Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor - R.I.P.

Sometimes reading the obituary of a particular life well lived, one is left with the idea of what dull, regimented lives most of us live these days. I was only vaguely aware of Patrick Leigh Fermor in that his wartime exploits were used in the Dirk Bogarde film ILL MET BY MOONLIGHT and that he wrote travel books. I have got one of these books now A TIME OF GIFTS, published in 1977 and what a treat it promises to be.

Fermor who died on June 10, 2011 aged 96, was one of the genuine Renaissance figures of the 20th century, a man of action and learning, who went on to lead a fascinating life after the war. Good looking, in a Jack Hawkins/Kenneth More kind of way, he set out at 18 to travel across pre-war Europe from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople (the subject of A TIME OF GIFTS). There is nothing ordinary about this work. In it a solitary young man, scarcely out of school, pits himself in a literary sense against the astonishingly varied social and political circumstances of 1930s Europe. He earns his living by his wits, by his outgoing personality, by his willingness to have a go at anything, and by drawing pictures of people, and he makes friends with Europeans of every class and kind, from the wildest of aristocrats to the grizzliest of peasants – treating them all, as Kipling would have liked, just the same.

He was also the architect of one of the most daring feats of the second world war, the kidnapping of the commander of the German garrison on Crete in April 1944 while working for British special operations on Crete [where he spent time living as a native]. Dressed as a German police corporal, he and a fellow British soldier ambushed and took control of a car containing General Heinrich Kreipe, the island’s commander, and bluffed their way through 22 checkpoints. After three weeks avoiding German searches, Kreipe was taken off the island by boat. The daring escapade was later turned into ILL MET BY MOONLIGHT, directed by Michael Powell, in which Leigh Fermor was played by Dirk Bogarde.

He wrote some of the finest pieces of travel writing and has been described as a “cross between Indiana Jones, James Bond and Graham Greene”. One of the films he co-scripted was John Huston's THE ROOTS OF HEAVEN in 1957, in which he appears (below, right). His scholarly exploits make others, like Peter Viertel or Romain Gary, seems like mere adventurers.

He married Joan Elizabeth Rayner, daughter of the first Viscount Monsell, in 1968. They moved to Greece and their house was created to their own design. She died in June 2003 aged 91. There were no children.

I shall be investigating his other travel books too, including part two of his journey across Europe, BETWEEN THE WOODS AND THE WATER. Fermor was a much-loved character, as detailed on this fascinating website:

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