity of a few, what my father called ‘right thinking’ . . . .I loathed his guts.” With Baldwin in charge, Croft-Cooke felt certain that “the miners were getting a raw deal.” Baldwin and those he represented—“the comfortable, the rich, the successful”—could not be trusted. Croft-Cooke gave vent to his anger at the triumphant establishment with a piece in G. K. Chesterton’s distributist journal, G. K.’s Weekly, “Miss Puttick’s Diary of the Great Strike,” which satirized the self-satisfied views of his class.[24]

Politics notwithstanding, Croft-Cooke’s main concern at this time was his literary career, which finally took on a firmer footing with the 1930 publication of Troubadour, a novel about an affair between a leisured gentleman and a shop girl. Like other young authors before and after him, Croft-Cooke had lofty visions of a bestseller, which crashed to the ground when, “puzzled by the fact that no second edition had been announced,” Croft-Cooke inquired from his publisher the number of copies of Troubadour (which the papers had “kindly, almost fulsomely reviewed”) that had sold and learned it was an illusion-shattering six hundred and four. Croft-Cooke netted from the book only thirty pounds, which covered, in addition to his agent’s commission and typist’s salary, his modest living expenses for six months. This pattern would hold for the rest of his career. Never once achieving that elusive thing, bestseller status, Croft-Cooke was able to make a decent living from his books, but only by maintaining an incredible rate of production. After visiting with Croft-Cooke in Tangier in 1960, Noel Coward rather loftily noted that he “never stops writing books, thrillers, novels and autobiographies, and I came away with a small library. He writes well, I think, but obviously neither well nor badly enough because he apparently doesn’t make much money.”[25]

Part of the blame for this situation Croft-Cooke placed on his second publisher, Walter Hutchinson, of whom he was still writing with loathing in the 1970s. After the publication of “the second and easily worst” of his novels, Give Him the Earth, Croft-Cooke, enticed by the offer from Hutchinson’s firm of an advance of sixty pounds, twice what he had received for his two previous books, jumped ship, much to his later regret. “Over the doors of [Hutchinson’s office],” declared Croft-Cooke in 1977, “should have been a sign, ‘Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here’.”[26]

Disaster struck quickly with the publication of Croft-Cooke’s fourth novel, Cosmopolis, a satire on an inevitably doomed effort to build in Switzerland a preparatory school with the goal of inculcating in male students from all nations the principles of “harmony and brotherhood.” On the strength of what Croft-Cooke called “absurdly indulgent reviews,” the novel at first “seemed set for bestsellerdom.” Fatally, however, the proprietor of the Swiss preparatory school at which Croft-Cooke had taught a few years earlier claimed Cosmopolis libeled his school and persuaded Hutchinson to withdraw it. Not one to cut losses, Hutchinson through his representatives demanded that Croft-Cooke make up all the publisher’s expenses on the book by signing a contract requiring the young author to write four books a year for Hutchinson’s until the amount was fully paid. Croft-Cooke, to nearly a half-century of bitter regret, signed the contract. Once “pushed into the maw” of Mr. Hutchinson, Croft-Cooke lost much of the rest of the thirties artistically, ground up by what he believed to be a consummate hack publisher:

What Mr. Hutchinson demanded was books and more books of what was called ‘popular’ type. The word . . . is used chiefly in antithesis to “authoritative.” ‘Popular’ books on every subject were rushed out by the Hutchinson presses, shallow, scissor-and-paste books . . . anything that could fill the space between covers . . . .Scarcely an author’s name, of all the many he boosted in those years between the wars, survives today.

Trapped with a hack publisher, Croft-Cooke later explained, he produced hack work for much of the rest of the decade: “I lost all professional inducement to write well. . . . No one concerned with the publication of what I wrote would henceforth give me advice, criticism or encouragement, no one would care what theme I chose or what treatment I gave it. All that was demanded of me was wordage.”[27]

Though he suffered a heavy professional loss in the aftermath of the Cosmoplis affair, Croft-Cooke still found himself able to enjoy his life. He resided during the thirties mostly in a village in the Cotswolds, where he absorbed milieu that he later would use to recreate English village life in his detective novels. He also traveled extensively in Europe and toured in England with the Circus Rosaire, experience that would inform several of his books.[28]

To raise money for a trip to Spain in 1932, ostensibly to work on a novel, Croft-Cooke and a friend, author Michael Harrison, concocted a purely cynical venture to publish a purported expose of drugs and sexual depravity in London, written in the style of “Sunday journalism of the baser sort wrapped in hypocritical pomposity,” which they entitled The Cloven Hoof: A Study of Contemporary London Vices. The pair spent “a couple of laughing weeks” accumulating material, in the end cobbling together “an amateur production, full of inaccuracies,” that fortunately drew no attention from the press, The Policewoman’s Gazette excepted. Croft-Cooke consoled himself that the stunt had raised him his thirty pounds and done no one any harm. He likely would be amused today to see The Cloven Hoof cited seriously in academic monographs.[29]

Leaving London hijinks behind him, Croft-Cooke in 1934 settled at the isolated Cotswolds hamlet of Salperton. From his yearly income of 250 to 300 pounds Croft-Cooke was able to provide himself in Salperton with a small Elizabethan cottage of grey Cotswold stone, as well as an “old serviceable motor car, the domestic services of the village baker’s son, enough to eat and beer in a pub at night.” Salperton was real, rustic England, not a picturesque or twee getaway for city weekenders. Farm laborers “lived in conditions of poverty and degradation which, one would have thought, belonged to earlier centuries.” The well-traveled, cosmopolitan author noted acerbically in 1966 that “the English who were proud of their insistence on baths in foreign inns might have realized that not only in such a backward hamlet as [Salperton] but all over rural England there was until recently a lack of hygiene which would have shocked the meanest Arab or Indian, and did indeed shock the Romanies who passed through our villages.” At the same time, Salperton also was inhabited by better off householders, including a small tenant farmer named Hodges and his wife, “a prim, pertinacious woman who wore pince nez glasses” and served for a time as Croft-Cooke’s housekeeper. Mrs. Hodges was, the writer recalled, “the most indefatigable and orderly human being I have known.” Clearly Mrs. Hodges made a great impression on Croft-Cooke, for anyone familiar with the detective novels he wrote as Leo Bruce can recognize her as the model for Mrs. Stick, the memorable housekeeper of Leo Bruce’s second series detective, Carolus Deene.[30]

Life in Salperton was rustic and plain, but Croft-Cooke enjoyed happiness there, particularly with the ministrations of Mrs. Hodges and Eric, the village baker’s son, who proved an excellent cook. In the evenings Croft-Cooke would head to local inns to play darts, experience that not only would inspire his book Darts, but would find its way into his Sergeant Beef detective novels (Sergeant Beef is a fanatical player). Croft-Cooke pointedly declined to describe these isolated rural inns as pubs, a term he felt better “applied to metropolitan drinking places or to neo-Elizabethan monsters on the main roads” rather than to a “smoky little house” like the Puesdown or the Frog Mill, “lit by lamplight” and “patronized almost exclusively by land workers.” Such drinking mates were outside the experience of Croft-Cooke’s readership, so he took care to describe them at length:

The men who came here were of middle age or old for the most part, since the younger men saved what money they could from their wretched wages in order to get married. There were slow-moving, pungent men, with unkempt mustaches and sometimes beards. . . . .They came to spend a few pence on cider by the fire after a hard day’s labour, to relax in the company of other men, most of whom they had known since boyhood, to get away from their wives for an hour or two (In all my years in Gloucestershire I never saw a woman customer in the bar of an inn). They talked in a dialect as first almost incomprehensible to me, unbelievably rustic . . . .They might have been the farm-workers in a Hardy novel, but their talk was earthier than Hardy could well represent, and they had more in common with Bottom, Snout, Quince, Snug and the rest than with the country idyll churchgoers of Hardy.[31]

In comparative comfort at Salperton, Croft-Cooke attempted a “social realism,” Depression novel, titled Shoulder the Sky, about a poor family living under the shadow of unemployment. This subject had been lurking in Croft-Cooke’s mind since the General Strike had revealed to him “the blind inhumanity taken for granted among my father’s prosperous middle class friends.” Admitting that he “had not the experience, the ability or the driving anger of an Orwell,” he nevertheless was proud that he had written Shoulder the Sky “with honest intention.” The novel received “wonderfully fond press,” but unfortunately appeared the same time as Walter Greenwood’s hugely successful novel on a similar theme, Love on the Dole, and was “completely swamped by it.”[32]

As a novelist Croft-Cooke settled into an established position with the critics and the public: “far too kind reviews and minimal sales.” Typically he was fortunate if one of his novels sold two thousand copies. He most successful thirties novel, Crusade (his ninth), fell short of 5000 copies sold, in spite of having been chosen as a monthly selection of the Book Guild. His best selling book in the thirties—at least of those written under his own name—was Darts, a work that came about by happenstance, when the sport came up in conversation during a 1935 meeting with publisher Geoffrey Bles (the meeting likely was in connection with Croft-Cooke’s first Leo Bruce detective novel, Case for Three Detectives, which Geoffrey Bles, an important mystery publisher, published in 1936). Both Bles and the author were surprised when Darts, the first book on the subject, was taken seriously by reviewers, with some, such as those for the Times Literary Supplement and Country Life, devoting significant review space to it. Croft-Cooke soon became a regular contributor to Darts Weekly, a job that mostly consisted of a great deal of county pub crawling, and the rising poet Cecil Day Lewis even asked him to write the “darts” entry in the encyclopedia he was compiling.[33]

