James Maurice Scott was born on 13 December 1906 in Egypt (then a British Protectorate) where his father was a Judge, and was educated at Fettes College in Edinburgh and Clare College, Cambridge. There he gained a degree in law and a Blue for Rugby football. He accompanied the explorer Gino Watkins on two expeditions, and wrote a biography after Watkins's death in a kayaking accident in 1932. He was a member of the 1933 British Mount Everest expedition but was not one of the sixteen chosen for the main attempt. In 1939 he joined the 5th Scots Guards Ski Battalion, and ended the war as Commander of the Mountain Warfare School in the Apennines with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He was awarded the OBE in 1945.
After the war he joined the British Council and worked in Milan from January 1946, and then briefly in Belgrade as Representative (Director) from September 1947 until March 1948. From the tone of his reports he did not enjoy his time in Yugoslavia. He reported with relish how he gave a lecture in Zagreb on "Everest" during which a woman in the audience fainted. He joined the staff of the Daily Telegraph from 1948 to 1953.
He was married twice, in 1933 to Pamela Watkins (sister of Gino Watkins), marriage dissolved in 1958, and then to Adriana Rinaldi. He died on 12 March 1986 in Huntingdon.
All his forty-three books were published as by J. M. Scott. They can be divided into seventeen non-fiction and twenty-six fiction titles. Much of the non-fiction consists of biographies, covering Gino Watkins, Henry Hudson, Captain Smith and Pocohontas, George Sand, Fridtjof Nansen and Boadicea. Many of these appeared in a Heron Books series aimed at schools. Several of his non-fiction works could be classified as historiessuch as The Book of Pall Mall, The Tea Story, and White Poppy; the history of opium. In addition he wrote a corporate history of the Exchange Telegraph Company. A number of his other books are travelogues, including Vineyards of France, Portrait of an Ice-Cap, From Sea to Ocean and A Walk along the Apennines.
Of the fiction, six books are aimed specifically at children, with child heroes (not many heroines), large print and illustrations. Of the rest a good many are adventure stories which would be well within the compass of most child readers of the time. Very few are "adult" in the sense of dealing with emotional predicaments that children would not understand or empathise with. None are "adult" in the sense of containing explicit sex scenes or obscene language.
His first novel, Snowstone (1936), was the start of a trilogy of books about rival explorers searching the Arctic for deposits of a rare mineralcalled snowstone. The same characters return in The Silver Land (1937) and, much later, in The Pole of Inaccesability (1947).
Ocean voyages under sail feature prominently in a number of the books, such as Heather Mary, I Keep My Word, A Choice of Heaven, The Devil You Don't, The Black Joke and Michael Anonymous. He also makes much use of Alpine and Italian settings as in The Other Side of the Moon, The Will and the Way, The Touch of the Nettle and The Other Half of the Orange, and draws on his recollections of military service in these books especially.
Between 7 March and 21 May 1951 a series of enigmatic small ads appeared in the Daily Telegraph personal columns, in which 'Biscuit' appeared to be seeking a reunion with 'Sea-Wyf' but was being discouraged by 'Bulldog'. There was a good deal of public speculation, and the Daily Mirror reprinted the whole set of announcements on 26 May. Later in the year they were reprinted in newspapers in France and Australia.
Four years later Scott published Sea-Wyf and Biscuit, which purported to be the full story behind the advertisements, describing the fourteen-week ordeal aboard a life-raft of four survivors of a ship torpedoed in the Indian Ocean immediately after the fall of Singapore in February 1942. It is hard to be sure whether this is, as Scott maintained, a true story which he learned at first hand fictionalised just enough for the main actors to be unidentifiable, or a plausible made-up story to explain the pre-existing and well documented small ads, or whether Scott had created the whole story, inserting the ads himself in order to supply a hook for the novel. Against the third account is the four year delay. If Scott had concocted the story from scratch, why wait four years to publish?
This turned out to be by far Scott's most successful book, and a film was made of it in 1957 under the title Sea Wife, starring Richard Burton and Joan Collins. Interestingly the film (but not the book) displays the standard disclaimer during the credits: "The events and characters depicted in this photoplay are fictitious. Any similarity to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental." This contradicts the pseudo-authenticity of the book, and I suspect that the film-makers insisted on including it, possibly against Scott's wishes.
The book has also been adapted as a radio play by Shaun McKenna, broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Monday 19 August, 2002.
Here is the full set of the Daily Telegraph insertions, starting from Wednesday, March 7th, 1951
SEA-WYF. Home at last. Please get in touch. BISCUIT.
On March 12th:
SEA-WYF. Have returned with fatted calf but no unsuitable memories. Please get in touch. BISCUIT.
SEA-WYF. Am certain you are alive. Are you afraid of past or me? BISCUIT.
SEA-WYF. Intend to find you by publishing story of fourteen weeks and Number Four. BISCUIT.
BISCUIT. The compact is still more vital after these nine years. BULLDOG.
Biscuit replied at once:
BULLDOG. Thanks for confirming Sea-Wyf is alive. Please put in touch. BISCUIT.
BISCUIT. Do not know Sea-Wyf’s whereabouts, but we three are alive and useful. Why resurrect Noah’s Ark and Number Four? BULLDOG.
On April 6th Biscuit replied:
BULLDOG. Number Four was thieving animal. Intend to find Sea-Wyf. BISCUIT.
