In 1996, the letter below was written to, and published by, Geoff Bradley, the editor of CADS: Crime and Detective Stories.
27 April 1996
Dear Mr Bradley,
Thank to the skills of Jamie Sturgeon’s booksearch, I was reading Alan Clutton-Brock‘s Murder At Liberty Hall, first published in February 1941 by John Lane The Bodley Head, and I came across a sentence I recognised. It was this in Chapter VII:
“Why is it, by the way, that although England normally has one of the smallest armies in the world it has the largest number of retired colonels?” (page 108).
I knew that it was not Clutton-Brock who had written this before, and I went to George Orwell’s Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters, and there in Volume Two My Country Right Or Left, in his Wartime Diary, is an entry for 20th June 1940:
“A thought that occurred to me yesterday: how is it that England, with one of the smallest armies in the world, has so many retired colonels?”
– eight months before publication of Murder At Liberty Hall. But this diary was not published until 1968, twenty-seven years after Murder At Liberty Hall.
Murder At Liberty Hall appeared in February 1941. It was re-printed the next month, March. It was published in softcover as a Guild Book in 1946.
Alan Clutton-Brock had been a friend of Orwell’s: a couple of letters from 1936 mention Orwell’s concern over the death of Mrs Clutton-Brock in a road accident and the consequences for their two young children. But thereafter his name does not appear and I can’t find references to him in any biographies of Orwell or in other people’s recollections of Orwell or his wartime milieu.
The passage in Clutton-Brock comes just after a discussion of Colonel Lawrence (of Arabia), who was also one of Orwell’s bug-bears as a right-wing intellectual (pages 107-108). So, I wonder, how much input did Orwell have into Clutton-Brock’s only murder mystery?
Note: April 2012
The eponymous “Liberty Hall” may have been inspired by Chastleton House in Oxfordshire, which belonged to Alan Clutton-Brock’s family.
Image from Wikipedia
According to the Wikipedia entry for Jack Common, in 1956 Richard Rees used his influence with Clutton-Brock to obtain a position at the house for Common as a guide. Common used the quiet winter months for his own writing, but fell out with Clutton-Brock two years later and moved on. Clutton-Brock died in 1976 but his widow lived at the house until 1992.
Guild Books were still printed with their wartime messages in 1946.
Rear cover of Murder At Liberty Hall.
Undistributed copies were sold in bulk to W.H. Smith, who priced these books at 1/- (5 pence) each.
L J Hurst