tagRomanceA Tale of Two Brothers

A Tale of Two Brothers


Winners, they say, are born. It is not just a question of the right combination of genes that combine to create a the particular physical or mental abilities, but a special quality of self belief bordering on arrogance at times, and the willingness to take risks when prudence would suggest caution. The other side of the coin is that apparent losers too, appear to be born that way even if they are equally gifted by nature.

This is a story of two brothers who at first glance were apparently identical in appearance, but so totally different in character that it was difficult to accept the evidence of your eyes. On closer examination however, you would suddenly realise that they were not truly identical, but mirror images of each other. It is a story set in the context of the tumultuous events of the twentieth century which so moulded the lives of the various players. It is also a love story on several levels, but it is not primarily an erotic story, although there are some sexual passages.


The two brothers were both highly intelligent, but Keith, the older by a couple of hours, was a rather grave little boy who seldom laughed. Leonard on the other hand, was everyone's idea of a perfect child, always smiling and laughing — the kind of child who engaged every adult who met him.

They were born in London in the February following the Armistice that brought the slaughter of the First World War to an end. Their father Frederick came from a lower middle class family in a large town in the Midlands of England where his father worked as a senior clerk in local government. He was a bright boy and when he was eleven passed the competitive qualifying examination for a free place at one of the new county secondary schools. Although he was not a high flyer his academic record was good enough for him to stay on at school beyond the statutory leaving age of fifteen, and although he initially considered a career in teaching he eventually decided to follow his father into public service. He passed the Civil Service entry examination with high marks but before he could apply for a position war was declared and in August 1914 he enlisted as a volunteer in the British Army. In November, following basic training, he went to France with his regiment and by summer 1916 he had risen through the ranks from private soldier to the rank of Captain. In November 1916 in one of the last battles of the Somme Offensive his war came to an end when he was severely injured in a shell burst, also suffering serious damage to his lungs from exposure to mustard gas.

Following surgery in a military hospital Frederick was sent for rehabilitation to a stately home in the Home Counties which had been taken over by the Army as a temporary hospital for the duration of the conflict. He fell in love with one of the nurses, the daughter of the owning family. In common with many other upper class young women, Eileen had wanted to do her part for the war effort, and when her brothers went to France with their Guards regiment, she volunteered as a Red Cross Nurse. She had hoped to go to France as well but her father used his influence to keep her at home out of danger. At first her feelings for Frederick were no different from those she felt for the other soldiers, but there was some special chemistry between them and gradually pity turned to affection, and affection to love.

Frederick had recovered sufficiently to leave hospital by late spring in 1917, but as he was assessed to be unfit for further military service, he was discharged from the Army into civilian life where, because of his military experience and distinguished war record, he was offered a post as an administrative officer in the War Office. Despite opposition from her family, and particularly her father, Eileen and Frederick were married at Battersea Registry Office in August 1917. They began their married life in a small rented flat in Brixton from where Frederick took the train to Westminster six days a week, but by 1923 when the boys were four years old, they had saved enough money for a deposit on a small semi detached house in the North London suburbs.

Frederick never fully recovered from his war injuries, and by 1929 he was suffering increasing periods of ill health when he was unable to work. In 1930 he was diagnosed with the advanced stages of tuberculosis and was admitted to an isolation hospital in the summer of that year, where he died just before Christmas. Before Frederick's hospitalisation Eileen had been able to use her nursing qualification to supplement the family income by working part time as a private nurse caring for elderly wealthy patients. However, even with this extra income, the family's savings were rapidly running out and when Frederick died her family insisted that she moved with the children back to her family home, where she was allowed to live rent free in one of the cottages on the estate. Although he had not approved of her marriage, her father insisted that the grandchildren of a peer of the realm should receive a proper education, although he had barred them from ever inheriting the peerage if his son failed to produce an heir. So at the beginning of the autumn term in September 1931 both boys were registered as boarders at a small public school in a coastal town in Dorset.


With his carefree and engaging personality, Leonard soon adapted to boarding school life, and rapidly lost his provincial accent and attitudes. By his fifteenth birthday he acted and sounded like all the other pupils who had been born into the upper class, with their characteristic air of social superiority. It also became apparent that he was a natural leader and quickly gathered a small group of admirers around him, and they often got into scrapes, although this was less out of maliciousness than youthful high spirits. Although they regularly broke school rules, they were generally punished rather lightly by schoolmasters who had known life in the trenches and who were reminded of their own indiscretions when on leave from the Front. Leonard's lively intelligence, natural charm and persuasive tongue might also have had something to do with it.

In complete contrast Keith was an introverted loner who did not naturally fit into the communal life of a British public school. He was as physically well developed as his brother, but lacked the coordination to excel at team games, and he loathed the Army Cadet Corps and its endless drills and hierarchical structure. There is no doubt that if he had not been Leonard's brother he would have been subjected to merciless bullying and practical jokes, but generally the other pupils left him alone. His social isolation did not bother him and he spent as much time as possible studying, either in his room or the unusually well stocked school library, the legacy of a farsighted former headmaster. As a result of his lack of interest in the refined social graces of his upper class peers he never lost his London accent, and in later life he was often thought of as boorish and common by those who didn't know him.

