News-Progress Memorial Column

By Dan Hagen

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
—Henry David Thoreau

Elleston Trevor was transacting some business one day when his banker, making small talk, asked him what he was learning in his new martial art of aikido.
     Without hesitation, this man in his late 60s proceeded to show the banker what he'd learned—by doing a flying roll there in a bank lobby full of people. Trevor enjoyed the moment immensely.
     That was Trevor for you. He always said that if he found himself standing in a queue waiting for a bus, his impulse was to face away from the bus stop—in the opposite direction as everybody else—as if to pretend he wasn't waiting.
     Mining his character, you'd find a rich, deep vein of individualism. In his earliest days, he learned that one must find and live by one's own principles. From the first, Thoreau's different drummer was clearly audible to Trevor.
     An Englishman born in Bromley, Kent, he grew up under the care of parents who loved him, but warred constantly with each other. He found no refuge in his English public school, where thin chains played regularly on the backs of boys who had committed such crimes as receiving bad marks in Latin. The undisguised sadism soured him on formal education. A reporter from the Manchester Guardian once asked Trevor if he'd be afraid to return to that school for a visit. Trevor—who had started studying karate at age 58 and swiftly earned his black belt—said oh, no. He smiled and told the reporter that if they tried it on him again, he'd kill them.
     Imperiled on all sides as a boy, he found a "safe house" in his own resilient character, and his ability to write. A boy named Trevor Dudley-Smith became Elleston Trevor, his own man and the first of his many creations.
     Seeking to test himself against challenge and adventure, the young Trevor apprenticed as a race driver. Then World War II descended, and the swift and deadly Spitfires caught his eye. Unfortunately, that eye was extremely light-sensitive, so he was forbidden to fly them. He got as close to the beguiling beauties as he could, working as an airfield mechanic.
     In his off-hours, as the pilots flew their missions against the Nazis, Trevor began writing novels and never stopped. Some 100 books would be published under his name, and his various pen names, as the decades rolled by.
     Several of the novels caught Hollywood's attention, and his The Flight of the Phoenix and The Quiller Memorandum became major motion pictures in the 1960s. During the filming of the former, Trevor listened with politely disguised disinterest as actor Richard Attenborough described his dream of someday making a film about Gandhi. "Poverty and celibacy are not my sort of thing," Trevor explained later.
     His Quiller series of espionage novels, written under the pen name of Adam Hall, won undiluted praise from the New York Times and earned him the highest honor in the suspense novel field—the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. The novels starring his tense, terse "shadow executive" also won him a cult following among fans, which he wasn't quite sure how to explain. "I think I hit people's funny bone in terms of their inner drives, motivations, neuroses," Trevor said. "I think they see in Quiller something that is in themselves."
     Trevor married a former beauty queen who'd worked for Royal Air Force Intelligence during the war. They courted in cars parked in war-ravaged London, steaming privacy onto the windows. "It was the wickedest winter, but we had our love to keep us warm," Trevor recalled. He and Jonquil raised a son, Jean-Pierre, a super-realistic painter who has done matte work for films such as the Stars Wars series.
     Disenchanted with the socialist tide in England, which they believed had destroyed the work ethic there and the sense of life's challenges, the Trevors set out for "somewhere civilized and in the sun"—the South of France during the '50s and '60s, then Phoenix, Arizona. They loved the openness of America, where everyone seemed to wear their hearts on their bumpers. Jonquil served informally as Trevor's business manager, and in the U.S. began studying for her Ph.D. in English. In a mock-rueful tone, but secretly proud, Trevor dryly noted that their mail would be addressed to "Dr. and Mr. Elleston Trevor."
     Like other strong and generous individuals, Trevor had spent his time and energy figuring out how to ease his loved one's lot, financially and emotionally, after his death. But when a brain tumor felled Jonquil unexpectedly a few years ago, he was left in a situation for which he was unprepared, and which nearly destroyed him with grief. A young family friend, Chaille, gave him his life back, or perhaps a second life. They married. With her, the cool and deadly secret agent Quiller was as dewy-eyed as a sophomore in love, as courtly as the finest English gentleman stepped straight from the pages of Jane Austen.
     Trevor's self-taught writing style included numerous incisive innovations which betrayed a touch of genius. He brushed away all such "literary" praise, though, taking pride in his professionalism as a writer. His attitude to readers was, "Hey, kids, I think I've just cooked you a nice meal here. What do you think?" Trevor also wielded that rarest of the novelist's talents, and the one without which the others pale: he created characters who lived in the mind.
     And they will continue to live, though he will not. Trevor died last week, following an operation for stomach cancer. His death was a shock. Though well into his 70s, Trevor remained fit through daily exercise, as thin and supple as a whip.
     A prized discovery of my early teenage years, Trevor remained one of my favorite writers, and an inspiration. His work was a major influence on my decision to make writing my career. Meeting and becoming friends with him as an adult, I learned he was more than a great writer. He was kind and witty and generous, with a capacity for life as large as his considerable talent. He searched seriously for the joy of life, and found it often—in stargazing, in horseback riding, in good food and wine, in fine cars, in meticulously built model aircraft, in the rigor of the martial arts, in friends and fans, in J.P., Jonquil and Chaille and at his well-worn typewriter.
     And beyond life? Trevor knew that all we are began as part of the same undifferentiated energy source within the Big Bang, and reasoned that we are all therefore a part of the same mysterious and profound cosmic process, and each other.
     It's a cold comfort, at this moment. His death is one of those events that leave you wincing afterward, at odd moments—as if something had been at you with a baseball bat, and you were expecting it to try again.
     A hero is a rare thing—rarer than love, as rare as genius, as a piercingly lovely song or one perfect spring day or happiness without a shadow. I knew a hero. He has passed away from me, leaving a cold ache behind, and yet strangely he somehow remains with me, as well.
     A moment of silence, then, from the different drummer, please.




 
 
Last modified: Saturday, July 21, 2001

This memorial column was originally published in the July 26, 1995 issue of the News-Progress and is reprinted here with the author's permission.