John Gardner

Like many successful authors, John Gardner – the author of 14 James Bond novels, who has died aged 80 – started his writing career as a journalist.

He could in fact have had several careers – he was an Anglican priest before crisis of belief triggered an unlikely move to the Royal Marines, and a short career as a stage magician – he was a member of the Magic Circle.

Another change of direction found him working as a drama critic (as Edmund Gardner – a name which his editor thought ‘more Shakespearean”) on the Stratford-upon-Avon Herald.

He had found his métier, but by now he was hitting the bottle, and it was his battle with alcoholism that brought him his first success as an author, with his only work of non-fiction, Spin the Bottle.

While working for the Herald, in the late Fifties and early Sixties, John lived in Tiddington, a village a couple of miles outside Stratford, and would often get a lift into work from Peter Hall, then director of the fledgling Royal Shakespeare Company.

He also reported from the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario; did a lecture tour of the US; and visited Moscow with the Royal Shakespeare Company, where he was mysteriously arrested by the KGB.

Preston Witts, a former Herald writer, said: ‘I’m deeply sad to hear about John. We were looking forward to seeing him in Stratford shortly. We were going to invite him up here to see David Warner as Falstaff in Henry IV. John had reviewed Warner’s first ever performance at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in the early Sixties.’

Gardner wrote more than 50 novels, and took over the Bond books in 1981 after being approached by the literary copyright owner, Glidrose.

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