Saturday, May 27, 2017

Brian Worthington-Stuart part 1

There are some authors who are just made for Bear Alley. Brian Stuart is definitely one. Beyond a list of 16 novels under two pseudonyms that appears in Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction Bibliography, no broader bibliography has appeared anywhere. The only available biographical information easily available is the brief note (also written for Hubin's Bibliography): "Birth name uncertain; was known as Brian Arthur Lewis Stuart when he changed his name to Brian Worthington-Stuart, and later changed it again to Brian Martin-Stuart."

I had put together a few notes some time ago after discovering a court case, but it seemed that each time I thought I had discovered all I could, something else would turn up. I have no doubts that there is more of Brian Stuart's story still  to be told and I would love to hear more. For the moment, this is as full a picture of Stuart's jigsaw life as I have been able to put together.

Brian Stuart's name first began to appear in the 1930s. An author and journalist, Stuart was described as having joined the Foreign Legion and was later to become the first Englishman to be offered a commission. He made a lone trek across the Sahara, made money dowsing for water in the desert, was offered a wife as part payment for his services, encountered thieves and murderers, and had his life saved by sorcery.

Of an early radio broadcast M.C. of the Manchester Guardian (8 November 1934) said: "Mr. Stuart is a wanderer by temperament, and he started his wanderings one day when he had become bored with his position as a clerk in the Bank of England. He has served in the Foreign Legion, and has worked and wandered in India, Canada, and other countries. The talk was most entertaining and amusing, for he seems to have a natural gift for telling stories of his travels, and his manner is rather laconic and dry, so that he makes an effect of humorous understatement."

His novels, written under the names Brian Stuart and Peter Meredith, were well reviewed and appeared popular. As Stuart he had created the character "Knock Out" Kavanagh's whose "gentian blue eyes no longer humorous or twinkling behind the quite unnecessary monocle" take on a steely glint at the first sign of danger. Stuart's favourite characters seemed to be former army officers with experience in the Middle East or India. Stuart built up a small group who appeared in a number of his books, including Chief Detective Inspector Ian Fleming, known as "Never-Let-Go" Fleming, and Colonel Adrian Forester and his friend, Colonel Grenier.

Stuart's writing career had started in the 1930s but came to an abrupt end in the mid-1950s, after which no trace of any further work has been found. Whether he continued to ply his trade as an author and journalist I have yet to discover. On the other hand, his origins and pre-writing career can now be revealed.

Stuart was born Arthur Lewis Martin in Stroud Green, London, on  6 March 1902. He was the son of Arthur William Martin, born in Battersea in c.1872, and his wife Louisa Mary Bell, born in Fermoy, Cork, on 31 December 1871. Married on 15 December 1896 at Crouch End, London, Mr. Martin was a staff engineer (1st class) with the General Post Office. His wife (who had worked as a telegraphist for the G.P.O.) was related to Sir George Bell (1794-1877), an Irish-born soldier who had served in the Peninsular and Crimean Wars during a long and distinguished career which he brought to wide attention in a two-volume autobiography, Rough Notes by an Old Soldier (1867).

Arthur Lewis Martin's upbringing remains a bit of a mystery. At the time of the 1911 census, when he was aged 9, he and his parents were visitors at the home of Charles Emil Ramspott at Mooredale, Epsom Downs, Surrey.

What we know of Arthur Martin's early career is from later newspaper reports which reveal that he joined the Bank of England as a clerk in 1920, leaving in 1926 to travel to India as a clerk to a firm of stockbrokers, which subsequently went broke; he then went to Canada, also with stockbrokers, before returning to England.

In January 1930, some local newspapers carried a report that one Arthur Lewis de Vere Martin Bell, an accountant, was arrested on Wednesday the 22nd at Lapford Rectory, in Lapford, a small village in Devon. Sergeant Squire and Constable White brought Bell before the Bench at nearby Northtawton on Thursday and he was remanded pending the arrival of an escort.

Bell had been arrested on a warrant issued by the Metropolitan Police for the alleged obtaining of goods by means of a worthless cheque. Bell was remanded in custody by Mr. Gill at Westminster Police Court on the 25th of obtaining a gun and case, and a cigarette case and matchbox, valued at £24 6s 6d. by false pretences from the Army and Navy Stores in Victoria Street, S.W.

