ONE of Dorset's most distinguished men hailed from Essex.

Simon Brown writes of the life of John Fowles in the Dorset Yearbook, documenting the Lyme Regis author's 'unusual and most interesting' life.

Fowles was born at Leigh-on-Sea in Essex in 1926 into a middle class family. As a young child he attended preparatory school at Alleyn Court (Southend-on-Sea) and then moved on to Bedford School where he became head boy and was distinguished in sport, especially cricket.

He left school in 1944 and completed two years' military service in the Royal Marines. Then in 1947 he moved on to New College, Oxford, where he read French.

Fowles graduated in 1950 and became a teacher in France and then Greece, where he met and became involved with Elizabeth Christy who was later to become his wife.

He returned to London and while teaching English as a foreign language started drafting The Magus, which was to appear later as his third published work. Whilst drafting The Magus he also worked on The Collector, which was sent on to publishers Jonathan Cape by his agent. Published in 1963 it was an immediate success and Fowles was paid what was probably the highest price to that date for a first novel.

In 1965 he and Elizabeth moved to Dorset where they were to spend the rest of their lives. Firstly to Underhill Farm, an isolated farmhouse on the outskirts of Lyme Regis where he started work on The French Lieutenant's Woman. In 1968, the couple moved to Belmont, a fine house within Lyme.

The French Lieutenant's Woman was published in 1969 and filmed in 1981.

Fowles had 'a keen interest in Lyme and its history', Brown writes. He spent nine years as the curator of Lyme Regis Museum and was instrumental in getting it as firmly established as it is today. In 1982 he published A Short History of Lyme Regis and Lyme Regis Camera, a collection of around 150 photos from the 1850s onwards.

In 1988 Fowles suffered a mild stroke and in 1990 Elizabeth died suddenly from undiagnosed cancer. Fowles was much affected by her death and didn't marry again until 1998.

Brown writes: "His second wife was Sarah Smith and she was at his side when he died from heart failure in hospital in November 2005 aged 79.

"Thus a most distinguished man of letters spent 40 years - the second half of his life - living and working in the town and county that he dearly loved."