Dornford Yates and C. W. Stamper

In 1913 Mills and Boon published a book called ‘What I Know’, by C. W. Stamper, the memoirs of a chauffeur/motor engineer to King Edward VII from 1905-10, with an acknowledgement in the foreword to Dornford Yates ‘but for whose tireless assistance these memories might never have been published’ (published in US as ‘King Edward as I Knew Him’ by Dodd Mead).

Dornford Yates (real name Cecil William Mercer) was at this time still a practising barrister but he was short of work and had been writing stories for the Windsor Magazine, a popular monthly, since 1911. His first book in his own name, however, a collection of these short stories, would not appear until 1914. After WW1 he went on to give up the bar, became a full-time writer and wrote a further thirty-three books.

Although no acknowledgement of ‘What I Know’ ever appeared in Dornford Yates’ other works it is presumed that he was the ghost-writer but there was never any certainty. To those familiar with his work the turn of phrase employed in ‘What I know’ is typical of Dornford Yates’ style and although not a work of fiction it was still his first book. All that was lacking was proof.

In 1982 A. J. Smithers biography of Dornford Yates failed to mention it at all although there was a note in the preface to the 2nd edition in 1985 that the existence of the book had since come to his notice. In the third edition in 1983 of Richard Usborne’s ‘Clubland Heroes’ he mentions the book, which he has ignored until this edition, commenting on the fact that Dornford Yates himself never refers to the book in his quasi-autobiographies as he may have been embarrassed to admit to having been ‘ghost writer to a mere (albeit
royal) servant’.

With no-one producing definitive proof of authorship there had always remained that nagging doubt but a short while ago I managed to find proof, that satisfied me anyway, that the book was ghost written by Dornford Yates.

In November 2006 I acquired a rather poor copy of Stamper’s ‘What I Know’ on ebay. The seller had described it as ‘signed’ copy but it turned out only to be initialled. It was, however, inscribed to ‘B. Barnham, with best wishes from the writer, D.Y., March 1914’ and it was certainly consistent with examples I had seen of Yates’ handwriting.

I queried with the seller about the ‘B. Barnham’ or any information she might have as to the origin of the book but she was unable to help me. Then earlier this year I mentioned the inscription on a ‘Yahoo’ group of Dornford Yates enthusiasts and a member using the name ‘Gillian’ came up trumps.

She had checked the 1911 census which shows the Mercer family as living at 79 Victoria Road, Kensington and lists the occupants of that address as follows:

MERCER, Cecil John/Head/age 60/Married/Solicitor/born Great Mongeham Kent
MERCER, Helen/Wife/age 51/born Pembury Kent
MERCER, Cecil William/Son/Single/age 25/Barrister/born Walmer Kent
BARNHAM, Beatrice/Servant/Single/age 21/House Parlourmaid/born Ledbury Herefordshire

So it appears that the book had been a gift from the son of the household, Cecil William Mercer aka Dornford Yates, to the family’s house-parlourmaid and that he had acknowledged being the writer in his own hand.

Proof at last!

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