Francis, Graham Greene’s son, has died at the age of 85. The event marks the end of an era, following the passing of his elder sister Caroline last year. He shared a distinct character trait with his father, being an intensely private person with a strong dislike of the trappings of celebrity. Despite leading an independent life and career, Francis played a key role in maintaining his father’s legacy – he was Graham’s literary executor for a great many years. Importantly, he was dedicated to preserving the literary oeuvre and he strictly followed his father’s own wishes in that respect.
Francis was educated at Ampleforth School and later read Physics at Christ Church College, Oxford. Following National Service, when he was posted to the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston, he had careers as a TV science programme producer at the BBC and as a photojournalist. He was in Laos in 1967 working as a journalist during the Vietnam War and had two very lucky escapes. Firstly he contracted the often fatal disease ‘malignant malaria’ and later, after being arrested by the Laotian Army, was held naked in a cage and could well have been executed. Fortunately, Graham Greene’s friend Trevor Wilson who was the British Cultural Attaché in Laos at the time helped to broker his release.
There is a sizeable body of correspondence at Boston College which in many ways reflects a normal father/son relationship. There are gaps in the timeline and also one is left with the impression that Graham, often the absent father, compensated with sometimes lavish gifts – an unusually large wedding gift in 1971 for an occasion he was apparently unable to attend, the copyright of The Quiet American, the complete set of his works when Francis had said, apparently ‘whimsically’, that he was thinking of becoming a collector.
Francis taught himself to speak Russian at a fairly young age and this developed into a life-long interest. He visited Moscow with his father in 1957. Much later he became engaged in helping Russian friends and charities. According to his nephew Andrew Bourget, he was very anti Vladimir Putin and had been active for many years in collecting information against the Putin regime.
Francis Greene remains a private and enigmatic person who worked tirelessly to preserve the legacy and integrity of a famous literary father. It is ironic to read in several of the Boston letters, Graham gently complaining that he seldom heard from his son and asking for news of what he had been doing. In another, he said he wanted to keep abreast of his son’s frequent changes of address. Talk about a ‘chip off the old block’!