Sons have always been fascinated by their fathers and in recent years many of them have explored the relationship in print. Blake Morrison was the modern trend-setter, doing so well out of it that he went on to write a book about his mum too. The latest in the line is Jimmy Burns, a former Financial Times journalist and author of, among other books, a biography of the footballer Diego Maradona. Unlike some of the practitioners of the genre, he has a fascinating and intriguing story to tell about his father.
Tom Burns was a central figure in Catholic life in Britain from the 1930s until his death in 1995. He ran the publishing firm Burns and Oates, edited The Tablet and befriended and promoted all the key figures in the 20th-century English Catholic revival, such as Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, the artist and writer David Jones, with whom he shared a Chelsea flat, and Father Martin d'Arcy, who enticed so many intellectual and aristocratic converts into the Church. Burns had a finger in every Catholic pie for half a century. These days we would call him a successful networker.
He was a handsome and slightly raffish Anglo-Chilean, who was clearly attractive to women and, unlike many of his Catholic friends, sexually confident. One virginal friend, on honeymoon in Spain, even sent an emergency appeal for Burns to rush out and help the newly-weds overcome their early difficulties, though how he went about his task and whether he was successful we are not, alas, told. His son also uncovered a cache of letters which detail his passionate relationship with Ann Bowes-Lyon, cousin of Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother).
Tom Burns in Madrid, 1941