Christopher Sykes (author)

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Christopher Hugh Sykes FRSL (17 November 1907 – 8 December 1986) was an English author. Born into a well-off northern English landowning family, he was the second son of the diplomat Sir Mark Sykes (1879–1919), and his wife, Edith (née Gorst). His sister was Angela Sykes, the sculptor. His uncle, also Christopher Sykes, was, for a time, a close friend of Edward VII. [1]

Northern England Place in England

Northern England, also known as the North of England or simply the North, is the northern part of England, considered as a single cultural area. It extends from the Scottish border in the north to near the River Trent in the south, although precise definitions of its southern extent vary. Northern England approximately comprises three statistical regions: the North East, North West and Yorkshire and the Humber. These have a combined population of around 14.9 million as of the 2011 Census and an area of 37,331 km2. Northern England contains much of England's national parkland but also has large areas of urbanisation, including the conurbations of Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Teesside, Tyneside, Wearside, and South and West Yorkshire.

The Sykes family of Sledmere own Sledmere House in Yorkshire, England.

Mark Sykes British politician, diplomatic advisor, and traveller

Colonel Sir Tatton Benvenuto Mark Sykes, 6th Baronet was an English traveller, Conservative Party politician and diplomatic advisor, particularly with regard to the Middle East at the time of the First World War. He is associated with the Sykes–Picot Agreement, drawn up while the war was in progress, regarding the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire by Britain, France and Russia.


Life and career

Educated at Downside School and Christ Church, Oxford, Sykes was, for a time in his youth, in the Foreign Office, including a stint as an attaché (1928–29) in the British Embassy in Berlin, where Harold Nicolson was then Counsellor. This was followed by a year (1930–31) at the British Legation in Teheran. An early hero was Aubrey Herbert, remembered now as the man who inspired John Buchan's classic thriller, Greenmantle . [ citation needed ]

Downside School is a co-educational Catholic independent school for children aged 11 to 18, located in Stratton-on-the-Fosse, between Westfield and Shepton Mallet in Somerset, south west England, attached to Downside Abbey. It has both boarding and day pupils.

Christ Church, Oxford constituent college of the University of Oxford in England

Christ Church is a constituent college of the University of Oxford in England. Christ Church is a joint foundation of the college and the cathedral of the Oxford diocese, which serves as the college chapel and whose dean is ex officio the college head.

University of Oxford Collegiate research university in Oxford, England

The University of Oxford is a collegiate research university in Oxford, England. There is evidence of teaching as early as 1096, making it the oldest university in the English-speaking world and the world's second-oldest university in continuous operation. It grew rapidly from 1167 when Henry II banned English students from attending the University of Paris. After disputes between students and Oxford townsfolk in 1209, some academics fled north-east to Cambridge where they established what became the University of Cambridge. The two 'ancient universities' are frequently jointly called 'Oxbridge'. The history and influence of the University of Oxford has made it one of the most prestigious universities in the world.

Though Sykes thought of making politics his career, his stammer and also his artistic and imaginative disposition indicated that political life was not for him. At the School of Oriental Studies in London, he devoted himself to Persian studies in 1933 before travelling in Central Asia during 1933–34 with Robert Byron, who later wrote The Road to Oxiana recounting their long expedition in what was then an almost unexplored country. In the book, Byron states that Sykes was given an order to leave Persia, but they could negotiate that he leaves via Afghanistan with Byron. [2]

Robert Byron British writer

Robert Byron was a British travel writer, best known for his travelogue The Road to Oxiana. He was also a noted writer, art critic and historian.

The Road to Oxiana is a travelogue by Robert Byron, first published in 1937. It is considered by many modern travel writers to be the first example of great travel writing. The word "Oxiana" in the title refers to the region along Afghanistan's northern border.

On their return to England, Sykes and Byron wrote a novel together under the name of Richard Waughburton, Innocence and Design, published in 1935. A little later, Sykes and Cyril Connolly planned a book with the title of The Little Voice. In common with other projects of Connolly's, the book never got beyond the planning stages. Sykes published in 1936 a biography of the German Persianist Wilhelm Wassmus; he did not, during later years, include this volume in his list of his publications. A memoir of Byron, killed at sea in 1941, was included in Sykes' best-selling book, Four Studies in Loyalty. [ citation needed ]

Cyril Connolly British author

Cyril Vernon Connolly was an English literary critic and writer. He was the editor of the influential literary magazine Horizon (1940–49) and wrote Enemies of Promise (1938), which combined literary criticism with an autobiographical exploration of why he failed to become the successful author of fiction that he had aspired to be in his youth.