One chapter in Darts, on the “social aspect” of the game, illustrates Croft-Cooke’s credo of “class unconsciousness” as well as a marked distaste for females invading traditionally male environments. The author takes to task members of “the more pretentious classes” for crashing public bars to play darts with the locals without having any notion of the proper etiquette in such situations. Too often he found that the behavior of the crashers was marked by attitudes of over-familiarity and condescension, with the gentleman of leisure or young suburban calling “the men who have invited him to play with them by their Christian names” and talking to them “as though they were ignorant children.” Inwardly such a newcomer may be “preening himself on being a ‘good fellow,’ a ‘good mixer,’ a chap who can ‘get on with working men’,” but he undoubtedly has given offense. More unsettling yet, in Croft-Cooke’s view, was when “some hearty gentleman in plus-fours” invited his wife or women friends to watch him play or, worse yet, play themselves. “Hot spasms go up and down my spine even now as I recall such scenes,” Croft-Cooke avowed. “There are women who can play darts,” he judiciously allowed in the tone of a naturalist studying a group of not entirely untrainable lower primates. “They are few and their merits usually are exaggerated, but they exist.” However, even these exceptional women should in courtesy refrain from “bouncing too often into public bars.” The truth that had to be admitted was that women “must either, by their very presence, impose an uncomfortable restraint on the idiom of the place, or, in an attempt to remove it, become themselves grotesquely vulgar.”[34]

As the decade of the thirties neared its close in blasts and bellows of warfare, Croft-Cooke began expressing political sentiments in his books that landed him in much more contemporary controversy than his views on the social etiquette in public bars. Reminiscing decades later about his in some ways embarrassing contemporary writings about the tumultuous politics of the thirties, Croft-Cooke pled a defense of ignorance. He had laughed at a friend’s insistence in 1934 that there would be another war in five years, for to him Hitler seemed merely “a bitter little buffoon who was fooling a lot of people but would be laughed out of power as soon as Germans got his measure.” With remorseless self-reflection some thirty years later, Croft-Cooke admitted that in those earlier days his “knowledge of world history was that of a fifth form schoolboy” and that he “knew nothing of any science and scarcely understood any political economy, philosophy, finance, economics or jurisprudence.” He concluded flatly: “I could quite justly have been described as an ignoramus.”[35]

In the thirties Croft-Cooke was suspicious of all intellectuals (Shakespeare, he told himself, was a middlebrow) and ideologies and was personally attracted by neither fascism nor communism. The latter belief system, he wrote flippantly in a facile 1936 book of social commentary, God in Ruins, “seems rather a tiresome business on the whole, vaguely reminiscent of soup kitchens and tangled beards,” while fascism struck him as “forlorn and improbable.” Croft-Cooke adhered to a reflexive anarchism, at least in regard to state infringements on personal liberties. Probably the matter that engaged him most personally at this time was the prohibition on darts-playing on Sunday in public bars. Like contemporary detective fiction writer John Street, who also was known to spend many an hour in the public bar, Croft-Cooke found the tyranny of licensing laws extremely vexing.[36]

About matters overseas in continental Europe, Croft-Cooke remained considerably more sanguine. After touring nine European countries in the fall of 1937 with a couple of his circus friends, he returned to Britain and published the next year an account of his trip in a book—“not a very good one,” the author later ruefully admitted—called The Man in Europe Street. Kristallnacht and the betrayal of Czechoslovakia would shatter Croft-Cooke’s complacency, but in the meantime that complacency found expression in Europe Street, with Croft-Cooke concluding that on the whole the German and Italian people were happy with their rulers and bore little ill will toward the western democracies. War therefore was unnecessary and unlikely. “As much as the next man I want to see human beings given as much personal happiness and dignity as the limited powers of any government can secure for them,” he avowed, “and the fact that the Fascist and Nazi regimes [in Italy and Germany] seemed to be honorably working for this will perhaps emerge from what I write.” Thirty years later Croft-Cooke admitted that rereading such passages gave him “sharp mental discomfort.”[37]

Europe Street is full of naively optimistic pronouncements one can see causing an essentially humane and decent man “sharp mental discomfort” after he had come to realize how fatuous and foolish they were, playing into the hands, as they did, of gangs of murderous thugs: “Nowhere in Germany did we see any sign of the despair and broken poverty of six years before”; “Everywhere the familiar ‘Heil Hitler’ was spoken in greeting as one entered or left, not rhetorically, not grudgingly, but calmly and willingly”; “ . . . .the whole cathedral was massed with people . . . .conspicuous everywhere were the uniforms of soldiers, S.S. and S.A. men . . . .This should be comforting, I thought, to English Catholics who fear that membership in the Party would be inconsistent in Germany with religion”; “From first to last [in Italy] there was no sign or story of intimidation or suspicion.”[38]

Croft-Cooke does take notice of the Jewish question, revealing empathy for the plight of European Jewry. In Cologne he notes the sacking of a shop whose owner was thought (mistakenly, it turned out) to be Jewish. Later his young circus friends, Ivor and Derrick Rosaire (who, regrettably, as they seem to have greater perceptiveness about the nature of totalitarian regimes than their author traveling companion, flit in and out of the narrative), tell Croft-Cooke what they believe to be a “smasher” of an incident which they insist should go in his book, concerning a wealthy Jewish couple who felt forced to give up everything and migrate to the United States for the benefit of their son, who was subjected to official discrimination in his school. The boy was “a fine kid,” according to Ivor and Derrick, who had gone with him to see a “cowboy picture” a few days earlier. Why do the Germans act like this, they asked, to which Croft-Cooke had no justifying answer.[39]

By far the most moving part of Europe Street is Croft-Cooke’s short section on his visit to the Budapest Teleketir, or market, where “articles of every kind, from clothes to vegetables, from boots to furniture, new and second hand, were displayed in astonishing profusion.” Almost all the stall holders were “Jews, of course; and among them the name Hitler” spread terror. Anxiety was palpable in the Teleketir, “a clouded anxiety which hung over the Jews everywhere in Eastern Europe.” One man, a proprietor of a clothes stall, told the author that he had fled “from Russia to Germany in 1920 and from Germany [to Hungary] in 1936.” Both times he had lost a successful business that he had built up from years of hard work. “Before long,” he complained, “it will be made impossible for us here. And I pay my taxes. I don’t owe any money. I work hard. My little boy works here after school. My daughter too.”[40]

Croft-Cooke wrote with admiration of “the infinite sweetness and patience of [the Jewish] race.” He noted thirty years later that the Jewish Czech friends of whom he writes with great warmth in Europe Street, author Vincy Schwarz and his wife, both “perished, after fearful humiliations and privation, in extermination camps.” Yet at the time, Croft-Cooke was able to conclude Europe Street with a series of placid, impersonal observations on the desirable historical inevitability of state control over the economy. In Germany, Italy and the Soviet Union, the governments were moving vigorously to develop states where “no man will be able to own another.” Democracy, he believed, was “doing no less,” though “more cautiously and considerately.” Given that all the advanced world’s ideological systems were pursuing this same worthy goal of economic justice for all, he concluded, “there need be no war.”[41]

It seems to me impossible to charge Croft-Cooke with anti-Semitism, a prejudice with which many British Golden Age detective novelists have been charged.[42] Croft-Cooke long had cordial relationships with Jews, from his stockbroker father’s business associates to his short friendship with the doomed Vincy Schwarz to his lifelong one with author Louis Golding. Unfortunately, Croft-Cooke in Europe Street allowed a fervent desire for peace to propel him to briefly embrace fashionable thirties Utopian nostrums, about which he previously had written with cynicism and disdain, in order to reach a happy judgment that all in the world was working out for the best. In such a failing, however, he hardly was alone among British writers of that decade.

Croft-Cooke found upon publication of Europe Street in 1938 that the book created a minor press sensation, with it winning vocal supporters as well as critics. In the view of the book’s supporters, Croft-Cooke “might have been a minor prophet. I had said what they wanted to hear and they were grateful.” However, vigorous attacks on him and his book were launched from the pages of the New Statesman and other leftist sources (“Dear Croft-Cooke,” jabbed one newspaper, “you are much more amusing, and infinitely more intelligent, when you write about darts.”). Worried that he would come to be “mistaken for a full-time Nazi apologist,” Croft-Cooke simply dropped out of political debates and rejoined his circus friends, again on tour in England. Retrospectively he admitted that he had had little of substance to contribute at the time, anyway. “Wishful thinking can enslave the mind,” he concluded. Though “intelligent men tried to find reassurance in my opinions . . . I had no opinion worth a light.”[43]

Decades later, the author reflected that “there was a certain temptation to me . . . to play the enfant terrible in derision of the Left, who dominated what there was of literature at that time and was humorless, smug and full of sagacity.” Croft-Cooke had only contempt for the lofty moral posturing of this group of British intellectuals:

The Left Book Club mentality, with the poets who knew with such certainty that honour could only be found on the Government side in Spain, the political commentators to whom Stalin’s purges were right while Hitler’s were wrong, the pacifists who wanted to arm everyone but themselves, the academic socialists who had never seen a queue at the Labour Exchange or felt a moment’s hunger, all the intellectuals whose superior knowledge was impregnable till the German-Soviet Pact was announced—I instinctively distrusted them and for two pins would have invented and voiced fascist sympathies.

