Gerald Bernard Francis Hamilton (1 November 1890 – 1970) was a British memoirist, critic and internationalist known as "the wickedest man in Europe".
Born Gerald Frank Hamilton Souter in Shanghai on 1 November 1890, he was educated at Lambrook preparatory and Rugby School in England. Hamilton counted among his friends Winston Churchill, Robin Maugham, Tallulah Bankhead and Christopher Isherwood, who wrote of Hamilton's remarkable personality and frequently shady dealings in his literary memoir Christopher and His Kind.
Hamilton's father was a businessman of Scottish descent with commercial interests in China, and his mother was English. Hamilton converted to Roman Catholicism. He hinted that his lineage was "faintly ducal", but it is unknown if he was directly related to anyone with a title. According to Anthony Powell, all that had to be done to disprove that claim was to look up his father and grandfather that named him and not found in any title registry. He was interned in the United Kingdom during the First World War because, he claimed, of his association with Roger Casement, the Irish nationalist later executed for treason. Hamilton's own homosexuality was only a thinly veiled secret. Churchill had the Communist-sympathising Hamilton temporarily interned during the Second World War because of his vocal opposition to the war.
Hamilton was employed at various times by The Times as its German sales representative. He was known as a fixer for Willi Münzenberg, "the notorious communist, who presided in Berlin on behalf of Moscow over the doings of the League Against Imperialism and Friends of Soviet Russia" (as British Intelligence described him), and as a go-between or informer by various agencies, including Sinn Féin, Special Branch, and the British Military Mission in Berlin. At one time, he shared accommodation with "the Great Beast", Aleister Crowley.
He served prison sentences for bankruptcy, theft, gross indecency and being a threat to national security
Hamilton served as the model for Isherwood's character Arthur Norris in his novel Mr Norris Changes Trains (1935) (published in the U.S. as The Last of Mr Norris). Hamilton derived from this the title for his own memoir Mr Norris and I (published in 1956). An earlier memoir by Hamilton, As Young as Sophocles, was published in 1937, and a third memoir The Way It Was with Me was published in 1969 – all three books giving wholly different versions of even the most basic biographical information. Other accounts of Hamilton's life provide further obfuscation; Robin Maugham's five-part "exposé" in The People was in fact concocted in collusion with Hamilton, while John Symonds's Conversations with Gerald (1974) allowed Hamilton to spin yet more yarns.
In 1940, Hamilton became the lover of jazz bandleader Ken "Snakehips" Johnson, who was 20 years his junior. They moved together at 91 Kinnerton Street in Belgravia and later bought a cottage called "Little Basing" in Vicarage Road, Bray, Berkshire, where Johnson could go sailing, which was one of his hobbies.
Hamilton was at that cottage, when he received a phone call on 9 March 1941, informing him of Johnson's death and asking him to come identify the body. He later recalled: "Again that awful feeling of nausea which I had felt when France fell, and again that sensation of the ground slipping from beneath my feet." From then on, Hamilton kept a picture of Johnson in a white tuxedo with white satin facings at all time with him, calling him "my husband." He also had a picture of "My wife", Suzy Renou, a close friend whom he had wed in a marriage of convenience in 1933 for a payment of £20,000.
Apart from Hamilton's works of autobiography, his books include Jacaranda, an account of a trip to South-Africa; Emma in Blue, about Lady Emma Hamilton and particularly her friendship with Marie Caroline of Austria while in Naples; and Blood Royal, a history of Queen Victoria's immediate descendants and relatives in Europe, and the haemophilia that afflicted the family. Hamilton died in 1970.
In popular culture
Later in his life Hamilton became friends with John Symonds, author and editor, who wrote Conversations with Gerald about their acquaintance. There is a classic account of Hamilton in later life in Robin Maugham's second volume of autobiography, Search for Nirvana (1979). Hamilton was portrayed by Toby Jones in the BBC production Christopher and His Kind (2011).
- As Young as Sophocles, Secker & Warburg, 1937
- Mr Norris and I, Allan Wingate, 1956
- The Way it Was With Me, Leslie Frewin, London, 1969, ISBN 0-09-096560-4
- Jacaranda, Sidgwick & Jackson, London, 1961
- Emma in Blue, Allan Wingate, 1957
- Blood Royal, Times Publishing/ Anthony Gibbs & Phillips, 1964
- Cullen, Tom. The Man Who Was Norris: The life of Gerald Hamilton. Daedalus, 2014; ISBN 9781909232433
- Page, Norman. Auden and Isherwood: the Berlin Years. Palgrave Macmillan, 2000.
- Symonds, John. Conversations with Gerald, Duckworth, 1974; ISBN 0-7156-0815-0
- Bureau of Military History
- Gerald Hamilton: A Biographical Sketch of a Friend & Acquaintance of Aleister Crowley (dead link)
- Works by or about Gerald Hamilton in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- The Man Who Was Norris: The life of Gerald Hamilton, Tom Cullen, Daedalus, 2014.
- The Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, Shanghai, baptism register number 180, 1 January 1891. Source: microfilm, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
- Phil Baker, ‘Hamilton, Gerald Francis Bernard (1890–1970)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, May 2013; online edn, Sept 2013 accessed 26 Dec 2013
- Daily Telegraph, 24 October 1974.
- Review of The Man Who Was Norris, The Spectator. Retrieved 14 December 201.
- Review, The Spectator. Retrieved 14 December 2015.
- Bourne, Stephen (2017). Fighting Proud: The Untold Story of the Gay Men Who Served in Two World Wars. Bloomsbury. ISBN 9781786732156.
- Cullen, Tom (2014). The Man who was Norris: The Life of Gerald Hamilton. Dedalus. ISBN 9781909232433.
- Symonds, John. Conversations with Gerald, pg. 209 Duckworth, 1974; ISBN 0-7156-0815-0
- "Christopher and His Kind", BFI. Retrieved 6 June 2021