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Ross, Julian Maclaren- [formerly James Ross] (1912–1964), writer, was born on 7 July 1912 at 18 Whitworth Road, Norwood, Croydon, Surrey, as James McLaren Ross. (Julian and the hyphenated surname were adopted before his first marriage.) He was the youngest of the three children of John Lambden Ross (1872–1936), who was described as ‘of independent means’ on the birth certificate, and was of mixed Scottish and Latin American blood, born in Toronto. His mother, Gertrude Mary Pollok (1872–1942), the daughter of a colonel in the Indian army, had been born in Calcutta. When he was nine James and his parents moved to Marseilles and two years later to Nice. He was educated at Le Châlet, near Antibes, and the Collège Roustan, Antibes; at sixteen he went to school in Paris but was expelled in early 1929. His command of argot acquired in these years was impressively demonstrated in translations of Raymond Queneau (1950) and Simenon (1955), and his knowledge of the country evident in his first novel, Bitten by the Tarantula (1945). He returned to England in 1932 and on 31 October 1936 married an actress, Elsie Elizabeth Mary Gott (b. 1902/3), daughter of Joseph Barraclough Gott, civil engineer. The marriage was celebrated, since he had been baptized into the Roman Catholic church, in St James's, Spanish Place, London. It lasted only six months.

By the late 1930s any money he may have received from his father had come to an end. He took a job selling vacuum cleaners, an experience used in his novel Of Love and Hunger (1947), afterwards becoming unemployed. He had been writing short stories and inventing film scripts since his childhood. Two plays adapted for broadcasting were taken by the BBC, but he had no further success until in 1940 Cyril Connolly accepted a short story for Horizon. ‘A Bit of a Smash in Madras’, told in the words of an English employee of a company in the East, had all the best qualities of his prose: pace, realism (Connolly was amazed to learn that he had never been in India), exact rendering of the spoken word. (He had been influenced by Ernest Hemingway and others in ‘trying to create a completely English equivalent to the American vernacular’.) At a time when new young writers were in keen demand the story had an instant success. Rupert Hart-Davis, then a director of Jonathan Cape, wrote offering to publish a volume of short stories.

In July 1940 Maclaren-Ross was called up and joined the Essex regiment, later transferring to the Suffolks. He was employed as an orderly room clerk on the east coast, and never rose above the rank of lance-corporal, but found time to write several short stories of army life, published in Horizon, New Writing, and other periodicals. His military career ended with a sentence of twenty-eight days' detention for absence without leave. He was discharged in August 1943 and dedicated his first collection of short stories (The Stuff to Give the Troops, 1944) to Hart-Davis, by then adjutant of the 6th battalion Coldstream Guards, who had saved him from a court martial.

For a time he collaborated with Dylan Thomas on scripts for documentary films for the Ministry of Information, afterwards reverting to freelance writing. By 1947 three collections of short stories and two short novels had been published. He preferred to work after closing time until 3 a.m., ‘writing fast and fluently, much as he talked, with the pen held almost vertically between second and third fingers’ (A. Ross). Thoroughly professional and scrupulous about deadlines, he produced his manuscripts in a small, even hand ready for the printer. The day was devoted to a round of the pubs and clubs of Soho: the Wheatsheaf, the Highlander, the Scala restaurant, and later the Mandrake Club. Six feet tall, with dark hair brushed backwards, dressed in a light suit (white corduroy at one period), a teddy-bear coat, and scuffed suede shoes, carrying a malacca cane with a gold knob when affluent, otherwise silver, he was a conspicuous figure in these haunts: ‘a dangerous dandy’, the New Zealand author Dan Davin described him, ‘one of an army of one’ (Davin). ‘He used to command a mild and bitter as imperiously as if it were a champagne cocktail and gave to the ordering of spaghetti in a cheap Soho restaurant the elaborate care of a gourmet’ (A. Ross). He claimed to have figured as the villain in five novels about Soho; the character of X. Trapnel, for which he served as model, in Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time, gives a vivid impression of the persona he created for himself.

Maclaren-Ross was an excellent critic, always anxious to convey to the reader his own excitement over books, especially underrated ones, never to denigrate. His phenomenal knowledge of twentieth-century novels, short stories, and films was often called on to elucidate problems. He contributed reviews to the Times Literary Supplement, parodies to Punch (collected in The Funny Bone, 1956—the parody of H. E. Bates provoked an exchange of solicitors' letters), and more discursive essays on A. E. W. Mason, Sexton Blake, Sheridan Le Fanu, and other authors to the London Magazine. A first volume of autobiography, The Weeping and the Laughter, appeared in 1953. Other novels followed, but none achieved commercial success.

On 13 August 1958 Maclaren-Ross married Mollie Bella Bromley (b. 1927), the daughter of George Vincent Sturgeon and Flora Woolf, sister of Leonard Woolf. Mollie, who was also known to Maclaren-Ross as Diana, had previously been married to the poet and politician Peter Baker, who was expelled from the House of Commons in 1954. A son, Alexander Vincent, had been born on 7 July 1958. Continual financial crises led to frequent changes of address and the breakup of his second marriage. His last companion was Mrs Eleanor Brill, with whom he lived at 16 Chepstow Place, Notting Hill, London. He died suddenly of a heart attack in St Charles Hospital, Kensington, on 3 November 1964, and was buried on 9 November at Paddington cemetery, Mill Hill. At the time of his death Maclaren-Ross had written one-third of his Memoirs of the Forties, the first chapter of which had been serialized in Alan Ross's London Magazine in November 1964; the completed chapters were published as Memoirs of the Forties in 1965, reprinting various contributions to the London Magazine and some of his short stories.

Anthony Hobson

Sources  

J. Maclaren-Ross, The weeping and the laughter (1953) · J. Maclaren-Ross, Memoirs of the forties (1965) · A. Ross, London Magazine, a Monthly Review of Literature, new ser., 4/10 (1965), 2–4 · D. Davin, Closing times (1975) · A. Powell, The strangers all are gone (1982) · R. Hart-Davis, Power of chance (1991) · letters, notebooks, MSS, Ransom HRC · P. Willetts, Fear and loathing in Fitzrovia: the bizarre life of writer, actor, Soho dandy Julian Maclaren-Ross (2003) · b. certs. [James McLaren Ross; Alexander Vincent Maclaren Ross] · m. certs. · d. cert.

Archives  

Ransom HRC, notebooks and papers