“Fortunately,” Croft-Cooke reflected, “I had two pins, and very firm they were, my sense of humor and my affection for Jews.” [44] Unfortunately, at the time those two pins had not stayed him from briefly but very visibly taking the position that Fascism and Communism both were variants of a historically inevitable and necessary social process by which control over business was to be taken from private hands and placed in those of state planners, presumably for the benefit of the people. Rather than pointing out the basic moral inconsistency in Leftists denouncing Fascism while praising Communism, Croft-Cooke ended up defending the murderous regimes of both ideologies, which left him with much explaining to do in his 1960s memoirs of this period.

A striking example of Croft-Cooke’s morally muddled contemporary thinking on totalitarianism can be found in his 1939 crime novel, Same Way Home (discussed at greater length in part two of this essay). In Same Way Home, Barry, a clear author surrogate, is so open-minded he can see both sides of every issue and is unable to decide between them. In one section of a typically long-winded speech on his philosophy, he pauses to consider the problem of the Jews in Nazi Germany. For most people in England, he pronounces, the matter is simple enough to decide: “On the one side the persecuted Jew, on the other the German sadist.” However, concludes the judicious Barry, “it is not so simple. [German Nazis] . . . believe that they are rebuilding a fallen country. They will have no sabotage from those who are not with them [how Jews were sabotaging Germany and whether the Nazis had ever given them a chance be “with them” Barry does not explain] . . . .But at least they are trying for greatness . . . .when I see conviction, hope, and a new life built on them, though I may hate that life, I still have a secret envy of all such great believers.”[45] Barry’s view that one should admire cruel people who aspire to “greatness,” even if one actually opposes their aspirations, is one that many readers may with justification have found somewhat baffling. Perhaps Croft-Cooke’s thinking here was influenced by something more than a desperate desire for world peace, perhaps on some level at this time he as well wanted, more than he himself ever realized, to fit in with a group—a fellowship or brotherhood—as embodied by the awesome mass collective movements he had seen in Germany and Italy.

After the German annexation of a betrayed Czechoslovakia in March 1939, the scales belatedly dropped from Croft-Cooke’s eyes, and he lost any remaining sympathy he may have had for Germany’s “great believers.” That same month he edited and wrote the introduction to Major Road Ahead, a collection of essays by authors representing various political and religious groups (socialist, communist, fascist, liberal, Churchillian Tories, Chamberlainian Tories, Church of England protestants, Catholics and Jews) explaining their opposition to Hitler. When war came in September, Croft-Cooke would join the army intelligence corps the next year, serving in Madagascar, where he earned the British Empire Medal. He next served in India, where he became a field security officer in 1944 and later an instructor at an intelligence school at Karachi.[46] After the publication of his thirteenth novel, Glorious, and an appealing volume on his travels with Circus Rosaire, The Circus Has No Home, in 1940 and 1941 respectively, he published no more works until 1946.

The restive author loved his army years, with “their delightful rootlessness and irresponsibility.” Probably the greatest impact life in the army had on Croft-Cooke, however, was the introduction to him in 1943 of a gregarious Indian teenager, Joseph Susei Mari. Attending an Infantry Course at an Officer’s Training School in the small town of Belgaum, Croft-Cooke found little to do in the evenings besides attending the local English-language cinemas. At one of them, Croft-Cooke recalled, soft drinks at the bar were served by a “sixteen-year-old Indian boy who formed a habit of confiding in me while I was drinking gassy orangeade.” Joseph was an outgoing Tamil Catholic who took classes while working two jobs and had a great eagerness to see the world. One day the irrepressible Joseph announced to a bemused Rupert that when the author obtained his commission he, Joseph, would be coming with him. Sure enough, when his training course ended and Croft-Cooke “went down to Belgaum railway station to leave for Bombay,” he found Joseph there at the station, “his boxes beside him.” Joseph informed the author that he would accompany him as well to England after the war, and that indeed is precisely what came to pass.[47] Joseph remained as secretary and companion to Croft-Cooke throughout all the author’s sojourns for thirty-six years, until Rupert’s death in 1979.

Even after one has read Croft-Cooke’s in many ways revealing but nevertheless emotionally reticent memoirs (Croft-Cook had resolved that in them he “should avoid those confessions about sex and religion which seemed to obsess many autobiographers”), the relationship between him and Joseph remains something of an ambiguous one. Throughout his autobiographical volumes Croft-Cooke refers to Joseph as his secretary (as indeed he very much was) and even occasionally as his “adopted son,” though there was never any formal adoption. However, in the final volume of The Sensual World, 1977’s The Green, Green Grass, the author calls the Indian “my lifelong companion” and devotes two paragraphs on the penultimate page of the work he knew was likely to be his last published effort to praising his companion, concluding that he cannot find in mere words an adequate expression of “gratitude for all the thirty years I owe to Joseph.” Homosexual writer John Haylock, who visited with Croft-Cooke in his Bournemouth flat a few weeks before his death (Croft-Cooke’s health had been declining since he suffered a stroke in 1974), was similarly struck by the “loyal and loving Joseph,” recalling that Joseph remained near at hand during his visit, “watchful and concerned.”[48] Sadly it was the loyal and loving Joseph who inadvertently brought about the situation resulting in his and Croft-Cooke’s arrest and incarceration for “homosexual offenses.”

Preceded by Joseph, Croft-Cooke returned to Britain in 1946, settling, with a determination to put himself in the mainstream of the country’s literary life, in London, but taking an instant dislike to what he saw. Although he was, he insisted, “apolitical,” having rejected both the Left and the Right, he nevertheless, like many Golden Age British detective novelists, had only scorn for Britain under the new Labour government. London he found “a shabby, disgruntled, impoverished society, alive with deserters, small-time criminals and black marketeers.” Particularly galling were the rationing, regulation and regimentation of those immediate postwar years. Croft-Cooke did manage to find for himself and Joseph a two-floor, six-room flat with rent fixed (one regulation he evidently did not mind) at the pre-war level. He found himself the envy of friends and would remain in the flat until 1950, despite having to live over the offices of the Horace Plunkett Foundation, which were “staffed by severe elderly ladies” who looked suspiciously on “a bachelor with an Indian secretary” and who “filled the house with the incessant sound of their lavatory cisterns refilling.”[49] During the four years he was ensconced comfortably above the Horace Pluckett Foundation, Croft-Cooke published probably his most highly-praised novel, Wilkie, as well as Brass Farthing, a winsome social comedy, and Case for Sergeant Beef, which marked his postwar revival of his Sergeant Beef detective series.

Wilkie, the story of a retired socially progressive Anglo-Indian colonel who returns to Britain after twenty-five years, is dismayed by post-WW2 British society (with its “crude and unhappy London of sour-faced and disgruntled Roundheads”) and beats a retreat back to India, retiring to a remote village to live in peace, clearly reflects Croft-Cooke’s own negative feelings about contemporary Britain. Wilkie was widely praised by critics, including Somerset Maugham and John Betjeman, giving Croft-Cooke hopes that he finally had a bestseller on his hands, but such hope again proved delusory. He later claimed that his new publisher, Macdonald, convinced the book’s criticism of Labour England would not be popular “among so many thousand Socialist voters,” failed to promote the book sufficiently.[50]

Brass Farthing, a sunnier book published during Croft-Cooke’s last year in London, concerns the events that follow the inheritance by a forty-six-year-old woman, Kathleen Riddle, who had given up marriage to look after her father, of an unexpected fortune after the old man’s death. After two years living between her two selfish and materialistic married sisters, both of whom had been left out of the will, she meets a charming and handsome social dropout twenty-two years younger than herself, Bill Rapier. Much to the dismay of her sisters and their families, who have grown very fond of Katherine’s money, the pair move in together (platonically) and devote themselves to spending that money with reckless abandon. Eventually, after numerous altercations with the relatives, Katherine and Bill divide what’s left of the fortune among her extended family and retire to an obscure rural inn, where they live in simplicity and happiness as publicans, to the secret envy of Katherine’s sisters, who find that money has not made them and their families happy after all.

Although Brass Farthing is a light work, it is one that is particularly revealing of the personality and philosophy of the author as he neared his half-century of life. It’s easy of course to see parallels to Croft-Cooke’s relationship with Joseph. Like Katherine, who is the same age as Rupert when he was writing Brass Farthing, Croft-Cooke had at this time an unconventional relationship with an attractive younger man over two decades younger than himself, one than raised the eyebrows of the conventional older ladies of the Horace Plunkett Foundation. Like Croft-Cooke, Katherine chooses to live without the safety net of an assured income, and she enjoys, as Croft-Cooke had in the Cotswolds in the thirties, life in a simple, plain country abode, much isolated from urban cultural and intellectual life. Katherine cheerfully accepts the libertarian philosophy articulated by Bill Rapier (who clearly serves as the voice of the author), namely a belief in the importance of trying to live life according to one’s own lights, free from the burden of societal expectations. Croft-Cooke’s personal identification with Katherine is manifest in such passages as the following, wherein her conventional sister reflects bemusedly on Katherine’s unconventional, “class unconscious” lifestyle:

How could she be [happy], Eleanor wondered. Running about with beer mugs, washing glasses, talking to laborers and not knowing where the next penny was coming from. She had nothing, Eleanor knew, to fall back on in case of trouble, nothing put by for a rainy day. She would soon be an old woman and she had nobody in the world besides this Rapier. . . . .She hadn’t a soul of her own class to talk to and no prospect of ever being better off. Yet there she was, smiling on them as though it was her wedding day.[51]

After the decade of the forties had revealed to Croft-Cooke’s eyes a wasted landscape of failed statist solutions to social ills, from the totalitarianism of Hitler and Stalin to the democratic socialism of Atlee, he had Bill Rapier warn of the menace of reformist statism, declaring that “there’s nothing more dangerous than someone who believes he’s doing right . . . .All you need is to believe you’re doing right and you can commit any moral crime with impunity.” Bill rejects the notion that society’s values must be right simply because they are held by the majority. Explaining his refusal to take salaried employment, a stance that marks him as a suspicious character in society, Bill declares fervently: “I was determined that they shouldn’t get me in their blasted little ant-hill where everyone trots round doing his job for the benefit of the community. Damn it—I’m a man.” Yet Bill is realistic enough to recognize the danger of nonconformity: “What has happened to anyone who wouldn’t conform in the past? The pattern is as regular as geometry. He has suddenly been noticed not running with the pack. After him! Drag him in! Society must protect itself against this type.”[52] Within three years of the publication of Brass Farthing, Croft-Cooke himself would learn very directly the price one could pay for nonconformity with societal expectations.

