Autobiography of an Invisible Man

The novel I’m working on is provisionally titled ‘The Autobiography of an Invisible Man’. This is the Wikipedia page for the invisible man of the title.

Harry Felatu (a.k.a. Hare Yehuda Felatu) born in 1930 in Bloomsbury London, he was a mysterious figure on the fringes of the bohemian Soho art and literary scene of the 1950s and 1960s, a friend of Francis Bacon and an occasional model for his paintings.

Early Years

His father was the New Zealand Maori rugby all-black, Maka Felatu, and his mother was Sarah Weinstein, the daughter of a wealthy Welsh Jewish family. his parents met when his father was on a rugby tour of the UK. His parents split up shortly after his birth. His father returned to New Zealand and Harry was brought up by his single parent mother. He was educated at the Royal Grammar School High Wycombe but left school early and went to live and work in London, taking up a variety of occupations including night club bouncer and racing tipster.

The Soho Years

At six feet six inches tall and weighing two hundred and fifty pounds, he was a conspicuous figure who soon attracted attention when he began to frequent the Soho drinking dens in the early 1950s. He was befriended by the painter, Francis Bacon, and became both his model and his bodyguard. Apart from his appearance in two of Bacon’s better known paintings ‘Polynesian Man in a Headscarf’ and ‘Reclining Male Nude’, little is known about him until, in 1956, he wrote a novel ‘An Angel in the City of Sin’. Set in Soho, it was a kind of female rake’s progress, also described by one critic as Fanny Hill for the twentieth century. it tells the picaresque story of Mary Cregan, a young Irish girl coming to London as an au pair, who slowly descends into a life of debauchery leading to her premature death. With its realistic depictions of Soho’s lower depths mixed with elements of drug-infused fantasy and mysticism, some critics later championed it as a precursor of magical realism. Because of its explicit sexual content, no British publisher would touch it but it was published by the Olympia Press in Paris and gained some notoriety although few sales.

The Later Years

His novel was republished in 1968 as a Panther paperback and, this time, found a cult following within the London hippy scene. This brief period in the spotlight culminated in an appearance on an early edition of Late Night Lineup on BBC 2 where he was interviewed live about his novel by a young Joan Bakewell. No tape of the interview survives but it is rumoured that Felatu was drunk and it was brought to an abrupt close.

For most of his life, Felatu remained a figure in the Soho shadows – a hanger-on, an imposing ornament. It is rumoured that he was also involved on the fringes of the criminal underworld, possibly as an occasional henchman of the Krays, but there is no firm evidence for this. Little is known about his life since other than, like many in his bohemian circle, he drifted into alcoholism and poverty.

 

 

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