Tim Koch On Hylton Cleaver

“Don’t get excited,” Tim Koch writes in an e-mail from London, regarding my entry about Hylton Cleaver on HTBS 11 November 2010. Tim continues, “I have not discovered any Hylton Cleaver rowing stories, but attached are some thoughts and facts.” So without any hesitation, over to Tim, who writes:

Hylton Cleaver was a lifelong author of boys’ adventure stories (especially the peculiarly British ‘boarding school tales’) and a well-known sporting journalist covering rowing, boxing, Rugby football and equestrianism. He also wrote crime fiction and factual books on show jumping and A History of Rowing (1957). My view of the latter book is that it reflects the English amateur rowing establishment of the time. He acknowledged that rowing existed outside of the big London clubs and the ancient universities and private schools but it seems that he did not feel that a book entitled ‘a history of rowing’ should cover this aspect of the sport in any detail. True, there was some coverage of professional rowing, the Doggett’s and the working man’s National Amateur Rowing Association but, at least by modern standards, this does not excuse the excessive concentration on the Gentlemen Amateurs of the ‘Putney Mafia’.

Cleaver was born in 1891 and educated at the private St Paul’s School in Hammersmith, London. A prodigious writer from an early age, his first published work appeared in the Ladies’ Gazette when he was only 13. In the First World War he served in the ‘Sportsmen’s Battalion’ of Royal Fusiliers and was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry. He continued writing stories while in the trenches and by 1918 was published in the Strand Magazine which contained the works of some of the greatest authors of the 20th century including Graham Greene, Rudyard Kipling, G.K. Chesterton and, of course, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Cleaver’s 1961 Times obituary stated:

[Following the First World War] much of his work appeared in ‘The Captain’ where another young author, Mr P.G. Wodehouse, was already making a name for himself as a writer of school stories. Indeed, Cleaver’s stories were not dissimilar from Mr. Wodehouse’s, but many contemporary judges regard them as superior.

Many of Hylton Cleaver’s stories were set in the fictitious ‘Harley School’. He wrote ‘The Harley First XV’ (1920) and ‘The Harley First XI (1922) covering Rugby football and cricket respectively – but no ‘Harley First VIII’ as far as I can discover! For more about his books, please click here.

The obituary concludes:

As a sporting writer Hylton Cleaver was on of the most versatile men in Fleet Street… [his] journalism was of a type which is now increasingly rare; he was a man who could write with ease and confidence on a dozen subjects, while remaining an authority on a few chosen things…

An enviable talent, even rarer now than when this was written.

Many warm thanks to Tim for his insightfully thoughts on Hylton Cleaver!

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