Grantham Journal column: Oliver and the Desert Rats
Ever since his novel Rotten Borough blew the lid off the activities of Grantham’s version of the nobility in the 1930s, local author Oliver Anderson’s name has been mud among the town’s hierarchy.
Now, on the eve of the 80th anniversary of the book’s completion, I can expose the fact that, far from being the historical blackguard we have been led to believe in, Oliver (pen name Julian Pine) was actually a war hero and caring member of the community.
A letter from him to an old King’s School friend of mine, Jeff Cant, written in November 1985, reveals that during World War Two Oliver was one of the ‘Desert Rats’ with the 8th Army at el Alamein.
His regiment Sussex Gunners (58” Field Reg. R.A.) returned home from Africa and later landed in Normandy on D-Day plus-2.
“From then on,’ he writes, ‘it was all go as they say, including attachment to the Guards Armoured Division for the swoop to liberate Brussels and the subsequent thrust up through Holland in the abortive attempt to link up with the Paras at Arnhem.”
Oliver attended King’s from 1924 to 1930 and then worked in journalism as assistant to the Grantham representative of the Nottingham Guardian, a job which yielded enough controversial material for that first novel.
“Rotten Borough would have been a big seller had not a posse of locals headed by Lord Brownlow issued a writ for libel.”
The publishers panicked due to having already lost to similar writs. They stopped publication and apologised personally to the noble Lord. Honour satisfied, he accepted and that might have been the end of it if another publisher hadn’t issued a paperback version in 1989.
No writs this time and I am tempted to confess my own part in the process of its publication, but that’s another story altogether so I won’t.