Monday, September 10, 2012

Ambassador of Loss by Michael Scarrott

These are some of the illustrations for a scarce gay-themed public school novel, Ambassador of Loss by Michael Scarrott (Fortune Press, London, 1955). The illustrations are given as by B. H. Surie. I had a little trouble tracking down anyone of that name but eventually came across an illustrator called Barry Surie. Using that name without initials Barry also illustrated a number of books with titles like "The Boys Book of Electricity". Perhaps the B. H. was a way of distancing himself slightly from a difficult subject matter. But he wasn't the only one. Michael Scarrott is also a pseudonym, this time for Arthur Stanley Theodore Fisher, or more commonly A. S. T. Fisher who was a Church of England priest and a fairly prolific writer of religious poetry and other religious titles. He was among the Christ Church College set in the late 1920s in Oxford and re-introduced W. H. Auden to Christopher Isherwood. Fisher lived on the same staircase as Auden and it is said he and Auden would have long arguments into the night on religious matters. He even went so far as to write, rather bluntly, to Auden's mother about her son, "the fact that he is naturally more self-sufficient than most people explains why he finds so little need for a personal God-or for a Mother."

The front of this book has a disclaimer of sorts, in which he claims that the events depicted in the book are entirely fictional and that, despite the preponderance of great public schools in Dorset, none of them should be taken as the inspiration for his story of Melcombe Abbas School and the incidents “are based on actual experiences of schoolboys, from widely different schools, who have given me their confidence and encouraged me to write this book.” All of this is par for the course when writing about these things in the 1950s but once his cover is blown and we learn that Fisher's first job out of theological college was as Chaplain to Bryanston School in Blanford in Dorset, the protestations ring a little hollow. 

A peculiar side note on the whole thing is that, under his own name in 1961 he wrote the book Happy Families. The Meaning of Sex for Young Teenagers, enabling one website to describe him, perhaps a little unfairly as a writer of religious poetry and sex manuals!

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