Letters to John Guest

Scope and Content

This is a collection of around 500 personal and business letters from over 100 literary figures. They include 52 letters from Sir John Betjeman 1949-1979; 33 letters from Christopher Fry 1949-1989; 25 letters from Mary Renault 1960-1983, with further letters from her partner Julie Mullard and obituaries; 25 letters from Harold Nicolson 1949-1962; 17 letters from David Storey 1963-1994; 26 letters from Francis King 1950-1957, mainly concerning his British Council service in Greece; 12 letters from L.P. Hartley 1966-1970; 18 letters from William Plomer 1966-1972, mostly concerning the judging of the Cholmondeley Award for Poetry; 12 letters from Joan Hassall c.1954-1987; 12 letters from Laurence Whistler 1955-1986; 14 letters from A.N. Wilson 1979-1988, and 14 letters from Mary Wilson 1969-1986. Other correspondents include Rupert Hart-Davis, Christopher Hibbert, Mollie Hamilton (M.M. Kaye), Irene Handl, Stevie Smith, Stephen Spender and Muriel Spark.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Guest was born in 1911 in Warrington, Cheshire, and was educated at Fettes, Edinburgh, and Pembroke College, Cambridge. He was first employed in the publishing industry as a proof reader and subsequently junior editor for Collins, before serving in an artillery regiment during the war. In 1949 he was appointed literary advisor to the publishing firm Longmans, with a brief to rebuild their general trade list, at which he was very successful. He subsequently held the same position at Penguin Books, after the merger with Longmans in 1972, where he remained until his retirement. A Fellow of the Royal Literary Society, he was the author of Broken Images (1949), a record of his wartime experiences, and also compiled the first anthology of the work of his friend, the poet Sir John Betjeman, entitled The Best of Betjeman (1978). He died in August 1997.


Grouped by the initial letter of each author's surname, although not alphabetically arranged within each group.

Access Information

Open to all researchers. No reader's ticket is required but an appointment is necessary. Check www.reading.ac.uk/special-collections/using/sc-using.asp for contact details and opening hours.

Acquisition Information

Purchased from Tim Scott, 1999.


Description prepared by Bridget Andrews, with reference to the catalogue of the collection by T.F.S. Scott. Biographical source: Times obituary of John Guest, August 28 1997.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogue available, with an alphabetical list of correspondents.

Related Material

The archives of the Longman Group are also held at Reading University Library.