Detective Smith told the magistrate that a quantity of property was brought to London with Bell—including an Oxford M.A. hood, a cheque book, a passport in the name of Arthur Lewis Martin, an order book on the Army and Navy stores, and clothing—and a further charge was to be preferred. Smith said that Bell had stated: "I wish to clear the matter up now. I did obtain the gun, the cigarette case and matchbox from the Stores. I pawned them the same day in the Strand, but I have lost the tickets."

That this was Arthur Lewis Martin cannot be doubted. The name De Vere Bell was probably concocted from his similarly named uncle, Warwick De Vere Bell, born in Devonport, Devon, in 1866, a civil servant and son of Harry Humphrey Bell, Martin's grandfather.

Mention of Martin's passport makes me wonder if any of the following is related to our author: in 1929, one Arthur Martin, a 27-year-old accountant giving his address as c/o Holt & Co., 3 Whitehall Place, London, travelled to Canada aboard the Ausonia, arriving in Montreal on 29 October 1929; similarly, a 27-year-old clerk with the address 134 Regent Street, SW, left London on 9 May 1930, bound for New York aboard the American Farmer; and, later, on 10 January 1934, aged 32, accountant Arthur Martin (now of 254 Upland Road, E.Dulwich  SE22) again travelled to Canada via New York from Southampton aboard the White Star's Olympic. While speculative, hopefully connecting these trips is an educated guess. Martin claimed in court that he worked for a stockbroker in Canada around this time.

Martin had been a member of the Territorial Army Reserve since the early 1920s; late of the Inns of Court O.T.C., he was made a 2nd Lieutenant of the 17th Battalion (4th London Regiment)  on 28th March 1924. He was later made a Lieutenant on 17 December 1932

It was said that it was through his connection with the 4th London Regiment that he became attached to the French Foreign Legion. He was said to be in the Consul's office in Oran, on the coast of north-west Algeria, the setting for his book Adventure in Algeria (1936).

The book was generally well-received, a typical review appearing in The Observer (10 January 1937):
Here is one of the freshest and most winning books of travel offered for a long time. Mr. Stuart writes with such a perfect unconsciousness of his public and such a disregard for all the mannerisms that are supposed to be “literary,” that a schoolboy’s letter could not be more frank, intimate, or revealing. He never tells a story or exhibits a humorous situation that does not at once yield its full value.
    Part of his tale is occupied with a journey on foot well into the interior of French Africa. It is plentifully studded with odd and picturesque experiences, and in the course of it he drank out of a tea-cup once given to his Arab host by General Gordon, and had Miss Amy Johnson swoop down upon him from the skies in the course of her homeward flight from the Cape. But the pages that arrest attention most sharply are those describing his service in the Foreign Legion and stripping from that corps many popular and invidious legends.
    Bad characters would find it very difficult to get in, and piety is not unknown in its ranks. “In the company in which I finished up my service, a Russian corporal-farrier held a Bible class for anyone who cared to attend.” As for “brutality,” the author declares that “Field Punishment No.1” of the British Army in the Great War was far and away more severe than anything the Legion knows, and the only complaint he makes of its regime is that the food on active service is not what it should be. The “horrors” that invest popular conception of the Legion are the creation, Mr. Brian Stuart maintains, of “deserters and similar cowards.” It will be interesting to see whether his vindication goes unchallenged.
Some reviewers felt that "a little inconsistency here and there, however, shakes one's confidence in his own story." (Western Morning News, 7 October 1936) He related how he had joined in 1931 and found the Legion very welcoming. "The barracks at Ain Sefra were absolutely the last word in cleanliness and comfort," he revealed. The food was delicious.

Although marked out for rapid promotion and the unusual honour of a commission even before he had begun training, "Stuart" did not stay long in the Legion. He was rejected on account of bad eyesight after about six months. Thereupon he sought adventure by himself in the desert and the second and larger part of the book described his experiences.

