10 Jun 2011

Travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor dies

Acclaimed war hero and travel writer Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor has died aged 96. His biographer Artemis Cooper tells Channel 4 News he died a “very old, very frail, but very happy” man.

Patrick Leigh Fermor died at home in Greece aged 96 (Image: Getty)

Leigh Fermor’s publisher confirmed that the writer, whose wartime derring-do was played out on the silver screen by Dirk Bogarde, died this morning.

He passed away at his home in Southern Greece where he had been living since the death of his wife Joan in 2003.

It was not clear if he had ever finished his much-anticipated third memoir, a spokesman for John Murray Publishers told Channel 4 News.

The third volume was expected to complete a trilogy of his travels as a young man. Aged 18, in 1933 Leigh Fermor walked from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople.

I will always remember his generosity of spirit – which flowed through his books. Artemis Cooper, Leigh Fermor’s biographer

Years later he regaled readers with tales from his trip in A Time of Gifts (1977) and Between the Woods and the Water (1986), leaving fans clamouring for a third and final instalment.

Leigh Fermor’s friend and biographer, Artemis Cooper, told Channel 4 News she was reading passages from A Time of Gifts to him just a few weeks ago.

Cooper said she was devastated by his death, adding that he was “a model to us all on how to grow old”.

Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, the travel writer and war hero, has died aged 96 (Image: Getty)

“What was wonderful about him was his big heart. You feel if he’d asked you to go to the ends of the earth, you would. I will always remember his generosity of spirit – which flowed through his books,” she said.

Cooper, whose biography of Leigh Fermor is not yet finished, told us she spent a week with the writer in Greece two or three weeks ago.

“I was reading his book to him – A Time of Gifts – he was very old, very frail but very happy,” she said.

She said he had always been incredibly helpful with regard to her forthcoming biography.

Leigh Fermor, once deemed “Britain’s greatest living travel writer”, was entranced by Greece. It was his knowledge of the language that saw him despatched to Greece and to Crete during World War II, where he famously captured the German Commander General Heinrich Kreipe.

The daring move was immortalised once by Leigh Fermor’s second in command Captain Bill Moss, in the book Ill Met by Moonlight: The Abduction of General Kreipe (1952); and again five years later – in a film featuring Dirk Bogarde.

I was reading his book to him – A Time of Gifts – he was very old, very frail but very happy. Artemis Cooper

Interviewing Leigh Fermor three years ago, The Daily Telegraph spotted an 8in-high pile of manuscript in his study, “on which was scribbled in red felt-tip: Vol 3”.

The writer, who wrote his books in long hand, also told the paper he was taking up typing lessons, as people kept giving him type writers.

“It is true, I am planning to take typing lessons in Evesham this September,” he said, then aged 93.

Leigh Fermor, who had no children, will be buried in Dumbleton next to his wife, who was born in the Gloucestershire village and whose grave bears an inscription in Greek.