The Other Arthur Bryants

Observatory

Arthur-Bryants-counter-June-2011

Over two decades ago I invented a pair of detectives, Arthur Bryant and John May. But it turned out, to my surprise, that Arthur Bryant already existed. This namesake came to light because a reader pointed out the similarity, but when I discovered that Sir Arthur Wynn Morgan Bryant also spoke at my alma mater, the choice of nomenclature suddenly seemed no coincidence.

Had I met him and forgotten? He was a historian of the old school (not my old school), a columnist for the Daily Telegraph and the Illustrated London News, much admired by both Winston Churchill and Harold Wilson. What happened to him? Why did he fall from favour?

The other Arthur Bryant was born in the final year of the nineteenth century, the son of a knight who was the chief clerk to the Prince of Wales. Bryant grew up in a house beside Buckingham Palace Gardens. Armed with a powerful sense of social justice and a passionate zeal for British history, he was convinced that education held the key to national improvement. Cutting a dashing, chivalrous figure, he flew bombers in the First World War, then returned to talk debutantes into helping him teach the poorest children of slum London. What an excellent chap.

After training as a barrister he became the youngest headmaster in England. He married a baronet’s daughter, published an acclaimed biography of Charles II and founded the National Book Club. His three-volume life of Pepys was considered to be a superlative historical biography.

But wait, it all goes wrong…

There was a darker side looming; as a hardline Conservative with an ingrained belief in patrician rule, Bryant did something spectacularly ill-advised.

He wrote the foreword to the English edition of ‘Mein Kampf’ in 1939, in which he praised Hitler and concluded that the Third Reich was a jolly good thing for Germany. Not cool dude, as the young people say nowadays.

When he realised he had gone too far, he was mortified and tried to buy up all the unsold copies. But it didn’t really change his hardening views.

In his study of late Teutonic history, ‘Unfinished Victory’ and subsequent volumes, he really overstepped the mark by comparing Hitler to Napoleon. It was said that his writing helped lift British patriotism, and his books, essays and columns formed a formidable body of work that proved popular and readable. However, he was criticized for skimping on his research, and drew vociferous detractors who accused him of vulgarising history, retaining Nazi sympathies and being a traitor to his country (although he considered Churchill a warmonger).

For all this, Bryant’s late works ‘The Turn of the Tide’ and ‘The Triumph in the West’ are considered key volumes to understanding the British military in wartime. Understandably, he’s now out of print.

But it turns out there’s another Arthur Bryant in Kansas City, Missouri, which is a legendary barbecue takeaway. The above picture shows some morbidly obese people queueing for it.

Comedian Dave Gorman once set out to meet as many other Dave Gormans as he could. I personally know another Christopher Fowler, married to the excellent SF writer Pat Cadigan. People sometimes sit us together at dinner, assuming we have a lot to talk about. They assume wrongly.

Have you ever checked out your namesakes?

15 comments on “The Other Arthur Bryants”

  1. I once received a friendly letter from Anthony Clayton, an eminent military historian, who noted how our names are easily confused on Google searches (I don’t have an ‘h’ in my first name and there seem to be few if any others Claytons spelled that way). I was almost introduced as him at a recent book event, although I doubt that the reverse has happened. Rather more annoyingly, a search for the book ‘Lord of Strange Deaths’ on Amazon, which I co-edited, links to him rather than me.

  2. Mike Cane says:

    >>>The above picture shows some morbidly obese people queueing for it.

    Hahahaha. You ain’t seen nothin’. Those people are positively “slim” compared to what I see nearly daily.

    As for Arthur Bryant, Google Books has three screens of books by him. And a 1979 bio was published: Arthur Bryant: Portrait of a Historian, by Pamela Street.

  3. DC says:

    My folks moved and I was surprised at the reaction of people when I told them my name. Eventually I was told there was a ruffian with the same handle as yours truly.

    I once had the pleasure of forceably assisting the scalliwag to vacate a local hostelry. Normally I am a peaceful sort of chap who avoids trouble, but sometimes when the gander is up…

    My Grandfather often fended off phone calls from irate constituents due to his MP having an identical name.

