Charles Patrick Graves

Last updated

Born1 December 1899
Wimbledon, London
Died20 February 1971(1971-02-20) (aged 71)
EducationBA (Hons.)
Alma mater St John's College, Oxford
Period1920s – 1960s
GenreJournalist, travel writer and novelist
SpousesMargaret Leigh, Vivien Winch
Relatives Bishop Charles Graves, Alfred Graves, Robert Graves, Philip Graves, Arnold Graves, Ida Poore, Cecil Graves, Robert Perceval Graves, John Graves

Charles Patrick Ranke Graves (1 December 1899 – 20 February 1971) was a British journalist, travel writer and novelist. He came from a large and creative literary family. Among his nine siblings were the writers Robert Graves and Philip Graves.


Early life

He was born at Red Branch House, Wimbledon, England, on 1 December 1899. His father was Alfred Perceval Graves (born in Dublin, 22 July 1846) who worked in the Home Office before becoming a senior inspector of schools. Graves senior also wrote poems and ballads and was a noted folklorist. His second wife, and the mother of five of his children, including Charles, was Amalie (Amy) Elizabeth Sophie (or Sophia) von Ranke, the daughter of a professor of medicine at the University of Munich. [1]

Charles Graves attended Rokeby Preparatory School. He followed in his brother Robert's footsteps to Capthorne, and then, in 1913, to Charterhouse. [2] His part-German heritage caused problems at school and harassment from fellow students during World War I.

He left Charterhouse in March 1918 and enlisted in the Royal Fusiliers. He was still undergoing officer training when the war came to an end.

He enrolled at St John's College, Oxford where he studied English. Always interested in sport, he became the captain of the golf team and played cricket and ice hockey.

He undertook additional instruction outside the university. In 1920, he became the first student to enroll in the London School of Journalism, founded that year by Sir Max Pemberton. He became the assistant editor of the student magazine The Isis. He later served as the editor, during which time its circulation increased from 1,200 to over 3,000. [3] He also became the Oxford correspondent for the Daily Express .


He started full-time work for the Daily Express in 1921. Later he worked for the Evening News, Sunday Express , Daily Mail , Daily Graphic , Sunday Chronicle , Sunday Dispatch and many other newspapers, magazines and periodicals, often as a freelance contributor. He was at various times a theatre reviewer, crime reporter, sports writer, war correspondent, travel writer and gossip columnist.

His work as a gossip columnist required regular attendance at theatre first nights, balls, parties, nightclubs, prize fights, race meetings and travel overseas to attend similar events in mainland Europe. He would often travel, at the expense of his newspaper, to Dinard, La Baule-Escoublac, Biarritz, Cannes, Deauville, Le Touquet, Venice and other resorts of the rich and famous in the 1920s and 1930s and write of who and what he saw and heard there. This brought him into contact with celebrities, politicians, sportsmen, royalty and business leaders, some of whom became friends. His literary friends included George Bernard Shaw, P. G. Wodehouse, Somerset Maugham and Rudyard Kipling. Some of them wrote introductions to his books.

Beatrice Lillie, Gertrude Lawrence, Owen Nares, and Fred and Adele Astaire were some of his friends in show business. Other associates were cartoonist Tom Webster, dancer Irene Castle and writer Michael Arlen.

Among his scoops in journalism was breaking the news that Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon had become engaged to the Duke of York, the future King George VI. [4]

He went to and reported on the dances and parties attended by the Bright young things, a group of Bohemian young aristocrats and upper-class socialites in London in the 1920s, and he sometimes took part in their pranks. [5] He was a regular at Quaglino's, the Embassy Club, Ciro's, the Café de Paris, the Kit Kat, the Hambone Club and other nightclubs and restaurants, all of which was used in his reportage of Café Society. [6]

When he became the news editor on the Sunday Express it brought him into more regular contact with senior newspapermen like Beverley Baxter, Lord Kemsley, Lord Camrose and Lord Beaverbrook.

