Tag Archives: Dirk Bogarde

Items from Paddy’s archive

The news about the opening of Paddy’s archive to the public was quite exciting. It may herald some new studies into the life of this gifted but flawed man.

I had a bit of a sneak around the National Library of Scotland website and found the following images which may form the start of the on-line digital archive mentioned in the press release. They include an unpublished poem by John Betjeman written on the back of an envelope.

Related article:

Patrick Leigh Fermor archive now fully available to public at National Library of Scotland

Everyone fell in love with Paddy Leigh Fermor

Attracted to the man: ‘It wasn’t a sex thing,’ says the biographer Artemis Cooper, ‘Patrick Leigh Fermor was so curious, kind and funny’ Photo: Martin Pope

Like all those who met Patrick Leigh Fermor, his biographer Artemis Cooper found the travel writer and war hero utterly beguiling.

By Allison Pearson

First published in the Daily Telegraph 28 Sep 2012

It’s not usual to fall in love with an 83-year-old man when you are 37, but then Patrick Leigh Fermor was not your usual 83-year-old. It was 1998, and I had been sent to interview Leigh Fermor, the legendary travel writer and war hero. He was returning to Crete, where he had helped the resistance. Not much caring for either travel writing or wars, I was bemused by the assignment. I pictured myself having to look after some dear old boy and trying to get a few dusty stories out of him. Little did I know.

Two days later, I had drunk more in 48 hours than in the previous 20 years, and I think I spent large chunks of our delightful if inconclusive interview asleep in a bar under the Leigh Fermor jacket. I then found myself stumbling up a Cretan hillside with the “dear old boy” ahead, leaping from rock to rock, all the while telling me stories about Greek mythology, Dylan Thomas and Lady Diana Cooper. Did I know her? No. “Absolutely charming. And look at this flower over here, there’s this fascinating thing about its name. Have you ever been to Constantinople?” No, I… “You must be terribly hungry.” Yes, I… “Well, in the war we used to eat grass and snails, and the astonishing thing is…”

Occasionally, my handsome guide would break into song or poetry. By the time we reached a village, and tucked into a meal of melting lamb straight from a spit, I was exhausted but besotted. There was no prospect of getting that evasive, erudite faun to answer my questions, but I didn’t care. I have rarely felt happier. I had been Paddied.

“In Paddy’s company everyone felt livelier, funnier and more entertaining, and the gift never deserted him,” writes Artemis Cooper in her splendid new biography, Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure. The book is a primer for those poor souls yet to encounter his work and a valuable, decoding manual for the multitude who believe that Leigh Fermor’s trilogy about his youthful walk from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul – A Time of Gifts, Between the Woods and the Water and the long-awaited third volume, The Broken Road (to be published next year) – marks one of the high points of 20th-century English prose.

Artemis Cooper laughs when I tell her my Paddy-crush story (he was always Paddy, never Patrick). Cooper was 17 when she developed a crush on him herself (he was a friend of her father, John Julius Norwich). Paddy was in his fifties. “I thought he was amazing. He had what the Greeks call leventeia – the jokes, the physical courage, the sheer joy of life. What he did to you, he could do that to anyone, both men and women,” she says. “It wasn’t a sex thing. It was the fact he was so curious about everyone, so kind and funny. And devastatingly attractive.”

If it were possible to be libidinous towards the whole world, then Paddy Leigh Fermor was. It wasn’t just a sex thing – though there were lovers aplenty, as Cooper was unsurprised to discover during her research. It was also a lust for experience that began when he was boarded as a baby with a Northamptonshire farmer’s family (his parents were in India). For four years, little Paddy ran wild in the fields, a state of “complete and unalloyed bliss” that ended when his mother (“a beautiful stranger”) returned to England and he was sent to a series of schools, from which he was soon expelled.

Cooper believes that Paddy spent the rest of his life pursuing the freedom and joy of his infancy. Her first chapter is called Neverland, and there was a touch of Peter Pan about her subject. Paddy and his wife, the photographer Joan Rayner, never had children. Cooper points out that Joan, like several women he was drawn to, was older, “a Wendy figure” who organised – and subsidised – his life so the boy wonder could go on flying. The most shocking story in the book comes when Joan, after dinner in Cyprus one night, hands Paddy some cash saying, “Here you are, that should be enough if you want to find a girl.” But more of that later.

I am talking to Artemis Cooper, who is married to the historian Antony Beevor, at the kitchen table of their house in Fulham. Looking much younger than her 59 years, Cooper is a descendant of the famous beauty and Leigh Fermor friend, Diana Cooper. She has her granny’s bluebell eyes as well as a dreamy look that belies a biographer’s forensic intelligence. Was it daunting, trying to tell the life story of a man who had told that story so brilliantly himself?

