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The Brentford Mercury

Hugo Rune: A Biography

Part One

by Michael Carroll

 

Hugo Rune

The real Hugo Rune, on whom Robert Rankin’s character is based, was born Vincent James Cardigan in Bexhill-on-Sea in May of eighteen ninety. For reasons that are not wholly clear, he was given the nickname Hugo by his father, Robert, who apparently called all of his eight children by unusual nicknames: the youngest, Arthur Simon Cardigan, was called Jimmy-Boy, while the only girl, Amanda, was called Clementine.

From all accounts, the young Hugo Cardigan was a portly, much put-upon child. Rather than play with his brothers and sister, he preferred to spend time in his bedroom, reading almost anything that came to hand. Though the other children were very much into sports (the eldest, Harold — or “Ivan”, as his father called him — rode in the Grand National in nineteen twelve: he had been leading until his horse threw him at the fifth fence), Hugo disdained any form of physical exercise, and his parents, recognising the young man’s intelligence, decided to do something almost unheard of in those times: they put him through college.

At the age of seventeen, Hugo Cardigan was enrolled in St. Nicholas’ College for Young Men, a small school on the outskirts of West Wittering, in West Sussex. It was far enough from home that Cardigan had to stay as a boarding pupil.

This detachment from his family is generally believed to have been the catalyst that turned a shy young boy into a pompous, arrogant young man: once free of the confines of home, and in the company of other like-minded people, Cardigan was a lot happier. He was at liberty to expound on his rather unorthodox theories to anyone who would listen, and he quickly made some life-long friends. In particular, a young man called Jonathan Blackmoor, second cousin to Winston Churchill.

Blackmoor was a short, nervous, gullible, friendless youth, and he welcomed the attention Cardigan gave him. From their second year at St. Nicholas, Cardigan and Blackmoor roomed together, and — in a letter to his parents — Blackmoor described his time with Cardigan as “Truly inspiring. I have never met someone so well-informed in the ways of the world. Hugo has insights which would put Sherlock Holmes, were he real, to shame. His appearance, however, is the only thing that lets him down: he is of a large frame, and though he is only eighteen, his hair has started to thin quite dramatically, yet he refuses to wear a hat, even when in public. He is also, I must say, quite humourless: I have heard him laugh only once, and that was during a lecture on theology. As the Master was explaining about the Divine Trinity, Hugo bellowed uproariously, and asked to be excused from the room, on the grounds that he had never heard such nonsense. When the Master challenged Hugo to present proof that the lecture was nonsense, Hugo — suddenly serious — stared the man in the eye and said ‘You first.’ Hugo was confined to his rooms for a week.”

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