On Wednesday, April 11th this announcement was printed in the same column:
PUBLISHER REQUIRED for war story of three men of authority and one woman adrift 14 weeks on float in Indian Ocean. Survivors parted with nicknames only and compact to forget. “Were they right?” theme. P.R.14672. Daily Telegraph, E.C.4.
On Friday, April 13th, the lady reacted:
BISCUIT. Do not publish. Give me a week to think. SEA-WYF.
On Monday, April 16th Biscuit wrote:
SEA-WYF. Anything you ask — “even unto half my water ration.” BISCUIT.
On Friday, April 20th, she asked:
BISCUIT. Why do you insist on seeing me again? SEA-WYF.
The reply came promptly:
SEA-WYF. Amor omnia vincit — I hope. BISCUIT.
But on April 27th there was another question:
BISCUIT. If I agree to see you, will you promise not to mention 14 weeks? SEA-WYF.
And on the same day, in the same column, there was also printed:
BISCUIT TO LAURIE. Keep your nose out of this business.
Three days later Biscuit answered Sea-Wyf’s question with:
SEA-WYF. Yes. But hurry. BISCUIT
There followed a week’s interval, and then:
BISCUIT. Will pass through Berwick Market at 2 p.m. Thursday, on assurance you will not speak or approach. SEA-WYF.
The immediate answer was:
SEA-WYF. All’s fair in love and war, but what is this? Never mind. I agree. BISCUIT.
That appeared on the Wednesday. On the day of the rendezvous this was printed:
SEA-WYF. Will provide escort today. UNDERGRADUATE.
But on the Saturday following Biscuit appealed:
SEA-WYF. I did not see you in the Market. Why did you not come? BISCUIT.
She answered four days later:
BISCUIT. I came. I saw you once more which was the thing I wanted. Remember me as I was when the smoke appeared on the horizon. Good-bye. SEA-WYF.
May 21st apparently brought the story to a close:
SEA-WYF. With all my will but much against my heart. Good-bye. BISCUIT.
There were two more announcements, but these were evidently inserted by outsiders who had followed the correspondence. The first exhorted Biscuit to continue his efforts. The second stated pontifically: “No, it is better as it is.”
The Land that God Gave Cain: an account of H. G. Watkins's expedition to Labrador, 1928-29. Chatto and Windus. 1933. Reissued by Penguin, 1938.
Gino Watkins. Hodder and Stoughton. 1935. Maps drawn by C. E. Denny.
Snowstone. Hodder and Stoughton. 1936. Children’s version issued in 1951.
The Silver Land. Hodder and Stoughton. 1937. Sequel to Snowstone.
The Land of Seals. Hodder and Stoughton. 1938. Story set in an Eskimo community.
Unknown River. Hodder and Stoughton. 1939.
The Other Side of the Moon. Hodder and Stoughton. 1946.
The Pole of Inaccessability. Hodder and Stoughton. 1947. Sequel to The
The Will and the Way. Hodder and Stoughton. 1949.
Cap Across the River. Hodder and Stoughton. 1949.
The Black Joke. Hodder and Stoughton. 1950. Historical novel about the slave trade.
The Bright Eyes of Danger. Hodder and Stoughton. 1950. Maps drawn by Bip Pares.
Hudson of Hudson’s Bay. Methuen. 1950. Illustrations by Astrid Walford.
Vineyards of France. Hodder and Stoughton. 1950. Paintings and drawings by Keith Baynes.
The Touch of the Nettle. Hodder and Stoughton. 1951.
Snowstone. Abridged and recast version of 1936 novel. Brockhampton Press. Illustrated by Caney. 1951. 192 pp.
Portrait of an Ice Cap. Chatto and Windus. 1953.
The Man Who Made Wine. Hodder and Stoughton. 1953.
Captain Smith and Pocohontas. Methuen. 1953.
Heather Mary. Hodder and Stoughton. 1953.
Sea-Wyf and Biscuit. Heinemann. 1955. Filmed as Sea Wife, 1957. Reissued by Pan Books with stills from the film, 1957.
The Other Half of the Orange. Heinemann. 1955.
White Magic. Methuen. 1955.
I Keep My Word. Heinemann. 1957. US edition, The Lady and the Corsair. Dutton. 1958.
A choice of heaven. Heinemann. 1959.
Where the River Bends. Heinemann. 1962
The Tea Story. Heinemann. 1964.
The Book of Pall Mall. Heinemann. 1965. Commissioned by Rothmans of Pall Mall.
Dingo. Heineman. 1966.
The Devil You Don't. Chilton. 1967.
In a Beautiful Pea Green Boat. Geoffrey Bles. 1968. US edition Chilton. 1969.
From sea to ocean. Geoffrey Bles. 1969
The White Poppy: a History of Opium. Heinemann. 1969.
George Sand. Heron. 1969.
Boadicea. Heron. 1969.
Michael Anonymous. Chilton Books, 1971.
Fridtjof Nansen. Heron. 1971.
Extel 100: the Centenary History of the Exchange Telegraph Company. Ernest Benn. 1972.
A Walk Along the Apennines. Geoffrey Bles. 1973.
A Journey of Many Sleeps. Chatto and Windus, 1975. Reissued as
Desperate Journey, Hamlyn, 1977.
Icebound. Gordon and Cremonisi. 1977
Red Hair and Moonwater: short stories. Robert Hale Ltd. 1980.
Private life of polar exploration. Blackwood. 1982
John Higgins, Shaftesbury, February 2018