Arthur Lewis Martin returned to England in 1933 and, using the pen-name Brian Stuart, began writing about his experiences, with articles such as "Foot-Loose in the Sahara" for Blackwoods and "Across the Sahara on Foot", for Pearson's Magazine in 1934. That same year he began broadcasting on the BBC, with "Legend of the Foreign Legion" broadcast on 7 September 1934, followed by two contributions to the "Rolling Stone" series:  "Banks, Barracks, and Bivouacs", broadcast on 7 November 1934, and "Footloose in the Sahara", broadcast on 12 December 1934. These and other articles for the likes of Windsor, which became the basis for Adventure in Algeria. While establishing himself as a writer, he was also spent some time between 1933 and 1935 selling vacuum cleaners in London.

It was during this period, shortly after his return to England, that Martin became embroiled in another court case. On 9 May 1934, the Highgate Sessions heard the case of Mrs. Doris Blodwin Hudgell, who was applying for a separation order against her husband, Frederick Louis Hudgell. The case was complicated by her husband's cross petition asking for custody of their daughter. The couple had married in April 1929 and daughter Barbara was born in 1931. Mr. Hudgell worked as a motor-fitter for the L.N.E.R., earning £2 18s. a week.

Mrs. Hudgell revealed that Mr. Hudgell had been "difficult to manage" on New Year's Eve and had smashed a panel of a kitchen cupboard, knocked her against the fireplace and nearly broke her back. On April 24 he had flown out of bed in a mad rage, ripped her pyjama coat from her, picked her up bodily and kicked her in the stomach several times. He left her the following day.

Mrs. Hudgell also alleged that her husband had been carrying on with another woman, and came home in the early hours of the morning. In the course of the previous three months he had assaulted her several times.

She had scrubbed floors to help pay off her husband's debts and, earlier in the year (1934), she had taken in a lodger at her husband's request. The lodger was Arthur Lewis Martin.

Martin, then living at the London Central Y.M.C.A., gave evidence that he had met Mrs. Hudgell at a Lyons Corner House and later responded to an invitation to tea with Mr. and Mrs. Hudgell. Later, arrangements were made for him to lodge at their home at 11 Woodside Grove, North Finchley. He was there for three weeks but left, he said, because he could not stand the way Hudgell treated his wife, and he did not think she should be left alone in the house with him. "Hudgell treated her abominably," he said. "I have seen him hit her frequently and squeeze her in the throat until she went red in the face. I have seen her knocked against the kitchen wall, and he pretended to cut her throat with a razor." Hudgell would threaten to injure her and then commit suicide. On one occasion, Martin had come into the kitchen and found Hudgell there with a girl on his knee.

The magistrate eventually decided that the case should have been settled by voluntary separation and that the summons for cruelty had not been established and was therefore dismissed. However, the two were back before the magistrates on 6 June 1934, with Mrs. Hudgell claiming desertion and alleged wilful neglect of their daughter; she also asked for custody of the child. The case was again adjourned as Mr. Lincoln (appearing for Mr. Hudgell) had not passed on material relating to an allegation of misconduct by Mrs. Hudgell. When the case resumed two weeks later, Mr. Ricketts (for Mrs. Hudgell) said that the promised material had only been handed over the weekend before the case was to be heard and it appeared that the husband was "trying to starve his wife into submission." The case was again adjourned.

Eventually, on 4 July, the case was heard. Mrs. Hudgell strenuously denied having had an affair with a man named Hopton in 1932. Nor had she misconducted herself with the lodger, Arthur Lewis Martin.

Giving evidence, Mr. Hudgell said that after he had been living with them for some time, Martin had told him that he liked his wife and wanted to marry her. Martin, said Hudgell, suggested that he (Hudgell) should go away with another woman and commit adultery with her so that his wife could get a divorce. Martin had appeared at the May hearing during which he had said, "I am not going to pretend I am not in love with Mrs. Hudgell, partly in sympathy owing to the treatment she got from her husband. The fact that she is married I cannot help. Nor can I help the fact she is not in love with me."

The case was eventually found in Mrs. Hudgell's favour and she was given custody of the child.

(* In Part 2: Arthur Lewis Martin becomes Brian Arthur Lewis Stuart and begins writing novels... and ends up in jail.)

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