Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The Legendary Paddy Leigh Fermor

by Josh Brown

Patrick Leigh Fermor
(source: Daily Telegraph)
In the late 1930’s a young Anglo-Irishman set out to walk to Constantinople. His account would lead him to become a world-renowned travel writer. Patrick Leigh Fermor (Paddy) was the kind of tall, handsome, mild-mannered hero that now seems, sadly, part of the past.

Despite an unimpressive school record, his fluent Greek led him to be parachuted into Crete to coordinate opposition to the Nazi occupation. This role was crudely parodied by Louise De Berniere in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin but Fermor had the grace not to respond. Famously, a drunken night in a taverna led to Paddy and a compatriot William Moss devising and executing a plan to kidnap the German in charge of the occupation, General Kriepe. Despite vicious reprisals, the full might of the Luftwaffe and an almost impossible journey over the mountains, the scheme was successful. Moss’s account, “Ill Met By Moonlight”, was made into a film by Powell and Pressburger with Dirk Bogarde cast as Fermor.

Settled in the Marni on the Greek mainland with his wife, Fermor emulated that other British champion of Greek freedom, Byron, and swam the Hellespont. Byron was thirty-two, Paddy Fermor was sixty-nine!

An acclaimed new biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor by Artemis Cooper was published last month. From Robert Macfarlane's review:

"Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Patrick Leigh Fermor's legendary life is that it lasted as long as it did. He died in 2011 at the age of 96, having survived enough assaults on his existence to make Rasputin seem like a quitter. He was car-bombed by communists in Greece, knifed in Bulgaria, and pursued by thousands of Wehrmacht troops across Crete after kidnapping the commander of German forces on the island. Malaria, cancer and traffic accidents failed to claim him. He was the target of a long-standing Cretan blood vendetta, which did not deter him from returning to the island, though assassins waited with rifles and binoculars outside the villages he visited.
 . . .  Yes, Leigh Fermor was an insurer's nightmare, an actuary's case-study, and his longevity was preposterous. He might best be imagined as a mixture of Peter Pan, Forrest Gump, James Bond and Thomas Browne. He was elegant as a cat, darkly handsome, unboreable, curious, fearless, fortunate, blessed with a near-eidetic memory, and surely one of the great English prose stylists of his generation."

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments with names are more likely to be published.