Biographies may be more popular than ever, but finding the right subject is never an easy business. Publishers prefer old favourites, and are reluctant to invest in unfamiliar names; biographers who struggle to earn a living are easily seduced into writing another unnecessary life of Churchill or Conan Doyle. Simon Courtauld has bucked the trend: his subject is one of those characters who flit through the footnotes of the memoirs, lives and letters of his better-known contemporaries, and is almost entirely unremembered by the world at large. An Oxford Professor of Spectroscopy, a war hero and a courageous amateur jockey, Derek Jackson was married to some of the most beautiful women of his generation: whether he can sustain even the briefest of lives – and this is very brief – is open to doubt.
Derek Jackson’s father was a Welsh barrister and an authority on antique silver; he was also the chairman of the News of the World, and because he owned a sizeable chunk of the equity at a time when the circulation was rising from 40,000 a week to 4.4 million, he