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Robert Cecil Romer Maugham, 2nd Viscount Maugham (17 May 1916 – 13 March 1981), known as Robin Maugham, was a British author.
Trained as a barrister, he served with distinction in World War II, and wrote a successful novella, The Servant, later filmed with Dirk Bogarde and James Fox. This was followed by over thirty books including novels, travelogues, plays and biographical works. In the House of Lords, he drew attention to human trafficking as the new slavery.
Maugham was the son of Frederic Maugham, 1st Viscount Maugham, and Helen Romer. Educated at Eton College and Trinity Hall, Cambridge, he was expected to follow his father and grandfather into the law. But although he qualified as a barrister, he realised that his real calling was to follow his uncle, W. Somerset Maugham as a writer. He also responded against his elite background, turning socialist as a reaction to the spread of fascism in 1930s Europe.
When the Second World War looked inevitable, he declined a commission in the Hussars and instead joined up as an ordinary trooper in the 4th County of London Yeomanry tank regiment bound for North Africa. Later, his commanding officer Brigadier Carr recorded in dispatches that Robin Maugham had saved the lives of perhaps 40 men by pulling them from destroyed tanks. At the Battle of Knightsbridge he sustained a severe head wound that resulted in blackouts, which he later joked made him perfect material for a job in intelligence.
After a period of convalescence he became the unofficial liaison officer between Winston Churchill and both Glubb Pasha and General Paget. He describes in his first travel book Nomad (Chapman & Hall 1947) how he dashed across the Levant from one bemedaled dignitary to another. His maverick style proved an effective driving force behind the setting up of the Middle East Centre for Arab Studies (MECAS), corroborated in Leslie McLoughin’s history of British Arabists in the 20th century In a Sea of Knowledge (Ithica Press 2002). MECAS had a profound effect on diplomatic relations in the Middle East for decades to come. Frustrated by governmental delays, and in a state of exhaustion, he was invalided back to England.
Disillusioned by politics, he turned his mind to writing. His first professional dramatic work appeared at the Chanticleer Theatre in South Kensington (1944). This was followed by a novel, Come to Dust (Chapman & Hall 1945), written in a hospital bed as a cathartic release from the traumas of war. His first major success came with the publication of a novella entitled The Servant (Falcon Press 1948), on which was based the classic film The Servant with Dirk Bogarde and James Fox.
After his father died in 1958, he took the title of 2nd Viscount Maugham. His maiden speech in the House of Lords on slavery alerted the world to the continued existence of human trafficking. From this came his book The Slaves of Timbuktu (Longmans 1961). At the height of his powers, Robin Maugham was a best-selling author with his novels translated into many languages. He wrote over thirty books including novels, travel books, plays, and biographical works such as Somerset and all the Maughams (Heinemann 1966).
However, in the last five years of his life, with the impact of the new movement of working class realism, his popularity began to diminish and his health deteriorated. Robin Maugham died in Brighton in 1981, aged 64.
Described as "defiantly homosexual", but, in fact, bisexual, Maugham never married, and the viscountcy became extinct upon his death. He died from a pulmonary embolism, compounded by long-standing diabetes mellitus, although an official cause of death was difficult to obtain as his body was apparently lost for forty-eight hours after his death. He had three sisters: Kate, Honor, and novelist Diana Marr-Johnson (1908–2007). He is buried in Hartfield, Sussex, next to his parents.
Maugham bought the merchant ship MV Joyita as a hulk in the early 1960s, writing about the mystery of the incident in his book The Joyita Mystery (1962). The ship had been lost at sea only to reappear five weeks later after a massive search found nothing, without crew or passengers, and with four tons of cargo missing. He wrote a candid, critically acclaimed, autobiography, Escape from the Shadows (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1972), and then a sequel, Search for Nirvana (1975).
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