One of his side projects was to ghost-write a memoir by Richard Speaight, society and court photographer, that was serialised in the Daily Express in 1926. This, and some of his other special projects, were syndicated to newspapers in other English speaking countries.

He believed his social column should be all about entertainment. He seldom mentioned politics even in the late 1930s when war was looming. Instead he tried to distract readers with amusing stories about sporting events and other leisure activities. [7]

A shortage of newsprint during the war saw newspapers shrink in size and gossip columns almost disappear. As the 1940s progressed he gradually turned from journalism to the writing of commissioned histories and travel books.


He was a versatile writer and the author of 46 books, both non-fiction and fiction, on a variety of subjects. His literary agent was Raymond Savage. [8] His publishers included Nicholson & Watson, Hutchinson & Co and Hodder & Stoughton. His working method was to compile extensive notes by hand and then dictate to a secretary who would take it down in shorthand and then type up the first draft.

Every summer after they married he and his wife would travel to the continent and hire a car and driver and tour popular resorts where they would stay at the best hotels. He would play golf during the day and they would visit high class restaurants and casinos at night. He was fascinated by high stakes gambling and wrote two books on the subject and often mentioned it in other books and articles. He did a certain amount of gambling himself and his wife hints at occasional financial difficulties in her memoir about their life together. Each of those holidays would result in a new travel book.

Two of his books are of special interest, his Ireland Revisited (1949) and his autobiography The Bad Old Days (1951). In Ireland Revisited he takes the reader on an informative and humorous tour of Ireland.

He begins the first volume of his autobiography:

"Those were the days, the Bad Old Days – primarily of large families, but also of could look the dollar in the eye without flinching or wincing, when cigarettes were 11d. for 20 and beef was unrationed and champagne was 5s. a bottle."

The volume covers his life up till his marriage in 1929. It concludes as follows:

What is happiness? I did not yet know. But I had already learnt that to have any chance of success in life one must be able to ‘take it’; that tact can be worth all the genius in the world; that unless you specialise you will never make more than £800 a year; that it is madness to disbelieve in luck and the cycles of luck; that you have to spend money to make money; that you must at all costs keep your youthful enthusiasms; that the hardest lesson to learn is that you must allow your heroes to remain your heroes, even if you become their valet; that the two greatest influences in a man's life are his mother and his wife; that marriage will either make you or break you, because it can never leave you the same. [9]

Personal life

He was briefly engaged to the socialite and actress Elvira Barney. When he broke off the engagement she turned up at his home at Chelsea with a loaded pistol. [10] She was later tried for murder in the shooting death of a man she was living with at the time. [11]

102 Gloucestor Place, Marylebone, London Tony Ray-Jones - 102 Gloucester Place Marylebone London W1U 6HT.jpg
102 Gloucestor Place, Marylebone, London

On 17 December 1929 he married Margaret Ethel Leigh (1901–1962) a paediatric nurse. [12] Among their wedding guests was Stanley Baldwin and Rudyard Kipling. They had been a couple five years prior to the marriage during which time he persuaded her to try her hand at writing. She became a part-time journalist, writing under the pen-name Jane Gordon, and she later wrote a number of books. She was earning £500 from her writing and he £1,750 per annum when they married in 1929. [13] The newly-weds moved into a large Regency style terrace house at 70 (later 102) Gloucester Place, London, where they employed four servants. Early in the marriage his wife realised he was careless with money and she took charge of their household finances.

Physically, he was tall (6’ 3") and thin and had brown hair. Socially, he was affable and gregarious. He enjoyed good food and drink and was a heavy smoker. His main hobbies were golf and gin rummy. He and his wife often dined out or went to nightclubs. They also did much entertaining at home. After dinner he liked to stay up late with their guests playing cards, poker, bridge, bezique, backgammon, chess "... any card game at reasonably high stakes. I have seen him lose quite a lot of money at snakes and ladders," said his wife. [14]

During World War II, the couple continued to live in London throughout The Blitz. He researched and wrote by day, and served in the Home Guard at night. His wife continued to work as a hospital nurse, the workload increased with casualties from the night-time bombing. On Sunday evening, 8 December 1940, as they were preparing for bed, an incendiary bomb struck their house and set fire to the roof. The same thing happened again during a major bombing raid on 10 May 1941. [15]

He did wartime radio broadcasting for the BBC. As part of his research for the books he wrote about the RAF he flew with one of their air-crews on a bombing raid over Germany. In February 1945 he and his wife accompanied a group of war correspondents across the channel and toured Belgium and the Netherlands shortly after the German occupation had ended.

