Read by Jake Urry (Unabridged: 1hr 34mins)
Sir Hugh Seymour Walpole, CBE was born in Auckland, New Zealand, on March 13th, 1884.
His father was an Anglican clergyman which involved postings abroad. Walpole’s early educated was by a Governess until, in 1893, his parents decided he needed a better education and the young boy was sent to England.
He first attended a preparatory school in Truro followed by Sir William Borlase's Grammar School in Marlow in 1895, where he was bullied, frightened and miserable.
The following year, 1897, the Walpole’s returned to England and Walpole became a day boy at Durham School. His refuge was the local library and its books.
From 1903 to 1906 Walpole studied history at Emmanuel College, Cambridge and there, in 1905, had his first work published, the critical essay "Two Meredithian Heroes".
Walpole was also attempting to cope with and come to terms with his homosexual feelings and to find “that perfect friend”.
After a short spell tutoring in Germany and then teaching French at Epsom in 1908 he immersed himself in the literary world. In London he became a book reviewer for The Standard and wrote fiction in his spare time. In 1909, he published his first novel, ‘The Wooden Horse’ followed, in 1911, by ‘Mr Perrin and Mr Traill’. In early 1914 Henry James, in an article for The Times Literary Supplement, ranked Walpole among the finest of the younger British novelists.
As war approached, Walpole’s poor eyesight disqualified him from service and so he worked, based in Moscow, reporting for The Saturday Review and The Daily Mail. Although he visited the front in Poland, his dispatches failed to stop comments that he was not ‘doing his bit’ for the war effort.
Walpole was ready with a counter; an appointment as a Russian officer, in the Sanitar. He explained they were “part of the Red Cross that does the rough work at the front, carrying men out of the trenches, helping at the base hospitals in every sort of way, doing every kind of rough job”.
During a skirmish in June 1915 Walpole rescued a wounded soldier; his Russian comrades refused to help and this meant Walpole had to carry one end of a stretcher, dragging the man to safety. He was awarded the Cross of Saint George. For his wartime work he was later awarded the CBE in 1918.
After hostilities ended Walpole continued to write and publish and began a career on the highly lucrative lecture tour in the United States.
In 1924 Walpole met Harold Cheevers, who soon became his constant companion and remained for the rest of his life; “that perfect friend”.
Hollywoods MGM studios, invited him in 1934 to write the script for a film of David Copperfield. Walpole also had a small acting role in the film.
In 1937 Walpole was offered a knighthood and accepted although Kipling, Hardy, Galsworthy had all refused. “I'm not of their class... Besides I shall like being a knight," he said.
His health was plagued by diabetes, made worse by the frenetic pace of his life.
Sir Hugh Seymour Walpole, CBE, died of a heart attack at his home at Brackenburn, on June 1st, 1941. He was 57.