“It was sooo daunting,” she sighs. “Paddy had this enormous reserve, which he covered with a torrent of dazzling talk. And you think, ‘How am I going to get the other side of the waterfall, into the cave behind?’ ”

Cooper enjoyed many face-to-face interviews with him before his death, at the age of 96, in June last year. But such meetings could be infuriatingly unproductive. Leigh Fermor came from a generation that viewed talking about oneself with the deepest suspicion. Paddy never dwindled into anecdotage – he was still lapping up fresh stories in his eighties – but Cooper says he was happiest refining formal set-pieces rather than delving into more personal stuff. “There are certain things he loves talking about,” she smiles, “like that story about kidnapping the German general on Crete, but then I ask about his feelings and he completely clams up.”

She still speaks of Paddy in the present tense, and I understand why. It’s hard to accept all that springer-spaniel energy and the fabulous library of a mind are gone, and not writing at home in Kardamyli, the house that the Leigh Fermors built in Greece after decades of nomadic travels.

The incredible Paddy story about kidnapping a German general has the unlikely virtue of being true (see the Telegraph’s Review section tomorrow). It was immortalised in the film Ill Met By Moonlight. Paddy was played by Dirk Bogarde, though, for my drachma, the original was even more dashing, looking like Errol Flynn – who was, Cooper’s biography reveals, an old mucker of Paddy’s. Of course he was. Who wasn’t?

It was another heroic tale – swimming the Hellespont, love affair with a princess – to add to the Paddy mythology. Readers of A Time of Gifts have often wondered how the author, who was in his sixties when he sat down to write it, could possibly remember in such detail a journey he had made when he was barely 18. Artemis nods: “I said to Paddy, ‘Look, there seems to be this discrepancy here between two versions of how you got across the great Hungarian plain. In one version, you’re riding and in the other there’s no horse at all.’” She says Paddy admitted to “having smudged the facts a little. I did ride a fair amount, so I decided to put myself on horseback for a bit. I felt the reader might be getting bored of me just plodding along. You won’t let on, will you?”

She rolls her eyes. “Oh, no, I won’t LET ON. I’m only your biographer, for heavens sake!”

In the book, Cooper charitably calls this “just one instance of the interplay of Paddy’s memory and his imagination”, although playing fast and loose with the facts would be another interpretation. No matter. A Time of Gifts becomes more, not less, of a tale as you start to wonder how tall it is.

Knowing Paddy as a friend was sometimes a constraint on her probing. “I didn’t want to upset him. He would never talk about the women in his life.” Eventually, she deduced that whenever he said of a woman, “we were terrific pals”, he had been to bed with her.

The book reveals love affairs with Ricki Huston (ex-wife of John, the director) and Lyndall Passerini Hopkinson (daughter of Antonia White). “They aren’t necessarily the most interesting of his love affairs, there were loads of others; they just happened to be the two I had letters for on both sides.” She smiles. “Considering Paddy’s success with the ladies, it’s amazing that no children came out of the woodwork!”

Indeed, the Leigh Fermors had an open relationship. Joan announced she wasn’t going to have sex with Paddy any more but “she didn’t expect him to remain celibate”. That was many years into their loving relationship, but still a fair while before they actually married in 1968.

Cooper worries about what Paddy would have thought of the book. “I think he’d be horrified by certain bits. Horrified that I’ve broken faith with him and divulged secrets.”

I don’t agree. In the final weeks of his life, Artemis Cooper read A Time of Gifts to Paddy. The body may have been failing, but that great writing brain was still refining, still asking for a “but” to be changed to a “yet”. When he died, she raced to his side. “I had half an hour with him before the undertaker arrived. I found a copy of A Time of Gifts and I put it in his hands.” She is crying now. We are both crying.

On the front of Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure is the photograph of the most glorious, sensitive, scholarly and dashing man it’s possible to imagine. Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover.

‘Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure’ by Artemis Cooper is available to purchase here.

Related article:

Media coverage and updated events for Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure by Artemis Cooper

Xan Fielding Obituary

I am reposting this obituary to Xan Fielding at this time as he was Paddy’s very good friend, the one to whom Paddy wrote his open letters at the start of A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. Those who have found this site for the first time might wish to read about his friend. At the end is a special tribute written by Paddy.   I believe this to be the only on-line copy and it now includes newly discovered photographs.


After much searching I can bring you what I believe to be the only on-line obituary to Xan Fielding which I have retyped from the Daily Telegraph Second Book of Obituaries: Heroes and Adventurers. This includes a special tribute from Paddy to one of his closest friends.

First published in the Daily Telegraph 20 August 1991

Xan Fielding, the author, translator, journalist and adventurous traveller, who has died in Paris aged 72, lived a charmed life as a Special Operations Executive agent in Crete, France and the Far East during the Second World War.

Short, dark, athletic and a brilliant linguist, he was God’s gift to operations in rugged mountainous regions and wherever his languages were needed.

Major Fielding was awarded the DSO in September 1942, “for going into a town”, as he said later with a typical modesty.
He had a boyish, slightly rebellious spirit which he shared with many of his contemporaries in SOE. His self-confessed, or self-proclaimed, amateurishness certainly belied a tough professionalism, great resourcefulness and bravery in action. Fielding was the sort of man one would be happy to go into the jungle with.

While still in his early twenties he was responsible for clandestine and subversive activities in large areas of enemy-occupied Crete. He survived numerous encounters with German forces, only to be rumbled by the Gestapo in France towards the end of hostilities in Europe.

