British Author and Journalist
Born 1895 Died 1941
Archibald Gordon Macdonell was born on the 3rd November 1895 at Poona in India, the younger of the two sons and one daughter of William Robert Macdonell and his wife, Alice Elizabeth. His father was an East India merchant and the chairman of the Bombay Chamber of Commerce, while is mother was the daughter of John Forbes White, a noted classical scholar and patron of the arts.
The family returned to Scotland shortly after he was born, but he was educated in England. firstly at Horris Hill Preparatory School in Berkshire and then at Winchester College. He left Winchester in 1914 and later joined the army and saw active serive as a lieutenant in the Royal Field Artillery of the 51st Highland division during the years 1916 to 1918. After the war he first worked for the Friends' Emergency and War Victims Relief Committee in both Poland and Russia, before joining the headquarters staff of the League of Nations Union in 1922. For a time he was active in the Liberal Party and stood unsuccessfully as their candidate for Lincoln in both 1923 and 1924.
After leaving the League of Nations Union in 1927 he found work as the drama critic of the London Mercury, and over the next six years wrote a series of nine detective novels under the pseudonyms Neil Gordon and John Cameron. The Mercury's editor John Collings Squire, did not however share his enthusiasm for detective fiction, and encouraged him to try his hand at more 'serious' work.
The result was his best known work England their England, which included a famous description of a village cricket match which for a time became required reading in schools, and is still regarded as being one of the classics of British humour. Although ostensibly a novel, the fictional account of a journalist named Donald Cameron who is commissioned to write a book about the English, serves only as a wrapping for what is essentially "a collection of satirical essays on English life". The fictional setting was however sufficient to enable him to win the
James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction in 1933. Its success prompted him to write further satirical works such as How Like an Angel (1934) and Autobiography of a Cad (1938).
Archibald became a prolific writer during the 1930s when his output included a work on military history, Napoleon and his Marshals (1934), a play What next, baby? Or Shall I go to Tanganiyaka (1939), a volume of short stories, The Spanish Pistol (1939). and a thriller, The Crew of the Anaconda (1940). He also became a regular contributor to The Observer and made a number of radio broadcasts for the BBC.
He married twice, the first time around on the 31st August 1926 to Mona Sabine Mann, the daughter of the artist Harrington Mann. They had one daughter named Jennifer, but that marriage was dissolved in 1937 on the grounds of Macdonell's adultery. He then married a Viennese refugee Rose Paul-Schiff (from the Austrian banking family of Schiff) on the 22nd June 1940. His health had however suffered as a result of his service in the First World War and he died suddenly of heart failure in his bath at 14A Broad Street, Oxford on the 16th January 1941 at the age of forty-five.
1. As Neil Gordon
2. As John Cameron
3. As A.G. Macdonell
Deedes, ‘Macdonell, Archibald Gordon (1895–1941)’, rev. Clare L. Taylor, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
Archibald Gordon Macdonell Series I. Works
Archibald Gordon Macdonell