in print
The English writer and dandy, Julian Maclaren-Ross (1912-64), is synonymous with the bohemian world of mid-twentieth-century Soho. There he rubbed shoulders with the likes of Dylan Thomas, Quentin Crisp, John Minton, Nina Hamnett, Joan Wyndham, Aleister Crowley, John Deakin, Augustus John, Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde. His theatrical dress sense — a sharp suit combined with his famous teddy-bear coat, aviator-style dark glasses and cigarette-holder — ensured that he stood out even in such flamboyant company. Intrigued by his stylish get-up and dissolute way of life, numerous writers, most notably and Olivia Manning, used him as a model for characters in their fiction.

During the 1940s Maclaren-Ross was usually to be found in the Saloon Bar of the Wheatsheaf Pub on Rathbone Place, From the late 1930s until the late 1950s, this took over from the nearby Fitzroy Tavern as the most fashionable of the many watering-holes in North Soho, an area that has since become known as ‘Fitzrovia’.

Besides being one of Soho’s most famous denizens, Maclaren-Ross was the writer most responsible for defining its sleazy allure. He did so through a string of witty and influential short stories as well as his classic Memoirs of the Forties which also features memorable portraits of Graham Greene and Dylan Thomas.

But Maclaren-Ross is far more than just another sharp-eyed, literary bar-fly. During his lifetime he produced a substantial, astonishingly diverse body of writing which broke new ground in many genres. As an occasional film essayist, his writing about Alfred Hitchcock and film noir was well ahead of its time. As a short story writer and novelist, he introduced a new, vernacular, Americanised style to English fiction. As a writer of reportage, he anticipated Hunter S. Thomspon, Tom Wolfe and the other American ‘New Journalists’ of the 1960s. As a literary critic, he wrote with rare acuity about the writers as varied as Georges Simenon, Raymond Chandler, John Buchan, Frank Harris, Jean Cocteau, M.P. Sheil, Dashiell Hammett and Henry Green. As a memoirist, he was a forerunner of so many current writers who work in a similarly delicate, novelistic vein. As a literary parodist, he was praised by William Faulkner and P.G. Wodehouse. As a translator, he was very sensitive to stylistic nuances. And as a dramatist, he was hailed as ‘radio’s Alfred Hitchcock.’

His work was admired by Evelyn Waugh, John Betjeman, Elizabeth Bowen, Graham Greene, Cyril Connolly, , Olivia Manning, John Lehmann, Lucian Freud and others. Since his premature death at the age of only fifty-two, he has become a cult favourite among fellow writers such as Harold Pinter, Michael Holroyd, John King, Iain Sinclair, Jonathan Meades, Chris Petit, D.J. Taylor and Virginia Ironside. His reputation has also been kept alive through the campaigning of groups such as the Lost Club and the Sohemian Society.

In the wake of the publication in 2003 of Paul Willetts’s Fear and Loathing in Fitzrovia, the first biography of Maclaren-Ross, there has been an enormous resurgence of interest in both his life and work. The critical and commercial success of the biography triggered a major republication programme which has brought his touching, influential and often witty work to the attention of a wider public. Critics have been unanimous in their praise, hailing him as a major twentieth-century writer.