Independence day

At the end of January, the United Kingdom left the European Union. To mark this event, the Ward Library has been supplementing its collection of the writings of Mark Fitzgeorge-Parker (1954-2014), a Petrean who reinvented himself as the racing novelist ‘Mark Daniel’. ‘A sensualist… and compulsive writer, cook, scholar and lover’, Mark wrote ’37 published novels’ and ‘innumerable opinion columns’. The Sunday Express pronounced him ‘a name to watch’ in 1980. Mark, who became press officer of UKIP in 2000, was the party’s parliamentary candidate for Exeter at the General Election of 2005. His ‘unfailing flair and imagination’ contributed to the composition of Flying Free (2010; 2011), the autobiography of Nigel Farage. Mark did not live to see Farage become the most influential figure in British politics in and after 2016. He died in Cheltenham in May 2014, before the triumph of his political ideas had become clear.

Mark Fitzgeorge-Parker 1973

Mark Fitzgeorge-Parker, Matriculation 1973.

Mark was the son of Major Timothy Fitzgeorge-Parker MC (1920-86), who had what the Daily Telegraph called ‘a good war’, culminating in the rescue from a stud in Schleswig Holstein of draught horses bred for Hitler to mimic the mounts of the Crusaders. When his career in the Royal Scots Greys ended, Timothy Fitzgeorge-Parker made a living through association with racing, eventually becoming the turf correspondent of the Daily Mail. Let go by the paper in 1971, he pursued a freelance career writing regular columns for the regional press and published several books on race-horse training and doping and on the jockeys of the 1970s. He divorced his first wife, Pauline Whinney (daughter of the painter Sir James Gunn and his first wife Gwen, who later married the accountant Sir Arthur Whinney) (d. 2006), to remarry in 1973. He appears to have shown little interest in supporting his son thereafter. He later commented that he did not care whether Mark got a degree or not, but that he was ‘a bloody fool’ for turning down the commission in the Greys that his father’s connections had obtained for him. Eventually, he sued his son for infringement of copyright.

Mark was educated at Ampleforth College, where (according to an Independent Inquiry published in August 2018) ‘physical and emotional abuse towards pupils [was] often intertwined’ at the time. Following what the Daily Telegraph later called ‘a conventional public school’ education, Mark applied to Peterhouse after taking his A-levels and entered the College as an exhibitioner to read English in October 1973. The next three years defined his career, were formative for the history of the College’s library, and are instructive for the student of modern British politics. Mark failed part one of the English Tripos in 1975. He attributed this outcome to his father’s failure to provide him with sufficient funds and the difficulty that he had in obtaining the grant money that he was due from Hereford and Worcester County Council. At one point, he owed £800 (at the time equivalent to the annual value of a research studentship) for food and alcohol taken at the University Pitt Club. In 1976, he again failed the English Tripos. By then, his world was unravelling.

The Perne Library, early 1980s, featuring bare shelves.

In November 1975, Jack Harrison, then under-librarian at the University Library, and the part-time assistant librarian of the Perne Library, carried out a check of rare books at Peterhouse. At this time, the main library reading room was the Perne. Many of the most significant early printed books were either on deposit in the librarian’s room or had been moved to storage in the basement of Fen Court. Nevertheless, when Harrison checked the rare books on the shelves of the Perne in April 1976, he found a number missing that had been there in November, prominent among them being works of piety and on the treatment of venereal disease.

Books were also missing from the library of Girton College, where Mark’s then girlfriend was a student. Both were implicated in bouncing cheques at restaurants in Cambridge and elsewhere, as well as in the theft and disposal of stolen books. Mark boasted of selling ‘a valuable old manuscript’ on the black market, later claiming that he ‘dealt in antiquarian books, [but] fell foul of the law’. In June 1976, the two students were charged, after the police had recovered items in their possession and from a bank safe-deposit box.

Perne missing book, later recovered

Recovered from a safe-deposit box . The primer (c. 1710). Perne Library, I.10.36.

Exhibits at the trial in March 1977 included Sparrow’s Rationale of the Book of Common-Prayer (1722) and a near-facsimile of Henry VIII’s authorized liturgy, The primer (c. 1710; now Perne Library I.10.36 after its rescue from the Midland Bank). Harrison believed these had been stolen from Peterhouse, although identifying marks had been removed. More valuable books, including a celestial atlas valued at £3,000, had been taken from Girton. Mark and his girlfriend were sentenced following guilty pleas in respect of a minority of the counts on which they were indicted. In sentencing them to terms in prison, the judge, David Wild, asked: ‘Why should you be treated differently from others because you have got brains?’

While Mark kicked his heels in HMP Ashwell, Peterhouse took further steps to protect its books by removing them from the shelves of the library. This was why Hugh Trevor-Roper, when he became Master in 1980, could write a waspish verse on the College, drawing attention to:

A Library whose shelves are bare,

A Garden with no flowers there,

A deer-park with no deer.

Hugh Trevor-Roper

Hugh Trevor-Roper, Lord Dacre of Glanton. Master (1980-1987). By Maurice Gowling.

Thanks to Trevor-Roper and others, the Perne was eventually remodelled according to seventeenth-century precedent as a research library, and a new College library (the Ward Library) for undergraduates was created in the restored interior of the former Museum of Classical Archaeology.