By 1950, the same year that Brass Farthing appeared, Croft-Cooke had decided he had had enough of London. Part of his discontent had to do with his admittedly lucky 1946 find, the six-room, two story flat above the offices of the Horace Plunkett Foundation. He had begun to long for the day when he no longer would “have to climb through the musty cleanliness of the stairway, or pass the worried-looking ladies employed in those offices, or hear the wheeze of the constantly re-filling lavatory cistern, or see the sensible feminine coats and hats in the passage to the front door, or smell the caretaker’s onions cooking persistently in the basement.”[53]

Even worse than living in the shadow of the Horace Plunkett Foundation was life in general in the city of London, where pleasure “had been rationed and organized into the drilled misery of a holiday camp.” The delightful London he had known in the twenties and thirties had transformed into a dismal place of “power cuts and lighting regulations,” “reduced and erratic postal delivery,” “curtailed food supply” and “universal officiousness.” Seeking greater freedom to enjoy life as he wished, Croft-Cooke decided to look for a home for himself and Joseph in the country, preferably located in Kent or Sussex, where he had grown up in Edwardian days, and “with a door stout enough to exclude inspectors of all kinds.”[54]

Croft-Cooke found his house in Ticehurst, Sussex, a white Georgian structure which he named “The Long House.” He filled his new abode with his collections of books (particularly strong on gypsy lore), watercolors, walking sticks and Indian crafts and kept open house for visitors, be they writers, artists, politicians or gypsies. He and Joseph, who simply by virtue of his eastern exoticism was a bit of a village oddity at first, drank beer and played darts at the local inn. In 1952, the contented householder published a book, The Life for Me, on his achievement at The Long House of “a civilized way of living.”[55] Whether this life would have continued to satisfy the restless, peripatetic author one can question; but, in any event, all he had carefully put together at The Long House was smashed the next year by the very overbearing state which he had so strongly condemned in his postwar work, including The Life for Me. Croft-Cooke found that no door was stout enough in the 1950s to exclude state investigators empowered and encouraged to stamp out sexual deviancy.

Aside from writing detective stories, Rupert Croft-Cooke is best known today for his nonfictional works in homosexual studies and, more notoriously, for his being one of the most prominent victims of Britain’s notorious anti-homosexual crusade of the 1950s. Fostered by an atmosphere of Cold War fear—fear that the infamous 1951 defection to the Soviet Union of the gay British spy Guy Burgess certainly did nothing to assuage—as well as the 1948 publication of the much-ballyhooed Kinsey study Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (which asserted to much fanfare though with dubious use of data that male homosexuality was far more widespread than had been suspected), sexual inversion came to be seen by many in authority in Britain as a significant threat, like Communism, to the security of the state. In 1953, Home Secretary Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, who came to power after the Tories defeated Labour in the 1951 election, and the newly appointed Commissioner of Police at Scotland Yard, Sir John Nott-Bower, launched an energetic legal campaign against homosexuals.[56] In October Croft-Cooke became one of this campaign’s most prominent casualties.

Accounts of Croft-Cooke’s arrest, prosecution and imprisonment for “gross indecency” tend to follow the author’s own version of events, presented in 1955 in his highly denunciatory memoir, The Verdict of You All. While the author scores numerous hits against the government’s actions in the affair, he remains circumspect about one aspect of the matter, whether in fact he was a homosexual. “Since mud always sticks,” Croft-Cooke writes, he immediately realized upon his arrest that even if the charges against him were thrown out, he “should never escape from the reputation of a homosexual.” While he claimed he did not mind this result, as “homosexual” was a “categorization” he believed he would share with numerous great artists, statesmen and military figures from history, he never actually concedes in his memoirs that he in fact was a homosexual. The only time Croft-Cooke ever admits to having had sex with another specific individual is when he tells the story of his having lost his virginity with a (female) prostitute in a lavishly mirrored Parisian bordello in the 1920s (an experience he seems not to have enjoyed in the least). As noted earlier, in penning his memoirs the author had announced, with classic old school British reticence, that he had resolved “to avoid those confessions about sex and religion which seemed to obsess many autobiographers.” However, in the later volumes in the series, published in the 1970s, Croft-Cooke does briefly refer to enjoying sex in Tangier; and he also notes that he and the American writer Charles Wright (1932-2008) spent much time together in that city of exotic pleasures, feeling “for one another a measure of what I can only call love.”[57]

Part of Croft-Cooke’s reluctance may have been the frequent association in the public mind of homosexuality both with effeminacy and pederasty. In The Verdict of You All, Croft-Cooke asserts that the only thing about being “thought a homosexual” that might irritate him would be “any suggestion that I was a homosexual of the inverted, effeminate type,” because that, he believed, would have reflected negatively on his “manhood.” Throughout his volumes of memoirs and his novels, he writes with something of an amused contempt for stereotypical swishy queens and for gay men, often Anglican parsons, suffering from arrested development and pathetically chasing after young men and boys. “He’s good with boys” is a phrase Croft-Cooke uses ironically in several novels in reference to parsons and teachers who serve with rather too much enthusiasm as scoutmasters. Over several volumes of his memoirs a favorite target of Croft-Cooke’s is his deceased onetime friend, writer Louis Golding. Croft-Cooke draws a somewhat malicious satisfaction from recounting Golding’s foibles, among which he included Golding’s habit of keeping a menage of attractive working-class young men (“decent cockney lads, well-disposed and undemanding”) and the two weeks Golding spent every summer as an “adult helper” at a boys’ holiday camp (Croft-Cooke felt “middle-aged man revitalizing himself on young boys with pederastic undertones” was a more accurate description). In Croft-Cooke’s Night Out, a picaresque 1932 novel, the Reverend Standwell persuades the youthful hero of the book, Justus, to go up to his quarters and confess his sins, upon which he leads the young man’s confession to the subject of sex, leans “uncomfortably close” and asks pantingly, “Nothing unnatural, I hope?’ The next minute the panic-stricken young man finds himself in “the cool air of the street,” looking for a drink “to take the taste out of his mouth.” In The Life for Me, an aspect of London making City life less appealing to the author is pub bars “crowded with cadgers or crooks, or worse, with writers and pansies.”[58]

Since the author himself was a writer as well as, one gathers, a “pansy,” one is moved to ask what he really thought of his own company. It seems fair to conclude that, despite his protestations of unconcern, the author had a certain ambivalence about his homosexuality. At the least, he did not want to be pigeonholed as a “homosexual writer.” When a sympathetic psychiatrist visiting the prison in which Croft-Cooke was incarcerated urged him to write a novel about his recent experiences at trial and in prison, Croft-Cooke demurred, telling him tersely that “homosexuality is a deathly dull subject for a novel. Always has been.” When he came to writing of these events in a novel, 1955’s Fall of Man, Croft-Cooke virtually told his own life story, only recasting himself as a hyper-individualistic heterosexual painter victimized by a smutty-minded society that willfully misunderstands his relationship with a young girl under his care who had served him as a nude model on several occasions. In addition to his reluctance to write homosexually themed tales, after Fall of Man Croft-Cooke largely abandoned mainstream novels and devoted himself mostly to crime and detective fiction that was often critical of the police, as well as three serious historical studies centering around another homosexual writer jailed for “gross indecency,” though one rather more famous than Croft-Cooke, Oscar Wilde. These are Bosie: Lord Alfred Douglas, His Friends and Enemies (1963) (Croft-Cooke knew Douglas, Oscar Wilde’s most notorious lover, for a quarter century); Feasting with Panthers: A New Consideration of Some Late Victorian Writers (1967); and The Unrecorded Life of Oscar Wilde (1972).[59]

