Selwyn Jepson

Active - 1934 - 1954  |   Genres - Drama, Comedy, Crime, Musical, Romance

Share on

To judge by the press coverage that he received in his own time, Selwyn Jepson was perceived as a relatively minor author, best remembered as the son of the more famous novelist Edgar Jepson (1863-1938). In reality, he led one of the most extraordinary lives and careers of any writer of the 20th century, as a novelist whose work served as a source for Alfred Hitchcock and as a key member of one of the most secret of England's intelligence operations during World War II. Selwyn was born in 1899 in England and educated at the St. Paul's School. He was commissioned as an officer in the Royal Tank Corps in 1918, but was never in combat. He traveled throughout Europe after the end of the war and, around this same time, began writing professionally. After enjoying some success with short stories, he decided to make writing his career, completing his first novel, The Qualified Adventurer -- which was filmed in 1925 -- at the outset of the new decade.

The writer's travels took him throughout Europe during the 1920s and '30s and gave him a wide circle of acquaintances across the continent; he also acquired a fluency in French. Jepson wrote more than two dozen novels from the 1920s through the '50s, as well as co-authored one unsuccessful play. His career as a screenwriter dated from the early '30s, with the movies Going Gay (aka Kiss Me Goodbye) and For Love of You. He showed a skill with mysteries -- a field in which his father had also excelled -- in The Riverside Murder (1935) and The Scarab Murder Case (1936), and directed one movie, Toilers of the Sea (1936), that he co-wrote. His last screenplay work was for the 1938 Jessie Matthews vehicle Sailing Along, on which he shared credit with director Sonnie Hale, among other writers. At the outbreak of World War II, Jepson joined the military and was discovered to possess not only essential knowledge of continental Europe (especially France) but unique skills in judging people's psychological strengths. He was commissioned a captain (later promoted to major) and assigned to the Special Operations Executive, the arm of British intelligence roughly equivalent to the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the predecessor to the CIA. Jepson was put in charge of the recruitment and training of agents. His own, most direct task was personally interviewing potential agents. He usually used the name "Potter" in a now well-recounted procedure that took place in a sparely appointed, totally non-descript office in London. Would-be recruits were never told precisely who they were meeting, or the purpose of the meeting, only that they were to be interviewed for possible service in the war effort. For obvious reasons, this was among the most secret intelligence units of the war; among many others, Jepson was responsible for approving Violette Szabo, whose World War II exploits and tragic death later became the basis for the movie Carve Her Name With Pride. In that regard, Jepson found women to be far better suited to the most important aspects of intelligence work than men, and went so far as to get the personal approval of Winston Churchill to proceed with this effort.

Jepson resumed his writing career after the war and earned his most significant screen credit when his 1947 short story Man Alone was filmed by Alfred Hitchcock as Stage Fright (1950). He later wrote the screenplays for The Red Dress and The Last Moment (both 1954) and authored some of the scripts for the series The Adventures of Sir Lancelot (1956). Strangely enough for a man best known publicly as an author in his own time, Jepson's work in espionage resulted in his being represented on film and in literature, directly and indirectly, several times, not only in the Szabo biographical drama Carve Her Name With Pride but, more recently, in the novel Charlotte Gray by Sebastian Faulks (later filmed by Gillian Armstrong). An avid collector of books and art during the final decades of his life, Jepson passed away at the age of 90 in 1989.

Movie Highlights

See Full Filmography