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The Life and Works of Rupert Croft-Cooke

The English author Rupert Croft-Cooke (1903-1979) published thirty-odd novels on a wide variety of subjects in his life-time, as well as poetry, plays, non-fiction books on such diverse topics as Buffalo Bill, Oscar Wilde, Lord Alfred Douglas, Victorian writers, criminals, the circus, gypsies, wine, cookery, and darts.

Under the pen name of Leo Bruce he also wrote more than thirty crime novels.

But his most important contribution to English letters was the series of twenty-seven autobiography-cum-travel books which comprise The Sensual World.

It could be asked how one man might write so many books about himself. The truth is that Croft-Cooke remains very much in the background, and it is the people he meets, the places he visits, the events he describes, which are the true subjects of his books. He led a long, varied, and interesting life; his travels took him all around the world and he met hundreds of fascinating and famous people. He was as at home with the working-classes -- hop-pickers, circus folk, gypsies -- as he was with film-stars and famous writers.

For much of his writing life he lived abroad. His books rarely went into second editions, so he had to write two or three a year in order to survive, and to allay costs he chose to live in countries where the living was cheaper than in Britain. He lived in Morocco for fifteen years, from 1953 to 1968, and then variously in Tunisia, Cyprus, Germany and Ireland.

Although the books in The Sensual World series are not about himself, they are steeped in the character of the man who wrote them. Croft-Cooke comes over as a mild-mannered anarchist, an eternal optimist, a friend of the oppressed, and eternally interested -- in what might be seen as a rebellion against his upper-middle-class upbringing -- in new and varied experiences.

He suffered various travails in his lifetime. In '32 his novel, Cosmopolis, (later republished as The White Mountain), based on his time as a teacher in a school in Switzerland, was withdrawn from publication on grounds of possible slander. Thereafter his publisher, Hutchinson, drew up a crippling contract compelling him to write four novels a year in order to pay off the debts incurred by the company.

In '52 he was jailed for six months for alleged acts of homosexual indecency, although on investigation these charges proved flimsy. This was at the time when the then Home Secretary was clamping down on homosexuality, which was then illegal, even between consenting adults. The actor John Geilgud was arrested around the same time as Croft-Cooke, on a similar charge, and only the skill of his lawyers prevented the actor from receiving a prison sentence. Croft-Cooke was not so fortunate. He endured the privations of Wormwood Scrubs and Brixton jail and wrote a searing indictment of the British penal system in his 1955 book The Verdict of You All. And yet, despite these knocks and set-backs, he remained optimistic and lacking in rancour, self-pity or hatred.

The books in The Sensual World series are a beautiful record of their time. England of the twenties, thirties, and forties is brilliantly evoked, and the descriptions of his travels in Europe and Argentina capture the wonder of youth and discovery. He met many famous writers of the time, and the descriptions of his meetings with Kipling, Masefield, Chesterton, and Compton Mackenzie, among others, are full of insight and also the freshness and enthusiasm of a novice writer at the feet of his heroes. He writes with skill, lightness of touch, and humour.

His novels, while entertaining, and honest, are not of the same quality as his autobiographical works. (He admits as much himself in one of his later autobiographies). Nevertheless, they are written with integrity, and are always interesting and full of his passionate concerns: the price of conformity, the role of a non-conformist in society, the iniquity of crime and punishment and, also, the sham that is the modern, materialistic world.

Sadly, Rupert Croft-Cooke is a writer little known and little read today. He had no best-sellers or lucrative film deals, and his books are no longer in print. He was essentially a jobbing professional writer who wrote with honesty, integrity, and utmost concern for his craft.

This website is a small tribute to the man and his work. I intend to expand it in the course of time. Included here is a listing of his novels, short-story collections, autobiographical books, plays, poems, and his miscellaneous non-fiction. In time, I hope to post reviews of his books, articles about various aspects of his life, and even reminiscences of the man from his contemporaries.

I would very much like to hear from fellow Croft-Cooke aficionados, or people who actually knew him. I can be contacted at:

eric dot meridian at tiscali dot uk

Eric Brown

Haworth, 2002