Alexei Delaine's email regarding Walt Kauffmann's Discovering Angus Stewart (1936 – 1998)
Dear Mr Percy,
Your review of Angus Stewart is most compelling. His novel Sandel holds a particular interest for me and has been part of my collection since around 1970. You will understand from what follows that the proverbial goose bumps rose when I first read this novel.
As a young chorister I was privileged to have been part of an exchange programme to Christ Church Cathedral Choir, Brewer Street, Oxford for two terms in 1957. This was part of a programme aimed at forging a closer relationship between the Catholic Church and Church of England and narrowing the divide between Rome and Canterbury. You may, therefore, understand my particular connection with this novel. The descriptions of the choir school, and some of the inhabitants, are all very familiar even down to Palistrina the resident cat. Alas, during my brief stay there I was unaware of any ’unusual’ relationships or was simply too young to notice.
The many references to Oxford, its environs and events referred to strongly suggest that this actually took place in 1960 rather than the early 50’s. Angus Stewart would have been around 24 years of age. This is supported by the following references from the paperback edition.
Page 69. The Rollieflex 2.8 E2 camera was not introduced until 1959.
Page 81. The Wolfenden Report was published in Sept 1957.
Page 126. The various cars identified during the Silverstone race such as the Fiat Arbarth – Zagato, Lotus 7 & Sprites were all introduced after 1957.
David Roger’s car was a Series 4 with a 100E engine. The Morgan 4/4 most closely fits this description and was introduced in 1959.
Page 108. Seven B47’s arrived in April 1958 for duty at Brize Norton.
Page 131. David Rogers wakes from a coma on Thursday 1st September. This day/date combination for the periods in question occurred in 1955/1960 & 1966.
Finally weather reports for Oxford in 1960 indicate an unseasonably warm late spring/early summer; this was not the case for the years 1955 or 1966.
Of course you could be correct in that 1953 was the actual date of their friendship and Angus Stewart simply pasted this on to the 1960 Oxford scene: we are unlikely to ever know.
In my view this is as close to a true and accurate account of the times and, I would say the relationship, as you are likely to find: the descriptions of Oxford very evocative and all so beautifully written. Angus Stewart has truly wasted his considerable literary talent, often in company with literary grandees, in the process of ‘finding himself’ through drugs and alcohol in North Africa when he could, and should, have given so much more to modern literature.
I am interested to learn more of Angus Stewart and his life and works. Although reputed to be a successful portrait photographer, I can find no evidence of his work. Maybe he traded under a pseudonym. His father J. I. M. Stewart’s memoir ‘Myself and Michael Innes’ provides little information of the elusive Angus other than the occasional uninformative mention, and I wonder if you have any useful leads or connections that may assist.
Living close to Oxford I am a regular visitor to that beautiful city and owe to it many fond memories, all reinforced by the details in this remarkable novel.
I hope this maybe of some interest to you and, if you wish to respond, I would be very happy to hear from you.