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Archive of Bruce Montgomery 'Edmund Crispin'


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The collection consists of many hundreds of letters written to Montgomery during the course of his life, reflecting in particular his triple involvement in the worlds of literature, music and film. A large quantity of his working papers is also preserved, and although the manuscripts of most of Montgomery's published works do not survive, there is a great deal of material relating to his activities as a composer, anthologist and reviewer, together with notes and drafts of unfinished and unpublished projects. These include several plays and essays written as an undergraduate, and among his Oxford papers are a series of cartoons drawn by Montgomery and Larkin, and a set of Larkin's notes and essays on Chaucer. Between 1943 and 1945 Larkin also sent Montgomery drafts of the poems he was currently working on, whilst his own annotations appear on several of Montgomery's manuscripts. These are described below, in section B of this catalogue (see also Bodleian Library Record,14 (1991-), 55-9).

Montgomery's work as a musician is well-represented in the collection and the correspondence relating to his career in music, as well as various screenplays that he wrote for films, is described in sections A and C below. Manuscript music scores, a quantity of printed books and a few discs have been catalogued separately and only summary descriptions of this material are given here. Montgomery's pipe and spectacles are kept as Library Objects 725-6. The cataloguing of the papers was made possible by a generous grant from the Mathew Prichard Settlement.


  • Creation: 1921-78


28.5 Linear metres (187 physical shelfmarks)

Language of Materials

  • English

Conditions Governing Access

Some material is closed.

Preferred Citation

Oxford, Bodleian Libraries [followed by shelfmark and folio or page reference, e.g. MS. Eng. c. 3824, fols. 1-2].

Please see our help page for further guidance on citing archives and manuscripts.

Full range of shelfmarks:

MSS. Eng. b. 2046; c. 2356-2358, c. 3824-3992; d. 2435-2438; e. 2782-2789; Photogr. c. 32-33

Collection ID (for staff)

CMD ID 12008


Archive of Bruce Montgomery, (1921-1978), detective novelist writing under the pseudonym of Edmund Crispin, and composer in his own name.

Biographical / Historical

Robert Bruce Montgomery (1921-1978) was born at Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire, on 2 October 1921, the third child in the family of three daughters and one son of Robert Ernest Montgomery (1878-1962) and his wife, Marion Blackwood Jarvie (d.1971). Educated at Merchant Taylors' School, where the club-foot for which he was operated on several times in childhood prevented his participation in sport, he was a gifted student and already a talented composer by the time he went to St. John's College, Oxford, in 1940. For three years he read Modern Languages under W.G. Moore (his tutorial partner was the poet Alan Ross) and was College organist. Expected by his contemporaries to get a First, he spent the Easter vacation before his Final Examinations writing a detective novel and gained only 'an ignominious Second', as he recalled in later life. However, The Case of the Gilded Fly, written under the pseudonym Edmund Crispin and featuring as its hero Oxford Professor of English, Gervase Fen, was published in 1944 and was an immediate success. It was the first of eight Gervase Fen novels published in Britain and America between 1944 and 1951, the most productive period of Montgomery's life when he was writing and composing fluently and with pleasure.

His time at Oxford was also notable for the friendships that developed with Philip Larkin and to a lesser degree with Kingsley Amis. Of the three young men, Montgomery looked set to have the most promising future and certainly Larkin found him, if not a mentor, then a creative stimulus and a bracing antidote to his own tentative, depressive nature. He submitted his poems for Montgomery's comment and after graduating took his first library post at Wellington partly because it was near the Schools, Shrewsbury, where Montgomery taught until 1945. Montgomery's friendship with Amis was less close but they collaborated on several works, including a Coronation ode, 'The Century's Crown' (1953), and an opera, Amberley Hall(>c. 1955). Montgomery was also godfather to Amis's son, Martin.

After leaving Shrewsbury, Montgomery moved to Devon where he lived for the rest of his life, supporting himself as a writer and composer. But after the publication in 1953 of a collection of his detective stories, Beware of the Trains, he found himself increasingly unable to write or to compose a substantial work and turned instead to editing science fiction, detective and horror anthologies, and to writing music for films, most lucratively for the Carry On and Doctor series. His health, never robust, began to break down under the strain of alcoholism and he eventually became unemployable as a film composer. Towards the end of his life, however, he published another Gervase Fen novel, The Glimpses of the Moon (1977), and was working on several more projects when he died on 15 September 1978. A generous and kindly man, with a wide circle of friends and acquaintances despite his increasingly reclusive lifestyle, Montgomery married (Barbara) Ann Clements in 1976, who had for many years acted as his secretary and companion. It was she who gave Montgomery's papers to the Bodleian in 1986, shortly before her own death.

Further details are given in the Dictionary of National Biography.


The archive has been arranged into five series of correspondence, literary papers, papers relating to films and music, financial papers and personal papers.

Custodial History

These papers were held by Barbara Ann Clements before she gave them to the Bodleian.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Barbara Ann Clements gave Montgomery's papers to the Bodleian in 1986, shortly before her own death.

Related Materials

In 1991, the executors of Philip Larkin's estate gave to the Bodleian Montgomery's letters to Larkin. These are catalogued separately.

For Montgomery's music manuscripts see Music Manuscripts of Robert Bruce Montgomery (MSS. Mus. a. 4, b. 47-89, c. 438-447, 453).

Catalogue of the archive of Bruce Montgomery 'Edmund Crispin'
Finding aid prepared by Judith Priestmann and Emma Harrison
1995, EAD version 2018
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Bodleian Libraries Repository

Weston Library
Broad Street
Oxford OX1 3BG United Kingdom