Brian Howard born 13 March 1905 (d. 1958)
Brian Christian de Claiborne Howard was an English poet, whose work belied a spectacularly precocious start in life; in the end he became more of a journalist, writing for the New Statesman.
He was born to American parents in Hascombe, Surrey, and brought up in London; his father Francis Gassaway Howard was an associate of James Whistler. He was educated at Eton College, where he was one of the Eton Arts Society group including Harold Acton, Oliver Messel, Anthony Powell and Henry Yorke.
He entered Christ Church, Oxford in 1923, not without difficulty. He was prominent in the group later known as the Oxford Wits. He was one of the Hypocrites group that included Harold Acton, Lord David Cecil, L P Hartley and Evelyn Waugh. He allegedly provided the model for Anthony Blanche, the social butterfly in Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited,
At this time he had already been published as a poet, in A R Orage's The New Age, and the final Sitwell Wheels anthology. He used the pseudonyms Jasper Proude and Charles Orange. His verse also was in Oxford Poetry 1924.
Subsequently he led a very active social life, tried to come to terms with his homosexuality, and published only one substantial poetry collection God Save the King (1930). He was active as a poet during the Spanish Civil War, but did not ultimately invest in his work with seriousness.
During the 1930s he drifted around Europe. He had affairs with various young men before settling on Toni, a young blond German bisexual who he had met in Munich. In September 1935 he and Toni were staying at the same pension as Christopher Isherwood and Klaus Mann, son of Thomas Mann, in Amsterdam. At the start of the war Toni was interned in France but eventually managed to escape to the States, where he married an American, putting distance and an end to their twelve-year relationship.
In 1931, in Germany, Howard had become influenced by novelist Thomas Mann's loathing for Hitler and he filed anti-Hitler articles to the British press. His anti-Nazi stance was further informed by his Jewishness. Later, in 1939, Howard assisted the release of a number of anti-Nazi Germans imprisoned in France.
Brian Howard was often drunk throughout his adult life and alcohol began to become a problem, along with drugs, during his 30s.
In 1940, Howard was recruited into MI5 as an undercover 'outside contact' to report on pro-Nazi personalities. His political acumen must have been respected by MI5 because, in the early years of the war, Howard's dark apprehensions from the 1930s were reflected in a series of sophisticated anti-Nazi propaganda scripts that he wrote for BBC radio. These scripts were some of the earliest to broadcast the facts of the genocidal 'eugenics programme' of the Third Reich. Following his dismissal from MI5 in 1942 he served in a low-key role in the RAF.
During this time, he renewed his acquaintance with the spy Guy Burgess, a fellow Old Etonian and also a BBC correspondent. Burgess, one of the Soviet Union's 'Cambridge Five' spy ring, had studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, and he and Oxonian Howard knew each other in 1937 in Germany.
In the autumn of 1943 Brian Howard started a relationship with Sam, a nineteen-year-old Irishman, and in command of an Air-Sea Rescue Launch. In June 1944 Brian Howard began being checked over for health problems at RAF Halton, and in December 1944 he was given an honourable discharge from the RAF for being 'below Air Force physical standard, although fit for selected employment in civil life'. Sam was invalided out of the Navy because of foot trouble and he got a job at the BBC.
Brian Howard wondered what he was going to do next and spent his time writing book reviews for the New Statesman. After the war he continued to drift with Sam. They lived in France for a while but in 1950 Howard was unexpectedly expelled as an 'undesirable' and they fled to Italy and then travelled around Austria and Germany.
Brian Howard's health failed during the 1950s and he relied on sedatives. He had tuberculosis that he said he had contracted in Spain, and his alcoholism was taking its toll. He and Sam continued to wander around Europe looking for a home. They spent some time in Tangier in the spring of 1954 where Brian Howard was curing his addiction to alcohol but becoming dependent on drugs.
In June 1954 he received a letter from Paris saying that he would be allowed to return to France, although more complications arose and doubts continued about whether either Brian Howard or Sam could have a visa. Both were still keen to settle in France and Howard's mother used an inheritance to buy a house near Nice. Brian Howard and Sam moved into the house at the beginning of January 1958 but disaster struck within two weeks of their arrival. In the morning of 11 January 1958 Sam went to have a bath but workmen had removed an exhaust pipe from the bathroom and Sam died accidentally of asphyxiation from fumes from a gas heater. He was 32. Four days later Brian Howard killed himself by taking an overdose of sedatives. He was 52. After a double funeral they were buried together at the Caucade de Nice cemetery.
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