Christopher Sykes (author)
|This article does not cite any references or sources. (November 2006)|
Christopher Hugh Sykes FRSL (17 November 1907 – 8 December 1986) was an English author. Born into a well-off north-of-England land-owning family, he was the second son of the diplomat Sir Mark Sykes (1879–1919). His uncle, also Christopher Sykes, was, for a time, a close friend of Edward VII.
Educated at Downside and the University of Oxford (Christ Church), Sykes was, for a time in his youth, in the Foreign Office, including a stint as an attaché(1928–29) in the British Embassy in Berlin, where Harold Nicolson was then Counsellor. This was followed by a year (1930–31) at the British Legation in Teheran. An early hero was Aubrey Herbert, remembered now as the man who inspired John Buchan's classic thriller, Greenmantle.
Though Sykes thought of making politics his career, his stammer and also his artistic and imaginative disposition indicated that political life was not for him. At the School of Oriental Studies in London, he devoted himself to Persian studies in 1933 before travelling in Central Asia during 1933-34 with Robert Byron, who later wrote The Road to Oxiana recounting their long expedition in what was then an almost unexplored country.
On their return to England, Sykes and Byron wrote a novel together under the name of "Richard Waughburton, Innocence and Design", published in 1935. A little later, Sykes and Cyril Connolly planned a book jointly with the title of The Little Voice. In common with other projects of Connolly's, the book never got beyond the planning stages. Sykes published a biography of the German Arabist, Wassmus (1936), a book that he did not include in his list of his publications in later years. Sykes's memoir of Byron, killed at sea in 1941, was included in his book, Four Studies in Loyalty.
When war broke out in 1939, Sykes was commissioned in the 7th battalion of the Green Howards. Eventually, he was posted to GHC in Cairo; during his time there, he wrote a light novel, High Minded Murder (1944), something of a roman à clef of wartime Cairo. Following that, he was posted to Teheran before being transferred to the Special Air Service, where he worked with the French Resistance, an experience which inspired an essay in his "Four Studies in Loyalty".
Nowadays Sykes is especially remembered for his biography of his friend, Evelyn Waugh (the two were both Catholics, but with the notable difference — mentioned by Waugh's son Auberon when reviewing Sykes's book in the November 1975 issue of Books and Bookmen — that whereas Waugh converted to Roman Catholicism in his twenties, Sykes was a cradle Catholic) and, to a lesser extent, for his classic history of the British Mandate of Palestine, Crossroads to Israel (1965). He also wrote several books of fiction and lives of Orde Wingate, the general sometimes known as the "Lawrence of Judea" (a phrase that Wingate deplored); Lady Astor, who, born in Virginia, was one of the first women to sit in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom; and Adam von Trott zu Solz, executed following his part in the failed 20 July plot to assassinate Hitler.
After 1945 Sykes worked for many years in BBC Radio, as well as writing for several British and American periodicals, including The New Republic, The Spectator, Books and Bookmen, The Observer and the short-lived English Review Magazine. He was invested as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
Marriage and family
He married Camilla Georgiana Russell, daughter of Sir Thomas Wentworth Russell (Russell Pasha) and Evelyn Dorothea Temple Moore, on 25 October 1936. Their son Mark Richard Sykes (born 9 June 1937), by his second marriage, is father to six children including New York-based fashion writer and novelist Plum Sykes. The writer and photographer, Christopher Simon Sykes, is a nephew.
- Wassmus, a biography (1936)
- High-Minded Murder, a novel, (1944)
- "Four Studies in Loyalty", essays including a memoir of Robert Byron (1946)
- Answer to Question 33, a novel (1948)
- "Character and Situations"; six short stories (1949)
- A Song of a Shirt, a novel (1953)
- "Two Studies in Virtue", two essays (1955)
- Orde Wingate, a biography (1959)
- Crossroads to Israel (1965)
- Troubled Loyalty, a biography of Adam Von Trott zu Solz (1968)
- Nancy: The Life of Lady Astor (1972)
- Evelyn Waugh, a biography (1975)
As "Richard Waughburton" (written jointly with Robert Byron): Innocence and Design (1935)
Dictionary of National Biography Cooper, Artemis, Cairo in the War, 1990 Lewis, Jeremy, Cyril Connolly, 1997