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Philip McCutchan

1920-1996

Pen name: Duncan MacNeil

Resident: 1953-1963

Philip McCutchan, author of over 130 novels, lived in Rowlands Castle from 1953 until 1963. In 1954 with his wife, Elizabeth, he opened a teashop called The Spanish Gipsy which was attached to Myrtle Cottage, 32 The Green.

It was during this time that Philip established his writing career, having five of his “Commander Shaw” novels published, and several radio plays performed by the BBC.  Commander Shaw worked for British Intelligence, a tough character with a licence to kill.   By 1960 Philip was so well established as a writer that they were able to close the Spanish Gipsy. Philip now worked in the back of the single storey annexe which had housed the teashop.  He kept office hours but as an early “home worker” he would break to turn on the wireless to “Listen with Daddy (Mother)” with his young son, Donald.  Donald’s early memories of the Spanish Gipsy recall sitting with his feet cooling off in the ice cream freezer during hot summers.

In 1963 the family, which by now included daughter Rosemary, moved to Worthing where they lived until Philip died in 1996.

Early Years

Philip was born in Cambridge in 1920.  His childhood was divided between his parents’ home in Portsmouth and his grandparents’ homes, Conington Hall, near Cambridge and Glenlo Abbey in County Galway. Philip’s father was a Master Mariner who achieved his Master’s Ticket under sail and was still serving in the era of the Nuclear Submarine.

Philip always wanted to join the Royal Navy and applied to Dartmouth. However, to his disappointment, he failed the Maths paper for the entrance exam and passed instead into Sandhurst.  There he spent one miserable term before war broke out and he decided to fulfil his ambition by joining the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve as an Ordinary Seaman.  He was quickly spotted as officer material and served as a Lieutenant for the remainder of the war. He saw action escorting North Atlantic convoys and in Operation Torch. After the war he spent three years in the Merchant Service making voyages to South Africa, Australia and India before returning to London to take up a post with the Anglo Iranian Oil Company.  The City lifestyle did not suit him. So, by now married to Elizabeth, and with his ambition to write becoming stronger, he tried his hand at Prep School Teaching. This experience provided rich material for one of his earliest published novels, “For the Sons of Gentlemen”.

As an Author

Shortly after moving to Worthing Philip began writing Crime fiction and in 1967 he became Chairman of the Crime Writers’ Association.

His greatest successes, however were his historical Naval and Military series.  His Naval novels were set in two different periods in history: Lt St Vincent Halfhyde served in Queen Victoria’s Navy, while Lt Cameron’s adventures took place in the second world war, drawing heavily on his own experiences at sea.

The military novels were written under his pseudonym of Duncan MacNeil.  This was a strategy suggested by his publisher, who felt that readers would be confused to read such accurate novels about two very different fields by the same author.  His eye for detail was so acute that he would receive fan mail from old soldiers who had served on the North West Frontier of India saying they felt he must have served there with them.  In reality he had never even been there.  The protagonist in these novels was Captain James Ogilvie of the 114th Queen’s Own Royal Strathspeys.

These characters were all brought alive through the pages of Philip’s novels but in a sense, they also became part of the family.  His routine was to start at 8am and work until lunchtime tapping out the stories, using two fingers, on a noisy but trusty typewriter: only towards the end of his life did he begin to use an electric typewriter with a word processing facility. Afternoons would be spent editing the previous novel to prepare it for publication. Smoking his pipe or with a cigarette continuously burning, first in the attic room of 32 The Green and later in his study at 107 Portland Road, he produced manuscript after manuscript. His London publishers would say they knew when a “Philip McCutchan” was in the building, as the pages smelled so strongly of smoke.  His publishers also described him as “green fingered.”  By this they meant he could “just do it”.  They knew his writing was so reliable his work would need very little editing. As a result, he had three or four books a year published until the total reached over 130.

In 1990 the Public Lending Right Law was passed, and it quickly proved that he was one of the top most borrowed Library Authors.  He had been active in campaigning for authors to be paid a sum of money each time their books were borrowed, and he was delighted when this finally came to fruition.

Philip died in 1996. He never really retired, and his last novel was published in the August after his death.

His Family

Philip was supported in his writing by his wife, Elizabeth Ryan. She was the first reader of every manuscript and gave him constructive criticism as well as proof reading for him. Elizabeth had trained in the days of “Lady Almoners” and took up a post as a Social Worker in the Elderly department of Worthing Hospital when they moved there. She retired in 1990 and continued to live in the house until she died in 2012.

Donald and Rosemary were both born in Northlands Maternity Home in Emsworth, under the care of Rowlands Castle GP, Dr Southam. Donald studied Medicine at Cardiff University, served in the RAMC and became an Orthopaedic Surgeon. He returned to Worthing in 1994 to take up his Consultant post and continues to live there in retirement.

Rosemary trained as a Nurse at Addenbrooke’s hospital. Later she worked at Queen Alexandra Hospital in Cosham, and then taught Nursing at St Richard’s Hospital, Chichester. More recently she taught ‘Care of the Elderly’ at Worthing College. She now lives in Chichester.

 

Appendix: Some examples of the work of Philip McCutchan:

1950s/60s Published by Harrap:

The Kid

Whistle and I’ll Come

Hopkinson and the Devil of Hate

1960s/70s Published by Hodder and Stoughton: Commander Shaw novels:

Gibraltar Road

Bluebolt One

The Man From Moscow

Simon Shard novels:

Call For Simon Shard

A Very Big Bang

Shard Calls The Tune

1980s Published by Hodder and Stoughton: Cameron Novels:

Cameron Ordinary Seaman

Cameron’s Troop Lift

Cameron Comes Through

Writing as Duncan MacNeil (1970s) Reprinted by Severn House under Philip McCutchan name

Ogilvie novels:

The Mullah From Kashmir

The Gates of Kunarja

The Red Daniel

1970s Published by Weidenfeld and Nicholson: Halfhyde novels:

Halfhyde’s Island

The Guns of Arrest

Halfhyde To The Narrows

1990s Published by Weidenfeld and Nicholson and re printed by Severn House

Tom Chatto novels:

Tom Chatto Second Mate

Tom Chatto RNR

Non Fiction: Published by Weidenfeld and Nicholson

1976 Tall Ships

1979 Great Yachts 

During summer of 2018, Donald and Rosemary, Philip McCutchan’s son and daughter, visited the model railway of Rowlands Castle Heritage Centre when on display at Stansted house, met one of the attendants and offered to draft the above article about him.

First Posted December 2018