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Richard Hough; Writer of Biographies, Naval History

October 11, 1999|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Richard Hough, a writer best known for his naval histories and biographies, which included a controversial account of the life of British war hero Lord Mountbatten as well as an unorthodox retelling of how Capt. Bligh lost the Bounty to mutiny, has died.

Hough, who had more than 90 books to his name, died Thursday in London at the age of 77. The cause of death was not announced but he was known to have a history of heart problems.

The son of a bank official with strong pacifist leanings, Hough was born in Brighton, England. He did not share his father's political ideology and attempted to join the Royal Navy in 1940, but his color blindness disqualified him.

Hough was able to join the Royal Air Force and was sent to a flight school near Los Angeles for training, as many British pilots were. His flying teacher was the brother of actress Mary Pickford, and Hough fell in with the Hollywood set, carousing in the company of Ginger Rogers, Ronald Colman, Charles Boyer and Joan Fontaine.

During the war, he flew Hurricanes and then Typhoon fighters in Britain and celebrated his 21st birthday by shooting down two German fighters in the North Sea.

After the war, Hough took a job writing books for boys under the name Bruce Carter. He also covered motor racing for the Manchester Guardian and wrote book reviews for the Daily Telegraph.

But his real love was naval history, and he started on a career in what became a number of well researched and highly readable books that included "The Potemkin Mutiny," "The Pursuit of Admiral von Spee" and "The Murder of Captain James Cook."

His two most controversial books involved Bligh and Mountbatten.

In "Captain Bligh and Mr. Christian: The Men and the Mutiny," which was the basis for the 1984 film "The Bounty," starring Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins, Hough reexamined the characters and events associated with the Bounty and offered a new explanation of why the mutiny occurred.

In Hough's retelling of the mutiny, he emphasized that Christian, the ship's second in command, did not originate the idea to mutiny, and once involved, maintained a humane attitude toward Bligh, giving him enough tools and supplies to navigate to safety.

It was Hough's theory that Bligh and Christian were having a homosexual relationship before the Bounty got to Tahiti and that Christian ended the relationship after tasting the pleasures of the islands.

Many reviewers felt the theory was poorly supported and discounted it. Others saw it as a plausible explanation of events that led to the mutiny.

On his way to Pitcairn Island aboard a British naval tanker, he met Lord Mountbatten, who was on a visit to the island. Invited to transfer to the Britannia, Hough struck up a friendship with Mountbatten, which led to his writing the authorized biography of his parents, Louis and Victoria, the first Mountbattens.

Hough said he had no plans to write a biography of Lord Mountbatten, the last British viceroy of India, but after he was killed by an Irish Republican Army bomb in 1979, he was commissioned to write the book, "Mountbatten: Hero of Our Time," published in 1980.

That biography was also controversial because Hough alleged that Mountbatten's wife, Edwina, had a love affair with Indian leader Jawaharlal Nehru in 1947 and that this was a factor in Muslim leader Mohammed Ali Jinnah's insistence on the partition of India.

Hough wrote that Mountbatten knew about the "close and serious" relationship between his wife and India's future prime minister and condoned it.

But Hough says it made Jinnah so resentful of Nehru, his political rival, that this hardened his determination to force the partition of the Indian subcontinent and save the Muslim minority from domination by the Hindu majority.

The British government agreed, and on Aug. 15, 1947, British India was divided into independent India and Pakistan. More than 2 million people were killed in the communal massacres that followed.

British newspapers hailed the book as a highly successful biography which showed the man behind the hero's medals, "warts and all."

Indira Gandhi later called the story of her father's affair with Edwina Mountbatten "ridiculous."

Hough was writing to the end of his life. His last book, "Naval Battles of the 20th Century," is to be published in England next month.

He is survived by his wife, Judy Taylor, and four daughters from his first marriage.

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