Brian Cleeve

Brian Cleeve

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Brian Brendon Talbot Cleeve (22 November 1921 – 11 March 2003) was a prolific writer, whose published works include twenty-one novels and over a hundred short stories. He was also an award-winning broadcaster on RTÉ
RTÉ One is the flagship television channel of Raidió Teilifís Éireann , and it is the most popular and most watched television channel in Ireland. It was launched as Telefís Éireann on 31 December 1961, it was renamed RTÉ Television in 1966, and it was renamed as RTÉ One upon the launch of RTÉ...

 television. Son of an Irish father and English mother, he was born and raised in England. He lived in South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

 during the early years of National Party
National Party (South Africa)
The National Party is a former political party in South Africa. Founded in 1914, it was the governing party of the country from 4 June 1948 until 9 May 1994. Members of the National Party were sometimes known as Nationalists or Nats. Its policies included apartheid, the establishment of a...

 rule and was expelled from the country because of his opposition to apartheid. In his early thirties he moved to Ireland where he lived for the remainder of his life. In late middle age he underwent a profound spiritual experience, which led him to embrace mysticism
Mysticism is the knowledge of, and especially the personal experience of, states of consciousness, i.e. levels of being, beyond normal human perception, including experience and even communion with a supreme being.-Classical origins:...

. He developed a model for the spiritual life based on the principle of obedience to the will of God.


Brian Cleeve was born in Southend-on-Sea
Southend-on-Sea is a unitary authority area, town, and seaside resort in Essex, England. The district has Borough status, and comprises the towns of Chalkwell, Eastwood, Leigh-on-Sea, North Shoebury, Prittlewell, Shoeburyness, Southchurch, Thorpe Bay, and Westcliff-on-Sea. The district is situated...

, Essex, the second of three sons to Charles Edward Cleeve and his wife Josephine (née Talbot). Josephine was a native of Essex, where her family had lived for generations. Charles Cleeve, who was born in Limerick
Limerick is the third largest city in the Republic of Ireland, and the principal city of County Limerick and Ireland's Mid-West Region. It is the fifth most populous city in all of Ireland. When taking the extra-municipal suburbs into account, Limerick is the third largest conurbation in the...

, Ireland, was a scion
Kinship is a relationship between any entities that share a genealogical origin, through either biological, cultural, or historical descent. And descent groups, lineages, etc. are treated in their own subsections....

 of a famous and wealthy family that ran several successful Irish enterprises
Condensed Milk Company of Ireland
The Condensed Milk Company of Ireland Limited was an Irish manufacturer of dairy products and, in its heyday, the largest of its kind in the United Kingdom. Its most famous product was Cleeve's Toffee, a popular confectionery which continued to be sold in Ireland until the 1980s.-Origins:The...

 in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Cleeves came from Canada originally and emigrated to Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century. As a result of labour troubles and the effects of the Irish Civil War
Irish Civil War
The Irish Civil War was a conflict that accompanied the establishment of the Irish Free State as an entity independent from the United Kingdom within the British Empire....

, the Cleeve business
Condensed Milk Company of Ireland
The Condensed Milk Company of Ireland Limited was an Irish manufacturer of dairy products and, in its heyday, the largest of its kind in the United Kingdom. Its most famous product was Cleeve's Toffee, a popular confectionery which continued to be sold in Ireland until the 1980s.-Origins:The...

 failed and Charles moved with his family to England, where Brian was born in 1921.

When he was two-and-a-half, Brian's mother died and his maternal grandparents, Alfred and Gertrude Talbot, took over responsibility for his upbringing. At age eight, Cleeve was sent as a boarder to Selwyn House in Kent
Kent is a county in southeast England, and is one of the home counties. It borders East Sussex, Surrey and Greater London and has a defined boundary with Essex in the middle of the Thames Estuary. The ceremonial county boundaries of Kent include the shire county of Kent and the unitary borough of...