Even then his luck held. Locked in a death cell at Digne in 1944, he was “sprung” in an audacious move by Christine Granville (nee Krystyna Skarbeck) whose SOE exploits matched his.

Alexander Wallace Fielding was born at Ootacamund, India, on November 26 1918. His family had long links with the Raj and his father was a major in the 50th Sikhs.

Xan’s mother died at his birth and he was largely brought up at Nice, where his grandmother’s family had considerable property. Fluent in French, he subsequently became a proficient classicist at Charterhouse and then studied briefly at Bonn, Munich and Freiberg Universities in Germany. He saw what was happening in that country and was so shocked at the attitude of the Chamberlain government that he came close to joining the Communist party.

At the end of the 1930s Fielding – who had recently been sacked as a sub-editor on the Cyprus Times and was by now unsuccessfully running a bar – found himself a misfit in the Mediterranean colony. Colonial officials abhorred his refusal to adopt their disdainful description of Cypriots as “Cyps”. That he was also reasonably fluent in Greek rendered him suspect to district commissioners, who could not speak the language of the people they administered.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, haunted by the thought that he might find himself trapped in Cyprus for the duration, he fled to Greece and found asylum on St Nicholas, an island owned by the anthropologist, Francis Turville Petre. Fielding dreaded not so much the battlefield as joining the conventional officers’ mess. But eventually news of the fall of France, the Dunkirk evacuation and the Battle of Britain induced a “stab of guilt”.

He returned to the colony and was commissioned into the Cyprus Regiment, which appealed to him on account of its perverse refusal to have any regimental pride.

On hearing in Cairo that Cretans had taken up arms against the Germans, he yearned, as he wrote later, to help lead “this concerted uprising of the technically non-combatant”.

When Crete fell, Fielding was interviewed in Egypt by SOE. He was asked: “Have you any personal objection to committing murder?” His response being deemed acceptable, Fielding was put ashore in Crete with a load of weapons and explosives by Cdr “Crap” Miers, VC, skipper of the submarine Torbay.

Fielding, who had adopted the style and dress of a Greek highland peasant, was accompanied by a First World War veteran, who was inseparable from his solar topee and unrecognisable as the village schoolmaster he was supposed to impersonate.

Fortunately it was not long before he teamed up with the far more kindred spirit of Patrick Leigh Fermor. Sporting a royal blue waistcoat, lined with scarlet shot silk and embroidered with black arabesques – and singing folk songs in several languages – “Paddy” Leigh Fermor enlivened their meetings in desolate mountain hideouts.

Fielding understood the need for reliable intelligence and communications, and he daringly set up his headquarters near Crete’s northern coastal road in the proximity of German units. He experienced, as he put it, a childish excitement in “brushing shoulders with the Wehrmacht” in the corridors of the town hall when calling on the mayor of Crete’s capital, Canea. And he found it entertaining to attend parties given for the Germans by Cretan associates feigning fraternisation.

Operationally, Crete had become a massive transit camp to reinforce the Afrika Korps. Among his intelligence successes Fielding signalled the timetable of transports taking off from the airfield at Maleme, enabling the RAF to intercept them.

After six months he was picked up by a Greek submarine and given a breather in Cairo. This gave him a chance to niggle about the inaccuracy of RAF air drops.

As a result Fielding was invited to observe, from the front turret of a Wellington, a drop arranged for Leigh Fermor high up in the White Mountains. Considerably shaken by the experience – not least the anti-aircraft fire- he returned to the island by Greek submarine at the end of 1942 and never complained again.

Following the Crete mission, he parachuted into the south of France in the summer of 1944. Bearing papers announcing him as Armand Pont-Leve, a young clerk in the Electric Company of Nimes – but codenamed “Cathedrale” – Fielding was received by Francis Cammaerts (alias “Roger”) and also by Christine Granville.

Fielding found them an “imposing pair”. Still in uniform, he felt “rather like a novice in the presence of a prior and prioress”. The canister containing his civilian clothes, with poison pill sewn into the jacket, was missing and he felt something of a freak in the baggy Charlie Chaplin trouserings produced by “Roger”.

Shortly afterwards he was in the Cammaert’s car when it was stopped at a road block near Digne. Questions revealed that SOE staff in Algiers had failed to stamp a current date on his otherwise impeccable papers. Worse Fielding had split a large sum of French money between “Roger” and himself, and the enemy twigged that the notes were all in the same series.

Christine Granville was not with them and news of their arrests reached her on the Italian border. Earlier she had been arrested, but had managed to convince her German interrogators that she was a local peasant girl.

She arrived at Digne prison and passed herself off as “Roger’s” wife – and, for good measure, as a niece of Gen Montgomery. She persuaded an Alsatian named Albert Schenck, a liaison officer between the French prefecture and the German Siercherheitsdienst, to co-operate by reminding him that the Allies had already landed on the Riviera.

Schenck put Christine on to a Belgian, Max Waem, who agreed to help, though his price was two million francs. SOE in Algiers dropped the money in. As a result Fielding and “Roger” were led out of prison. Believing themselves on the way to be shot, they were astonished to be welcomed by Christine who was waiting with a car.

