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By then General Kreipe and Paddy were almost friends, having discovered a mutual love of the Latin odes of Horace. His account was subsequently filmed, with Dirk Bogarde playing Paddy.

Nothing is Written: Ill Met By Moonlight

He hardly saw his father, who was an archaeologist working in India. His mother fostered him out for his first four years then despatched him to prep schools that he hated. Wild by nature, Paddy was nothing but trouble - expelled from school after school and failing every exam.

He wound up at 18 as an incorrigible drunk and party-goer.

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Then he turned his back on all that to tramp diagonally across Europe and write about its gypsies, remote towns, forgotten villages and colourful peasant customs - indulging his insatiable curiosity for foreign languages, history and architecture. He had few advantages but youthful ones: great looks and physical fitness like a Greek God, said an admiring Freya Stark ; a natural ebullience and eagerness to learn; a quick ear for languages; and an amazing memory for detail.

Wherever he went, women and men - whether peasants or aristocrats - took to him and offered him hospitality. One introduction led to another. He sometimes slept rough in stables and barns but this was interspersed, we now learn, with sojourns in the castles and country houses of the eccentric, amusing, minor nobility of Bavaria, Hungary, Bulgaria and Rumania as Cooper spells it. It was a very superior form of tramping.

And at the end of it, he was swept off by a Rumanian princess who took him to live with her in her manor house. Most of his hosts had splendid libraries that he ransacked for knowledge of local history and customs, on which he became a living encyclopaedia. He also had a great capacity for carousing, whether with peasants or princes, talking all night and singing songs in many languages.

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Cooper chronicles many a riotous evening among Greeks and Cretans with near-unpronounceable names, until they dissolve into an indistinguishable blur. Love of his life: Joan Rayner, who Leigh Femor married after 24 years together. Delightful company as he no doubt was, he made a wide range of upper-class friends in England and abroad, in whose houses he was welcomed.

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In short he was a champion sponger. There are also awkward questions that are not satisfactorily answered, such as an ugly incident in Crete when he accidentally shot dead one of his partisans by easing the bolt of a rifle that had - unbeknown to him - a round up the barrel. Also, the kidnapping of Kreipe led to savage German reprisals on Cretan villages, which were razed to the ground.

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  6. In fact it served no strategic purpose other than to raise morale. Paddy was welcomed back to Crete as a hero though not by the family of the man he shot but one wonders how happy he was about his jape in retrospect.

    It may be why he never published his version of the story. There is also his cavalier attitude to money. He was always borrowing it, even from the adoring office girls of the British Consul in Athens - and not often paying it back. Chronically short of finance for his incessant travels, he never stooped to earning any, except for the occasional magazine article.

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    Ill Met by Moonlight

    Find out more. Happy Halloween from Christmasland. Gingerbread will never taste the same again. Competition closes on the 28th May at Good luck! Read this book with the lights on: NOS4R2. This book gave me nightmares. This book still makes me shiver when I see a Rolls Royce. See you then! Award Season. Christmas reads: part two. Neil Gaiman, talking about Joe Hill. Stephen King — The Master of Horror.