Thursday, November 4, 2021

Hannen Swaffer

Hannen Swaffer (b. Lindfield, Sussex, 1 November 1879; d. London, 16 January 1962) 

Charles Frederick Hannen Swaffer was the oldest of nine children (one died as an infant) of Henry Joseph Swaffer (1858-1932), a draper, and Eugenie Katherine Hannen (1858-1947), who were married in 1879.  He was educated at Stroud Green grammar school in Kent. 

He quickly turned reporter and critic, and joined The Daily Mail in 1902, The Daily Sketch in 1913, and after a few other stints he became the drama critic at The Daily Express in 1926, and in 1931 joined The Daily Herald. His journalism was witty, gossipy and very popular. He was also very prolific and became a well-known colorful personality (with a wide-brimmed hat, and often a cigarette dangling from his lips) and author of several books. In 1904 he had married Helen Hannah Sitton (1877-1956). The marriage survived several infidelities, but there were no children.  

When Men Talk Truth (London: Rich & Cowan, 1934) was his first book of fiction. It collects thirteen stories commissioned by Britannia & Eve, published in 1933 and 1934. The stories are simply and vividly written, and range from the tale of a dog who sees ghosts to that of a rationalist using a planchette, who thereby encounters an infinite being.  Another concerns a supernatural resolution of an eternal triangle: here a child enacts the revenge of his dead biological father upon his dead-mother's lover, who reared the boy. The best and most intriguing story in the book is the title story, in which a prison chaplain has a quite revealing and unexpected discussion with a prisoner on the night before his execution: the chaplain confesses his own deep doubts, and the prisoner notes that in such a position he should hang himself. 

My Greatest Story (1945) tells of Swaffer's involvement with spiritualism and various mediums. A later volume Stranger than Truth (1947) purports to collect Swaffer's "best short stories." 

Swaffer died in University College Hospital, London, at the age of 82. A serious biography of him appeared as "Swaff": The Life and Times of Hannen Swaffer (1974), by Tom Driberg. 

1 comment:

  1. Swaffer was also a friend of Austin Osman Spare and devotes a few pages to him in his short volume 'Adventures With Inspiration (Morley & Mitchell Kennerley Junior, 1929)