John Hammond (1933-2018)

From John’s family: John Hammond was always interested in books and reading and had a passion for English Literature. In 1960 he founded the H.G. Wells Society and played an active part in it for many years, eventually becoming the Society’s President. He had always loved writing and when in his forties, he began writing books. He wrote books on H.G. Wells, Edgar Allan Poe, R.L. Stevenson, Daniel Defoe, George Orwell and James Hilton. Altogether he was the author of 20 books, all dealing with literary criticism. In the year 2000, he founded the James Hilton Society and became its secretary. When he retired from full-time work he was invited by Nottingham Trent University to become a Research Fellow in the Department of English and remained in that capacity for 8 years. This involved giving occasional lectures to staff and students and assisting with their programme of publications. In 1999 the University awarded John the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters – an honour he was very proud of. The Degree was awarded because of his contribution to scholarship on 19th and 20th-century authors, especially H.G. Wells.

From Patrick Parrinder: H.G. Wells in his years of fame was short, rather plump, and notoriously fond of the good things in life. He was certainly never inclined to take a back seat and let other people enjoy the limelight. So you might wonder what on earth John Hammond could have in common with the writer he admired so much. John was a very private man, but he did once tell us, in ‘The Wells Bug,’ that he read his first Wells novel at the age of 13. Later, when he was a National Serviceman, he decided that he wanted to collect a copy of every single one of Wells’s books. It was, he said, the one thing that kept him sane in the Royal Air Force. At the age of 19 he went to London for the first time, and the one thing he most remembered and most enjoyed was his visit to Foyles Bookshop, with its miles of bookshelves. Maybe that was when he decided that he wanted to become a writer himself.

John was very efficient, he was determined, and he got things done. I’m sure that many other people had thought that it might be a good idea to have an H.G. Wells Society, but it was John who took the initiative and set it up almost 60 years ago. At first he was its Secretary, but he stepped down after a very few years, saying he wanted to devote more time to his own writing – though he remained a member of the committee, and always came down to London for meetings. He was Secretary again for some years in the 1970s, but it was not until thirty years after he had founded the Society that we were able to persuade him to become its President, and still later he became its tenth Chair. And then he stepped down from the Chairmanship to become the Secretary again, combining this office with the Presidency. Nothing could better illustrate John’s modesty, his capacity for self-effacement, and his willingness to serve his colleagues in whatever way he felt was most needed.

John had a long and hard struggle to become a published writer. I first heard his name in 1966 when I was a graduate student; I was told that John was a great Wells fan and had written a book about him, but could not find a publisher. His first book did not actually appear until he was in his mid-forties, but then between about 1979 and 2001 the books simply flowed from his pen, at the rate of almost one per year. He had found his true vocation at last. John’s books express his passion for literature, and especially for the fantasy writers he had always enjoyed such as Wells, Poe and Stevenson. But many of them also have an indispensable reference function, showing his willingness to undertake the hard slog of literary research and establishing the facts. And all this was long before the days when you could sit at home and do most of your literary research online. Indeed, although John eventually had an email address, I understand that he never actually learned to use a computer.

Finally, what sort of man was John? To those of us who knew him in the Wells Society, he was immensely kind and generous, full of praise for our efforts, and always willing to listen to other people. Although he was our Founder, he was content to lead by example. He would give you very good advice, but only when you asked him for it. He was quite reserved, but to us he was an almost saintly man. As I’ve said, he was very different from H.G. Wells.