    A quick search shows there was a Superintendent John May in the Met. Was the 19th century, so we’ll let you off there.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    My husband was on the board of the Vancouver Museum at the same time as another Kenneth Martin. During meetings they went by their wives’ names. I’m sure there are lots of Helen Martins especially as I am #4 in the e-mail service but I rarely meet even a Helen as it wasn’t that popular a name here. A Helen McSavaney, now, my maiden name, would be really interesting to meet.

  5. Roger says:

    Rather more coincidences: there were two Barbara Wrights, both about the same age and both experts in French literature. One was a bohemian lady who specialised in translations of avant-garde literature, especially Raymond Queneau. The other was an academic expert in nineteenth century literature and a professor at TCD and the greatest English-speaking expert on Eugène Fromentin. The two ladies got on well together, fortunately, as they had to frequently forward mail to each other and explain that there were actually two of them and people had approached the wrong one.

  6. Vivienne says:

    Mine is an ex director (or whatever the current jargon is ) at BP, so I get invitations to posh places to discuss investing my millions. One day I may go for the free champagne.

  7. Steve says:

    Barbara Wright, personified by actress Jacqueline Hill, was Doctor Who’s first travelling companion in 1963!

  8. AC says:

    Nothing remarkable, but I’m one of two patients at my dentist with the same surname and using the same first name- Chris. The difference is he’s a Christopher and I’m a Christine. I’m looking forward to your backlist here in the states. I hope the covers are especially lush and lurid all though the effect is somewhat lost in the digital form.

  9. SusanF says:

    The Susan Felton who isn’t me lives 3000 miles away on the opposite side of the USA. We met because our email addresses are exactly the same but for an extra letter.

    South Carolina Susan is a young wife and mother who also is a substitute teacher. I, the California Susan, am much older, a widowed retired nurse who does Gold Rush era reenacting.

    The two of us have chatted a bit via email as I must occasionally forward to her a message in which the sender has forgotten to include that extra letter.

  10. John Griffin says:

    My first name is Peter. Stop laughing. Heh, heh, heh.
    On my mates FB list are two other Peter Griffins. There is a Peter and a John Griffin at my local leisure centre, which occasionally leads me to be asked to pay for missed sessions by one or the other.

  11. John Howard says:

    I once bought an album by another JH in the early seventies, mainly because it had my name on the front and was a bit of fun when others looked through the racks trying to decide what to put on next.
    Scroll forward 40 odd years and I was lucky enough to be able to buy a small place for holidays and family in a Spanish village recently ( Hence the interest in the salads ) and who should I find has moved there just before us.? The very same JH. Much hilarity ensues and we have now made friends with a very nice man and his partner.
    Incidentally he is still going strong recording his music in a small way.

  12. Lauren says:

    Been to the original Arthur Bryant’s in KC. Hugely disappointing. Dried-out ribs, watery slaw. I couldn’t believe people were raving about it. That being said, only one of the four people in the photo is noticeably overweight, and he’s got a beer gut but otherwise isn’t exactly XXXL. The woman is “pleasingly plump” as my grandmother used to say. You want to see morbidly obese (or nuts, or overexposed, or just plain filthy), check out the WalMart shopper photos online.

  13. slinky says:

    As far as I know, I’m the only person in the world with my name. Probably not actually, but Google only finds an old newspaper article of me, and that’s it. I’ve never had a problem registering for usernames with my real name, and I was even able to purchase my domain name (firstnamelastname.ca—I could’ve gotten lastname.ca, but my older brother beat me to it). My last name is an uncommon Scandinavian name, while my given name is English, which is not a common combination (but there was an Olympic hockey player with the same name, to my surprise).

  14. slinky says:

    (same last name, I mean)

  15. Joel says:

    I thought with some justification that I was the only person ever with my combination of fairly obscure male given name and mangled family name. The latter came via migration from who knows where in Middle Europe – no-one now knows from where. Various searches on Google, Ask, Yahoo, and even Friends Reunited confirmed this…

    Until last year, when more US WW1 records went online. Up pops another ‘JK’, with a conventional first given name, then my given name, and the same mangled family name. He was a military doctor, while I’m anything but either of those. My uniqueness had finally been stolen.

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