In researching material for my book on the Waughs, Fathers and Sons, I came across the obscure name of S P B Mais many times, for over a long lifespan S P B had, at various junctures, earned his keep as novelist, broadcaster, gossip columnist and schoolteacher, and it was in connection with three of these four professions that he came into close contact with members of my family.
As a schoolboy at Sherborne from 1911 to 1915, my great-uncle, Alec Waugh, revered S P B above all the other masters. In his memoir The Early Years of Alec Waugh he recalled the new teacher’s arrival at the school in the winter term of 1913: ‘He talked at the top of his voice. He was breathlessly alive. He hit Sherborne like a whirlwind. Anything he taught became dramatic.’ Still in his twenties, S P B delivered classes on poetry and literature with extraordinary gusto, inspiring his pupils with lessons on the personalities of poets, encouraging debates on ‘Byron v Wordsworth’ and dishing out marks by the thousand so that even the most average boy could boast to his parents at the end of the year that he had amassed more than ten million marks for English.
All this made little Alec very happy, but little Alec was the apple of his father’s eye and Arthur Waugh was a jealous man, pathologically enamoured with his eldest son. He needed Alec’s love as a druggy needs his drugs, and he wanted it all to himself, exhorting his son