Any ambivalence Croft-Cooke may have had about his own homosexuality—or, indeed, whether he even actually practiced it—were not matters, as recounted in The Verdict of You All, that concerned the British State when it was prosecuting and imprisoning the author. As Croft-Cooke portrays the affair, State authorities were little bothered with the truth of the matter they were purportedly investigating; rather, they merely desired to obtain at any cost a prominent scalp to wave before the public as evidence that the State’s decency campaign was yielding results. The State’s case against Croft-Cooke rested on the possibly perjured and certainly uncorroborated testimony of two twenty-year-old naval cooks, Harold Altoft and Ronald Charles Dennis, who had spent a weekend in 1953 at Croft-Cooke’s home in Ticehurst. While visiting London, Croft-Cooke and Joseph went for a drink at the Fitzroy Tavern (one of those pubs patronized by “writers and pansies” that Croft-Cooke had complained of a few years earlier) and Joseph got into a conversation with Altoft and Dennis. Learning that they were looking for somewhere to spend the weekend, Joseph, who had, according to Croft-Cooke, “a most responsive and trusting nature,” got his employer’s permission to invite them for the weekend to The Long House, where Croft-Cooke often kept “open house.” The weekend passed pleasantly but uneventfully, with Croft-Cooke actually not seeing much of his guests. Unfortunately, on their return to base the two men had an altercation with a road mender and an intervening policeman, with the result that they found themselves in jail, charged with assault. When the police learned that Altoft and Dennis had spent the weekend in Ticehurst at Croft-Cooke’s home, they informed the prisoners that statements made against the author might well mitigate the sentence in the assault case against them. Statements thereupon were obtained, and, with these in hand, a force of seven policemen invaded The Long House and arrested the fifty-year old Croft-Cooke and Joseph (who was under 5’4” in height) for alleged acts of assault and “gross indecency” committed upon the strapping naval men. Though the two “victims” quickly recanted and signed a statement before a legal aid officer asserting that their prior statements made to the police were “completely untrue,” the presiding judge at Croft-Cooke’s trial, R. C. Seaton, ruled the new statement inadmissible as evidence. In separate trials, Croft-Cooke and Joseph were found guilty and were sentenced, respectively, to prison terms of nine and three months. Croft-Cooke would actually serve six months in prison before his release.[60]

The author’s ordeal at the hands of the state left him unbowed, indeed only strengthened in his libertarian convictions. His experience also enhanced his identification with society’s outcasts, both the odd noncomformists as well as members of the lower class looked disdainfully upon by their supposed betters, even in postwar Britain. In The Life for Me, Croft-Cooke, while celebrating the home he had created for himself in Ticehurst, had nevertheless written disdainfully of local society, something he believed had turned this segment of Ticehurst against him and helped lead to his downfall. “Most exchanges of calls and counter-calls in an area of this kind are deathly dull,” he wrote loftily in words seemingly calculated to offend local matrons and their husbands, “and most ladies and gentlemen who live with determined gentility in the country are pretentious and unattractive. . . .There does not, after all, seem to be much reason for anyone to spend time with those people who by mere geographical reason chance to live near him.” Rather than exchanging calls with the local pseudo-gentry, Croft-Cooke had provocatively kept open house for a “mixed acquaintance,” embracing “most nationalities and callings,” including, among the latter, “gypsies, clergymen and criminals.” None of this, it seems, endeared Croft-Cooke to “the more pretentious local houses” or to the “local officialdom” that represented them. When his trouble came, the author found his local support among “working people,” such as his latest “treasure” of a housekeeper, Mrs. Piper, and the public house denizens with whom he had quaffed pints and played darts many an evening. The latter, Croft-Cooke recalled, were quick to give him “in crude, blasphemous and earthy language their opinion of the police, of the way in which my house had been ransacked without a search warrant and of the whole slimy business.”[61]

Upon his release from prison in 1954, Croft-Cooke, who had been forced to sell his beloved Long House to pay legal expenses, made good on the determination he had made after his arrest and moved with Joseph to join the British émigré community in Tangier (many of whom were homosexuals). A couple final indignities remained before the author abandoned his homeland, however. First, he was asked by the Army Medal Office to return his war medals, a request he bluntly refused. The Office relented, but Croft-Cooke in Verdict made manifest his displeasure with his treatment over this matter. “How is a man’s rehabilitation aided by an attempt to extort from him these symbols, however trumpery, of his service and perhaps sacrifice, these gifts from a recently grateful country?” he asked rhetorically and angrily. “And what purpose is served by a process involving expense in time and money, beyond giving a man an extra kick when he is down?”[62]

Croft-Cooke whiffed one final “smell of evil” before departing England. As retailed in Verdict, Croft-Cooke was warned by a menacing, anonymous policeman visitor that the author’s publishing a book about his experiences might lead to a second arrest for “gross indecency.” Having been convicted once, he was told, he would find that a second conviction would be easy to secure; and the prison chosen for him the next time would not be so pleasant. However, once in the safety of Tangier, Croft-Cooke dauntlessly let fly in 1955 with not only a passionate denunciation of British police, politicians and prisons, The Verdict of You All, but also a scathing semi-autobiographical novel, Fall of Man. In both books Croft-Cooke denounces society, often in very similar language, for demanding absolute social conformity from its citizens and for marking down deviants from the norm for punishment if they dare step out of line. In The Verdict of You All, for example, Croft-Cooke speculates that a man’s chances of being singled out for punishment by society are greatly reduced if “he lives in a semi-detached house with a wife and two children, buys a television set on hire-purchase, laughs at the radio comedians of his choice, differs from his neighbour only in being Conservative to his Labour, or Catholic to his Protestant, or Oxford to his Cambridge.” In Fall of Man, the soon-to-be victimized determined individualist, Anthony Scaw, has a similar flight of feeling in conversation with a friend, adding an anti-socialist fillip: “We ought to each have a semi-detached house in a dormitory suburb, a wife, two children and when we can afford it a car. We ought to be buying a television set by hire purchase. We ought to belong. We’re cheating . . . .We’re not putting up with things like everyone else . . . ..What the Englishman of today really hates is not losing his most elementary liberty but thinking that there are one or two who have retained it.”[63]

Croft-Cooke lived in the greater freedom of “anything goes” Tangier for fourteen years. Known at this time for its tolerance (for a price) of a plethora of “lifestyles” and its acceptance of homosexuality, Tangier attracted “European émigrés, American expatriates, and literary renegades of every stripe,” including the famously troubled millionaire socialite Barbara Hutton and a gallery of (mostly homosexual) writers, including Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, James Baldwin, Tennessee Williams, Joe Orton, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and William Burroughs. John Haylock, another Tangier habitué, recalled Croft-Cooke as “a difficult man . . . soured by his being sentenced to prison for a mild offense involving sailors from Chatham,” who could often be seen “alone . . . drinking whiskey” at the popular Parade Bar. Haylock noted that the author “was not widely liked” in Tangier, “partly due to his quick temper and unwillingness to suffer fools gladly.” For his part, Croft-Cooke insisted that Tangier was a haven that allowed him to recover from his prison ordeal and launch the most productive period of his writing career. Eventually tiring, however, of both jaded émigré life and jaded émigrés themselves (Croft-Cooke was especially dismissive of Allen Ginsburg, recalling him as “a rather smudgy tittering individual” who “wrote unreadable lines of verse for left-wing reviews”), the author in 1968 began what he called his long journey home to England and death in 1979 (he did not actually decide to return permanently to England until 1973, but instead traveled rather randomly around Europe for five years).[64] Besides his Carolus Deene series of detective tales and a period crime novel, Under the Rose Garden (1971), the most important product from Croft-Cooke’s pen in this period were his historical studies and his multivolume series of memoirs, The Sensual World, which he commenced in 1956 with The Gardens of Camelot and completed twenty years later with The Green, Green Grass. Before returning to his memoirs, I would be remiss not to take some note of his historical works, which are of particular significance in the area of Oscar Wilde studies.

Croft-Cooke was the first writer with serious standards of scholarship to address Wilde’s sexual life, directly and unflinching. Writing of a previous Wilde biographer, Hesketh Pearson, Croft-Cooke sardonically noted that Pearson “was inhibited by the conviction that to call a man a homosexual, or to suggest that at a certain time in his life a man had some emotional relationship with his own sex, was to disparage him. The present writer is conscious of no such inhibition.” And, indeed, Croft-Cooke’s discussion of sexual matters in these works is sufficiently uninhibited.[65]

Yet Croft-Cooke’s writings on Oscar Wilde also are unsentimental and sober works that steadfastly refuse to romanticize the famed writer’s sex life as an inspiration to future generations. Wilde was “a promiscuous homosexual who enjoyed slumming and male prostitutes,” states Croft-Cooke flatly in Feasting with Panthers. Having discovered the

unstable, somewhat lecherous life of conscious homosexuals in London . . . [Wilde] abandoned himself to it, morbidly captivated by the facility with which sexual curiosity could be perpetually excited and satisfied. . . . .He was not in the least possessive or in search of constancy, fidelity, monogamy, or anything more than pleasure, a word whose labial and sibilant would come often and unctuously from his sensual lips. . . . .He regarded his forays into the queer underworld as adventures and the young men he met there as strange and handsome beasts of some alien species while to his intelligent homosexual friends he described his experiences with that ironical mixture of humour and pride which made him talk of feasting with panthers[;] . . . .the responsibilities of family life, the rigours of his profession, all were neglected as he luxuriated in his squalid Lotusland. . . . .It became as obsessive as drug-taking till in the last years before his fall he had to leave London if he wanted to work at all.[66]

