By: Robert O’Byrne
When a guidebook to Ireland described his family as being ‘mildly eccentric’, Desmond Leslie took offence and wrote to the publishers informing them that, on the contrary, the Leslies were very eccentric.
Son of writer Sir Shane Leslie and brother of historian Anita Leslie, Desmond Leslie has never before been the subject of a biography. Throughout his life, he maintained a reputation for unconventionality. Hardly surprising, when one of his godparents was a noted Satanist who kept a pet parrot in his trousers. Desmond Leslie more than matched this behaviour. Thanks to his 1953 bestseller The Flying Saucers Have Landed, co-written with George Adamski, this ‘myriad-minded’ man is still a cult figure among UFOlogists. One of the most popular items on YouTube shows him punching the critic Bernard Levin on live television in the 1960s in defence of his first wife, the actress Agnes Bernelle.
After serving as a Spitfire pilot during the Second World War, he settled in London and embarked on a career as a writer, producing a succession of innovative, critically acclaimed novels, one of them anticipating George Orwell’s 1984 by a year. He also worked as a film producer and screenwriter, and composed music for film and television in the 1950s. In 1963 he returned to Ireland to live at Castle Leslie in County Monaghan, devoting himself to protecting the family estate, today one of Ireland’s finest country-house hotels.
Desmond Leslie (1921-2001), The Biography of an Irish Gentleman includes recollections by family members and author Herbie Brennan. Robert O’Byrne portrays the Anglo-Irish during the second half of the twentieth century and offers a wholly engaging case study of Leslie’s propulsive, charismatic personality.
ROBERT O’BYRNE, journalist and art historian, is author of Romantic Irish Homes (2009), The Irish Georgian Society: A Celebration (2008), Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre (2007), Mind Your Manners (2004), Hugh Lane 1875-1915 (2000) and the forthcoming The Last Knight A Tribute to Desmond Fitzgerald 29th Knight of Glin (Lilliput, 2013).