Friday, 28 July 2017

John Amery - from 'Traitors' by Josh Ireland

I picked up this book in the Library and idly flipped to an interesting looking chapter.

What I found was rather remarkable. This is a rather long quote, almost the whole chapter, which I hope the author won't be offended by. But holy fuck it is one hell of a Chapter;

"By the age of two John Amery had been considered unteachable. Jack, as he was known to his family, was a promiscuous and unrelenting bully of every child he came into contact with, but was also liable to manifest bizarre and perplexing behaviour - such as arriving at school wearing an enormous necklace of highly coloured wooden beads stretching almost to his knees. At the first sign of trouble he could be relied on to run away. Amery started masturbating at five, as well as acquiring the habit of making obscene drawings of women with breasts. His piece de resistance was to scatter pictures of penises around his nursery for his nurse to find. It was as if he were determined to demonstrate the truth of the belief, held by many at the time, that the children were naturally evil.

At his predatory school, West Downs, he immediately caused anxiety. 'Ideas of right and wrong,' said his headmaster, Mr Tindall, 'seemed to mean nothing to him.' John Amery's behaviour was always shot through with profound strangeness: his sentences sometimes degenerating into nonsense verse, his thoughts subversive and out of kilter with those of everyone around him. he dressed like a tramp, rarely washing and horrifying his parents by sporting a broken-down hat with a large piece bitten out of it.

Amery followed in his fathers footsteps to Harrow, though he wasted little time before making an audacious flit to the Continent. After escaping through the skylight of the family home, equipped with his father's wallet and service revolver, he briefly held a French customs officer hostage at gunpoint. In the hastily scribbled not he left behind he explained that his aim was to make for Lausanne, where he would work as a mechanic (he had recently become consumed by a passion with cars, an enthusiasm that would never leave him). 'In the position of a garage hand', he said on his reluctant return to school, he 'would be his own master, would not be driver and need not do more than he liked'.

The next few years of the 1930's would be punctuated by similar outrages. On a trip to Norway Amery sold the overcoat of a guest at his hotel and used the proceeds to buy the telephonist a gift; another time he tried to stab a tutor who had attempted to force him to take a walk. When caught he either laughed or flew into a violent rage. Amery elevated refusing to show remorse to a point of principle: 'Only saps wait,' was the law he lived his life by.

Amery, who had always given the impression of being older than his years, would regularly escape Harrow to go to London clubs, including Mrs Kate Meyricks infamous '43' on Gerrard Street, and lost his virginity at fourteen. In desperation his parents sent him to a school for English boys in Switzerland. On his return he was found to have contracted syphilis, which he claimed to have caught prostituting himself to men.

Although Amery asserted that his formal education effectively ceased at the age of fifteen, he was nevertheless bright enough to secure a place at Oxford - which he promptly abandoned in favour of entering the more glamorous film world, with which he had become obsessed. His mentor was Reginald Fogwell (telegraph address: 'Attaboy, Piccy, London'), a director with a talent for raising cash to make expensive disasters. Aged eighteen and armed with what he has learned from Fogwell (which was not much; by all accounts he was ignorant of even the most basic cinematic techniques), and an ambition to become the youngest living film director, Amery set up a film company with his schoolfriend David Mure and a couple of other contemporaries. They were joined in the enterprise by 'Count' Johnston Noad, an adventurer who had gained some noteriety in the twenties racing speedboats but subsequently turned to scams and crime. Noad claimed to be the cousin of the King of Montenegro, married a woman sufficiently notorious in the underworld to hae earned the nickname the 'Black Orchid' and, on being convicted of fraud after the war, shared a cell in Wakefield Prison with the atomic spy Klaus Fuchs. Nonetheless, leo Amery laboured under the cruel misapprehension that his son's new friend would be a beneficent influence.


(Amery promises a feature film, takes the money & doesn't deliver)


The 'Jungle Skies' fiasco was probably his biggest disaster, but its combination of incompetence and almost delusional grandiosity, glued together with low deceit, was typical of his business ventures over the next few years. Attempts to resurrect his film career were interleaved with persistent drunkeness, sexual perversion, dalliances with petty crime (generally in tandem with the count) and the odd desultory attempts to live something approaching a conventional existence. Amery's life was one of furtive deals made in the corners of Mayfair nightclubs, diamonds that were only diamonds if you didn't look too closely, companies that folded almost as soon as they formed, dusty lock-ups filled with French liquor and perfume, bad cheques, bad faith and lies. He had become the kind of fur-coated playboy who drove around the West End in a Rolls Royce with gold fittings but still cadged a pound from waitresses to buy a round of drinks. He lied so much and so often that even those who considered themselves his friends called him the 'Rat'. Before he was twenty he had committed seventy four motoring offences, thinking nothing of stopping his car and leaving it in the middle of the road if he fancied a drink.


This period gave further evidence of John's mental instability. he was convinced he was in constant danger of violent assault. He remained fixated by his teddy bear, and developed an obsession with his overcoat. He was in the habit of buying an extra seat at the cinema or theatre for it and would refuse to stay in a hotel or restaurant if staff insisted on putting his overcoat in the cloakroom.

John did not recognise what passed for conventional morality in the thirties: he was grubby, dishonest, flashy and cruel, and laughed at the values held by his contemplates (the final straw at Harrow was not, as might be expected, his 'shop stealing, moral breakdown and unsatisfactory work', but his refusal to submit to the prescribed punishment for 'deliberately slacking at cricket' - he had walked a bye rather than run it). On one occasion he pulled a revolver on another driver after their cars had collided. When the other man complained and threatened to call the police, Amery replied, 'We are not ordinary people. You can't do anything to us.'


.... he fell under the spell of charismatic French fascist leader called Jaques Doriot. 'Grand Jaques', the self-made son of a blacksmith and seamstress, is many of the things that Amery is not. He is big and strong, his shoulders are powerful. he exudes health and confidence, and loves fighting and women. Amery's new friend is a former communist who at one time looked set to assume leadership of the party in France, but was instead defeated in a power struggle. His response was to launch his own Partie Populaire Francaise (PFF), which rapidly veered towards the extreme right. Doriot's fascist beliefs, a contemporary claims, are just the same he held as a communist, but 'turned inside out'.

Amery finds Doriot and everything he represents irresistible. John discovers that his flesh has changed, that a set of beliefs has slid beneath his ribs and into his soul. It is all too tempting to conceive of John Amery's fascism as being of a piece with the moral squalor that had defined his existence up until this point. But he saw it as good and true. It was not pure - he could never have claimed to posses a coherent set of doctrinally sound beliefs - but it was undoubtedly sincere. His existence was so disordered, shameful and absurd that without this belief in something better, something that gave meaning to his life, his brief spell on the planet may well have been briefer still: long before his encounter with Albert Pierrepoint he would have choked in a pool of his own vomit, or met his end staring wildly in a back alley as a knife sliced through his throat.

Facism allowed John Amery to convince himself that perhaps the causes of his unhappiness and insecurity might be located outside himself - in the actions of the wicked Jews, the exploitative capitalists and the sclerotic governments. It expanded his world - providing a home for his inchoate sense of rage and resentment, his narcissist's desire to be acclaimed - at the same time as it shrank it by prescribing the narrow and rigid doctrines of anti-Semitism and authoritarianism."


  1. Yep, that's a murderhobo right there.

  2. Jack Amery is somewhere between diabolic villain and patron saint of murder-hobos.

  3. Life's an adventure I guess.