Croft-Cooke saw in all this “a most unfortunate demonstration of [Wilde’s] belief in ‘the artist’ as a privileged human being, able to flout the good opinion of less exalted beings. It was a piece of bravado, but at the same time it was ill-bred and demoralizing and quite unworthy of a man of his intelligence and achievement.” “Rather than comporting himself like a gentleman, a successful playwright, the father of a family and a man with responsibilities to others,” concluded Croft-Cooke, Wilde regrettably had taken “the easy way of cheap adulation from mercenary sycophants and persuaded himself . . . that it was a bold and individualistic way, that he was a lover of beauty and an inspired dabbler in fabulous debaucheries resurrected from Imperial Rome.” Such moralistic language on Croft-Cooke’s part, with its reference to ill-breeding, squalor, and demoralization and its invocation of the gentleman’s duty to one’s family and one’s work perhaps sounds hopelessly old-fashioned today. Certainly it is out of touch with modern gay criticism that celebrates Wilde’s promiscuity as a statement of social liberation. Yet while Croft-Cooke himself had long ago declared his credo of defying society—and he, like Wilde, unquestionably had suffered for that credo—he saw no reason to celebrate an artist’s soul-wasting debauchery (or “barren hedonism”).[67]

On the other hand, Croft-Cooke, likely with his own exile in Tangier in mind (a time when he admits to having enjoyed an active sex life himself), wrote more indulgently of Wilde’s dalliances in Continental Europe during the “frivolous last years” of the disgraced writer’s life after his release from prison, arguing that Wilde had “suffered for the right to indulge” himself. “Wilde had at last an uninhibited, aimless and contented life,” argues Croft-Cooke. “He did not romanticize his relationships as feasting with panthers or see himself as a Roman emperor at play.”[68]

In clearing away much of the legend and falsehood that had built up around the Oscar Wilde-Alfred Lord Douglas (“Bosie”) relationship, Croft-Cooke also made a signal contribution to Wilde studies. Douglas, who converted to Roman Catholicism after Wilde’s death, engaged in lengthy, acrimonious litigation against Wilde’s literary executor and for a time even turned against the memory of his former friend and one-time paramour, became an unsympathetic figure to many of Wilde’s admirers; and it became the fashion to scapegoat Douglas for Wilde’s eventual downfall (Wilde himself had blamed Douglas in his condemnatory De Profundis, written from the depths of his despair in prison, though the two men reconciled after Wilde’s release). As an aspiring teenage poet, Croft-Cooke had been invited to tea with Lord Douglas (by this time an established poet in his own right), inaugurating a friendship of nearly twenty-five years, ending only with the older man’s death in 1945.

In 1962, Croft-Cooke wrote Bosie, the first serious biography of Alfred Douglas, in an attempt to restore his friend’s reputation. Though himself strongly biased in Douglas’ favor against his enemies and critics, Croft-Cooke nevertheless produced a judicious book that recognized the flaws in his subject while making a strong case that Douglas had often been unfairly maligned. Two more recent biographies of Douglas—Douglas Murray’s Bosie: A Biography of Lord Alfred Douglas (2000) and Caspar Winterman’s Alfred Douglas: A Poet’s Life and His Finest Work (2007)—owe a significant debt to the pioneering work of Croft-Cooke, whom the authors, to their credit, acknowledge.

Though Croft-Cooke’s full artistic powers are on display in his historical studies, the author’s well-received volumes of personal reminiscence and reflection became his most abiding concern as he aged. When his memoirs touched on English life in the sixties and seventies, he saw much that merited praise, but also some things worthy of condemnation. He looked with complacency on the youth culture of the sixties: “Yes, young people appear to be violent, uninhibited, given to group movement and what is called delinquency. But they are not members of an alien maleficent breed which has inexplicably sprung up amongst us. They will be indistinguishable from any other generation in a few years’ time.” The author particularly admired youth’s “contempt for privilege” and “the authorities who for so long upheld privilege.” Not unrelated, he found, was the start in England of “real integration of the classes,” something he was glad finally to see. Nevertheless, he was dismayed by the spread of working-class flats and council houses outfitted with the ubiquitous badges of conformist modernity, the three-piece furniture suite, the television set, the refrigerator and the washing machine. Such modern habitations Croft-Cooke contrasted unfavorably with thirties “brick-floored cottages with no sanitation” but “pleasant interiors produced by the careful preservation of inherited furniture.”[69] What others might have seen as indices of good living and the spread of wealth to the lower classes, part of that class integration the writer had praised, Croft-Cooke saw as continued contamination by the conformist consumer culture of the middle class.

In The Green, Green Grass, Croft-Cooke continued to find much to celebrate in social revolution, though he also sounded a few troubled notes. He particularly praised the Sexual Offenses Act of 1967, which decriminalized most homosexual acts between men over 21, and what he saw as the near disappearance of “the ill-bred boorishness of racialism.” On the other hand, the rise of modern feminism, as embodied in the Sexual Discrimination Act 1975, he found disquieting: “To me it is frankly incredible that a government . . . should try to earn votes by pandering to a few women demanding a biological change, not in washing-powder but in mankind itself.” The author predicted that in only a few years most would “see the absurdity of this, and Women’s Lib will be as dead as ducking to test abilities of witches.” In the meantime, he would have to abide as best he could women “smoking on the street” and taking part with men in “dreary dirty-story sessions.” Evidently for this English gentleman relations between the sexes had been spiraling downward ever since the thirties, when women came bouncing into public bars to play darts with the men. Croft-Cooke also now worried more about the spread of violent crime in Britain, and he even spoke less harshly of the actions of his longtime scourge, the police. For his part, Joseph now regularly voted for the Tories, went to English mass on Sundays and watched cricket.[70]

In 1974 Croft-Cooke suffered a stroke and found walking and writing difficult in his remaining years. No longer able to right in cursive script, he completed The Green, Green Grass, the last volume of The Sensual World and his last published work, by laboriously writing pages in block letters, which Joseph typed. In this last testament to his audience, whom he deprecatingly designated “those few faithful readers who borrow my books from lending libraries,” Croft-Cooke wrote of his fear of literary oblivion after death. He regretted that he had dispersed his talent into too many ventures, with the result that every one of his “thirty-odd novels” (he excluded from consideration as “novels” the detective fiction written as “Leo Bruce”) “had been more than half a failure.” He felt that any hope he had for permanent reputation rested “almost entirely” on The Sensual World. If that failed him, he wrote bleakly, “I have wasted the best part of half a century during which I have wanted very little except to write.” Croft-Cooke had nothing to say about his tales of detection, apart from a stray mention that the steadfast Joseph had typed as well for him twenty-five novels that he had written under a pseudonym.[71] Apparently Croft-Cooke did not even consider the notion that his mere puzzles might be the literary works that would survive him, although that is precisely what has happened. Yet the author’s mainstream works are worth remembering, both for the inherent merit in many of them as well as for the light they shed on the life and thought of the author of the Leo Bruce detective novels.

Works of Rupert Croft-Cooke

Mainstream Novels

1. Troubadour (1930)

2. Give Him the Earth (1930)

3. Night Out (1932)

4. Cosmopolis (1932)

5. Release the Lions (1933)

6. Picaro (1934)

7. Shoulder the Sky (1934)

8. Blind Gunner (1935)

9. Crusade (1936)

10. Kingdom Come (1937)

11. Rule Britannia (1938)

12. Same Way Home (1939)

13. Glorious (1940)

14. Octopus (1946) (written before the war, but not published until after it; Croft-Cooke’s last book published under Walter Hutchinson)

15. Ladies Gay (1946)

16. Wilkie (1948)

17. Brass Farthing (1950)

18. Three Names for Nicholas (1951)

19. Nine Days with Edward (1952)

20. Harvest Moon (1953)

21. Fall of Man (1955)

22. Wolf from the Door (1969)

23. Exiles (1970)

24. While the Iron’s Hot (1971)

Crime/Adventure Novels

1. Seven Thunders (1957)

2. Barbary Night (1958)

3. Smiling Damned Villain (1959)

4. Thief (1960)

5. Clash by Night (1963)

6. Paper Albatross (1965)

7. Three in a Cell (1968)

8. Under the Rose Garden (1971)

9. Nasty Piece of Work (1973)

10. Conduct Unbecoming (1975)

Memoirs (The Sensual World)

1. The Gardens of Camelot (1958)

2. The Altar in the Loft (1960)

3. The Drums of Morning (1961)

4. The Glittering Pastures (1962)

5. The Numbers Came (1963)

6. The Last of Spring (1964)

7. The Purple Streak (1966)

8. The Wild Hills (1966)

9. The Happy Highways (1967)

10. The Sound of Revelry (1969)

11. The Licentious Soldiery (1971)

12. The Dogs of Peace (1973)

13. The Caves of Hercules (1974)

14. The Long Way Home (1974)

15. The Green, Green Grass (1977)

Volumes Croft-Cooke considered a part of The Sensual World as well are starred below. Volumes he considered supplementary to it are marked “supp.”