Fielding was awarded the Croix de Guerre in France in 1944. Before the war in Europe ended, he returned to Crete; he was one of the first into liberated Athens.

During the war Fielding would often pass through Cairo, which became a sort of SOE headquarters for the Mediterranean and Middle East, and meet up with kindred spirits such as David Smiley, “Billy” McLean (qv), Peter Kemp (qv) and Alan Hare. In 1945 they decided the place to be was the Far East. As Fielding put it: “I was at a loose end and wanted to see what was going on out there.”

He spent some months in Cambodia, with a Japanese driver fighting the Vietminh. Then came as six-month stint with the Special Intelligence Service in Germany, and an appointment as United Nations observer in the Balkans.

Peacetime, though, brought disillusionment and a disturbing sense of misgiving. But in 1948 an encounter with the Marchioness of Bath at what she described as an “hilarious lunch” predestined the course of much of the rest of his life. She had recently taken up photography in place of painting; he was planning a book on Crete. The upshot was that Daphne Bath accompanied his return to the White Mountains to illustrate the book. They married in 1953.

Xan and Daphne Fielding with Dirk Bogarde on the set of Ill Met by Moonlight

Soon there was another and more welcome distraction. Michael Powell was filming Ill Met by Moonlight – the story of Paddy Leigh Fermor’s wartime abduction of Gen Kreipe, the German commander in Crete – and Fielding was hired as technical adviser. Dirk Bogarde played Leigh Fermor and Fielding lent him his Cretan guerrilla’s cloak and coached him in the part.

Patrick Leigh Fermor writes: After an early essay at painting, Xan Fielding wandered to Greece and the islands, added Greek to his list of languages and acquired a lasting attachment to the Greeks.

His life took on an adventurous and peripatetic turn. Early in 1942 he was landed in plain clothes and by submarine in German-occupied Crete. Germany was in full advance on all fronts and Crete was a strongly galvanised Luftwaffe base for the Desert War. The mountains were full of stray British and Commonwealth soldiers who had broken out of PoW camps or been left behind after the Battle, a mortal danger to the Cretans who hid and fed them.

Gathering and evacuating them from remote caves was among Xan’s first tasks. Establishing a network of agents and signalling information back to Cairo came next followed by parachute drops to the growing guerrilla bands and the e organisation of sabotage, and propaganda while maintaining liaison with the island Resistance leaders.

Light and fine-boned when suitably cloaked and daggered, Xan could be taken for a Cretan. With his determination, humour and intuitive sympathy and his quick mastery of dialect and songs, he made countless friends, and worked there precariously for two years.

In 1944, the war moving west, he was dropped in the Vercors region to the French maquis. He returned to Crete for a final two months before the liberation, then headed for Cambodia on further SOE missions and spent some time on the Tibet border before returning to the West Bank in Greece.

Xan commanded a mixed Allied unit supervising the 1946 elections, and during prolonged leave in Rhodes, his friend Lawrence Durrell – who was press officer there – insisted on printing a set of Fielding’s poems, which make one wish he had written many more. Chafing at Oxford life as a demobilised undergraduate, he worked for a spell with the Beaverbrook Press and found it even less congenial.

These years were perplexed by tangled Dickensian lawsuits in Nice: family property had been unrecoverably misappropriated in the occupation. During that harassing time he wrote Hide and Seek, an exciting account of his experiences in Crete.

Soon after he married Daphne Bath, and they travelled all over the island (of Crete) for his long book The Stronghold, a combination of travel and history.

They first settled in Portugal. Then a long sojourn in the Kasbah of Tangier – perhaps inspired by the film Pepe le Moko – gave rise to his book Corsair Country, the history of the pirates of the Barbary Coast.

Near Uzez in Languedoc, their next long halt, his excellent French suggested translation as a profession and he put more than 30 books into English, including many by Larteguy and Chevalier, and Malrauz’s Les Noyers d’Altenborg [Ed: and perhaps better known Planet of the Apes and Bridge on the River Kwai]

After a friendly separation from Daphne he married Agnes (“Magouche”) Phillips, daughter of Adml John II Magruder, of the United States Navy. They were extremely happy.

Xan and Magouche took root in the Serriana de Ronda, which looks across Adalusian ilex-woods to the Atlas. There he edited the correspondence of his friend and neighbour, Gerald Brennan, with Ralph Partridge, and continued his translations.

Xan’s own book, The Money Spinner, about the Monaco casino – the hazards of gambling had always fascinated him – came out in 1977. Later, Winds of the World gave free rein to his interest in atmospheric commotions and their mythology.

In the winter of 1990 One Man and his Time appeared; it described the life, and the Asian, Ethiopian and Arabian travels, of his old friend “Billy” McLean (qv), the wartime commander of the SOE mission in Albania.

At almost the same time Xan was smitten by cancer and he and Magouche moved to Paris for therapy. Though fatally stricken for the last eight months, he was suddenly, three months ago, granted a reprise which exactly coincided with the ceremonies for the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Crete and the Resistance.

