Alex Deer was born into a world of empires soon to be torn apart. His earliest memory was of the sun blotting out as the sinister bulk of a zeppelin passed over on its bombing run into the Mersey docks. Home was in Rusholme, a working class suburb of Manchester, where he was brought up in a strictly Baptist family. If he was later to abandon the more ascetic features of his upbringing, he retained for life the self discipline and sense of duty it instilled.

An avid reader from an early age, in his midteens he came across in...

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