|Born||3 December 1908|
Potterne, Wiltshire, England
|Died||17 May 1970 (aged 61)|
Hampstead, London, England
|Resting place||Hampstead Cemetery, London|
|Alma mater||Peterhouse, Cambridge|
Nigel Marlin Balchin (3 December 1908 - 17 May 1970) was an English psychologist and author, particularly known for his novels written during and immediately after World War II: Darkness Falls from the Air, The Small Back Room and Mine Own Executioner.
Balchin was born on 3 December 1908 in Potterne, Wiltshire, the third and last child of William Edwin Balchin (1872-1958), a baker and teashop proprietor, later grocer, and Ada (née Curtis), the daughter of a railway guard. His paternal grandfather, George Marlin Balchin (1830-1898), was a farmer of 800 acres from a long line of wealthy Surrey farmers in Milford. George Balchin moved during the 1870s to Reading to become a Storekeeper. but his sudden decision in 1887 to cease work on his farm had a negative impact on the Balchin family's subsequent finances.
At the age of eighteen months, Balchin knocked over a kettle of scalding water, and was so badly burned that he was not expected to survive. He was educated at Dauntsey's School and Peterhouse, Cambridge, where he took a scholarship and became a Prizeman in Natural Sciences. He then worked for the National Institute of Industrial Psychology between 1930 and 1935. For part of this time he was a consultant to JS Rowntree & Sons, where he was involved in the design and marketing of Black Magic chocolates and, he claimed, responsible for the success of the company's Aero and Kit Kat brands.
During World War II he was a civil servant at the Ministry of Food, and then, on the basis of his pioneering work on personnel selection and scientific research, using early computers, appointed Deputy Scientific Adviser to the Army Council, being promoted to the rank of brigadier at the early age of thirty-six, and through the film of his semi-autobiographical novel The Small Back Room, became regarded as a protypical Boffin. On 29 October 1954, he was the celebrity castaway on Desert Island Discs. In 1956, he moved abroad to write screenplays in Hollywood, Italy and elsewhere, but was increasingly troubled by alcoholism, and returned permanently to England in 1962.
Balchin was married twice.
Firstly, on 21 January 1933 at Chelsea, to Elisabeth Evelyn Walshe, daughter of the novelist Douglas Walshe, whom he had met at Cambridge where she was reading English, archaeology and anthropology at Newnham. Their children were:
His first marriage broke up following a partner-swapping arrangement between the Balchins, the artist Michael Ayrton and the latter's partner Joan. Elisabeth also had an affair with the composer Christian Darnton. Balchin divorced Elisabeth in 1951 and she married Ayrton a year later. Balchin included an unflattering caricature of Darnton as the poet Stephen Ryle in his novel Darkness Falls from the Air (1942).
He died on 17 May 1970 at a nursing home in Hampstead, London, and is buried on the edge of the north path in Hampstead Cemetery in north London. His gravestone is small, but distinctive, having the form of an open book.
|Ancestors of Nigel Balchin|
He also wrote novels under his own name, and enjoyed great popular success for a time. Darkness Falls from the Air is set during the London Blitz and was written while the bombing was still in progress. The Small Back Room became a Powell and Pressburger film of the same title. A Way Through the Wood was adapted as a stage play, Waiting for Gillian, and as the 2005 film Separate Lies, which marked the directorial debut of Oscar-winning screenwriter Julian Fellowes. Other critically acclaimed Balchin novels include A Sort of Traitors, Sundry Creditors, The Fall of the Sparrow and Seen Dimly before Dawn.
As a screenwriter he worked on an early draft of Cleopatra but is principally remembered for The Man Who Never Was, for which he won the 1957 BAFTA Award for Best British Screenplay, and Mandy, the story of a deaf child. He also wrote the screenplay for The Singer Not the Song and adapted two of his own novels for the screen.