, followed at age 12 by three years at St. Edward's School
St Edward's School (Oxford)
St. Edward's School is a co-educational independent boarding school located in Oxford, England. The school is located on the Woodstock Road in the north of the city close to the suburb of Summertown. In 2007 it was voted by the Country Life Magazine as number one in the top ten schools in the UK...

 in Oxford
The city of Oxford is the county town of Oxfordshire, England. The city, made prominent by its medieval university, has a population of just under 165,000, with 153,900 living within the district boundary. It lies about 50 miles north-west of London. The rivers Cherwell and Thames run through...

. He was by nature a free-thinker and he rejected the assumptions and prejudices that were then part and parcel of upper-middle class English life. His unwillingness to conform meant that school life was very difficult for him, and, in the late summer of 1938, Cleeve decided not to return to St. Edward's for his final year. Instead, he ran away to sea.

Early life

Cleeve led an eventful life during the next fifteen years. He served on the RMS Queen Mary
RMS Queen Mary
RMS Queen Mary is a retired ocean liner that sailed primarily in the North Atlantic Ocean from 1936 to 1967 for the Cunard Line...

 as a commis waiter for several months. At age 17 he joined the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders
Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders
The Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders was an infantry regiment of the British Army formed in 1793. In 1961 it was merged with the Seaforth Highlanders to form the Queen's Own Highlanders...

 as a private soldier, and, because of his age, just missed being sent to Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

 as part of the BEF
British Expeditionary Force (World War II)
The British Expeditionary Force was the British force in Europe from 1939–1940 during the Second World War. Commanded by General Lord Gort, the BEF constituted one-tenth of the defending Allied force....

 when World War II broke out. In 1940, he was selected for officer training, was commissioned into the Somerset Light Infantry, and sent to Kenya
Kenya , officially known as the Republic of Kenya, is a country in East Africa that lies on the equator, with the Indian Ocean to its south-east...

 as a Second lieutenant
Second Lieutenant
Second lieutenant is a junior commissioned officer military rank in many armed forces.- United Kingdom and Commonwealth :The rank second lieutenant was introduced throughout the British Army in 1871 to replace the rank of ensign , although it had long been used in the Royal Artillery, Royal...

 in the King's African Rifles
King's African Rifles
The King's African Rifles was a multi-battalion British colonial regiment raised from the various British possessions in East Africa from 1902 until independence in the 1960s. It performed both military and internal security functions within the East African colonies as well as external service as...

. A year later he was court-martialled as a result of his objections to the treatment by colleagues of an African prisoner. Stripped of his commission and sentenced to three years' penal servitude, he was transferred to Wakefield Prison in Yorkshire
Yorkshire is a historic county of northern England and the largest in the United Kingdom. Because of its great size in comparison to other English counties, functions have been increasingly undertaken over time by its subdivisions, which have also been subject to periodic reform...

. There, through the intervention of Sir Alexander Paterson
Alexander Paterson (penologist)
Sir Alexander Henry Paterson MC was a British penologist who, as Commissioner of Prisons, introduced reforms that would provide a humane regime in penal institutions and encourage rehabilitation among inmates....

, he was offered parole if he agreed to work for British Intelligence. For the remainder of the war he served as a counter-spy in neutral ports such as Lisbon
Lisbon is the capital city and largest city of Portugal with a population of 545,245 within its administrative limits on a land area of . The urban area of Lisbon extends beyond the administrative city limits with a population of 3 million on an area of , making it the 9th most populous urban...

. As cover, he worked as an ordinary seaman
Ordinary Seaman (occupation)
An ordinary seaman is an unlicensed member of the deck department of a merchant ship. The position is an apprenticeship to become an able seaman, and has been for centuries...

 in the Merchant Navy.