At a special parade of the Greek navy at Souda, he and six Allied officers were decorated with the commemorative medal of the Resistance, and for 10 days he visited scores of mountain friends from 50 years before. His return was everywhere greeted with feasting and songs.

Xan Fielding was a gifted, many-sided, courageous and romantic figure, deeply committed to this friends, civilised and bohemian at the same time, with a thoughtful style leavened by spontaneous gaiety and a dash of recklessness. He was altogether outstanding.

August 20 1991


Washington Post obituary: Patrick Leigh Fermor, British adventurer, writer and war hero

By Matt Schudel

First Published in The Washington Post, Sunday, June 12 2011

Long before Patrick Leigh Fermor died June 10 at age 96, his extraordinary achievements as a writer, adventurer and war hero had entered into legend. At 18, he set out across Europe on foot, reciting poetry along the way, sleeping in a barn one night, in a castle the next.

He rode into battle on horseback in a Greek cavalry charge in the 1930s. He went into disguise as a shepherd on the island of Crete and, in one of the most daring escapades of World War II, pulled off the kidnapping of a German general. In a subsequent movie about it, he was portrayed by Dirk Bogarde.

Mr. Leigh Fermor was a constant traveler who wrote books about monks in France, islands in the Caribbean and the people of Greece. Finally, more than four decades after his solitary transcontinental trek as a teenager, he wrote two books, “A Time of Gifts” and “Between the Woods and the Water,” which have become classics of modern travel literature.

His books, composed in a striking, original prose style, led British author Jan Morris to pronounce Mr. Leigh Fermor “beyond cavil the greatest of living travel writers.”

Although he lived in Greece for many years, Mr. Leigh Fermor died at his home in the English county of Worcestershire. The cause of death was not disclosed.

Until the end, he remained the classic British writer-adventurer, a blend of casual diffidence, cool confidence and infinite charm. Historian and journalist Max Hastings called Mr. Leigh Fermor “perhaps the most brilliant conversationalist of his time.”

Mr. Leigh Fermor’s formal education ended when he was expelled from a British boarding school for boys, ostensibly for sneaking away to see girls.

“He is a dangerous mixture of sophistication and recklessness,” a housemaster wrote in an official report, “which makes one anxious about his influence on other boys.” Continue reading

Well Met By Sunlight

This is from an excellent website devoted to Powell and Pressburger the producers of Ill Met by Moonlight, and recalls the  Fielding’s first meeting with Dirk Bogarde.

By Daphne Fielding (wife of Technical Advisor and SOE agent on Crete, Xan Fielding)
From her book  The Nearest Way Home (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1970)

Daphne writes in her chapter, “Well Met by Sunlight”…

Xan and Daphne Fielding with Dirk Bogarde

Long before leaving England, long before our journey along the Barbary Coast, long before our marriage in fact, Xan had been asked by the film director Michael Powell to act as technical adviser on the production of Ill Met by Moonlight, the story of the abduction of the German General Kreipe by Paddy Leigh Fermor in enemy-occupied Crete. Afterwards the project had been postponed until Xan had almost forgotten it. Now, five years later, he was summoned by telegram to the south of France where work on the film was due to begin in a few days’ time.

… Xan agreed to take Salote [one of their dogs] with him, leaving me to follow with Sunflower [the other dog] as soon as I had arranged with a newspaper to write a series of articles on the making of the film, which would give me a valid reason for joining the unit.

Xan wrote to me a few days later from Nice to say that in spite of the urgency of his summons there was no sign of Michael Powell or of any film unit in the vicinity. Meanwhile he was enjoying the luxury of the Hotel Negresco, where rooms had been booked for him …

I arrived just in time. On the very next morning a car turned up at the Negresco to take us to Draguignan, which had been chosen as the unit headquarters. Here we learnt that the actor cast for the role of Paddy was Dirk Bogarde. He was not staying at Draguignan, however–there was no proper place for a star in a little market town already overcrowded with the production staff, camera crews, sound engineers … but in St. Raphael, on the coast, where Xan was to meet him before shooting started.

Though I looked forward to meeting him too, I was rather nervous about it, for in spite of my newspaper commission I still felt like an interloper. I was almost relieved when our repeated attempts to reach him were in vain: Mr. Bogarde was busy, had just gone out, was not available. Eventually, in the bar of his hotel, we ran to earth his manager Tony Forwood, whose blue eyes sized us up in a wary glance, then suddenly twinkled. “So you’re the Fieldings, are you?” he said. “Dirk’s upstairs in his room. I’ll go and fetch him.”

When he reappeared with him a few minutes late they both seemed to be enjoying some private joke, which added to my confusion, especially as I happened at that moment to be trying to extricate myself from the dogs’ leads which had wound themselves round my legs. Dirk’s smile turned to a broad grin as he watched my antics. “Just how many legs have you got?” he asked.

After the ice was broken, at ease with him, I said, “You seemed to be avoiding us on purpose.”