Both boys did well academically, although Leonard spent far less time in private study and regularly borrowed his brother's notes when he was revising for examinations. Their natural aptitudes and inclinations were as contrasting as their personalities, and whilst Keith excelled in mathematics and physics, Leonard displayed a flair for languages — it was said that he could pick up a new language in a couple of days. Their headmaster recognised their intellectual qualities and encouraged them to take the entrance examinations for his alma mater Cambridge University, and in the autumn of 1937 they entered the hallowed portals of Trinity College. In their final year at school they had often discussed their future careers and what subject they would choose to study at Cambridge. Keith had become very excited by the work on nuclear physics taking place in the Cavendish Laboratory under the leadership of Ernest Rutherford, but

Leonard regularly changed his mind. However, as a result of political events in Europe and the threat of another European war, and with the encouragement of his mother, he eventually decided to study modern languages and political science.

In the summer of 1937 Leonard decided that before going up to Cambridge it would be a good idea to travel in Europe to learn what he could of the political situation first hand. On a warm June evening with just a few essential possessions in a rucksack, he caught the Night Ferry from platform 2 at London Victoria station bound for Paris and adventure. After a few days enjoying the many attractions of Paris he took the train for Berlin where he planned to spend a couple of weeks before returning to Paris via Amsterdam and Brussels. The notorious transvestite and gay bars and nightclubs in Berlin had all been shut down by the Nazis when they came to power in 1933, but Leonard surmised that he could still learn much by frequenting the remaining bars where he could meet both ordinary civilians and soldiers. What he saw shocked him to the core, and he realised that war was both inevitable and would be supported by a population who were desperate to remove the stain of the humiliation they had suffered after the Armistice in 1918.

It was with relief that Leonard returned to Paris and he threw himself into the glittering nightlife of the city with gusto. He saw Maurice Chevalier at the Casino de Paris and Edith Piaf at Le Gerny, a night club off the Champs-Élysées which was frequented by both upper and lower classes. He spent evenings drinking with artists and writers in the bars of Pigalle, and one memorable evening he saw Josephine Baker dance at the Folies Bergère — the eroticism and near nudity of the shows opened his eyes to a world of sexuality of which he had only been vaguely aware before then.

Much of this he described in letters to his mother and brother, but there were other things which he kept secret. If there was going to be war, he thought that there was a good chance he would be killed, and he was determined to make the most of the opportunities that Paris offered to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh. He lost his virginity to a whore in one of the many brothels in Montmartre and took part in one or two of the orgies for which they were notorious, thus discovering the delights of sexual practices which his prim and proper upper class upbringing had totally failed to mention. It was the experience of these carnal pleasures at a formative stage of life that gave him a taste for illicit sexual activities that meant he was never going to be content with the respectable monogamy of married life.


With the outbreak of war in September 1939, both brothers talked about volunteering for the Armed Forces, but when Keith spoke about this to his university tutor he was advised that he could make a much greater contribution to the war effort by continuing the research he had already started into harnessing the power of nuclear fission. Leonard, however, volunteered for the Royal Airforce in May 1940 as soon as he had completed his final examinations, and was immediately sent for basic pilot training in Canada.

Whilst he was at university Keith had really had little time or opportunity for meeting members of the opposite sex. However all this changed over the Christmas holiday of 1940. His mother had invited a friend from her nursing days and her 19 year old daughter Eveline to share their Christmas festivities, such as they were with food rationing. In Leonard's absence Keith was under obligation to act the part of host and was therefore unable to keep quietly in the background as was his usual inclination. For the first time in his life therefore, he was more or less forced to spend time in the company of an attractive young woman. Almost inevitably he fell in love with Eveline, feelings that seemed to have been reciprocated, and they started writing to each other regularly once the holiday was over.

Where Keith was almost painfully shy, Eveline was vivacious and outgoing, and recognising that he would never take the initiative she invited him to stay with her in London over the Easter holiday. Under normal peacetime circumstances respectable people like Keith and Eveline would have kept their virginity until they were married, and the most they would have done would have been to kiss and cuddle. This was wartime however and the fear of sudden death dissolved normal inhibitions, and as far as Eveline was concerned, she had invited Keith to stay on the unspoken expectation that they would make love. Because of Keith's diffidence and naivety she was forced to take the initiative and on their first evening together she successfully set out to seduce him. Their first attempts at love making were rather clumsy, but by trial and error by the end of two weeks they had both learned the mutual delights of uninhibited and joyful sex. Although Keith did not formally propose, by the end of the holiday it was more or less agreed that once Eveline reached the age of 21 they would get married.

Leonard did not complete his pilot training in time to take part in the Battle of Britain, and only returned to Britain in February 1941 when he was assigned to one of the many fighter squadrons defending Britain's ports and factories against German bombing raids. Although Keith had written to tell him about Eveline, he did not meet her until the summer of 1941 when he was at last allowed to take leave following the end of the major Luftwaffe bombing offensive.

