CHB Kitchen



Smiling suave man aged 28 wearing a full-length greatcoat

A June 1924 photo of CHB Kitchin by Lady Ottoline Morrell (Wikimedia Commons)

CHB Kitchin is now virtually forgotten but he was once a popular writer from the 1920s onwards. Clifford Henry Benn Kitchin was born in Harrogate, Yorkshire, in 1895 and his family lived at Cabot House, 50 Clifton Down Road, Bristol from 1908­ to 1914. He attended Braidlea Preparatory School, Goodeve Road, Sneyd Park, before becoming a pupil at Clifton College where he met fellow pupil LP Hartley who was also to become a novelist.

Whilst at Clifton the two boys struck up an enduring friendship and were to meet later at Oxford. They shared a love of literature and were both homosexual but their personalities were total opposites. Hartley repressed his sexuality his whole life whereas Kitchin was a well adjusted practising homosexual with a kindly, sympathetic and outgoing nature. The friendship between the two men was to last virtually the rest of their lives but could sometimes be prickly as Hartley was envious of Kitchin’s easy going manner and uneasy about his sexual frankness. Hartley once said of Kitchin, “he was the most talented man I have ever known”.

Born into wealth Kitchin was to increase it through the stock market. He became a barrister like his father, was a gifted chess and bridge player, a talented pianist and also bred and raced greyhounds. The 1911 census shows the Kitchin family at 50 Clifton Down Road with his father (“a barrister of private means”), mother, Sarah, younger brother John (also a Clifton College pupil), and live-in staff comprising cook, parlour maid and housemaid. Kitchin’s father died in Bristol in 1913 and the following year his mother moved to Oxfordshire.

During the First World War Kitchin served in France and was wounded in January 1917. His brother John was killed in action in 1918 aged 19. Kitchin became a barrister in 1924 and began his writing career the following year. He became best known for his four detective novels, beginning with Death of My Aunt in 1929 written in the classic ‘Agatha Christie’ style of English country house murder mystery genre and featuring stockbroker sleuth Malcolm Warren. He would continue to write until the 1960s publishing 17 novels in all.

Kitchin shared a flat with two other friends in Great Ormond Street, London, where they would regularly bring home ‘trade’, as rent boys were often known. He also accompanied Hartley on holidays in Venice where he enjoyed the attractions of muscular gondoliers, many of whom were also male prostitutes.

From about 1930 Kitchin lived with his long term partner Clive Bertram Preen for around 14 years until Preen’s death in 1944 aged 57. Preen was an accountant and by 1941 they were living together in a house attached to The Byfleets, a boy’s school in Pembridge, Herefordshire, where Kitchin was a teacher. Kitchin once said they had no proper home of their own to which Preen replied “Home is where you are”. In April 1944 Clive Preen collapsed and died in a Liverpool hotel and Kitchin’s world fell apart.

Kitchin visited Hartley several times at his country home, Avondale, Bathford, near Bath in the 1950s and at one stage tried to persuade Hartley to give up Avondale and move to a flat in the same road as himself in Knightsbridge, London, but it never happened.

By about 1954 Kitchin was having an affair with a married man called George. The strain of their clandestine and secretive relationship was to become too much for George who ended the affair in December 1964 when Kitchin almost suffered a nervous breakdown. Tragically George died the following year.

Kitchin was to outlive both his lovers and died in Brighton in 1967 aged 71. Despite their long friendship, Hartley did not go to see him when he was dying. Kitchin left part of his estate to his protege, the gay novelist Francis King (1923-2011). In recent years four of Kitchin’s novels with homosexual themes have been republished by Valancourt Books: The Sensitive One (1931), Birthday Party (1938), Ten Pollitt Place (1957) and The Book of Life (1960).

Jonathan Rowe 2021

Wikipedia: › wiki › C._H._B._Kitchin
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Valancourt Books biography: