A life devoted to education, travel, research and writings

 

Nicholas Hagger was born in London in 1939 and moved to the Epping-Forest area in 1943. He was educated at Oaklands School, Loughton; Chigwell School, Essex, where he read classics; and Worcester College, Oxford, England where he read English Literature under Christopher Ricks and absorbed European literature.

He married and spent the 1960s lecturing at universities abroad. In quest of the wisdom, religions, art, literature and history of the Near and Far East, sponsored by the British Council, he lectured in English Literature at the University of Baghdad, Iraq (1961–62); and at Tokyo University of Education, Keio University and Tokyo University, Japan (1963–67), where he was a professor and wrote many of his early poems. He also served the Japanese imperial family as tutor to Prince Hitachi, Emperor Hirohito’s second son, was English adviser and speech-writer for the Governor of the Bank of Japan and worked in the Ministry of Trade and Industry. It was among the Zen temples of Japan that he first experienced the metaphysical Light (or Fire) that was to inspire his later work.

He visited China with the British novelist and short-story writer Frank Tuohy in March 1966, and he was the first Westerner to discover the Cultural Revolution during a visit to Peking University.

He lectured at the University of Libya, Tripoli (1968–70) and was an eyewitness of Gaddafi’s revolution on 1 September 1969, and of key events preceding it. In a writers’ tradition that includes Marlowe, Defoe, Maugham, Kipling, T.E. Lawrence and Greene, he began four years’ service as an undercover British intelligence agent, as he recounts in My Double Life 1: This Dark Wood. The turmoil in Libya and his secret work broke up his marriage. He was nearly executed by one of the most powerful members of the revolutionary regime.

On his return to England he wrote newspaper articles for the London Times and Guardian (1970-72). He specialised in African liberation movements and served as Prime Minister Edward Heath’s ‘unofficial Ambassador’ to emerging leaders. He visited Tanzania. He taught in London and, having remarried, was Head of English and Senior Teacher at a large comprehensive in Wandsworth from 1974 to 1985, when he researched world issues and civilisations.

During a short spell in publishing (1984–86) he set up the short-lived Oak-Tree Books, which brought out titles that stood up to figures bent on destroying the West. (His Scargill the Stalinist?, which came out at the height of the British miners’ strike, was greeted by a first leader in the Times.) He then concentrated on his own writings for established publishers.

In 1982 he had acquired the school he attended until 1947, Oaklands School, Loughton, where his wife was Headmistress from 1982 to 1996. He founded Coopersale Hall School, Epping, which opened in 1989, and acquired Normanhurst School, Chingford, in 1996, and Braeside School, Buckhurst Hill in 2015, creating a private-school system, the Oak-Tree Group of Schools, in four locations in the Epping-Forest area and employing 320 teachers. The day-to-day running of these schools is now overseen by his eldest son.

From the late 1980s he operated as a writer. He travelled throughout Europe and, drawing on his earlier research, between 1991 and 1999 he had 18 books published.

Fascinated by Tudor history, in 1997 he purchased and restored stately Otley Hall in Suffolk, where the 1607 Jamestown Settlement is thought to have been planned by Bartholomew Gosnold. The following year he visited Virginia to give a lecture on Gosnold’s role in the founding of America.2 He made three TV documentaries on Gosnold which were shown on the US East Coast in 2001-2, and appeared on TV (on the US History Channel, Look East, Anglian TV, the Heaven and Earth Show and Canadian TV) and on Suffolk radio. He addressed many of the hundreds of groups who visited Otley Hall. He dated Otley Hall by dendrochronology (tree-ring dating) and wrote a guidebook.

He had four casts of Globe Theatre actors to stay and rehearse in Otley Hall’s Tudor setting. At this time his literary secretary was Charles Beauclerk3 (formerly the Earl of Burford). He was asked to house the Shakespearean Authorship Trust library, and became a Trustee and Secretary of the S.A.T. under the chairmanship of British actor Mark Rylance (1997–2005). Having considered the alternatives, he became convinced that Shakespeare of Stratford wrote Shakespeare’s works, and resigned. He sold Otley Hall in 2004 to concentrate on his writing in the Epping-Forest area. Since 2004 he has had a further 30 books published, making a total of 48.

He has travelled extensively in North America, Europe, Africa, and the Middle and Far East, and he has known a number of now deceased literary authors, such as: E.W.F. Tomlin (a friend of T.S. Eliot and philosopher, his boss in Japan); Frank Tuohy (novelist and short-story writer); Edmund Blunden (poet of the First World War); Ezra Pound (who gave advice on his first poetic epic in Rapallo in 1970); Laurens van der Post (travel writer and novelist who admired his intellectual passion); Iris Murdoch (novelist who wrote him several letters); and Ted Hughes (then Poet Laureate who corresponded with him from 1993 until his death and praised the narrative vitality of his first epic poem).

The University of Essex (The Albert Sloman Library) has his archive of literary works (manuscripts and papers) on permanent deposit as a Special Collection. The catalogue can be viewed at http://libwww.essex.ac.uk/speccol.htm. Scans of sample manuscript pages can be viewed at http://libwww.essex.ac.uk/Archives/Nicholas_Hagger/Hagger.html.

He was awarded the Gusi Peace Prize 2016 for Literature and received it in Manila on 23 November 2016.

Nicholas Hagger