John Hampson (novelist)

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John Hampson
John Hampson by Howard Coster.jpg
Portrait of John Hampson by Howard Coster
Born (1901-03-26)26 March 1901
Handsworth, Birmingham
Died 26 December 1955(1955-12-26) (aged 54)
Nationality English

John Frederick Norman Hampson Simpson (26 March 1901 – 26 December 1955), who wrote as John Hampson, was an English novelist.

Best known for his 1931 novel Saturday Night at the Greyhound – an unexpected success for the Hogarth Press – he was a member of the Birmingham Group of working class authors which included Walter Allen, Leslie Halward, Walter Brierley and Peter Chamberlain. His elder brother was the motorcycle racer, Jimmy Simpson (James Hampson-Simpson).

Early life[edit]

Hampson was born in Handsworth in Birmingham, the fifth of eight children of a prosperous and prominent family who had made their money in brewing and the theatre. The collapse of the family business in 1907 left them in financial difficulties, however, and they moved to Leicester where Hampson's parents found work in a variety of less prestigious occupations. Unable to complete his formal education due to ill health, Hampson worked in a munitions factory during World War I and spent the following years working in a variety of jobs in Nottingham and Derbyshire, including working as a waiter, a chef and a billiard-marker, and running a pub with his sister. A conviction for shoplifting books saw him serve a prison term in Wormwood Scrubs.[1]

In 1925 he was offered employment by a wealthy family in Dorridge, Solihull, to act as a residential nurse and companion for their son Ronald, who had Down syndrome. The security this provided enabled him to start writing, and he made a number of literary friends including Forrest Reid, J. R. Ackerley, William Plomer, John Lehmann, and E. M. Forster.[2]


On Plomer's advice Hampson sent three manuscripts to Leonard and Virginia Woolf's Hogarth Press. Despite considering the longer O Providence "much the better book", they selected Saturday Night at the Greyhound as most suitable as a first publication.[3] The third manuscript Go Seek a Stranger, the first novel Hampson had written, was to remain unpublished due to its explicit homosexual subject-matter,[2] though Virginia Woolf later remarked "I still think his first purely sodomitic novel the best".[3]

Although they considered Hampson a good writer the Woolfs had been pessimistic about his commercial potential, but Saturday Night at the Greyhound was to prove a success both critically and in terms of sales - quickly selling out its first print run and being reprinted twice in its first six months.[3] Its later paperback edition by Penguin Books sold 80,000 copies, and it was published in the US by Alfred Knopf and in France by Gallimard and republished again in 1950 and 1986.[2] His short stories were published in prestigious literary magazines throughout the 1930s but his second published novel O Providence sold less well than his first, and his next - Foreign English, based on his 1931 trip to Berlin - was rejected by the Hogarth Press, whom he subsequently left for Heinemann. He was to publish five more novels, but none matched the success of his first.[3]

In 1933, through the American critic Edward J. O'Brien, Hampson met Walter Allen and the other writers who came to be known as the Birmingham Group[4] including Leslie Halward, Peter Chamberlain and Walter Brierley, whose novel Means Test Man Hampson provided assistance with. Hampson became a committed anti-Nazi following a visit to Berlin in 1933, and in 1936, at the suggestion of W. H. Auden, married the German actress Therese Giehse so that she could obtain a British passport and escape from Nazi Germany.[2] He worked for the BBC during World War II and visited India in 1948.

Hampson was of notable appearance: he was of very small stature, had a protruding lower jaw and searching eyes; he invariably dressed all in brown and wrote in brown ink.[5]


The death of his employer in 1955 saw him leave the house in Dorridge when it was sold, and he died of a heart attack lonely and virtually homeless on 26 December.[1]


  • Go Find a Stranger unpublished, manuscript believed lost
  • Saturday Night at the Greyhound London (1931) (Reprinted, Penguin (1937), Valancourt Books 2014) Gallimard, Paris (?date) tr. Marie-Jeanne Viel as Samedi Soir Au Greyhound, tr. Tartessos, 1943 as Noche de Sabado en Greyhoud
  • "The Sight of Blood" (1931) Story
  • Two Stories (The Mare's Nest & The Long Shadow) (1931)
  • O Providence (1932)
  • Strip Jack Naked London (1934); New York (1934) published as Brothers and Lovers
  • "Man About the House" London 1935 (285 copies) Story
  • The Family Curse London (1936), New York (1936)
  • "The Larches" 1938 with L. A. Pavey
  • Care of The Grand (1939)
  • The English at Table (1944) (in the Britain in Pictures series)
  • A Bag of Stones (1952)


  1. ^ a b Skidmore, Gil (2003-11-28). "Papers of John Hampson". Archives Hub. Archived from the original on 2012-12-22. Retrieved 2012-03-04.
  2. ^ a b c d Croft, Andy (2004). "Simpson, John Frederick Norman Hampson (1901–1955)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2008-12-27.
  3. ^ a b c d Willis, J. H. Jr. (1992). Leonard and Virginia Woolf As Publishers, 1917-1941: The Hogarth Press. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press. pp. 187–189. ISBN 0-8139-1361-6. Retrieved 2009-01-01.
  4. ^ Hawtree, Christopher (1995-03-02). "Obituary: Walter Allen". The Independent. Newspaper Publishing Plc. p. 18.[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ Carpenter, Humphrey (2010). W. H. Auden: A Biography. London: Faber and Faber. p. 196. ISBN 0-571-26009-8. Simpson/Hampson, a kindly man who worked as a male nurse to the mentally-defective son of a family in a Birmingham suburb, was physically tiny, and of peculiar appearance , not least because he chose to dress entirely in brown