“I was”, he admitted. “Mickey had told me about Xan’s war record and I’d conjured up a dreadful picture of you both — ‘The Major and his Wife’, a sort of Osbert Lancaster cartoon. I couldn’t bear the idea of meeting you. If it hadn’t been for Tony …”

… “Yes”, said Tony. “I told him Xan didn’t have a clipped moustache and you weren’t wearing a regimental brooch, so we took the plunge.”

“Anyway, now we’re met”, Dirk concluded.

“Well Met by Sunlight”, I said to myself.

Two days later, after the cast had assembled, there was a final reading of the script followed by a wardrobe meeting. Though some of the costumes did not meet with Xan’s approval — “they look more Ruritanian than Cretan”, I heard him complain — Dirk at least could not have been dressed more authentically, for I lent him my Cretan guerrilla’s cloak, and Xan had brought with him a black silk headkerchief which had been part of his own wartime disguise and which he now taught Dirk to bind over his brow in the proper Cretan fashion.

Dirk was rather alarmed by this unfamiliar headgear. “What on earth do I look like?” he asked.

“The genuine article”, Xan truthfully assured him. “Very dashing. Just like Paddy.”

Next morning the whole unit was up before dawn, ready to move off for the first day’s shooting and, as the sun rose, the long convoy of char-a-bancs, headed by the director’s yellow Land Rover, was on its way to the chosen location up in the hills.

I had been slightly worried about my unofficial position. Was I entitled to a seat on one of the buses? And was about Sunflower and Salote [her dogs]? With characteristic thoughtfulness, Dirk solved the problem for me. “There’s plenty of room in my car”, he said, “for you and Xan and the two dogs. I’ll call for you.” And so we set off, in undeservedly grand style, in the star’s Bentley.

This was to be our daily programme for several weeks and I never tired of it … The locations had of course been chosen for their suitability, but to me they seemed to have been specially selected for their beauty and variety …

It was also fascinating to watch the various members of the cast at such close quarters, to see each one’s interpretation of his role. For the first time I realised what an exacting and exhausting job film-acting must be, especially for anyone as meticulous as Dirk Bogarde. Before each take he would sit by himself, so withdrawn that his nervous tension was contagious. Throughout working hours he remained apart and abstracted, hardly reverting to his own character even when off the set. But once the strain was over — during the luncheon break, for instance, or when packing up for the day — he resumed his normal personality and the relief from his intense concentration would lead to an outburst of high spirits and gaiety which usually took the form of teasing me.

Knowing that I was in awe of the director, and knowing too that shyness makes me clumsier than usual, he would score off me by suddenly saying, “Look out, Daphne, those dogs of yours are eating Mickey’s sandwiches”, or, “I didn’t like to tell you at the time, but during that last take one of your six legs was almost in shot.” I became so apprehensive lest Salote or Sunflower, or indeed myself, might unconsciously stray within the range of the camera … I took exaggerated measures of precaution … and would almost take to my heels at the sight of Michael Powell for fear of a reprimand.

During the last stages of the production we all moved from Draguignan up to Peira Cava, a skiing resort close to the Italian border, and here Paddy Leigh Fermor joined us for a few days.

Paddy’s impending visit had been dreaded by Dirk as much as the prospect of meeting Xan and me. I sympathised with him, realising how awkward it must be for an actor to play a living character when that character is watching him at it. Xan tried to reassure him:

“Don’t worry, Paddy’s not a typical army officer or guerilla leader. He’s not a typical anything, he’s himself, a romantic figure, in the Byron tradition. Very erudite, a sort of Gypsy Scholar, with an inexhaustible fund of incidental knowledge. He can talk to you for hours about hagiography or heraldry or …”

“He sounds too damned intellectual for me.”

But Paddy’s charm and adroitness immediately overcame Dirk’s prejudices, in spite of an incident on the night of his arrival which might have affected their future friendship.

One of Paddy’s wartime henchmen, Ciahali Akoumianakis, who had played a leading part in the abduction of the general, was also attached to the unit as a technical adviser and had brought with him from Crete a demijohn of tsikoudia, the potent local spirit, which he had been saving for just such as occasion as this. “We’ll have a proper Cretan glendi”, he said but, since no other member of the unit would touch the stuff, it remained for Paddy, Xan and myself to help him celebrate in the appropriate fashion — with some trepidation on my part, for I knew from personal experience that a glendi involves a great deal of noisy singing and dancing and is likely to last all night.

By midnight, long after everyone else in the hotel had gone to bed, the tsikoudia was beginning to take effect, and Paddy and Xan had broken into song. Soon the bar, empty but for the four of us, was resounding with matinades punctuated by the thump of feet performing the pentozali.

“Please stop it”, I begged them. “You’re keeping everyone awake.”

“But we’ve only just begun”, they objected, “and the bottle’s still half-full.”

“In that case I’m going to bed”, I announced, foreseeing, as I fled, an irate Michael Powell appearing in the bar like Christ in the temple.

Even from upstairs the sound of revelry, though not quite so deafening, continued for some time, unabated. I was on the point of going back to make one last attempt at stopping it, when it came to an end. A few minutes later Xan stumbled in.

“Dirk came down”, he announced.

“No wonder. Was he furious?”

