Sportswriters are like critics: their work rarely survives them for long. It’s probably inevitable, given the ephemeral nature of their subject matter. Roger Mortimer was a pillar of the Sunday Times sports pages for 30 years from the 1950s, a literate and well-informed racing correspondent whose columns could be found alongside those of another undeservedly forgotten figure, the golf writer Henry Longhurst.
Mortimer died in 1991 but his writing has been resurrected in the most unlikely fashion, through his letters to his son Charlie (family nickname Lupin) and daughter Louise (Lumpy). Dear Lupin, his letters to Charlie, became an unexpected best-seller last year and the sequel, Dear Lumpy, has just been published (both by Constable & Robinson).
The letters are a delight: wry and informative about daily life among the county set of Hampshire and Berkshire, witty and affectionate about his family: “Your mother is devoted to your interests but like other mothers she is not always reasonable; nor, of course, are you.”
This exasperated tone about his offspring crops up throughout: Charlie for his fecklessness and inability to hold down any sort of job, Louise for her relationship with her boyfriend, then husband, nicknamed “Hot Hand Henry” by Mortimer. The couple concealed their wedding from their parents for more than a year. Mortimer’s reaction is a masterpiece of restrained grief at being deceived by the daughter he adored.
He provided for them throughout his life and has now resumed doing so long after his death. He had another daughter, Jane (Miss Bossy Pants). One hopes that she too has a hidden cache of her splendid father’s letters.