Once the United States entered the war in December 1941, the governments of the United Kingdom and the United States began to publicly coordinate their military strategy. Their primary objective in Europe was invasion of the continent and military defeat of the German army. However there was serious concern that the Germans would develop a nuclear bomb and in September 1942 a secret research facility was opened at Los Alamos in New Mexico to bring together all the work on production of a functioning nuclear weapon. Many leading British scientists were sent to Los Alamos and amongst their number was Keith who had been carrying out crucial work on enrichment of uranium. Although he had not yet submitted his thesis and his research remained secret until after the end of the Cold War in 1989, he was awarded a doctorate for his work after the end of the war when he returned to Britain to take up an academic appointment at Manchester University in the spring of 1950.

With the end of the Luftwaffe air offensive over Britain in the summer of 1941, fighter squadrons were required to take on an offensive role. The limited range of British fighter aircraft meant that sorties could not penetrate further than about 60 miles over enemy occupied territory and their major role was in tying down as many German fighters as possible, especially following the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Leonard's squadron was based in Kent and he was regularly able to go to London for a couple of nights, and after Keith had departed for the United States he and Eveline began to see much more of each other. As time passed and her memory of Keith faded, Eveline started to fall under the spell of Leonard's sparkling and witty personality. Sadly the day came when she could no longer deny her attraction to him and she succumbed to his sexual advances. Leonard had by then had many affairs and had become an imaginative lover who was highly adept at taking a woman to the heights of sexual pleasure. Eveline was soon besotted with him, and as there had been no formal agreement between her and Keith, she accepted Leonard's proposal of marriage in the summer of 1944.


Leonard was demobilised in May 1946 after a distinguished and highly decorated wartime career, and immediately joined the Diplomatic Service, initially being based in the Foreign Office in central London. He and Eveline rented an apartment in Knightsbridge and were renowned for their cocktail parties where guests might find themselves rubbing shoulders with important politicians or show business personalities. If it was possible, Leonard was now an even more attractive person, especially to impressionable young women. Over the next few years he had a number of discreet and not so discreet affairs, often enjoying nights of torrid sex with more than one woman at the same time and sometimes sharing a woman with another man. Eveline turned a blind eye to his peccadilloes, which generally did not last for more than a few weeks. However, when he was involved in a major cause célèbre in 1949 with a famous actress and a government minister, she insisted that he would have to mend his ways if he wished to progress further in his career. They moved to the Home Counties where they bought a large detached house with about an acre of land, and eleven months later Eveline gave birth to a girl who was christened Gillian. A second child, a boy named Peter, followed eighteen months later, and Leonard appeared to have settled into the role of devoted husband and father. Keith, who was now living as a bachelor in Manchester, bore no rancour for his betrayal by Leonard and Eveline, and was delighted to become godfather to his niece and nephew.

In 1952 Keith was diagnosed with the early stages of testicular cancer, the result of his work with radioactive uranium and plutonium during the war. It was his good fortune that he lived in Manchester where the Christie Hospital under Dr Paterson had for many years been an internationally recognised centre for the treatment of cancer with radiotherapy. He was successfully treated by a combination of surgery to remove his testicles and retroperitoneal lymph nodes and radiation. However it meant that he would never be able to father children, and Keith decided that there was no way that he could ever marry and resigned himself to a life of permanent bachelordom.

Eveline realised that Leonard was finding the life of cosy domesticity boring and that he still hankered for the bright lights and thrills of life in the city. She knew that on the quiet he had been writing poetry for several years — mainly love poems based on his many amours, some of which were distinctly erotic in nature — and that he had also written a rough draft of a fictionalised account of his years as a fighter pilot. It was a measure of her own particular genius that she saw the possibilities of combining the two genres in a uniquely different kind of war novel. When she casually mentioned the idea to Leonard he at first dismissed it, but she persisted and by subtly appealing to his vanity she at last persuaded him to give it a try. To his surprise, once he had started working seriously on the project, he found the intellectual challenge extremely rewarding. By the summer of 1951 he had finished a complete draft of a novel in which poems were interspersed throughout the text acting as a kind of counterpoint to the action. It was typical of his nature that once he had finished the project to his own satisfaction he lost interest in it, but Eveline then took charge and sent the manuscript to several publishers. The first three rejected it, but a minor publisher of art house fiction saw that it had possibilities and accepted it with some minor revisions, and a small print run of a first edition was published in spring 1952.

Leonard's novel could have sunk without trace, but some people are just born lucky and by pure chance a copy ended up in the hands of a BBC radio producer of a new late-night programme about experimental fiction on the Third Programme. Leonard was invited to be interviewed on-air and to read a selection from the book. As a consequence his novel became a must-have book for intellectuals and Leonard rapidly became known as an up-and-coming author. The first print run very quickly sold out and a much larger second run was ordered. As is often the way one of the major publishing houses that had initially rejected the manuscript now changed its mind and bought the publishing rights and as well as publishing a quality hard back edition of the novel commissioned a second novel and proposed a separate collection of Leonard's poetry. However, at this point fate intervened and the second novel languished in rough draft, although a small volume of his selected poems did appear in 1953.

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