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Mais, Stuart Petre Brodielocked

(1885–1975)
  • Bernard Smith

Mais, Stuart Petre Brodie (1885–1975), writer and radio broadcaster, was born on 4 July 1885 at St Mary Street, Ladywood, Birmingham, the only child of John Brodie Stuart Mais (1860/61–1941), rector of Tansley, Derbyshire, and his wife, Hannah Horden, née Tamlin (d. 1939).

‘S. P. B.’, as Mais was known, was educated at Heath grammar school, Halifax, and Denstone College, Staffordshire. He worked as a teacher for two years and then attended Christ Church, Oxford, in 1905. He won a blue for cross-country running, took third-class honours in mathematical moderations (1907), and graduated with a third class in English literature in 1909. From 1909 to 1920 he was a schoolmaster, mainly in English, at Rossall School from 1909 to 1913, where he fought hard to 'bring about an educational reform that most of my colleagues regarded as unnecessary and dangerous' (Mais, All the Days, 55). He married on 6 August 1913 Doris Lilian Frances (1892–1978), daughter of Alexander Duffel Snow, a major in the West of Scotland Artillery; they had two daughters. Mais does not name his wife in his autobiographies and refers to her as a 'comparative stranger' (ibid., 59). He became an assistant master at Sherborne School in September. He became an officer in the Officers' Training Corps in 1913 and remained as such, much against his will, when the First World War broke out. In July 1914 during an operation to remove his appendix Mais ‘died’ but was resuscitated.

While teaching, Mais edited Shakespeare for schools and published An English Course for Army Candidates (1915) and a series of articles in A Public School in War Time (1916). He wrote his first novel, April's Lonely Soldier (1916), in epistolary form, followed by a second, Interlude (1917), which so closely detailed life at Sherborne that he was forced to resign in 1917. From Sherborne he went to Tonbridge School, where he was elected examiner in English by London University. Immediately after the war he was made professor of English at the new cadet college at Cranwell, but was forced to resign yet again over what were considered to be his ‘experimental’ teaching methods. His textbook An English Course for Schools (1918) sold 20,000 copies.

From 1918 to 1931 Mais was successively literary critic on the Evening News (1918) and Daily Express (1921–3), and literary editor of the Daily Graphic (1923–6). From 1926 to 1931 he was leader writer and book reviewer on the Daily Telegraph. This was Mais's last regular employment. In 1924 his marriage broke down on the discovery of his wife's adultery. She moved to Paris and Mais began a relationship with Winifred May Schiller Doughty (1905–1993) and had two further children. In 1931 Winifred Doughty changed her name by deed poll to Gillian Mais. He remained legally married to Doris Mais, whose petition for divorce was dismissed in July 1936 by Mr Justice Bucknill on the ground that both parties were guilty of adultery. From 1927 he and Gillian rented a large eighteenth-century house in Southwick, Sussex.

A keen cricketer, Mais became president of the cricket club at Southwick and when the local council tried to stop cricket on the village green he led the opposition. Truculent by nature, he enjoyed his role of a 'latter day Hampden' and was undeterred by threats of legal action (Mais, All the Days, 14). But he overreached himself by refusing to pay his rates, and prosecution led to his eviction. A newly elected council restored the villagers' ancient right and today a plaque on the house commemorates his spirited fight.

In 1932 the BBC commissioned Mais to travel through England, Scotland, and Wales and describe his experience in seventeen talks. They were published later in that year under the title This Unknown Island. The book was reprinted three times in as many months. The need to compress his material into 20-minute talks curbed his habit of slack and gossipy writing and produced one of his best books.

This book, together with the earlier See England First (1927) and England's Pleasance (1935), undoubtedly helped to awaken townspeople to the recreational uses of the English countryside and the need to protect it from the expanding suburbs. In pursuit of this aim Mais worked closely with the railways to produce book-length guides to several counties, footpath guides, and ramblers' booklets. One of his most adventurous ideas was to run night trains from London so that jaded office workers could be shepherded to the top of the south downs by Mais to watch the sunrise. On the first occasion forty walkers were expected; 1440 turned up.

Throughout the 1930s Mais gave radio talks in the United States and Britain. During the Second World War Mais's voice became familiar in most households through his almost daily radio talks entitled Kitchen Front. The war restricted his travelling, but as soon as it ended he found publishers, tourist agencies, and foreign governments eager to fund his holidays abroad in return for the holiday guides which he wrote en route. Books on Norway, Madeira, Austria, Italy, Spain, Majorca, South America, the Caribbean, South Africa, and many others, flowed throughout the fifties and sixties, culminating in the Round the World Cruise Holiday (1965). In Who's Who he gave his recreation as 'travel of any sort anywhere'. Mais also wrote two rambling, evasive, and anecdotal autobiographies: All the Days of my Life (1937) and Buffets and Rewards (1952), several further lightweight novels, and some books of literary appreciation. The latter, such as From Shakespeare to O. Henry (1917), lacked any pretension to academic literary criticism but were likeable and enthusiastic studies.

Publishers' records show that few of Mais's books sold more than 3000 copies and none of the 200 or so is now in print. When asked, 'How many books have you written?' he replied, 'Too many'. Yet he continued writing until he was in his late eighties, driven by financial worries. He died of heart failure on 21 April 1975 at Compton House Nursing Home, Compton Road, Lindfield, Sussex.

Sources

  • S. P. B. Mais, All the days of my life (1937)
  • S. P. B. Mais, Buffets and rewards (1952)
  • S. P. B. Mais, ‘My village, yesterday and today’, Daily Telegraph (3 July 1965)
  • L. Stapleton, ‘S. P. B. Mais: the man who loved Sussex’, Sussex Life (Sept 1975)
  • WWW, 1971–80
  • S. J. Kunitz and H. Haycraft, eds., Twentieth century authors: a biographical dictionary of modern literature (1942)
  • N. Shakespeare, Priscilla: the hidden life of an Englishwoman in wartime France (2013)
  • LondG (22 May 1931)
  • b. cert.
  • m. cert.
  • d. cert.

Archives

  • U. Reading L., corresp.
  • W. Sussex RO, corresp.
  • U. Reading L., letters to George Bell & Sons
  • U. Warwick Mod. RC, corresp. with Victor Gollancz

Likenesses

  • Schmidt, photograph, repro. in Mais, All the days of my life, frontispiece
  • photograph, repro. in Mais, Buffets and rewards, frontispiece
London Gazette
(1920–)