Social/Political Commentary

1. God in Ruins (1936)

2. Darts (1936)

3. How to Get More Out of Life (1938)

4. The Man in Europe Street (1938) (supp)

5. Major Road Ahead (1939) (as editor)

6. The Circus Has No Home (1941) (supp)

7. The Moon in My Pocket (1948)*

8. The Life for Me (1952)*

9. The Verdict of You All (1955)*

10. The Tangerine House (1956)*


1 The World Is Young (1937) (supp)

2. The Blood-Red Island (1953)*

3. The Quest for Quixote (1959)*

4. The Wintry Sea (1963)*

5. The Gorgeous East (1965)*

6. The Ghost of June (1968)*

Cooking and Spirits

1. Sherry (1956)

2. Port (1957)

3. English Cooking: A New Approach (1960)

4. Madeira (1961)

5. Wine and Other Drinks (1962)

6. Exotic Food (1969)

Historical Studies

1. Bosie: Lord Alfred Douglas, His Friends and Enemies (1963)

2. Feasting with Panthers: A New Consideration of Some Late Victorian Writers (1967)

3. The Unrecorded Life of Oscar Wilde (1972)


1. Banquo’s Chair (1930) (adapted from the 1926 short story of the same title;       televised on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, 3 May 1959)

2. Tap Three Times (1931) (one act, comedy adaptation of Banquo’s Chair)

3. Deliberate Accident (1934) (rewritten as the 1939 novel   Same Way Home)

A Lark

1. The Cloven Hoof: A Study of Contemporary London Vices (1932) (written with Michael Harrison under the pseudonym Taylor Croft)


1. Songs of a Sussex Tramp (1922)

2. Songs south of the Line (1925)

3. Some Poems (1929)

Detective Fiction (as Leo Bruce)

A. Sergeant Beef Series

1. Case with Three Detectives (1936)

2. Case without a Corpse (1937)

3. Case with No Conclusion (1939)

4. Case with Four Clowns (1939)

5. Case with Ropes and Rings (1940)

6 .Case for Sergeant Beef (1947)

7. Neck and Neck (1951)

8. Cold Blood (1952)

B. Carolus Deene Series

1. At Death’s Door (1955)

2. Death of Cold (1956)

3. Dead for a Ducat (1956)

4. Dead Man’s Shoes (1958)

5. A Louse for the Hangman (1958)

6. Our Jubilee Is Death (1959)

7. Jack on the Gallows Tree (1960)

8. Furious Old Women (1960)

9. A Bone and a Hank of Hair (1961)

10. Die All, Die Merrily (1961)

11. Nothing Like Blood (1962)

12. Crack of Doom (1963)

13. Death in Albert Park (1964)

14. Death at Hallow’s End (1965)

15. Death on the Black Sands (1966)

16. Death at St. Asprey’s School (1967)

17. Death of a Commuter (1967)

18. Dearth on Romney Marsh (1968)

19. Death with Blue Ribbon (1969)

20. Death on Allhallowe’en (1970)

21. Death by the Lake (1971)

22 Death on the Middle Watch (1974)

23. Death of a Bovver Boy (1974)

[1] See review blurbs of The Sensual World in The Happy Highways (London: W. H. Allen, 1967). For influential criticism of what is still known as the “Golden Age of detective fiction” (roughly 1920 to 1940), see Julian Symons, Bloody Murder: From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel (London: Faber and Faber, 1972) and Colin Watson, Snobbery with Violence: English Crime Stories and Their Audience (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1971). For a recent study influenced by Symons and Watson, see Charles J. Rzepka, Detective Fiction (Cambridge and Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2005).

[2] Rupert Croft-Cooke, The Gardens of Camelot (London: Putnam, 1958), 51-52, 239.

[3] Ibid., 9, 12-13.

[4] Ibid., 9-10, 13.

[5] Ibid., 11, 14-15.

[6] Ibid., 23-24, 30, 50-51. As an adult, Rupert Croft-Cooke hyphenated his names “Croft” and “Cooke,” hence “Croft-Cooke.

[7] Ibid., 68.

[8] Ibid., 72, 239; Rupert Croft-Cooke, The Numbers Came (London: Putnam, 1963), 105.

[9] Croft-Cooke, Gardens, 90. Two years after the publication of Gardens, Croft-Cooke returned to bemoaning the English culinary present and celebrating its culinary past, this time in the opinionated and entertaining English Cooking: A New Approach (London: W. H. Allen, 1960).

[10] Croft-Cooke, Gardens, 90-94.

[11] Ibid., 150-51.

[12] Ibid., 151-54.

[13] Ibid., 156.

[14] Ibid., 109.

[15] Ibid., 109-10, 190-91.

[16] Ibid., 168.

[17] Ibid., 165-66, 196; Rupert Croft Cooke, The Drums of Morning (London: Putnam, 1961), 53; Rupert Croft-Cooke, The Green, Green Grass (London: W. H. Allen, 1977), 50. On Lionel Townshend, See B. A. Pike, Murder in Miniature: The Short Stories of Leo Bruce (Chicago, IL: Academy Chicago Publishers, 1992), 9.

[18] Croft-Cooke, Gardens, 238-44. On the perception following the Great War of vanished security on the part of Britain’s privileged classes, see David Cannadine, The Rise and Fall of Class in Britain (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 130: “It seemed that a world that was safe for democracy was not a world that was still safe for hierarchy,” notes Cannadine. “As Winston Churchill recalled, with a nostalgia that many of his generation came to share, the pre-1914 era had seemed in retrospect so stable and so secure, but now it had vanished forever.”

[19] On Golden Age British detective fiction as escapist, reactionary pastoralism, see Symons, Bloody Murder, 108 (“Unpleasant things were ignored in almost all the detective stories in the Golden Age . . . .The social order in these stories was as fixed and mechanical as that of the Incas.”) and Watson, Snobbery, 171 (The Golden Age detective story “offered not outward escape . . . but inward—into a sort of museum of nostalgia.” Citations are to the third revised edition of Bloody Murder (New York: The Mysterious Press, 1992) and the second revised edition of Snobbery with Violence (London: Eyre Methuen, 1979).

[20] Croft-Cooke, Grass, 148-49; Croft-Cooke, Drums, 36, 69, 91-92.

[21] Croft-Cooke, Drums, 171-72.

[22] Croft-Cooke, Numbers, 17, 118.

[23] Pike, Miniature, 4; Croft-Cooke, Numbers, 118, 141-44; New York Times Book Review, May 28, 1933, 7; Jacques Barzun, introduction to Leo Bruce, Furious Old Women (Garland, 1983, rpt. of 1960 edition), iv. For Somerset Maugham’s praise of Wilkie, see the back cover of the jacket of Rupert Croft-Cooke, Brass Farthing (London: Wener Laurie, 1950).

[24] Croft-Cooke, Numbers, 141-44.

[25] Rupert Croft-Cooke, The Last of Spring (London: Putnam, 1964), 82-83, 104; Graham Payn and Sheridan Morley, eds., The Noel Coward Diaries (Boston: Little, Brown, 1982), 433.

[26] Croft-Cooke, Spring, 110, 187; Croft-Cooke, Grass, 150-51.

[27] Croft-Cooke, The Purple Streak (London: W. H. Allen, 1966), 92-99; Croft-Cooke, Grass, 71. Others have recalled Walter Hutchinson less than favorably as a “megalomaniac” and “an absolute bastard.” See George Greenfield, A Smattering of Monsters: A Kind of Memoir (Columbia, SC: Camden House, 1995), 63 and Joseph McAleer, Passion’s Fortune: The Story of Mills & Boon (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 55.

[28] For works concerning gypsies and circuses, see Pharaoh and His Wagons (London: Jarrolds, 1937); Case with Four Clowns (London: Davies, 1939) (written under the Leo Bruce pseudonym); The Circus Has No Home (London: Methuen, 1941); The Moon in My Pocket: Life with the Romanies (London: Sampson, Low, Marston, 1948).

[29] Croft-Cooke, Spring, 202. For the most significant recent academic monograph seriously citing The Cloven Hoof for evidence on English sexuality, see Matt Houlbrook, Queer London: Perils and Pleasures in the Sexual Metropolis (Chicago and London, University of Chicago Press, 2005) (sixteen citations).

[30] Rupert Croft-Cooke, The Wild Hills (London: W. H. Allen, 1966), 7-17.

[31] Ibid., 26, 34-35.

[32] Ibid., 23-24.

[33] Ibid., 130,133-34, 143. Cecil Day Lewis also wrote detective novels under the pseudonym “Nicholas Blake.”

[34] Rupert Croft-Cooke, Darts (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1936, rpt. 1937), 74-76.

[35] Croft-Cooke, Hills, 105-06, 159-61.

[36] Rupert Croft-Cooke, God in Ruins: A Passing Commentary (London: Fortune Press, 1936), 230-31; Croft-Cooke, Highways, 80-81. Major John Street is best known for the detective novels he published under the punning pseudonym “John Rhode.”

[37] Rupert Croft-Cooke, The Man in Europe Street (London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1938), 188-89; Croft-Cooke, Highways, 220.

[38] Croft-Cooke, Europe Street, 61, 74, 76, 188.

[39] Ibid., 80, 96-98.

[40] Ibid., 161-63. “That afternoon among the poor Jews of the Budapest Telekiter returned to me whenever I was tormented by the nightmare of the Final Solution about which we all had to read in time,” wrote Croft-Cooke nearly thirty years afterward. Croft-Cooke, Highways, 203.

[41] Croft-Cooke, Highways, 181; Croft-Cooke, Europe Street, 113-21, 256.

