I was born in London, the only child of two visual artists. I later studied painting at Norwich School of Art & Design. There, my tutors included Anna Marie Pacheco, Peter de Francia and Michael Upton.  

I also started an English Literature degree at King’s College London, from where I eventually transferred to a Literature and Film Studies course at the University of East Anglia. On leaving full-time education, I floundered for a few years, earning a living as a picture-framer, a door-to-door canvasser and then a box office cashier and front-of-house manager in a cinema. From there, I drifted into publicity and marketing, initially focussing on arthouse movies. Over the years I organised numerous film events, involving the likes of Christopher Hampton, Ray Harryhausen, Rose Tremain, Stephen Fry and Michael Frayn. I went on to work as a press officer for one of the national parks, as a freelance publicist and as the co-ordinator of a printmaking project, run by the artists Roger Ackling and Anthony Benjamin, as well as the architect Will Alsop. 

In 2003 I made my literary debut with Fear and Loathing in Fitzrovia, a biography of the writer and bohemian dandy Julian Maclaren-Ross, whose work I’d admired for many years. Thanks to my previous experience as a publicist, combined with a certain amount of luck, I was able to generate plenty of media attention for it, triggering a revival of interest in Maclaren-Ross’s work, much of which has subsequently come back into print. Besides instigating the Penguin Classics reissue of his 1947 novel, Of Love and Hunger, I was given the opportunity to compile four well-received collections of his work: the Selected Stories, Collected Memoirs, BittenBy The Tarantula and Other Writing, not to mention his Selected Letters.

Since the publication of Fear and Loathing in Fitzrovia, I’ve written three more non-fiction books, all of which have a mid-twentieth-century London backdrop. The next of these was North Soho 999, a real-life police procedural set in the capital during the little-known crime wave of the late 1940s.

I followed this with Members Only, a life and times of Paul Raymond, the theatre impresario, property magnate, porn baron and strip-show king. The book formed the basis for the movie, The Look of Love (2013), directed by Michael Winterbottom and starring Steve Coogan, Anna Friel and Imogen Poots. I worked as a consultant on the film, mainly advising the screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh, whose previous credits include Control and Nowhere Boy. What's more, I was wittily cast in the unflattering cameo role of Lord Longford, the anti-pornography campaigner. The role was originally a speaking part, but the dialogue between myself and Steve Coogan ended up being dropped during the final round of cutting. I remain visible, however, in the finished film, resplendent in a horrible 1970s polyester suit, a frizzy wig and some round-framed glasses that contribute towards making me appear even shiftier than the film’s anti-hero.

My latest book is Rendezvous at the Russian Tea Rooms, which could be described as a non-fiction espionage procedural. I first started casually researching this in 1986. Between then and its eventual completion, I amassed more than a million words of notes. The resultant book took almost five years to evolve into its final shape.

In tandem with my output as a writer of non-fiction books, I’ve produced occasional journalism for a wide variety of publications. Among these are The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Independent, The Independent on Sunday, The Times, History Today and The Spectator.

I have meanwhile collaborated with the photographer Andi Sapey (www.andisapey.co.uk) on a large number of pictures. The most recent of these were a set of front cover images for Rendezvous at the Russian Tea Rooms. Commissioned by the Little, Brown Book Group, I conceived our photos as a pastiche of 1930s and 1940s colour fashion photography. 

Andi and I have also worked together on two stocking-filler photo books. The first of these was Teenage Flicks, a light-hearted tribute to Subbuteo, the kids’ football game. Juxtaposed with the pictures were Subbuteo-playing reminiscences by a deliberately incongruous selection of people, among them Will Self, Alastair Campbell, David Baddiel, Jonathan Meades and Graham Taylor. 

I’m currently working on my fifth non-fiction book.




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