THE LONG-HAIRED BOY.

Hamish Hamilton, 1980.

When fighter pilot Hugh Fleming is shot down in flames at the height of the Battle of Britain, it would seem that his 22-year-old life is in ruins.  Doted on by his parents, indulged by his friends and spoiled by women, Hugh was one of that privileged pre-war generation who could expect to succeed effortlessly.  Even learning to fly a Spitfire had come easily.

Now his astonishing good looks have been destroyed for ever; the hands that won him a painting prize at Eton, brought him to a hairsbreadth of a Cambridge cricket blue, and sent shivers of delight down the spine of many a pretty young thing, are charred and twisted;  his spirit is no less broken than his body.

Suddenly everything that he has taken for granted is called into question – even life itself – since all he has to look forward to is an endless succession of hospital wards, skin grafting operations and convalescent homes as the doctors struggle to re-build his face and provide him with a pair of rough, workable hands.  As if that were not enough, news reaches him with remorseless regularity of the death in the air of all his closest friends.

Gradually, however, over the following ten months, with the help and affection of his family, his surgeon, and his fellow patients, and, in spite of repeated rejection by the outside world, a new, more sympathetic man develops beneath the freshly-grafted skin. 

Selfishness and self-pity give way to self-awareness and a real understanding of where his responsibilities lie.  And, as he slowly discovers who his real friends are, and why he of all the university pilots (the long-haired boys, as they were known) has been spared, a purpose for living is finally revealed.

Adapted in 1990 for London Weekend Television as A Perfect Hero, starring Nigel Havers, James Fox, Barbara Leigh-Hunt, Bernard Hepton and Joanna Lumley.

Reviews:  

How refreshing to read a novel which has a moral, a good, strong, entirely believable story, and a middle and an end…The quality of the writing is flawless.  A.N.Wilson, TLS

The narrative is clear, bold and uncluttered, so that the reader’s attention is focused throughout on the tale rather than on the telling of it.  And the precariousness of these young men’s astonishing bravery is perfectly captured.  Jonathan Steffen, The Spectator

A book, which at first struck me as being another genre piece of Second World War fiction, came to disturb and move me.  Anthony Thwaite, The Observer

I feel a better man for having read this book.  It was worth writing, and it is worth reading.  John Braine, Sunday Telegraph