Comfort Papers

Scope and Content

Papers, 1937-c1990, of Alex Comfort, comprising:

A few personal and biographical items (1908-1985), including records relating to a trip to Argentina and Africa in 1936 a file of slides of India, 1962; petitions and pamphlets relating to Comfort's peace activism (1944-1961); research data, notebooks and laboratory records relating to Comfort's scientific research into the ageing process using molluscs, guppy fish and mammals (1937-1953); published and unpublished poetry, plays and novels, drafts of academic papers and talks, drafts and galley prints of fiction and non-fiction books (1935-1994); scripts for TV broadcasts (1963-1967); offprints of articles by Comfort (c1940s-1980s); files of incoming and some outgoing correspondence (1937-1990) scrapbooks of press cuttings of Comfort's work and comment on him; offprints by other authors and other collected reference material (1930s-1980s).

Administrative / Biographical History

Dr Alex Comfort (10 February 1920 - 26 March 2000) was a British gerontologist, anarchist, pacifist and a prolific author of both fiction and non-fiction. He is most known for his book 'The Joy of Sex' (1972), though after it became a best seller he expressed frustration that it overshadowed his other work.

Born in London in 1920, Alex Comfort was the only son of Alexander Charles Comfort, an education officer, and Daisy Elizabeth Fenner, a modern languages teacher. He was educated at Highgate School and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he read Natural Sciences (BA, 1943). He went on to accumulate a total of six degrees, including two PhDs.

His first publication, 'The Silver River' (1938), was published when he was 17 and still at school. It was a diary of a trip he had taken with his father to the South America and Africa during the summer of 1936. In 1941 he made his fiction debut with 'No Such Liberty' and several poetry collections. During the 1940s, Comfort drew some acclaim as a poet, playwright and novelist. He edited poetry journals and corresponded with authors including T S Eliot, Robert Greacer, Kenneth Patchen, Herbert Read and Evelyn Waugh. He also penned song lyrics, notably "Go Limp", co-written with folk musician Pete Seeger that was performed by Nina Simone in the mid-1960s. Though the focus of Comfort's work shifted more towards gerontology and sexual behaviour in later years, he continued to write poetry and fiction until the 1990s. His final his final novel was 'The Philosophers Stone' (1989), a satire of Thatcher's government set in the future, and a collection of his later poetry was published posthumously as 'Mikrokosmos', 1994.

Comfort's publications on anarchism and pacifism include 'Peace and Disobedience', one of the many pamphlets he wrote for 'Peace News' and the Peace Pledge Union (PPU), and 'Delinquency in the Modern State'(1950). The themes of war and politics also feature in much of his poetry and fiction. Comfort was a conscientious objector during World War II and an active member of pacifist organisations including the PPU, Science for Peace, and Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). He exchanged public correspondence with George Orwell, defending pacifism ('Tribune' magazine, 1943). In 1961 Comfort served time in prison with Bertrand Russell and other members of the anti-war group The Committee of 100 for refusing to be bound over to keep the peace prior to a Ban The Bomb demonstration in Trafalgar Square. Throughout his career, Comfort was a regular columnist and contributor to the letters pages in newspapers.

His medical career began at Cambridge and the London Hospital Medical School, qualifying during 1944 (MB BChir, LRCP, MRCS). In 1949 he completed a PhD in Biochemistry (London), based on the pigmentation of Mollusc shells. He then began a twenty year association with University College London (UCL) joining the Zoology department as an Honorary Research Associate (1951-1965) and then becoming Director of Research in Gerontology (1966-1973). While at UCL, Comfort conducted ground breaking research into ageing patterns in guppy fish and mammals. Comfort's theories on the aging process are expressed in 'Biology of Senescence' (1954) and 'The Process of Aging' (1964), along with a large number of academic papers. In 1969 he became President of the British Society for Research on Ageing. During the 1970s and 80s he focussed primarily on geriatric medicine and campaigned for improvements in geriatric care. His book 'A Good Age' (1976) was manual for living well in older age, aimed at the general public.