[42] See, for example, Symons, Bloody Murder, 108 (“It is safe to say that almost all the British [detective fiction] writers in the twenties and thirties . . . were unquestionably right-wing. This is not to say that they were openly [emphasis added] anti-Semitic . . . .”) and Dilys Winn, “Anti-Semitism and the Mystery,” in Dilys Winn, ed., Murder Ink (New York, Workman Publishing Company, 1977, rev. 1984), 133 (“For all the reasons a reader may be drawn to mysteries of the Twenties and Thirties . . . there is an equally good reason for slamming the books shut and tossing them from one’s home: a strain of anti-Semitism that runs deep, constant and pervasive . . . .let us no longer blithely ignore the anti-Semitism Sayers and Christie and the bulk of the Golden Agers perpetrated. It is as much a part of their books as the corpse.”). The most significant scholarly study of the subject is Matthew J. Turnbull, Victims or Villains: Jewish Images in Classic English Detective Fiction (Bowling Green, Oh: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1998).

[43] Rupert Croft-Cooke, The Sound of Revelry (London: W. H. Allen: 1969), 93-94.

[44] Ibid., 97-98.

[45] Rupert Croft-Cooke, Same Way Home (New York: Macmillan, 1940), 169-70.

[46] Pike, Miniature, 3.

[47] Rupert Croft-Cooke, The Dogs of Peace (W. H. Allen, 1973), 11-15; Rupert Croft-Cooke, The Life for Me (London: Macmillan, 1952), 67-68.

[48] Croft-Cooke, Grass, 61, 190-91; John Haylock, Eastern Exchange (London:Arcadia Books, 1997) 137. Joseph Susei Mari returned to India after Croft-Cooke’s death in 1979, where he still lives today, thirty years later. Jordan Miller to Curt Evans, 18 March 2009.

[49] Croft-Cooke, Life, 1-8; Croft-Cooke, Dogs, 16-26. Disgruntlement over Labour policies was of course not confined to British mystery writers. “Disillusionment with the postwar situation was high among the middle classes”; and, indeed, “resentment against the continuation of austerity policy went well beyond the middle classes . . . .According to a Gallup poll conducted in November 1947, 62 per cent [of the British public] preferred their lifestyle before the war to [that of] the present.” Ina Zweiniger-Bargielowska, Austerity in Britain: Rationing, Controls, and Consumption, 1939-1955 (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 97-98. After spending six years in power, Labour was defeated by the Tories in the 1951 general election.

[50] Rupert Croft-Cooke, Wilkie (London: Macdonald, 1948), 15; Croft-Cooke, Grass, 152; Croft-Cooke, Dogs, 81.

[51] Croft-Cooke, Brass Farthing, 244-45.

[52] Ibid., 109-10.

[53] Croft-Cooke, Life, 4.

[54] Ibid., 5-9.

[55] Ibid., 69.

[56] On the social and political background of the deliberate legal pursuit of gay men in 1950s Britain, see Alkarim Irvani, It’s Not Unusual: A History of Gay and Lesbian Britain in the Twentieth Century (Bloomington, IN and Indianapolis, IN: University of Indiana Press, 1997), 96-99 and Nicolas C. Edsall, Toward Stonewall: Homosexuality and Society in the Modern World (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2003), 291-92.

[57] Rupert Croft-Cooke, The Verdict of You All (London: Secker and Warburg, 1956), 29; Rupert Croft-Cooke, The Glittering Pastures (London: Putnam, 1962), 67-71; Croft-Cooke, Home, 101; Rupert Croft-Cooke, The Caves of Hercules (London and New York: W. H. Allen, 1974), 90.

[58] Croft-Cooke, Verdict, 68; Croft-Cooke, Hills, 35; Croft-Cooke, Revelry, 31; Rupert Croft-Cooke, Night Out (New York: Lincoln Macveigh/Dial Press, 1932); Croft-Cooke, Life, 5.

[59] Croft-Cooke, Verdict, 123. Between 1955 and 1974, Croft-Cooke published twenty-three Carolus Deene detective novels. Deene, a schoolmaster with private means and an insatiable amateur detective, replaced as Bruce’s series detective the stolid Sergeant Beef, who had appeared in eight detective novels between 1936 and 1952. In the first Carolus Deene detective novel, At Death’s Door, which was written the year of the author’s release from prison, the murder victim is a policeman. It is not difficult to see here the influence of Croft-Cooke’s recent arrest and incarceration. On his historical studies, see below.

[60] Croft-Cooke, Verdict, 7-73; Irvani, Unusual, 105-08.

[61] Croft-Cooke, Life, 250; Croft-Cooke, Verdict, 11, 19.

[62] Croft-Cooke, Verdict, 236-37.

[63] Ibid., 11, 251-52; Croft-Cooke, Fall of Man (London: Macmillan, 1955), 227-28.

[64] Victoria Brooks, ed., Literary Trips: Following in the Footsteps of Fame (Vancouver, Canada: Great Escapes Publishing, 2000), 6-9. Rupert Croft-Cooke, Caves, 84, 89, Haylock, Exchange, 136. On Croft-Cooke’s life in Tangier, see the author’s memoir volumes The Tangerine House (London: Macmillan, 1956) and The Caves of Hercules and his satirical novel Exiles (London: W.H. Allen, 1970). On Croft-Cooke’s European travels between 1968 and 1973, see The Long Way Home.

[65] Croft-Cooke, Feasting with Panthers: A New Consideration of Some Late Victorian Writers (London: W. H. Allen, 1967), 170-71. Disappointingly, a recent, much publicized biography of Oscar Wilde by gay journalist and author Neil McKenna, The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde (London: Century, 2003), fails to substantively credit Croft-Cooke’s work on Oscar Wilde, even though, as the title of Croft-Cooke’s The Unrecorded Life of Oscar Wilde indicates, it covers much identical ground. One might have thought a McKenna would have wanted to acknowledge Croft-Cooke, who, after all, was subjected to the same sort of legal harassment that Wilde was and thus occupies a similar, though admittedly lesser, place in gay history. In his Sunday Times book review, Peter Parker noted that McKenna’s claim that he “charts fully for the first time Oscar’s astonishing odyssey though Victorian London’s sexual underworld” is belied by the fact that that charting was done already “back in 1972 by Rupert Croft-Cooke in an entertainingly no-nonsense little book called The Unrecorded Life of Oscar Wilde.” Sunday Times, 26 October 2003. In a 2004 interview, McKenna characterized his Wilde biography as “the spectre at the feast of Wilde biography and Wilde scholarship because it tackles Oscar’s sexuality head-on, and not always in a pretty, gauzy way.” See Interview with Mark Thwaite, 9 April 2004, Yet Croft-Cooke had already risen to haunt this feast quite effectively thirty years earlier.

[66] Croft-Cooke, Panthers, 169-174.

[67] Croft-Cooke, Panthers, 175-76, 208. In his Sunday Times review, Peter Parker notes that McKenna “brings a modern gay sensibility” to Wilde’s story when he argues that in picking up young men Wilde and his lover Lord Alfred Douglas were indulging in “joyous erotic paganism'” and that the men’s “love was on an epic, heroic scale,” constituting a conscious “campaign to promote sexual freedom.” McKenna’s “joyous erotic paganism” is similar in phraseology to Croft-Cooke’s “fabulous debaucheries resurrected from Imperial Rome,” but the authors’ respective attitudes to what they are describing obviously are far removed from each other. In his interview with Mark Thwaite, McKenna explicitly states that in his eyes the “great story and the epic struggle of [Wilde’s] life is his journey from reluctant heterosexuality to a joyous embracing of gay sex.” Croft-Cooke’s take, while clearly sympathetic to Wilde over the legal harassment he had to endure, nevertheless eschews McKenna’s triumphalist approach. It is worth noting as well that Croft-Cooke shows far greater caution in the use of sources. For example, McKenna often cites Frank Harris’s The Life and Confessions of Oscar Wilde, a work Croft-Cooke compellingly dismisses as “a book full of mischievous lies” and “dangerously bad fiction.” Croft-Cooke, Panthers, 176; Croft Cooke, Wilde, 4. Peter Parker agrees with Croft-Cooke, deeming Harris’ book “hopelessly unreliable and self-serving.”

[68] Croft-Cooke, Wilde, 258, 278-79.

[69] Croft-Cooke, The Ghost of June (London: W. H. Allen, 1968), 13, 30, 52-53, 85, 104.

[70] Croft-Cooke, Grass, 133-39; Croft-Cooke, Ghost, 89. Noting in The Green, Green Grass that The Sensual World had been accused of misogynistic sentiments, Croft-Cooke defended himself by noting women over the years whom he had liked and admired, but there seems to me no denying than the predominant authorial interest in The Sensual World lies with men, a few picturesque spinsters, like Aunt Annie Dickson, and steadfast servants excepted. For example, as can be seen from this essay, Croft-Cooke devotes far less time in The Sensual World to his mother than to his father. “My mother,” reflects Croft-Cooke, “however loveable, as indeed she was to me, was a more conventional person and from a far more conventional family than my father”; and he, Rupert, resented “her well-meaning attempts in my boyhood to check my own eccentricities (which my father took for granted).” To be sure, Rupert’s favorite among his siblings was his sole sister, Olive, yet Olive herself was despaired of by Rupert’s “poor conventional mother” as “a tomboy.” His mother, the author noted amusedly, futilely “longed to see Olive as a Victorian miss.” Croft-Cooke, Grass, 122-31; Croft-Cooke, Ghost, 112-18.

[71] Croft-Cooke, Grass, 70-71, 190-91. The twenty-five would be the twenty-three Carolus Deene novels as well as two Sergeant Beef novels from the early fifties, Neck and Neck and Cold Blood. Croft-Cooke probably inadvertently omitted Case for Sergeant Beef (1947), which Joseph, who was on the scene by this time, likely also typed.