In 1945, Cleeve took an Irish passport and came to Ireland where, in the space of three weeks, he met and married Veronica McAdie. A year later, they left Ireland with baby daughter Berenice on a protracted odyssey that took them to London, Sweden, the West Indies, and finally South Africa. In 1948, the family
settled in Johannesburg
Johannesburg also known as Jozi, Jo'burg or Egoli, is the largest city in South Africa, by population. Johannesburg is the provincial capital of Gauteng, the wealthiest province in South Africa, having the largest economy of any metropolitan region in Sub-Saharan Africa...

  where Cleeve and his wife set up their own perfume business. A second daughter, Tanga, was born to the couple there in 1953. As a result of his friendship with Fr. Trevor Huddleston
Trevor Huddleston
Ernest Urban Trevor Huddleston CR, KCMG was an English Anglican bishop. He was most well known for his anti-apartheid activism and his 'Prayer for Africa'...

, Cleeve witnessed the conditions in which the black and coloured population had to live in townships such as Sophiatown. Cleeve became an outspoken critic of Apartheid, and, in 1954, he was branded by the authorities as a 'political intractable' and ordered to leave South Africa. He returned to Ireland where he lived for the remainder of his life.

Literary career

Cleeve started writing poems in his teens, a few of which were published in his school paper, the St. Edward's Chronicle. During the war he continued to produce poems of a spiritual or metaphysical
Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world, although the term is not easily defined. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms:...

 nature, most of which were never published. In 1945, he turned to novel-writing. After his first two attempts were rejected, his third novel, The Far Hills
The Far Hills
The Far Hills was the first of English-born author Brian Cleeve's novels to be published. Written when he lived in South Africa, it is a roman à clef about his time in Dublin immediately after World War II. The novel paints an unflattering picture of lower middle-class life in Ireland's capital...

, was published in 1952. It is a roman à clef
Roman à clef
Roman à clef or roman à clé , French for "novel with a key", is a phrase used to describe a novel about real life, overlaid with a façade of fiction. The fictitious names in the novel represent real people, and the "key" is the relationship between the nonfiction and the fiction...

 about the first few months of his married life in Dublin. It is also an unflattering picture of the drabness and mean-spiritedness of lower middle class Irish life in the mid 1940s. Two further novels about South Africa followed and their unvarnished descriptions of the reality of life for the native population probably contributed to Cleeve's eventual expulsion from the country.

In the mid 1950s, Cleeve began to concentrate on the short story
Short story
A short story is a work of fiction that is usually written in prose, often in narrative format. This format tends to be more pointed than longer works of fiction, such as novellas and novels. Short story definitions based on length differ somewhat, even among professional writers, in part because...

 form. During the next 15 years over 100 of his short stories were published in magazines and periodicals across five continents. He sold nearly 30 to The Saturday Evening Post
The Saturday Evening Post
The Saturday Evening Post is a bimonthly American magazine. It was published weekly under this title from 1897 until 1969, and quarterly and then bimonthly from 1971.-History:...

alone. In 1966, his story Foxer was honoured with a scroll at the annual Edgar Award
Edgar Award
The Edgar Allan Poe Awards , named after Edgar Allan Poe, are presented every year by the Mystery Writers of America...


During the 1960s and 70s, Cleeve returned to writing novels with considerable success. He produced a series of well-received mystery and spy thrillers that did not sacrifice character to plot. One of these, Dark Blood, Dark Terror, was reviewed in the following terms by The Sunday Express
Daily Express
The Daily Express switched from broadsheet to tabloid in 1977 and was bought by the construction company Trafalgar House in the same year. Its publishing company, Beaverbrook Newspapers, was renamed Express Newspapers...

: "Dublin author's exciting novel overshadows a man of genius. I am afraid Graham Greene
Graham Greene
Henry Graham Greene, OM, CH was an English author, playwright and literary critic. His works explore the ambivalent moral and political issues of the modern world...

 comes off second best". (This was a reference to Greene's The Comedians
The Comedians (novel)
The Comedians is a novel by Graham Greene, first published in 1966. Set in Haiti under the rule of François "Papa Doc" Duvalier and his secret police, the Tontons Macoute, The Comedians tells the story of a tired hotel owner, Brown, and his increasing fatalism as he watches Haiti descend into...


