BBC Radio 4, 5 February 2009
Nicholas Monsarrat (1910-1979) was a celebrated author of war and/or
sea stories, whose most famous work The Cruel Sea became a noted Ealing war film of the early 1950s. This programme,
presented by Barry Norman, looked at his life and personal archive, presented by his widow to the Atheneum Club in Liverpool
and now available for researchers.
Monsarrat was a meticulous recorder of events in his life; and was particularly concerned
about critical reaction to his books. Although a shy man at heart (archive interviews revealed him to be hesitant, almost
diffident in his speech), he loved the idea of being famous in the wake of The Cruel Sea.
Cecille Wright's documentary suggested that Montsarrat's work is concerned with masculinity
- something that could only really be demonstrated by those fortunate enough to go to sea. If a man proved himself a competent
crew-member by demonstrating the kind of unflappability to cope with any crisis, while trusting in his own judgment, then
he deserved every accolade. It wasn't hard to understand why Montsarrat liked the idea of Jack Hawkins in the lead for the
film version of The Cruel Sea, as the actor's screen persona embodied all these qualities.
On the other hand Montsarrat experienced considerable difficulties in trying to deal
with members of the opposite sex - although married three times, he seldom discovered true emotional contentment. His son
recalled that Montsarrat was ill-equipped to be a good father; while communicating on a surface level, he shied away from
forging deeper relationships. Montsarrat was really happy onlyin the company of men his own age.
Nicholas Montsarrat died in 1979; although prolific in output, posterity only remembers
him for one book. Nonetheless he established enough of a reputation for himself to have his ashes scattered out to sea on
a Royal Navy frigate. This kind of accolade was not given to many people.
As a presenter Barry Norman had a personal connection with Montsarrat; his father
Leslie had been the producer of Ealing Studios' The Cruel Sea. He obviously admired Montsarrat for his dedication
to the craft of writing, even though not really a 'great' author.