His father was Alexander Girvan, F.R.C.S., M.D., a Scotsman, born in Maybole, Ayrshire, on 5 December 1871, the son of Robert Girvan, a GP. Alec (as he signed himself in the 1911 census) was a captain in the R.A.M.C. (Royal Army Medical Corps) who was married in 1904 to Alfred Woods' daughter, 39-year-old Delia Ellen Woods. The family home was at 8 Palace Street, Buckingham Gate, S.W., which is probably where Ian Waveney Girvan was born, as his birth is registered at nearby St George Hanover Square.
Delia was six years her husband's elder and already in her early forties when her son was born. She died, aged only 52, on 2 May 1917. Captain Alexander Girvan relinquished his commission on 9 April 1922.
Nothing is known about Waveney Girvan's education, although it is known that he trained as an accountant. He developed an early interest in literature and penned a bibliography of the works of Henry Williamson (author of Tarka the Otter), which led to some correspondence with an American collector, H. Spafford Moore of Germanstown, Philadelphia. Two letters from 1931 offer a little insight into Girvan and his life.
The first (dated 4 May 1931) has the address 54 Brooke Road West, Waterloo, nr. Liverpool, and Girvan notes that he has just returned from a holiday which ended up in Belgium. However, the most interesting section discusses his love of Devon:
Devon certainly is a glorious country and were I to give a visitor the best impression of these islands I should take him to Devon. I am a Scotch man (or should it be Scotsman) and I can be pardoned for boasting about it. I think it is the variety and richness of its scenery that places it above all others. It has wild highlands in Dartmoor and Exmoor. In Dartmoor the land rises to 2,000 feet above sea-level 'which is not bad for a temperate isle' as Mr. Arnold Bennett once said. Exmoor sweeps down to the sea in heather-covered slopes and bare precipices. In the south are the attractive red-colored cliffs and pleasant, well wooded with the good red earth. Her rivers the Dart, Teign, Tamar, Plym and many others are noted for their beauty. But the mind as well as the eye is attracted for Devon is also famed for her men and associations. And she can boast of a literature that is growing in importance. It is wealthy in superstitions, folk-lore and old survivals. Perhaps you can forgive my eulogies. I spent the happiest years of my life in Devon and Cornwall and regard myself as an exile.A second, undated letter, later but probably not long after, has the address 5 Corfton Road, Ealing W.5. and begins "Your letter has been forwarded to me. I now work in the city of London and earn my living as a tutor in Accountancy." Later in the same letter he notes "I find living in London very expensive and I have had to curtail my book-buying to a certain extent. But I shall recover."
He continued to work as an accountant throughout the 1930s whilst living at a number of addresses: in 1933-36 he was at 12 Ilkenham Close, Ruislip, Middlesex; in 1937-38, the London phone book gives his address as Shilla The Village, Denham, then Tudor Lodge, Denham Village from 1939, at which address he remained until at least 1956.
During the 1930s he listed himself as "A.C.A." – an Associate of the Institute of Chartered Accountants. His war service remains a mystery, but he was involved in the set-up of Westaway Books Ltd., based at Tudor House, Princeton Street, London W.C.1, in 1948, who published books dedicated to the west country. His colleagues included J. C. Trewin OBE (1908-1990), formerly a journalist on the Western Independent, who edited West Country Magazine for the company. His co-director was former MP and one-time Director of Publications of the British Union of Fascists (editing Action and Blackshirt), John Warburton Beckett (→ Wikipedia). The company was financed by Hastings William Sackville Russell, the Duke of Bedford (→ Wikipedia).
Girvan knew Beckett and Russell (then Lord Tavistock; he succeeded to the title Duke of Bedford in 1940) through his involvement with the British People's Party (BPP), an anti-war party founded by Beckett and Lord Tavistock after Beckett split with the National Socialist League in 1939 – shortly before his N.S.L. ally William "Lord Haw-Haw" Joyce fled to Germany to become a Nazi propaganda broadcaster. The BPP was not proscribed during the war because of its titled patron; Beckett, on the other hand, was interred for the duration. Girvan was also involved with other organisations during this period, including the National Front and Independent Nationalists. The National Front, in this case, was the National Front After Victory, a group founded by A. K. Chesterton (→ Wikipedia) and briefly allied with the BPP, which drew the interest of people as diverse as philanthropist Viscount Nuffield, fascist Jeffrey Hamm, and author Henry Williamson (also a former member of Mosley's British Union of Fascists).
After the war, the BPP continued to exist until the Duke of Bedford's death in 1954.
During his time with Westaway Books, Girvan was also Chairman of the West Country Writers' Association, who shared the same Tudor House address as the publisher. The group was co-founded by Victor Bonham-Carter. Also based at Tudor House was a second publishing house, Carroll & Nicholson, which published a broader range of titles than Westaway, ranging from Hesketh Pearson's A Life of Shakespeare to popular crime titles Oscar Slater: The Great Suspect by Peter Hunt and The Wallace Case by John Rowland.
