Cecil Lewis

Cecil Lewis

English novelist and broadcaster

Lewis was the only child of an unconventional Congregationalist minister. In 1915, at the age of 17, after schooling at Oundle, he had trained as a pilot and was commissioned into the Royal Flying Corps. On the eve of his 18th birthday he found himself in the air over the battlefields of France and, along with thousands of other youngsters, daily risking injury and life while improvising fighting tactics in an entirely experimental form of warfare. By some miracle, as he used to say, he survived, and after two mentions in dispatches came home to receive the Military Cross from his Sovereign.

Religious questions became an undercurrent through the latter half of his life. He briefly experimented in community living on a sheep and cattle farm in South Africa, following the doctrines of the Russian mystic Georgi Gurdjieff.
From time to time Lewis shared his thoughts and beliefs in broadcasts and interviews, some of these reproduced and expanded in his book A Way to Be (1977). A Wish to Be followed in 1994.

Between the wars Cecil Lewis created a beautiful retreat out of a rocky wilderness overlooking Lake Maggiore in northern Italy, which he said was always "waiting to restore me to sanity and peace". For over 20 of the last years he and his third wife, Frances, lived happily on the island of Corfu.

He also fell under the influence of Bernard Shaw. With the advent of talking pictures Shaw saw an opportunity to give his plays a wider audience. He allowed Lewis to adapt his one-act play How He Lied To Her Husband.

After the war he became interested in the work of Gurdjieff, who he mistakenly thought was dead. In a bizarre sequence of events, Lewis bought a plane and flew to South Africa, a journey recalled in Gemini to Joburg (1984), to set up a community based on Gurdjieff's ideas; only to find, once he was there, that Gurdjieff was alive and working in Paris. The experiment proved disastrous but he continued to study, and write and broadcast, about the teachings of Gurdjieff.

Lewis had an extraordinary vigour and curiosity for life. In his 94th year, he flew a Tiger Moth from a grass strip at Badminton and made a perfect landing in a 15-knot 90-degree cross-wind, much to the admiration of his co-pilot, who had been an instructor for 25 years.

Cecil Arthur Lewis, broadcaster, aviator and writer: born Birkenhead 29 March 1898; MC 1918; married three times (one son, one daughter); died London 27 January 1997.