Alastair Hugh Graham - Muses & The Beau Monde
Updated: Mar 23, 2020
"Come and drink with me somewhere"
Alastair Hugh Graham, born 27 June 1904, was an honorary attaché in Athens and Cairo, an Oxford friend of Evelyn Waugh, and, according to Waugh's letters, one of his romances. Together with Hugh Lygon, Alastair is considered the main inspiration for Sebastian Flyte in Brideshead Revisited.
Alastair attended Wellington College, Wellington, Berkshire, and then went to Brasenose College, Oxford University, where he met Evelyn Waugh around Christmas 1923 or slightly before.
In Brideshead Revisited, Waugh has Charles Ryder revisiting Brideshead Castle, and remembering "I had been there before, first with Sebastian more than twenty years ago on a cloudless day in June...". According to Philip Eade and others, Waugh is here remembering his own love affair with Graham, started at Barford House in 1923 when Graham was 19.
In his memoirs, Waugh stated that Graham was the inspiration of Lord Sebastian Flyte even more than Hugh Lygon. In the manuscript of Brideshead Revisited, the name "Alastair" sometimes occurs instead of "Sebastian". Waugh said of him he was "the friend of my heart".
When Waugh left Oxford one term short of the degree requirements in August 1924, he went to live with Graham in a caravan in a field near Beckley, and from there they went on holiday to Ireland. It was after this trip that Graham converted to Roman Catholicism.
"Alastair and I had tea together and went back to Barford where we dined in high-necked jumpers and did much that could not have been done if Mrs Graham had been here."
- Evelyn Waugh, Diary
When Graham went to visit his sister and her husband in Kenya in mid-September 1924, the friendship between Graham and Waugh took a step back, but in August 1926, Graham, his mother and Waugh went to Scotland; and on their return, Graham and Waugh went to France together with Richard Plunket Greene.
Around this time, Graham, who owned a small printing press and was then apprenticed at the Shakespeare Head Press, printed Waugh's essay P.R.B.: An Essay on the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood 1847–54.
Evelyn met She-Evelyn in April 1927 and they were married in June 1928. Alastair took photographs of the Evelyns together in the grounds of Barford House that summer. Evelyn and Alastair's moving apart was a gradual thing.
Alastair Hugh Graham was an honorary attaché to the British Minister, Sir Percy Loraine, taking over from Leonard Bowers in Athens, Greece, between 1927 and 1929, where Waugh visited him for the Christmas holidays.
In Greece Graham lived with another attaché, Mark Ogilvie-Grant. In 1929 he was transferred in Cairo, Egypt, with Ogilvie-Grant and Vivian Cornelius, and remained until 1933.
When he retuned home it seems that Alastair got into a spot of bother in London. There was a scandal involving himself and a member of the aristocracy. As Philip Eade puts it:
'Soon after leaving the diplomatic service in 1933, when Sir Percy Loraine was transferred to Ankara, Alastair had been warned by the police to leave London or go to prison following the discovery of his illicit affair with the Welsh poet Ewan Morgan, soon to be Viscount Tredegar.'
In 1936, Alastair was staying with architect Clough Williams-Ellis in Portmeiron, when he heard that a house called Plas-y-Wern was for sale, two miles from New Quay on the west coast of Wales. Alastair bought it and moved there in 1937 where he lived as a recluse on the Welsh Coast, at Plas-y-Wern Lodge in Gilfachrheda. Lottie Evans described the house as 'full of big paintings'.
Alastair gave wild parties while living at Plas Wern. Dylan Thomas went to some of these when he was living in New Quay from autumn 1944 to spring 1945.
"Revellers would tumble out of their cars and be directed to the house by Alastair holding a hurricane lamp. Inside, a polished oak staircase reflected the weak light of lanterns placed on the banister posts leading up to the library. In that large room, mellow and inviting, full of thousands of books, the party happened in the half-dark, with Alastair producing jars of pickled herring to help the various kinds of drink go down."
- Thomas Herbert, Dylan Thomas: A Farm, Two Mansions and a Bungalow.
During World War II, Graham was attached to the US Navy. According to Duncan Fallowell, Alastair sailed in a boat for the relief of Dunkirk. He also joined the Royal Observer Corps and for a time was liaison officer with the US Navy.
When the writer Duncan Fallowell tracked him down, he was a grumpy recluse, "in mortal fear of exposure". When asked directly whether he was the model for Sebastian Flyte, he replied, "No, not me, not me - er, it was a friend of mine." Graham died in hospital in October 1982, aged 78.
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