“He looked a bit angry. But all he said was, ‘Some people have to work in the morning and want to get to sleep.’ He’s right of course. I don’t blame him. Anyway, Paddy and I have just slipped a note under his door to say we’re sorry.”

In the morning Dirk did not even mention the matter, nor did anyone else in the unit. But Paddy did. At breakfast he casually remarked to Michael Powell: “Who the devil was making that fiendish din last night? I couldn’t sleep a wink.”

Such frivolity and exuberance endeared him to everyone, though these qualities did not accord with the preconceived idea of him which some members of the unit had formed. “I just can’t see him capturing a German general”, Dirk’s dresser said. “He’s not the strong, silent type at all.”

“What about Major Fielding?” Dirk asked.

“Major Field? Oh, yes. He looks like a f…..g little killer.”

Whether this was meant as a compliment or not, from then on Xan was referred to on the set as F.L.K.

[At the conclusion of the film, the Fieldings drove with Dirk to Paris to catch a flight and en route stayed in the Hermitage in Digne “one of Dirk’s favourite hotels in France.”]

For Xan, however, Digne had other associations. It was here, while working as a secret agent during the occupation, that he had been arrested by the Gestapo and sentenced to death. In fact the house in which he had been imprisoned was next door and we could see it from our bedroom window. Dirk was extremely upset when Xan mentioned this to him over dinner.

“You should have told me at once”, he said. “We could easily have stayed somewhere else. We’ll move out now if you like, it must be horrid for you …’

“Not at all”, Xan told him. “I don’t mind a bit. In fact I’m glad to be back here in such different circumstances. After all this time. Twelve years … Good heavens, it’s twelve years exactly, to the very day!”

“This calls for a bottle of champagne”, said Dirk.

Wandering scholar and war hero: the traveller’s tale

By Peter Terzian

November 27, 2005

On the telephone from his home in Greece, Patrick Leigh Fermor describes what he does as “travel writing” but adds “I hate the phrase.” Indeed, calling him a travel writer is a little like calling Proust a gossip columnist. Rather, Leigh Fermor is a great writer whose subject is travel.

In “A Time of Gifts” (1977) and “Between the Woods and the Water” (1986), he narrated two-thirds of what he calls his “great journey” – an 18-month walk he took across Europe in the years before World War II. (New York Review Books has just reprinted both volumes.). Readers have been waiting for the concluding book ever since, and some interviewers write that he is “pained” when the subject arises. But in the first few minutes of our conversation, Leigh Fermor, now 90 (“Unbelievable!” he says; “I never thought I would attain this dignified age”), volunteers that he is currently working on the journey’s end. “At the moment, I’m going down the Black Sea coast, the Bulgarian coast, halfway down it.” He is, he says, “the opposite of a Deadline Dick,” and a rigorous self-editor. “I cut like anything, because I’m inclined to overwrite a bit.”

Leigh Fermor “got the sack from school early,” he says, “because I was sort of useless. I was rather undisciplined.” At “18 and 3/4,” he pulled on a pair of hobnailed boots, packed a rucksack with some clothes, an “Oxford Book of English Verse” and a volume of Horace (both soon lost), and crossed the English Channel by ship to the Hook of Holland.

From there, on foot, he followed the Rhine through Germany and into Austria, where he met the Danube. After a detour to Prague, he resumed the river’s course through Slovakia and Hungary. His youth and openness brought him into contact with peasants, students, rich country gentlefolk and fellow vagabonds.

Almost without exception, Leigh Fermor describes the men and women he encountered as hospitable and generous, amused at his adventure and happy to provide him with conversation, lodging and bundles of food for the road. In a cafe in Stuttgart, Germany, Lise and Annie, two flirtatious students, picked him up for a weekend of parties and dancing. In a town on the banks of the Danube, over bottles of  Langenlois wine, a polymath mapped for him, on the back of a newspaper, the tribal wanderings of Huns, Visigoths and Vandals. (“This was the way to be taught history!” Leigh Fermor writes.) In Slovakia, he stayed with Baron Pips Schey, who introduced him to Proust’s work. As they sat up late in armchairs and walked through the spring countryside, the older man unraveled “an entire mythology” of fin-de-siècle Central Europe.

Walking alone, the teenage Leigh Fermor passed the time by reciting poetry. In “A Time of Gifts,” he details his memorized “private anthology”: “a great deal of Shakespeare … most of Keats’ odes; the usual pieces of Tennyson, Browning and Coleridge,” Kipling, “some improper stretches of Chaucer,” mastered chiefly for popularity purposes at school, Carroll and Lear and “The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.” The list continues, through French, Greek and Latin, for three pages. (When he exhausted his repertoire, he declaimed verse backwards.) “I think people are absolutely wrong not making children learn things by heart at school,” he says. “Because if they learn it at a very young age, it’s with them for life.”

In “Between the Woods and the Water,” Leigh Fermor tramps through Mitteleuropa. It was “a season of great delight,” he writes, in which he hopscotched, via a series of introductions, among the castles of learned aristocrats. He rode horseback through Hungary and hiked the mountains of Romania (where he met a family of shepherds, gold-panning Gypsies, a rabbi at a logging camp and a nest of enormous eagles). The book leaves the 19-year-old at the Iron Gates gorge, between the Carpathian and Balkan mountains.