In 1971, Cleeve published Cry of Morning
Cry of Morning
Cry of Morning is a novel by the English-born author, Brian Cleeve. It deals with the economic and cultural transformation that overtook Ireland during the 1960s...

, his most controversial and successful novel up to that point. It is a panoramic depiction of the economic and social changes that affected Ireland during the 1960s as seen through the eyes of a disparate collection of well-drawn characters. Cleeve subsequently achieved even greater commercial success, especially in the United States, with a number of historical novels featuring a strong female character as protagonist. The first of these, Sara, is set in England during the Napoleonic era
Napoleonic Era
The Napoleonic Era is a period in the history of France and Europe. It is generally classified as including the fourth and final stage of the French Revolution, the first being the National Assembly, the second being the Legislative Assembly, and the third being the Directory...

 and was published in 1975.

Cleeve also wrote several works of non-fiction, principally the Dictionary of Irish Writers. This was a 20-year project to provide to scholars and the general public alike a comprehensive resource on Irish writers at an affordable price. It was a labour of love that consumed a great deal of his time and was effectively subsidised by
his more commercial pursuits. The last edition was published in 1985.

Television career

On 31 December 1961, Telefís Éireann
RTÉ One is the flagship television channel of Raidió Teilifís Éireann , and it is the most popular and most watched television channel in Ireland. It was launched as Telefís Éireann on 31 December 1961, it was renamed RTÉ Television in 1966, and it was renamed as RTÉ One upon the launch of RTÉ...

 was launched as the Republic of Ireland
Republic of Ireland
Ireland , described as the Republic of Ireland , is a sovereign state in Europe occupying approximately five-sixths of the island of the same name. Its capital is Dublin. Ireland, which had a population of 4.58 million in 2011, is a constitutional republic governed as a parliamentary democracy,...

's first indigenous television station. Cleeve joined the station as a part-time interviewer on the current affairs programme, Broadsheet
Broadsheet (Irish TV series)
Broadsheet was a Telefís Éireann television current affairs programme presented by John O'Donoghue, Brian Cleeve, and Brian Farrell and broadcast in Ireland live on weekday evenings from 1962 to 1963.-Background:...

. In 1964, a new documentary series, Discovery
Discovery (Irish TV series)
Discovery was the first documentary television series to be broadcast on RTÉ. The series started on January 7, 1964 with a programme on Dublin Airport.The series producer was Charlie Scott, and Brian Cleeve was the presenter and scriptwriter...

, began with Cleeve as scriptwriter and presenter. The series covered all aspects of Irish life and Cleeve won a Jacobs' Award for his contribution.

In January 1966, Telefís Éireann announced that Cleeve was being dropped as presenter of Discovery because his voice was deemed to be "too light in tone". Many suspected that the real reason was political. Cleeve was told by a colleague that his English accent was felt to be similar to that of the "ascendancy class". This was a reference to the Protestant Ascendancy
Protestant Ascendancy
The Protestant Ascendancy, usually known in Ireland simply as the Ascendancy, is a phrase used when referring to the political, economic, and social domination of Ireland by a minority of great landowners, Protestant clergy, and professionals, all members of the Established Church during the 17th...

 elite which had governed Ireland up to 1800. An evening newspaper mounted a campaign on Cleeve's behalf and he was soon reinstated.

In September 1966, he joined the new weekly current affairs programme, 7 Days
7 Days (Ireland)
7 Days was a Radio Telefís Éireann current affairs programme presented by Brian Farrell, Brian Cleeve and John O'Donoghue and broadcast in Ireland from 1966 until 1976.-Background:...

. There, Cleeve and his colleagues set about exposing issues of public interest, much to the dismay of the traditional power structures of big business, the Catholic Church and the political parties. Eventually, external pressure led to the programme coming under tighter editorial control. Cleeve refused to be subject to the new regime and was moved to other less controversial programmes. Telefís Éireann did not renew his contract when it expired in 1973, ironically, just as his last documentary won two awards at the Golden Prague
Prague is the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic. Situated in the north-west of the country on the Vltava river, the city is home to about 1.3 million people, while its metropolitan area is estimated to have a population of over 2.3 million...