The new College library (the Ward Library) in the mid-1980s.

The Perne Library as it is today. Photograph © Sara Rawlinson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prison restored Mark as well, providing him with the inspiration for the literary career that he pursued under the name ‘Mark Daniel’. His first book was published in 1980. Conviction narrates the life of Sebastian Foy, an English solicitor. Foy finds out that his friend, Trevor Abbott, was unsuccessful in his attempt at escape from prison. Thus, what seemed to be a mysterious disappearance was instead a mysterious murder. Foy decides to get himself incarcerated in order to solve the puzzle. From his cell, he repeats:

Dustjacket of Conviction (1980).

Keep thinking, keep talking, keep pacing. Don’t stop for an instant, for that way madness lies. King Lear. William Shakespeare, 1614? Can’t remember. Poor naked wretches wheresoe’r you are. No. I’d done that one. I’d also recited ‘To His Coy Mistress’, ten Shakespeare sonnets and ‘Harmonie du Soir’ six times. ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’. Good idea. Funny accent for the owl and the pig. ‘Dear pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling your ring?’ Said the piggy, ‘I will’… So this is sensory deprivation. Plain white walls. Shining white. No window, no furniture save a board on one wall and a loo in the corner. No seat and it doesn’t flush. They can only keep me here for twenty-four hours. Habeas Corpus. Magna Carta, 1215.

 

Dustjacket of Under Orders (1989).

Although this passage shows Mark putting his abortive study of English to good use, the main sources for his fiction were the racing background of his youth and other aspects of his real or imagined past. The publication of Under Orders (1989) resulted in a successful libel action by the 1961 Grand National winner and sometime alcoholic, Bobby Beasley (1935-2008), who had formerly collaborated with Mark’s father.  In Sleek Bodies (1994), published shortly after his ‘acrimonious divorce’ from an actress, Mark tells the story of Philip Glaister, a libertine whose brother’s murder is covered up as an asthma attack. Philip speaks French fluently and cooks French food (Mark exercised the freedom of movement that his political heroes opposed to live and work in France as a cook). Philip too was ‘grossly abused by his father’. He also takes over a risky and adrenaline-pumping business involving horse-racing. In the process, he encounters a different sort of lawyer from those whom Mark had met at the Crown Court in Cambridge:

Catherine Clifford, commonly known as Catkin, was not cast in the usual mould of barrister’s clerks. Clerks should be rotund, eager and bespectacled. Catkin was slender, had a complexion which, in the middle of London, glowed like a rose amongst orchids, and long Bob Martin’s hair which people call ‘red’ at their own risk. She wore black silk jersey and far from being eager, she did not move as I entered but simply said, ‘Morning, Foy.’ […] ‘Ta gueule,’ said Catkin, and grinned. She pushed back her chair and stretched her legs. The black silk softly swooped and gripped her mons veneris. I growled. She picked up Law Reports of 1932 and threatened to throw it at me.

Mark’s most important book remains Cranks and Gadflies (2005), his insider account of the history of the UK Independence Party. Although largely devoted to the forgotten and forgettable attempt by Robert Kilroy-Silk to use UKIP as a platform for his political ambitions, Mark’s history of the early years of the party reveals a great deal about contemporary politics. It excuses the racism and homophobia (although not the Holocaust denial) that Mark found among UKIP members and their allies: ‘to consider homosexual acts morally unacceptable is… reasonable’. It draws attention to ‘the single-minded dedication’ of the ‘rock’n’roll politician’ Farage and his adeptness in using others to achieve his own ends. It is critical of the efforts of supposedly mainstream politicians to ‘shoot the UKIP fox’ without losing the backing of their members, who enabled it: ‘[Michael] Howard had seen his attempt to belittle UKIP backfire badly. Many of his supporters, after all, were cranks and gadflies at heart, and resented being abused by their leaders, who had so often professed to share their Eurosceptic views.’ As reviewers noted, Mark’s purpose in Cranks and Gadflies was not to expose the deceit and sharp practice that characterized the entire campaign to bring about Britain’s departure from the European Union but to persuade his readers that liars were in fact straight-talking individuals who could be trusted, out of the horse’s mouth. In this, Mark succeeded.

Dustjacket of Laughing man (1984). Jacket illustration: Self-portrait as a Tyro by Percy Wyndham Lewis.

The Ward Library’s collections include Conviction, Under Orders and Sleek Bodies, as well as Cranks and Gadflies. Other works by Mark Fitzgeorge-Parker (‘Mark Daniel’) that the library holds are The Laughing Man (1984), Pity the Sinner (1993), and A Killing Joke (1995). Most of these were acquired by donation. Given Mark’s posthumous standing as the modern Petrean mostly closely associated with a generational shift in national politics, the library has also decided to purchase copies of his other works. Their quality as a literary endeavour is immeasurably enhanced by the colourful and inventive dustjackets that accompany them, some of which have been illustrated here.

Written by Alexandru Liciu (Erasmus trainee) and Scott Mandelbrote

One comment

  1. Patricia Aske · · Reply

    A great read and beautifully illustrated.

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