Comfort became a regular guest on radio and TV panel shows and gained some notoriety. In 1963 he caused outrage by suggesting on a BBC television programme that that "chivalrous" 15-year-old boys should go out with a condom in their pocket. His published works on sexual behaviour and morality included 'Barbarism And Sexual Freedom' (1948) and 'Sexual Behaviour In Society (1950)', which was revised as 'Sex In Society' (1963). In 1962, he visited India, which led to him publishing a translation of the Sanskrit erotological mediaeval classic, 'The Koka Shastra', in 1964. Then in the 1972, came Comfort's own manual on sex, 'The Joy of Sex'. Originally intended as a textbook for medical students, 'The Joy of Sex' and its sequels became widely translated international best sellers.

In 1974 Comfort moved to California to take up a Fellowship at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions at Santa Barbara. The Center soon closed, but Comfort remained on the west coast in a series of medical and academic posts, including Clinical Lecturer at Stanford University, (1974-1983; Professor, Department of Pathology, University of California School of Medicine, Irvine (1976-1978); Consultant psychiatrist, Brentwood Veterans Hospital, Los Angeles (1978-1981); Adjunct Professor, Neuropsychiatric Institute, University of California at Los Angeles, from 1980 and Consultant, Ventura County Hospital (Medical Education), from 1981.

In 1985 Comfort retired to England. In 1991 he suffered severe cerebral haemorrhage which left him partially disabled. He died in Banbury, Oxfordshire, in 2000. Alex Comfort was married twice, to Ruth Harris, (1943-1973; divorced) and to Jane Henderson (1973 to her death in 1991). He had one son, Nicholas Comfort, born in 1946.


Alex Comfort worked on diverse projects at the same time and did not categorise his work by subject. He filed both his correspondence and newspaper cuttings in chronological order. The structure of the catalogue aims to reflect Comfort's holistic approach to his work while grouping records to make them accessible to researchers.

Some Biographical and Personal items are listed first (Section A). Then the bulk of the records are arranged in 3 sections reflecting Comfort's key areas of activity:

B. Activism

C. Scientific Research

D. Writings and Broadcasts

and a further 3 sections based on record type:

E. Correspondence

F. Newspaper Scrapbooks

G. Collected Reference Material

These Sections are arranged broadly in date order so as to reflect how the focus of Comfort's work shifted over time. Within the Sections, records are arranged chronologically by activity. Drafts of books are listed in order of publication, for example.

The correspondence in this collection came to UCL arranged in two distinct series, A and B. These series have been retained, with correspondence files arranged in roughly chronological order within them. There are also smaller, subject based series of correspondence.

Offprints of Comfort's work (D/8) and offprints and other reference material by other authors (Section G) are largely unsorted.

Access Information

Certain restrictions apply

A small number of records are restricted or closed in compliance with GDPR. The vast majority are available subject to the usual conditions of access to Archives and Manuscripts material, after the completion of a Reader's Undertaking. Please see the detailed catalogued for full information.

Acquisition Information

The papers, one deposit received in 1973 and the second, made by Nicholas Comfort on behalf of his father, in 1992, were deposited on permanent loan.

Other Finding Aids

A card index to personal and corporate names for the first deposit available at University College London Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

Normal copyright restrictions apply.


No further deposits are expected.

Related Material

University College London Special Collections also holds letters from George Orwell to Alex Comfort, 1942-1943 (Ref: ORWELL/G/1/10), letters to Alex Comfort from Os and Margaret Marron, 1945-1946 (Ref: MS ADD 111); a letter from Hugh Harris, 1953, one from Robert Greacen, 1965, and one from Philip O'Connor, 1968 (Ref: MS ADD 160); a letter from A C Boyd and reply by Comfort, 1956 (Ref: MS ADD 195); a letter to Comfort from Herbert Read, 1943 (Ref: MS MISC 4R); galley proof of Robert Greacen's 'Even Without Irene', 1968, including a description of Comfort (Ref: MS MISC 5G); various fiction and non-fiction publications by Alex Comfort.

State University of New York College at Buffalo holds correspondence and literary papers.

Location of Originals

The original letters from Herbert Read are at the Library of the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.