 International Television Festival. The documentary, Behind The Closed Eye, focused on the Irish poet Francis Ledwidge
Francis Ledwidge
Francis Edward Ledwidge was an Irish war poet from County Meath. Sometimes known as the "poet of the blackbirds", he was killed in action at the Battle of Passchendaele during World War I.-Early life:...

 who was killed while serving
in the British army in Belgium during World War I.

Other interests

In addition to his literary and broadcasting careers, Cleeve had a lively interest in many other areas.
  • While living in South Africa, he took up épée fencing under the Italian master, Ugo Monticelli. Later, in Ireland, he became prominent in the sport's organisation and went on to become Irish champion in 1957 and 1959.
  • Shakespeare's Hamlet
    The Tragical History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, or more simply Hamlet, is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1599 and 1601...

     fascinated him and his thesis on the origin of the tale of the Danish prince led to him receiving his PhD from University College Dublin
    University College Dublin
    University College Dublin ) - formally known as University College Dublin - National University of Ireland, Dublin is the Republic of Ireland's largest, and Ireland's second largest, university, with over 1,300 faculty and 17,000 students...

  • His interest in languages drew him to the study of Shelta, the secret language of the Irish Traveller
    Irish Traveller
    Irish Travellers are a traditionally nomadic people of ethnic Irish origin, who maintain a separate language and set of traditions. They live predominantly in the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom and the United States.-Etymology:...


Spiritual life

Raised as an Anglican, Cleeve converted to Roman Catholicism in 1942. In his thirties he became agnostic but continued to pursue his interest in the spiritual dimension of life. In 1977, he began to experience a deep sense of the presence of God and the effect on his life was profound. He all but abandoned his successful literary career and wrote three mystical works that aroused much debate in Ireland. The first of these, The House on the Rock, contains a series of meditations on a wide variety of topics from the nature of good and evil to more secular matters such as politics and nuclear energy. This was followed by The Seven Mansions, which delves deeper into some of the subjects covered in its predecessor. The third book, The Fourth Mary, was published in 1982 and is an account of a branch of the cult of Dionysus
Dionysus was the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness and ecstasy in Greek mythology. His name in Linear B tablets shows he was worshipped from c. 1500—1100 BC by Mycenean Greeks: other traces of Dionysian-type cult have been found in ancient Minoan Crete...

 that flourished in first century Jerusalem.

When the clamour caused by his spiritual books died down, Cleeve withdrew from the public gaze. He continued to write for a small audience of those who contacted him following publication of The House on the Rock. In 2001, he published a collection of essays on the Internet summarising his spiritual beliefs. In these, he described the steps he believed were necessary for anyone wishing to pursue a spiritual life. They consist of learning to follow God's guidance as an "inner voice" in one's mind, uncovering the past failures that keep one trapped in a negative cycle of self-absorption, and learning the qualities necessary to live as one of God's servants.

Final years

Following his wife Veronica's death in 1999, Cleeve moved to the village of Shankill
Shankill can mean:* Belfast Shankill * Belfast Shankill , the 1918–1922 UK Parliament constituency* Shankill, County Antrim, a parish in County Antrim, Northern Ireland...

, Dublin. His health deteriorated rapidly following a series of small strokes. In November 2001, he married his second wife, Patricia Ledwidge, and she cared for him during his final months.

On 11 March 2003, he died suddenly of a heart attack
Myocardial infarction
Myocardial infarction or acute myocardial infarction , commonly known as a heart attack, results from the interruption of blood supply to a part of the heart, causing heart cells to die...

 and his body now lies under a headstone bearing the inscription, 'Servant of God'.


  • The Far Hills
    The Far Hills
    The Far Hills was the first of English-born author Brian Cleeve's novels to be published. Written when he lived in South Africa, it is a roman à clef about his time in Dublin immediately after World War II. The novel paints an unflattering picture of lower middle-class life in Ireland's capital...

