Beverley Nichols (1898-1983)

Grand 2-storey early 19th century house set amongst trees and large garden

The Woodlands in 2021.
Photo: OutStories Bristol

Writer, journalist, playwright and broadcaster Beverley Nichols was born and lived until he was four at The Woodlands in Parklands Road, Bower Ashton, a substantial Georgian House on the edge of Bristol.

The Nichols family, John and Pauline Nichols and their three sons (Beverley was the youngest) would have been seen by the inhabitants of Bower Ashton as the epitome of middle-class virtue and respectability. John Nichols was a solicitor and a Conservative councillor in Bristol, however behind the facade he was an abusive alcoholic who in 1902 suddenly resigned from his law practice and took his family to Suffolk and later Torquay then London. Had something dark been discovered?

Beverley Nichols went to Marlborough College, then Oxford University. In 1917 his education was interrupted by non-combatant military service in the War Office intelligence section.

John Nichols supported his son at Oxford and paid his considerable debts. But Beverley’s mild dislike of him became insane loathing when he discovered that John Nichols was not his father. It is highly likely that Beverley’s biological father was his uncle, George Nichols (1864-1953) who was in the family auctioneer and valuing business in Bristol. George and his wife Blanche had no children of their own and looked on Beverley as a surrogate son.

Handsome man, late 30s, wearing old clothes, outside open garden doors

Beverley Nichols at Thatch Cottage, Glatton (Wikimedia)

Beverley Nichols was to write books on cats, religion, travel, politics, children’s books, and detective novels but became most known for his books about his homes and gardens. Crazy Pavements (1927) was the first novel of the Bright Young Things”, a Bohemian group of young writers and artists in 1920s London, and featured a (albeit veiled) gay couple, Brian and Walter, who share a flat. One review declared the book as “a story of nymphomaniacs, homosexualists, sadists and drug addicts” which increased sales.

In 1932 Nichols met actor Cyril Butcher (1909-1987) and they lived together until his death 53 years later. Six-foot with dark curly hair and good looking, Cyril remained a good and faithful friend long after he and Beverley had ceased to be sexual partners. Beverley enjoyed a promiscuous sex life and had a penchant for rough trade and masochistic sex, especially with guardsmen. While he lived in Glatton, Cambridgeshire (1928-1937) villagers turned against him because of his male guests chatting up village boys and his infamous nude bathing parties.

In his day Beverley was a household name but his admiring public never knew about his sexuality or that his biological father was likely to have been his Uncle George, a popular and respected Bristolian.

Jonathan Rowe (2022)

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