His wife died in 1962 and, four years later, he married again. His second wife was Vivien Winch (1912–1975) who he married on 22 September 1966. [16] It was her third marriage. Both she and his first wife had aristocratic connections. The newly-weds initially lived in her house on the island of Guernsey. [17] They had moved to the warmer waters of the Caribbean and the island of Barbados by April 1969. [18]

He was living on Barbados, in Villa Fustic, an 11-acre estate with a large 18th-century house redesigned for him by Oliver Messel in the 1960s, [19] when he died on 20 February 1971. A memorial service was held in London at St Bride's, Fleet Street, on 17 March. It was attended by his widow, relatives, friends as well as representatives of the Associated Newspapers Group, the National Advertising Corporation, The Press Club and the British Guild of Travel Writers. [20]

Some of his personal papers were sold at an auction of books, manuscripts and letters in 1976. [21] These included correspondence from Bing Crosby and Marlene Dietrich. [22]


Graves was one of those who chronicled and defined high society in London in the 1920s and 1930s. His institutional histories continue to be a source of information for the organisations concerned. He was also a prolific travel writer who helped to popularise international travel as a desirable leisure time activity. His writing on that subject saw him described in The Times as, "The Laureate of the pleasure resorts." [23]

His ability as a writer was assessed after his death by the literary editor of The Daily Telegraph. David Holloway,

As a writer Charles Graves was always under the shadow of his elder brother Robert, though, for most of his life, of the two he probably earned more by his pen. He had a liveley style and could turn out books on a large number of subjects ... he turned his travel journalism and gossipy articles into a series of books where usually the guide book information was interspersed with anecdotes of high life. [24]


Travel books

During World War II he wrote a number of "real life novels" about servicemen and wartime organisations

He was also commissioned to write a number of non-fiction books.

Some of his other books include,

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  1. Bernard, Sir Burke, editor, Burke's genealogical and heraldic history of the landed gentry of Ireland, 3rd ed. (London, U.K.: Burkes Peerage Ltd, 1912), page 275
  2. Graves, Charles (1951). The bad old days (First ed.). London: Faber and Faber. p. 23.
  3. Graves, p.53
  4. Graves, p.70-1
  5. Graves, p.76
  6. Gordon, Jane, Married to Charles (1950), London, William Heinemann, p.7
  7. Newman, Sarah (2013), “The Celebrity Gossip Column and Newspaper journalism in Britain, 1918–1939,” Linacre College, D. Phil, p.84
  8. Gordon, p.46
  9. Graves, p.218
  10. Graves, p.82-3
  11. "Chronology". Cocktails With Elvira. 9 November 2011. Retrieved 23 December 2020.
  12. The Times, 18 December 1929, p.17
  13. Gordon, p.31
  14. Gordon, p.3-4
  15. Gordon, p.172
  16. The Times, 23 September 1966, p.14
  17. The Times, 11 October 1967, p.9
  18. The Times, 8 April 1969, p.9
  19. "Villa Fustic House 7 Bedroom SPECIAL OFFER - Located in Stunning St. Lucy | Barbados | Private Villa Rentals". Retrieved 23 December 2020.
  20. The Daily Telegraph, 19 March 1971, p.14
  21. The Daily Telegraph, 14 October 1976, p.16
  22. The Financial Times, 14 October 1976, p.2
  23. Gordon, p.1
  24. The Daily Telegraph, 22 February 1971, p.8