BROPHY,  John   [1899-1965]

In 1943 20th Century Fox released a wartime action film, Immortal Sergeant, set in the North African campaign with top star Henry Fonda playing a corporal lacking in confidence who, with the help of his experienced old sergeant (Thomas Mitchell) finds himself, leads his men to victory, is promoted and gets the girl, in this case the lovely Maureen O’Hara. Not one of Hollywood’s greatest, it is however interesting in that the film was based on a novel written by Liverpool-born author John Brophy.

He was born in the very last days of the 19th Century on 6th December 1899 at 87 Everton Road L6, his father John was an earthenware dealer. By 1901 the family had moved to 39 Langton Road L15, and by 1911 to 37 Norton Street L3. Little is recorded of his early life but the outbreak of the First World War saw him, aged just 14, disguising his age and enlisting in the army. (His address was given as 98 Islington L3). He served four years and after the war returned to Liverpool to take a degree at the University. On 6 June 1924 he married Charis Weare Grundy, the daughter of a Liverpool-based Chicago clergyman, and then took a teaching job in Cairo.

Returning to Liverpool he took a job writing advertising for a Liverpool store and this led to him securing the post of head copywriter for a leading advertising company in London. At this time his interest in writing developed, becoming a reviewer of fiction for the Daily Telegraph. In 1928, drawing upon his wartime experiences, he published his first novel, a semi-autobiographical work The Bitter End. He published novels throughout the 1930’s but his main success was a fictional life of Shakespeare, Gentleman of Stratford (1939). His wartime output ranged from successful action novels, such as the aforementioned Immortal Sergeant and Spearhead (1943) to writing manuals for the Home Guard, in which he served..

He continued to publish a variety of work after the war and even though his reputation declined, there were high spots. His 1959 novel The Day They Robbed The Bank of England was made into a successful film with Peter O’Toole. The cinema was a much better source of finance for him than book sales. His 1946 novel, City of Departures was set in his home city of Liverpool (I have a first edition).

John Brophy died of heart failure on 12th November 1965, aged 65. He is one of the many Liverpudlian figures whose prominence has faded almost to the point of oblivion, an unfair reflection on his literary standing. His daughter Brigid Brophy also became a successful author.

Only 39 Langton Road L15 of  his Liverpool homes is still standing.


39 Langton Road L15

The Brophy family home in 1901 shortly after John's birth.

A poster for 20th Century Fox crediting John Brophy as author.


There is an extensive biography of Brophy in the  Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. The Wikipedia entry gives a brief resumé of his life and work.