Sykes had an eventful war. Having held, like his famous father, a Territorial Army commission in The Green Howards in 1927–30, he was commissioned in 1939 as a reserve officer in the regiment's newly formed 7th Battalion. In June 1940, Sykes joined SO1 (later Special Operations Executive [SOE]), where he was personal assistant to Colonel Cudbert Thornhill. In October 1941, Sykes was sent out to Tehran as Deputy Director of Special Propaganda (DDSP) under diplomatic cover (Second Secretary at the British Legation) in the aftermath of the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran, where he remained until November 1942, when he was transferred to Cairo. Out of a job because his department had been wound up, Sykes found time to write a light novel, High Minded Murder (1944), something of a roman à clef, set in wartime Cairo where Graham Greene's sister Elizabeth was living(Sykes mentions Greene himself in his biography of Waugh). Meanwhile, after failing to find any position as an intelligence officer in the Middle East, Sykes returned to the UK in May 1943, volunteered for the Special Air Service (SAS), and was posted to the Commando Training Depot at Achnacarry Castle, Invernesshire on 1 July 1943. As an SAS officer, Sykes, who spoke fluent French but could not pass as a native, undertook extremely hazardous work with the French Resistance: an experience which, like his friendship with Byron, was depicted in Four Studies in Loyalty (dedicated to the town of Vosges), this time in that book's last chapter. [3]

The Special Operations Executive (SOE) was a British World War II organisation. It was officially formed on 22 July 1940 under Minister of Economic Warfare Hugh Dalton, from the amalgamation of three existing secret organisations. Its purpose was to conduct espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in occupied Europe against the Axis powers, and to aid local resistance movements.

Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran Invasion during World War II

The Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran, also known as the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Persia, was the joint invasion of Iran in 1941 during the Second World War by the British Commonwealth and the Soviet Union. The invasion lasted from 25 August to 17 September 1941 and was codenamed Operation Countenance. Its purpose was to secure Iranian oil fields and ensure Allied supply lines for the USSR, fighting against Axis forces on the Eastern Front. Though Iran was neutral, the Allies considered Reza Shah to be friendly to Germany, deposed him during the subsequent occupation and replaced him with his young son Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Special Air Service regiment of the British Army

The Special Air Service (SAS) is a special forces unit of the British Army. The SAS was founded in 1941 as a regiment, and later reconstituted as a corps in 1950. The unit undertakes a number of roles including covert reconnaissance, counter-terrorism, direct action and hostage rescue. Much of the information and actions regarding the SAS is highly classified, and is not commented on by the British government or the Ministry of Defence due to the sensitivity of their operations.

Nowadays Sykes is especially remembered for his biography of his friend Evelyn Waugh, whom he met after the success of Waugh's Vile Bodies. He introduced Waugh to the socialite Diana Cooper, aka Lady Stitch. He praised Brideshead, Waugh's Catholic epic (the two were both Catholics, but with the notable difference—mentioned by Waugh's son Auberon when reviewing Sykes's book in the November 1975 issue of Books and Bookmen – that whereas Waugh converted to Roman Catholicism in his twenties, Sykes was a cradle Catholic) though admitting to his dislike of the character Julia Flyte. Sykes makes some interesting comparisons between scenes in Waugh's books and those of William M Thackeray - the fox hunting scene in a Handful of Dust is compared to that in Barry Lyndon.

Evelyn Waugh British writer

Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh was an English writer of novels, biographies, and travel books, and he was also a prolific journalist and book reviewer. His most famous works include the early satires Decline and Fall (1928) and A Handful of Dust (1934), the novel Brideshead Revisited (1945), and the Second World War trilogy Sword of Honour (1952–61). He is recognised as one of the great prose stylists of the English language in the 20th century.

Auberon Waugh author

Auberon Alexander Waugh was an English journalist, and eldest son of the novelist Evelyn Waugh. He was widely known by his nickname Bron.

Sykes is also remembered to a lesser extent, for his history of the British Mandate of Palestine, Crossroads to Israel (1965). He also wrote several books of fiction and lives of Orde Wingate (published 1959 - Sykes drew attention to Wingate as the possible basis for Waugh's character Brigadier Ritchie Hook in The Sword of Honour trilogy, in his biography of Waugh) the general sometimes known as the "Lawrence of Judea" (a phrase that Wingate deplored); Lady Astor, who, born in Virginia, was one of the first women to sit in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom; and Adam von Trott zu Solz, executed following his part in the failed 20 July plot to assassinate Hitler. [ citation needed ]

After 1945 Sykes worked for many years in BBC Radio, where he helped to get Waugh's broadcast on P G Wodehouse, who was captured in Le Touquet by the Germnas, on air, as well as writing for several British and American periodicals, including The New Republic , The Spectator , Books and Bookmen, The Observer and the short-lived English Review Magazine. He was invested as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. [ citation needed ]

Marriage and family

He married Camilla Georgiana, daughter of Sir Thomas Wentworth Russell (great-grandson of the 6th Duke of Bedford) [4] on 25 October 1936. [1] Their son, Mark Richard Sykes (born 9 June 1937), by his second marriage, is father to six children including New York-based fashion writer and novelist Plum Sykes. The writer and photographer, Christopher Simon Sykes, is a nephew. [ citation needed ] Writer/journalist Tom Sykes is a grandson. [5]


As Richard Waughburton

Innocence and Design (1935; written as "Richard Waughburton", jointly with Robert Byron)


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  1. 1 2 Profile, Retrieved 4 September 2014.
  2. Byron, Robert (1982). The Road to Oxiana. Oxford University Press. p. 220. ISBN   9780195030679.
  3. See HS 9/1433/9, The National Archives, Kew. This is Sykes' (D/N11) SOE personnel file, which outlines his military career.
  4. Profile, Retrieved 29 June 2016.
  5. Tom Sykes, "This Is My Half of the Castle: The Eccentric Living Arrangements of Aristocrats," Daily Beast, 25 August 2016.