Much of the books’ appeal lies in Leigh Fermor’s exuberant, witty voice. He shares his delight in every piece of historical knowledge uncovered, every medieval castle stumbled upon, every alien language heard. At one point, he reflects on 16th century German painting  (“The severe Bürgermeister’s features of the Holy Child have the ferocity, sometimes, of a snake-strangling infant Hercules”). Elsewhere, he attempts to locate “the coast of Bohemia,” a setting in Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” long thought mythical.

During his trip, Leigh Fermor took plentiful, detailed notes and transcribed conversations. “I scribbled away like mad every night,” he tells me. Why did he wait 40 years before writing about his walking tour? “It’s a mystery,” he says; “I think it’s possibly I was putting it down for the right time, like putting down a wine to drink.” After the journey came a romance with a young painter – “a bit older than me, terribly nice” – and two idyllic years in Moldavia at her family’s “very tumbledown old country house, full of books. … I did a tremendous amount of reading there, more than writing.” When the war broke out, he says, “I didn’t realize it would take so long a time, and I left all my notes there like an idiot.” After the war, the Communist regime forced the family out of their home. Each member was allowed to bring one suitcase, and one of them thought to salvage Leigh Fermor’s diary. It took, in all, 26 years for him to be reunited with his notebook.

He visited Greece after his great walk, and his connection to the country deepened during World War II, when he was stationed on the island of Crete as a member of the British Special Operations Executive. The organization assisted the Cretan resistance after the Germans occupied the island, and Leigh Fermor spent much of his time hiding in remote caves dressed as a shepherd. In 1944, he led the kidnapping of the commanding German general, spiriting him off to Egypt by submarine. In “A Time of Gifts,” he recalls the moment when his captive began to recite a Horatian ode, and Leigh Fermor chimed in to complete it. “For a long moment, the war had ceased to exist.”

He feels so strongly about his time on the island that when asked whether he feels he’s achieved all he wants out of life, he replies quickly, “I should have written more about Crete.” His second in command, William Stanley Moss, published a book about the escapade, “Ill Met by Moonlight,” in 1950. (Dirk Bogarde played Leigh Fermor in the 1957 Michael Powell-Emeric Pressberger film based on the book.) “It would be rather old hat if I did it again,” Leigh Fermor says. “But there are lots of Cretans that I’d have liked to mention because they were so extraordinary.”

He wrote about other regions of Greece in “Mani” (1958) and “Roumeli” (1966), to be reissued by New York Review Books in May. (He has published three other books about his travels: “The Traveller’s Tree: A Journey Through the Caribbean Islands,” in 1950; “A Time to Keep Silence,” about his sojourns at two French monasteries, in 1957; and “Three Letters From the Andes,” in 1991.)

Leigh Fermor has spent the past four decades living in the southern Peloponnese, in the house that he designed with his wife, Joan, an architectural photographer, who died two years ago. They built their home using limestone blocks carved out of a nearby mountain range, hiring a local mason they met “purely by chance in the road. … He was a wonderfully inventive chap. He said to me, ‘For seven generations we’ve all been master masons, and we’ve all played the violin.'”

Together, Leigh Fermor and Joan had a life of “undiluted happiness,” he says. “We had the same ideas. She was highly literate, very charming and amusing, and a marvelous companion.” They traveled to the Far East and throughout Europe, “but mainly we lived here, and we’ve got thousands of books, so one’s got everything one needs here, and the sea handy to jump into.”

He takes great pleasure in describing the art-filled main room and the gardens, with “a descending staircase of olive groves with a lot of cypresses scattered among them” and “shady places where you can sit and write and read.” He is a consummate host to the many friends who come to Greece. “Do you know, we’ve been here for about 38 years. I went through the visitor’s book last week and counted up – spread over this period of time – 1,220 people have stayed under the roof.” I express astonishment. “I don’t know … It sounds like a milling mob, but it’s never that way.”

Shelves of reference books line Leigh Fermor’s dining room. He paraphrases T.S. Eliot, who told a mutual friend that “you must have books of reference handy for mealtimes, because that’s where questions crop up about history or literature, and these problems, one always thinks one will write them down and remember them after, but one doesn’t.” He lists the titles of some of his favorites: the “Encyclopedia Britannica,” “Lempriere’s Classical Dictionary,” “the ‘Oxford Companions to Literature’ in various countries, and art, religion and so on,” and “the thing that’s absolutely invaluable, ‘Chambers International Biographical Dictionary’ … It’s tip-top.”

Leigh Fermor laments that his “great traveling days I suppose are going downhill a bit,” in the same breath that he mentions recent trips taken to France, Spain and Morocco. (He also lives a quarter of the year in England.) I ask him if he’s traveled much in America. “No! I’ve spent a fortnight only. It’s most extraordinary. I’ve always meant to do it. And that fortnight was a very curious one, because I was invited there by the Pan-Cretan Association of America, and they all live in Long Island. So I went there and I saw really nothing but Greeks!”