The Other Arthur Bryants
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?