My first step in 1949 was to subscribe to a newspaper cutting agency to send me anything they could discover where the words 'flying saucer' were used. To begin with these cuttings were not numerous in England. I do not know whether it was because the incidents were few or whether, in England, the saucers had not then received the publicity that was later to be theirs. However, in 1949 and 1950 the cuttings produced some interesting evidence. Not that there was, at that time, anything very startling, but one was able to learn quite a lot about the human reactions. Most of my cuttings at that time came from local papers: the national papers did not then pay much attention to the subject...With interest growing, Girvan commissioned a book on the subject from Gerald Heard (Henry FitzGerald Heard, 1889-1971), who produced The Riddle of the Flying Saucers, serialised in the Sunday Express in October 1950. It was subsequently published by Carroll & Nicholson in the UK and as Is Another World Watching? in America.
The Spring of 1950 produced quite a good crop over this country, but it was quite over-shadowed by the mass of sightings that were being reported over the United States. It was at this time that the opinion grew that it was American mass-hysteria that was responsible. It was quite extraordinary how the English sightings, though they were comparatively few, were being ignored. My cuttings still arrived but they were for the most part, from local and not national papers.
The Sunday Express was, at the time, in a circulation battle with the Sunday Dispatch, and flying saucers were a topic that helped boost sales. Charles Eade, editor of the Sunday Dispatch, had been alerted to their potential by Lord Mountbatten, and ran extracts from Flying Saucers Are Real (Hutchinson, 1950) by Donald Keyhoe and Behind the Flying Saucers by Frank Scully (Gollancz, 1950). With public interest booming, Britain's Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir Henry Tizard, set up the Flying Saucer Working Party at the Ministry of Defence to investigate reports of future sightings.
George Greenfield, who in 1952 was looking for a successor as editor at T. Werner Laurie, recalled in his memoir A Smattering of Monsters:
A youngish, dark-haired Cornishman (sic) with glowing eyes named Waveney Girvan was a member of the Authors' Club. He was a publisher, in charge of a small firm named Westaway Books, owned by the then Duke of Bedford ... He was, according to Girvan, wildly eccentric and although enormously wealthy – he owned most of the area between Tottenham Court Road and Southampton Row, apart from the vast family seat at Woburn – he was parsimonious, insisting on keeping a close, almost daily, watch on his publishing venture, even though it accounted for a minute part of his income. The Cornish are themselves a strange breed, as I know from having had a Cornish grandmother, a Waveney Girvan, I soon discovered, believed in UFOs and visitations from other planets. But he had more than met his match in His Grace, le patron, whose ideas for likely publications were far weirder than his own. In short, he was fed up.Girvan arrival at T. Werner Laurie coincided with the arrival of a manuscript from a member of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy, Desmond Leslie (1921-2001). While he was touting his book around various publishers, Leslie heard of a Polish-born American, George Adamski, who claimed to have photographed alien spaceships in the Californian skies and who later, in 1952, said he was taken on a trip to Venus by an alien visitor to Earth. Leslie contacted Adamski who sent him copies of his photographs and then sent him a manuscript detailing his adventures. Leslie submitted both his and Adamski's manuscripts to Werner Laurie and Waveney Girvan suggested that the two were combined in a single book.
Luckily for me, he unburdened himself over a bottle of wine at the club just as I had come to a cul-de-sac in my thoughts for a successor. I tried not to paint too rosy a picture of life at Number One, Doughty Street – I was fond of my colleagues and of many authors I would be leaving behind – but I may have glossed over the amount of interference he was likely to get from the other watchdog directors. At least, none of them was, in the modern jargon, barking mad, like his present owner. ("Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?")
And so it came to pass. His curriculum vitae impressed Herbert Rothbarth, and the other directors of Werner Laurie took to him at the following interview. I absented myself, having an interest to declare, but it must have been so, as they promptly offered him the succession. He was able to serve out his notice at Westaway Books and spend a few days taking over in time for me – after six years to the very day – to say goodbye to publishing and jump over the fence into the new world of ten per cent.
The story of Desmond Leslie is where we'll pick up this tale in our next chapter.
A Bibliography and a Critical Survey of the Works of Henry Williamson by I. Waveney Girvan, together with authentic bibliographical annotations by another hand. Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, Alcuin Press, 1931.
Eden Phillpotts: An Assessment and a Tribute. London, Hutchinson, 1953.
Flying Saucers and Common Sense. London, Frederick Muller, 1955.
Amaryllis at the Fair by John Jefferies, with an introduction by Waveney Girvan. London, Westaway Books, 1948.
(* The photo of Waveney Girvan is from The Big Study website; the letter is from the History For Sale website, which deals in autographed letters, manuscripts and ephemera. They have three letters from I. Waveney Girwan for sale.)