  • Portrait of My City (1953)
  • Birth of a Dark Soul (1954) (also published as The Night Winds)
  • Assignment to Vengeance (1961)
  • Death of a Painted Lady (1962)
  • Death of a Wicked Servant (1963)
  • Vote X for Treason (1964) (also published as Counterspy)
  • Dark Blood, Dark Terror (1966)
  • The Judas Goat (1966) (also published as Vice Isn't Private)
  • Violent Death of a Bitter Englishman (1967)
  • You Must Never Go Back (1968)
  • Exit from Prague (1970) (also published as Escape from Prague)
  • Cry of Morning
    Cry of Morning
    Cry of Morning is a novel by the English-born author, Brian Cleeve. It deals with the economic and cultural transformation that overtook Ireland during the 1960s...

    (1971) (also published as The Triumph of O'Rourke)
  • Tread Softly in this Place
    Tread Softly in this Place
    Tread Softly in this Place is a novel set in the town of Ross, located in a remote part of rural Ireland, and written over the course of 1970/71 by the Irish-based author, Brian Cleeve. The narrative takes place over four days and charts the interconnecting lives and loves of a disparate collection...

  • The Dark Side of the Sun (1973)
  • A Question of Inheritance (1974) (also published as For Love of Crannagh Castle)
  • Sara (1975)
  • Kate (1977)
  • Judith
    Judith (novel)
    Judith is the third in a series of historical novels set in late eighteenth-century England written by the Irish-based author Brian Cleeve. Like its predecessors, Judith features as its protagonist a young independent-minded woman who tries to make her way in a largely inhospitable and sometimes...

  • Hester (1978)
  • A Woman of Fortune (1993)


  • Dictionary of Irish Writers – Volume 1 (1967)
  • Dictionary of Irish Writers – Volume 2 (1970)
  • Dictionary of Irish Writers – Volume 3 (1971)
  • W.B. Yeats and the Designing of Ireland's Coinage (1972)
  • The House on the Rock (1980)
  • The Seven Mansions (1980)
  • 1938: A World Vanishing (1982)
  • The Fourth Mary (1982)
  • A View of the Irish (1983)
  • Biographical Dictionary of Irish Writers (1985) (with Anne Brady)

Radio/TV Plays and Scripts

  • The Voodoo Dancer (1961)
  • Comeback (1962) (with Veronica Cleeve)
  • The King of Sunday (1962)
  • A Case of Character (1964) (with John Bowen)
  • The Girl from Mayo (1969) (with Carolyn Swift)
  • You Must Never Go Back (1971) (with Peter Hoar)
  • Cry of Morning (1972) (with Peter Hoar)
  • Exit from Prague (1972) (with Peter Hoar)

Short stories (selected)

  • Alibi (1947)
  • The Eight Kikuyu (1955)
  • Passport to Darkness (1956)
  • The Salmon of Knowledge (1957)
  • The Medal (1961)
  • The Panther (1961)
  • The Sergeant (1963)
  • Foxer (1965)
  • The Horse Thieves of Ballysaggert (1966) (Collection)
  • The Devil & Democracy (1966)
  • First Love (1968)
  • Madonna of Rathmines (1969)
  • An Arab was the First Gardener (1970)

Additional reading and sources

  • Bruce, Jim, Faithful Servant: A Memoir of Brian Cleeve (Lulu, 2007, ISBN 978-1-84753-064-6)
  • Cleeve, Veronica, A Woman's Story, (Capel, 1982, ISBN 905441567)
  • Macdonald, Gina (ed.), Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 276: British Mystery and Thriller Writers Since 1960 (Thomson Gale, 2003, ISBN 978-0787660208)
  • Reilly, John M.(ed.), Twentieth-century crime and mystery writers (Palgrave Macmillan, 1985, ISBN 0312824181)
  • Vasudevan, Aruna (ed.), Twentieth-century romance and historical writers (St. James Press, 1994, ISBN 1558621806)

External links